CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

I suppose that the title of this post will attract some to find out how I, as a Christian, have misrepresented atheistic culture to make it appear like a cult. But the words of the title are not mine. They are the words of one of new atheism's bombastic high priests, Sam Harris.

Apparently, Harris went to some type of atheism seminar called "The Atheist Alliance Conference" (it appears to be some sort of a Billy Graham Crusade for atheists) wherein he gave a talk in which he said something to the effect that atheists exhibit cult-like behavior at times. Apparently, some of the "free-thinkers" at this conference went ballistic about what he said and wrote nasty articles about his sermon. Harris, perhaps fearing that some of the more radical of the faithful might come after him to stone him or burn him at the stake, wrote a blog entry on his blog trying to clarify what he said entitled Response to My Fellow "Atheists" (the quotation marks are in the original title). It contains a rather interesting rant in which he acknowledges that some atheists are very cult-like. Harris says:

"My point, with respect to the term 'atheist' (or any other), is that the use of a label invites a variety of misunderstandings that are harmful to our cause. There are many people in this country who do not believe in God and who understand that there is conflict between science and religion, but who do not feel the slightest inclination to join an atheist group or to label themselves in opposition to religion. These people are 'atheist' by any measure, but you will never meet them at one of our conventions. They have read the writings of the 'new atheists,' sent us letters and emails of support, are quite fond of criticizing religion whenever the opportunity arises, but they have no interest whatsoever in joining a cult of such critics. And there is something cult-like about the culture of atheism. In fact, much of the criticism I have received of my speech is so utterly lacking in content that I can only interpret it as a product of offended atheist piety." (Emphasis added.)

It always astounds me when I find myself nodding in agreement with one of the new atheists, and I do find myself nodding in agreement with Harris on this one. There is, indeed, something cult-like about some atheists (note that I said "some" -- it is certainly not true of all atheists, and this article is not intended to accuse each and every atheist of acting cult-like). That, however, is not surprising since atheism -- whether atheists will ever accept the truth of this or not -- is a religion, and every religion develops cults.

Atheism has its beliefs about God (i.e, there is no god or gods) and its beliefs that are part of the core understanding of the world. It has a grand metaphysical story which many of the true believers of atheists defend with all of the ardour of the most firm believer of any faith. Some atheists try to differentiate between religion and atheism on the basis that atheism lacks some of the ritual that religions have. For example, some argue that atheists don't worship anything so it can't be a religion, but that is a side-issue. Of course atheists don't worship a god who isn't there, but it is their faith in their unproven belief that there is no God, god or gods that is the religion. To the extent that atheists order their lives around that principal they are acting religiously. So, while it is true that atheists don't have a place of worship, i.e, there isn't a "church" of atheism, they prove their religious devotion when they go to places where they share their faith such as the discussion boards at the Internet Infidels website.

The belief of atheists that there is no God informs their worldviews from top-to-bottom. Thus, it is no surprise that some of the more extreme adherents to this a-religion will occasionally develop into atheistic cults which are no longer beholden to the original teachings of the atheistic movements' leaders.

Harris certainly shouldn't be surprised that some of his followers have become an atheistic cult. He has encouraged this type of behavior with his brusque style of argument. In an article on Come Let Us Reason entitled Challenging the New Atheists, the author notes that Harris talks about "a kind of 'religion of reason' with a Sabbath and prayer." Using rhetorical flourish, he paints a false picture of religion that blames it for all of the ills of the world while painting peaceful, true atheism as the cure for the multitudes of evils delivered by those pathetic believers in God, a god or gods. He sounds very much like one of those fundamentalist preachers he so decries exhorting his congregation to rigidly follow his narrow reading of the Bible. It's no surprise that despite their claims to be "freethinkers" they respond to their spiritual leader like mind-numbed robots.

Once started, cults that are not ruled with a rigid hand get out of control. Thus, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon can maintain his control over his "flock" because he runs every aspect of their lives. Harris, consistent with his a-theology, can't do that. He has to encourage them to think and some have apparently concluded that Harris is wrong in limiting their rabid attacks on religion to only how far he thinks is appropriate. So, what is Harris left to do but to complain that these heretics are no longer following his lead and acting like those evil religionists? Not much.

