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Mad, I don't mean to suggest that you had suggested that Dawkins, et al. were promoting violence. But you seem to think that their books could be used as a catalyst for violent acts, regardless of the authors' intentions. Combine that with the placement of your reservations, which I know wasn't meant as any definite statement, in Ricker's book discussion, and I have to ask where are you going with this? Do you think that atheists should stop producing texts merely because those texts might be used to justify violence? Or do you think atheist authors are responsible in clarifying their texts don't support atheistic violence? I'm not saying either of these are your intentions, they're just guesses. I'm really not sure what you are getting at.

I understand that marginalized groups, often feeling as though there is no other recourse, have turned to violence as a response to that feeling of impotency. I just don't think the current system we have supports such violent tendencies. Have we become too docile as a nation, too apathetic? I don't know; it just seems to me very few people are willing to cross that line into organized violence, contemporarily. Look at the recent demonstrations with regard to the Jena 6; was there ever any real threat of violence? Finally, large, organized groups demonstrating against institutionalized injustices in the legal system. If there was ever a moment for impotence-related violence, I could see that being one. But I walked out of my office, a very recognizable city building, wearing my city i.d. tag, in my court apparel through a crowd of demonstrators, outfitted in black and raging against the very system I work for. Outside of my gender, I couldn't possibly more represent "whitey" to this crowd of demonstrators, and I didn't feel a moment's hesitation, nor was any aggression directed my way. I also never heard of any violent, aggressive act among any of the other demonstrations. The context of this demonstration would surely have led to violent outbursts not twenty years ago. It seems to me that organized violence (hell, I'd say organized anything but...) no longer holds sway among the marginalized in this country. Now that's not to say that some event couldn't change that.

Which takes me to what I referenced above. Just because a book, an ideology, even a person might be manipulated and used for violence, does not justify protecting against that book, etc. I've seen discussions on this forum about how religious texts are used to justify violence. And I'd argue that some of those religious texts are used a hell of a lot more justifiably with regard to violent acts, than say Dawkins, for all his vitriol, could be used to justify atheistic violence. Certainly moreso than Ricker's book, which is the topic of this thread, could be interpreted as inciting violent reactions. Regardless, I think it has been rightfully argued that people, and not the texts they read, are responsible for their own violent acts. That Dawkins, Ricker, etc., might make their atheist readers more aware of how marginalized they really are, I will not deny. But I do not think it makes their books worthy of censure, merely based on the fear that atheists might used this newfound realization to commit violent acts. Nor do I think it the responsibility of the authors to necessarily address the violent possibilities you seem concerned about.



Tue Oct 02, 2007 2:24 pm
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Rose wrote:
Do you think that atheists should stop producing texts merely because those texts might be used to justify violence? Or do you think atheist authors are responsible in clarifying their texts don't support atheistic violence?


I think that atheist authors -- like most other kinds of author -- ought to be careful about what goes into their books. Particularly when an author is attempting to solidy group feeling and mobilize political action, as the New Atheist authors plainly are, caution is a must. I think that becomes obvious when you look at it from the opposite perspective. If a Christian author had penned a best-seller that equated atheist parenting with child abuse, and suggested that the government intervene, the uproar around BookTalk would be deafening.

Quite apart from the sinister implications that arise any time you suggest that the government start separating families over ideological matters (should we be watching closely to ensure that no one teaches their kids Marx?) I think it entirely likely that atheists would recognize that the stigma associated with the label "child abuser" could easily serve to facilitate anti-atheist violence. Talking about misconduct towards or abuse of children is an easy way to get people's emotions flared. But because the shoe is on the other foot, BookTalk atheists don't seem particularly concerned.

