The Problem With Moderates

Plato And AristotleIn a world of ever-widening extremes – from weather patterns to wealth disparities to polarized politics – what does it mean to be a moderate? More specifically, how does this term apply to religion?

Viewed in the context of most everyday activities and situations and in line with Aristotle’s idea of the “Golden Mean” (which states that virtue lies at the midpoint between two vices; i.e. courage lies between cowardice and recklessness, etc.), it could be said that a moderate stance is generally better than an extremist one. For example, being a moderate drinker seems to strike a pretty good balance between being healthy and having fun, as opposed to the opposite extremes of being an ascetic teetotaler or a raging alcoholic. Likewise, being politically moderate, if nothing else, tends to generate far less strife during dinner conversations amid mixed company or at large family gatherings.

Then again, for some activities moderate is still too far from the bell curve – particularly in cases where conventional wisdom has taken up residence at one of the distant ends of the spectrum of possibilities.  For example, while being moderately racist may be an improvement over being a hate-filled white supremacist neo-Nazi skinhead, it still leaves a lot to be desired if hoping to join enlightened humanity in recognizing equal rights for all people based on our shared human condition. Along these same lines, it’s doubtful that someone declaring himself to be only moderately pedophiliac will bring much comfort as far as entrusting him to be alone around children.

For some realms, such as the purely logical field of mathematics, being moderate in the sense of trying to strike a balance or compromise between positions doesn’t make any sense at all. You can’t choose to be neutral between the vast majority who acknowledge that 1 +1 = 2 and some lunatic who insists 1 + 1 = 3 by simply splitting the difference and declaring 1 +1 = 2.5.

When it comes to religion, being moderate is similarly troublesome. Despite the high regard in which this seemingly sensible, centrist position is held among polite society, it is, to put it bluntly, intellectually unsupportable.  When you think about it, how does one actually go about being moderate in religious belief? Do you say that Jesus sort of died for our sins?  Do you declare that God is clearly omnipotent but omniscience is pure fantasy? Perhaps moderation consists of subtly acknowledging the likelihood that your most dearly-held religious convictions are flat-out wrong? Or is it less a matter of substance than of commitment – a socially acceptable apathy that allows one to care far more about football than divinity while still going through the motions for the sake of conforming to tradition or satisfying the in-laws?

The basis for believing the tenets of any organized, faith-based religion – particularly the big three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – is ultimately the holy book that each one is predicated upon – the Torah, the Bible, and the Qur’an respectively. It should be pointed out that for all of their numerous flaws, fundamentalists of all three persuasions are at least consistent in recognizing this. To say, “I think this book was dictated by the Almighty Creator of the universe as explicit instructions for how humans are supposed to live, and therefore I strive to abide by every last word it contains,” while perhaps not a rational belief (as it’s not based on evidence and reasoned argument, nor does it take into account the inevitable translation and transcription errors in going from Aramaic, to Greek, to Latin, to English or from palm leaves and camel bones to parchment) – it’s at least perfectly logical. If your initial premise is correct, then your chosen course of action logically follows.

Most moderate adherents of these religions, however, practice what can be termed “salad bar theology” – picking and choosing only the parts they like and discarding the rest.  Let’s say for instance, that you prefer to look upon the Bible as a mixture of folk history, tribal mythology, and “inspired” verse presented in the form of allegory and metaphor. Fine, then where do you begin? How do you decide which parts to accept, which to reject outright, and which to “interpret” or take with a grain of salt? No matter how you answer this question, how is it not completely arbitrary?  By what non-subjective criteria do you determine the truth? By what means do you separate fact from fiction or decide which of two contradictory passages is correct?

Contrast this with how science works. Scientists are not really at liberty to accept claims made by biologists regarding the basic facts of evolution while simultaneously rejecting claims made by physicists regarding the speed of light. To do so would invalidate the objectivity of the entire enterprise. Science operates by gathering observable facts about the universe, organizing them into a rational framework based on a recognition of the underlying patterns connecting them, and then testing these hypotheses through experiment and further observation to see if they accurately describe reality. If they appear to do so, then science can move forward, adjusting for future discoveries as necessary. If they don’t align with the facts then it’s back to the drawing board, but it still counts as progress, for at least incorrect proposals have been eliminated. The point is that the scientific method applies equally to all fields of inquiry, so it’s not valid to just decide the truth by fiat based on what happens to emotionally sit well or not for any particular facet of existence.

The irony as this relates to religion is that most people claiming to be moderate or liberal religionists do so because they’re caught in a bind – they’re not willing to reject science outright but nor do they want to have to give up their comforting illusions which are largely incompatible with it. At the same time, they don’t wish to be lumped in with the zealots, fanatics, and violent extremists (of which there are disturbingly many). So they’ll say things such as, “I don’t believe the stuff about the virgin birth or walking on water [as these are demonstrably, physically impossible] but I still think Jesus was a great moral leader and I still believe in some kind of higher power whom I’m perfectly comfortable calling ‘God.’” Yet in doing so, they seldom if ever stop to critically examine these beliefs. More likely than not, they were ingrained in them at a very early age by their own parents – people whom they love and trust implicitly – and they were further reinforced over long years of being surrounded by others of like-minded beliefs.

The problem is, by never questioning the root of such beliefs, they render themselves incapable of honestly criticizing those who take these supposedly moderate viewpoints to violent or oppressive extremes. For examples of such religious wrongdoing and the moderates’ confused responses, one needs look no further than the daily news.

Much has been said elsewhere about the obvious problems with radical Islam (the 9-11 attacks in New York, the Bali bombings, Madrid train bombings, London Underground bombings, and countless suicide bombings in Israel) as well as about the conspicuous lack of “moderate” Muslim voices denouncing such atrocities. Likewise with Judaism; the ongoing issues with the Palestinians – particularly those of illegal settlements and the disputed status of Jerusalem and its holy sites – speak volumes about extremist Jews and their clashes with their more moderate and secular compatriots. For the moment though, let’s redirect our focus back to the dominant religion in America today – Christianity.

Christianity has a long and distinguished history of brutality; from the Crusades and the Inquisition, to the Wars of Religion that ravaged Europe in the 16th century, to the subjugation and slaughter of the natives of the New World and South Pacific. But such barbarity continues right into the present day.

Take, for example, the case of Nigeria. Evangelical Christian pastors there have recently taken to denouncing children as witches and having them subsequently tortured and murdered – usually by members of their own family. (Click here to read about it.) This is done in accordance with the Bible’s exhortation in Exodus 22:18 that, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” What’s so enlightening about this particular example is that it’s such a clear-cut case of causation – these atrocious acts are being instigated by religious leaders on a direct religious pretext, so it can’t be written off as mere correlation (violence committed by people who just so happen to be Christian).

Behavior like this ought to strike any ethical person, anyone with the least bit of compassion or sense of shared humanity, as nothing less than inexcusable savagery. The fact that it’s being done in the name of religion would seem to make it all the worse. But does it really? For when you think about, on what basis can moderate Christians condemn this act without being hypocrites?

To condemn the source of it they would have to discredit their own holy book – the supposed basis of all their ideas regarding good and evil as well as their feel-good notions about Jesus. After all, these pastors sincerely believe they are following God’s explicit instructions to a tee. The same could be said for those who take too seriously (without necessarily acting on) commands such as, “Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death,” which Rick Santorum equates gay marriage to. Or, “if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife,” – the origin of shotgun weddings.

Maybe they could appeal to some other parts of the Bible, such as the commandment that “Thou shalt not kill”? The problem here is that this and the other nine commandments were delivered by Moses (via God/talking bush on fire) – the exact same guy who, two chapters later, dictated the instructions for how to deal with witches. So which Moses command is one supposed to obey?  Are the Ten Commandments the express will of God but the witch stuff just Moses having a bad day?

If, as described above, moderates choose not to view the Bible as the direct word of God and they instead permit themselves to selectively ignore large parts of what’s supposed to be their own sacred Scriptures, they must then employ some kind of extra-Biblical morality in order to condemn its contents. They have to somehow be able to decide that things like slavery and the subjugation of women are morally reprehensible despite what the Bible says to the contrary, thus demolishing the commonly accepted argument that the Bible is the source of our ideas about right and wrong. So, if it’s not the source of morality and it doesn’t accurately convey the intentions of the master of the universe, it quickly devolves into just one book among millions and therefore deserves no special, exalted status. It might be of historical interest for the inordinate influence it’s wielded over Western culture for the past two millennia but even on that count, for eloquence it has nothing over Cicero and in profundity it lags far behind Plato (incidentally, both pagans). I’d strongly encourage anyone to read all three and decide for yourself.