Sorry, Mr. Harris, but whether you accept it or not your new atheism is every bit a religion, and every religion develops its zealots. Christianity, at least, has a basis for telling its zealots that they have overstepped the lines. In your "new atheism" religion, all you have is your opinion based on rhetoric and questionable logic which your followers are free to disregard in their own "rational" reflections. When they ultimately follow the logic of your arguments to their logical ends, they will realize that there is no rational warrant to not physically harm people who believe in God, a god or gods because these "religionists" are now and have been the cause of all of the ills and evils in the world. You will then complain (as you are apparently starting to now) that these people are not acting like good atheists but like those evil religionists. And you will be likely right -- they will be acting like the people who have misused religion which has occasionally occurred throughout history. But while Christians can point to the Word of God as revealed in the Bible to point out why the darkness exhibited by those people is an aberration and contrary to the teachings of their religious traditions, the new atheists will only be able to meekly say, "Well, I wouldn't go that far."

Maybe Harris will turn out to be right on another point: To the extent that the new atheism is really a new religion, perhaps religion will be the greatest evil ever foisted upon an unsuspecting world.

21 comments:

While I don't know if this is really relevant to the topic at hand, I don't think we are attacking this little fringe group from the right angle.

We can't attack "atheism" as a religion. The definition is to ambiguous to assign any sort of formalized belief to the title (i.e. Positive and Negative Atheism).

This ambiguity is the Atheists trump card when it comes to showing that Atheistic ideologies and Atheists themselves have been immoral. As you may know, the often parroted statement, "No one has done anything in the name of Atheism!".

We need to start calling these guys out on what they believe, no so much what they deny. I suggests we give these New Atheist a new title.

Anti-Theists.

“Christianity, at least, has a basis for telling its zealots that they have overstepped the lines.”

I think this brings up an interesting point. In terms of “authority”, I do not believe Protestant Christianity is any better because, despite the claim of Sola Scriptura, every Christian who looks at the “Word of God” will have their own understanding of what it is saying. And while one “Christian” might have a basis to turn to (scripture) in order to tell another “Christian” why or where they have overstepped lines, the other can look at the same basis (scripture) and disagree. And so the end result is the same as Harris:

"So, what is Harris left to do but to complain that these heretics are no longer following his lead and acting like those evil religionists? Not much."

All one Protestant “Christian” can do is then label the other as a heretic and vice versa and both complain that the other is going the wrong way. Or perhaps they can just split off and form thousands of different denominations :) Just like Harris, all they have is their opinion based on rhetoric and logic that can be questioned by other “Christians” through their own rational reflections.

There is no superiority of Protestant Christianity compared to Athiesm there just as there is no superiority in the previous post of Christianity over Atheism in terms of killing or not killing others--because just as an Atheist can determine rightly under their own system that killing is something to be avoided (after all, there really is no reason to believe that there is anything else existing out there to be killed anyway), so historic Christianity can and has determined that slaughtering in order to further faith or the church is a foundational and defining principle such that those who came along and thought otherwise were proven wrong by Christianity exercising its belief on them.

m,

Sorry I missed the memo. Now why do we need to attack the atheists? Shouldn't we turn the other cheek when atheist criticize Christians?

Calling (new) atheist Anti-Theists is just counter productive as only some of them are Anti-Theists. Atheist don't seem to criticize Theists, it is the organized religious dogma they usually criticize. You need to go after people's ideology and world view (Humanism, Communism, National Socialism, Buddhism, Capitalism etc)

Note that ambiguity is also a Christian trump card. Most Christians do not associate themselves with Ann coulter, late Jerry Farwell, westboro baptist church, Christian abortion clinic bombers, even Pope's opinions, etc. Christians mostly distance themselves from radical Christians.

bk,

As an atheist I can see Harris' point, but a lot of people would argue the meaning of the word "cult". Most religious cults want to isolate members from outside, which atheists don't do.

atheism -- whether atheists will ever accept the truth of this or not -- is a religion
The Christians love to propagate this myth. It is like saying "not collecting stamps" is a hobby or Christians' non-belief in FSM is non-FSM-belief religion. Atheism is just an opinion on one issue.

but it is their [Atheists] faith in their unproven belief that there is no God, god or gods that is the religion
Like when atheist don't have faith in their unproven belief that there is no pink unicorns, they are also member of the non-pink-unicornist religion.

Thus, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon can maintain his control over his "flock" because he runs every aspect of their lives. Harris, consistent with his a-theology, can't do that. He has to encourage them to think...
It great that you point out how followers of the religion are like a flock who almost blindly follow the leader, an ancient book or teaching. You can be a member of a religion without thinking yourself. On the other hand atheist think for themselves, don't follow their parents religion and can not be controlled by dogma.

