Can anyone explain how and when Sam Harris became an atheist spokesman? I missed the email.
Which is lucky, because I find many of his views (eg he thinks torture is ok) as repellent and unrepresentative of mine as, say, the average muslim would find the views of the latest islamic wingnut hate figure.
There’s a superb – if unfashionably long – piece by Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian about his response to Murtah Hussein’s article on Al Jazeera. and Nathan Lean in Salon – both of whom pointed out the bigotry expressed by the atheist media stars.
Contrary to the assumptions under which some Harris defenders are laboring, the fact that someone is a scientist, an intellectual, and a convincing and valuable exponent of atheism by no means precludes irrational bigotry as a driving force in their worldview. Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian
I’m talking about Greenwald’s, rather than the other, articles because:
I wouldn’t have seen the other posts except for his article;
His arguments seem self-evidently true to me; and
because his article attracted a flurry of comments. (4913 at the moment of writing this.) I find many of those comments, at the least, disturbing, even allowing for the fact that the Guardian’s comment pages have basically become a vanity publishing platform for trolls.
Commenters referred to Greenwald’s being a gay jew:
“As a gay Jew, you must realise that in most Middle Eastern countries you would be persecuted. The exception being Israel.”
” If Glen expected to be an open and practicing gay man in Qatar he would be imprisoned.”
I presume that these rational beings have not come across the concept of a non-sequitur. The only way to read this is that these people genuinely believe that Islam is a huge monolithic block, that every person born a muslim is responsible for every injustice committed by every other muslim and any other majority islamic state, and so on.
In one comment, a Harris defender complained that his words had been taken out of context, then provided the “context” which turned out to be at least as disturbing as the paraphrase.
I am particularly offended that the pro-Harris writers seek to present themselves as the defenders of a rational scientific worldview. And then take their political and social opinions straight from the “Holy Book of Neocon Ideas about Global Politics.”
“Bugger rationality in that case, then, fellow rational people. Don’t bother trying to understand global politics and religion, because they’re really really hard to follow and you might find your simplistic world views too hard to maintain. Just keep your minds closed and go along with the war and torture stuff. It’s not as if non-atheists are human beings or anything.”
That is the Sam Harris message and it seems to have had at least a greater than zero influence on fools.
The philosopher Julian Baggini discussed the silly Pascal’s Wager in the Guardian. He argued that even the Simpsons had presented a more logical view.
even Homer Simpson can see the problem with this: “What if we’ve picked the wrong religion? Every week we’re just making God madder and madder?” (Julian Baggini)
Baggini was sparked by a journal article by Tim Mawson, which basically presented Pascal’s Wager in a slightly new guise:
In this paper, I argue that atheists who think that the issue of God’s existence or non-existence is an important one; assign a greater than negligible probability to God’s existence; and are not in possession of a plausible argument for scepticism about the truth-directedness of uttering such prayers in their own cases, are under a prima facie obligation to pray to God that He stop them being atheists. (Tim Mawson)
What?!? What sort of “atheist” assigns a greater than negligible probability to the existence of a personal god who listens to individuals’ prayer requests and gives them what they ask for? No sort. There must be many church ministers – at least in the non-fundamentalist wings of the christian churches – who wouldn’t accept such a concept of “god”.
In any case, as Baggini points out, the atheist praying for belief would come smack bang up against the question “Which god, then?” It could be very dangerous to pick just one, from the many pantheons of gods that we even know about, and risk enraging all the others. (As in Homer’s Wager, Odin might be mightily pissed off if I were to pick Isis.) Don’t despair, all you other atheists. I think I can solve the problem for you.
If I were to “pray”, the only being I’d be talking to would be myself. Although I am a bit short of supernatural and universe- creating powers, I do actually have the power to make myself believe, unlike any of the better known gods. As the prayee, I therefore choose not to answer my prayer by making myself believe anything.
On the bright side, unlike a more traditional “jealous god”, I am not going to smite myself for failing to worship myself.
Admittedly not every religious zealot “waits around” – but the fact is a significantly non-zero number of people are giving up on their real life because they are waiting for it to all get better in the next one.
Previously I mentioned about how Ruth Gledhill had monumentally missed the point with her TimesOnline blog post about the latest Humanist campaign to try and stop people labelling their children without given them a choice.