Where then does this leave the moderate Christian wishing to disavow the barbarous actions of those Nigerian pastors? I suppose they could take an old-school racist/imperialist perspective and just dismiss this behavior as that of sub-human, uncivilized, backward jungle dwellers but that would hardly fly with modern sensibilities or standard notions of racial equality and multiculturalism. Besides, it was white Europeans who led the charge on Bible-based witchcraft hysteria and mass murder with the Malleus Maleficarum of the late Middle Ages, when hundreds of thousands of accused witches were burned at the stake, and then again in the early days of the colonization of America with the infamous witch hunts in Salem.

Perhaps moderates can look to these pastors’ reasons for believing the Bible in the first place. It’s pretty obvious they don’t believe it as a result of objective analysis, clear, deliberative thinking, or because of all the empirical evidence supporting its assertions. If they did it wouldn’t be called religion; it would be called science. So it must be that they accept its contents as a matter of faith.  Does that mean that moderates can then attack faith as the root of such evil?  Alas, no such luck; for it’s been hammered into their heads since birth that faith is “much more precious than of gold.” (1 Peter 7) It’s no wonder either. Of course “doubting Thomas” was ridiculed by Jesus for his skepticism, for without faith (and the fact that the falsifiability its most basic claim – the gift of everlasting life – lies conveniently out of touch, beyond the grave), faith-based religion as a system of thought or way of describing reality is left looking pretty pathetic.

Okay then; let’s recap where the moderate stands. They believe in God based on faith and the Bible. But they can’t be fully on board with the Bible as it contains far too many contradictions, absurdities, and atrocities for any moderately intelligent and reasonably ethical person to latch onto wholeheartedly. So they resort to using their naturally evolved, inborn sense of right and wrong (possessed by theists, atheists, and all other humans alike) to pick out some parts they like and reject others that they don’t.  As for God, they can’t try to prove his existence as they would do with the existence of say, the planet Neptune, by appealing to observational evidence (and for which, as the ones making an extraordinary claim, they are saddled with the burden of providing proof). So they rely instead on faith.  But faith, as we’ve seen, by not requiring further justification other than, “It’s just what I choose to believe,” can be used as a pretext for the actions of saints and sinners alike. As the saying goes, “Science flies people to the moon. Faith flies people into skyscrapers.”  So all the moderate can really do is sadly exclaim, “Well I may happen to believe that same crazy stuff but I don’t do crazy things because of it.” That doesn’t seem like much of a basis for trying to establish oneself on the moral high ground.

Atheists on the other hand, face no such limitations, for atheists are not shackled by any preconceived ideas of how things are supposed to be. We are free to find fault with any idea or action that is maladaptive to or incompatible with human well-being – that is, with health, happiness and general flourishing. We can cheerfully point out the flaws in radical Islam or radical Christianity with equal irreverence and we can do the same with even moderate strains of religion as well as the hate-filled books upon which they’re based.  And the crucial difference is that we’re not using our own irrational prejudices as our basis (unless you count a predilection for rationality to be a prejudice).

I’ve pointed out elsewhere the inherent problems with “just believing” in a higher power based on intuition, wishful thinking, or the superficial attractiveness of the idea. Moreover, like those who watch kiddy porn or buy ivory jewelry, all adherents of faith-based religions act as enablers for the perpetrators of terrible crimes. By revering the same books, and by worshipping, loving, and fearing the same supernatural God, they inadvertently permit religion-inspired violence to continue by providing a veneer of respectability for the worst of the devout crazies. On top of this, they render themselves impotent to criticize such acts without engaging in selective reasoning at best or blatant hypocrisy at worst. I’ll thus leave it up to the reader to decide – atheist, moderate, or zealot – which is best for humanity? Where should the bell curve lie?

Colby Hess is a freelance writer and photographer living near Seattle, WA. He is currently writing a book about science, philosophy, and freethought. Follow him on Twitter @ColbyTHess.

Colby Hess

Colby Hess is a freelance writer and photographer living near Seattle, WA.He is currently writing a book about science, philosophy, and freethought.Follow him on Twitter @ColbyTHess.

127 Comments on "The Problem With Moderates"

  1. Timothy McVeigh was an atheist and he had no problem blowing up buildings. So is
    Kaczynski. Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot- mass murderers with the blood of millions on their hands- were all atheists.  

    Maybe the real problem is mindless fucks who think a simplistic philosophy is a panacea for the world’s ills, if only the rest of the world could be forced to follow along.

    • McVeigh was not an atheist. See:

      Although his parent were atheists, the only thing I can find as a direct expression on belief regarding Ted Kaczynski was that he was agnostic.  

      It’s pretty simplistic to say that Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot were “atheists” because their expression of belief was tied intimately to what was necessary to obtain and maintain power. Just like Cesare Borgia or the Christian conquerors of the “New World.”

      Atheism is no more “simplistic” than other forms of religious thought – you might want to broaden you horizons a little….

      • I’ve seen that link- it’s inaccurate. McVeigh repeatedly said science was his religion. His link to Catholicism was driven by his ethnicity, not by belief or convicition. Do a little more digging- Kaczynski was explicitly anti-religion.

        Communism was explicitly atheist and those mass murderers were often inspired by atheist principles. There’s no dissembling here. Of course, so many atheists are moderate, soft-boiled communists so this writer might want to rethink his arguments.

        • Clearly the solution is to strap a bomb to your chest and blow up a kitten hospital. You will make a fine martyr.

        •  “Do a little more digging”
          No, you provide the source. It’s rather rude to claim something and then tell someone to find evidence on your behalf.

          • Here you go, lazy fuck: “‘I believe in nothing,’ Kaczynski wrote in the journals
            released last week by federal prosecutors. ‘I don’t even believe in
            the cult of nature-worshipers or wilderness-worshipers.'” (quoted in
            ‘Kaczynski Sentenced to Four Life Terms,’ by William Booth,
            Washington Post, Tuesday, May 5, 1998.)

          • Because believing in “nothing” is the same thing as atheism, sounds more nihilistic than atheistic to me.

          • Well, that’s the real goal of atheism. Well, after suicide, that is. Atheism is nothing new- it’s been the harbinger of social collapse and defeat since Ancient Greece.

          • No. It’s not.  Apparently you’ve never read 

        • What’s the difference between moderate, soft-boiled communism and moderate, soft-boiled capitalism?

          • Moderates understand that there is no certainty or perfection.  A soft-boiled capitalist recognizes that there are flaws in capitalism that cause unnecessary misery and sow the seeds of it own destruction. The solution is to dial-back the anarchic and place restriction on financial behavior.  A hard-boiled capitalist is against all regulation.

            Ditto communism.  When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan Jimmy Carter banned grain exports to the USSR.  This was met by the hard-line communists of the Brezhnev regime with a plan by the soft-boiled communists to allow farm ownership and allowing farmers to keep a large share of the profits. Unfortunately, Ronald Reagan, who ran on a pledge to restart exports, won the elections and the hard-liners dropped the plan.

        • McVeigh: Give me a link.  I have heard this silliness often and always without proof.

          Kaczynski: Anti-religion is not atheist.  Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson were anti-religion but certainly not atheist.

          You can’t be inspired by atheist principles because there are no atheist principles! You can’t be an atheist “heretic” because there is simply no “orthodoxy” to be against.  Everybody, absolutely everybody, is an atheist until someone indoctrinates them and give them some sort of unprovable claim to live by.  

          Those “atheistic” communist leaders used the same set of rules as the Christian dictators Franco, Allende, and Hitler did to maintain power and control.  It had nothing to do with religious belief.  The problem on the Christian side was the way in which the religious institutions abrogated their principles by supporting and encouraging genocide and terror.  I guess if they had been more moderate… 

      • Sometimes the truth is simple. Shame about the source, but there’s obviously an effort to cover the fact that Mao et al were committed atheists who committed atrocities in the name of atheism:

        • i’m sure thats that source has no bias whatsoever……………..