Christianity, at least, has a basis for telling its zealots that they have overstepped the lines
slaveofone made a good point about this. bk, can you please point out in the modern times when Christians have successfully controlled their zealots. If you would overstep the lines, who is your authority and what would be overstepping?


Sorry I missed the memo. Now why do we need to attack the atheists? Shouldn't we turn the other cheek when atheist criticize Christians?


Oh yes, because, you know I totally meant it in like a hostile manner.

(sarcasm).

You just love to pick at anything you can get, don't you? Even figures of speech are innocent victims of your criticisms.

Calling (new) atheist Anti-Theists is just counter productive as only some of them are Anti-Theists.

Of course only some of them are anti-theists. We're talking about the NEW ATHEIST MOVEMENT here, NOT ALL ATHEISTS,



Note that ambiguity is also a Christian trump card. Most Christians do not associate themselves with Ann coulter, late Jerry Farwell, westboro baptist church, Christian abortion clinic bombers, even Pope's opinions, etc. Christians mostly distance themselves from radical Christians.


Okay. Still missing the point of my entire response.

m,

I think your point was that you want to call members of the New Atheist Movement as Anti-Theist. (correct me if I'm wrong). I tried to point out that it would be counter productive. In our local atheist meetup group many people identify themselves as "New Atheists", but only few of them are Anti-Theists. I think you would be surprised to see how many of them sympatises, but also disagrees, with Hitchins.

On the other hand, anon, perhaps they are mistaken about what it means to be a "New Atheist" and have actually mis-titled themselves.

Regardless, I think this goes hand in hand with what M said about ambiguity being the atheist's trump card. The fact is, whether militantly or somewhat passively, a large portion of atheists today are rather anti-theistic, and they show this in how they talk to and about theists. I personally am not going to try to ignore that fact just because there's some ambiguity amongst the greater population.

One thing I have learned as a Christian is that, whether I like it or not, people are going to think of me firstly by how they think of other Christians. It is my responsibility to show them that I am not that way personally and also to help change the greater population that they are attaching me to. I think atheists need to learn to accept this responsibility as well instead of using that trump card so much.

Atheism presents itself in its own propaganda as the alternative to religion, but in reality it's nothing more than an er zots religion, or a lack of religion that functions in place of religions. Just like anti-communists were just like communists except they wanted to imprison you through capitalism rather than the state.

Leslie,

perhaps they [atheist activist] are mistaken about what it means to be a "New Atheist" and have actually mis-titled themselves.
Seems unlikely, but even if this is true, no point calling them Anti-Theists as they don't consider themselves to be that. Calling them Anti-Theist will not get your message accross.

a large portion of atheists today are rather anti-theistic
Depending on the source, atheist are 1%-10% of the polutions in the USA. Even if we consider that there are 3M atheist I would claim less that 60k of them are active or orginised. The majority of the athiest population just does not care about these issues and don't even know what New Atheism is. Many of the atheist activist are anti-theistic.

I personally am not going to try to ignore that fact just because there's some ambiguity amongst the greater population
If you want to get your message accross to atheist you should understand them first. Just it he previous thread you said "I couldn't care less what the atheist writes or talks about on this issue". You you understand the other side you can better debate them.

I think atheists need to learn to accept this [how they think of other Atheists] responsibility as well
Sorry, no. I'm nothing like Stalin and take no responsibility of his actions. Christians always compare atheists (me) to Stalin, like in previous thread on this site. Also I don't judge you by how other Christians act, I judge you how you act.


J.L. Hinman, Sorry I don't understand your point of comparison to communism. Are you saying everyone want to imprison people to their propaganda?

You you understand the other side you can better debate them.

I mentioned this before, but I am not ignorant of the other side. I've had many discussions and am currently having one with an atheist. Furthermore, you took my quote out of context. My point was that I could think of nothing they could say that would change the truth of the matter on that particular topic (there is no objective morality/purpose without God).

Anyway, my point was not to say you or anyone should take responsibility for how others act. I never said that. I said that people need to accept the fact that they are going to be generalized by their affiliation with a community. If you're a Christian, you're going to get some stigmas that go along with it, just like if you're an atheist. Point being, because of that fact, people of all communities need to do two things: A) Look out for the reputation of their community and B) prove to everyone that they do not fit that stigma in every way (if indeed they do not).

