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Ms. Cherish Goes to the Atheist Meeting September 17, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in gifted, religion.
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I’ve contemplated writing on this topic for a while.  At the same time, I haven’t wanted to.  Probably because I’m not sure what the point of revisiting this is other than to gripe.  But then I came across this article about misogyny in atheism and decided I was just irritated enough to say something.

What’s a blog if not a soapbox for such issues?  That being said, if you feel the need to vent about the article, please take to the site where it is published.

Let’s start with some background: I am an agnostic Quaker.  Yeah, such things do exist.  What this means is that I am a fence sitter on the concept of a god.  I don’t think there’s really any way to disprove that a god does or does not exist (and I have a pretty good background in both physics and math, so I’m fairly certain I know what such a proof would entail).  I know that makes me a heathen in some people’s eyes and an idiot in others.  I could think that way of other people, but that’s where the whole Quaker thing comes in, so I try to refrain.  If nothing, it’s at least a minimal attempt at humility and recognition of the respect everyone deserves…even when I really don’t feel inclined to give it to them.  Or when they aren’t giving it to me.  It’s hard, but I do try.  (In the words of Howard Brinton, it is better to be inconsistently good than consistently bad.)

Because of my varied interests, I have a friends who fall along the whole spectrum of belief not to mention diverse religious preferences among those who are believers.  It’s not a suprise, therefore, that a friend invited me to go to an atheist meeting a while ago.  He said that I would probably fit in very well because of the whole agnostic thing, the fact that I’m a scientist, the fact that my husband and I regularly read Skeptical Inquirer.

Except I didn’t.  And I fully didn’t expect to.  Part of this is because I used to read a lot of skeptical and atheist blogs, mostly for their scientific content.  I started getting irritated a while ago because the tone of such conversations often devolved into religion bashing.  I stopped altogether after the Watson/Dawkins debacle on PZ Myers blog (mentioned in the article above).  Why in the world would I want to spend my time associating with people as obnoxious as Dawkins?  (And I love how Neil deGrasse Tyson makes this point in the video below.)

First, there was the whole Quaker thing.  While a couple people were familiar with it and felt that it was kind of cool, there were others who were just plain stupid about it.  I was grilled on why in the world would I belong to any sort of religiously affiliated group.  “Traditions are inherently bad,” I was told.  I should have replied that sweeping overgeneralizations are not on the top of my list of good things.

Later in the discussion, something came up about raising children.  In particular, one person voiced an opinion that parents don’t have the right to make decisions about their children’s education and that the state ought to have the right to keep parents from passing on religious beliefs to children.  (Not surprisingly, this person isn’t a parent.)  Now, let’s start with the fact that I think this is an extreme view and not representative of most people I know how are non-believers.  But this is also the basis for many (overly vocal) atheists’ opposition to things like the homeschooling.  It seriously pisses me off.

I know that most of the people who are opposed to homeschooling use the whole socialization argument, so being as irritated as I was, I started asking questions to move the topic to that point of discussion.  Then I nailed the person with the fact that research shows that homeschooling is in fact a superior method of socialization compared with a typical educational environment.  As it turns out, I’d spent some time researching the topic and wrote a post on it.  Obviously this person wasn’t going to take me at my word, so I got his email and later sent the link to the article about it.  Silence.

Finally, there came the sexist comments.  They came in the form of praising a female atheist, going on at length about how it was nice to have such a ‘lovely and beautiful woman atheist’ in the group.  It felt like she was being flirted with on a public platform.  Obviously ugly women atheists aren’t all that interesting. Hello?!  I thought freethinkers understood that praising a woman based on her looks rather than her skills and abilities is sexist.

My whole irritation with the freethinker/atheist/etc movement is that it strikes me as the flip side of religious fanaticism.  Instead of fire and brimstone preachers, there are the charismatic (and often assholish) ringleaders who are just as vitriolic as the Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern types.  They are intentionally inflammatory and disrespectful.  Further, they’re an awful smart lot, and they can rationalize everything and they think they know everything.  This is a problem because that’s not what a skeptic or freethinker is.  It amazes me how many people will spew their opinions on topics as fact even though they haven’t done a lick of research.  The thinking from the most vocal atheists is just as black and white as a religious zealots and only sometimes better informed.

