Saturday, May 20, 2006

How I write and why I wrote that "awful" thing!

I'd like to begin with the Raw Story headline that caused so much consternation and offense, "The Left's Own Religious Whackjobs" and the image which accompanied the piece, the crusader's cross. I chose neither. Most non-journalists probably don't know this, but the writer of a column doesn't usually pick the headline. Headlines are written at the publication. This is why the same piece can appear in different publications under different headlines. As I'm not a part of that process, I don't know how or why that particular headline and image were chosen and will therefore make no attempts to explain them further. I will only say that I, personally, would not have used the word "religious" in the headline nor would I have chosen a cross to represent anything I've written. I am, after all, a practicing Jew.

As for the different versions of the column, (two here on Liberals In Exile and one on Raw) that was part of an experiment I undertook to show the unfolding of the writing process and to be a bit more open about how these things progress from rough draft to finished piece. I'll admit here that I filched this idea, in part, from a former professor and old friend, Mitch Stephens, who is writing a blog as he works through the process of writing his book. Readers of his blog will get to see Mitch work through the ideas that will ultimately make it into the book, which is (coincidentally) an examination of the history of disbelief. (Yes, I'm in the preliminary stages of working on my own book.) There was no attempt on my part or Raw's to mislead or confuse anyone with multiple versions. In fact, when I published the second draft, I made clear that it wasn't necessarily the version that would appear on Raw.

As for the use of my experiences and conversations with friends as part of the support for my opinion, well, it's my opinion not a factual, scientific, or academic treatise. Most of you are probably familiar with the standards for writing academic papers and judged my column by those standards. I'd be the first to admit, I would never have submitted this column to an academic journal for peer review or to a professor expecting an academic work with footnotes and citations. But columns aren't academic and should be judged by a very different set of criteria. For instance, relying on personal experience and informal conversations rather than official sources, reference materials, and formal interviews is perfectly acceptable for an opinion column.

The content of an opinion column is ultimately determined by what is on the writer's mind, what has provoked her thought processes or emotional responses, how she views things at the moment. One example rather than another is picked not based on academic criteria but on personal preference, individual perspective, and (again) what happens to be on the writer's mind at the moment. Did she read a book on a certain topic lately that sparked an emotional or reasoned response? Has she been thinking about something because of the time of year or an incident in her personal life? These things determine how things will be written and what types of things will be discussed, not formal criteria on authoritative sourcing or representative sampling. Yes, it's perfectly reasonable to expect an opinion column to reflect a reasoned examination as the topic requires. However, sometimes, opinion columns will be predominantly or completely emotional response. Usually, they're a mix of the two.

So, how do I write and why this topic in particular? That is, after all, what you probably want to know.

First, I read a lot. I always have. Even in my childhood, it wouldn't have been unusual to see me holed up in my room all weekend with a book of plays or poetry, a short fiction anthology, a philosophical text, a few science magazines, and a used college psychology textbook. And that's when I was 12. Right now, the reading materials on my desk include: There's a Hair in My Dirt by Gary Larson, Who's Afraid of Schrodinger's Cat?: All the New Science Ideas You Need to Keep Up with the New Thinking, Albert Einstein: Ideas and Opinions, Nine Crazy Ideas in Science: A Few Might Even Be True, Voices of American Muslims (which I read for a review) and a few copies of Newsweek. I've been going through a science period following a few months of devouring mountains of texts on politics and history. (As for Gary Larson, it is Gary Larson after all. It's just funny.) Any or all of the things I read can spark ideas for things to write about or discuss with my friends.

One of these lovely friends of mine described me once as "militantly engaged in the world" and, personally, I think that's the shortest and simplest explanation. I want answers, but not just one for each question. I want multiple answers, different perspectives, myriad possibilities. I want to examine things from dozens of angles and to see how those angles work with or against each other. I read and read and discuss and discuss and come to provisional ideas about one thing or another. (Sometimes, an idea is in process for years before it makes it onto the page or the computer screen.) I see the gaps, the things people aren't saying for one reason or another. Then, if I think these things should be said, I make a point of saying them myself. Sometimes, it's easier just to rush off a piece along the party lines or opposing the latest right wing propaganda, but I don't really like easy. Easy is boring.

So. I read. I discuss. I think. I write. That's it.

So, why this topic? My personal experience with it began years ago. I'd had many atheist friends at that point. As many of you have pointed out, you can't spend too much time in liberal activist circles without running into atheists. Most of the atheists I've encountered have been just people. There's no good or bad, no black or white, just people.

One day in the fall of 2002, I believe, I was at a peace protest in Union Square when three guys standing a few feet from me got into a very loud argument. Well, one of them was being loud. The other two seemed perfectly calm and were talking so quietly as to be inaudible in the crowd. (Of course, they may have been very calmly saying very horrendous things.) Anyway, I have no idea what these two guys were saying, but everyone within a ten yard radius could probably hear what the third guy was ranting about: All religion is evil! Religion has been the cause of all of the wars in human history! He was actually screaming this stuff at these two guys, who continued to stand there calmly disagreeing. It was obvious from the third guy's loud comments, red face, and wild gesticulations that they were disagreeing. I thought for a moment that there would be a fight... at a peace protest, no less. I also thought that this young man was obviously poorly educated. I believed that my atheist friends would laugh at this guy then cringe to hear their beliefs so horribly misrepresented.

That little moment set me to thinking about how uneducated some people were about atheism, theism, religion, history, human nature, etc. After all, one guy screaming usually represents more than just one guy unless he's wearing a tin foil hat. So, the idea rested in the back of mind for a while until an atheist friend went over the edge. (I'll have to call this former friend X to be fair and to maintain some respect for someone who once meant a great deal to me.) X was an intelligent and reasonably well-educated person. Sure, we disagreed on many things but I generally respected X's opinions. Even if I didn't agree, I could understand why X believed this or that.

Years into our friendship, I realized things were off. Whenever we'd get into a discussion, X would pull up web sites specifically set up to espouse the opinion s/he held. Well, that seemed normal until I realized that X only read things that supported his/her opinions and actually became angry at the very idea that anyone could reasonably disagree. X had come to hold anyone who disagreed with him/her in contempt, including me. Suddenly, X began to speak of all human beings as if they were of a lower order and s/he was not one of us. X even went so far as to repeat our conversations on his/her blog but completely misrepresent anything I said in disagreement so that s/he'd come off the winner of the "argument" which had never been a real argument but a discussion between friends who were supposed to respect and even love each other. The last straw was when s/he referred to me not as a person or by my name or by a reasonable pseudonym but as "Jew" in a manner that indicated s/he felt that my being a Jew completely delegitimized me and my ideas. I was completely stunned.

These experiences fed into questions that have plagued me for years: How does one become extremist? How do you go from a regular person to a ranting whackjob? How do you make the leap from believing something to be true to believing you "know" something to be true to hating anyone who believes or lives differently from you to taking violent action?

For the most part, I've examined Muslim and Christian extremism. Muslim extremism because I was in Manhattan on 9/11. And Christian extremism because I've lived as an openly gay person in America for more than a decade, most of that in the Deep South. Somehow, I came to the idea that I'd only ever truly understand extremism if I examined the extremes found closer to home: the left. I also felt that it was only honest to do so. I can't just pretend that the left is completely wonderful while the right is completely evil. I can't just walk in lock step with the party line that makes me feel good about being a "good" liberal fighting against "evil" conservatives. That would be too easy. In this case, easy isn't just boring, it's frightening.

Hence, the atheist extremist and the other types of extremist viewpoints I'll be examining in future columns. The column that sparked so much furor was never a stand alone in my mind. (Perhaps that was part of the problem.) It was always part of a greater whole. The series was to end with an attempt at answering some of my questions about extremism or at least to get others thinking about the questions. Maybe someone else could answer them better than I could.

In the end, for a variety of reasons, I didn't present the column as well as I could have and much confusion arose. It is the poor presentation of the idea for which I have apologized. I still believe that the overarching idea had merit and will attempt, again, to do it some justice with my next post. For those who questioned whether I would write such an article about lesbians or feminists, etc., claiming that I was "picking on" atheists because they were an "easy" and "acceptable" target, you'll be surprised at the rest of the series. Hopefully, I'll be able to complete the next column and my next post soon.

89 Comments:

Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

By your own account, your total basis for smearing atheists is the observed behavior of one person at a public event who seemed to be espousing atheism, and "...an atheist friend went over the edge..."

Of course it never occurred to you that drugs or mental illness played a role in the behavior of either person. No, evil atheists have to be run out of the left!!!!

More than four hundred people have written comments on the Raw Story website demonstrating that your pernicious tripe represented far more than the "...the poor presentation of the idea.." You demanded religous discrimination by the Left and justified it with the rhetoric "...No rational movement dedicated to intellectual courage and honesty should maintain a relationship with those for whom intellectual laziness, dishonesty, and cowardice are a way of life. Doing what must be done to insure the integrity of the left will require identifying our extremists, countering their mythologies, and acknowledging the dangers they pose to a truly liberal society." And you justify this with the wan observation that "..it's perfectly reasonable to expect an opinion column to reflect a reasoned examination as the topic requires. However, sometimes, opinion columns will be predominantly or completely emotional response...."

Actually you are completely wrong in your assertion. An "opinion column" which is "...predominantly or completely emotional response...." is more generally known as a "rant" or a "temper tantrum" or "toxic emotional swill I want to spew all over everyone". The most defining characteristic of such is its utter lack of correspondence with any reality outside the head of the person (usually under the age of 8) who is acting out in a socially unacceptable way.

The vast majority of adults in this society expect an opinion column to cite a set of established facts and present a line of reasoning which justifies the conclusions (opinions)
drawn by the writer. In no way can you justify that your recent catharsis as representing anything but a rant, therefore, I can only conclude that it was a temper tantrum.

In the future, it would behoove you to begin your rants with warning labels.
How about " Warning! Toxic emotional swill ahead!" This would save your readers (all three of them) the effort of trying to discern reason in your rants, and it would save you the embarrassment of trying to pretend that you simply communicated poorly.

