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Wed Dec 28, 2011, 11:38 PM

The goals of atheist activism

Tuesday, December 27, 2011
by Massimo Pigliucci

Even before the recent demise of Christopher Hitchens, and before I had read two recent (and quite opposite, here and here) opinions about this, I was thinking of keyboarding a few words about the goals of atheist activism. So here we go.

The two recent opinions I came across are by Greta Christina over at FreethoughtBlogs, and by Chris Stedman at the HuffPost. They seem to agree that there are two distinct goals of atheist activism, as Christina put it: “For many atheists, the primary goal of atheist activism is to reduce anti-atheist bigotry and discrimination, and to work towards more complete separation of church and state ... For many atheists, our main goal is persuading the world out of religion.” Stedman agrees on the separability of these goals, but says “I maintain significant disagreement with many religious beliefs, but I do not wish to be associated with narrow-minded, dehumanizing generalizations about religious people. I am disappointed that such positions represent atheist activism not only to the majority of our society, but to many of my fellow atheist activists as well.”

Let me make a few points about this debate, and then move on to articulate what I think are four (not one or two) objectives of atheistic activism, and to argue that we should refocus our efforts along more complex and efficacious lines than those pursued by some (but by all means not all) atheist organizations, local and national.

First off, Christina makes an argument at the beginning of her post for in-your-face atheism coupled with a nicer and gentler approach, claiming that this good cop / bad cop strategy “works.” How does she know? To quote: “hey, there’s a reason cops use it!” Interestingly, no source is provided as to the extent to which said technique is in fact used by the police, whether it works (outside of movies), and why it would be appropriate to social discourse, as opposed to dealing with criminals. But okay, let’s get to Christina’s second source of evidence.

http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/2011/12/goals-of-atheist-activism.html

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Reply The goals of atheist activism (Original post)
rug Dec 2011 OP
Jim__ Dec 2011 #1
MarkCharles Dec 2011 #2
Jim__ Dec 2011 #5
deacon_sephiroth Dec 2011 #3
Jim__ Dec 2011 #6
dmallind Dec 2011 #4

Response to rug (Original post)

Thu Dec 29, 2011, 08:44 AM

1. I like his goals of atheist activism.

But, I think we have to be even more careful than he is about saying we want to eliminate dogmatism and irrationalism - they may well be innate parts of human nature.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #1)

Thu Dec 29, 2011, 09:04 AM

2. "they may well be"?

 

Based upon what evidence?

and

What of value are dogmatism and irrationalism bringing to us humans?

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Response to MarkCharles (Reply #2)

Thu Dec 29, 2011, 10:09 AM

5. It surprises me that anyone has to ask that question today.

There is a lot of documentation on the irrational nature of much of our decision making process. To me, automatic decisions are largely dogmatic - they are based on unquestioned assumptions. The value of irrational, dogmatic decisions are obvious, they can be made quickly - they avoid slow rational processes, and they probably work - or else we would not be here.

For a few quick examples, here is a TED Talk by Dan Ariely (about 17 minutes long): Are we in control of our decisions ( http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_ariely_asks_are_we_in_control_of_our_own_decisions.html ).

Yes, we can use rationality to improve on our decisions. But, the path to improvement is recognizing the reality - an awful lot of what we do is based on irrational, dogmatic decisions. We have to work within that framework.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #1)

Thu Dec 29, 2011, 09:40 AM

3. that's a hell of a statement

I'll give you that people certainly seem prone to wish-thinking, delusion and make-belive, that we are pattern seeking animals, and would often rather be TOLD what to think rather than think for ourselves, but what reason would be have to advocate any of that?

Just because we're easily given to such vices doesn't mean they shouldn't be discouraged. There's a great many things that seem innate to human nature that must be shunned by society, controlled by the individual and overcome as a species in generations to come. I list dogmatism and irrationalism among them, personally.

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Response to deacon_sephiroth (Reply #3)

Thu Dec 29, 2011, 10:10 AM

6. See my response in post #5.

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Response to rug (Original post)

Thu Dec 29, 2011, 09:57 AM

4. I wonder - does anyone expect religious people to have a unified SOP?

Don't some people become active in their church to glorify God, some to evangelize for their sect, some because they want a teleological moral framework for their children, some to aid the poor, some to make business or personal contacts, some for social acceptability, some for fun, and so on? Since even organized atheism, let alone atheism in toto, is larger than more than a few denominations, and lacks their unifying at least ostensible creed, isn't it both unavoidable and positive that atheist groups and their members similarly run the gamut - social acceptability excepted, natch? Massimo speaks for himself, as do the others. Even atheist group leaders can only speak to currently agreed upon, fungible, and rarely univeersally accepted, priorities for that specific group.

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