So, yeah, for one thing, I would like for New Atheists authors to be a little more cautious about what sort of stigma they're willing to attach to religious belief. The very heavy-handed (and sometimes, historically short-sighted) emphasis on religion as a promoter and facilitator of violence is another rhetorical device that, whether intentionally or not, has the potential to stigmatize religious believers and justify aggression against them. The implication (and sometimes outright statement) that religious believers may be inherently incapable of extended rational debate may well have the effect of seeming to close off other avenues to some resolution. While it may not be the intention of New Atheist authors to promote violence or unilateral political intervention, it may be that the arguments they present will have the incidental effect of convincing others that not much else is possible. Having read at least a few of the books in question, I don't think their arguments would have suffered from taking a less aggressive approach. And I do think the books of the New Atheist camp could be used as a catalyst for violence, in part because history provides us with examples of similar works that have played that role in other groups.

And secondly, I'd like to see more critical discussion within the atheist community. That's probably the aspect of all of this that worries me the most. It may be that I'm simply taking BookTalk as entirely too representative, but nearly atheist book that's been suggested (save for Hitchens' "God is Not Good") has been fastracked as an official discussion, has been championed for bringing atheism into the public debate, and has met with almost no criticism from atheists themselves. The criticisms raised by theists involved in the discussion have been met mostly with a lot of equivocation -- despite the fact that most of those criticisms have been about factual information and methodology. If there are potentially violent elements within the atheist community -- using the term community loosely here -- then it seems to me that the rest of that community is our society's best hope for reasoning with those elements, or at the very least, checking their access to theory and arguments that they might use as justification for violence -- checking it by providing as little of it as possible in the first place, and by being less eager in loaning unqualified support to such books.

So no, I don't want atheists to stop producind books. If anything, I'd like to see more, better quality books than those that are being offered by the New Atheist authors.

Quote:
I just don't think the current system we have supports such violent tendencies.


What system do you mean?

Quote:
Have we become too docile as a nation, too apathetic?


No, I think we've just arranged to either not see the violence that does exist in our society, or to count it as exceptional and therefore not terribly relevant. Starting with mid-80s, we can count the rise of the American skinhead movement; the rise of inner-city gang violence; a number of particularly elaborate, execution style school shootings; a number of organized cult suicides (like Heaven's Gate); the Oklahoma City bombings; a pre-9/11 truck bomb attempt on the WTC; militant separatist conflicts with local authorities (like the Texicans); militant authority conflicts with local separatists (the ATF intervention with the Branch Davidians); the Unibomber; some small-scale 9/11 copycat attempts (remember shoebombs?); abortion clinic bombings; gay nightclub bombings; post-9/11 chemical weapon scares in the postal system; several Los Angeles riots. I'm sure everyone can think of more if they try. The point is that all of these were influenced by people who felt either their social groups or their ideologies to be threatened. There probably aren't many other industrialized countries who would look at current events in America and suggest that we've grown too docile for individual outbursts of violent opposition.

Quote:
Just because a book, an ideology, even a person might be manipulated and used for violence, does not justify protecting against that book, etc.


What do you mean by "protecting against"? I'm not calling for censorship in any form. I'm really kind of surprised that you'd insinuate as much. All I'm calling for is more circumspection on the part of authors and a more critical public discussion -- for some resistence to the urge for unqualified support that some atheists have shown simply because someone has brought their concerns to the bestsellers list.

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Certainly moreso than Ricker's book, which is the topic of this thread, could be interpreted as inciting violent reactions.


Two points in regard to the above quoted: 1) My comments regarding the possibility of anti-religion violence are not intended to reflect on Ricker's book; and 2) If we continue this discussion further, maybe we should relocate to a tangent thread.

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That Dawkins, Ricker, etc., might make their atheist readers more aware of how marginalized they really are, I will not deny.


That doesn't really inform my concern. I'm far more worried about the way in which they've stigmatized religious belief and to present religious believers as a danger to values they present as unconditionally worth protecting.



Tue Oct 02, 2007 3:29 pm
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What I find a little disturbing about a lot of the New Atheist texts (I've decided to label George's book as an Old Atheist text) is that their tendency to talk about religionists or theists as a unified group. They create a sense of guilt by association whereby even peaceful theists who have liberal and secular views are spoken of as enablers of terrorism and totalitarianism.