Perhaps the most sophmoric of your delusions is the line "...Sometimes, it's easier just to rush off a piece along the party lines or opposing the latest right wing propaganda, but I don't really like easy. Easy is boring...." You seem to be implying that your bigotted rant reflected some kind of thoughtful well resoned opinions that the rest of us are too intellectually lazy, dishonest or cowardly to understand. I cannot disabuse you of your grandiose delusions, however I will say that my reaction vacillates between pity and amusement. Please do continue exposing your ignorance for all to see. Just remember, we all can see the truth you are displaying about yourself, except you.

BTW, quit lying about the degrees, ok?

9:09 PM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

Send me your address, I'll send you copies of my diplomas. As for the rest, you have come to your conclusion and no evidence will sway you from it. I didn't say that this person made me think that all atheists were bad. As I said, I believed and still do that the overwhelming majority of the atheists I've known would be ashamed to be so poorly represented. The two personal events I described are simply things that started a thought process. They do not represent its entirety.
It's funny what you say about my readership however, as it wasn't long ago, when I wrote a piece called "I want to be like Cho" for Raw, that you were one of my defenders if I remember correctly. That piece, too, offended many. But you seemed to like it despite the fact that I didn't cite academic texts, quote formal interviews, etc.

9:58 PM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

Based on your demonstrated inability to handle opposition in a rational or honest way, I believe you may be capable of violence as a means of control. I will not share my address with you. And I can cook up any copy of any diploma you would like in my computer. All it takes is basic imaging skills. If you really did get a degree, it was surely not for your writing or thinking skills. Or perhaps degrees don't mean what they used to.
I do not claim to represent or speak for anyone but myself. I seem to remember that the inability to see an individual as separate from a class is symptomatic of bigotry. Please note that I do not refer to classes or groups or types in my posts. I address you as an individual. Perhaps when you have lived longer you will find that stereotypes simply cloud perception and prevent one from seeing and dealing with reality.
I cannot find the article you mention in Raw's archive. If I did defend you, it is because I judge on substance, not personality. In any case, I doubt it was me because until recently physical problems made typing too painful for me. Lastly, I am perfectly capable of changing my opinions when the evidence they are based on changes. I base my opinions on your behavior and expressed opinions. Change your behavior and I will change my opinions.

10:55 PM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

I just want to point out that once again you demonstrate your inability to handle disagreement by citing evidence, or explaining your reasoning or anything else a real intellectual might do. You are fooling no one but yourself.

11:02 PM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

I would like to welcome the religous left to the battle that we extremist whackjobs have been fighting for lo these many years:

Religious Liberals Gain New Visibility
http://www.rawstory.com/showarticle.php?src=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.washingtonpost.com%2Fwp-dyn%2Fcontent%2Farticle%2F2006%2F05%2F19%2FAR2006051901813_pf.html

11:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, Minnie Mouse, you are so tortured by what you think Melinda wrote. I truly wish you peace. And I hope that you have the will and the capacity to reflect on what Melinda represents to you, for you don't know her. You're projecting. How many hours have you spent denigrating this woman that you don't know?

11:46 PM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

anonymous

Melinda didn't know me when she denigrated me as an example of a religous whackjob, and she can't even explain why she did so. I am not tortured by what I THINK she said, I quote chapter and verse to document the basis for my opinions. And I am not tortured by this fool, I am indignant at her claim to be a leftist when she obviously has no more comprehension of the term than my cat. As far as projection is concerned, I would be interested to see if you could offer a valid definition and quote one example of projection to back it up.

12:45 AM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

It is now 2:30 am Eastern and Anonymouse has not replied. Perhaps s/he is trying to find a dictionary. Or trying to figure out how to think through the condescending attitude. After this long a gap, an accurate definition would prove nothing. However I still challenge this person to come up with anything from my posts which would accurately illustrate projection. After all, rational people would not make an accusation like that just to put an old lady on the defensive, would they? As an aside, it is interesting to see that Melinda's supporters react to articulate dissent the same way Melinda does. They leave! One could almost think that this is a perfect example of the intellectual dishonesty, laziness and cowardice Melinda so freely attributes to others.

2:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Minnie wrote, "As far as projection is concerned, I would be interested to see if you could offer a valid definition and quote one example of projection to back it up."

And in the preceding sentence, she wrote, "I am indignant at her claim to be a leftist...."

That's projection. You don't know Melinda, but you write as if you do. You even suggested that her degrees aren't real, as if you know if, as if you have intimate knowledge. You don't, so you're projecting.

Let it go, Minnie. Life is short.

And now I'm going to let go of you and wish you well.

7:55 PM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

"And in the preceding sentence, she wrote, "I am indignant at her claim to be a leftist...." That's projection. You don't know Melinda, but you write as if you do."

Actually, anyone would read Melinda's claim to be a leftist, and then study her body of work, and conclude that she only claims to be a leftist. And that has nothing to do with the definition of projection, as anyone who has taken Psych 101 could tell you.

"You even suggested that her degrees aren't real, as if you know if, as if you have intimate knowledge. "
Actually, people with degrees in communication and journalism usually research their subject matter instead of basing a call for religous purge on two incidents and a train of thought. And when they are challenged by people who really know something about the subject, they usually debate the subject instead of issuing narrowly drawn double talking apologies for "poor communication".
My husband, who has been a high school teacher for 25 years, said that he would give her rant a "C-" if it came from a pupil in his high school English classes. He said the grammar and sentence structure demonstrated deserved something, but that the research, factual analysis, organization, persuasive power of the writer and lack of logic would make even that an act of mercy. He said the peice reminded him of efforts he had seen by homeschooled teenagers coming to a regular school for the first time. Based on this, I conclude that Melinda is most likely lying about her degrees. She does not think or write like an educated person. So yes, I think she is lying about her degrees. Perhaps I could be persuaded by a link to an alumni website or something, but failing that, I beleive Melinda is an arrogant teenager having fun with the milk toast liberals. And probably appalled at having run into one who hates bullying bigots.

As you can see, your second point has no basis in reality either. Care to try again?

8:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are." Anais Nin

12:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't believe this. You really have no idea what the vast majority of your critics were upset about, do you?

Nobody likes t be maligned or misrepresented. It's no better when you do it than it is when another misguided and under-educated post-pubescent idiot does so at a peace rally (seriously, could you have found a more cliche setting for your little anecdote?).

The best way to avoid misrepresenting a large and diverse group of people is to not try and represent them as a homogeneous whole. If you have a problem with something that a certain athiest said, call them out on it. Don't start out by grouping all athiests together and then claim that you were only attacking one side of the greater whole...That would be similar to calling you "Jew."

1:03 PM  
Blogger A Hermit said...

Just a few quick observations (some of whic I'm sure have occured to you already, but I can be a pedantic bastard once I get started, so there it is...)

First of all, the fact that someone else wrote the headline is kind of irrelevant if they used words from your article (whackjobs) to do it. A minor point, but there it is.

As for writing opinion and not an academic exercise that may be where things broke down. If your article had been about your reaction to the two individuals you mention here I doubt anyone would have complained; by trying to make a general, academic sounding argument out of your emotional response to a couple of isolated incidents you just got in over your head.

If your purpose is to write about your personal, emotional experience stick to that and don't try to generalize about a topic you are not familiar with. That one guy screaming his head off really wasn't representative of anything but his own emotional experience, and you have no idea what that may have been (raped by a priest, abused by strict "spare the rod spoil the child" fundamentalists etc.) To extrapolate from his behaviour to a larger polulation of "whackjobs" with any kind of influence on the left was really unwarranted

And you friend X? That would have been a good article, I think; watching someone move from open mindedness to inflexibility. I think many of us could relate to that experience; one of the consequences of openly declaring oneself to be atheist is the loss of friends who consider you to be "lost" to them. At first they try to save you from your heathen ways, but when you can't be convinced to see the light they cut you out of their lives, often in ways as nasty as what you experieced there. But again, moving from that experience to a portrait of atheist "whackjobbery" as a real problem for the left was perhaps a bridge too far.

You're right that your general thrust here is a good one; it's a point I often try to make myself in my blog commenting habit. Extremism is a problem no matter what the underlying belief system, and in a way you achieved your purpose of demonstrating that fact, but perhaps not in the way intended. The fact that someone whose own experiences should make her sensitive to the operation of bigotry in public discourse could write an article that so closely followed the template used by the more obvious bigots we are all familiar with rather proved your point about anyone being capable of going to far. In the end, however, it would seem that it was your own extremism that was exposed.

I look forward to the following articles, Ms. Barton. You seem a thoughful person.

A Hermit

2:57 PM  
Blogger A Hermit said...

Oh, and Minnie Mouse, lighten up.

Hermit

2:58 PM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

Hermit,

The experiences I described simply started the process. X, for instance, introduced me to a lot of atheist materials. When trying to understand what was going on with X, I read through them. Most were reasonable. Some were shocking. These two experiences simply opened me to the possibility that there could be extremists in the atheist community. I did a lot of research, although the article was not written well enough to show that. I never write anything without research unless it is specifically personal experience and labeled as such.

4:15 PM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

A Hermit

I'm second generation Irish, of IRA heritage, directly descended from the sainted Daniel J. O"Connell. The British used religion to supress the Irish for at least 400 years now, so perhaps I am more aware of it than most. Perhaps it's genetic, but I ain't ready to make nice yet. (Thank you, Dixie Chicks)

You are free to engage in reasonable dialog, and I appreciate your ability to do so, but the idea of shunning a part of the left as integral as atheists, based solely on their status as atheists is repugnant. And the fact that I wes personally quoted and labeled as an "extremist whackjob" but denied an explanation why,
makes it personal. As I told Melinda in an earlier post, I would go to the wall for her right to be biracial, gay, Jewish, and proud! When she sees the error of her ways and admits that I deserve the same respect from the Left that she does, and apologizes to every atheist in America, then I will be satisfied.

Sometimes reality therapy is the only way.

7:26 PM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

"...I did a lot of research, although the article was not written well enough to show that."