        • You are not reading the article or you are not understanding it. It doesn’t say that Mao committed crimes in the name of atheism, only that D’Souza wants to “say” they did:

          “Of course I agree that murderous regimes, whether Christian or atheist, are generally seeking to strengthen their position. But if Christian regimes are held responsible for their crimes committed in the name of Christianity, then atheist regimes should be held accountable for their crimes committed in the name of atheism. ”

          Well, too bad wishing doesn’t work…

          (Mr. Knowles please read your references more carefully!)

    • The only thing to get is money | May 12, 2012 at 5:55 pm |

      My goodness people always bring up Pol Pot, Mao, Stalin!  Those men were by no means atheist in the strictest sense as they replaced their cultural gods, with THEMSELVES! They put themselves at the helm of their new belief systems, mainly their political associations and affiliations. So those bastards took on the worst aspects of fundamentalism and applied it to politics. Dogmatic belief is the issue and it rears its ugly head in all human affairs.

      • mannyfurious | May 29, 2012 at 5:08 pm |

        Wow. This is the finest example of copping out ever. You’ve hit the nail on the head and I’m not even sure you realize it. Religion is not the cause of the world’s ills. People like Pol Pot will always find something to rape/pillage/plunder/murder about. Religion is sometimes convenient. But, as you said, any belief/faith in an idea that is not tempered with an equal amount of doubt will always be dangerous–religious, atheist, democrat, republican, humanist, nihilist, etc. 

      • If these men had actually believed they were divine beings then they would probably have been far less prone to paranoia.

        Atheism is simply a lack of belief in God. In itself it carries with it no political or moral philosophy. So there is no reason an atheist cannot also be an oppressor of others even if he cannot use belief in God as an excuse.

        The great evil is authoritarianism. A non-authoritiarian atheist does nobody any harm and neither does a non-authoritarian religious believer.

    •  even if what you said was true, the amount of people killed by “atheists” wouldn’t be anywhere close to the number killed by “religion” throughout history and still being killed by “religion” today.

      • In ratio to the world’s population at the time of the genocide I’m afraid religion has trumped atheism big time in the murder game. Just the Catholic/Protestant wars of Europe alone would be, in ratio, larger than the number of Jews killed in WWII.  And there were certainly no “atheist” at the helm of any state involved in WWI.

        • Oh, two wrongs make a right. Of course. And I can attack atheism without defending religion, though I realize you can’t work that into your indoctrination program. I’m glad you people are atheists- statistically, it means you won’t breed.

          •  your posts have been nothing but attacking atheism and defending religion, peppered with ad hominem attacks, i thought you people weren’t supposed to lie, or is it ok as long as you ask the sky wizard for forgiveness? you’re probably just trolling anyway.

          • No, it’s that atheists are no different from Christian Fundamentalists- binary, simplistic thinkers who want to annihilate any opposition.

          • Well get used to it, atheism and people who are nonreligious are on the rise in the US and everywhere else,I bet it eats you up inside.

          • Duh- learn how to read. The actual number of Atheists is unchanged. They’re counting the unchurched-like myself- as atheists. Media bullshit.

          • I don’t think you should be telling anyone to”learn how to read” since you fail at comprehension.

          • Jeez, it always disappointing to find out you are battling a troll….

          • Anyone who disagrees with you is a troll. Dish it out but can’t take it? Yep, sounds like an atheist. Wait until the Fundies regroup and decide to deal seriously with their atheist problem. Then you’ll wish you were dealing with “trolls” like me.

          • Are you suggesting that “Fundies” will start an aggressive holy war to remove atheists?  Like Hitler had to do with the “Jewish Problem?” Do you understand that is exactly the position you’ve been arguing against?  That somehow atheist are worse? 

            Your ham-fisted, poorly reasoned and ludicrously sourced arguments make it look like you are either a troll trying to bait people into comments OR that you are a total moron.  
            I’d stick with the troll label is I were you.

          • Listen, all you atheist neckbeards love to act like the big bullyboys when you’re safely behind a keyboard. But reality can’t be held at bay forever. And you spend so much time alienating people who are opposed to fundamentalism because you think they’re easy marks. Well, guess what- when and if the shit really hits the fan you’ll wish you didn’t. 

          • “Atheist Neckbeards?” 

            How do know if I’m an atheist?  I’ve not told you. I think you are just frustrated because you can’t keep up your end of the conversation.

            And what “shit” are you talking about? Would it be, like, rounding up all the atheists and sending them to a concentration camp?  Forced labor?  Sunday school? Pot luck suppers? What, prey tell?

            I don’t think they’re very scared of moronic trolls…

          • Study your history, specifically the late Roman Empire. Because America is repeating that script right down to the letter. The Atheists and Skeptics and Cynics and Epicureans thought they were the future back then too. Didn’t quite work out that way, did it? Now ask yourself why. Atheists love to point to Europe as their model but if present demographic trends hold, all those European atheists will have erased themselves from history by the end of the century.

          • Yes. You are right. Christians, not being true to their beliefs and not prone to moderation murdered  any priest that wasn’t Christian.  They also killed people who were Christian but whom they just didn’t see eye to eye with. (See: Gnostics.)

            That was the point of this article. Religionis virtuallyincapable of moderation.  Congratulations, you proved it….


          • The fact that this thread even exists is proof that religious moderation is the rule and not the exception in the West. Christians have the numbers to enforce majoritarian rule if they so desired. And since you’re a typical atheist who doesn’t even have the courage to use his real name, I think it’s pretty easy to imagine how fanatics could make your life miserable. Which is WHY you don’t use your real name. That’s the problem with atheists- a severe- if not terminal- courage deficit.

    • Camron Wiltshire | May 12, 2012 at 8:48 pm |

      Regarding OKC 

    • “I have come to peace with myself, my God and my cause” Timothy McVeigh

      McVeigh was a right wing Christian Militia member White Supremacists and KKK Sympathizer, he was not an atheist and neither was Kaczynski (who wrote about God favorably in his manifesto) who was raised Roman Catholic.

      Note: In the history of the human race. Of all the inspirations for the separation of man from his true tribal culture. Of all the inspirations for acts of violence from one man onto another, from one nation onto another, from one oppressor onto the oppressed. There is no more guilty party and inspiration than those books known as the Holy Bible the Koran and the Bagavad Gita to spread separation of mankind.

  2. “Atheists on the other hand, face no such limitations, for atheists are
    not shackled by any preconceived ideas of how things are supposed to be.”

    That would be the illusion that most ideologies are predicated on.

    • Atheism is not a pro-forma ideology. It does not state a set of goals or expectations based on “preconceived” ideas, i.e. that there is a “divine” presence.  To make atheism an ideology you would first prove the existence of god(s) and force atheist to take a stand against that reality.

      Since it is impossible to prove god(s) exist(s) the atheist does not need a philosophy to stand against reason like religion does. Hence no ideology is necessary.  That’s the reason there are no atheist “churches” – what would you talk about? The weather?

      • Due respect, I think you’re wrong.  Most atheists that I’m aware of that strongly identity as atheists hold the following expectations and “preconceived” ideas –

        that the existence of the universe is entirely accounted for by means of laws of physical determinism and chance manifestations prescribed within those laws – and possesses no creator or no teleological aim or goal or purpose

        likewise, that the emergence of life and consciousness are contingent processes driven by chance and necessity, and possess no teleological aim/goal/purpose

        that the only viable and legitimate description of reality is that provided by the reductivist physical sciences of the contemporary west

        that all ideas advanced regarding the nature of the universe and life that differ in any regard to the core assumption of non-teleological physical determinism and chance are automatically wrong, and detrimental to the human race

        that the world would be a better place if there was no religion, and everybody subscribed to what is inaccurately called “the scientific worldview”

        All of these are clearly philosophical and ideological assumptions, not statements of scientifically verified fact.  It is fatuous to say that there are no atheist “churches” – there are plenty of groups that serve essentially the same evangelical function – and no, they don’t talk about the “weather”, they talk about the same thing that evangelicals do – how to most effectively convert people to share their worldview.

        • Camron Wiltshire | May 12, 2012 at 8:54 pm |

          “What is God? He is length, width, height and depth.” -St. Bernard of Clairvaux

        • Camron Wiltshire | May 12, 2012 at 11:45 pm |

          Well said.  

