David Silverman And Mainstream Atheist Intolerance

Today (December 22ed) I finally got around to some housework that was neglected for awhile. And to accompany that, I like listening to a podcast. In this case, I chose the RAman podcast. Each episode is an exploration into all sorts of subjects that peak my interests.
The first I listened to was great, in its holiday theme. That is, it took EVERYTHING you thought you knew about Christmas, and completely destroyed it. And no, I did not mistake I for you. Because I can guarantee that unless you happen to be well educated in the various mythologies and corporate meddling of Santa Clause/Saint Nicolas, Christmas and the season itself, you WILL learn something. I highly recommend. It brings “Christ is NOT the reason for the season” to a WHOLE new level.

https://youtu.be/QfFeHUUpNIc

Though the following link is also from the RAman podcast, I can not say that I highly recommend it.

https://youtu.be/cq5i-gfTWDE

This is an interview with David Silverman, head of American Atheists.

Going into this, I knew what I was getting into. I have watched enough RAman podcasts (ALL of them) to know where Aron and Mark stand. And I have passively learned enough about David Silverman and American Atheists in general, to know where they stand. In disagreement. But there’s nothing wrong with that.

Though I do not see eye to eye with Aron on a couple issues (namely, Atheism and SJW status), I have respect for the man for trying to be part of the solution. He uses his channel and expertise to make educational supplement videos, all in the name of fighting scientific ignorance in an intellectually hostile environment. Not to mention RAman, and the other useful and insightful material be makes available to all.
Its a podcast I can respect, having recently ditched another podcast that only seemed capable of following every action of Brett Keane, or giving a racist German atheist more limelight (when he should have been long forgotten MONTHS ago).

As for American Atheists, I am aware of it due to its founder, Madalyn Murray O’Hair. She made her permanent mark on American society by successfully fighting, and mandating, prayer OUT of schools (mandatory teacher led prayer, that is).

Its a huge accomplishment for the time, certainly the biggest for Atheism to date. Which is really quite telling, in a sense. Why did it stop there?

In terms of Atheism and America, I think that its important that we go back, WAY back, to 1776. The founding of the United States.

We will take a journey all the way from 1776 to the 1970’s, with Madalyn Murray O’Hair. Founder of American Atheists (the organisation which David Silverman currently heads), she has a lot to say on the subject.

https://youtu.be/yflQd2jyp7Y

It is a lengthy speech. But its an important listen, none the less.

Back in 1776, the newly founded United States of America was the first of its kind in world history. It was founded as a completely secular republic. Though the church had an iron grasp pretty much everywhere else in the west, the founding fathers of the US envisioned something different. Something new. Something better.
And so, the United States initially started off as (for the time) a secular paradise. A place where laws and litigation were not based on flimsy holy texts, but on reason. And near the beginning, the founders fought hard to keep this dream alive. And (to be fair!), this dream is still intact today at the core of the nations foundations.

But though the nation started as secular, the holders of religion never conceded defeat. On the contrary, this is what they were warned of in the Sunday service!
The godless nation that must return to the righteous path, or face the fury of an angry deity.
It was not a defeat . . . it was a challenge!

It was a challenge that the church took on with vigor. Though the federally mandated separation of church and state kept the church at bay at the federal level, its following held a lot of power at the state level. And they used it in any way they could to get ahead (or hold onto gains made).
This power struggle continued (with the church initially losing!) for some time. But because the church has long term views of the future and a strong drive for progress, they didn’t give up. Which eventually yielded positive results.

Though the built in resistance to close relations with the church still exists on a federal level, the church has been gaining ever more influence over the years, driven by strong support at the state level.
Though churches were stripped of access to direct federal funding (and I believe state and county funding, though l may be wrong), they still had the ability to self-tax their parishioners. Not to mention many other helpful handouts between church friendly politicians and the church.
And speaking of taxes, the persistence of the church resulted in religious institutions being granted tax free status on a state by state basis. After reaching about half of the union, the federal government granted tax free status across the board.