Perhaps you would care to cite the research on which you base this statement:"No rational movement dedicated to intellectual courage and honesty should maintain a relationship with those for whom intellectual laziness, dishonesty, and cowardice are a way of life. Doing what must be done to insure the integrity of the left will require identifying our extremists, countering their mythologies, and acknowledging the dangers they pose to a truly liberal society....While most who believe in the separation of church and state hold that only government support of religion in the public sphere should be forbidden, the atheist extremist may take it one step further to forbid the private display of religious symbols in public places..." Or how about "...the greatest danger the atheist extremist poses now is to the integrity and success of progressive movements....our commitment to truth demands we counter the fallacies being perpetuated in our name." What danger? What fallacies? Perpetrated by whom? I'm sure such an august intellect must have persuasive research to back up such a sweeping condemnation.

8:11 PM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

BTW, the Englich teacher I mentioned, my life partner of 27 years, the father of my atheist younger son, whom I admaire respect and adore, is a ...Christian. Just to help you see past the stereotypes.

8:35 PM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

"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."

Did you miss this part, Minnie? Or do you willingly ignore it b/c it may interfere with your desire to paint me as a horrible person?

8:44 PM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

From the Raw Story comment string, second posting:
... Melinda insinuates that that holding the burden of proof on the person making the claim makes one a whackjob. Pretty much all atheists (and reasonable people, I'd say) agree that the burden of proof is on the person making the claim. So all atheists felt ripped-on after reading this, ie a member of Melinda's whackjob group. Can you see this? Do you get why to atheists that it felt like she was the first to insult?

The other four outrageous claims described arguments virtually no atheist ever makes.

She closed describing the threat to the progressive movement and freedom of religion from the 'secular' extremist atheists insinuating being intolerant of religous beliefs (out of desire to protect truth / humanity) would somehow cause these same athiests to force others to stop practicing their religion in private.

If you can see that the article blurred the lines between the 'minority extremist atheist' she starts out describing her ficticious atheists (from O.R.C 2-5), and the real atheists (from O.R.C 1) who she suggests are minority whackjobs, then perhaps you can see why atheists felt attacked by this article (by a religious person describing atheists) and in a seeming underhand or at least oblivious way.

Do you get that the insult experience is effectively: "Most atheists aren't whackjobs; Here is a description of whackjobs: {1 description of all atheists, 4 descriptions of non-existent people}; We need to throw atheists out of the progressive movement because we're a nation of god-believers and we need our religious freedom."...
couldbewrongbut | 04.30.06 - 11:53 am

Doesn't this poster deserve a response?

9:16 PM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

"...perhaps they're just spouting invective for its own sake...."

What did I say that could be characterized as "spouting invective? Or did your insulting, dehumanizing, dissmissive choice of words just happen to be another example of poor communication backed up by extensive research? And why does it remind me of Bill O'Reilly?

9:22 PM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

From Miriam Webster:

Main Entry: 1spout
Pronunciation: 'spaut
Function: verb
Etymology: Middle English; akin to Middle Dutch spoiten to spout, Old English spIwan to spew
2 a : to speak or utter readily, volubly, and at length b : to speak or utter in a pompous or oratorical manner : DECLAIM

Main Entry: 2 invective
Function: noun
1 : an abusive expression or speech
2 : insulting or abusive language : VITUPERATION
synonym see ABUSE

So, how did my comment come to be described in such an insulting fashion, after you characterized me as an example of an "atheist whackjob"? And why do you always ignore the points of those who disagree and ask tor your reasoning, while focussing of minor points? And isn't that abusive behavior? Will you stop and discuss like an adult?

9:50 PM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

From the Raw Story comment string, second posting:
Ms. Barton argues for progressives to disassociate themselves from "atheist whackjobs." To "clean them out" of our ranks.

As an atheist, I shouldn't be offended, because it turns out that "atheist whackjob" is not a broadly applicable slur, but a carefully defined term of art.

It's useful shorthand for a set of "outrageous" ideas that we shouldn't tolerate.

Oddly, I'm not comforted. It turns out that I agree in the main with two of the "outrageous" claims. I believe that atheism is the most sensible conclusion to derive from all of the available evidence and logic (OC#1). I also believe that the material universe is probably all that there is (OC#2). At the very least, the burden of proof falls on the person making a supernatural claim.

Perhaps I should take comfort in the fact that I don't agree with the other three outrageous claims. But those claims are drafted in such absolute terms that they don't really describe the beliefs of any meaningful number of real people. So I'm left mostly matching the first two criteria, and the other three appear to be strawmen. Hmm.

Can it be that Ms. Barton is calling me a whackjob? A threat to freedom, liberty, and the "integrity and success" of the progressive movement? Am I being called an intellectually lazy and dishonest coward? (Such measured language.)

That's how I read it; an attack on members of an unpopular religious minority, because Ms. Barton finds them offensive and thinks they're a drag on the "movement."

Not your intent? Then you are incredibly careless.

Maybe next you can write a carefully circumscribed article on how we should "clean out" the extremist gays. Not all gays, of course; a progressive would never suggest such a thing; only the whackjobs. After all, an extremist is an extremist, and I'm sure that we can set up reasonable criteria to judge which ones must go.

Seriously, can you imagine ANY other group being discussed in this way? Shameful.
chewbonus | 04.30.06 - 5:32 pm | #
Doesn't this poster deserve a response, Melinda?

10:00 PM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

I have no desire to paint you as a horrible person. How you display yourself is your own affair. All I am doing is asking you to explain how your statements correspond to reality. You claim to have degrees in communication and journalism. If that is true, you have had to write and defend a thesis. The questions I am asking should be a walk in the park after that. After all, you have two incidents, a "...train of thought..." and "..a lot of research..". How could an elderly nurse pose a real challenge to such an august intellect?

10:12 PM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

From the Raw Story comment string, second posting:
DP,

I understood that Ms. Barton was drawing a distinction between "good" atheists and "atheist whackjobs." I have problems with that effort but will accept it for the purposees of argument.

Even with that distinction, I seem to fall within her definition of whackjob. Why? Because I hold the first two "outrageous" beliefs (as I think many atheists do).

That makes me, in her words, an intellectually lazy, dishonest, cowardly, whackjob, extremist threat to freedom and liberty and to the integrity and success of the progressive movement. She proposes to clean me out of the progressive attic.

Can you understand why I might be offended? This article is not an appeal to tolerance and acceptance of differing views.

Note that my whackjob status isn't based on any CONDUCT of mine. I'm a lifelong progressive civil libertarian, good with kids, polite to the elderly, work in public service, etc. etc. I've never oppresesd anyone and never will.

Yet I'm identified as "the other" and attacked in very harsh terms merely based on my beliefs about the existence of the supernatural.

Why take such a harsh position against someone on the basis of their beliefs? ... chewbonus | 04.30.06 - 8:07 pm
Doesn't this poster deserve a response?

10:37 PM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

From the Raw Story comment string, second posting:
...Probably everyone here knows that it's a very typical pattern in the historical attitude toward minority groups to separate them into the "good ones" and the "extremists."

For instance, we hear over and over and over again how totally non-homophobic the country is. We love gay people, right?

But then again, have you ever heard Bill O'Reilly spit out the phrase "gay activists"? You know who they are--the evil, "in your face," ones who actually bring up some legitimate grievances from time to time rather than just meekly accepting things the way they are.

The same sort of thing has probably happened to every group who has ever asserted themselves against the majority view. I'm sure we can all think of examples.

Barton's column, the "atheist whackjob" label, and then the whole justificatory business of "but I wasn't talking about all atheists" sounds like the same sort of business to me.
Sportin' Life | Homepage | 04.30.06 - 8:16 pm
Doesn't this poster deserve a response?

11:19 PM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

From the Raw Story comment string, second posting:
Although the dominant culture in this country is white Christian heterosexuality, I would never allow anyone to interfere with your right to be publically and outspokenly black, Jewish or lesbian. Nor would I allow anyone to drive you out of the Left. Yes, your presence in the movement may give some reason to vote the other way, but I don't seek the approval of racists, religous or sexual bigots. I , as a leftist, seek their disempowerment over my sisters who are publically, proudly and outspokenly black, Jewish or lesbian. I think that is the whole point of being a leftist. Do you win by surrendering your principles to the bigots? What are your principles, Melinda?
Minnie Mouse | 05.04.06 - 4:28 pm
Doesn't this poster deserve a response?

12:16 AM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

From the Raw Story comment string, second posting:
Melinda,

Since your apparent definition of "atheist extremists" or "atheist whackjobs" is "those who disbelieve all religious and spiritual claims," then you were in effect discussing the majority of atheists in America. This is why your piece was bigoted; your failure to repudiate the broad brush you used is why you can and should be described as an anti-atheist bigot.

It doesn't matter if you've spent 24 years fighting for liberal and progressive causes: you toss all that away when you generalize about and dehumanize a group of people in the manner that you have done.

I'm sorry I came back here. It's clear that you haven't learned a thing and, even worse, are determined not to learn anything that might disturb the comfortable bubble of bigotry you have enveloped yourself with. What a waste.
Austin Cline | Homepage | 05.05.06 - 12:52 pm
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12:19 AM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

From the Raw Story comment string, second posting:
Melinda, you have written a tremendously arrogant column which offends every atheist on the planet by its inferences that all those who strongly disbelieve the existence of your God are "whackjobs". If an atheist were to publish a column defining Godly believers as "whackjobs" for simply believing strongly in their God, he/she would be proverbially flayed alive by folks such as yourself! Yet you seem shocked and hurt by all the negative feedback that your atheist-insulting column has elicited. I can only say that your failure to anticipate the kind of outrage that your article has spawned is simply proof positive of your own arrogant sense of superiority and intolerance of the views of others. It's this kind of religious bigotry that causes atheists like myself to shake our heads and avoid any discussions at all on the topic of religion with people that profess to believe in your God. If your own confidence in your faith were really unshakeable, Melinda, you would not feel the need to publish such atheist-bashing trash as this. You appear to have been driven to deride atheists because their very confidence in their absence of belief in your God threatens your own faith. Shame on you for putting down others so that you can feel better about yourself. That's the kind of thoughtless behavior we expect from kindergarteners - not from adult columnists. Seems to me it's time for you to focus your efforts on some introspection for a change, Melinda.
DonnaM | 05.17.06 - 12:58 pm
Doesn't this poster deserve a response?