        • I know that the “scientific” method is all the rage today in arguing atheism but you can just easily say “I don’t believe because your claim of divinity are silly” with no appeal to science whatsoever! An atheist doesn’t have to prove anything!  

          And YES there are NO atheist churches.  I know of no atheist “groups” that meet on one day every week and worship atheism.  And there is no directive in the Holy Works of Atheism (Dawkins? Harris? Hitchens? I have no idea…) that demands a congregation.

          And as for “evangelistic functions” I’ve never had an atheist come to my front door trying to get me to take pamphlets about atheism!   

          As for like-minded groups, do you consider a Gardening Club a church meeting?  What about a meeting of the Ayn Rand fan club?  The difference is that none of those threaten your mortal soul if you quit!  Ok, maybe the Ayn Rand fan club….


          • ” I know that the “scientific” method is all the rage today in arguing
            atheism but you can just easily say “I don’t believe because your claim
            of divinity are silly” with no appeal to science whatsoever! An atheist
            doesn’t have to prove anything!”

            Of course you don’t have to prove anything!  If you had to, or even could, prove the assertions you are making, then they would be scientific claims, and not articles of ideology and faith.  You’re argument here is nonsensical, and damaging to your own position.  You are saying, if I understand you correctly, that you could make a assertion with no appeal to science or logic whatever, an assertion simply based on your own subjective feelings (“i think evolution is silly!  take that!) and that’s supposed to mean what, exactly?  You are only confirming that atheism has no more scientific authority than creationism – both are preconceived ideological assumptions about the nature of things we do not know and cannot – yet, possibly ever – prove.

            “And YES there are NO atheist churches.  I know of no atheist “groups”
            that meet on one day every week and worship atheism.  And there is no
            directive in the Holy Works of Atheism (Dawkins? Harris? Hitchens? I
            have no idea…) that demands a congregation.”

            I didn’t say there were atheist churches, I said there were atheist groups and organizations that serve the same function, and there are. They may not meet once a week but that is beside the point.  The American Atheists put up anti-religious billboards around major cities, which is similar to going door to door.  The recent Reason Rally, the annual Amaz!ng Meetings, and the World Atheist Conventions, all embody the missionary zeal of the Catholic youth mission.  There are many emerging atheist youth camps which seem designed to serve the same funtion as their Christian equivalents, ie indoctrinate kids.

          • I can’t say it enough: Atheism isn’t religion.  Those groups serve  no greater purpose than socialization of like-minded people.  Just like a photography or a book club.

            The major difference is that since atheism is demonized and scorned by the religious atheist gatherings become a place of solace, solidarity, and protection for a socially persecuted  minority. (Prediction: when the number atheists in the US reach the numbers in Europe most of these groups will disappear…)

            These gatherings are still not equivalent to church or even a distant equivalent because congregations/churches are an absolute directive spelled out in  “holy” text (with a few interesting exceptions.) Those who believe and do not obey could be in danger of losing their chance at immortality.  This is the distinction between a church and a social or professional gathering.

            Furthermore missionary-like  zeal can be found in virtually every secular club. An example: Try dissing Justin Bieber on Facebook; you will witness missionary zeal in action.  But, unlike with religion, if you do it does not mean that you’ll lose your chance for immortality.  Try announcing that you’re not sure about the prophetic mission of Mohammed at a mosque… wait don’t.  Just research: Rushdie, Salman.

            Once again, you are engaging in false equivalence.  Atheism is not a religion; it is the absence of religion.

        • Thebiophysicist | May 19, 2012 at 12:44 pm |

          There is a definite materialistic / deterministic / atheistic bias in ” the scientific worldview”. Read this article on the possible origin of the Materialistic Bias in Science 
          Here is an extract.
          The Pope was sending a very clear message to all of the early scientists without
          saying it in so many words: “If you confine your scientific research to the physical world  the Church will leave you alone.” The earlier immolation of Bruno had already sent the negative half of this message: “Scientists who do research
          into the nature of psychic phenomena or publish theories that challenge the
          official position of the the Church on cosmological matters will be severely
           I call this unspoken, unwritten agreement “The Copernican
          Compromise,” and believe it’s the origin of the whole materialistic bias
          in western science. The Copernican Compromise was never openly discussed by
          either the scientists or the Catholic hierarchy, and it is likely that both
          sides simply drifted into it without being consciously aware that the Church
          was still actively persecuting scientific occultists while becoming increasingly
          tolerant towards scientists who avoided research into psychic and spiritual phenomena,
          especially those who claimed such research was impossible. Even though their
          motivations were mostly subconscious, more and more scientists adopted a materialistic
          bias during the 16th and 17th centuries; and if they also were involved in occultism
          or other spiritual research, they hid their activities in secret societies.

        •  Well, most atheists I know realise you have to make some philosophical assumption, and they usually are that there is an objective reality that we can have glimpses through our senses and in order to make conclusions of this reality you have to gather evidence and analyse it trying your best to not let your emotional bias influence your conclusion. Science just comes in to the picture because it has a good track record with that last part, but it hardly is the only methodology used.

          The beliefs you associate with atheism are just the result of a combination of recognition that religious claims aren’t supported by evidence and that an assertion that is not backed up by evidence should not be taken as true, not an ideological assumption.

          The troublesome atheistic movement that everybody complains about is just that many people are trying to point out that no ideas are to be taken as sacred, they all must be attacked and criticised so that only the ones that better explain the world around us are taught and passed on for future scrutiny, while the ones that do poorly are forgotten and left behind as humanity progresses. People are angry because religion gives them comfort, but it’s intellectually unsustainable.

    • I regard agnosticism as the only intellectually defensible nontheistic position. “I have seen no evidence for the existence of Deity” is easily defensible. 

      To say “There is NO GOD” is just as much a statement of religious faith as “I believe in [insert Deity name here]”. I have seen entirely too many atheists act as if their “NO GOD” should be inflicted on everyone using rationales disturbingly similar to those of other kinds of religious fundamentalists.

      There are lots of things a modern rational person believes on the basis of inference or authority, so to treat “I believe in NO GOD because I have never seen direct evidence of His/Her/Its/Their existence” is a non-starter.

      • Every baby is born an atheist.  Only later indoctrination makes that change.  No indoctrination, no god.  (See: current Russia!)

        Religion tries to “prove” there is a god. We are the audience for the claims. Atheist are simply not convinced. That doesn’t mean they have a “faith” in a principle that denies the  claim!

        • For all we know a baby doesn’t have a conception of divine, how can it then deny a god? beliefs are part of our culture, not our genes.

        • VaudeVillain | May 16, 2012 at 4:32 pm |

          Every baby is born with the fervent belief that Mother is God. Every baby is born with the experience of having lived a life in the ultimate intimacy with she who bore them, feeling every breath, every heartbeat, every bite of food, every breath, every footstep. Everything they have ever needed, everything they have ever known, has been from Mother; she does not merely define reality, She IS reality.

          No so-called God can ever live up to that.

          In any event, no baby is born with the belief that there is no deity; outside the above the concept is simply non-existent.

          Also, there are plenty of religious folk in Russia. It was pushed semi-underground for a few decades, but it never went away and certainly didn’t stay away.

      • dan o'shea | May 13, 2012 at 12:56 am |

        well put, a.lizard

      • Monkey See Monkey Do | May 13, 2012 at 8:49 am |

        Well put. Sadly I dont think it will be realized for quite some time.

        • while I agree with both of you, I don’t think it’ll ever be realized on a large scale.  

          Most people don’t want rationality when it comes to “the big questions”.  They want to believe that they will never really die.  They want to believe that they will be reunited with their deceased loved ones in a place where all of their troubles will be gone.  They want to believe that their is, ultimately, justice in the universe.  The “good” who didn’t get their due will be rewarded.  The “bad” who got away with it will be punished.  

          These are very basic urges and I don’t believe that any amount of scientific progress, or education will ever overcome them.  Most people are going to choose the comfortable story over “we don’t know”.  And, they definitely don’t want to hear “You rot & that’s it.”  

