Saturday, April 29, 2006

Who are these "extremists"?

Author's note: Blogger seems to be confounding me on the formatting and linking on this post. If you notice a sentence that stops out of nowhere or something, please let me know. If you notice changes from an earlier posting, that's because I accidentally deleted a large section in editing.

Many asked this question, requesting that I should name names. Others pointed out how some of the comments to my column proved my point. So, I will begin with what I believe are extremist statements culled from a couple of internet comments threads. I will get to why I thought it necessary to write about it, how I pick my topics, the "threat" that could be posed by atheist extremists in the future, the current problem, etc. in later posts. For now, I begin with a little fleshing out of the extremist position. I don't know these people personally, so perhaps they're just spouting invective for its own sake. So, while these people may not be extremist, some of the comments they've made are or at least seem to be.

Many misunderstood the concept of "extremist" to mean only those who bomb buildings, take over governments or parties, carry out inquisitions, etc. An extremist is one who's beliefs and/OR actions are extreme. As I have argued is the case with both Christian extremism and Muslim extremism, those who propagate extremist ideas provide the justification for those who ultimately move from simply "believing" in extremist ways to acting in extremist ways.

For example, someone who believes that HIS group has the absolute truth on a subjective matter and that those who disagree are inherently bad, stupid, deluded, psychotic, immoral, incapable of rational thought, bigoted, dangerous etc. holds an extremist viewpoint, one which demonizes and dehumanizes the other. This dehumanized other becomes an easy target for those unstable enough to act.

(This is what I was trying to get at with outrageous claim 1, where someone would claim in an absolutist fashion that atheism IS true and religion IS false. Believing that your beliefs are true--as opposed to an absolutist claim--is perfectly reasonable. It is in the inability to admit our own limitations and fallibility that we are given to extremism. More on that later. Sorry for the interruption.)

Frankly, I have no desire to harm those who have a psychological addiction to a mythology; I pity the harm you are doing to yourselves. Perhaps you, like any other addict, feels threatened by those who do not share your addiction. MINNIE MOUSE (From Raw Story comments thread.)

Faith is an act of mental destruction. If there is no evidence for a claim, then accepting it is irrational. Eventually, even when confronted with evidence against faith, one’s mind is so dependent on their belief that fear of one’s world view collapsing will encourage one to reject the evidence. When this happens, one acts against reality. This is an act of mental destruction. A mentally deranged state of mind defined as a psychotic individual. Psychosis: severe mental disorder in which contact with reality is lost or highly distorted. The deeper the faith, the more severe the psychosis. ADNIHILO (From Raw Story Comments thread.)




Here's a question though: Apparently only 15% of Americans consider themselves atheist or non-believers. That number may even be high. Does that mean that only 15% of us are capable of critical thought and following rational arguments to their conclusion? RAINDOG (From Raw Story Comments thread.)

She doesn't understand she isn't a liberal. Her Judaism is a religious bias she believes reasonable and not 'extremist'. Personally, I think any belief in a theology dating back more than a thousand years is 'whacko', beit jesus(christ type) muhammed, thor, even madonna. WM MALO (Raw Story Comments)

Most atheists I've met believe that people need to use their own reasoning abilities to come to atheism.
ICOULDBEWRONGBUT (Raw Story Comments)

Snark Break: You poor, lost soul, look into your heart and come to Jesus. Notice the similarities?

Freedom of religion = freedom to be stupid. (....) 2) You who believe in a god, or gods, or wicker, the pope in a magical dress, or any other such rubbish, you are all of weak mind and unsound reasoning. JM(Raw Story Comments)

Barton is a prime example illustrating religious adherents or faith-based believers as inherently intolerant. ALSO Religiously instilled Anxiety and hostility leads to its bigotry, hate, murder and genocide. Which tells us why all 3 monotheistic religions combined have and continue to be singularly the most destructive force in the history of civilization. To tolerate the intolerable monotheistic religions is tolerate this most singularly destructive force in the history of civilization. Meaning all faith-based social organizations, governments and culture are so diseased, that their total destruction is the only viable solution for its own sake, independent of any constructive plan or outcome. That I suppose is an extreme form of atheism.. Adnihilo (Pharyngula Comments)

And one prominent atheist extremist for your consideration:
"With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil-that takes religion." Steven Weinberg (link, so not working on blogger, can be found on Pharyngula comments thread and on next post.)

So, that's the beginning. I'll be writing more on a variety of related topics and answering your questions soon. (That's if blogger ever let's me post this correctly.) Please be patient as my full-time job and long commute seriously limit my time.

Also, please be patient with my "humanness." I may use a word with (an albeit obsecure) definition or usage with which you do not agree. Please do not assume that my use of the "wrong" word carries ill intent. Language is not something so easily used that you can avoid every possible misinterpretation. Semantics is a game too easily played when you're looking for something that's not there.

One final note, I realized in following the debate over my column that atheism is more complex than I realized. Although I used a variety of sources for this piece, textbook definitions and encyclopedic explanations don't always have a 100% correlation to how terms are used and understood in the real world. So, I'd like to provide a list of atheist resources for people who want to learn more about atheism in general and atheism in America specifically. If you have any suggestions, post them in the comments thread on THIS piece. I'll post a list later on.