12:37 AM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

From the first Raw Story thread:
...Socially, they're a pain in the ass. They can be more obnoxious than any born again Christian about button-holing you at a social event to diatribe about how mistaken they believe you are in your beliefs. They are a threat to happy parties everywhere....With these atheists, any conversation about religion quickly becomes an argument. They approach religion with a debunking mindset that is the antithesis of an open mind. Like the extemist Christians, they are extremely impassioned in their views. They get very angry when they talk. It is this extremely emotional proselytizing that does make you wonder, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, if these people would willingly do harm to those who don't share their beliefs (I'm sorry, lack of beliefs), if they only had the power to do so.... hearth | Homepage | 04.23.06 - 11:37 am

hearth
In my long and happy career as an athiest, the only time I have been forced to bring up my atheistic status in on those social occasoins when some Xtian insists on inflicting their mythology on me. I have never seen an atheist buttonhole a believer and castigate them for their beliefs; indeed, that would be a violation of my own morality. Perhaps the arguments you object to are simply the questions asked about your beliefs by those you are proselytizing? 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. I am not angry with you, but I will not allow you to deny me the right, as an American, to live free of your mythology.
Minnie Mouse | 04.23.06 - 12:51 pm

So who was spouting invective in that exchange?

2:26 AM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

Saturday, April 29, 2006
Who are these "extremists"?

...So, I will begin with what I believe are extremist statements culled from a couple of internet comments threads....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....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..."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.)"

So , you believe this to be an extremist statement,
which will flesh out the extremist position unless they're just spouting invective for its own sake. Then you inject a note of moderation with the grudging statement that "...These people may not be extremist..." Before stating that "...those who propagate extremist ideas provide the justification for those who ultimately move from simply "believing" in extremist ways to acting in extremist ways...." I guess this is clear communication, intellectual rigor backed by research? If you can't site chapter and verse on your research Melinda, it sounds like right wing hate speech. You and hearth had amazing synchronicity, posting about how threatened all of us unbalanced, socially inept atheists lowlifes made you feel.

2:51 AM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

FYI, the proposition I advanced is well known in addiction circles, and is also widely used as a basic concept of cult deprogramming. Ideas, rituals, beliefs can all become psychological habits under the right circumstances, and under psychological stress can become coping methods akin to drugs. Perhaps you have never before had the opportunity to speak with a person holding a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing. (BSN) I enjoyed my work tremendously, and while I haven't kept up with the new medications, I have kept current with the basics, because in this era of lousy medical care, you never know when you have an opportunity to help someone. Or impress your son. I will never forget the amazement in my oldest son's voice when he called to tell me that I had correctly diagnosed mono over the phone. He was in boot camp at the time and the "medic" had kept sending him back to the line.

3:09 AM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

I refuse to accept the labels you put on me. Any religous person who insists on living life according to their religion is "strong in their faith" yet you describe an atheist conviction as "virulent opposition" to the belief you favor. You accuse us of ignoring "...any and all reason or evidence that refutes his claims..." yet cannot cite one shred of the evidence you claim we are ignoring.
I spend a lifetime earning a living, paying taxes, raising a family, supporting the left only to be told by you that I deserve to be run out of the left because you disapprove of the way I think. I, the daughter, wife and mother of combat veterans, the daughter and granddaughter of union organizers and dedicated leftist since the age of 14, refuse to allow you to make that judgement. Tom Petty wrote a song back in the 90's "Hey baby, there ain't no easy way out. Hey I stand my ground. And I won't back down." That's me. And I will be here in your face until you either back up your unamerican right wing dehumanizing intolerant crap, or you apologize. I stand on principle.

4:00 AM  
Blogger A Hermit said...

"The experiences I described simply started the process. X, for instance, introduced me to a lot of atheist materials. When trying to understand what was going on with X, I read through them. Most were reasonable. Some were shocking. These two experiences simply opened me to the possibility that there could be extremists in the atheist community. I did a lot of research, although the article was not written well enough to show that. I never write anything without research unless it is specifically personal experience and labeled as such."

OK, noW I'm confused; was this supposed to be an opinion article based on an emoptional response to a personal experience; or was it supposed to be a well researched expose of a significant problem? I'm curious to know where and how you researched atheist thought; seems like you got a pretty superficial overview of the subject at best.

Either way it didn't work, I think we can all agree on that. I'm really hoping that it really was just a matter of poor presentation, and that you've learned some lessons; I'm curious to see how you handle the subject in the promised future columns.

-----------

Minnie, I'm not saying you shouldn't be angry, but let's give Ms. Barton a chance here; her point about facing the possibility of extremism on our own side of the fence is a valid one, even if she did end up looking like an example of "whackjobbery" herself.

Maybe as a straight white middle aged man I have less to feel threatened about, or maybe it's just that (in)famous Canadian politeness, but I'm not ready to toss Ms. Barton overboard on the basis of one bad article. Your mileage may vary...

Hermit

10:38 AM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

Hermit, as I'll go into soon, I wasn't trying to represent all atheist thought. Only certain elements. That paragraph where I introduced "secular" became a completely different animal during the editing process and I didn't realize until after it went up how it would be interpreted. When you're editing something you wrote, it's too easy to see what you mean to say, not what's written.
As for emotion vs. reason, it's both. Emotion in that I have an emotional response to extremism. Reason in that I've read a lot about atheism in order to pin down what's what and where the extreme might lie. I read a lot and as I'm at work now, I can't check my source list, but off the top of my head:
Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Brittanica, Michael Shermer's "How We Believe:Science, Skepticism, and the Search for G-d", Secular Web, atheist blogs and message boards, the websites for a few atheist/secular humanist/naturalist orgs, Mitch Stephens' history of disbelief blog, a few dictionaries, atheism.about.com (ironically)etc. I also read a bit about militant atheism, the differences between positive atheism and negative atheism, evangelical atheism, a few infamous atheists like Madalyn Murray O'Hair etc. And just to be safe, I went through a few sites to brush up on the philosophy and logic I'd studied in college.
After that, I called up a dear atheist friend and asked her whether she'd encountered these types of things in the atheist community and what she thought about them. During hours of conversation, she told me the anecdote I'd mentioned earlier about why she'd left the secular humanist group to which she'd belonged.
It's always difficult to decide how much of research should go into a piece, especially without reverting to footnotes and formal citations. I'd hoped to give a general gist of the problem, followed up by a few more extremist examples then get to a piece about how extremism might play out in the left now and in the near future as we're all under a lot of pressure with the rapid social/political changes brought about by the Bush admin.
I've also been rereading Orwell and others to get a bead on how extremism has taken over the left in other situations.
Hopefully, my next post will give a more detailed understanding of what I meant with the piece.

12:34 PM  
Blogger Thavith said...

Wow Minnie Mouse, please lighten up.

I think that you are letting your emotions get the best of you. I think that it is well established that the Raw article was poorly written. Even Malinda seems to admit that.

Furthermore I see no reason to challenge Malinda’s academic credentials; I would guess that she has a degree in English. I am just making a guess based on the fact that the Raw article looks like something that I would expect to come from the English department in today’s universities.

I think that this incident is more importantly an example of why the left is losing power in the west. So many people seem to have no clue were the term “left” or “right” came from in western politics and unfortunately there are many people who falsely came to be from the left. I think that our very poor education system is to blame. We need to fix our education system.

1:15 PM  
Blogger Canardius said...

Having known Melinda since High School [when my quiz bowl team defeated hers], I'd say she is quite possibly one of the smartest people I've ever met [and I can quote you all the French Popes, Kings, and Queens you care to hear about].

But, ponder these tuppence of mine: We Christians never said we base our faith on emperical evidence. What would faith be if we needed proof before we believed? So, if the existence of God is not provable in logic, then the negation of that idea -- i.e., the non-existence of God -- should also not be solvable by means of logic.

Besides, Anselm's Ontological Argument might convince you. [Shouldn't it?] Or try perhaps reading St. Thomas Aquinas on the teleological or cosmological argument. Or even take Pascal's wager. or even take causality to Aquinas' Prime Mover = God. But know ye that I do not need to see them in order to say they are there. I haven't seen a positron either, but I swear they exist.

2:31 PM  
Anonymous mcfly said...

canardius-
If you actually want to debate the logic/illogic of atheism, you may want to visit sites that are visited by many intelligent atheists (not that the atheists who are posting on this site aren't intelligent, they're just not as numerous). Evolution Blog and Pharyngula are good places to start, as well as the aforementioned About Atheism site. But to quickly dispatch with a few of your arguments- (1) Pascal's Wager assumes a false dichotomy. The choice is not between God or no God, it is between the Christian God, the Muslim God, the Jewish God, Zeus, Zoroaster, the Hindu deities, ad infinitum. Moreover, I hardly think that believing in God simply because the odds are better to do so would guarantee you a happy afterlife, since the belief is not sincere. (2) In this day and age of quantum physics, where not only the question of whether something is moving on the atomic level is rather ambiguous, but also the question of whether that something is really something is ambiguous, I hardly think that Aristotle's (Aquinas just stole the argument from him and Christianized it) Prime Mover argument holds much water. (3) Anselm's ontological argument vastly underestimates the powerof the human brain. It essentially implies that we can't think of an abstract thing unless that thing really exists. But perfect circles don't exist in the real world, yet people have no trouble understanding what the term "circle" means. Perfect "hotness" or "coldness" doesn't exist in the real world, but there's little doubt what you're going to get when you turn the H or the C knob on your bathroom faucet. Humans are perfectly capable of thinking of any number of abstract concepts or imaginary beings without those things actually existing.

3:13 PM  
Blogger neuralgourmet said...

Infamous seems like a rather poor choice of words in describing Madalyn Murray O'Hair. She campaigned for church-state separation and filed a lawsuit that resulted, along with Robert Schemp's case, in a ruling that made it unconstitutional to force children to read the Bible in school. After which she founded American Atheists. She also served her country in World War II working to decrypt enemy communications. I don't see how helping your country defeat fascism both at home and abroad can be construed negatively unless you confuse 'vocal' with 'infamous'.

5:05 PM  
Blogger A Hermit said...

I'm still left with a lot of questions here.

Which of your sources to you consider to be "extremist" and why? Is Michael Shermer a "whackjob" in your opinion?

How many of them can be considered part of "the left" and how much influence do they really have on progressive politics? The more extreme atheists I've met tend to be Libertopian types who would really get their backs up at being called "leftist".

