Secularism: Boring (Part I)

Query: Can an atheist or agnostic commentator discuss any aspect of religion for more than thirty seconds without referring to … Continued

Query: Can an atheist or agnostic commentator discuss any aspect of religion for more than thirty seconds without referring to religious people as imbeciles, extremists, mental deficients, fascists, enemies of the common good, crypto-Nazis, conjure men, irrationalists, pedophiles, bearers of false consciousness, authoritarian despots, and so forth? Is that possible?

First, some basic definitions. Politically speaking, American secularism is made up of two overlapping, albeit distinct, constituencies. The first is comprised of the aforementioned nonbelievers whose best-selling spokespersons are fast becoming the soccer hooligans of reasoned public discourse. The second is much larger and much quieter. It encompasses religious Americans who favor strict Church/State Separation (this they share with the nonbelievers).

Nonbelievers of late have been churning out loud, unsubtle, anti-religious manifestos. The world would be a better place, they all seem to suggest, if religion and all of its associated personnel were simply to disappear. In this regards the new nonbelievers seem stuck in the ‘90s—and by this I mean the 1890s. This calls attention to one glaring problem with atheism and agnosticism today: it lacks new ideas. The movement abounds in polemicists, but has not produced a thinker of real substance since perhaps the days of Jean-Paul Sartre.

A second problem is that contemporary nonbelief lacks any discernible political dynamism, not to mention power. Here they could learn much from their arch nemesis, the Evangelicals. The latter, with their grass roots organizations, Beltway alliances, pressure groups, D.C. lobbyists and internet manifestos are the model of an efficient (and somewhat frightening) political juggernaut. Celebrities of nonbelief can call Evangelical Christians imbeciles as much as they want. But If imbecility is measured by the metric of political power, then the accusation is misdirected.

The Faith and Values Industry, for its part, has not done much to make secularism more interesting. For the past decade or so, only the most snarling and extreme variants of atheist and agnostic thought have been featured in Book Review sections, Op-Ed pages, and magazines of opinion. Sticking it to the Pope, taking on Islam in its entirety, or ridiculing Bible-carrying Christians has become the admission ticket for those nonbelievers craving media attention.

This is not, I wish to stress, part of some vast Left- or Right-wing conspiracy. Rather, secularism as a social, cultural, historical, and even theological project remains one of the least understood and most highly charged subjects of our time. Few institutions of higher education seem interested in studying the issue (though see the work of The Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College) and the media outlets simply follow the bestseller lists in an effort to give this perspective its just hearing.

Nonbelief will not become any less dull or predictable if it keeps wrapping stale criticisms of religion in more incendiary packaging. Fresh criticisms of religion in incendiary packaging are always welcome (I think of the preposterously creative, thoughtful and troubling fiction of writers such as Salman Rushdie, Philip Roth, and Michel Houellebecq). Even more useful for lifting secularism out of its rut would be self-criticism. This would be the first step toward re-animating a worthy, though presently moribund, intellectual and aesthetic tradition.

By Jacques Berlinerblau | 
July 16, 2007; 8:48 AM ET


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  • Diamond Dave

    Yes,it is a shame that the 3 or 4 people who consistantly comment from the perspective of non-belief are not as civil and even-handed as believers such as Ann Coulter and Al Sharpton.Darn shame.

  • Paganplace

    Maybe this columnist should consider that this idea that ‘secularism is boring’ (and at once entirely represented by people who speak stridently and to him in inflammatory ways,) ..Is one pretty much constructed by the media and the Internet, where more reasonable voices for our secular democracy and representing non-believers and those who believe differently, are pretty *routinely dismissed and drowned out.* The only voices of secularism and agnosticism/atheism that *get any attention or coverage* are the ones that can be construed to fit the Christian view that secularists are all anti-God and oppressively anti-religious people.Maybe if people stopped thinking public discourse about our society was only for either religious domination or *entertainment* we’d suddenly find ourselves in a more civil dialogue than anyone was lead to believe was going on. Boring. Ha. This is frankly, all turned toward getting ratings and political support through a certain mainstream religion’s persecution complex about not getting its way all the time.

  • Gerry

    Nice to learn that truth depends on its entertainment value and on the cleverness of pressure groups.Thanks for the information, I had always suspected this.”Reasoned” public discourse, haha!

  • victoria

    there you have it- from seeing the reactions ON THESE BOARDS which areNOT “routinely dismissed and drowned out” but given full vent- i have to agree with the author on this one. frankly, pointing out others faults, making fun of those with differing views and sharp and biting ad hominem attacks that ive seen on these boards is actually pretty boring. it certainly doesnt substitute for intelligent and reasonable discourse, with mutual respect at it’s base. i know of 3 different atheists and avowed secualarists who got bored with the carping and back-biting and childish meanness repeated here- and went and formed a new blog, and even though i’m a muslim, and a religious one, we all enjoy each others company and opinions with respect and interest. bad manners can be had by anyone of any stripe.

  • Matthew Raleigh

    I have to (reluctantly) agree with you Jacques. Secularism is boring when compared to the feel-good socialite behavior that religious enthusiasm brings. In fact, the only thing appealing about secularism is the “rebel” attitude that comes with it (kind of like a junk food high). It certainly feels good for a while but all rebellions end out of necessity which is why secularism has so little staying power.

  • KipEsquire

    Ask any gay American whether the debate over secularism versus theocracy is — your term — “stale.”

  • victoria

    mr raleigh, first you agreed with the author, ten went on to make the same tired complaints that he is criticizing. the point is NOT to compare religious to blissed out and ignorant heroin addicts, but to add a genuine and creative crafting of new ideas to the conversation. your analogy is more of the same old boring sniping that the author (and myself) are bored with! your observation is pointedly a complaint about ethe bushies and religious christian right, but surely you must be aware they are not the only religious group that exists! science has always been at the core of islam for instance- there is no contradiction whatsoever between religion and science. broaden your scope- in a week the turks are voting- you can watch this process and see secularism and religion attempting to find a balance- while you want to dismiss all religious as ignorant fools, the fact is that they are your fellow co-habitants of this earth- thats the point, mutual respect- if i said only those who share my viewpoint were valid and intelligent (which is an islamic viewpoint) i would be the biggest xenophobe. how is this biased sentiment any more valid when a non- religious person says it? you dont have to be religious for me to respect your opinion, just reasonable. in a call for civil discourse, the respect should be extended both ways.

  • Larry

    First of all, it seems as if the author here misses the point completely, as most people who criticize the growing secular movement often do.The fact that there is a “lack of new ideas” is a red herring. What’s important here is that the ideas that secularists prescribe to are in fact self evident as truth. Since the 1890′s and, obviously even before then, religion has managed to justify the secularists beliefs. In that religion is completely out of tune with modern civilizations, if by modern civilizations we mean peaceful progress without the reason to kill each other because of some differing views on god belief (on the extreme quickly becoming the mainstream in some god belief cultures(ahem..9-11)) and by censoring science in order to fit a political agenda associated with god belief (on the mainstream). Secularists have had enough. The “ideas” are resurfacing, if you will, in retaliation to the vast evangelical movement that has taken over our political system. We are living in a world now where ancient philosophies are guiding the minds and hearts of people who have the capabilities and knowledge of 21st century technology(paraphrasing Sam Harris). This is dangerous. The straw that broke the camel’s back here is the complete take over of our government, judicial system and now even the attempt at our schools that is driving the secularists to be so avid in their fight for a fair system.How is political dynamism and power supposed to be achieved by keeping the secular movement quiet? The reason why the media spotlights those in the secular movement who are the most antipathetic is simply because the media has no interest in being even or fair or actually engage in true public discourse, the media is interested in ratings. This is why the media ignores the other voices in the movement. There is a multi-faceted approach coming from the secular movement. This includes both radicals and midliners. All with the notion that religious beliefs are very dangerous, especially when espoused to laws and politics; ie., theocracy. The movement, is much more interesting and dynamic than what the author suggest.

  • A Hermit

    This is another example of how the media drives the discourse. People like Chris Hitchens are given a platform and then their views are attributed to “secularists” everywhere.I suppose its too much to expect that more reasonable voices, like Robert Buckman or Paul Kurz, will ever have the kind of exposure that bomb-throwers like Hitchens enjoy, but that’s less the fault of “boring” secularism than of the current “infotainment” approach of the media.RegardsA (disgruntled) Hermit

  • jay

    Larry captures my view as well, and very nicely (worth posting twice!). Atheists are perhaps the only group left in America where it is okay to denigrate them, as did then-president GHW Bush several years back without a bit of protest. If a handful of books that promote secular thinking constitutes hooliganism on the part of atheists (who tend to be fairly unorganized as a “movement” and independent thinkers), then we need more of that kind of hooliganism. A hell of a lot better than religious wars.By the way, for those who will inevitably mention the communists as an example of atheists gone bad, the real enemy is organized, unwavering ideology tied to totalitarianism. The communists had more in common with many theocratic states than with modern secular humanists/atheists who promote the idea of free-thinking and skepticism towards any pronouncement “from authority.”

  • eye-of-horus

    The almighty lords of dualism: Ahura Mazda, Yahweh, God, and Allah are ethical equivalents of comic book super-villains. And this pulp fiction enjoys fanatical cult followings.Yet we shouldn’t mistake political ideology for religious belief.Wherever ideology reduces to theology, as in the Southern U.S. or its sister region Pakistan, secular politics does not exist. Secularism corrupts. Tolerance capitulates to evil. Only puritanism prevails.But, the holy text is merely pretext. Ideology masquerading as religion bamboozles the masses, the media. (In the U.S. religion is truly the sacred cow.)Real terrorist threats: undermining the Constitution, trashing biological science, and perverting education to suit a disgusting Xian ideology of social control and cultural domination by right-wing military-politico-religionists.Home-grown Xo-fascists frighten me much more than all so-called Islamo-fascists combined.eye-of-horus

  • E favorite

    Prof Berlinerblau – In answer to your query, yes it is possible for an atheist commentator to go 30 seconds without insulting religious people in the ways you describe. I’ve provided some examples below, from interviews available on the Richard Dawkins website and numerous other places on the internet. If you had taken a few minutes to find them yourself, you could have avoided posing a question that had so many answers so readily available. Knowing that you are familiar with the research capabilities of the internet, It makes me wonder if your motive in asking such a question, which involved using so many derogatory words, was to simply put the idea in the heads of religious readers that atheist commentators typically blast religious people in this way. A kinder interpretation would be that because religious people are not accustomed to being criticized about their beliefs, any criticism at all feels like the hurling of terrible insults. It could also be that you heard multiple replays of Chris Hitchens’ negative comments about Jerry Falwell and figured that must be how all atheists talked all the time. Nonetheless, facts are facts and I think that you, as a University professor, not to mention an author who cited 250 books (according to Amazon) in your own book, “The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously” have a special responsibility not to mislead.>>Here’s the beginning of an Atlantic Interview with Hitchens. It took me 35 seconds to read it: “I think we can say with reasonable certainty that there is no God because all the hypotheses for it have been exploded or abandoned. We have better explanations for the things religion used to try and explain. But we can’t disprove the existence of a deity. So if someone says, “Well, I just feel the presence of a strong force”—well, okay. I sort of know what they’re going through. As long as they don’t try to teach it to my children, or get the law changed to suit their opinion, or blow themselves up at the airport. I’ve learned a lot from doing the tour, because I’ve had a debate with some religious person at every stop. What I haven’t had from anyone, in print or in person, is any argument that surprised me, that I couldn’t have completely predicted.”>>This “Christianity Today” interview is a reply from Hitchens to Douglas Wilson on the subject “Is Christianity Good for the World?” Again, it took me 35 seconds to read this piece of his opening remarks: “In considering the above question (for which my thanks are due to your generosity and hospitality in inviting my response), I have complete confidence in replying in the negative. This is for the following reasons.1) Although Christianity is often credited (or credits itself) with spreading moral precepts such as “Love thy neighbor”, I know of no evidence that such precepts derive from Christianity. To take one instance from each Testament, I cannot believe that the followers of Moses had been indifferent to murder and theft and perjury until they arrived at Sinai, and I notice that the parable of the good Samaritan is told of someone who by definition cannot have been a Christian.”<<I also listened to the beginnings of taped interviews with Sam Harris and Dan Dennett which were actually quite polite and gracious. While I don’t have time to transcribe those interviews, you can find them and many others like them, on the Richard Dawkins website:

  • Anonymous

    Is it surprising that strident, evangelical atheists such as Hitchens and (to a lesser extent) Dawkins are the book-movers of the secularist crowd? These folks are certain in their beliefs, as much or more so than strident, evangelical religionists, as Jacques points out. I’m more puzzled by his statement regarding the ‘stale criticisms’ of religion and lack of new, atheistastic ideas. I mean, the reasons for unbelief or doubt haven’t changed; most religions rely on the supernatural in their explanations of the physical world (whether or not adherents buy these explanations is another story), they prognosticate about life after death and generally deal in non-falsifiable evidence when making any claim. Now, I’m not saying this is *bad*, merely those are the core issues most atheists have with religions. Furthermore, what are these stale attacks? Jacques, please give evidence for your claims. What old ground are the new manifestos treading? And, more importantly, why are these old ideas in need of updating? Have they been refuted?I also have a problem with this:”Celebrities of nonbelief can call Evangelical Christians imbeciles as much as they want. But If imbecility is measured by the metric of political power, then the accusation is misdirected.”Who believes there’s a correlation between intelligence and popular opinion/political power? Having worked in marketing and public relations research (including a bunch for candidates at the state and national levels for the ’06 election), I am pretty confident that no one gets elected to do anything based upon appeals to reason and intelligence. Finally, political dynamism is tough to build around an atheist ideology of doubt and skepticism. However, I do think there are many folks who champion secularism vis a vis the U.S. government, ranging from the ACLU to folks whom represent small churches and religions whose voices would be drowned out should the wall separating church and state fall, to representatives of major religions who do not wish the purity of their faith sullied by the muck of politics (perhaps this is the strongest (as in most persuasive, not most truth-based)for the separation of church and state).As far as new ideas, or critiques of religion, one I haven’t heard effectively answered is my question: I was raised in an areligious household – how am I to decide which religion I should join? How does one choose which church to go to? Does God move me to the right church? If He does, what if it isn’t your church, or religion? Essentially, can logic and reason guide me to religious truths? If not, are religious truths the ones we want to guide our nation?