And so, we get to where we are today. Though there is technically a separation between church and state across the whole American union, you would often times never know it. When even many of the politicians vying for a place within this governing structure seem to genuinely believe falsehoods like “America was founded on Christian principals” and “America is a Christian nation”.
What started as a secular utopia for the time, ended up becoming almost the Christian equivalent of Iran or Saudi Arabia. To quote Madalyn:

“While the Atheists sat on their asses”

It would be unfair to write off all of the modern day nu-atheist movement just on account to how the old guard seemingly let the secular utopia of the United States go to shit. Because no matter what proceeded them, they are trying right the wrongs of history. Even if some of those wrongs could be attributed to those in the secular communities of the time periods of Christian growth sitting on their asses.

Back when I was an atheist by identity, I more or less bought into the common thread that bonded the whole of the community. That thread being, we were all collectively fighting an ever domineering force of historical status quo. The force that is religion (in the west, particularly Christianity).
Its understood that for pretty much all of history, the faithful dictated all of public life, and by extension, history. Right from when the big 3 monotheistic faiths begun their assent to power, all the way to today. I understood that before the internet begun to connect the world in the late nineties and into the early 2000’s, the collective voice (and power) of the irreligious was limited.
But the internet gave way to the ability to connect and foster discussion with millions of people, world wide. Suddenly all of these people (particularly youngsters) that found themselves alone and questioning their deviation from typical accepted normals, found out that they had allies by the hundreds, thousands, millions. A number that has continued to grow as more and more people openly declare their disregard for religious belief. Some say that the numbers of Nones (people that disregard all religious belief) is up to 30% of the US population. That is a huge number. And it really would not surprise me.

When I first came across the Madalyn Murray O’Hair speech, though I had already self separated from the atheist community at large, I still stood by my previous assumption that was, this is the first time in history that the movement has gotten any traction. I am glad I discovered this after making peace with my previously atheist oriented identity, since I was able to appreciate the content more then I would have if I was still in that mind frame.
It was not until after hearing her speech, that I realized the real situation of secularism in America. Indeed, we have a much stronger and ever growing voice in society today. But this is not the birth of this movement in mainstream American culture. Its a resurgence, a fight for lost ground due to stagnation.

But again, one can hardly blame the mistakes of past generations on the latest generation, when many are at least attempting to right the wrongs of the past. Even if we may disagree on methodology.

Which brings us to my criticisms.

Though I previously called myself an Agnostic Atheist by identity, I also accepted variations of secular stances. I have a very vocal friend of mine to thank for that (he put me in my place some years ago after I attempted to drag his deist self under the Atheist umbrella). So from then on, though I identified myself as an Atheist, I was also accepting of other stances. Which was why it always bugged me that Atheist got all the recognition. If the groups were not formatted strictly for Atheists by name and description, then Atheist was always the lead term (eg. Atheists, Agnostics, Deists (etc) of Facebook!). How about simply, Non-believers of Facebook?

While I found this a bit bothersome and noninclusive, it was not until I had a bit of an introduction to philosophy that I really critiqued the arguments as presented to me (from the Atheist prospective). Mainly, this idea of theism or atheism, yes or no. Though I do not have any formal philosophical education to draw from, one does not really need it.

My atheist exodus initially started after years of spinning my wheels in forum arguments. I begun to get bored of the online atheist world due to the fact that it was no longer challenging.
I was either talking to theists that would likely never get it, or endlessly to allies in closed groups about the same things. I was part of a community that held its intelligence, logic and reason in high regard. But at the same time, its very easy to do that when your challenges are Josh Feuerstein, Ken Ham, Kevin Sorbo, Kent Hovind and thousands of other irrational religious followers.
Though pointless debate at the religious tends to not be helpful, the saturation of youtube and social media Atheists making idiot theists more popular just for their amusement, has made things worse. Rather than leave these people in their little secluded corners of the internet, we drive MILLIONS to their side. All because of the flawed logic that is, you have to publicly mock these arguments to illustrate just how silly they are.

That would be a great plan, if not for the persecution complex of many theists. Irrational or silly as it is, it brings traffic to these people. Which is antithetical to the goal of FIGHTING the religious status quo.