Are you concerned with extremist movements or extremist behaviour by individulas? What exactly have extremist atheists done to damage the progressive movement? I've certainly come across individuals whom I would consider extreme in their opposition to all things religious, but they mostly pop up in the form of anonymous blog commenters or drunken loudmouths at parties. By that standard I also know extremist snowmobilers and extremist Star Trek fans, but I don't think they warrant an article on a leading progressive website.

I guess I'm stil having a hard time understanding where you think the big threat from atheist extremism lies.

I'll keep reading...

5:18 PM  
Anonymous Righteous Bubba said...

I'm still at a loss as to why run-at-the-mouth atheists need to have an article written about them. There's an overall subject that begs to be written about, which is simply zealotry or tribalism, and rather than tackle the larger subject you go for the one in which you can isolate and crucify a teensy number of blowhards (like minnie mouse, who seems to require a prescription).

I saw on some network somewhere a show about The Rationalist Society, a group of people in India who perform an extraordinary service for villagers: they go from town to down performing magic tricks and show how they're done so that the villagers don't get suckered by visiting godmen who'll try to cure a potentially fatal snakebite with magic instead of medicine. Their atheism, in other words, saves lives. At the same time, it seemed to me that the documentary was evidence that they had become a tribe of their own, with rules, orthodoxy, chants, and so forth. They had become a tribe of sorts while explicitly existing to burst the bubbles of tribal culture. (My description comes from one half-remembered documentary, so take it with a grain of salt.)

In any case, people form tribes naturally, and some people take it too much to heart and become assholes. The way to write about this in the case of atheists is not to deal with the arguments, which, even if you identify them as outrageous are rarely as ridiculous as religious arguments, but to identify X argument as the rallying point that attracts the stupids that may accrete to the atheist "cause". (Anthropologists tend not to add "this is of course bullshit" to descriptions of tribal beliefs.)

There may be other aspects of the culture that produce mindless woofing or backslapping or spittle-sprays. If there's some sort of ceremonial aspect to the behaviour (as there was under the supposedly atheistic communist regimes) point to that as evidence of tribalism.

There are chunks of this to re-write or rephrase, but I gotta go.

5:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So. based on your experience with a grand total of TWO extremist atheists, you chose to write a column that painted a broad picture of atheists.

Good call. Two personal experiences. We're not talking about someone like Pat Robertson with an audience of millions for example? I have NEVER met a militant atheist anything like the non-existent people your column described and I'm a LONG time athiest activist. I challenge you to provide ANY data from ANYWHERE that actually shows that atheist extremists amount to 1/10th the amount of religious extremists in the world. And I'm talking about as a percentage of the two populations.

You've been exposed to two atheist extremists in your lifetime. How many agnostic/atheists have you known who were nothing like those two? I'll bet that number is even higher than you think simply because so many atheists are loth to pronouce themselves to be atheists because of the social stigma that columns like the one you printed, that statements from people like President Bush I have made.

Your column was just as bigoted as the statements made by the two extremist atheists you knew and you should be aware of this and be ashamed of yourself.

8:37 PM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

This is going to have to be brief, so forgive me if I don't answer everything. The two experiences I wrote about simply opened me to the POSSIBILITY that atheists could be extreme in their views. I did do further reading after X began to change and for the purposes of this article.
No, I don't consider Shermer to be an extremist. I quite liked the book, although I disagreed with some (not all) of his conclusions. Shermer and Stephens were a sort of touchstone for legitimate atheism so that I could try to see where the line may be between a reasonable atheist viewpoint with which I may disagree and one with which any reasonable atheist would disagree. Where does extremism begin? (The claims I included would have been straw men if applied to all atheists, however, there are those atheists who believe these things. Some of my critics even claimed that all or most atheists believe them, although I think they're wrong about that. I think they may be those "uneducated" atheists others talked about.)
That's why I didn't use some of the more insane quotes I found (like this one about how all christians should be shot on sight). I'm trying to find the beginning point of extremism. The part where, we can say, "Yes, but..." The almost normal parts that may lead to greater extremism down the road. I referred to O'Hair as "infamous" simply because that was how she was received during her lifetime. I'm quite fond of there being no prayer or Bible study in public schools and am grateful to her for that, even though I disagree with some of her views.
Of course there are atheist extremists on the right, but for the sake of the series, I'm focusing on the left. As for the dangers, the present danger is simply that our vocal extremists (the atheists I discussed and the ones I'll talk about in future essays) are easily trotted out by the right in their attacks on the left. I think we should make it clear that they don't speak for us, not to convince the right or because the right's propaganda is true (it's definitely not when applied to us all)but to reach the mainstream and the just left of center people who may want to be with us but are put off by these elements. The future threat is (this will be more detailed later) that as we respond to the extreme pressures and rapid changes of the current era, I believe a revolution of sorts will arise. Whether this revolution will be successful, unified, nonviolent, etc. will depend (in part) in dealing with the extremists in a manner that prevents them from undermining our movements or taking them over. I'd like to see the left maintain its ideals while fighting for our common causes not abandon them in the moment. Okay, there's no brief way to explain it adequately, so I'm going to have to ask for patience.

9:48 PM  
Blogger Stacey said...

Wow, Melinda... you done stirred up a pot - again. Looks pretty much like you were right to write the "article of doom." Did any atheists write to you and say "Hey, good article, you're right about the extremists, they're pretty much an embarassment"?

11:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Comment moderation, eh? Good. I wondered why Minnie hasn't posted 42 more times. I attribute her recent silence to moderation. Minnie, what more can you really have to say? It seems nothing, since you've taken to cutting and pasting other people's comments. Melinda's a good egg and she wrote a column from a miniscule date base. Guess what. We all generalize from miniscule data bases. And we're all just guessing.

11:22 PM  
Blogger BuffyTFS said...

I believe you did a great disservice to atheists in your original piece by failing to relate that you based your observations on merely two people you'd met. Your piece implied that there were a great many such "whackjob atheists", where for all you know there could be just the two you'd known. Were I to presume that all journalists were dishonest based on your article I'd be depriving myself of a great deal of quality writing.

Next time please be more up front about the size of your sample.

2:29 AM  
Blogger Simon said...

"I am, after all, a practicing Jew."

When will you stop practising and start doing it for real?

5:12 AM  
Anonymous Muriel Volestrangler said...

The future threat is (this will be more detailed later) that as we respond to the extreme pressures and rapid changes of the current era, I believe a revolution of sorts will arise. Whether this revolution will be successful, unified, nonviolent, etc. will depend (in part) in dealing with the extremists in a manner that prevents them from undermining our movements or taking them over.

Well, that still sounds like McCarthyism to me. You think extremists are a threat, trying to undermine the progressive movement, or take it over. Is this subversion another feature of your (ex-?)friend? Or can you point to people saying this is what they want to do? Please don't say "They're a secret movement, the evidence isn't public". And what do you mean by "dealing with them"?

I still haven't seen in your writing any evidence that the extreme atheists you are so worried about are actually associated with progressives, or the left, in any form. So, if you do find someone wanting to ban religion, or a similar intrusion of government into religious practice, please give your reasons why you think they are associated with the left. For instance, the French law about religious symbols in schools was introduced by a center right government.

6:51 AM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

I don't what part of this people don't understand. My observations were NOT based on just two people I met. Let me give you what is hopefully a very simple analogy. You've seen elephants all through your life, right? But you've never seen a purple one. (For the purpose of the analogy, we'll pretend that's possible.) One day, you're at a circus and you see a purple elephant. You think, huh? I didn't know elephants could be purple. I wonder what that's about. This sticks in your mind until one day you see a regular elephant turn purple. This reminds you of the first one you saw. So, you go find out more about purple elephants and how they get that way. You find out that while there are very few of them, they make up a small percentage of all elephants. You find this info interesting, and as you're writing about animals that are unexpected colors, you write about what you've discovered as part of a series on weird-colored animals and how they might get that way and what it all means. Get it?

6:54 AM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

Yes, Stacey, some atheists have pointed out in various places that the extremists I wrote about do exist and that they're an embarassment. One woman actually commented on a message board that she thought I must have met her ex-boyfriend.

6:57 AM  
Anonymous A Liberal Atheist said...

I would really, really like for you to understand why you've upset so many people, Melinda. But it is painfully obvious from the column and your many attempts to alternately excuse and defend it that you still don't get it.

First I just want to comment again on the O'Hair "infamous" reference. You do realize the people who received her as that were the bible-bangers, right? Why do you do them the favor of repeating their propaganda? You said that you simply disagree with her views. Well, as far as I can tell, the only significant "view" you would have disagreed with her on, is the issue of whether or not a god exists. Politically, she stood for just about everything you do. O'Hair (like even most "whackjob" atheists) was definitely on YOUR side in this battle. So why are you turning your gun around and shooting at your friends? The far greater threat I see to the progressive movement is the massive amount of money and power of the conservative movement. Why not attack the real threats instead of the imagined ones?

Next is the purple elephant analogy. To make it accurate, you need to extend it and declare purple elephants to be a danger to the animal kingdom - that they should be banned from any sort of public exposure lest they reflect poorly on the rest of the gray elephants. You weren't just commenting on the existence of these elephants, you were calling for action against them.

Finally, please understand that many reasonable, liberal, and tolerant atheists have read your article carefully and felt that your statements applied to them. And based on how broadly they were worded, it's easy to see why that happened. For one thing, why is it a vice to be certain of the non-existence of the Christian god, but apparently a virtue to be certain of the opposite?

By the way, the right wing also pulls out and displays "extremists" from animal rights groups, feminists, homosexuals, pro-choice organizations, anti-violence groups, and just about every other liberal cause you can think of. Can we assume that columns identifying & bashing "whackjobs" from all these other groups are forthcoming?

8:50 AM  
Blogger Thavith said...

Please Canardius do not insult our intelligences. Where you joking when you wrote:
“Besides, Anselm's Ontological Argument might convince you. [Shouldn't it?] Or try perhaps reading St. Thomas Aquinas on the teleological or cosmological argument. Or even take Pascal's wager. or even take causality to Aquinas' Prime Mover = God. But know ye that I do not need to see them in order to say they are there. I haven't seen a positron either, but I swear they exist.”