  3. Trent Thompson | May 12, 2012 at 5:02 pm |

    This wasn’t biased towards atheism or anything…  Once you explore the realm of both extremes it’s extraordinarily difficult to be heavily opinionated either way.  One must take a Objective-Subjective approach if he or she is willing to find anything.  I highly recommend watching The Quantum Activist.  His premise provides evidence of a transcendental spiritual realm,  which is accessed through prayer,  meditation,  seance, psychedelics, indigenous tribal worship,  ect…  Science is consistently disproving its predecessors as we gain access to new technology and information.  Thus,  leading to my conclusion of it being nothing more than well-calculated belief.  Either extreme (Science or Religion) takes an arrogant approach to this omnipotent deity or “Great Architect” as the Mason’s would call it.  To assume something came from nothing is pretty absurd (Big bang).  I’m no physicist, but I do have two eyes and a brain.  Time and time again humans have thought they had the answer and been drastically wrong.  Open-mindedness is the key to understanding anything in this world…

  4. On the contrary, moderation makes more sense for religion precisely because it’s *not* objective or scientific. It’s an essentially personal framework for how a person responds to the world; one in which very little is certain, and just about every perspective is both true and untrue in some sense. On it fundamental level, it’s not about objective reality, it’s about feelings, intuition, etc. Joseph Campbell’s “moderate” religiosity is a good example of what I’m talking about; William James is another example. 

    If believing in a faith-based religion makes you an “enabler” for religion based bigotry and violence, by that same logic it also makes you an enabler of charity, liberation theology and so on. Likewise, atheists would have to start answering of the religious persecutions that took place during the French Revolution, Soviet communism, etc. Science has the A-bomb. Any ideology or system of thought can provide a rational for good or evil, religious or otherwise. In the end, good and evil have more to do with the personal motives of the people involved, and not the belief systems they invoke. 

    • Are you implying that Stalin in the name of “atheism” went out and created famine or had millions imprisoned?  I pretty sure that wasn’t the case.  But I’m absolutely sure that Cesare Borgias completely decimated the city of Capua for the Church and the Holy Father, his own dad, Alexander VI.

      So are you sure that only those with religious beliefs have “charity?”  As for “liberation theology” the only real enemy of that is dictatorships and the Catholic Church. See Just because you think all good things spring from religion just doesn’t make it so.

      Atheism is not an ideology. It is not the “opposite” of religion with a series of claims – it simply denies on the basis of fact (or “reality”) the claims of religion. Religions and politics have to have ideologies to further their claims primarily to compete with other religions and political viewpoints.  Essential elements that inform these ideologies come from charismatic personalities that may or may not adhere to the ideology (i.e. Jesus wasn’t a Christian and was against preaching to gentile…)

      The outcome is that ideologies become porous because the charismatic personalities are simply humans with personal likes and dislikes as well as quirks and other oddities (i.e. Joseph Smith and women, masons, hieroglyphics, etc.)  New generations following these ideologies will find ways of advancing their desires, good or bad, using the quirks of their prophets.

      As for moderation: religion, in its expectation that you believe what you can’t sense, rationalize, or investigate begins far past a point where moderation begins.  It really doesn’t get ever get back to moderation from there.     

      • I’m saying that the scientific atheism was the official doctrine of the Soviet Union, and that in their efforts to eradicate religion they destroyed places of worship, and executed religious leaders:

        So, if it’s legitimate to say that the crusades are an example of the “evils of religion,” then what follows about the persecution of religious people by atheists in the USSR? 

        Likewise I don’t question that institutionalized religion has long been an instrument of oppression in the hands of social elites. I’m simply pointing out that there are also countless examples of activists like Martin Luther King or Gandhi who were deeply religious and inspired by religious principles. 

        In essence what I’m saying is that, for the most part, it’s people that are bad or good, not the belief systems they profess. 

        As for you last point, I can see the flip side of that, too. Religion, particularly in its mystical guises, deals with the realm of direct, lived experience; of the phenomenological and irreducibly subjective; stuff that *can’t* be described objectively, but which is nonetheless more real than anything else to the person experiencing it. In a certain sense, it’s an extreme position to argue that consciousness is an “illusion” and that those aspects of the world that can be described objectively are “real.” 

        And for the record, I’m not one of those people who thinks that all good springs from religion. I’m an atheist. I’m just a moderate one. *grin*

        • The actions of communistic atheism was a severe overreaction to the power wielded by a deeply conservative, and arguably cruel church which was deeply entrenched in the power base of the monarchy.  Many of the deaths of clerics occurred during the Russia Civil War where clerics carried guns! And I find it difficult to support the action of either side. A simpler way to say this is that If the atheists had priests I’m sure they would have been massacred as well.

          Communism does not have to be atheistic.  Just ask Quakers and Shakers!

          I hate to be hard headed about this but there isn’t a flip side.  The person with the mystical experiences has to convince others, who have not had a mystical experience,  that the experiences are real. That usually takes a charismatic personality.  However, that will leave a lot of people unconvinced – particularly those with competing mystical claims.  There is no way to way to convince everyone so different claims fracture and form new institutions that then fight for power. (See Late Middle Age Catholic Church.) 

          Atheists (and agnostics and arguably deists) expect a claim that can be seen as true across many different experiences, most notably since the 17th century, the scientific.  Narrow religious claims for the existence of the divine breakdown pretty quickly under those conditions…  

          • That sort of illustrates my point. The repression in the USSR wasn’t caused by atheism; militant atheism was just one side of how a larger (red/white) power struggle was expressed. The same apology can be made for religion. The crusades, for example, had far more to do with geopolitics than they did with Christianity. 

            The hate, bigotry and self-interest come first–people invoke belief systems to justify them *after the fact*. If there were no religions, they would go to some other, non-religious ideology like American exceptionalism, the white man’s burden, fascism, whatever. 

            Mystics don’t necessarily take it upon themselves to convince others that their experience is real. And for that matter, myths like what you read in the Old Testament aren’t necessarily treated as factual accounts. Religion does screw up and overreach when it tries to make factual claims (that’s the “extreme,” the fundamentalism), but the essence of it has less to do with drawing out a factual description of the world than affording people lessons drawn from shared experience.  

            My point here is that “moderate” religion, as loosely described in this article, isn’t attempting to do what science does, and shouldn’t be judged on those terms. Fundamentalism does try to trump science, and is wrong to do so, but that more wishy-washy “choose whatever works for you” type style of religion just isn’t overly concerned facts and explanations as much as it is with affording people working models for how to respond to life. 

          • The problem lies in false equivalencies.  The First Crusades was actually initiated by the Pope Urban II. Although he had many secular reasons to start a war, his appeal for the elite to fight was through strictly religious appeals. He offered a ticket straight to heaven for those that fought! No atheist leader, to my knowledge has ever made an appeal to “atheistic beliefs” to fight a war.  I’d argue that the closest you can come are the wars begun in the name nationalism. (See Revolutionary and Spanish American War.)

            You can’t simply equate religious motivation with atheism.  Hate and bigotry, as you noted, has been a reason for war and destruction since the beginning of recorded time but religious motivation is the great organizer.  Without the power of the keepers of the secrets of immortality you have to have a different power and that gets more difficult.

            (I’m sorry if it seems like I’m beating up on Catholics.  I could use examples of virtually every religion – except maybe 7th Day Adventist, Jehovah Witnesses, Quakers, and Christian Scientist.  And maybe Cristadelphians…)

          • I’m not saying that atheism is as strong a motivator as religion (it’s not). I’m trying to point out that, in situations where religion is out of the equation, you still end up with all the same horrendous behaviors. 

            If you want to launch a crusade, and you don’t have religion, you can always find some secular ideology to mobilize people around–dogmatic communism, fascism, nationalism, whatever. Whether or not “God” is part of it is incidental.  

            You can argue that perhaps religion is a better manipulator than secular ideologies, but when you consider the fervor you see in, say, one of Hitler’s rallies, it doesn’t seem like there’s that much of a difference. 

            Human nature is really the crux of the problem. People act upon what they already feel in their gut, and they seize upon whatever religion or ideology confirms them in what they’ve already decided to do–but that’s largely after the fact.  