I actually think that a lot of this does go back to that whole socialization argument I had with the fellow at the meeting.  Almost everyone I know who is a non-believer is very highly educated.  Most of them went through some sort of formal schooling environment where they learned that they were smarter than everyone else.  In fact, a lot of them will be very forthcoming on that point given their identity is very wrapped up in their intelligence.  And there is a lot of research that shows gifted kids left in that environment have problems, even as adults, relating to others.  The resulting behavior a form of maladaption that can follow people for the rest of their lives.  If they’re never around people who are as smart as they are, they don’t learn much in the way of humility, discussion with others as peers deserving of respect, and continue to underestimate and challenge people (because it’s an ego boosting behavior) as adults.

That’s what really bothers me about this.  Some of these people are incredibly smart and they assume they can figure anything out because they’re rational.  They fail to see complexities and nuance in discussion about difficult topics, particularly if those complexities involve emotions.  They assume that they can solve any problem with their reasoning without actually researching topics to understand where their reasoning may have faults and failures.  They fail to see their opinions as exactly what they are: a dogmatic response to something not always grounded in research or respect for others.  Agreement is the litmus test for whether or not you’re really a ‘good’ atheist.

It’s not all of them, but it’s a lot of the most vocal ones. And it’s very off-putting for people (regardless of gender) who may otherwise be interested in what they have to say.

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Comments»

1. devbisme - September 17, 2014

Your article really resonated with me as an atheist who has grown tired of the smug condescension I constantly find from atheists on the internet. It seems many of them are only interested in preaching to their choir and don’t want to engage in any kind of dialog with non-atheists. If their goal is to convert people from religion to atheism, it seems counterproductive to start off by first calling them stupid.

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mareserinitatis - September 19, 2014

I’m glad you said that because I know other atheists who feel the same way. If you want to get someone’s attention, I’m sure being a jerk and insulting them is very effective. But if you want to engage in a serious discussion, that approach completely backfires. I’m also not sure I like the ‘conversion’ mindset. It’s fine to discuss implications about how religious beliefs can negatively and positively affect others, but just because someone doesn’t believe in god doesn’t mean that everyone has to feel the same way. It’s just as bad as the people who feel everyone needs to be saved. 🙂

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2. therealcherish - September 17, 2014

Great post and kudos for sharing your experience with us! I find religion very difficult to talk about and even experience with many people because so many, on either end of the spectrum, have an I’m right/you’re wrong mentality about it. In the end, I’ve always felt a person should be happy in whatever relationship they have/want with the God that they believe in (or not) and while its ok to share thoughts and opinions, they should never be disrespectful towards others with different values or beliefs. I also think there is value to bringing up children with your traditions and beliefs (I say this as a child-less adult) BUT once they start to ask questions, which should be encouraged very early on, the worst thing we can do is crush their curiosity and personal spiritual development with a “because the Bible/God/Jesus/Buddah/Statue/Preacher says so”.

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mareserinitatis - September 19, 2014

Some kids will buy the “because God said so line,” but others won’t and will keep digging. 🙂 You’re point about the right/wrong mentality is spot on. I have tried to think about the following: do those beliefs affect anyone else negatively? do those beliefs respect others? and finally (I have to throw this one in), do the beliefs contract scientific evidence? If none of those are true, then it’s really up to someone else what they want to believe and it’s not worth worrying about. Everyone has to travel their own path. 🙂

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therealcherish - September 19, 2014

Totally agree!!

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3. Doug LeQuire - September 17, 2014

Don’t worry, you’re in good company. I’m an agnostic Episcopalian; I grew up Roman Catholic, learned to love the ceremony and liturgy but also learned to hate the exclusivity and perfectionism.
Vincent Bugliosi, one of the attorneys involved in the Charles Manson case back in the ’60’s, wrote an excellent book on the agnostic position called “The God Question”. He summed it up as follows: the believer knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a God; the athiest knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no God; the agnostic calls “time out” on both of them and points out that to know beyond a shadow of a doubt either way, you would have to be God. The question is, which position sounds most logically defensible? If there’s one thing I’ve seen from the whole debate, it’s that athiests can be just as shrill, just as dogmatic, just as inflexible, etc., etc., as their believer counterparts. I was especially offended by Richard Dawkins’ slander of agnostics as “cowards”. In this age of choosing one side or another, which position takes the most courage to adopt? Sometimes, it’s the “third way’, the path no one else thinks of, that is the best.