These arguments have all been laughably refuted in innumerable ways. Furthermore of all the attempts to prove the existence of god(s) Anselm’s Ontological Argument is the laughing stalk of Christianity. As Kant put it existence is a quantifier not a qualifier.

10:31 AM  
Blogger Thavith said...

"Yes, Stacey, some atheists have pointed out in various places that the extremists I wrote about do exist and that they're an embarassment. One woman actually commented on a message board that she thought I must have met her ex-boyfriend." --Malinda

As an active atheist I can say that yes there are extremist atheists. But so what?!?!? What do they have to do with anything? We atheists have no pull in America what so ever, we are a very small and marginalized community. So who cares if a very small percentage of a very small and marginalized community is nutty?

I think that you are missing what some people are trying to get at. Namely you have pointed out that a very small percentage of a very small and marginalized group of people hold extreme views that they have not been known to violently act on and they have zero political power.

So what is the big deal? Why is this something that we should concern ourselves with? Why are they a threat to anyone much less the “left”? May I point out that many people would think that with out wackjob atheists there would be no “left”. After all I would think that Voltaire, Thomas Pain, Thomas Jefferson, and John Locke would all qualify as atheist extremists. Do you consider things like the Jeffersonian Bible, Voltaire’s writings or the writings of Thomas Pain to be a threat to the “left”?

If so then do you know where the term “left” came from?

Can you please do me and the rest of the world a favor and write an article reminding people where the term “left” came from and what the history is of why people rejected the Great Chain of Being, Devine Right to Rule and other theistic beliefs? I am serious in the days of the Bush administration it would be a great service that you could do for your country.

10:59 AM  
Anonymous mcfly said...

melinda barton said:
I don't what part of this people don't understand.
I can't speak for everyone, but for me one of the salient criticisms of your article was that there seemed to be little evidence in your article that you did the research necessary to properly back up your arguments that such extremist atheists as you describe really do exist and really are a threat. And in your post defending your article, rather than citing atheists writings or public speeches, you cite two more cases of your own anecdotal evidence. Only in the comments section did you get around to mentioning the publicly-available works of atheism that you used to do your research, but you still haven't cited any instances of writings or speeches from American atheists in the public sphere that would fit the mold of the "extremists" that you describe. As several others have mentioned, the opinions you ascribe to extremist atheists seem to fit best with the Objectivist Ayn Rand-followers, who are hardly part of the left. If you want to stop being misunderstood, give us specific citations of publicly available sources that show cases of the extremist atheist views that you describe in your article. Yes, your article doesn't have to meet the same standards as an academic work, but you do need to back up your opinions with some kind of facts aside from anecdotal evidence.

11:16 AM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

A Hermit said:
Minnie, I'm not saying you shouldn't be angry, but let's give Ms. Barton a chance here; her point about facing the possibility of extremism on our own side of the fence is a valid one, even if she did end up looking like an example of "whackjobbery" herself.

A Hermit, with all due respect, Melinda has consistently cherrypicked the points she will respond to while ignoring, insulting and misrepresenting most valid critics. When she starts displaying some intellectual honesty and courage by engaging in dialog and responding to her critics, I will respond in kind. Her column was posted a month ago today, and I have been in on the discussion since the beginning. I have given her plenty of chances to engage in reasonable dialog, and have seen only contempt toward me and many of her other critics. When she changes her attitude, I will change mine. Until then, I see no reason to appease an abusive person who wants to split and define the left on religous grounds. Perhaps to most of you, this is intellectual gamesmanship, but to me, living in the rural depths of a red state, fundamentalist fanatics and discrimination are everyday realities. Perhaps this is an illustration of the dichotomy between the intellectual left and the ordinary people living left in oppositional and sometimes dangerous surroundings. Words have consequences and Melinda represents a threat to people living in the real world. You provide the intellectual feedback if you want. I will represent, to the best of my ability, those who are actually at risk. BTW, we used to have a muscular left, which strongly verbalised on behalf of the oppressed. I come from that tradition. I see no reason to abandon it.

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

Righteous Bubba:
you go for the one in which you can isolate and crucify a teensy number of blowhards (like minnie mouse, who seems to require a prescription)

Sir: When you are finished with the sophmoric babbling about the basic sociological concepts underpinning the academic theories of tribalism, perhaps you could take a minute to contemplate the message above fron the real world. And when you finish apologizing, perhaps you could make a contribution to the discussion. Your egghead babblings are not relevant.

11:47 AM  
Anonymous Minnie Mouse said...

Anonymous said...

Comment moderation, eh? Good. I wondered why Minnie hasn't posted 42 more times. I attribute her recent silence to moderation. Minnie, what more can you really have to say? It seems nothing, since you've taken to cutting and pasting other people's comments.

I usually don't reply to anonymous posters, but actually, I have responsibilities in the real world to. And I have plenty more to say. The comments I posted from the other board served to perpetuate the posts of people who brought up the same points I did, who were ignored or treated with the same contempt Melinda showed me. They serve to illustrate that I am not some lone fanatic engaging in persecution. This may be uncomfortable for you, but I beleive it is a perfectly valid action. These posters and hundreds more like them, deserve replies.

11:59 AM  
Blogger A Hermit said...

Righteous Bubba said...

"I'm still at a loss as to why run-at-the-mouth atheists need to have an article written about them. There's an overall subject that begs to be written about, which is simply zealotry or tribalism, and rather than tackle the larger subject you go for the one in which you can isolate and crucify a teensy number of blowhards"

Kind of sums up where I'm at on this thing right now. I'm going to wait for the followup article now, thanks for your patience Ms. Barton.

A Hermit

12:23 PM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

1. Why is it taking so long?
I have a full-time job, writing commitments, and pressing matters in my personal life that have demanded attention. As it is, I'm spending every free moment at work responding to your questions and criticisms.
2. Why am I not answering every question?
Imagine trying to answer hundreds of differently worded questions/criticisms on limited time. Many of these are repeating similar questions, are simply ad hominem attacks on me and my character, or have already been answered. Then, you have to keep track of which questions you have answered and which you haven't. Again, on very limited time. Then, there are those who post and repost dozens of times, preventing debate, which discourages others from posting. That's why I've started moderating. Notice that I'm still allowing criticisms and attacks. I'm just not going to allow one person to post 50 questions and take over the debate.
3. Yes, but why am I doing it wrong?
Before Raw, I was a print journalist. I still am to a great extent. In print publications, the writer rarely sees letters to the editor much less gets the opportunity to respond. Doing so at Raw and on my blog has been a new experience. I'm still learning the ins and outs, however. This article has provoked an unprecedented response (or at least unprecedented for one which I've had the opportunity to read/reply to) and I'm pretty much trying to do the best I can and hope for the best. For instance, the only person who would normally ever see the exact details of my research (other than me) would be an editor or fact-checker.
4. Can you expect to see upcoming columns on extremist homosexuals, feminists,etc.?
Yes. The piece I'm working on now is on the "man-hating" lesbians and feminists who give the rest of us a bad name. I'm trying to use the things I've learned from this column to work on that one. The series will be a few pieces on different types of extremism, then a couple more (I can't pin down an exact number until I see how things go) on how extremism might play out in the left now and in the future with some consideration as to how it's played out in the past within the left and the right.

12:25 PM  
Blogger Thavith said...

Please read The raving Atheist blog for the entery on May 17th. What do you guys think about what he has to say about extremism?

3:34 PM  
Anonymous mcfly said...

thavith-
For those who are uninitiated to the Raving Atheist blog and his, er, ravings, I think it's only fair to point out that RA, though entertaining, tends to have off-the-wall views on several subjects to which he has devoted about half of his blog posts in the last couple years. For one thing, he is fiercely pro-life, and believes that all abortions after the moment of conception are immoral. He also thinks that it's immoral to have sex outside of a monogamous relationship. You can read Pharyngula for a critique of these views. Regardless, I think people should take the Raving Atheist with a grain of salt. His views are, from what I know, far outside of the mainstream of atheist culture, and, relating to Ms. Barton's original article, certainly far right of anyone who would consider themselves part of the political left.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Righteous Bubba said...

Minnie sez: And when you finish apologizing, perhaps you could make a contribution to the discussion.

Give me what you're using and I'll make 30 or 40 contributions. None, however, will be an apology to you: whatever it is it seems to jumble up the firies and the grumpies besides.

8:00 PM  
Blogger Thavith said...

Mcfly,
I know that RA is in very many ways a "rightist" but then so is Malinda. Malinda is right there next to Bush on the political spectrum. I have traded some very revealing emails with her. I think that she would be best off dropping the pretense of being a member of the "left" and go write for the religious right where she belongs.

In her emails Malinda made it crystal clear that she does not even have the faintest clue where the term "left" comes from or what it means to be on the "left".... This is why she is having so many problems, she is publishing in the wrong publications. She should try writing for the Christian Monitor, or perhaps the folks at the Discovery Institute.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

Yes, and in those "revealing" e-mails, Thavith, proved that he a.) doesn't know anything about me b.) knows next to nothing about logic c.)knows absolutely nothing about American politics and d.) has absolutely no reading comprehension. And since there was precisely 1 e-mail from me about RA's blog entry, I wonder what psychic powers he must have if he can come to a conclusion about my entire worldview. To be fair, here is the content of the e-mail that supposedly revealed that I'm a right winger.

I think that to claim objectivity is false. As one of the commenters
pointed out, the only way to be truly objective is to separate yourself from your own perspective/humanity. This is not possible. In journalism, we
study ways to make our work (not columns, of course) as objective as
possible. Balance (which is actually based on a logical fallacy) is one of those attempts. Getting multiple sources is another. Ultimately, there are still values underlying our reportage. We will see a car accident, house fire, terrorist attack, murder etc. as a sad thing to be reported in a certain manner and with a certain respect, for instance.
Logic is another field which some believe is objective but is not. When I took a course in logic back in undergrad, the professor used the example of the Vulcans. This is sort of how he explained it. Logic would not be possible without the assumption of certain values. The very fact of
choosing logic implies that you place a value on it. There is no logical reason for choosing reason over emotion rather than using reason to temper emotion and hold off its more deleterious effects or even to surrender oneself to emotion. For the Vulcans, choosing logic was a pragmatic
decision to abandon a violent culture that left them at the edge of total self-destruction. They valued the continued existence of their society, so they chose logic as a means to control the destructive force of their
emotions but never completely abandoned emotion.
As for his views on extremism, I think it's a matter of neither/both. It is
the combination of what and how you believe, not just one or the other. Also, I think that neither complete moral absolutism nor complete moral relativism are sufficient to or even conducive to morality. It is instead
the pursuit of a suitable mean between those two extremes that produces the highest moral thought.