Anyway, I never found much new challenge in the arena of atheist debate, until the introduction of philosophy to my mind from a couple students of the study. It allowed me to do what I learned many are incapable of doing, which is turn the microscope on my own conclusions and arguments. The biggest problem I ran into, was in my dismissal of the false dichotomy of Atheism. The argument that you are either Atheist or Theist. There is no middle ground. The middle ground being folks that call themselves Agnostic.

This became of particular scrutiny to me, because of the nature of the material we are speaking of. In the deity debate, there are no clear answers to be had. Anyone that challenges this is either misinformed or intellectually dishonest.
And yet, despite the lack of evidence and knowledge we have to go on to make a decision, we treat this grey subject in a black and white fashion. You have to pick a side, or if you misunderstand (disagree with the dichotomy), one will be assigned for you. Indeed, I used to acknowledge this by way of Agnostic Atheist (Atheist = Belief, Agnostic = Knowledge). But its a whole lot of jargon, since “Fuck if I know” (or in more proper terms, “I don’t know”) works just as well.

I often see this argument debunked by atheists that criticize people for answering “Maybe” to the god question. While that could be seen as an answer that betrays an easily swayed mind (or an open mind, as they like to call themselves), its not justification to toss the whole argument. Maybe and I don’t know portray very different mindsets.

Another common rebuttal to the middle ground argument, is the word that many whom take this position like to call themselves. Agnostic.

The claim here is that such people use the word incorrectly. And this is a valid grievance, being the Huxley mindset:

Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle. That principle is of great antiquity; it is as old as Socrates; as old as the writer who said, ‘Try all things, hold fast by that which is good’; it is the foundation of the Reformation, which simply illustrated the axiom that every man should be able to give a reason for the faith that is in him, it is the great principle of Descartes; it is the fundamental axiom of modern science. Positively the principle may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable. That I take to be the agnostic faith, which if a man keep whole and undefiled, he shall not be ashamed to look the universe in the face, whatever the future may have in store for him.

—–

That it is wrong for a man to say he is certain of the objective truth of a proposition unless he can provide evidence which logically justifies that certainty. This is what agnosticism asserts and in my opinion, is all that is essential to agnosticism. 

http://infidels.org/library/modern/mathew/sn-huxley.html

The principle of this rebuttal lies in the very first sentence (Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed). The argument being that calling yourself an Agnostic is moving the goalposts, or changing the definition of the word. While one should take that under consideration, you also need to consider today’s mainstream definition of Atheism.

image

This is the definition that is in wide use today. But it is an alteration of its older definition, a definition reflected in how many dictionaries define the word.

image

image

A denial of the existence of a deity or deities. Notably different than the modern day lack of belief definition, in the lack of a positive claim.

Over time, words may change in meaning or as defined due to various circumstances. When discussing this with an atheist at one point, this was his argument. And its a valid one. Or at least, it would be if there was not so much resistance to the drift of “Agnostic” as defined.

Speaking of which, in the RAman interview, Aron makes mention of a lie spoken by Carl Sagen about atheists. The quote I believe being:

: “An atheist has to know a lot more than I know. An atheist is someone who knows there is no God.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/achenblog/wp/2014/07/10/carl-sagan-denied-being-an-atheist-so-what-did-he-believe-part-1/

Though I was not around when him and the original Cosmos were, I have to question his interpretation of Atheism as a lie. If he was using the denial of the existence of a deity or deities definition, then it is a perfectly reasonable interpretation (on Carl’s part). One that would seem misinformed on a populace that has been taught a different definition of the same word.

Previously, I was a bit critical of the secular community for allowing the religious to ruin their first step forward on the world stage, but I also acknowledged that one must also not hold this generation responsible for the shortcomings of previous generations. The secular/Nu Atheist community are gaining a foothold, which is good. But that said, their actions can at times be antithetical to the longterm goal of getting religion out of societies power structures.

And the biggest of them all, is this insistence on pushing the term Atheism over all else. Pushing a narrative of Black and White dogma, while stating that what it means to be atheist is merely to lack belief in a deity or deities. Even though leaving religion behind is a positive step and arguably the endgame, they try and convince you of exactly what you are, or they flat out tell you. Take this comment.

image

First of all, though some may have anecdotal experiences having come across people that claim to believe just a little in god, that is not the benchmark. Some people (me being one of them) choose to not make any choice, since the variables are unclear (coincidentally, the same stance I take in ANY situation of which I am unsure of many specifics).
I do not have to pick a side. I am already a non-believer, a secularist.