  • Fallucination

    Huh. That last comment is mine. Must have been too excited to write my handle in.

  • Mr. Mark

    “Reasoned public discourse?” Reason has nothing to do with religion.”Soccer hooligans” who could “learn something from the Evangelicals?” I haven’t seen any atheists bombing churches or beating up straights, yet I see abortion clinics being bombed by Xians, doctors killed and gays physically abused by Xians. Learning something from the Evangelicals? What? How to lie? How to spread myth and call it truth? Sorry, but the secularists have truth on their side, or at least the closest thing that we can call truth…or fact. I’m also surprised that you say secularism is “in a rut.” Secularism is on the rise. The books written by secularism’s “best-selling spokesmen” are…best sellers.As far as “no new arguments” – who needs new arguments when the old ones are more than sufficient? The fact is that what is “new” is the overwhelming evidence that has been accumulated and continues to be accumulated that proves the veracity of the “old arguments” against religion. Does one discount the validity of manned flight because no “new arguments” have been advanced to make flight possible in the first place? I didn’t think so.Finally – as far as the “Faith and Values Industry,” can we call it what it is: the “Fantasy and Judgmental Industry?” A moderate belief in the fantasy world of gods and the supernatural is just as rotten and despoiling of rational discourse as is a fanatic belief.

  • Henry James

    I never understand a word of what this guy says.I am sure it’s me.

  • victoria

    well, besides more hysterical anecdotal incidences- im not really seeing any fresh or new ideas being expounded here. the subject isnt really religion is it? critique and dismissal of religion isnt even a reasoned explanation of anything. where are the well crafted alternatives that atheist proponents of secularism are claiming? it is not enough to say that they exist, you have to say what these ideas actually are. even from a strictly religious viewpoint, i cannot simply say that god exists, but i have to construct a reasonable synopsis of what the message actually is. whats the message?

  • plunge

    Jacques Berlinerblau is just one of a line of lazy commentators who simply label criticism of religion boring and uninteresting, but lack any substantive response to the actual arguments being made. Playing off old tropes is not analysis: it’s simply copping a dismissive attitude.

  • Henry James

    My Esteemed VictoriaDelightful to encounter you once more.Secular humanists have very extensively worked out spiritual and moral philosophies. Just one example is at the use of the term “manifesto” is unfortunate, but it is a typical example of humanist values.Here is a paragraph from the Secular Humanism council

  • seattledodger

    this is satire, right?hey, dude, saw a kid on the bus this morning reading a copy of Hitch’s book. kind of a nightmare for the faithful when even a drunk neo-con warmonger has your number.friendly advice: stop trying to find meaning and purpose in fairy tales and start putting some into your own life. the incredibly parochial view that ‘secular’ folks somehow define themselves by referencing the fantasies of the faithful is rather charming; but upon reflection not really all that amusing.see, i didn’t call anyone a fascist or nothin’

  • jay

    “Nonbelievers of late have been churning out loud, unsubtle, anti-religious manifestos. The world would be a better place, they all seem to suggest, if religion and all of its associated personnel were simply to disappear. In this regards the new nonbelievers seem stuck in the ‘90s—and by this I mean the 1890s. This calls attention to one glaring problem with atheism and agnosticism today: it lacks new ideas. The movement abounds in polemicists, but has not produced a thinker of real substance since perhaps the days of Jean-Paul Sartre.”What nonsense. So you are saying that our scientific knowledge, which shapes much (but not all) of the worldview of atheists and agnostics, has not changed since the 1890s? That our democratic and legal system, based on secularism and at least nominally concerned with the rights of the individual and equality in the eyes of the law, has not advanced one iota? Was it the secular thinkers who were opposing equal rights for women and minorities? The right to birth control? The still-controversial idea that one should have the right to die with dignity without the state intervening? That brain chemistry may play a role in some criminal behaviors?The “new ideas” you can’t seem to find are right under your nose … they have been an integral part of the American societal revolution for at least a century. They are not touted as atheistic ideas because they don’t need to be, but they largely arise from a worldview where so-called divine authority is rejected as the definer of human laws.And yes, there have been religious folk involved in this secular revolution as well, including those who recognize that the best way to protect their faiths is to ensure that no faith jumps the wall separating state and church.

  • seattledodger

    okay, as an atheist, i’d like to apologize to the good professor for not being more interesting. shame on me. i’ll try to get a hobby or something.frankly, though, i’m all in favor of keeping the faithful entertained and, hopefully, distracted. safer that way.

  • victoria

    thank you henry james the renowned critic- now that is sensible. no name calling ad hominem attacks or petty bickering, just simple explanation. JAY- atheists and agnostics have no monopoly on science or critical thinking. equal rights for women and minorities? anyone knowledgeable about it can tell you that. america isnt the center of the universe, things did happen before we came along.

  • jay

    “JAY- atheists and agnostics have no monopoly on science or critical thinking.Atheists and their kin don’t have a monopoly on science or critical thinking, but they do give it much more empasis than most religious thinkers. There’s no divine authority to turn to, so you better figure things out right here on earth.As for the equal rights for women/minorities in the Muslim world, how’s that working out? How goes the secular perspective in that part of the world?

  • jay

    Victoria, power-mad men have been a problem throughout human history, sometimes without the help of religion but too often with the assist of allegedly holy scriptures which seem to give them a pass if not explicit direction. Rigid ideology in the wrong hands leads to everything bad in history.Which is why I favor the secular perspective that individuals should be evaluated not by their religion, race, gender, etc. but by the positive contributions they make to society. America’s founding fathers saw the value in that perspective, which emerged from their largely deistic beliefs and Enlightenment-era background, even if they and their society did not always live up to it. We’re still trying to get it right.By the way, science is not Christian, Islamic, or atheistic. It is one of the few human activities on this planet that could be called universal.

  • Zinga

    There’s nothing very “interesting” in what the leaders of the civil rights movement wrote, either. All their arguments looked back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and even earlier. They just needed to be repeated until people started paying attention. The value in reading the new atheists, and in seeing their books on the best-seller lists, is in reminding ourselves and our fellow citizens that non-believers are a substantial minority in American society, that we have no reason to put up with the abuse that we regularly get in the national media, and that we are entitled to stand up for the truth as we see it.

  • Anthony Rotz

    It,s that they believe, in their own little minds, that they have all that is necessary to solve all the worlds problems,if only people would listen. How would they convince people that they should do as they say, and if people didn’t listen, would they use force, would they outlaw religion,assuming they had the power to do so, it sounds a little like communism, supposed intellectual giants convinced they had the answers, really did not. Satan also believed his own powers were sufficient.

  • A Hermit

    I have to say, Victoria, I’ve defended you in the past against the assaults of the likes of “Concerned Christian” and Frank Collins; and you know I’m not one to pile on in the Muslim-bashing that sometimes goes on here, but honestly; to maintain that Islam has had more of a positive effect on women’s rights then secularism is simply not supportable. I’ll grant that the place of women under Islam was better defined and far superior to the lawless tribalism it replaced, but we’ve come a long way since…RegardsA Hermit

  • technicolordreamboat

    Would the author find us more interesting if our leaders were having coked-up sex with prostitutes? How about blaming terrorist attacks on lesbians? Maybe taking advantage of children?So sorry we’re not as entertaining as you’d like.

  • globo-mojo

    atheism and agnosticism are vast worlds apart. why are they always lumped together?atheism is more naturally lumped together with supernatural-centric religions in that they break with pure reason and err on the side of arrogance–the unsubstantiated assertion that your belief is correct.no one knows how the universe works. there is no aesthetic mythology to make that an attractive proposition. ignorance is unflattering, but that’s what our small little minds must accept just the same. we can learn, and expand our group awareness of our surroundings, but come on folks, we’re still confined to the surface of this one, small planet… how are we expected to truly comprehend the complexity of the universe just yet? all in good time.

  • ghostbuster

    Pr. Berlinerblau,Thanks for submitting that entry. I am slowly reaching similiar conclusions.”Even more useful for lifting secularism out of its rut would be self-criticism”I do not agree that secularism is in a rut, yet. I think it is still rising and gaining prominence. If it does hit a rut, I think it will indeed happen because of the lack of self-criticism/examination.

  • timothy

    “So sorry we’re not as entertaining as you’d like.”With your propensity for shout down vitriol -your posts are always enterdrainment for me..

  • ama

    Okay, okay, I now know where to “report offensive comments.” Now please tell me where I may report offensive entries?

  • A Hermit

    globo-mojo:I don’t think you really understand the terms you’re using here.I always maintain that my atheism (defined as the absence of a belief in the existence of gods) is the most reasonable conclusion of an agnostic approach to knowledge.If I cannot know with any great confidence that such supernatural entities as gods exist why would I believe in them? And if I have no belief in them why would be a “break with pure reason,” as you put it, to maintain a state of unbelief? Seems to me a suspension of belief is the most reasonable position for an agnostic to take.I’m always open to having my mind changed again, (I did believe at one time), but I haven’t seen anything convincing enough yet.RegardsA Hermit

  • jay

    “atheism and agnosticism are vast worlds apart. why are they always lumped together?”Functionally they are very similar. Both reject the idea that religion or other supernatural perspectives can inform us on how the universe works. Agnostics simply assert that they don’t know and are awaiting evidence, or that any such evidence is beyond human comprehension or access. Atheists say that the evidence is pretty much available and that it does not support theism or other kinds of supernaturalism. Both are open to changing their position if compelling evidence someday appears, just as they will change their perspective on some aspect of scientifc knowledge if better evidence comes along.Most atheists and agnostics I know ascribe to the philosophy of naturalism, which is that the universe is explainable by natural cause and effect, even if we don’t have all the evidence. The track record for naturalism, so far, is pretty good. Scientific methodology is naturalistic, although not all scientists are philosophical naturalists.Atheism itself is not a belief system, it is a term for those who reject theism, and not a very good descriptor for the actual philosophy of most who reject theism/supernaturalism. It’s like calling an American Republican an a-Democrat.

  • seattledodger

    aside from the insulting assertions that ‘non-religous’ secularists are “soccer hooligans” and intellectually vapid (sticks and stones, dude), the underlying vanity of this commentator is the oft-repeated lie that ‘secularism’ is somehow a product of ‘moderate’ christianity. sad, watching a religion die right before our eyes. while the most vitriolic of the faithful are attempting to frame the current political moment as one of xtianity vs islam. more clever believers, like this author, are more interested in co-opting secularism and harnessing it’s energy in what amounts to stealth religion.don’t think it’s going to play on this side of the pond. the brits are fond of this sort of sophistry, but they’ve had longer to adjust to the death of christianity.if you could somehow conflate the political and the religious, as in the islamic world, then you could extend this nonsense for a generation or two, but not much longer. the game is up.nobody really believes this crap anymore. not really. it’s just become a surrogate for the real debate over ‘social’ issues and racial fears (gays and muslims, eeek). dead god walking.

  • candide

    Secularism boring? Well, yes the truth can be boring.

  • candide

    Secularism boring? Well, yes the truth can be boring.

  • technicolordreamboat

    Timothy?Who? Me? You certainly quoted me, but as I’ve posted here only a handful of times and nothing as flip as my last remark, I would have to guess you have me confused with some other poster. Or, do you, too, find us too boring to bother picking one out of the crowd?