And for this, for believing that a system (such as logic) cannot sufficient, logically justify its own existence or its superiority over other systems or modes of thought, I'm a right-winger. Go figure.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Evil Ed said...

I don't think all religious people are evil; I just think they're stupid. Good and evil's got nothing to do with it.

But if you think I'm an extremist because I reject the idea that it's okay to believe in magical beings without a shred of evidence, then an extremist I am proud to be.

Whatever you may accuse atheists of, the most ridiculous thing a person can do is base their world view and behavior on obvious fables. Like I said, it doesn't make them evil, just really, really stupid.

7:28 PM  
Blogger Thavith said...

"And since there was precisely 1 e-mail from me about RA's blog entry, I wonder what psychic powers he must have if he can come to a conclusion about my entire worldview." - Malinda

I obviously have read your blog, and your raw article. Then there is the fact that you have sent me four emails, not one. I guess you never did figure out how to count Malinda. Now based on this I would say that I have read more then just a page or two of your writing.

As to your claims that I do not know logic, I think I know more then you do, I am the logic major after all not a communications major like you. If you think your hot stuff then let’s see you strut your stuff. The fact that in your email you are dumb enough to state: “Logic as a system cannot sufficiently, logically justify its own existence or its superiority over other systems.” shows a lot about your mind set……

By the way when it comes to figuring out reality and the truth you never did answer my question, what other systems are there for figuring out the truth? You keep talking in your emails about other systems to figure out the truth that are just as good as logic and you can not even name one such system!!!!

1:24 PM  
Blogger Canardius said...

call me romantic, but I like to think that the Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Greek, Persian et al "God" are all differing faces or facets of the same concept: a Supreme Being. What that being wants us to do or not do differs among all those groups, but each group wants a higher being to give them purpose and impose order in an otherwise disorderly world. And Pascal didn't have to sincerely believe in an afterlife himself to argue on the odds of it [though it might help]. I could say the odds of Barbaro winning the Preakness were good -- 3 to 5 at posttime -- but I didn't believe it would happen. And it didn't.

[And yes, i'm romantic enough to want to see Einstein's grand unification theory accepted... so i have to admit my romantic idealism may get me sounding illogical].

As Queen Elizabeth I said, "I believe there is a god; the rest is an argument over trifles." Our differences with greek orthodox are mainly over precession of the holy ghost from both the father and the son, or just the father alone. Yet in the name of dogma we divide the Catholic church in 1054. And I've had a long debate with Melinda over the question of Icons being worshipped [see Second Council of Nicaea]. Boiled down to the core, all religions are about codes of conduct.

Christ's two great commands to "Love the lord your god with all your heart...." and "to love your neighbor as yourself" sum up the focus of the 10 given to Moses, all of which deal with Love of God or Love of neighbor. So even if the codes quibble over different details [like a Trinity, or how the Messiah fits in, or how to obey something], that doesn't necessarily preclude [to me at least] the idea that the gods we believe gave them are [a] incompatible or [b] non-existent.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous mcfly said...

canardius said:
call me romantic, but I like to think that the Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Greek, Persian et al "God" are all differing faces or facets of the same concept: a Supreme Being
As nice as it would be if philosophical arguments depended only on what we personally believe, that certainly isn't the case. Let's say that instead of the choice being between a generic "God" and no God, that the choice is between Good God (the Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, etc. God), Bad God, and no God. Good God will send you to Heaven if you believe in him, but Bad God will send you to Hell if you believe in Good God. Now there is no advantage to believing in (Good) God. And since Pascal's argument makes no other assumptions about God except that he exists or doesn't exist, there is no reason that you can't throw Bad God into the mix.

Not to be rude, canardius, but please go check out some atheist sites. Austin Cline's "About Atheism" site in particular would be helpful. It may not surprise you to know that every atheist who has spent any time on the internet has been confronted with "silver dagger" arguments from theists proving absolutely that God exists and that atheists are completely wrong. Trotting out canards like Pascal's wager does nothing except show your own unfamiliarity with the subject. And I swear if you say something like "You can't be an atheist unless you can absolutely prove that God doesn't exist" that I will reach through my computer screen and give you a virtual smackdown.

2:20 PM  
Anonymous mcfly said...

Change "silver dagger" argument to "silver bullet" argument in my last post. Atheists already get a bad enough rap without having me subliminally equate them with vampires.

2:37 PM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

Thavith, learn to count. I sent you one e-mail in response to your query as to why I hadn't posted in a while. One in response to your request that I tell you what I thought about RA's blog entry. Then, you made your "brilliant" claims about my ideological stance, which you yourself said were based on my response to that one question. (I'm assuming you thought this would be a sufficient test of my political ideology for some reason. I can only assume, as (unlike you) I have no pretend psychic powers to rely on that would permit me to completely determine a person's identity, education, etc. from a few words on a computer screen.) Then, I sent you two more about your ridiculous assumptions and inability to read. Then, you posted your latest comment. Then, I sent you another e-mail telling you that you're possibly one of the stupidest and most self-deluded people with which I've ever had the misfortune to communicate. Any more e-mails from you will be deleted unread.

Further proof of your inability to read (much less write proper English) is the fact that I never said that there is a system that is superior to logic in determining truth. I said that any such assessment would be value-based and therefore not truly logical. The value we place on truth is also not truly logical. Logic does not assign value, only determines consistency and correctness according to a defined set of rules. I also said (and you can verify this with someone more knowledgeable in critical thinking than you) that no system can sufficiently justify its own existence or superiority. A results-based assessment is completely separate from a sufficient, logical justification for existence or superiority from within the system of logic itself. Logic is a strong guide to consistency and correctness in reason but cannot prove its own rules using those rules.

Now, let's look at you:
Your claim:
You're a logic major, therefore your logic and arguments are better than mine, a person with a communications degree.
My answer: Your appeal to your own authority to validate your claims and your attack on my educational background to invalidate my claims are both logical fallacies.

Your claim:
Emotion is right-wing. Reason is left-wing.
My response: This shows complete ignorance of political divisions in this country. I'm a Democratic Socialist, a pacifist, an ardent supporter of civil liberties, pro-choice, anti-war, for the separation of church/state, pro-gay rights, pro-feminist, pro-environment, anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-homophobia, anti-heterosexism, anti-fundamentalism, etc. I support tremendous reform in our political system to make it more just, more democratic, and more free. That makes me a leftist.

Your claim:
These e-mails (which didn't even touch upon the origins of the terms "left" and "right" in politics) showed you that I have no knowledge of the origins of these terms.
My response:
You've shown that you have none.
Perhaps, you should read this. The terms basically refer to those who want change (left) or want to maintain the status quo (right). Considering how often I've agitated for change in my both my writing and my life, I think that would safely place me on the left.


Your claim:
You've read my column at Raw and my blog.
My response: If you had actually read them with a modicum of comprehension, you'd a.) know how to spell my name b.)see that the stances I take are far from anything that would be reasonably defined as right-wing in this country or any other and c.) not have assumed that I was an English major, since my qualifications are mentioned on the blog.

Your claim:
My assigning value to emotion or assess some things by emotion invalidates me and my arguments or means that I prefer emotion to reason.
My response:
Another problem with reading comprehension. Yes, I assign value to love, charity, compassion, mercy, justice, beauty, tolerance, etc. I believe in human rights and human dignity, things which cannot be sufficiently supported by logic. I also assign value to reason and logic, as anyone who has ever met me will tell you. I simply think that these things can complement one another and we should find the right tool for the right job. Awaiting the impossibility of finding formal logical justification for our values would be crippling to human society.


Your claim:
You're a computer science major.
My question:
I have no reason to believe this is not so. However, how is it that you've never managed to e-mail me a functional link? I've always had to correct the URL to avoid that lovely 404 message. Hmmmm...

3:03 PM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

Canardius has made it clear that he knows that no proof for either proposition (the existence or non-existence of G-d) is possible and that he accepts existence on faith. So, I think we can safely assume that he's not trying to prove the existence of G-d. He's also been extremely honest that what he's saying reflects how he "feels," "thinks" or "believes" and may be irrational. I, for one, respect him for having enough humility not to try to provide the impossible.
As for the patently false assumption that he is saying that disbelief of religious claims is objectively wrong (not that he disagrees but that it IS false), you should read him more carefully and not assume that he's saying what other theists have said simply because he's a theist.
As both Canardius and I have pointed out, however, there's a big difference between saying you disbelieve theistic/religious claims because they're unproven/unprovable/inconsistent etc. and proclaiming absolutely that G-d does not exist. Admittedly, the latter stance is atypical amongst atheists, but it is one that some atheists have taken.
The suggestion that he visit atheist sites in order to correct his thinking is both condescending, arrogant, and rude regardless of intent. However, I'll choose to give you credit for good intent. I'd also suggest that those who don't know a lot about atheism visit these sites in order to understand (not necessarily to come to agree with) atheism and the perspectives of those who are atheists in a predominantly theist society.

3:24 PM  
Anonymous mcfly said...

melinda-
Here is what canardius said in his first post:
Besides, Anselm's Ontological Argument might convince you. [Shouldn't it?] Or try perhaps reading St. Thomas Aquinas on the teleological or cosmological argument. Or even take Pascal's wager. or even take causality to Aquinas' Prime Mover = God. But know ye that I do not need to see them in order to say they are there. I haven't seen a positron either, but I swear they exist.
If that isn't condescending and arrogant, I don't know what is. The obvious implication is that no atheist, or at least none reading the comments, has ever read Aquinas or taken the time to consider the Ontological Argument. I think I have tried to be as polite as possible, and because this was somewhat off the subject of your particular post, I suggested (twice) that it would be more appropriate to visit atheist sites for these kinds of discussions. I really don't think there was too much to take offense at, except to point out that there was nothing new in the arguments being made and that canardius's time might be better spent researching the topics further.