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mareserinitatis - September 19, 2014

Good to know! I read a study that they did on the different types of non-believers (http://www.atheismresearch.com/). They said that ‘ritual atheists’ constitute about 15% of atheists. (I kind of wonder if that number is higher with Quakers because there is an active movement of non-theism in Quakerism to push this dialogue further. Likewise, the anti-theists (who tend to be vocal) constitute about 15% of atheists as well. I think reading that made me feel better about the movement, but unless someone is vocal about their stance, it’s hard to find out what their belief is…so you run into the problem of the only vocal ones being the ones that people know are atheist/agnostic.

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4. nicoleandmaggie - September 17, 2014

“Ms. Cherish Goes to the Atheist Meeting” Now there’s your problem… right there in the title!

Organized atheism really does seem to have many of the same problems that organized religion does, and particularly that conservative organized religion has.

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mareserinitatis - September 19, 2014

““Ms. Cherish Goes to the Atheist Meeting” Now there’s your problem… right there in the title!”

You got me. 🙂

Yeah, I think I like disorganized atheism more than organized atheism. 🙂

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5. lukeholzmann - September 18, 2014

“…sweeping overgeneralizations are not on the top of my list of good things…” [laughing] Oh my, yes!

This article piqued my interest because my wife is from a Quaker background — which is, in many ways, funny because we now attend a church in that is part of a very charismatic flavor of Christianity [smile].

You hit the nail on the head again and again in this post. I know I swing far the other way, being one of those sufficiently clever types to blast through most of the atheists/agnostics I encounter. In fact, I spent my high school years doing just that, taking on any and all who would challenge me or accept my challenge. Within three years I had discovered that this was a counter-productive approach and have been working to learn to change my tune ever since [smile]. Humility, yes. I like the way Scripture puts it: “Speaking the truth in love…”

Thanks for sharing!

~Luke

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mareserinitatis - September 19, 2014

I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone has to find their own way, that our (God-given, if you will) gifts send us down a different path. Just because we were raised one way doesn’t mean that it’s the right way for us to express our beliefs. Discussion helps people to work through their beliefs. Maybe it further solidifies what they believe, maybe it changes them. Either way, I think it’s helpful to have discussion. I remember talking with someone who I had a lot of respect for but we were polar opposites in terms of political views. So we sat down one day and came to the conclusion that we believed a lot of the same things but that we had a fundamentally different belief about human nature (I believe that people will try to do the right thing, he felt that people are inherently prone to making mistakes or being sinful). I at least felt better that he had thought things through and I could understand a lot better where his beliefs came from, even if I didn’t agree with his base assumption. If I’d tried hammering him over the head with my beliefs, I would’ve only made him defensive and that removes a lot of respect from the relationship.

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lukeholzmann - September 19, 2014

Absolutely! I can’t tell you the number of times — since my high school days where I just tried to “win” arguments — that I’ve been able to sort out the fundamental presuppositions two ideas start from through discussion. From there, it’s much easier to respect the person who disagrees and to have meaningful conversation.

~Luke

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6. kittehserf - September 28, 2014

Thank you for this piece; it was linked in a comment on John Scalzi’s blog about this subject. Short background: I used to be agnostic-leaning-atheist, but am not now; I’m more small-S spiritualist (Spiritualism has the same problems when it goes full-blown organised, I’ve found). I was put off by the behaviour of Dawkins, Hitchens et al, and the Australian Sceptics magazine I briefly subscribed to. That was before I knew about the whole seething mess of misogyny in movement atheism, too. The meeting you went to sounds just cringe-worthy, with its combination of Superior Logicky Brainz and reflex sexism. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

Totally OT what a lovely tuxedo kitty! 🙂

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mareserinitatis - November 26, 2014

Thanks!

I apologize but this comment was stranded in the spam folder and I just rescued it. The meeting was cringe-worthy, though I hope it was just a select few individuals who made it that way. However, that few is enough to turn a lot of folks off, like yourself, which is unfortunate.

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