  • The Christ

    I don’t give a damn who says what or who thumps their bible on whom. The problem is those who abuse the nation’s all-powerful domestic intelligence to attack citizens who don’t share their exact faith. This results in some of the commentary which you criticize. But you are missing the point. The issue with these false morality hypocrites (imbeciles, extremists, mental deficients, fascists, enemies of the common good, crypto-Nazis, conjure men, irrationalists, pedophiles, bearers of false consciousness, authoritarian despots, Bush-lovers, et al) is not who says what or who sucked who. The issue is abuse of power, sometimes in the most extreme ways. Those who hijack a religion in order to abuse power deserve every epithet they get.

  • Batocchio

    You know, when you started this blog, I really hoped for more thoughtful pieces than this one, which amusingly starts with a faux plea for tolerance that’s then laced with hostility, inaccuracies and negative stereotypes of non-believers. How ironic. I’m really, really tired of the fashionable bashing of atheists and non-believers, which typically takes a very “predictable” form, as you do here. You’re entitled to rant, of course, but I expect better of both the Post and a professor, who should know better. There are a tiny handful of non-believers who could accurately be called strident. (Perhaps some of them work with you at Georgetown.) However, overwhelmingly in American culture and politics, the agressors in any sort of faith battle are the religious, specifically the authoritarian relgious right, who do not speak for all religious folks, nor even all religious conservatives, but dominate the political discourse. Most people critiquing theocrats make a point of making those distinctions, and are hardly “anti-religious.” The separation of church and state is a core American value, central to our nation’s founding, and I’m glad you note that many religious folks who cherish this and fight for it. However, if you’re to provide an accurate assessment of the cultural and political landscape, you’d have to note that non-believers mostly just want to be *left alone*, and are fighting a *defensive* battle against people seeking to overturn the Constitution. The non-believers didn’t pick this fight, it’s an important fight to win, and they have the moral high ground on this. Although you note that believers support the separation of church and state, throughout your piece you implicitly assert that ‘secularists’ or non-believers are or should be a uniform group, which is ridiculous. You might as well argue all religious people should hold the same beliefs, regardless of their religion. You also falsely imply that non-believers are all hostile to religion itself, while some religious people are apparently tolerant of our quaint civil laws and secular society. It seems you also think belief is the natural state of being. Non-belief is “dull”? Your entire piece reads as if you want to be entertained by non-believers, while you can’t even be bothered to acurately describe them, most of all their diversity of opinion and the richness of experience. If you’d bothered to focus your ire, at the stridency of specific authors and books without such ridiculous, sweeping generalizations, you might have been fine, but I fear you have some underlying prejudices – or false assumptions, if you prefer – that will color all your work. I could critique your piece at far greater length, but I have to question why someone so obviously hostile to non-believers has the platform you do, and you’ve lost a great deal of credibility with me. I would hope any future pieces you write are more accurate, precise, and thoughtful.

  • Andrea

    Kind of like reading an Encylopedia? I guess that would be more boring to read than, say, Harry Potter.

  • Batocchio

    You know, when you started this blog, I really hoped for more thoughtful pieces than this one, which amusingly starts with a faux plea for tolerance that’s then laced with hostility, inaccuracies and negative stereotypes of non-believers. How ironic. I’m really, really tired of the fashionable bashing of atheists and non-believers, which typically takes a very “predictable” form, as you do here. You’re entitled to rant, of course, but I expect better of both the Post and a professor, who should know better. There are a tiny handful of non-believers who could accurately be called strident. (Perhaps some of them work with you at Georgetown.) However, overwhelmingly in American culture and politics, the agressors in any sort of faith battle are the religious, specifically the authoritarian relgious right, who do not speak for all religious folks, nor even all religious conservatives, but dominate the political discourse. Most people critiquing theocrats make a point of making those distinctions, and are hardly “anti-religious.” The separation of church and state is a core American value, central to our nation’s founding, and I’m glad you note that many religious folks who cherish this and fight for it. However, if you’re to provide an accurate assessment of the cultural and political landscape, you’d have to note that non-believers mostly just want to be *left alone*, and are fighting a *defensive* battle against people seeking to overturn the Constitution. The non-believers didn’t pick this fight, it’s an important fight to win, and they have the moral high ground on this. Although you note that believers support the separation of church and state, throughout your piece you implicitly assert that ‘secularists’ or non-believers are or should be a uniform group, which is ridiculous. You might as well argue all religious people should hold the same beliefs, regardless of their religion. You also falsely imply that non-believers are all hostile to religion itself, while some religious people are apparently tolerant of our quaint civil laws and secular society. It seems you also think belief is the natural state of being. Non-belief is “dull”? Your entire piece reads as if you want to be entertained by non-believers, while you can’t even be bothered to acurately describe them, most of all their diversity of opinion and the richness of experience. If you’d bothered to focus your ire, at the stridency of specific authors and books without such ridiculous, sweeping generalizations, you might have been fine, but I fear you have some underlying prejudices – or false assumptions, if you prefer – that will color all your work. I could critique your piece at far greater length, but I have to question why someone so obviously hostile to non-believers has the platform you do, and you’ve lost a great deal of credibility with me. I would hope any future pieces you write are more accurate, precise, and thoughtful.

  • E favorite

    The Plot Thickens: According to the Secular Web Kiosk, Then, in an Amazon review of his 2005 book, the reviewer states: “Berlinerblau asserts on page 131 “If secularism is to be preserved as the minority position that it has always been (and should always be), it will need to rethink itself.” The reviewer then wonders “why secular thought should always be in the minority? Why rethink secular thought?” Why, indeed, would a nonbeliever think this? I don’t know, but whatever the reason, it may explain why he doesn’t like the recent attention other non-believers are getting. Perhaps he has a vested interest in non-believers remaining in the minority – or a wonderful theory of why it’s preferable.I figured he might be a non-believer. That’s why I started looking around. Sure would be nice if he confirmed that for us.

  • Fallucination

    I haven’t seen any examples of the tired, old ideas/strategies secularists putatively engage in outlined by any of the posters. I mean, I really don’t think age has any bearing on factuality, but it sure might affect the marketing of secularism. But since one of Jacques’s harshest critiques of secularism solely targets secularists’ effectiveness at marketing their ideology rather than any substantive matter, I’m not worried about the value of my own, secular, beliefs. And really, the good professor’s post is just about the marketing of secularism (though I think Hitchens is more of an evangelical atheist)rather than substance. I hope more can be said of the professor’s work at Georgetown.

  • shoebeacon

    calling people “hooligans” will not alter the facts, which are decidedly not with the religious explanations of the universe. The world appears exactly as if it had no teleological super director, which is highly likely to be the case.

  • ghostbuster

    ghostbuster- i think that applies to EVERY mode of thinkingEye Victoria – but there is the rub. Shall I elaborate?Thinkers disregard self-criticism at their own peril no matter the beliefs, even if they are “right”.Just a thought :)Regards

  • Fallucination

    I haven’t seen any examples of the tired, old ideas/strategies secularists putatively engage in outlined by any of the posters. I mean, I really don’t think age has any bearing on factuality, but it sure might affect the marketing of secularism. But since one of Jacques’s harshest critiques of secularism solely targets secularists’ effectiveness at marketing their ideology rather than any substantive matter, I’m not worried about the value of my own, secular, beliefs.

  • Gigabug

    The claims of the faithful bear the burden of proof, not the rational responses of secularists. It is hardly moribund to continue to point out that religious dogma is at odds with science and reason.The critique has not changed because the static discourse of religion has not changed since the invention of the printing press.

  • Fallucination

    I haven’t seen any examples of the tired, old ideas/strategies secularists putatively engage in outlined by any of the posters. I mean, I really don’t think age has any bearing on factuality, but it sure might affect the marketing of secularism. But since one of Jacques’s harshest critiques of secularism solely targets secularists’ effectiveness at marketing their ideology rather than any substantive matter, I’m not worried about the value of my own, secular, beliefs.

  • agnosticallyours

    If secularism has not had a novel idea in over a century, where would that leave religion? By my accounts, mainstream religious thought, at least in the Abrahamic tradition, has not had a “new idea” since the 7th Century AD, unless you want to have a conversation about Mormonism or other smaller religous sects. It is also interesting that the author’s polemic that secularism is somehow boring and some of its adherents are equivalent to soccer hooligans are the same kind of ad religiosum attacks he decries as muddling “reasoned public discourse.” The problem with having “reasoned public discourse” about religion is the debate always disintegrates into omnipotent circumlocution where the believer claims God can be perceived or imperceptible, as God is able to do anything it wants, while the atheist claims that anything that cannot be proven in the negative, cannot be proven in the positive. The agnostic, meanwhile, takes a sidelined position saying, without any perceptable knowledge, they cannot state whether God can or cannot exist, based on the definition of God as omnipotent. And round and round it goes.As an agnostic, I cannot say for certain whether God exists or does not exist, I will say, however, that the argument that religion is a man-made, evolutionary response to man’s knowledge or ignorance of death and, previously, the ways of the natural world, are a much more plausible origination for religion than the Book of Genesis.

  • Ethan Quern

    Sorry, but if thy shoe dost fit, thou art obliged to wearest it.

  • Paganplace

    As for kittens, Victoria, …Gods, if my dear one weren’t allergic I’d already be full-up with cats. But otherwise, I’d take em on. :) Don’t know how you’d get Muslim kitties, but Pagans like em just fine. :)Which is one of the little ironies of the Black Death: Christians decided kitties were unChristian and killed their rat control. But what can you do. I’m just being a blind secularist, aren’t I? Love the kitties, though. :)

  • Kase

    Query: Can an atheist or agnostic commentator discuss any aspect of religion for more than thirty seconds without referring to religious people as imbeciles, extremists, mental deficients, fascists, enemies of the common good, crypto-Nazis, conjure men, irrationalists, pedophiles, bearers of false consciousness, authoritarian despots, and so forth? Is that possible?Answer-

  • Kase

    Query: Can an atheist or agnostic commentator discuss any aspect of religion for more than thirty seconds without referring to religious people as imbeciles, extremists, mental deficients, fascists, enemies of the common good, crypto-Nazis, conjure men, irrationalists, pedophiles, bearers of false consciousness, authoritarian despots, and so forth? Is that possible?Answer-

  • jay

    “Which is one of the little ironies of the Black Death: Christians decided kitties were unChristian and killed their rat control. But what can you do. I’m just being a blind secularist, aren’t I?”Yes. Understanding that the plague bacterium is most often transmitted by fleas and that rats in Old Europe were the primary vector for infected parasites to jump to humans is just so … mundane. Boring, if you will. How much more exciting (if ineffective) to believe that the plague was a supernatural punishment, straight out of the bible?

  • Paganplace

    Well, Jay, it’s not like people knew about bacteria then, but they did realize something was terribly wrong, looked to certain religion, and came up with a response almost tailor-made to make things worse. And blamed impiety for their misfortunes.

  • A Hermit

    Henry James: I wholeheartedly endorse your “Elements of Spirituality”. I sometimes confuse people by calling myself a “spiritual atheist,” and you’ve described what I mean by that better than I could!Regards

  • TruthSeeker

    It’s fairly obvious that most of you in this discussion are observant enough to understand that religion’s role has been to explain the unexplainable. As science has advanced, religion has retreated, unless of course, it’s politically advantageous to say otherwise. It’s YOU people that I’d like to ask this question. What about exorcisms??? What about ghosts??? There’s a good amount of SCIENTIFIC evidence for the existence of both and I’m curious whether most of you dismiss this evidence as NOT being evidence at all. Or, and this is an even more intriguing question, if you do accept the evidence, how do you explain it scientifically???

  • A Hermit

    Wayne, while I might share your concern about the fundamentalists I wouldn’t be so quick to dump all over religious moderates; for one thing they outnumber us (which just as a practical concern would seem to me to counsel civility at least) but they are also willing to talk, willing to modify their beliefs in many cases, and willing to live and let live. If I expect respect for my views, even from those who disagree with me, I have to be prepared to reciprocate.Yes, religion has been used to justify the worst kinds of violence, but it has also inspired great acts of goodness. Let’s not make the mistake of painting the whole vast and multicoloured tapestry of religion with Sam Harris’s overwrought and slightly paranoid brush. It might feel good, but it’s not constructive. If for no other reason than that one catches more flies with honey than with vinegar I think we do better to disagree respectfully rather than denounce hysterically.RegardsA Hermit

  • jay

    Indeed. But I’m left to wonder how much misery in human history could have been averted if boring secularist and scientific perspectives had been given their due, in the face of the more exciting and dogmatic ideological ones? It’s been a long, long battle.

  • A Hermit

    “What about exorcisms??? What about ghosts??? There’s a good amount of SCIENTIFIC evidence for the existence of both…”Real scientific evidence? I’d love to see some…haven’t yet.