          • I don’t mean to belabor the point (because I think we’re pretty close to agreeing) but atheism is not what informs the aggression like  religion does.   Or at least I should say, *not at this point in history*.  Remember all the worlds conflicts both today and in history: Hindu vs. Muslim, Christians vs. Muslims, Muslims vs. Muslims, Catholics vs. Protestants, Buddhists vs. Hindus, Christian vs. Greek, Christian vs. Isis, Jews vs. Muslims, Jews vs. Christians, etc.  These conflicts may have had some secular causes but it is almost impossible delineate between the secular cause and the religious cause.  It is incredibly easy to spot “secular wars” where religion has a limited role  like over borders, for independence, or resources. But “glory wars” are very difficult.

            A great example where religion plays a key role is in genocide during WWII.  If Christianity had not demonized Jews for a 1000+ years I seriously doubt the holocaust would have ever occurred.  It didn’t just “pop up” in Hitler’s brain that the Jews were evil – it was the result of a long history where Jews could be scapegoated for absolutely anything without question.  So regardless of whether Hitler was religious or not, his final solution reflected the long, dark history of Jews in a Christian world. 

            More questionable to my argument: China vs. Buddhists in Tibet – is it about religion or national independence?  And of course wars revolving around race.  This is a miserably complex subject and since I write a lot of computer code I lose my ability to write in English!

          • I agree that atheism doesn’t generally inspire violence. 

            Everything is so complex and interrelated that it’s impossible to cite any conflict where religion is not in some way involved, but I don’t think it’s generally a “cause” as much as an “excuse.” Even the long, dark history of Jews in the Christian world has less to do with what is actually written in the Bible than ordinary xenophobia, greed and racism. As you point out with Tibet, there can be a lot of complex, overlapping layers between religion, race, nationality, etc. 

            The Catholics and Protestants in Ireland are a good example of a conflict that was really about territory/nationalism, but often got described as a religious conflict because of the overlaps involved. 

            It’s hard to find a “pure” religious conflict…an instance of two otherwise harmonious peoples going to war where there was nothing political or territorial at stake; no leader or tribal unit seeking power, etc.. I think it’s just easier for people to tell themselves that they’re fighting for some lofty, sacred principle, when in fact they’re really just jealous of someone else’s farmland. 

            I guess it’s my cynicism about basic human nature that allows me to be an apologist for religion. *grin*


          • Systematically anti-religious sentiments such as those espoused by the New Atheists have definitely promoted violence. In the name of Reason and Liberty.

            The motivation for china to commit atrocities to Tibet has always been that they are a Theocracy. China  objects to the religious aspects of Tibetan society and uses that as their chief argument that they are liberating the Tibetan people from oppression with an iron fist.
            Similarly, in the wake of the French Revolution, approximately thirty thousand priests had been forced to leave France, and others who did not leave were executed. 
            Ultimately, the motivation was to uphold Reason as the golden  standard, with atheism and a very non-theistic Deism being standard. The priests would not abide by this. In the name of Reason and Liberty, they were persecuted and executed. 

          • dan o'shea | May 13, 2012 at 12:54 am |

            well put haystack. I have found personally, that after discovering my roman catholic childhood, and the long period of extreme reaction in the other direction, culminating in atheism;  were both well tested programs of indoctrination. (cult-ural). Since giving myself permission to explore any and all cultural beliefs and traditions from a psychological, metaphorical perspective; I am a  much happier, less dogmatic person. I can believe both (all) sides of a topic, simultaneously.I can take a view for the sake of conversation and still not consider myself right. Definitely not exclusively so. If thats cognitive dissonance, then I’m all for it. And like it or not, I have come to believe that religions were initially crafted by masters of consciousness; and that if we so desire, it is possible to use the principles as a tool with which one can derive many tangible benfits, without really needing to get hung up on truth or other materialist(?) criteria. Not compulsory. The most disappointing aspect of recent books by Dawkins et al, is they are seriously addressing their arguments to the “Bible is the literal word of god.” end of the Question. I think he and christopher hitchins would have been better served by restricting their target to ‘organised religion’, as it exists. And addressing the more interesting philosophical aspects of what should be a deep and engrossing subject, from either viewpoint.

          • I so agree. 

            I think there’s a need for people like Dawkins to push back against fundamentalism, but in the final analysis they don’t have anything particularly new or interesting to offer about the human condition. I get the most out of people like William James and Joseph Campbell who take a broader view. 

    • You can enable charity without having religion as, for lack of a better word, an excuse. Just sayin.

  5. Interesting article.

  6. Camron Wiltshire | May 12, 2012 at 8:43 pm |

    I agree with everything except your assumptions about 9/11 being perpetrated by radical muslims.  A rational and unbiased study of the available evidence supporting this is available at  and if you prefer, they have made many videos describing the most potent evidence demanding an independent and thorough investigation as well.

    • TapMeYouFascists | May 13, 2012 at 12:54 am |

       Speaking of prosthelytizing religions…

      • Camron Wiltshire | May 14, 2012 at 4:15 am |

        So are you some type of designer troll?  By religion I assuming you mean physics, well it is a natural law so you could assign to it divinity if you wanted to.  Join my church my young tagalong learner > < The Truth Shall Set You Free Heathen!!!! 😉

        • TapMeYouFascists | May 15, 2012 at 11:43 am |

          Is everyone who disagrees with ‘edgy’ posters a troll? Btw, I don’t work for the gov… For what it’s worth you’re probably right about the towers being demo’ed. But for many ‘truthers’, this “truth” must be foisted upon anyone at any moment. You have revered sources of information. It’s a worldview that explains the world. Hence, my witty analogy.

          I know you think you’re helping people. But honestly, if they wanted to know, they would already. Its the same for previous generations with JFK, or the USS Maine, or the list continues.

          It only helps once the FEMA camps start. But I honestly think most of them would prefer that to the truth.

  7. Religion is the red herring in the horror story of human history. Avarice and arrogance do not have their root in religion and philosophy, but in them find their justification. 

    • No they dont!

      • Yes they do!
        Structured, organized worship, i.e, religion, is merely a vehicle.  Exploited by man for ones self. In other words, Goodness is not religion and religion is not Goodness.  Suckers make the mistake of confusing them, to their peril.

  8. By the way, the idiocy of this article is self-apparent- without religious moderates holding the Religious Right at bay, atheists would face the same treatment in America that they do in the Islamic world. 

    • Link to something!!!  I simply don’t see “religious moderates” doing anything in regard to atheism!  Give us some sort of documentation to support that wild, over-the-top claim…

  9. mannyfurious | May 13, 2012 at 4:03 pm |

    The problem with moderates is that they are only “moderate” relative to the two extremes. When our society has had a cataclysmic shift to the greedy, scared, power-hungry, manipulative “right”, being a moderate means you’re basically as rational as Richard Nixon. Hell, as a so-called moderate these days, you’re probably right of Nixon. And that’s fucking terrifying. 

    • WeatherStorm | May 13, 2012 at 8:36 pm |

      This! Very much so…

    • emperorreagan | May 13, 2012 at 9:56 pm |

      Personally, I think the peculiar brand of capitalism dominant now replaced religion as the dominant mythology in the US decades ago.

    • sam23sirius | May 15, 2012 at 9:21 am |

      Left and right is irrelevant now. There is only one party. The only difference between the left and right is the rhetoric used to divide the people and make them fight among themselves. Divide et impera.

      • mannyfurious | May 15, 2012 at 12:15 pm |

        This is true, practically speaking. The difference between Obama and Romney is little more than aesthetic. It is not true philosophically, however, as there is a distinctive difference between, say, a Socialistic and Capitalistic viewpoint. Most people are so far in favor of capitalism (and the greed, manipulation and exploitation that it requires), which has traditionally been identified with the so-called “right.” 

        • sam23sirius | May 15, 2012 at 1:19 pm |

          Viewpoints are nice and all, but in reality there are totalitarians behind both sides. Left wing/ right wing same vulture. There is no such thing as a free market, and there has never been a true socialist government. That being said, I think that most people can agree that they want to be free. Let’s start there. 