Going back to the podcast, right off the bat, David goes into some detail with work that American Atheists is trying to do to establish the Atheist voting block. Encouraging people to go and see their political candidates and ask questions. The issue being, he encourages them to go wearing atheist garb (t-shirts, pins etc) and ask questions like “What are you going to do about separation of church and state?” or “I am an atheist. ________________?”. Basically, Atheist’s have to make themselves visible in the political circuit.

I understand why David and AA are doing this. In order to get momentum, you have to get the secular/non-believing segment of the population active in politics, and of course into the voting booth. But at the same time, this focus SOLELY on Atheism (or the Atheist voter block) isn’t helping matters.

First off, going up to these politicians decked out in atheist pins, t-shirts etc and then asking atheist questions, is NOT helping to dispel the assertion of atheism as a religion. Disagree with that statement all you want. . . if your attempting to fight groups using public institutions for self serving purposes, it looks bad when your methodology looks just as self serving.

Wear what you want, and call yourself whatever you want . . . but make your visit useful! Don’t bring up some stupid atheist ideological talking point . . . .how about:

– Women’s rights/Abortion/Planned Parenthood

-Climate Change

– Money in politics

Things that are important!

Another reason to ease the focus on the Atheist voter block, is the friction this adds to the situation. Now not only are you dealing with trying to make people active political participants, you also risk alienating these guys if they identify wrong. It be one thing if many atheists just accepted differences.
But they do not! As is proven time and again, by the leader of the largest organisation representing them!

But I am done with Atheism and politics. Its time to move onto intolerance.

In the podcast, after politics, the discussion moves on into atheism, and the importance of identifying as such (big surprise!). In this conversation, you hear the same typical arguments. But you also see the intolerance to any conclusion but their favored Atheism rear its head.

When it comes to people calling themselves Christian (but just in name), lapsed Catholics, atheist Jews or other alike terms that do not make sense, than yeah, I see the point. I don’t really care what you choose to call yourself (or NOT call yourself). But does it make sense to keep the outdated baggage?

That said however, I do not like the implication that EVERYONE whom chooses to utilize a secular term besides Atheist, is either misunderstanding the term, or lying to themselves.
I acknowledge that my geographical and family background was fairly religiously neutral, so my journey out of religion was a cakewalk compared to that of MANY others. Not only was I not really bombarded with religion (it never was anything more than background noise), but I also never had to deal with fundamentalists throwing red herrings about Atheism at me. I mentally found myself in an atheistic mindset before I even discovered (and begun utilizing) the term.
I also credit this self driven mental step into atheism for making it easy for me to leave the label (along with many other needless labels) behind.
I was not a person of faith that learned of Atheism though different online sources, that would later embrace this new philosophy. Atheism did not become the replacement to religiosity that it did for many others (as betrayed by their behavior) . It was already an accepted conclusion, the acceptance of a void.
A conclusion which was not really CHANGED later on, but altered. While it takes a fair bit of energy to explain Agnostic Atheism, its easy to just say “I don’t know”. My philosophy for employment (and life in general) is to get the most amount of progress/work done with the least amount of effort. There you go.
I don’t care what label that may or may not fit. All that is important, is that I do not follow or pursue religious beliefs. I no longer view “Atheist” as a proper term (for myself), certainly not the one size fits all that they want it to be.

The term being utilized for people like me in the atheist community seems to be Atheist(s) in denial. This being presented from the viewpoint that is, the power of religious belief is primarily what makes these labels so hard to let go of.
While I am sure that does play a big role (particularly in the United States, home to American Atheists and all those in the podcast), it is not the only reason some refuse the atheist label.

While many atheists treat the Atheist label and viewpoint as a conclusion and an endpoint, it was more of a jumping off point for me. It fit for the decade I utilized the term, it “checked out” logically. Until it didn’t fit anymore.
I used to call myself MANY things that no longer “fit”.
I used to pride my Liberal and progressive labels to. Until I recognized them for the barriers that they are, and dropped them also. I do not need a label to define or dictate my actions.