3:37 PM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

McFly,
Here's his entire first post:

Having known Melinda since High School [when my quiz bowl team defeated hers], I'd say she is quite possibly one of the smartest people I've ever met [and I can quote you all the French Popes, Kings, and Queens you care to hear about].

But, ponder these tuppence of mine: We Christians never said we base our faith on emperical evidence. What would faith be if we needed proof before we believed? So, if the existence of God is not provable in logic, then the negation of that idea -- i.e., the non-existence of God -- should also not be solvable by means of logic.

Besides, Anselm's Ontological Argument might convince you. [Shouldn't it?] Or try perhaps reading St. Thomas Aquinas on the teleological or cosmological argument. Or even take Pascal's wager. or even take causality to Aquinas' Prime Mover = God. But know ye that I do not need to see them in order to say they are there. I haven't seen a positron either, but I swear they exist.



Now, perhaps I'm assuming clarity here b/c I'm familiar with Canardius' particular way of communicating. But I think the "shouldn't it?" shows that he's simply saying that these seem like strong arguments (to him) that you "might" find convincing of the possibility not proof. Maybe Canardius would be best suited to speaking for his own mindset.

This is something you said:
Trotting out canards like Pascal's wager does nothing except show your own unfamiliarity with the subject.

As someone who knows Canardius personally, I can assure you he is more than familiar with all of the arguments and counterarguments. You assume that he does not.

Here's more for context:
It may not surprise you to know that every atheist who has spent any time on the internet has been confronted with "silver dagger" arguments from theists proving absolutely that God exists and that atheists are completely wrong. Trotting out canards like Pascal's wager does nothing except show your own unfamiliarity with the subject. And I swear if you say something like "You can't be an atheist unless you can absolutely prove that God doesn't exist" that I will reach through my computer screen and give you a virtual smackdown.

Canardius was making no attempt to prove the existence of G-d as he had just admitted that such a thing was not possible. Nor was he saying that atheists are "completely" wrong. Nor was he saying that no atheist had ever read/considered these arguments. I would be shocked indeed to see Canardius imply that you can't be an atheist without proof, since he's admitted that he does not require proof for his own worldview. Knowing him as I do, I would consider that an impossibility.

You seem to be attributing motivations to him based on (in my very limited opinion as I do not know yo well) your experience with other theists.
Now, perhaps the way in which you made your second suggestion (I only just now reread how you'd phrased it earlier) misled me as to your mindset. If so, I apologize.

But I ask this: Why are atheist sites the suitable location for such a debate? Wouldn't it be better to find some sort of neutral ground? A philosophy discussion forum, for instance?
I think that both atheist sites and theist sites would be biased towards their own perspective, exaggerating the opponent's weaknesses and their own strengths.

5:21 PM  
Anonymous mcfly said...

melinda,
I interpreted what Canardius wrote in his first post as: I don't think you can prove with logic that God exists or doesn't exist, but all the same here are a bunch of proofs for God's existence that should convince atheists (shouldn't they?) because the proofs are quite convincing (right?). You can't have your cake and eat it too. You can certainly debate these points on any website you choose. Like I said, this argument was something I saw could easily derail the primary discussion, so I suggested some alternative places to go. I go to mostly atheist and science blogs, so I suggested the ones I thought had the best discussions on arguments for/against atheism. Arguments like Pascal's wager and First Cause (a stronger variation of the Prime Mover argument) are so common among theists who venture onto atheist sites, that Austin Cline set up a special page to address those particular arguments. He prefaces the discussion by saying:
(Y)ou will find the same basic arguments repeated over and over. There is a limited number of arguments offered for the existence of gods, although there are certainly variations and ways to make old arguments look new. For that reason, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the most common — this will make it easier to deal with them when you encounter them.
That is why I said that canardius seemed to be unfamiliar with the subject matter, because a quick perusal of that page or similar pages on arguments for/against God would have shown the weakness of Pascal's wager or the Ontological argument. I should mention that my essay for getting into college and my essay for my Intro. Philosophy final in college both argued for the existence of God. Because of the prevalence of Judeo-Christianity in our society, it is the case that most atheists started out as Christians, many of them as devout Christians (Michael Shermer being a good example). So, getting back to the subject of where the best websites are to have these debates, I happen to think that most atheists and atheist blog sites are more familiar with the arguments and counter-arguments on both sides of the issue, but that is just my opinion.

6:04 PM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

McFly, I tend to prefer neutral territory for such debates b/c as I mentioned, it is easier to avoid the bias of perspective on them. Sites set up for atheists or theists for that matter tend to exaggerate the weaknesses of their opponents and their own strengths. Anselm's argument, for instance, was first refuted by a monk, who I'm assuming was a theist.
Rereading this, I realized that perhaps we're both wrong. What if Canardius was using these as examples of the proof of the impossibility of creating successful logical proofs for either position? I guess we'll have to wait for Canardius.

7:56 AM  
Anonymous mcfly said...

melinda,
I'll wait for a reply from Canardius before commenting any further on his posts. Regarding the best websites for theist vs. atheist debates. I should mention that when I first replied to Canardius, I was assuming the only websites one could go to for such debates were atheist or theist sites. If you're going to assert that atheism is illogical, you wouldn't go to a theist site unless you want to read lots of "Yeah, that's right" replies, and maybe one lonely atheist saying "Hey, not so fast". So atheist websites would be the place to go to find people to debate that point. As far as good neutral philosophy sites for such debates, I know of none and, truth be told, I find pure philosophy tiresome and prone to be mired in semantics, so I haven't sought out such websites. If anyone who is reading the comments has recommendations for good philosophy sites for theist vs. atheist debates, I'd be interested. Well, I'm off to enjoy the long weekend, I hope you have a good holiday Melinda, and same to the other people reading.

11:16 AM  
Blogger A Hermit said...

Pascal's wager (or as I like to call it,the Sucker's Bet) always struck me as an argument for hypocrisy, rather than faith. Pascal himself presents the argument as a way of taking steps toward believing; suggesting that even if you don't really believe you should behave as if you do, and belief may come about as a product of habit.

This always makes me wonder whether, if there were a God wouldn't he/she/it prefer and honest atheist to phony believer?

11:31 AM  
Anonymous dreamwalker said...

"If anyone who is reading the comments has recommendations for good philosophy sites for theist vs. atheist debates..."

You could try http://atheism.about.com/mpboards.htm.

They can be a bit abrasive at times, but there are some excellent debaters there.

4:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Minnie, you are unwittingly doing the best you can to prove Melinda's point about atheist extremists. Not that you're the only one to do so in these comments...

5:38 AM  
Blogger Canardius said...

Yes, I'd say we can't give a logical proof for something that is by definition not based on logic.
But we humans love to try. We want to rationalize and understand and say something must have a logical cause for its procession from point a to point b. Even if we can't see it, or it makes no sense. And I think we debate it to convince ourselves.

My comments on Anselm about it convincing you [shouldn't it?] were eccentric attempts at jokes. Anselm begs the question, so I put it in as an aside. To put some wit and levity into the otherwise dour and potentially enraging subject. I figured many had heard Pascal's idea, and wanted to see how they handled it.

I am not saying I buy Anselm's argument. I don't buy it; just that it was out there and still floats. And Aquinas had so lofty a goal of trying to harmonize faith and reason. But even St. Thomas would never say he believed because he could prove God; he was doing it mainly to convert nonbelievers... hence his title [if memory serves me] "Argumentum contra gentilis"....

Oh, and Voltaire was no atheist. He was a deist. Like Frederick II of Prussia, and several American founding fathers. Deism doesn’t say there is no god; it says God created this place, set it up to work by what we found out was Newtonian physics [with a bit of quantum mechanics when the speed of light comes into it] and then headed for Acapulco. Voltaire saw no point in praying to god not because he felt there was none, but rather because He'd never answer us. He doesn't need to, to a deist.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Numinous Ubiquity said...

God is defined as all-powerful and all-knowing, in any dictionary. So, if God is all-knowing, He can predict the future. If He is all-powerful, He has the power to do things differently from how He predicted. This contradicts God being all-knowing, so therefore God's existence is impossible because God is defined in a self-contradictory manner.

3:17 AM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

Numinous Ubiquity,
This is, I believe, a false paradox and representative of the modal fallacy. It is similar to "Can G-d create a rock so large that he cannot lift it?" Omnipotence does not include the ability to do the logically impossible.
You also assume that our definition of G-d is necessarily true or must be true in order for G-d to exist. This, too, is logically fallacious.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

OOps One more thing. You also assume that G-d would exist within and be limited by linear time, that he would have a past, present, and future. He may actually live outside of linear time, in which case, the terms past, present, and future would have no relevance.

2:01 PM  
Blogger A Hermit said...

And at this point all discussion becomes impossible; God is now defined as that which is undefinable and, as Douglas Adams put it, He/She/It disappears in a puff of logic...

5:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only "whackjobs" are bigoted hate - filled bi-racial jewish lesbian cunts...

11:20 AM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

Anonymous, like so many who've been participating in the slander/libel free-for-all has proven my point.

9:19 AM  
Blogger Young Physicalist said...

It appears, Barton, that you are making contradictory statements. You claim that it was a personal, casual, and emotional article which does not require research. Furthermore, you said it was based on personal experience, yet you latter claim to have stumbled upon many atheistic websites, including some “extremist” website.

If you had done such a large volume of work into atheism and militant atheism, then surely you could reference some of the “extremist” atheist claims.

12:05 AM  
Blogger A Hermit said...

So.......

When do we get to see the rest of this series of articles on extremism....?

4:35 PM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

Aspergian Humanist,

I described the types of columns in general, not this one specifically. A variety of things go into a writer's work. What goes into any particular column depends on the topic and the writer.
This one was based on a tremendous amount of research. I did not just casually stumble upon atheist websites, I went looking for them to put the personal experience into perspective. In other words, the idea that some atheists could possibly be extremists originated with personal experiences that THEN led me to do a lot of research on the issue and to consider the implications of what I saw there.
To say that the column was purely personal experience, nothing more, is like saying that Newton's theory of gravity was derived solely from an apple falling on his head. (Yes, I'm aware that iconic Newton story is probably untrue and no, I'm not comparing myself to Newton.)

3:17 PM  

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