12 Comments:

Blogger Thavith said...

MAAF
American Atheists
Ignostic Atheists
Agnostic Atheism
Main Wikipedia article on atheism
I.P.U. (peace be upon her)
Pastafarianism
Logical positivism
More on Logical Positivism
Noncognitivism in general.

You can learn a lot from Wikipedia alone on the different types of atheists in the world. Please learn about a group of people before you write about them. I may not know anything about Jews, but I am not dumb enough to run around writing about them either. What you wrote may or may not have been bigotry, but it definitely was ignorant.

10:45 PM  
Anonymous Kenn said...

Miranda, please explain how each of the quotes you provided here is an example of one or more of the outrageous claims you outlined in the RS post.

10:29 PM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

Kenn, get a life.

7:15 AM  
Anonymous Kenn said...

I came here to discuss rationally. I thought that's what you wanted too, but apparently I was wrong. Good-bye.

7:43 AM  
Blogger A Hermit said...

Are we to understnad that you take a few blog comments as being representative of an influential segment of all athiests?

I've seen nastier stuff on SF fansites.

3:54 PM  
Blogger A Hermit said...

Here's a couple more links:

Internet Infidels

Council for Secular Humanism

4:27 PM  
Anonymous Kenn said...

Hello again.

I’m not sure the words “extreme” really describes what Melinda is objecting to. I also don’t think the atheists she has quoted are guilty of dehumanizing theists.

In the sense of being far from the norm, nearly all atheists in America are extremists for their ideas. But that’s not what Melinda speaks of here when she describes “someone who believes that HIS group has the absolute truth on a subjective matter and that those who disagree are inherently bad, stupid, deluded, psychotic, immoral, incapable of rational thought, bigoted, dangerous etc...”

I think such views might be more precisely called narrow-minded or dogmatic. The word “denigrating” certainly applies as well. Calling these ideas and the people who express them “extreme” adds ambiguity to the word and confusion to the discussion.

Melinda wrote that “extremism” “demonizes and dehumanizes the other.” ”This dehumanized other becomes an easy target for those unstable enough to act.”

I agree that some of the atheists’ quotes Melinda cites above are demonizing, but with the possible exception of one, I don’t see how any of them are dehumanizing. None of them equate theists with animals, for example, or less deserving of basic human rights.

There was one alarming comment Melinda quoted, that of Adnihil’s who wrote that “all faith-based social organizations, governments and culture are so diseased, that their total destruction is the only viable solution…” Fortunately, such calls to violence are exceedingly rare amongst atheists. I can’t recall ever having heard such an incitement before. Usually when an atheist issues a call to action it is to defend the first amendment.

Is there a risk that some atheists’ words will lead to unspecified acts against theists? Outside of the vague, theoretical notion that words can lead to actions, there is no reason to think such a thing will become a problem.

11:24 AM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse. said...

Melinda,

I am honored that you chose me as your first example of an extremist commemt.

"Frankly, I have no desire to harm those who have a psychological addiction to a mythology; I pity the harm you are doing to yourselves." Let's see, positing that psychological addiction to a mythology is harmful and worthy of pity...Is that threatening to you?

"Perhaps you, like any other addict, feels threatened by those who do not share your addiction."

I notice that you don't address and refute the content of my remarks, simply lable them as extreme.

Weak. Very weak. And a favorite tactic of a propagandist.

I also notice that you could not respond to the very valid question Kenn asked "Miranda, please explain how each of the quotes you provided here is an example of one or more of the outrageous claims you outlined in the RS post." Your response of "Get a life". is immature, at best. It is certainly not responsive and further denigrates the worth of your commentary. When everyone finally decides that you are not worth the time of day and quits posting, Melinda, just remember...They considered the source. And decided to to waste any more time on you.

7:09 PM  
Blogger neuralgourmet said...

I would add About.com's Atheism/Agnosticism guide written by Austin Cline. You know, one of the bloggers that Raw Story wrongfully accused of manufacturing quotes.

12:49 PM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

Thanks for the suggestions, I'll probably add a few of my own and post these soon. That's if I can get blogger to do more than one link at a time. I've had some issues with my links.

1:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Most atheists I've met believe that people need to use their own reasoning abilities to come to atheism.
ICOULDBEWRONGBUT (Raw Story Comments)
Snark Break: You poor, lost soul, look into your heart and come to Jesus. Notice the similarities?"

Just came across your post. That wasn't my point. Perhaps I worded it poorly. Let me rephrase:
Most atheists understand that people who arrive at atheism do so of their own accord by using their own reasoning. IE, It seems to me that most atheists would agree that it is foolish to try to 'impose atheism' on others. Atheists feel that they've arrived at their lack of belief in the supernatural through their own thought, reading, investigation - not by following other atheists.

Take care

-icouldbewrongbut

10:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Most atheists I've met believe that people need to use their own reasoning abilities to come to atheism."

change to:

"Most atheists I've met believe that people must use their own reasoning abilities if they are to come to atheism, rather than (joining a church, etc)"

By 'Need', I didn't mean 'the world needs this to happen', but meant 'need to use reasoning in order to come to atheism'.

-icouldbewrongbut

10:57 PM  

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