For instance, I'm a member of certain Christian group that has, unfortunately, often gotten the stigma of thinking they are the only ones going to heaven. So, what I do is, A) Try to encourage others not to act like that by various methods and B) build relationships with people so they realize that I am not that way personally. I do not take responsibility for the greater community per se, but I do accept the fact that there are certain things that go along with that community.

So do you need to take responsibility for Stalin? Perhaps not. But if a large portion of your community is giving off a bad persona, you should deal with it rather than laying down the trump card of ambiguity. Or, even if there is a small but very loud portion of your community which is doing this (and this may be the case here) you still need to do the same thing. It's not about taking responsibility for the actions of others, it's about not ignoring the actions of others altogether. As part of a community, I have to deal with the luggage that comes along with it, even if the luggage is stupid and unfair.

SlaveofOne,

I respectfully disagree. There are not a thousand different ways to interpret the moral codes of the Bible. Yes, there are differences in some of the details, but it is simply overstatement to say "every Christian who looks at the 'Word of God' will have their own understanding of what it is saying." If that were true (and I don't believe for a second it is), then you would have a point, but the Bible is not that open to broad a number of intrepretation (unless they simply abandon the Bible as their norm for the faith as some churches have clearly done).

Anonymous,

How about coming up with a name? You have apparently been posting on several of our blog entries, and I think it would be helpful to start letting people know that there aren't 10 or 12 different people posting separate comments.

You say:

As an atheist I can see Harris' point, but a lot of people would argue the meaning of the word "cult". Most religious cults want to isolate members from outside, which atheists don't do.

I agree that the meaning of the word cult is subject to dispute. I agree that most atheists don't want to isolate members from the outside. I don't agree that wanting to isolate members from the outside is what defines a cult.

The Christians love to propagate this myth. It is like saying "not collecting stamps" is a hobby or Christians' non-belief in FSM is non-FSM-belief religion. Atheism is just an opinion on one issue.

I don't know what FSM is so I can't comment on that. And I would agree with your analogy that "not collecting stamps" isn't a hobby, but that isn't a good analogy. What I'm talking about is people who not only don't collect stamps but who also gather together to talk about not collecting stamps and fellowship with others who they see as "smart enough" to not collect stamps either. In fact, much of their free time revolves around the fact that they don't collect stamps and they want to convince others not to collect stamps.

Also, atheism can be just an opinion, but it isn't to the people that I am referencing. These people see their faith in no god as something that they must share with others. For example, if I don't like ice cream, that's an opinion. If I feel the need to go out to others to tell them they shouldn't like ice cream either, then I am no longer simply holding an opinion.

Like when atheist don't have faith in their unproven belief that there is no pink unicorns, they are also member of the non-pink-unicornist religion.

You need to rethink this because if I'm pretty sure you'll see it doesn't really make any sense at all.

It great that you point out how followers of the religion are like a flock who almost blindly follow the leader, an ancient book or teaching.

I didn't say that and I don't think that.

You can be a member of a religion without thinking yourself.

That is true, but let me stress that I am only agreeing that one can be a member of a religion without thinking, not that all (or even most) of the people who follow a religious belief don't think.

On the other hand atheist think for themselves, don't follow their parents religion and can not be controlled by dogma.

I absolutely disagree with that statement. Again, that is not saying that no atheists think for themselves, but your blanket statement that suggests that all atheists think for themselves and that none follow their parents’ a-religion is simply false.

bk, can you please point out in the modern times when Christians have successfully controlled their zealots.

Control? That's a heavy word because it suggests religion somehow directly controls what a person does. My church cannot control me. It has no police who can come and arrest me for violating its precepts. Nor does any church have any control over the followers of any other religion. If the church is wedded to the state (as it is in many Islamic countries), then it is possible for the church to "control" people, but that isn't how the American church and Christianity generally work.

Christianity tries to change actions through changed hearts, and if you want to find zealots it has controlled you need to go to the individual churches and learn how they (through the power of the Holy Spirit) have changed lives.

Otherwise, Christians generally try to "control" their zealots through the bully pulpit of saying when others have overstepped the lines. For example, virtually every church agrees that abortion clinic bombings are wrong and would speak out against such things. Virtually every church thinks that Fred Phelps' "God hates fags" church is wrong and would speak out against it.

If you would overstep the lines, who is your authority and what would be overstepping?