If Atheists want to bond the irreligious community together and build a voter block that has a hope of making a difference, than there already is a term for the community we all inhabit. Its called the Secular community.

Atheism is not the rule, the only logical choice. It is but an option (a very popular option, but one of many options none the less).

If I were to give my assessment of the mainstream atheist community today, the first thing I would say is that like many other social media based movements crowded with everyday average people, the lack of intellectual criticism from academia shows. Even the leader of the movements biggest organization only references the most intellectually challenged people of all to win an argument . . . devoted followers of a myth.
And speaking of devoted followers. . . a large segment of the atheist community may have abandoned religion and its thoughtless worship, but they did not change the underlying mindset. As is evidenced by the Black and White unanalyzed talking point that is, you have to accept that you are an atheist before the conversation can go on. It does not matter what you call yourself, or how you got there . . . you are wrong. Your lying to yourself, an atheist in denial.

Indeed, the power of religion is strong. Even those that have renounced it, have a hard time getting out of the intolerant mindsets that it can construct.
Another reason why I resist the atheist label, is because it is rapidly turning into a brand. This being partly attributable to YouTube.
While one can not write off the whole of the community just because a few within it turn it into a way of life (either though content monetization or merchandise sales or shares), its something that must be considered. An obvious reason why at least a small portion may be against a more all inclusive secular community.

To be fair, Atheism is not the only movement/ideology in which this has happened. Many Feminists have also turned to a false dichotomy to make the label more powerful (“If you are not a feminist, than you are a bigot!”). While the philosophy at its core is humanistic, there are many in the feminist community that also happen to utilize its many followers as their bread and butter. All of whom benefit from this extremely rigid definition.
And then there are those that monetize the responses to these views (such as MRA’s (Mens Rights Activists), MGTOW’s (Men Going Their Own Way). Though I (for the most part) view all 3 (and alike) labels as misdirected, they are similar in that they at least partially turn a philosophy into a brand.
Atheism also has this issue, the spawning of counter brands to Atheism. But its effects tend to be a whole lot worse, helping to prop up and enrich already wealthy people like Josh Feuerstein and Ken Ham (as opposed to a few small time YouTubers).

So, to finally conclude, while I understand and respect those that embrace the Atheist philosophy, I do not respect those that display intolerance towards others based solely on the false conclusion that Atheism is superior to all other secular options. Atheism and the atheist philosophy is neither superior nor inferior. It is but one option.
While its ridiculous to me that I find myself telling so called logical and rational people to get their collective heads out of their asses and take a lesson from grade school, here we are.

David Silverman and others estimate that the population of irreligious people in the United States is about 30%. To him and many other firebrand atheist ideologues, the solution is to convince these atheists in denial that they are lying to themselves. And of course, to send atheists (fully visible as such) to ask their political candidates what they can do for them as an atheist.

The state of American politics is scary. Even if the biggest fruitcakes of the GOP likely do not have a hope in hell of success, even the alternates leave much to be desired.

And the response?

Its not to actively try and unite everyone of secular values under with one goal. No.
Its to convince everyone that the only path to solutions to the nations most pressing problems, is acceptance that they are lying to themselves.

YOU mainstream atheists, are just as much a part of the problem as the religious right. You claim to be an alternative, yet behave otherwise.
A big reason why the theistic community is succeeding whilst the secular community is not, being that various religious sects can often find common ground in mutual benefit. In contrast to Atheism, which only causes friction in the secular community in its quest to be in domination of all non-theists.

Feel free to comment, cite, link, whatever. But if you are just going to hit me with talking points, I will tell you in advance to not waste your effort.

It took a long time to land where I am today, in terms of these conclusions. Certainly much longer than it took me to embrace the shared philosophical tenants of Atheism.
So if all you have to say is just atheist ideological talking points, feel free if you want. But I have heard them before. And unlike then, I now no longer feel inclined to expend energy in explaining a long personal journey leading to a personal conclusion. When the person I am speaking to often can not see outside the box that is a words definition.

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