In this day and age, this is very unfortunate. Even George Bush goes out of his way to differentiate between ordinary Muslims and Islamic terrorists in his speeches, because experience has taught us that when members of a group commit an atrocity those who share their labels are often the targets of unjustified violence. Dawkins and co. turn in the opposite direction, instead claiming that not only are all Muslims responsible for Islamic terrorists, but all theists.

Oh and for better or worse, I thought I'd point out that Fiske - who was an atheist - was very critical of The God Delusion, and several less high-profile atheist philosophers and scientists have criticised New Atheism. So no need to run for the bunker just yet Mad! .



Tue Oct 02, 2007 4:20 pm
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I guess I need to catch up. I'm not going try to answer every point raised in this discussion, just a few of the more salient one.

Niall: In answer to your question, the new book is titled mere atheism: no gods...no problem! and is a selection of material from my web site. The site gets a good bit of traffic, but there are lots of people who don't like to read essays and the like on the web or who simply prefer to have things put in a book, so this is mainly aimed at them.

As to concerns about atheist authors inspiring violence against religious believers or groups, I have to confess I find all this talk about "New Atheists" and "movement atheists" very misleading. First, because there really isn't anything "new" about atheism at all. Atheism is about not believing in a god or gods. Now whether that's expressed as a lack of belief in gods or the belief there are no gods, it's not a particularly new idea.

It's also not "new" that atheists are speaking out. I doubt there is now or ever has been a more outspoken atheist than Madalyn Murray O'Hair, or one who was more polarizing. I think what most disturbs those who have been so quick to react to and to label the "New Atheism" is that, for possibly the first time ever, atheism is reaching a much broader and much more receptive audience.

I'm also not aware of any atheist author advocating that children should be removed from the homes of religious parents because of their religious beliefs. (I know Dawkins first signed, then retracted his signature, a petition related to that subject. That hardly sounds like advocacy.) Even if one did, I'm quite sure the overwhelming majority of atheists would not support such a notion. Now we don't think parents who physically abuse their children should get a pass because of their religious beliefs but that's a separate issue.

Saying that the brainwashing and religious prosyletizing that goes on in some homes is tantamount to child abuse is doing nothing more than stating what should be obvious to anyone who examines the matter carefully. However, I think the terminology should be clear from the context in which it is used. One of the reasons it gets used that way is to counter the widely held notion that, where children are concerned, exposure to religion is invariably a "good" thing.

At any rate, discussion of this particular aspect of the situation might be better referred to the discussion of the ninth chapter of my book, "Suffer the children."

And, Niall, feel free to call me an "Old Atheist." Anyone who has seen my photo knows that to be the case. Actually, I prefer to think of myself as "older," rather than "old." How about "elder atheist." That has a ring to it.

George


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[i][b]mere atheism: no gods


Wed Oct 03, 2007 10:01 am
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Niall001 wrote:
What I find a little disturbing about a lot of the New Atheist texts (I've decided to label George's book as an Old Atheist text) is that their tendency to talk about religionists or theists as a unified group. They create a sense of guilt by association whereby even peaceful theists who have liberal and secular views are spoken of as enablers of terrorism and totalitarianism.


Sorry, I meant to address this point in my previous post.

There is some merit in the criticism that many atheist authors tend to paint with too broad a brush when talking about religions and religious believers. I tried to make it clear in my book that I recognized the tremendous diversity of beliefs among the religious, but even though I raise the point repeatedly, Mad apparently thinks I should have done more in that area. Maybe he's right about that.

I do agree that it is simply wrong to suggest that all religious believers are fundamentalists or enablers of terrorism and totalitarianism.

George


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"Nothing about atheism prevents me from thinking about any idea. It is the very epitome of freethought. Atheism imposes no dogma and seeks no power over others."

[i][b]mere atheism: no gods


Wed Oct 03, 2007 10:11 am
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