  • jay

    My previous post was in response to Paganplace. Sorry.”It’s YOU people that I’d like to ask this question. What about exorcisms??? What about ghosts??? There’s a good amount of SCIENTIFIC evidence for the existence of both and I’m curious whether most of you dismiss this evidence as NOT being evidence at all. Or, and this is an even more intriguing question, if you do accept the evidence, how do you explain it scientifically???” What about them? Where’s the scientific evidence you refer to? I would think that these findings would have been splashed all over the pages of most science journals. I must’ve missed those issues.

  • ReginaldSkeptic

    The good professor’s argument might have been more persuasive if the terms “atheist” and “agnostic” had not, for generations, been tossed around as slurs by the religious. Just ask the folks in Dover, PA, the ones who dared question the school board’s policy to serve up warmed-over creationism in science classrooms. The people who had the courage to stand up for the Constitution and for science were immediately branded as “atheists”. In this context, “atheist” was intended as a slur, as an insult.

  • ADent

    Yes

  • Mr. Mark

    “What about exorcisms??? What about ghosts??? There’s a good amount of SCIENTIFIC evidence for the existence of both…”Evidence, schmevidence. Yes, where’s the evidence for such fantasies? Larry King had a cadre of UFO/Loch Ness/ etc “experts” on the other night, and all spoke of the “evidence” for such things. When skeptic Michael Shermer asked them to produce something besides hearsay as evidence, they had nothing. Nothing!Today’s top news story: a guy is awaiting execution in GA. 7 of 9 “eyewitnesses” to his supposed crime have RECANTED their sworn testimony, testimony that put the guy in jail and condemned him to death. At the 11th hour, they say they were coerced by police to give false testimony.I’d say the “evidence” you propose for ghosts and exorcisms is along these lines as well.

  • VICTORIA

    o well, im the other now, 50 years ago it was someone else, 50 years form now it iwll be someone else. and 50 years ago someone was hating the other, and now someone is fomenting fear and…yawnnnn well, since you brought it up paganplace, its really clear. men and women are as equal as the teeth on a comb. no ambiguity there. if you want to believe that women are unequla according to islamic standards, its no skin off my nose but its not true. dont speak for me or tell me what i think – i dont do it to anyone and dont like it- never said anything about perfection you dont like islam, youve expressed it many times on other boards thats on you turn off fox news folks its like me telling scientists or atheists what they think i will define myself thank you thanks hermit, henry james posted that link before the point is who we are now, and how tolerant and respectful we can be of each others rights and paganplace, while youre quick to deride others- what exactly is it that you follow? what flavor of pagan are you? so respectfully, quit telling me what i think and ill interpret mine

  • Kase

    Diderot was correct!It IS that plain and simple.

  • Kase

    Diderot was correct!It IS that plain and simple.

  • Anonymous

    “Faith is believing something you know ain’t true.”

  • Anonymous

    Well, there’s absolutely no comparison between the outspoken seculars and the extreme faith based lot. Pat Robertson, (the late) Jerry Falwell, and all the evangelists, etc.. are a hell of a lot more judgemental, angry, slanderous, and imposing of their value-system than any secular has been.It’s the religious right that has stacked the Supreme Court and are trying to impose their rigid belief system on ALL Americans. If there are some seculars who are angry about that, can you really blame them? I’m glad to see them finally coming out of the closet and speaking up. It used to be that anyone who wasn’t a “Christian” was considered “some kind of Satanist freak”, so the judgemental demogagry started from those who are faith-based. When you really get down to it faith is all about defying logic, facts, reason, and science all in the name of a traditional self-imposed belief system.

  • yourneighbor

    Perhaps one reason agnostics and atheists seems so angry to this gentleman is we’re tired of being treated as if our personal belief system is somehow less valid. I think some of us may confuse structure and ritual with belief. Guess what? My personal belief system doesn’t require the rituals of yours. Mine is different. Yours is not wrong, nor is mine, nor anyone else’s. It’s a PERSONAL belief.I gotta say tho’,it’s really tiring turning that other cheek (yup, I get the irony of me using that expression)time after time after time. I’ve had scores of people in my lifetime (I’m old) be absolutely shocked to learn I didn’t share their religious beliefs. Funniest thing is, no matter what theirs were, they had always assumed mine were the same. They’ve said things like, “But, you’re such a good person!” and “I never would have guessed; you’re so normal and nice!”Receive a few dozen of those, Mr. Berlinerblau and you might find your response to be getting a little testy, too.

  • Paganplace

    ” and paganplace, while youre quick to deride others- what exactly is it that you follow?”When I’m deriding you, you’ll know it, Victoria. That’s not my intention. I’m just a little tired of *your* dismissive attitude toward the beliefs and nonbeliefs of others. Speaking of respect. Following your religion or any religion does not magically result in justice and freedom. Things just don’t work out that way. That was my point. There are real problems in the world, and, yes, with religion, that the columnist wants to simply blame people of different religions for *bringing up.* “what flavor of pagan are you?”What, so you can turn around and ‘deride’ it? I’d think you might have some idea if you’d actually read what I’ve been writing here. You tell me. If you know my heart so well. “so respectfully, quit telling me what i thinkWell, respectfully, I didn’t tell you what you think. I said, in response to your own words, that I didn’t see this equality you claimed had existed for fifteen hundred years. And, yes, I’ve heard the ‘separate but equal’ sorts of arguments from several authoritarian religions on many things. I don’t see the equality there. Instead of pointing out how this ‘equality’ is so, you simply made a whole bunch of ad hominem attacks as though I hadn’t been defending you against a lot of trolls these few months. I still think it’s a fair observation, that you accuse me of bigotry about. I just don’t see either what you assert or how it would support your point in the first place.

  • Paganplace

    Correction: My third paragraph there should read: “There are real problems in the world, and, yes, with religion, that the columnist wants to simply blame people of different –beliefs– for *bringing up.*”

  • Your Neighbor

    Dear Victoria, You posted, “equal rights for women and minorities? islam did that almost 1500 years ago.” Unfortunately, the reality throughout the last 1,500 years of those “equal rights” granted to women seems painfully similar to the (slaveholding) US founding fathers proclaiming “all men are created equal.”

  • slewis

    These days, a most fertile field, religious punditry. Academics, athletes, entertainers, politicians, charismatic religious leaders and now, secular “shock jocks” all join in an alarming “frantic fray” re advertizing the highs and lows of religion. It’s open season of sorts at the shoot em up – “God Gallery.”The author has some insightful views re secular manifestos. I note also that the Opinion Page of today’s Wall St. Journal carrys a piece by Peter Berkowitz titled The New Atheism; Attacking “God” has become lucrative book business. But there’s not much substance behind the lastest atheist tracts.Our beliefs and culture – where does our compass point us in this tangled (moral) debate? With our pluralistic but polarized society, one can only guess “the divide” will only widen.

  • Maurie Beck

    A Hermit – “spiritual atheist”.When I was into Don Juan and the Yaqui Way of Knowledge, I used to call myself a mystical existentialist. As to Jacques Berlinerblau, I would love secularism to be “boring”. The universe is much too interesting to have to expend all this energy trying to protect secularism from religious utopianism. However, that is not the case.In regard to a call for more moderate advocates of secularism versus our incendiary brethren, I would refer you to Chris Hedges (American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America). His father was a Presbyterian minister, and I believe he is one of Berlinerblau’s religious believer’s who favors a strict separation of church and state. Of course, you might think with a title like American Fascists, that he is one of those fire and brimstone nonbelievers. However, I know he strongly dislikes Hitchens. As to Berlinerblau’s polemic against the grenade throwers, I think he misunderstands discourse. The religious right certainly has its own long list of documented grenade throwers. Such people will always invoke the opposite response in many secularists, as they should. Besides, from time to time we all like red meat. More importantly, most secularists could not initially appreciate that the religious right would actually become a political force. Secularists like myself looked on them condescendingly as ignorant hillbilly nut jobs and we could not believe that such people would gain any traction, political or otherwise, in the modern world. I still condescendingly consider them ignorant hillbilly nut jobs, but I now appreciate their power. The immediate response to the religious right once secularists started to really appreciate their power was outright FEAR and OUTRAGE and then a headlong frontal attack by the likes of Harris, Dennett, Dawkins, and Hitchens. There was nothing subtle about such a response and many of these AVATARS OF ATHEISM feel that a more nuanced approach would be as successful as talking reason to Jihadi suicide bombers. However, as Mr. Berlinerblau has pointed out, a more strategic vision than hurling bombs might be in order if secularists are to successfully arouse the American electorate to finally dismiss the Christian Right as nothing more than the ignorant hillbilly nut jobs that they are.P.s. I recently saw the movie Jesus Camp. If you want to experience true FEAR and LOATHING, check it out, though you might want to do it with sarcastic friends who have a sense of humor. And be prepared for a week’s worth of nightmares.

  • Norrie Hoyt

    Professor Berlingblau,You wrote:”This calls attention to one glaring problem with atheism and agnosticism today: it [sic] lacks new ideas.”QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS:I. What new ideas has the Roman Church had lately?(None, except that it’s better to pay off its molestees with billions of dollars, rather than fighting them in the courts and keeping the issue on the front pages.)II. Atheism and agnosticism don’t need any “new ideas”, because they’ve been right all along.The noted American writer, Ambrose Bierce, got it right in the late 1800′s, when he defined “religion” in his “Dictionary”:”RELIGION, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear explaining to the Ignorant

  • Bob Poyourow

    Having established your credentials by distancing yourself from “boring secularists, I suppose you are now religiously safe, at least safe enough to run the BLOG for the WAPO without alienating your believer constituency. But the name calling has alienated me, and I’ve tuned out.

  • James Heron

    Dear Mr Berlinerblau-

  • seattledodger

    yeah, what scott said.

  • ghostbuster

    Scott – that was an interesting post, thanks. I haven’t noticed many secularists taking issue with the “thirty seconds” point that was raised. Most seem to be justifying the outraged responses of themselves and their colleagues.So I’d like to know, does an average “religious” person get fired up after reading 30 seconds of posts on these boards that are meant only to incite, insult and demean that person?Thoughts?I think the average religious person will only get fired up if his/her own personal beliefs are the ones being attacked. When I see someone who doesn’t respond to an assault on their own beliefs with justified anger; that is when I take notice.Now, on to more important matters, someone mentioned something about “ghosts” earlier…

  • Anonymous

    Was Jefferson boring or one of least boring of all Americans?What would the Sage of Monticello be saying if he were among us to witness the effusions of faithyness among such as Jocko, the Papist dogmatists and the fundamentalist Protestants, pandering to the very people whose tyranny over the mind of man Jefferson swore eternal hostility to? What would John Adams say, the signer of the Treaty of Tripoli that stipulated the United States is not a “Christian” nation, about politicos like Clinton racing to see who can thump the Bible hardest.Jefferson said, “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as wellThe Treaty of Tripoli, unanimously ratified by the Senate and signed by President John Adams, said ( Art. 11): “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense,Jefferson wrote, “And the day will come, when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as His Father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva, in the brain of Jupiter.Such Enlightenment men like the Framers, among them Franklin who was a canny closet agnostic, would be savaged by right-wing GOP talk radio if they ever appeared in our day. And Jocko would find them “boring” no doubt.

  • mike

    “soccer hooligans of reasoned public discourse”They’re really nothing more than rebellionaires selling angst to the angry.

  • Phil Overton

    Mr Berlinerblau seems more than a little confused. He first says that atheists need to come up with some new ideas – the same old “There are no Gods” mantra is just too boring. He thinks atheists need “to make secularism more interesting”. But in the end he says that it doesn’t matter what they do “Nonbelief will not become any less dull or predictable…”, so why bother.His second complaint seems to be that atheists are not trying hard enough to put over their message – they are being ‘beaten’ by e.g. The Evangelical Church: Their message is clear and LOUD; Secularism “remains one of the least understood.. subjects of our time”. What’s to understand? Theism v Atheism; God v No Gods. Can’t you understand that?I’m sorry that you’re bored with the whole Atheism thing. The problem is that the message is simple and unchanging: There are no supernatural Gods.You are the one with the problem. The theists are the ones who are forced to change their message, as previous long-held beliefs are exposed as ludicrous. It’s a shame you look on this debate as some sort of marketing campaign. America needs to be ‘excited’ by an argument…. or else …. yawn. “Not that old ‘Evolution’ thing again… You’ve found a forty thousand year old baby mammoth – not possible, the whole Earth is only 6000 years old… (yawn).”This is very different. Nobody’s selling a product. Facts are facts. Reason always, eventually triumphs. The church MUST slip and slide, in their illogical dance – Atheists don’t need to. In this case, “predicatable” doesn’t mean ‘stale’, it means ‘right’.We don’t even need to go into the terrorists who blow themselves up in the name of God, or priests who continually rape and abuse children – in the full knowledge of the Church leadership. Where is this God that “sees all”?Your naivity is breathtaking – bit not surprising.

