These Atheists are Bullies: Translated

What follows is essentially a guest post by Jon Kelly, who in my mind should either have a blog of his own or regularly contributing to existing blogs. I asked his permission to repost this here, as I feel it is a more less layperson translation of the points I tried to make in my earlier controversial post and would perhaps be better understood by more the more intellectual crowd.

long-winded rant
Before I start, I would like to let it be known that I consider myself neither an atheist, nor religious, and do not particularly have any stake in this argument one way or another. I try to view things from a perspective of pragmatism (primarily) and logic/rationality (secondarily). Thus when people dismiss religion outright without considering its functional value within an emotional and/or societal context, while claiming to do so under the guise of reason, I tend to get annoyed. Even if religion does not offer any value to an individual, it seems indisputable that there are individuals (and societies and cultures) that have benefited greatly from religion in one way or another. Whether or not we would be better off as a whole without religion, another common topic, is another matter entirely, and beyond the scope of this discussion.

I will now make explicit one of my personal biases. I believe that different people have different values. I have my own set of values, some of which I expect others to adhere to, but for the most part I believe people should be allowed to choose what is important to them in life. As such, as least a portion of my evaluation of others is based upon their adherence to their self-reported values. If someone cares about compassion and self-sacrifice, and gives freely and selflessly of their time and assets, then that reflects positively on them. If they live a lavish lifestyle and occasionally donate money to charity, not so much. Similarly, if someone claims that logic and reason are important to them, then I am going to expect them to apply them more consistently than someone who does not value them. I do not believe that logic and reason hold any intrinsic value (they are useful tools, but as noted above, pragmatism is, to me, a higher value than any other). I am not saying that this is how I expect everyone else to live, but am providing this to explain some of the implicit biases in my statements (indeed, I know that I, like everyone else, am not without bias).

Without further rambling:

I think it goes without saying that "religious" people who respond to mockery with death threats (when murder and violence are explicitly decried within their faith) are hypocrites. Also, I try not to generalize 'atheists' into a single group, since it seems like there are two main 'factions', one of which simply doesn't believe in any specific religion, and another which claims that religion as a whole is false. The primary distinction being that one makes no assertions, and thus need not provide support for anything, while the other makes a positive assertion (there is no god), for which I have yet to see solid logical support.

Memetic Self-Defense
Hypocrisy is often not apparent from within the ideological construct that many of what I refer to as 'religious atheists' operate within, just as the inherent hypocrisy in issuing death threat in defense of a religion that condemns murder is not apparent to the religious zealot from within the framework of his beliefs.

Consider the following:
Religion is an archetypal exemplar of a highly evolved meme (or, due to the complexity of world religions, it might be more accurate to say species of memetic organism). As such, it is necessarily resilient to attack. As a side note, I would group any form of atheism in which unsupported positive assertions (i.e. "God does not exist") are an integral portion of the belief system in with these religions, due to structural similarities.

Biological organisms that host these memetic organisms will typically respond strongly to attacks on them. This is analogous to the strong response seen when deeply rooted societal memes are violated (such as proscription against murder, cannibalism, etc., which I suspect would elicit a similarly strong reaction from many atheists). Just as the host of religious memes might react adversely to an attack on those memes, a host to a set of non-religious memes as above will do the same if the memes are deeply rooted and self-perpetuating enough. I suspect that for any given atheist, there is an example of such a meme that would elicit a strong defensive reaction. This is why I think that it is inane to be shocked that people react negatively when their cherished beliefs are attacked, when in reality, those who are so shocked might behave in a functionally similar manner were the tables turned. And often do.

The hypocrisy exists in the tacit assertion that OTHER (religious) people should behave differently than OTHER OTHER (atheists) people. Ignore for a moment the question of degree (i.e. threats of violence/murder vs. personal attacks as per Larry, etc.), and consider the nature of the reaction.

It is obviously a predictable reaction, and one that is fairly universal among humanity. Acting surprised at a very predictable negative outcome to an action is childish... most (good) parents wouldn't let their child get away with pretending like they had know way of foreseeing the logical consequence of their action when it is obvious that they did.

For a clever (in my mind) illustration, imagine religion X, a highly evolved, competitive memetic organism as a big grizzly. If you poke the grizzly with a sharp stick, it is fairly obvious the direction that encounter is going to go.

Doctors are Jerks
Please do not confuse this with blaming the victim. The actions of the people threatening another individual for exercising free speech are inexcusable, and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Those promulgating exclusion and discrimination based upon beliefs should be similarly castigated (this goes for ALL parties, religious or not). I unequivocally condemn such actions. I don't think it is even worth discussing them further, as by virtually any standard of morality, they are indefensible. These actions are not the victim's responsibility, and they cannot be blamed for them. They CAN, however, be held accountable for their own actions.

Imagine I walk into a convention for medical professionals, and put up a big sign saying "DOCTORS ARE JERKS". I then proceed to act surprised when people get upset at me. When people claim that it is in fact I who am the jerk, I say "WHOAH! I am just exercising free speech and poking fun at doctors... look at the way they act, they are obviously proving me right! Doctors are jerks! Medicine is stupid! I am not a jerk!"

Maybe hypocrisy isn't the right word. Maybe juvenile and ignorant is a better descriptor. Either way, it really rubs me the wrong way. The REAL hypocrisy is the lack of logic and rationality often exhibited (see entire above argument) by those who claim logic and rationality as their motivation behind rejecting religion. Note for atheists who simply don't care/believe, and don't outright reject religion: none of this applies to you, you are more or less beyond reproach from a philosophical standpoint, and as long as you're happy and whatever (non-religious) belief system you have constructed and/or elected to utilize is working for you, then high fives all around. For people who vehemently reject religion as false... why? I don't reject the notion that the sky is made out of invisible tortoises... it is simply completely irrelevant to my belief system. I don't have to accept or reject it, and if someone else chooses to believe it, why would that bother me?

Footnote: Is Bill a jerk?
"If you want to mock atheism, feel free. I doubt you'll get any death threats"
Premise: Atheism is not a religion, but rather the rejection of religion.
Given that premise, then that statement is somewhat nonsensical. To whit:
Let's go with apples. Bob is an appletarian, who eats only apples. He owns an apple farm, has apple art on his wall, and uses only Apple computer products. Bill refuses to eat apples, and really doesn't like them at all. When Jim satirizes apples, and accuses apple-eaters of being a bunch of namby-pamby riffraff, this, needless to say, upsets Bob. He cries a little bit, and say to himself, "That Jim guy is a real jerk!" When Jim makes fun of Bill for not liking apples, this, unsurprisingly, probably does not have as much impact. If Bill says, "Wow, Bob, you're a big baby, he's just making fun of apples. Apples are stupid anyway!" then we can conclude that Bill is also a jerk. If, instead, Bill says, "You know Bob, I think that apples are kinda silly, but I respect you, and I respect that you like them. Jim should be more constructive in his feedback!" then we can all buy each other a beer and be friends. None of this is rocket science.