I answer to others. In my church, I am answerable to the pastor and the elders. On this blog, I am answerable to the other members of the CADRE who input to me both in the comments and by private communication if they think that I am wrong and have overstepped the line. In both cases, the people I am answerable to explain to me where I have erred based on the Bible, and if I refuse to acknowledge their correction I am subject to being thrown out of these groups.

leslie,

You seem to continuosly repeat:
there is no objective morality without God
Then please refute my example I gave you about morality based on UN human right declaration. If you are right you will have not problem proving me wrong. Otherwise please stop repeating your claim.

if a large portion of your community is giving off a bad persona, you should deal with it ... As part of a community, I have to deal with the luggage that comes along with it, even if the luggage is stupid and unfair.
I agree with you here, but you seem to apply (correct me if I'm wrong) that some atheist are giving the group a bad name. Can you please tell me what are the current bad things atheist are doing or are you applying to the past events?

If you are for example a catholic, I don't hold you responsible of other catholics past or present actions. But if you give your money to the Catholic Church knowing they according to BBC news, BBC tv documents and continuous flow of newspaper reports still protect pheadophiles, then I hold you responsible of the Church's actions. (My humanist friends tend to disagree with me on this and they claim to be objective, which might make me...)


bk,

Sorry about the acronym. FSM is Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Again, that is not saying that no atheists think for themselves, but your blanket statement that suggests that all atheists think for themselves and that none follow their parents’ a-religion is simply false.
Yes, blanket statement is not correct, sorry. Most atheists I have met have Christian parents and for them it would have been easier to follow Jesus, but they had think their way out of Christianity. (Read some Christian-to-Atheist stories). In the western world most Jesus followers have one or more parent who followed Jesus and they never read another holy book before deciding to follow Jesus.

This site has 11 contributors. How many of them have no parents who followed Jesus or read another holy book before decided to follow Jesus? I bet on a low number. Of course this does not prove anything, but shows that most people follow their parents' belief without first investigating other options. I'm sure you disagree...

What I'm talking about is people who not only don't collect stamps but who also gather together to talk about not collecting stamps and fellowship with others who they see as "smart enough" to not collect stamps either.
That is an excellent point. If atheists get together and only talk about how smart they are that is just silly. Our atheist meetup group organizes talks, do book reviews discussion and politics, ethics and morality are popular topics. We have met up with a local known apologist to discuss issues and follow his lectures. You should try to attend one of the local meetings. Just check meetup.com, join and attend the meeting. Most meetups have intro round in the beginning and if you tell you are an apologist, I'm sure they don't mind. (If you are not sure, email the organiser first) At least our meetup group loves the lively discussion and would be happy to seen an apologist attending. Many atheists don't know Christianity very well and surely would like to ask questions. If you do that, please blog about it! (yes, I challenge you to do it). Actually I would recommend all readers to do that. All atheist have been in the church, but not every Christian can clam to have attended a meetup with people with horns...

-Peter

Atheists are as different as people, and that's that. I am in agreement with Harris. That's why I describe myself as a freethinker first and an atheist second. In this link you'll see where Layman doesn't like my position, either. So which is it? Does CADRE like what Harris and I said, or not? You cannot have it both ways, but you can disagree with each other on this issue.

John,

Even if you are not setting up a false dichotomy here, the CADRE can have it as many ways as it has members on these kinds of issues. As you note, we can disagree with each other on this issue, and on most others. Just as, I assume, can you guys at Debunking Christianity.

Our joint tenants are rather few. They include the Nicene Creed and some blogging and website policies.

This may be lost on some people because BK and I agree on a lot and used to do the majority of the blogging. But there are Catholics, Orthodox, Evangelical, liberal, and conservatives within the CADRE.

Anon,

You should try to attend one of the local meetings.

No thanks. I've heard enough what atheists say here on the Internet.

The rest of your post I will leave as your last word on the discussion.

Loftus,

I didn't read what you wrote (I never follow your links) so I won't comment on that. When you say, "Does CADRE like what Harris and I said, or not?", I can answer for me in this way: I like that Harris is recognizing that atheists can act in cult-like ways because it shows he hasn't completely lost touch with reality.

bk,

No thanks. I've heard enough what atheists say here on the Internet.
ok, I undertand, but if you ever change you ever mind...

People in the Internet don't behave like in the real world. I have been called ignorant several times by a CADRE member because of my views, but I'm sure that person is a nice guy and would not repeatedly call me ignorant face to face. Internet just enables people to behave differently, it is not our natural environment.

-Peter

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

anon you are a fool. a childish little fool. cults don't have to be religious, stupid!

atheism functions as functions as functions as are you too stupid to understand that concept?

hermit?

Note, I deleted the comment two comments above (to which J.L. Hinman is responding) because it contained profanity.

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