  • Ba’al

    I will write this in short sentences so it is easy for you to understand. Politically speaking, the most visible religious figures for the last twenty years have been people like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and William Donahue. These people are fascists. They are fascists of a particular theocratic type, but their policies as they themselves describe them are fascistic. You would not like living in a country that they controlled. You mentioned “soccer hooligans” of the public discourse. Falwell and Robertson thought that Hurricane Katrina and 9-11 were God’s punishments to the sinful. You may not like the fact that these are the political faces of “faith” in this country but that’s how it is. If you don’t like it, you should try to take some steps to get them replaced on TV shows by religious people who aren’t fascists. I would be happy if you could do that. I for one endorse Bishop Sprong. I doubt you would succeed. Some of the others, like Rick Warren and Joel Osteen aren’t fascists as far as I can tell, but they fly around in private jets. I get the impression that you find particularly annoying the books by scientists that challenge religion. You dismiss their arguments lightly, but over history, their team has a better track record.One last thing, most religious people think that atheists are immoral. This has a very long history. You need a thicker skin.

  • E favorite

    Go Rob! Great post. Maybe it will encourage Berlinerblau to clarify his own position.He’s starting to strike me as a guy who is so used to knowing his place as a non-believer in a majority believer society, that he’s started to identify with the agressor.

  • A Hermit

    I second E Favourite’s endorsement of Rob’s post! I do complain about the tone of Hitchens and Harris, and take issue with some of what they have to say; but I am very glad they are saying it, out loud and unashamed. Gotta start somewhere, after all…

  • dlw

    I think Warren J Samuels is a secular thinker of note.dlw

  • khote14

    I see the believer, reading his bible (or hers, let me just say ‘his’ for now ok?), understanding it as best he can. He listens to his local shaman or priest or whatever, he is told that I, and unbeliever, will be spending an eternity in never ending torment.I take the data I see. How many gods has humanity believed in for that past 100,000 years?What does a believer think of these people, these primitive, naive, ignorant, scared-of-the-dark ancestors? Do you wonder at their credulity, their gullibility, their willingness to kill and die for a completely man-made god?Why do you think so many atheists use words like “primitive”, “naive”, “juvenile”, “infantile” when we look upon the believer? Is it just to be mean to them?I don’t think so. Is the believer telling me I’m going to hell because he wants to be mean to me? Again, I don’t think so.I include all forms of True Belief, not just the monotheists. Political ideologies seem to occupy the credulous mind in the same manner.I must say, I look upon the credulous believer as a danger to our species. It is as if he has placed a ring in his nose, waiting for the first sufficiently charismatic leader to come along and hook him up into a large mass movement, willing and anxious to kill the wrong believer and the unbeliever.With a promise of life everafter, the believer is willing, even desparate to die for the chance to kill the enemy.I see blind faith, particularly the theistic faiths, as a horrible infection upon our species, and if we don’t rid ourselves of it, we will die from it.

  • Mike

    The world is just waking up from millennia of religious dictatorship in all its forms — Christian, Islamic, and many others.While I don’t think that non-believers should stoop to the same lows as theists traditionally have (and still do), I’m glad that someone’s finally challenging the religious thinking that has ruined so many lives and consumed so many more throughout history in genocides, wars, and base struggles for worldly power.

  • Phil Overton

    Not ONE atheist would need to speak ONE word if ALL children in the world had access to a well-rounded EDUCATION, free from indoctrination by church and parents.There would be very few ‘Believers’ in a generation or two. We need Humanity more than Religion.

  • Rob

    I’ve had some additional thoughts that I would like to ammend to my discussion at 10:47. After further considering Jacques Berlinerblau’s post and reading a number of the subsequent comments, it occurs to me that both he and most of the posters here are inappropriately conflating what are really two entirely distinct faces of the atheist movement: (1) To present a logically coherent and persuasive belief-system premised on the scientific method, and (2) To defuse the increasingly clear and present dangers represented by raw power directed by blind faith.I, like Phil Overton (@ 10:54) and so many others, had a knee-jerk reaction to Berlinerblau’s disdain for old atheist arguments. After all, the very fact that the arguments have NOT needed to change speaks to their persistent truth and relevance throughout the ages. Whereas religion has continuously had to alter itself and its strictures to conform to changing times, the principles of atheism have shown themselves to be timeless and relevant in perpetuity. But then it occurred to me that his comments are more appropriately relevant to the second face of the movement — which is really not a purely atheistic purpose at all, even though it happens to be a heartfelt concern often expounded upon by the most outspoken of atheists. I think there is a legitimate question, even if Berlinerblau raised it poorly (if at all), as to what the most effective way might be to minimize the deleterious impact of power in the hands of those who exercise it based on blind faith. I do not disagree with him that casting aspersions on the faithful will not achieve this end. However, to the extent that his comments about atheism’s failure to evolve in the face of evangelical dynamism reflects his belief that atheists hope to defuse the irrational exercise of such power by converting theists to atheism, he couldn’t be more off-base. Certainly, atheist arguments are mutually exclusive vis-a-vis religious arguments; this naturally establishes the default tension in the war over minds Berlinerblau assumes we are engaged in. But, I think, any honest atheist (or theist, for that matter), recognizes it is not a war that will ever be won. Both faith and non-faith have always, and will always, exist. Some studies suggest faith may even be genetically ingrained. Certainly, the proportion of faithful has always been substantial in all ages.The doctrinal tension is separate and distinct from the practical tension over the rational exercise of power. The latter is far more relevant and controllable. Furthermore the line of demarcation in the latter struggle are substantially more blurry. There are plenty of people of faith who bristle at the idea of faith-based policy, just as there are atheists who would blindly stamp out all aspects of faith even as expressed in private spheres. For these reasons, atheism as a persuasive doctrine is not -meant- to be a fully-developed and evolving counterweight to faith-based policy. Atheism may be, indeed, a fundamental building block that is -part- of a larger evolving solution, but not a doctrine that itself needs to evolve in order to serve the two needs of the atheists.

  • victoria

    ghostbuster- yes, religious people get fired up when they see injustice done to others- unless someone broadcasts their faith to me, i never think to ask- omigod jacob- whats the point of posting anonymously if you end with yaya!!! some peoples imprint is so unique they no longer need a name to define them! look at jacob! he has transcended identity! just for the record, if anyone is interested- ANYONE can be boring!

  • Alan H. Neff

    This statement is so simplistic as to invite contempt:”Politically speaking, American secularism is made up of two overlapping, albeit distinct, constituencies. The first is comprised of the aforementioned nonbelievers whose best-selling spokespersons are fast becoming the soccer hooligans of reasoned public discourse. The second is much larger and much quieter. It encompasses religious Americans who favor strict Church/State Separation (this they share with the nonbelievers).”We’ll ignore the misuse of “comprise” and focus on “. . . encompasses.” Nice weasel word, there. It hedges its bets, conveniently overlooking people like me: existential, agnostic empiricists, for whom the debate about God’s/gods’ existence is a waste of time, for whom the pursuit of meaning through choice and action is the pre-eminent animating principle.And this notion of “problems” with secularism, let’s look at it for a moment: “This calls attention to one glaring problem with atheism and agnosticism today: it lacks new ideas. The movement abounds in polemicists, but has not produced a thinker of real substance since perhaps the days of Jean-Paul Sartre. . . . . . . . A second problem is that contemporary nonbelief lacks any discernible political dynamism, not to mention power. Here they could learn much from their arch nemesis, the Evangelicals. The latter, with their grass roots organizations, Beltway alliances, pressure groups, D.C. lobbyists and internet manifestos are the model of an efficient (and somewhat frightening) political juggernaut.”First, a good idea does not need re-invention, or a gloss of novelty in the form of new packaging, or whatever this author means by “new ideas.” Do we need a new model car every year for anything other than marketing?Second, I learn two things from the political evangelicals who labor so hard to convert government and politics to a faith-based enterprise: (1) they’re lucky they live in a democracy that theoretically encourages heterodoxy and actually allows it; and (2) I’m lucky they aren’t running things, because they can be just as intolerant as agnostic skeptics, but have a demonstrable history of killing people who don’t share their faith when they’re in the ascendancy – unlike skeptics, who generally try to let things lie before they get out of hand.

  • Viejita del oeste

    Blind faith mixed with politics is just one manifestation of the lazy thinking and poor communications that are endemic in society. English has one of the largest vocabularies of any modern language, but every year our usage becomes less precise. As goes our language, so our thought becomes narrower and less informed. Voters vote for the party or candidate who offers the easiest answers, without any concern as to whether the solutions suggested are even possible.

  • Phil Overton

    Hi Rob,As a ‘Brit’(currently in religiously sensible /peaceful Vietnam,)I’m looking at the religious mania in the USA and the Middle East with a great deal of frustration. So when this ‘scholar’ (?) comes up with drivel like this …. well it’s just ‘par for the course’. I was mainly surprised by the naivety (born yesterday) of the writer. His arguments seem so detached from the real problems caused by global religious belief. ”No new ideas….where’s the new J.P.Sartre… ‘bully-pulpit’…’ I mean HONESTLY!!Gone is the political “Cold-War”: Hello religious “Hot-War”.Where reason is replaced by dogma and indoctrination (political or religious) – Watch Out!!I agree with you that “Believers” are immune to logic, and that there is no way to prove or disprove someone’s belief.That’s why this guy’s diatribe is so ridiculous.I call for sensible education in my previous ditty: Not to be taught by this guy, though…

  • Munguza

    Mr. Berlinerblau attacks atheists and agnostics as being incendiary, extreme, and predictable by comparing them –predictably– to violent criminals.How does anything so simple-minded and condescending get featured in a forum like this? How can a person capable of such shallowness gain an associate professorship at a major university?American “secularism” is not about the two groups Berlinerblau claims –politically speaking or otherwise. The relevant division in society is between Pluralists and Supremacists, whether religious or not. Pluralists think Americans should be free to believe according to their own conscience –religious, agnostic, deist, polytheist, atheist, whatever– and that the best guarantee of maximum freedom to believe is for the government to be strictly neutral on religion. They believe government should regulate behavior, not belief.Supremacists think that Americans should conform to a single belief system, and that government is an instrument to promote that belief. There are both religious and atheist Supremacists, though while there are millions of the former –including in government and the media– there are very, very, very few of the latter.Atheists, agnostics and progressive Americans of faith share a commmitment to pluralism. They do not seek to force everyone else to believe exactly as they do about prayer, forgiveness, what happens after we die, etc.Religious conservatives, however, are not pluralists, they are Supremacists. They want to force even those who believe differently to conform to conservative religious beliefs AND behavior –even in their private lives. Thus, conservative Catholics not only require adherents to abstain from birth control, they lobby for laws that ban birth control for non-Catholics as well. They not only believe that God regards gay sex as sinful, they want to make it a crime, even for non-Catholics.Church leaders not only believe that their religion makes them superior to civil authorities, they also lobby for exemptions from laws that require doctors, teachers and social workers to report child abuse.

  • Phil Overton

    Hi Manguza,Yes, you’re talking about the Christian ‘Sharia Laws’- which is why separation of church and state is so vital.They should be called “The Hypocritic Oaths”….

  • reporter1

    “Stale criticisms of religion”?How can our criticism get stale when almost every month some self-proclaimed, born-again, holier-than-thou Republican is caught with his pants down?It would get stale if guys like Haggard, Vitter, Hyde, Livingston, Swaggart, and Bakker didn’t keep their zippers red hot from being jerked up and down.Stale? With the hypocrites and hypocracies that keep on coming to light, our self-annointed guardians of morality and family values will keep this issue poppin’ fresh and never stale.

  • David

    I hope readers won’t find the following boring. It might indicate that atheism is capable of coming up with new ideas: The fossil record and the sciences of paleo-antropology and evolutionary psychology indicate that religion, so deeply embedded in the human psyche, had its origin in the phenomenon of the dominant male as small huminoid groups began to form about 7 million years ago. About 1.5 million years ago, the huminoid brain began to grow larger, tripling in size by the time homo-sapiens emerged about 100,000 years ago. Language appeared about 500,000 to 250,000 years ago.An exciting possibility is that CAT scans and Magnetic Resonance Imaging may be capable of confirming the equality of the God image with the dominant male image.

  • jhbyer

    Mr. Berlinerblau has a point that nonbelievers, after silently enduring verbal abuse and oh so much worse from believers for over a thousand years, have emerged from under the boot of fear to give the religious a better-reasoned taste of their own nasty medicine. Mr. Berlinerblau’s essay is itself too reasonable to epitomize but is sufficiently lacking in what he says is missing from the secular as to exemplify the double standard that apparently renders him unaware of his own hypocrisy. He mistakes nonbelief for another form of belief. not sensing that it SUBVERTS belief by having nothing to do with it. Would he expect those who don’t believe in ghosts to organize and engage those who do? Would he fault them for having no new ideas about ghosts when by definition it’s only those who believe in ghosts who are burdened by the demand to justify themselves to each new generation?