          • mannyfurious | May 15, 2012 at 3:32 pm |

            You’re right in that there are fascists on both sides, and, in general, the extremists fuck things up for everyone (extremists “lefties” actually bug me more than the right-wingers for a whole lot of reasons). However, I wish it were as simple as starting with “most people want to be free” but it’s not, because hardly anybody agrees what that even means. For me, freedom means legalizing any activity that doesn’t physically interrupt anyone else’s pursuit of freedom. Therefore, for example, I believe same-sex marriage should be legal and drug use of any kind should be legal (if regulated) and women should be allowed to get abortions (although I, personally, find it morally repugnant to do so). A tea-bagger, for instance, believes freedom should include a ban on same-sex marriage, a ban on any drug he/she doesn’t use, and a ban on abortion. 

            So how are we supposed “to start” with freedom? It’s an abstract idea with no literal definition. 

          • sam23sirius | May 16, 2012 at 8:00 am |

            So while we argue over smoking pot and boys kissing the state passes laws saying they can blackbag us. Sound’s like a plan.

          • mannyfurious | May 16, 2012 at 12:40 pm |

            No, it’s deeper than that. The drug laws in this country create a whole sub-population of people who have become second-class citizens because they used drugs without harming anyone else. Not only that, the lack of safety in many U.S. communities can be directly attributed to the policies of the “War on Drugs.” Your worry about the loss of personal protections in this country for its citizens is right on. However, there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of American Citizens alive right now who aren’t worried about getting “blackbagged” because they’re more worried about not getting shot every time they step outside of their home, because the two drug dealers down the street have beef with one another. More people will be killed because of the “War on Drugs” this year than will be held against their will without council. And you can quote me on that. 

            And who needs to be “blackbagged” when a whole host of impoverished people cannot even vote or get jobs because they shoved something up their nose at one point. That seems like a much easier and efficient method of control than arresting individuals and torturing them. That takes time and manpower. Letting them eat themselves is much easier and enjoyable for these people. 

            The thing people like you don’t understand is that no single issue exists in a vaccuum. The same people who want to limit my civil liberties are the same people who want to stop boys from kissing. And since when is civil rights something to be taken lightly anyway? Not “letting boys kiss” is a symptom of a much larger problem. It’s a symptom of a society that allows a infinitesimally small number of its citizens the power to control the rest of us. It’s all about power and control and I’ll take victories over the venal geeks any way I can get em. 

          • Jin The Ninja | May 16, 2012 at 1:27 pm |

            “I’ll take victories over the venal geeks any way I can get em. ”

            my thoughts exactly.

          • sam23sirius | May 16, 2012 at 4:41 pm |

            If voting mattered it would be illegal. The drug war is the modern counterpart of the opium wars, the results look to be about the same.

          • Monkey See Monkey Do | May 16, 2012 at 11:23 am |

            ‘freedom’ is used liked the words ‘hope’ and ‘change’ designed to distract people from the real issues. They are irrelevant platitudes to help keep people dumbed down, preventing them from thinking deeper about the concepts and ethics behind real political and economic philosophies.

  10. Pretty much all the arguing in these comments are over semantics — those who define religion as any belief system rather than a theistic one vs. those who define atheism as a lack of belief rather than a belief in absence.

    Gentlemen, consult your dictionaries.

    • Correct but irrelevant.  Religion has always attempted to define those with competing divine claims as either trivial or dangerous and fashioning a response presupposing that the usurper  had similar organization, structure, and internal motivations.  This is a fairly normal human response to a fear of attack. So it’s not unusual to see the religious attack atheism the way they would attack other religions.  But their frustration rises when they find that instead of pitched battle between two combatants they find themselves on the field alone! 

      A good historical analogy would be the religious battle between the 17th century European Humanists and religious institutions of the day. Long story short: Despite virtually all humanists being religious (or at the least deists), organized religion attacked them as if they had the “new” competing claims to the divine plus a “church”, an “orthodoxy”, etc.  This was laughable in hindsight because we know they had no real structure at all and wouldn’t have until the 20th century! 

      As you can tell from the comments above, religion is currently overreacting to atheism by presupposing that they have a “church”, an “orthodoxy”, a “sacred scriptures”, etc.  The reality is that since atheists have no claims to immortality or the divine they simply don’t have those things. 

  11. Anti-Crowley | May 16, 2012 at 9:18 am |

    Failed to mention the moderate humanist neo-darwinian hordes of the modern era.  They want to claim that all is a mechanical process with no transcendent moral law, yet they try to defend their social views from a moral platform.  If we are all truly chemically driven carbon and nothing more, then what we  believe to be right or wrong have no meaning other than to ourselves.  Yet we all have this sense of justice that cannot be ignored.  How can one argue intrinsic human rights from a atheistic standpoint?

  12. A well written piece, you did however, neglect to discuss and include Hebrews 8:7-13 where it makes the claim that the rules from the OT are an obsolete covenant and a new covenant is to be expressed soon. Finding a savior and following him literally presents a case for that claim, and so Christians who say they follow Christ should disregard anything written in the OT save for the 10 that Jesus supports in the NT and the 38 commandments from Jesus himself that you can find throughout Mark, Luke, John, and Matthew. Notice how there isn’t anything about witches, or gays, or killing people here. 

    (Matthew 6:12 KJV)
    (Mark 11:25-26 KJV)

    (John 3:7 KJV)

    (John 15:4 KJV)

    (Matthew 5:16 KJV; see also Matthew 5:15)

    (Matthew 5:25 KJV)

    (Matthew 5:29-30 KJV)  

    (Matthew 5:34-37 KJV)

    “(Matthew 5:38-39 KJV)

    (Matthew 5:40-42 KJV)

    (Matthew 5:43-45 KJV)

      (Matthew 6:1 KJV)

    (Matthew 6:5-7 KJV)

    (Matthew 6:9-15 KJV)

    (Matthew 6:16)  

      (Matthew 6:19-21)  

    (Matthew 6:25-26 KJV)

     (Matthew 6:34 KJV)

    ” (Matthew 6:33 KJV)

    (Matthew 7:1-2 KJV) (John 8:7 KJV)

    (Matthew 7:6 KJV)


    (Matthew 25:34-36 KJV)

     23. “FOLLOW THE NARROW PATH TO LIFE.” (Matthew 7:13-14 KJV)

    (Matthew 7:15 KJV)

    (Matthew 10:1 KJV
    (Matthew 10:8 KJV)

    (Matthew 18:10 KJV)

    (Matthew 23:8-12 KJV)

    (Matthew 18:15-17 KJV)

    (Mark 9:38-40 KJV)

    (Mark 11:22-24 KJV)

    (See Luke 10:30-35)

     (John 15:12 KJV)

    (Luke 22:19-20 KJV)

      (John 13:14 KJV)

    35. “BE MERCIFUL.”
    (Luke 6:36 KJV)
    (Luke 6:35b KJV)

     (Matthew 28:19-20 KJV)

     (John 14:15 KJV)

     Luke 12:40 KJV)
    I mean there is some merit in saying that other Christians aren’t following Jesus and that these people should be considered wrong or immoral. Not necessarily not Christian because with repentance anyone can be forgiven for their sins unless they blasphemy the lord.. Not that I care for this approach, but if the moderates of Christianity only vocalize that X people are not Christian, and that is the only objection. Well disassociation from these people and the subsequent indifference to these atrocities is another 
    atrocity all on its own.

    Realistically though, discussing the philosophy of Christ in the same sense to Christians as they assume it to be divine automatically puts the discussion into the realm of supernatural divinity and I nor anyone else should accept that basic assumption. Even if Jesus did exist (and we can discuss the amalgamation theory later) there is no foundational evidence for Jesus being a demi-god or having magical powers, which should be the first thing discussed before you discuss the “Authority” of anything written in the bible, and even then, we have to reduce the argument further to the basic ideathat “God” inspired humans to write the bible. Then one step further, we reduce the discussion to the definitions of god and how people came by this idea. Basically starting at discussing what is in the bible gives people the idea that you have already accepted all the other foundational assumptions about god and Jesus making your position already pointing in the losing direction because you have already given them the respectability of their assumptions up to this point and I do not give them even an inch.