It seems Ruth is not the only person who has missed the point (for example Jacqui’s comment on my previous post) but, as is often the case, the commenters on her post really set a new standard. I have tried a few times to leave comments on the Times article, but they never seem to make it past moderation…which makes it even more bizarre that these comments have made it through.
The one which really made me laugh was from Iain Carstairs (posted 0725AM, 21 Nov 09). It begins:
Dawkins is a fanatic, true, but he is a more dangerous one than a religious zealot.
Wow. Call the Whitehouse and MOD. Get all the troops back from Afghanistan and prepare to invade Oxfordshire (or where ever Dawkins is living now). The War on Terror was obviously a mistake (“at last!” I hear you cry) and now we need to begin the War on Thinking. (OK, I agree, this has already been going on for centuries in some places).
Joking aside, this is nonsense. But it continues:
A suicide bomber can kill a small crowd, and hardline Christians have been known to shoot abortionists. The Israelis are steadily dehumanising the Palestinians, and are on their way to exterminating them: with the blessing of the US and the UK of course.
No, seriously? With this in mind (if we think of the WTC and Madrid as being a “small crowd”) then the whole furore about terrorism is nonsense. Sadly, I agree, but for different reasons.
But Dawkins is attempting to remove the spiritual dimension from life. It is as if he is attempting to prise the eyeballs out of a billion sockets, simply because there is no scientific proof of God.
ZOMG!! Oh Noes!11!!!1!1! Dawkins is making people THINK. Evil, pure evil. Torture in fact. Wont anybody think of the children. (and so on)
This is so crazy it almost defies belief (puns intended). This is a common misconception from people who are blinded by their belief – they ignore the true majesty of the universe and the beauty that life demonstrates. Look at the deep field pictures from Hubble for examples. They take this grand beauty of nature and spoil it by creating an invisible puppeteer who controls every action for some unknown, yet unarguably cruel, purpose. This is not allowing people to see the beauty of nature, but a cruel way of blinding them and controlling their actions. It is evil.
After some more of this drivel, Iain finishes with:
Without spirituality, we become Dawkins’ descendants: hoodies, yobs, sociopaths.. the greedy and addicted children of materialism, who make this world a living Hell.
Wow. Lets look at this again. The hoodies, yobs and sociopaths that Iain refers to are not “Dawkin’s descendants” they are growing up in the time of Dawkins. At best their children could be described as Dawkin’s descendants as its only in the last couple of years that Dawkins has been in the public domain.
The children who “terrorise” the communities inhabited by Mail readers (and presumably Times readers) are from families where, on the whole, belief still remains prominent. The vast majority of greedy and addicted materialists are religious.
As I am sure most of you are aware (I am still catching up from my travels – lots of strange things have happened while I have been away), there is a new poster campaign:
The idea behind this comes from Dawkins, writing in The God Delusion (and a zillion places elsewhere):
There is no such thing as a Christian child: only a child of Christian parents. … Catholic child? Flinch. Protestant child? Squirm. Muslim child? Shudder. Everybody’s consciousness should be raised to this level.
This strikes me (obviously) as making complete sense. As the oft-quoted remarks go we wouldnt describe a three year old as a “marxist child” or any other combination of their parents interests, hobbies and beliefs. We find that normal, while ignoring the oddity of treating “Muslim Child” as normal.
Part of this may be to do with the fact parents who have faith in a particular belief system will begin indoctrinating their children at a very early age. So, for example, children from a devout Catholic family will have learned their prayers by the time they can talk. However, this is not the same as making the informed choice to adopt that belief system. It is telling that religious groups put so much effort into catching children when they are young (and more susceptible to crazy stories about invisible people living in the clouds), hoping to force their ideas to such an extent that a minority stray from the fold – notably, most converts from one cult religion to another turn out to hold extreme views as that is what is needed to break the shackles.
So, that said, it is obvious why the BHA (et al) want a campaign like this, and obvious why religious groups are opposed to it (as always). The idea that children are given a free choice is comical at the best of times – atheist parents will try to leave their children to make up their own minds, while religious groups (under state sponsorship in the UK*) will try to convert them; meanwhile religious parents will continue to indoctrinate. What this poster campaign does, however, is educate adults. It brings the double standards we practice in daily life into public view. Painful it maybe, but this is a good thing.