  • Rob

    There is also a very valid reason why what appears to be ad hominem attacks on religion are a valuable strategic element in the battle between Pluralists and Supremacists that Munguza so capably described @ 12:48.As I mentioned @ 10:47, no interest group can exert political power without the ability to identify other members with like minds, the ability to work with each other to develop coordinated strategies, and the ability to command the respect of those who disagree. In that prior post I emphasized how the atheist polemics served a useful role in legitimalizing atheism. But they also serve a useful role in de-legitimizing Supremacist justifications.One of the valid strategic goals is to, in fact, do exactly what Berlinerblau propose — take a strategic page from the evangelicals (who cast those who oppose faith-based decision-making as persecutors of the religious) by demonizing the Supremacist’s rationale in order to marginalize them politically. The religious right has fought tooth and nail to legitimize faith-based decision making (be it to elect candidates based on religious litmus tests or to select policy on the same basis), and to de-legitimize reasoned approaches. Naturally, this serves some interest groups’ purposes especially well(i.e. the GOP and evangelical powerbrokers), because those who control the levers of faith-based doctrine then control the faithful masses and meaningful political policy. Demonization of this process, though a crude tool, if used successfully can restore the ability of people to maintain dialogue even if faith is a relevant underlying force. The problem addressed in another way is that it has become acceptable and legitimate for politicians and citizens to state “I support X because my faith tells me so.” This defies argument or debate and lends to intractable positions. If, on the other hand, such positions could be de-legitimized; that is to say if the social environment were hostile to such articulated positions to such a degree that a person would be embarrassed to espouse the faith-based rationale altogether, that person would be forced to couch their support in the universal language of empirical reason (even if their faith is the unstated motivating force for their position). Then, at least, they would be bound by consistency principles to alter the positions when they lack any sound empirical ground to stand upon, or face public opprobrium and the appearance of hypocrisy if they refused. Their ability to do the harm feared by many would be directly undercut.Essentially, the goal is to force faith-based policy rationale back into the euphemistic closet. Unfortunately, and perhaps this is Berlinerblau’s basic point, the broad attacks on religion are an inartful distraction precisely because they are overbroad and invoke a defensive reaction by the religious instead of creating a hostile atmosphere solely for religious-based political decision-making rationale. Such attacks essentially amount to using a nuclear bomb (with all of its collateral damage) when the target of faith-based decision-making is much more appropriately reached with a precision-guided missile.

  • Fran Taylor

    What’s this “of late”? Non-believers have been railing against the religious establishment at least since Galileo. “all its associated personnel were simply to disappear”? Are you paranoid, or are you labeling people as wannabe mass-murderers?”lacks new ideas” If this is not the pot calling the kettle black, I don’t know what is. “self-criticism” is what the non-believers need. Apparently the believers have the moral authority to tell others what they need.Salman Rushdie’s writing is “preposterously creative” and “troubling”?!? I found it refreshing and heartwarming. It’s only troubling to someone who is trying to cling to something that he knows, deep down, doesn’t make any sense.Okay, WAPO, Throw this one back. He says he’s a professor but he’s apparently ignorant of history. He appears to be polite, but he’s just another hypocritical name-caller.

  • Mary Cunningham

    Dan S.The atheism I write of is intimately linked with the totalitarian movements I listed: *The intellectual world view of the Jacobins*was derived from the Enlightenment ideas, mostly Rousseau: “Man born free, but everywhere in chains.” This stands in direct opposition to *Christian* world view of man “born bad” (original sin) and redeemed only by God himself. For the *philosophes * what enchained man were institutions, remove or change them and man would be free. Thus Enlightenment atheism—the atheism of Voltaire and Rousseau—stands in direct opposition to Christian beliefs. Since the philosophes were French the Church was thus one of the main obstacles to the ‘freedom’ of man…add to their philosophic bent a visceral anti-clericism and voila! we have the ideology of the Jacobin movement. The atheism posted here is more of less the same as that originally conceived of by Voltaire, (one wit even posts under the his characters). Assuming you accept this, you can see why this virulent brand of atheism for me is so very disturbing. For we know where it led—to totalitarianism and terror. Jacques Berlinerblau is writing about it on his blog, so I’ll post this there as well. Maybe we can discuss it further, assuming the above is clear enough & that you agree.Mary Cunningham

  • Gerry

    In a world where public figures like Robertson and similar atomic bombs against reason and humanism can call the Katrina disaster a “punishment by god” with impunity I am – almost – inclined to quote the Dante phrase – “abandon all hope”, meaning: we have already entered hell. Institutionalized superstition, subsidized by power and money. The creationist cretins have a new brother in spirit in the form of this Islamic Turk Oktar who publishes fancy books against evolution.Here is a new, albeit sarcastic (and not very entertaining) idea for Mr. Berlinerblau: Maybe we should hail this liaison of powerful nitwits as an example of how we can make religions come closer together, as an “alliance of faiths”.

  • interested

    Rob,I agree with your understanding of Berlinerblau’s post. 1. As E. Favorite noted, Berlinerblau is a non-believer, who longs for more creative, more intellectually sound articulations of securalism. (Hence, in response to Fran Taylor, when he talks about Rushdie as “preposterously creative” and “troubling,” those are compliments!) 2. Berlinerblau’s post defines ‘secularism’ as inclusive of both the polemics of Harris, Dawkins, et al. and moderate religious people who back a strict separation of church and state. Hence, he is not talking so much about belief vs. non-belief but about polity, civic order, and power. I think that the contrary to his secularism is not religious belief but, for example, Arab nations where there is the attempt to make religious order and civil order identical. In this sense, I don’t see much difference between Berlinerblau’s post and ‘pluralists vs. supermacists.” 3. In this context, it follows that the turn-up-the-microphone polemics of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are distractions to constructive engagement (i.e., hooliganism). This also makes sense of his statement that fundamentalists who have been so successful in shaping public policy shouldn’t be called “imbeciles.” He is not equating political power with reasonable thinking. Since he is talking about ‘secularism’ as polity, anyone who is as successful as fundamentalists are in shaping polity shouldn’t be called “imbeciles.” Instead, they are masters of the game and examples. The disconnect between Berlinerblau’s post and almost all the responses to it is probably due to a mismatch between these blogs with their metaphysical/epistemological polemics (theism vs. atheism, belief vs. unbelief) and his world as a historian where social history, power and polity are the topics. In any case, ‘secularism’ is not to be equated with ‘atheism.’ Compare Berlinerblau’s post with one by Sam Harris in the LA Times: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-harris15mar15,0,671840.story?coll=la-home-commentary In my opinion, Berlinerblau’s post is more sophisticated. Harris’ column in the LA Times would get a flunking grade in a sociology class.

  • interested

    Rob,I agree with your understanding of Berlinerblau’s post. 1. As E. Favorite noted, Berlinerblau is a non-believer, who longs for more creative, more intellectually sound articulations of securalism. (Hence, in response to Fran Taylor, when he talks about Rushdie as “preposterously creative” and “troubling,” those are compliments!) 2. Berlinerblau’s post defines ‘secularism’ as inclusive of both the polemics of Harris, Dawkins, et al. and moderate religious people who back a strict separation of church and state. Hence, he is not talking so much about belief vs. non-belief but about polity, civic order, and power. I think that the contrary to his secularism is not religious belief but, for example, Arab nations where there is the attempt to make religious order and civil order identical. In this sense, I don’t see much difference between Berlinerblau’s post and ‘pluralists vs. supermacists.” 3. In this context, it follows that the turn-up-the-microphone polemics of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are distractions to constructive engagement (i.e., hooliganism). This also makes sense of his statement that fundamentalists who have been so successful in shaping public policy shouldn’t be called “imbeciles.” He is not equating political power with reasonable thinking. Since he is talking about ‘secularism’ as polity, anyone who is as successful as fundamentalists are in shaping polity shouldn’t be called “imbeciles.” Instead, they are masters of the game and examples. The disconnect between Berlinerblau’s post and almost all the responses to it is probably due to a mismatch between these blogs with their metaphysical/epistemological polemics (theism vs. atheism, belief vs. unbelief) and his world as a historian where social history, power and polity are the topics. In any case, ‘secularism’ is not to be equated with ‘atheism.’ Compare Berlinerblau’s post with one by Sam Harris in the LA Times: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-harris15mar15,0,671840.story?coll=la-home-commentary In my opinion, Berlinerblau’s post is more sophisticated. Harris’ column in the LA Times would get a flunking grade in a sociology class.

  • Mary Cunningham

    Dear Prof. Berlinerblau,Looks like you’ve stirred up the wasps. They thought you were one of them (well, you are but you also like dialogue and discussion), that they had a new champion (as if they needed any more!) and what do you do? You dare to criticize their stridency (they would call it fervour!). What bloody cheek! They feel betrayed. But I liked your piece & hope you can publish more. The following is an exchange I wrote to one—actually one of the more temperate—atheist on the Jacoby blog:(from Gerry)To MC:”Strange how a person in possession of her wits can implicitly connect atheism with the idea of an “utopian ideology”. A-theism is the logical, “semantic” opposite, the absence of religious ideology of whatever brand [why his definition is correct].“Try your logic and reason, if your faith permits it!”Nice straw man, eh? Uses his own narrow definition of atheism and then condemns an alternative view (which he doesn’t bother to elicit) as “not in possession of her wits” and—while he was at it in a snide aside—has a go at her religion as well: “Try using logic and reason if your faith permits it!” My response:”….. commanding someone to “Try your logic and reason, if your faith permits it!” is not a good way to begin a reasonable discussion. It’s called an anchoring bias. If I were a normal person, I would get angry, and that would colour everything I read of your work afterwards. It’s rhetoric, really, isn’t it? And here you are…citing logic! Pot and kettle, eh?”There are others, Gerry was not the worst, but what is the point?Regards,PS: my own persuasion is that the Englightenment Project is nearing its end, its view of humanity was always incorrect, science is cumulative but morality and ethics are not, St. Augustine was right all along….(but maybe we could talk further.)

  • Garak

    OK, Jacques, answer this question: Can devout christians, jews, or muslims discuss atheism for 30 seconds without descending into polemics about roasting in hell? Can any southern baptist mega-church pastor discuss atheism for 30 seconds without descending into the most vicious attacks on the moral worth of atheists, or blaming them for 9/11?Well, Jacques, I’m waiting.

  • Alonzo Fyfe

    By putting your essay in terms of what ‘belief’ and ‘nonbelief’ does, you have written an essay that makes use of many of the features of bigotry – like talking about ‘blacks’ as if all are alike, and all share the qualities (good or bad) that you assign to them.The entity called ‘nonbelief’ that you write about – this monolithic entity of individuals with identical personalities and intersts – is as fictional as God. To paint all individuals in a group with a common brush – to insist that they all share a trait that you speak about in derogatory terms – because some identifyable people within the group have this trait – is the paradigm example of bigotry.It is quite permissible to speak individually about Dawkins, Harris, Hutchens, or any of the others about what they have done wrong – and to provide evidence for their guilt from their own writings. However, to attribute their wrongs to somebody such as me, based on a characteristic we have in common, while ignoring our differences, is unjust and unfair.It is hardly a model of moral virtue.

  • Tony

    Let’s point fingers where they should be pointed. Can a person of “faith” discuss any issues with a religious nexus without referring to nonbelievers as sinners, secularists, antiAmerican, etc.? The source of the animus is this inherent pressure for the religious to “enlighten” those who do not believe. Don’t blame the irked when you are the one doing the irking.

  • johannesrolf

    Hooligans? what do you call the pederast priests? what do you call the christian who shoots abortion doctors? what do you call the craven catholic bishops who inserted themselves into the presidential election in 2004? the damage to the church done by its members dwarfs any secularist attacks by a factor of hundreds.

  • Stefan

    Ideas aside for the moment, if somone incites you to anger and judgement, if someone assures you that you are one of the elite, and that others are fools or worse, if someone distorts the evidence and indulges in lying and name-calling for polemical purposes…. does it matter whether it is Pat Robertson…or Richard Dawkins? Jerry Falwell…or Sam Harris? James Dobson…or Christopher Hitchens? They’ll never admit it, but these people are out to screw you. If we buy into the anger, make their judgements our own, and walk around feeling superior as they want us to, we haven’t answered any of life’s great questions at all… we have just duped ourselves into accepting their answers and their agenda. Why do we do it? Because it makes us feel good about ourselves…

  • Anonymous

    Growing up Methodist in a primarily Southern Baptist town, where “the godless” (such as I was considered to be) were paraded across the stage by the principal at our public high school and declared for all to see as being consigned to hell for our lack of proper faith, it isn’t hard for me to understand where the animosity in the secular movement comes from.Go on any forum on the web, and you will quickly see that any quiet, reasoned defense of secularism is quickly met by one or more of the faithful delivering statements such as “God has told me you will burn in hell”, accusing all securlarists as seeking to outlaw religion, and declaring that “freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion”.So my sympathies at this point are with the secular hooligans, who appear to have discovered that, after turning the other cheek, they will still be struck – and must now be more forceful in their defense of their right to not be among the faithful.