    If a Christian see’s themselves as being agnostic about Harry Potter, I’d offer an agnostic position about Yahweh. THAT’S the realm of ‘maybe god exists’ we’re talking about, but discussing the doctrine or the actions beyond the base argument of how crappy “god” is defined and all the special pleading, slippery slope, argument from ignorance, argument from popularity, argument from silence, argument from bias sampling fallacies that riddle the foundation of the god delusion. We don’t need to discuss anything until they have met the burden of proof for the foundation of their claims first. This is why I have been abandoning debating Christians on pretty much anything. It isn’t useful to allow them to feel that their faith is respected, because none of it holds weight when we put it under a microscope. One can follow Plato just as easily as they can follow Jesus, and at least then, they would have something to defend rather than the tired old debate of how their beliefs are to be respected because they are sacred and beyond reproach. You can find similar teachings in Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Egyptian mythology, Greek Mythology Confucianism, Maoism, Taoism, and ancient Mesopotamian civilization that all predated Christianity. So the same philosophy would have existed without Jesus, this only further makes the point that Jesus and god isn’t needed, and never really was. 

    I just think that is isn’t all that useful to dissect an already dead theory, you know? Great article, but I think we should concentrate on the basic argument about the foundation of belief in god before we give the opposing side any respect to discuss doctrine. I mean the Doctrine isn’t even needed, and too many people think that the Christian Doctrine have given us most of out social constructions. They completely lack the knowledge and understanding that Hellenistic philosophy predating Christ was in circulation long before Christ and you can find any “christian” construct in ancient Greek philosophies. This then forces them to face the nature of the most basic line of questions, “What is god, where did god come from and how do you know god is real?” All the rest just lets the liberal, moderates, and extremists to assume you are giving them respect, and in that respect it ratifies their faith. This is theproblem we have to deal with. Trying to convince someone that their faith is bullshit all while when we discuss it, it strengthens their willful ignorance.

  13. This is an incorrect assessment of a moderate.  A moderate is someone who assumes that people are generally reasonable, and that if someone is to hold a position, there must be a true principle to which they cling, even if the conclusions they draw from the principle are wrong.  The moderate searches for the principle of truth in the extreme position and tries to put it into the correct context.  That does NOT mean always falling in the middle.

    Consider racism.  Person X may be racist because they see a high percentage of minorities locked up in prisons, and so draws a conclusion that these races are less civilized.  The true principle is that there are a higher degree of minorities in prison, but it is an incorrect judgement to assume that’s because the race is less civilized.  A moderate rejects racism because of these false conclusions, but acknowledges that Person X may not be a complete moron and has touched upon something that needs investigation – why are there more minorities in prison?  By investigating this first principle,  you know have a chance to dispel the fallacies in the racist’s position and have a much better chance of eliminating racism.  If you just discount Person X as a crackpot, nothing changes.

  14. “Moreover, like those who watch kiddy porn or buy ivory jewelry, all adherents of faith-based religions act as enablers for the perpetrators of terrible crimes.”
    “We are free to find fault with any idea or action that is maladaptive to or incompatible with human well-being – that is, with health, happiness and general flourishing.”

    “I’ll thus leave it up to the reader to decide – atheist, moderate, or zealot – which is best for humanity? Where should the bell curve lie?”

    What incredible arrogance.  I’d like to introduce you to my friends Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot.  

    Evil is part of humanity and transcends every human activity.  Religion is only one expression of human activity.  If you think you’re above it because you’re an atheist, you don’t know history.

  15. Take acid and read cosmic trigger.

  16. Brian Cabana | May 17, 2012 at 3:26 pm |

    This is simply crap.  Learn something about the religions first, other than your atheist caricatures of them, and then comment on them.

  17. moongrim69 | May 18, 2012 at 6:26 pm |

    Extremism.  We could either allow sex with anything or everything, or we could ban sex altogether….

    I’ll choose the more moderate route, thank you very much.

  18. The term moderate is bantered around now a days like it is something everyone should strive for. That premise needs to be examined closely,  many people mistake the term moderate with moderation and that is a shame.
    If you own a professional baseball team, a company striving for excellence or even if you train dogs. You want the best athletes, very competitive employees and even extremely good behavior out of the dog you are training. You would not want a mediocre team, a middle of the road company or a dog that behaved well occasionally. Even God does not want you to be moderate, he/she says believe in me all the way, to the extreme, not half way! 
    So my point is moderate is not necessarily a good thing but this is what the media wants us to believe. Even in politics, we want extreme politicians that are smart enough to get things done, not middle of the road mediocre politicians. Before you attack this position please make the distinction between moderation and moderate! 

  19. while not having read all 100+ comments, so i don’t know if the extremists have chimed in yet or not, i have enjoyed the discussion between tristan, a.lizard, and luther. well done! screeching diatribes do not add anything to add to a discussion, other than to point out what moderates are not. this article accurately points out that in this area, fence-sitting produces nothing but a sore crotch…

  20. to all that follow; great reading below…

  21. Paul Suliin | May 21, 2012 at 10:25 pm |

    This is moderately silly.

    A “religious moderate” is simply someone whose religious views are between extremes, one who is less dogmatic about his views or who simply has fewer dogmas. For example he believes that Jesus died for his sins, but doesn’t care very much whether or not you believe the same. He doesn’t take the Bible literally because he doesn’t need to do so in order to shore up his faith. He may not even believe that holding such views is essential to salvation.

    See? It’s so much more sensible when you drop the self-conscious defensive caricatures.

  22. This kind of immoderate over moderation is moderately stupid.

  23. This is faulty reasoning. You begin with actual examples of moderation between two extremes – e.g. moderate drinker between teetotaller and drunkard. But then, when you want to present moderation in some things as not a good thing, you talk about not a true moderate position but a position halfway to one extreme or another. If being a paedophile is one extreme then only being sexually attracted to individuals much older than you is the other extreme and being attracted to people of all ages or of only around your own age is the moderate position. If a neo-Nazi white supremacist is one extreme then the other extreme is a white person who believes that white people are inferior to all other races.

    In religion, where fundamentalist belief in a religious text is at one end of the spectrum, a belief that nothing contained in the religious text could possibly in anyway be true or relevant would be the other form of irrational extremism. The moderate point would be to see the text simply as a book and to take from it anything which seems wise or useful and see as a myth anything which contradicts ones own reason.

    I think it is easier for a person like myself who does not believe in the supernatural but never-the-less thinks that Jesus was one of the wisest individuals of recorded history to credibly criticise the behaviour of those who claim to represent him while actually shitting all over his philosophy of love, forgiveness, honesty and generosity.

    The problem with those who fight extremism from their own extremist position is that they provoke those against whom they fight to worse extremism while becoming more like them everyday. There is nothing wrong with atheism. Some might call me an atheist, though I don’t. Pantheism probably best describes my belief. But atheism which refuses to acknowledge that religion is an outgrowth (albeit often in a distorted neurotic form) of important human intuitions which go far deeper into the nature of who we are than reason (essential as that tool of the superficial layer of the mind is) has a tendency to grasp are fooling themselves and will have little impact on the behaviour or beliefs of the fundamentalists. Only someone who genuinely appreciates the value of a religious philosophy can go to its heart and expose false beliefs for what they are – a perversion of something that was originally true and wise.

  24. Andersonreese | May 27, 2012 at 6:27 pm |

    How convenient, that all your arguments come back to underscore your own self-righteous view of yourself.  Your critical thinking skills are lacking to the point of being laughable. Your example of the Nigerian witch-hunters and all the extrapolations you make are ridiculous. Rather than argue about every inane point, it might be better to use an analogy. You say those who believe in Christianity in any way are hypocrites if they decry the actions of the crazies, because they have some common basis for belief. If that were true then anyone who believes sex is a good thing would be a hypocrite if they criticized sexual deviance such as pedophiiia or rape.
    I know you are just “playing” a mathemaitcian on the net, but your examples were not true to the situation. You implies that the moderate postion when there is an outlandish outlier from the “vast majority” would be somewhere about half way in between. That wouldn’t be true in a math example at all. The mean (which you were trying to equate w/ political or religious moderation in your primitive pseudo-scientific approach) would barely move in the presence of a distant outlier in any real example with a “vast” number of others relatively clustered around a mean. If you don’t understand why that is true, you need to take algebra I again.
    You should be careful. If you jump off the ship with a vast portion of humanity, hoping to find refuge among the “scientists” of the world, you should make sure your credentials are in order.

  25. The math example is a bad one – you can’t have a moderate position on an a priori truth (well, you could, but simply having one indicates that you don’t know what a priori means). So obviously it would be silly to attempt to be “moderate”, because there is no rational reason to do so.

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