With that background out of the way, there is an interesting post on Ruth Gledhill’s blog, on TimesOnline:
The two children chosen to front Richard Dawkins’ latest assault on God could not look more free of the misery with which he associates religious baggage.
With the slogan “Please don’t label me. Let me grow up and choose for myself”, the two children, their hair flying and with broad grins, seem to be the perfect advertisement for the new atheism being promoted by Professor Dawkins and the British Humanist Association.
Except that they are about as far from atheism as it is possible to be. The Times can reveal that Charlotte, 8, and Ollie, 7, are from one of Britain’s most devout Christian families.
Their father, Brad Mason, is something of a celebrity within evangelical circles as the drummer for the popular Christian musician Noel Richards.
I am not sure, exactly, what the motivation behind this item was, but it seems to be massively missing the point while proving the whole reason behind the campaign. It is hard, to work out where to begin with this, it all just seems a bit misguided.
First off: The pictures are from a stock photo gallery. When they were chosen there was no “background check” (despite how much we get off on that sort of thing in the UK) carried out and nor should there be. Can you imagine if iStockPhoto (or the like) demanded to know the religious background of any of its models. Rightfully, newspapers like the times would be outraged.
Secondly: Some minor “celeb” (dont make me laugh) drummer for a (ahem) popular Christian musician does not make them “one of Britain’s most devout Christian families.” That is just meaningless words where Ruth has lowered herself to a tabloid standard while trying to mock the post campaign. Its comically pointless.
Thirdly: This underscores the need for the campaign. These children are aged 8 and 7. They are too young to vote, drink alcohol, drive, own a gun, smoke, etc. They are below the age of criminal responsibility so they cant, legally, be held accountable for their actions. They can not, in any way, have made the concious, informed decision to commit to a religion. They are not “Christian Children” but “Children of Christian Parents.” Ruth seems to massively miss this point, but it not her worst blunder here.
Lastly: Where does it say they are, or should be, atheist children? The idea is not that only atheist children are happy, it is not that all children are atheists (although they are born that way), it is that we should stop labelling them. There is nothing wrong with having “children of Christian parents” on the campaign poster. This is a campaign that, should, be equally supported by every religion. It gives a greater chance for Christians to “save” children from Muslim, Hindu or Jewish families – sadly for them the opposite is true.
All Ruth has done with her post is show how quickly we fall into the trap of labelling children based on what ever ideas their parents have. No mention is made of the children being interviewed, just their father who appears to be speaking on their behalf.
Obviously you can be too young to think for yourself, but not too young to believe…….
I have missed this level of irony during my travels.
[EDITED TO ADD]
It seems great minds think alike and The Freethinker has taken the times to task over this madness.
* yes, I know you can ask for your child to be excluded from communal prayer and other religious based teachings, but Religious Education is still mandatory and, in reality, who would want their child to be singled out for the dreaded “special treatment” in front of their school mates. It must be torture. On the positive side, mandatory RE / prayer never managed to even come close to convincing me, or anyone I went to school with, that God exists….
(Temporarily) taking Pascal’s wager at face value, it would be silly to choose to believe a religion that didn’t offer some serious benefits. I.e. don’t pick a religion that doesn’t offer much in the way of tangible rewards.
So, as a public service to anyone wavering about what religion to choose, I think a cost-benefit analysis is in order. I assume that you want a religion that offers less of a penalty for not being too devoted an adherent more than you want one with a really great heaven, so the quality of hells was the main ranking factor.
I’ve put them in order of their desirability. Obviously, the ones with the least burning/freezing or torturing come up top. Equally obviously, non-belief can’t offer any after-death benefits but it definitely has no after-death costs.
Sorry, Pascal, (Loved the programming language by the way :-)), when it comes down to betting on what’s going to benefit the believer the most, I reckon atheism is still ahead.
Here’s folk/rock singer Roy Harper singing “The Death of God“. The link is to part 1 – the first of 4. Roy Harper is given to really long intros, so the words don’t even really kick in until the end of Part 1.
He’s been writing and performing heathen songs for over 40 years. This is far from his best work but still worth a listen. To quote from his website:
He was raised by his father and step-mother, whose Jehovah’s Witness beliefs eventually alienated him. Harper’s anti-religious views would later become a familiar theme in his music.