  • JoeRio

    In reaction to the commercial success of several recent books criticizing religious orthodoxy –along with the failure of religious elites to mount any credible response– Jacques Berlinerblau resorts to sophistry and ad hominem attacks on the authors.It’s a defensive and dishonest attempt to change the subject from the tragic consequences of religious fanaticism in the post-9/11 world.Such claptrap appears absurd (to put it politely) on a day when the Catholic Church’s announces a $600-million-plus sex abuse settlement, and our troops are fighting Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan and Iraq.

  • The Rev

    Good job Jacques. Thanks for your attempt to bring reason back to the discussion.I always shudder when I hear people say the world would be a better place without so and so. I smell the stench of a certain brand of fascism wafting over the waters at Wansee. The world will be a better place when ideas alone are not treated as reasons to kill. Firebrand rhetoric usually ends up killing people in large numbers and in the afterwards the guilty may even whine – “I didn’t mean that to happen.”

  • mike

    “delivering statements such as “God has told me you will burn in hell”Since you don’t believe in hell, what stings you?

  • David Bordson

    There are plenty of thoughtful athiest and christian writers and thinkers in the country: they just don’t sell many books. People like Dr. Dobson and Pat Robertson have shown you can accumulate great wealth and power by being intolerant, unthoughtful jerks. Why are you suprised that a few atheist professors are able to make money by the same type of thoughtless garbage?Richard Rorty just passed away. Pick up a book of his essays if you want to read something both thoughtful and athiestic. Looking for some interesting christian writing? How about Will Campbell’s “Brother to a Dragonfly” or Paul Tillich’s “Dynamics of Faith”? If you want a fun read, pick up Walker Percy’s “Love in the Ruins”. In the end, none of my suggestions will be widely read because God or Darwin are not used by the authors to exert power. They are humble towards the complexity of the finitude and the unimaginable power of the infinite. That will not fly in today’s fat and sassy America.

  • Bill Daniels

    Believers NEED a straw man to battle, and it seems you have invented one, or many. Who are these atheist spokespersons you cite? A few quotes, please? And this statement is incredible,’This calls attention to one glaring problem with atheism and agnosticism today: it lacks new ideas. The movement abounds in polemicists, but has not produced a thinker of real substance since perhaps the days of Jean-Paul Sartre.’Atheism needs no new ideas, YOU and those of your ilk have proposed the existence of some cosmic Santa Claus who made us and everything we see. I see not a scrap of evidence for any of that rubbish, so Sparky, the burden of proof is on you. I do have a low opinion of those who ignore the large body evidence pointing to a long chain of naturally occuring events that lead up to the world as we see it now, and those who ignore are, by definition, ignore – ant.

  • A Hermit

    I see Mary Cunningham, having seen her silly “atheists = Nazis” nonsense shot down in the Jacoby thread has new ground in which to sow her lies and hatred.Ms. Cunningham, the atheism you write of, and fear so much, exists only in your head. The unbelievers you encounter in these threads are not Nazis, or Communists or even the dreaded and most to be feared of all Jacobins who apparently haunt your fevered dreams.The Enlightenment principles you seek to discredit also gave rise to the idea that “all men are created equal” and that all should have the liberty to speak freely, to participate freely in the political process and to worship freely (or not.)Ms. Cunningham; why do you hate America?RegardsA Hermit

  • J Rosen

    Dear Sir:I find your piece somewhat confusing. First of all, “secularism” takes so many forms that to cast one label over all of its manifestations makes a little sense as doing the same for Christianity (or religion as a whole). Even the recent mini-spate of books attacking one or the other aspects of established religion shows such variety (e.g. Hitchens’ slapdash if heart-felt screed, Dawkins scientifically argued critique, Boyer’s evolutionary-biology-based analysis etc.) as to defy concatenation. But if these books (Boyer’s less recent and somewhat calmer work excepted) share a tone of anger and desperation, isn’t that due not so much to a lack of new ideas (more on this below) but to the context — social and political — of the argument? It seems authors like Harris and Hitchens that we are in desperate times, what with a theocratic movement dangerously close to the seats of real power in our country (e.g. the Terry Schiavo extravaganza, the Roy Moore farce, or, more ominously, some of the public musings of Antonin Scalia.) While I grant that the rhetoric can be extreme, isn’t it understandable that it is not easy to reply philosophically when one is accused of being in league with the Powers of Darkness? In past times, the “imbeciles” often erected scaffolds for such (and not just imbeciles — the divines who presided over the Salem Witch Trials were highly learned men) and it is not inconceivable that such times could occur again.In our situation, it is not easy to know what to do. But academic disdain for attempts to address the matter — even if not worthy of a B for a term paper — don’t help a lot either. We are not in an academic crisis here. As in the joke about the stubborn mule, first you have to get her attention. A 2-by-4 over the head is not a the ideal philosophical tool, it may be the only available tool at the moment.And finally, if you want to criticize “secularism” for its lack of new ideas, could you point out what new ideas have emerged for the camp of organized religion lately, besides suicide bombing — which is new only in that it uses modern technology? “Intelligent design” (an oxymoron worthy of the ages) is just a Trojan Horse for Biblical literalism and began with Bishop Paley anyway.

  • Ba’al

    Actually there are some new ideas. The idea that people are “hard-wired” as a result of evolution to be susceptible to religious ideas is relatively new, as is the understanding of how powerful this becomes when the indoctrination occurs in childhood.As for the lack of political power of secularists, it is pretty weak to blame us for “soccer hooliganism” in our public discourse and to then suggest we should emulate the “dynamism” of Evangelicals! You know, the ones who blamed Katrina and 9-11 on gays and secular humanists! Oh, and one other thing, maybe you weren’t paying attention to the 2006 elections and the role of the netroots in the success of the Democratic power, something that has the Right scratching its collective head (as for the first time, the trail the Dems in fundraising). Perhaps the repetition that occurs in 2008 will get your attention.

  • A Hermit

    I’ll join with recent commenters in concurring with Rob’s recent remarks here; I’m glad on the one hand that Harris, Hitchens et al have drawn attention to the question of religion’s role in politics, but in general I dislike their confrontational approach; it’s useful when dealing with dogmatic fantasists like the Mary Cunninghams of the world, but most believers (like most unbelievers) are, I think, a lot more reasonable and deserve to be met with civility and respect.RegardsA Hermit

  • Peter J. Aronson, MD

    Professor Berlinerblau creates a false dichotomy between so called atheists and relgionists and people like Christopher Hitchens does also. It is posssible to believe in a god without being a memeber of a formal religious systems. Our founding Fathers accepted the idea of Deism. A god to me is that which certifies and creates order and consistency for certain., Without this nothing would haver conssitency or meaning ever. Existentialism and fantasy would rule.This to me is intolerable but this does not imply godlessness .

  • Gary Jackson

    I am somewhat disturbed by Berlinerblau’s use of the word “hooliganism”. It was a favorite word used by Soviet leaders in the past when referring to young dissidents who challenged the prevailing Soviet philosophy. And quite honestly, I see little meaningful difference in how Berlinerbrau is using the term.Look. All of the namecalling and backbiting aside, it is not secularism that is at the root of the present violence in the world. It was not a band of secularists who flew commericial jets l;oaded with innocent travelers into the World Trade Center buildings on September 11, 2001. It was not a secularist leader who took it upon himself to invade a sovereign country in March 2003 because he belived their nation was part of an “axis of evil”. It was not a secularist who blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City killing hundreds of innocent men, women and children as an act of revenge for what this government did in Waco, Texas when they attempted to dislodge Christian fanatic cult leader David Koresh from his compound.This is why I am a bit skeptical when I hear the pious musings of Mr. Berlinerbrau and a good many other pontificators in this country who wheeze interminably about the dangers of seculrism but fail to account for the wretched violence in our world perpetrated in the name of God.

  • Mike (FVThinker) Burns

    Why are some secularists strident?!?! I quote: “[It] is entirely clear from our Nation’s historical practices that the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists” – Justice Antonin Scalia in his dissent of McCreary County vs. ACLUWhen you have statments like this coming out of the U.S. Supreme Court we SHOULD get strident! Justices Kennedy and Thomas signed on to this dissenting opinion also. If our president has one more opportunity to insert a justice into our highest court, our Constitution (a beacon of light in the world) will be interpreted through the warped prism of biblical law. Be afraid . . . be VERY afraid.

  • ex-Xian

    Jacques,Have you taken your head out of your ivory-tower long enough to even read one of these “best-sellers”?You exemplify the very bluntness you claim to be offended by. It sounds to me like jealousy. Get over it. What is it about “best-seller” that you don’t understand? There’s a groundswell of excitement, relief, and liberation surrounding the recent popular works of Harris, Dennett, Dawkins and Hitchens. You and I may prefer Rushdie and Roth, but you’d do us all a favor by directing your considerable energies somewhere other than against your fellow secularists.

  • Dan S.

    “Actually there are some new ideas. The idea that people are “hard-wired” as a result of evolution to be susceptible to religious ideas is relatively new . . .”Also ideas about the ‘moral brain’ – that New forms of community, and social & political organizing, on the other hand, well . . .

  • Dennis

    I am puzzled by this criticism of secularism. Mr. Berlinerbrau says we secularists lack “new ideas”. Berlinerbrau presents a false challenge. Actually our unwillingness to accept or believe in the “old ideas” is more than sufficient for many of us. Religion is nothing more than a man-made idea, one lacking in substance or based in reality. Oh, it makes us feel good and worthy, I suppose, to fall back on those banal, empty mouthings, little more than myths, actually. I learned them in early childhood, reared in a Christian home. As an adult, I came to accept that my satisfaction is in living my life freed from the superstitions, fears and abuses of the old ideas.

  • globo-mojo

    A hermit-

  • thersitz

    It seems to me that atheism and agnosticism are not religions nor systems of thought. They are basically a recognition that humans cannot know the ultimate truths so many want to know and that those people and groups that argue that they are in possession of said truths are not credible. Obviously, any atheist who says they “know” God does not exist is no different than the Christian who says they do “know”. Such atheists have traded in one God for another.But the notion that the Agnostic recognition is dull and stale and in need of enhancement makes it sound like a piece of software or video-game that just isn’t selling and is in need of some new marketing. Just because Christianity has re-marketed itself to survive the prevailing winds of the moment, doesn’t necessitate that secularists do likewise — regardless of the boredom that ensues and confounds the author.Maybe the criticisms of Christianity are dull and stale because they cannot be nor have ever been refuted by anything other than violence. Galileo anyone.Aside from the fact that a great many secularists are a part of a “discernible political dynamism”, the notion that referring to American Christians as imbeciles is false based on the political clout that group currently has — well that argument is not clear to me. In fact, the obverse argument could be made. But maybe hypocrites is the more accurate term, for the perverseness and stubbornness that buttresses the christian’s willingness to align itself with the laissez faire, Darwinian GOP argument certainly borders on imbecility.The awareness that the GOP panders to the Evangelicals all the while thinking very unsavory thoughts about them has been in the public domain for some years. There is plenty of evidence to validate that the American Christian voter is a tool for the GOP, and in most cases an unwary tool. Just like to the racist who fears immigration or to the homophobe who shudders at the notion of two folks of the same sex having the audacity to love one another, the GOP panders to Christians (and these other groups) because they know that their sentiments are volatile and open to irrational expressions and that the possessors of them have votes that are obtainable if one feigns agreement.But what real values do true Christians and the GOP Capitalists share? Capitalism is totally at odds with Jesus’ supposed teachings — yet the Christians in this country discount, ignore, look the other way or scoff at the notion that Capitalism is not only antithetical to the values and teachings they suggest they have, but they also are seemingly unconcerned and unfazed by its destructiveness and voraciousness at the expense of the environment — as well as to other cultures where undeveloped resources lay to be had. Are we at war in Iraq because of oil or because of the biblical armageddon? The answer to that depends on if you are conversely with a hooligan or a christian, I guess.Asking that some guidelines and limitations be put on capitalist endeavors becomes tantamount to being godless or a crazed lineral wanting to ruin the american life style. Suggesting that other belief systems have as much validity as Christianity is deemed heresy, or in today’s vernacular, un-American.Does attending mass on Sunday for one hour and then spending the remainder of the week grubbing for material wealth or enjoying the pleasures of this nation really mean that one is a Christian? Are people like Falwell, Pat Robertson, Billy Graham and the unnumerable others — people who have built successful and profitable businesses selling Jesus, and enriching themselves dramatically in the process — are they really followers of Jesus? The fact that their Christian followers have no problem with their leaders amassing huge amounts of wealth — at their expense — in the name of Jesus — could that not be aptly termed a form of imbecility? Especially when so many are so quick to condemn Catholics and laud the product of Luther’s work, not to mention Jesus’ proverb of the camel and the eye of the needle they so willingly ignore.Does using the benefits of science and technology during each and every day of your life and then having the audacity to call into question that science when it confounds the biblical story or some Christian tenet — is that really the sign of a healthy political metric?Why are there so many streams of Christianity? Why is Europe filled with the bones borne of religious wars? There is a certain perverseness about this straying confluence of beliefs which have moved off and formed their own streams of doctrine — and yet lay claim to the true intellectual source — that being Jesus. From the perspective of the non-believer, this too seems perverse and imbecilic.Most of these folks have a hard time discerning the cultural, historical, and philosophical differences between the old and new testaments –and could care less about that. All they need is rewritten history. To them the God of Abraham is the God of Jesus — and the Jews are a bunch of morons who murdered Jesus — even though the works in question are separated by hundreds of years and miles of cultural differentiation. Is it hooliganism to suggest that it is imbecilic to ignore the cultural and historical facts behind these two books?Most secularists believe that Christians have a right to congregate and believe as they chose. They obviously fall into the latter category of secularism define above. Such secularists merely want Christian groups not to force their beliefs into politics or into the public arena. That doesn’t mean they can’t write books, make films, have festivals, or enjoy their faith. But apparently that is not enough for Christians.So where are the new ideas which Christians and proponents of christianity have offered up? The whole idea is based on hope, on imagining the ideal, on a centuries old fraud perpretrated and enhanced according to the exigencies of the day. Rather than offering up new ideas, as an aggregate this group of people seems bent on regressing to an earlier point in time! If the author poses that the current hooligan-like secularists have attitudes still residing in 1890 — in just what time space would this author place the many streams of believers as being stuck in?Who believes in Plato’s Forms? Nobody. Other than the concept of Godly love, Plato’s ideas are the intellectual equivalent of Christianity. So maybe the first century? If so, maybe the author could conclude that at least the secularists have attempted to move forward. But apparently not. The author seems to merely demand that secularists come to terms with all the hypocrisy, obscurantism, and violence that buttresses the christian value system and that the anger engendered toward Christianity is a boring form of hooliganism. And so clearly this writer has found an apt home on the pages of the Washington Post.

  • rm -rf

    Old ideas dating back to the 1890′s? Isn’t Christianity based on ideas written in a book whose newest addition is 2000 years old – give me a break! Maybe we should dump Darwin since his ideas go back to the 1860s or Quantum Mechanics developed in the 1930s don’t even mention Newtonian Mechanics or Calculus – that stuff is old, stuffy and not fun! Secular thought needs a fresh new look for the 21st century! Yet I suspect he thinks it is much better to go back to ideas developed in the bronze age…

  • Stefan

    Let’s try it again… this time a little more bluntly. Are we angry, self-righteous, and judgemental? Are we convinced we have the truth and everyone else is a nitwit? Do we have irrefutable answers to fundamental questions that humankind has been asking for thousands of years? Do we blame our rage and intolerance on the people we disagree with? Then we are dupes…or more precisely, we have duped ourselves, and our cherished opinions mean little or nothing because they are so obviously self-serving. Whether or not you can beat down your opponent in debate means nothing. The only meaningful question is not “what do you think?” – it is “what do you know?” Don’t confuse the two.

  • Wassabi

    Haha! Manifestos?! LOL, dude, you’re about 2000 years behind on how “persons of religion” have been referring to non-believers. Perhaps the reason secularists are finally starting to fight back is because its two-thousand fricking seven, god is a fairy tale for people who don’t have the mental fortitude to deal with life. It’s not just that there isn’t any evidence the fantasy stories edited by people chewing kat and put into the “bible” are true, its that in order to believe you have to DENY science. Yet, not persons of religions entire existence defined by 2000 year old fantasy stories, but the damage done by their attempts to dictate everyone else’s lives is doing more damage than ever. Religion is the second largest killer in human history (communism is number one), where its only been socially acceptable to deny the existence of god [i]publicly[/i] for about 50 years. The language of your article makes it dreadfully clear that you are not interested in accepting any truths, but in subversively criticizing non-believers (aka hedonists, pagans, heretics, infidels, etc.) “No new ideas; no thinkers since Sartre?!?!?!?!” you clearly have not been to college, and clearly did not do any honest research on “secularists.” Good luck with this silly blog, its the last time I’ll visit, and I will lobby Washington Post to drop this silly drivel every chance I get.

  • Anonymous

    globo-mojo:I guess the point of disagreement is what is meant by “a level of convinction that there is no god.” That’s how I would describe my position; I don’t claim to know with absolute certainty, but I have a pretty high level of confidence in the probability that there is no God. If you follow an agnostic approach I think that’s a reasonable position, not the “break with pure reason” you described.The term “agnostic” was coined by T. H. Huxley, and it doesn’t mean “unknowable” it means “without revelation.” Agnosticism is the rejection of the idea that anything can be known by magical, special divine revelation; it is the rejection of a mystical source of knowledge. Knowledge instead is seen as the product of objective observation and reason. Assertions of the existence of any entity which cannot be shown objectively to exist should not be accepted as true. “In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable” (Huxley, Agnosticism, 1889). If I follow my reason, and I don’t see any objective evidence or rational proof that gods exist I therefore, as an agnostic, have no reason to believe in them. If I have no belief in the existence of gods I am an atheist. I’m still open to the possibility that someone might someday objectively demonstrate the existence of a god or gods, in which case I will change my mind, but until then “atheist” is an accurate description of my beliefs regarding gods.As Bertrand Russel put it:” As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one can prove that there is not a God.On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.”—– Seems to me a lot of people are afraid of that word, atheist. They take the position reflected in your first post; that atheism is the flipside of the religious coin; just as unreasonable as beliefs in invisible supernatural beings. This is a false equivalence. It is also not the case that agnosticism means throwing up your hands, sitting on the fence and not leaning one way or the other; a sort of wishy-washy philosophical middle ground. This is not the case at all. One might come to a different “level of conviction” about the quality of the evidence for and against the existence of gods, but a suspension of belief in that existence; ie some form of atheism, is inherent in an agnostic approach, not, as you suggested, “vast worlds apart.”That’s how I see it, anyway.RegardsA Hermit

  • rm -rf

    While we are at it we should get rid of more old secular ideas like the Constitution, I mean that thing is over 200 years old! how could the founders have ever imagined warentless searches, or the need to detain people indefintely without jusdicial oversite, or the need for the executive branch to be unchecked by the legislature, separation of church and state? who needs that? The framers of the Consistution could never have imagined the threat from a bunch of guys living in caves in Afganistan – I mean Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia armed with nukes, Imperal Japan, the Kaizer, the British empire etc.. are nothing compared the the existential threat of terror! Get rid of the consititution! while we are at it get rid of the Geneva Convention – that is surely an old secular idea whose time has passed. Habeas corpus – gone that is old, old, old! Democracy, wasn’t that developed by a bunch of pagans over 2000 years ago – old, stale boring! we need new!We need a theocratic monarchy – now that is a fresh new idea for the 21st century!

  • David

    Christian fundamentalists who oppose secularism in have much in common with Islamists, actually. Both groups believe their religious books should be the law of the land, or at least the books from which all their nations’ laws are derived.If only Americans opposed the Sharia-ists in their midst as fervently as they oppose the bin Ladens and Zawahiris beyond America’s borders.

  • Anonymous

    Christian fundamentalists who oppose secularism in have much in common with Islamists, actually. Both groups believe their religious books should be the law of the land, or at least the books from which all their nations’ laws are derived.If only Americans opposed the Sharia-ists in their midst as fervently as they oppose the bin Ladens and Zawahiris beyond America’s borders.

  • A Hermit

    Paganplace:Yeah, I figured most of our local On Faith pagans would appreciate the humour in a 180 foot biodegradeable Homer Simpson. I wouldn’t have posted it if I thought it would cause serious offense…You make a good point about the reaction to secularism (and it’s directed not just at unbelievers but at the faithful who recognize the value of church/state separation); the radical fundamentalists often get upset when their ability to use the power of the State to impose their prayers, their symbols, their beliefs on an unwilling minority is challenged. They call it an attack on their freedoms when they’re told they can’t use the State owned PA system at a State owned school to force Jews and Catholics in the crowd to partake in a Baptist prayer, for example.This sort of thing becomes even more important in the context you describe; in which the fundamentalists are working to gain even more secular political power. Cases like the Texas football prayers don’t come up much here in Canada; (my son’s school held their “Christmas concert” in a local Church again this year, and no one objected). I think because religion, though granted more formal recognition in the preamble to our constitution, is much less politicized in this country. There’s a lot more “live and let live” and a lot less “my way or the highway”.RegardsA Hermit

  • B-Man

    I have to agree with most of the criticisms you have of the “atheist movement”. Hopefully, we can figure out a way to influence public discourse in a more positive way going forward. However, in defense, when one is simply trying to uphold the truth based on all known evidence, against those who advocate fantasy, with no evidence, as the real, only, truth, how critical can you really be against the person who is demanding that reason by upheld? You are criticizing Atheists based on their style, while Atheists are criticizing Religion based on its content. That is an important distinction.

  • Juan

    Another wacko trying to find a way to refute atheism. It can’t be done…there is no way, other than God actually coming down from heaven and revealing himself or herself or itself to the human race, to prove that any religious belief is anything other than delusion and fantasy. Now the wackos are attempting to refute atheism by claiming it is boring, lacks political dynamism, has no new ideas, etc. Why in the world does that make one bit of difference…the fact of the matter is that it is the religious that are laughable frauds, not the atheists.

  • filmex

    The idea that an adequate criticism of secularism is that is lacks new ideas is preposterous. One is unable to criticize a belief structure based on rumor and hand-me-down storytelling that goes back 2,000 years unless modernity is attached?One can find a perfectly reasonable life view in Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason”. In that we know Paine did exist, was instrumental in the birth of this nation and that the words attributed to him are real and of his ownership, this alone places him as a source far more modern than anything theists have to fall back on.A great majority of Americans may believe that Noah and his ark actually happened, in spite of the lunacy of the prospect of a humble man building a ship capable of carrying a pair of every species on the planet.To criticize such thinking as lunacy hardly makes one a hooligan. Either the ark was the size of California, or evolution evolved a small number of species into the millions that now exist, after millions more have become extinct. Or else faith-based Merlin magic made it all possible.As Thomas Jefferson noted, “Man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind.” But there I go again quoting a person known to have actually existed.The real problem with theists is that they are offended that secularists have again found their voice. It is similar to political conservatives, whom after having bullied their way about through most of this new millennium, were so offended by the Leftist blogosphere that sprouted to counteract their influence, that they felt the need to only describe the blogosphere in terms of “ragers”, “haters”, “flamethrowers” and the like.Their elevated sense of superiority simply could not comprehend the idea that anyone would speak truth to power, would show the facile flaws in their thinking. Therefore it was all extreme to their way of thinking, and they attempted to diminish it by describing it in those terms. Yet, it was only one more thing about which they were mistaken.When I was growing up, you were pilloried if you dare utter such blashemous content as to suggest atheism is as equally a reasonable approach to life as Christianity. The fact that you can do so today, without being “crucified” as a Madalyn Murray O’Hair, is modernity enough.

  • Gerry

    Mary,I agree with your insight that Enlightenment is coming to an end, at least as far as you and your associates are concerned, and I am even seeing some light at the end of the tunnel, watching your discomfort. And I can see how “assuming you accept this, you can see why this virulent brand of atheism for me is so very disturbing”, you say. Not disturbing enough!Getting pulled out of one’s cozy superstition is always very disturbing, “thank god”! The mere fact that it is so disturbing might make somebody else stop to reconsider the sources of fanaticism, but of course it corroborates your adamant belief in your catholic “eternal truth”. The world needs more people like you “staying the course”.And thanks for the quotation of my and especially your own posts! Bravo! What a brilliant reply of yours you quote, in case someone has overlooked it! I am disappointed, though, that I didn’t make it to be the worst. I must give it another try.Gerry, recently converted to terrorism for thinking humans should be free.

  • victoria

    i think you’ve defined it succinctly stefan

  • E favorite

    Wasabi – Hope you’re still here. Please consider that the washington post has done its readers a great service by letting us know about Berlinerblau’s views and giving us the opportunity to respond directly to him. Also he has the chance to see how we react – something he wouldn’t ordinarily get in his ivory tower.Who knows, maybe it will have a beneficial effect on him.

  • Michael A

    Because non-theists are FINALLY speaking out, the theists of the world have to debunk them. Got news for all the theists out there – you do not have the answers – you have faith – stop spreading your faith all over our country. It was founded on religious freedom – INCLUDING THE RIGHT NOT TO BELIEVE IN AN IMAGINARY FRIEND – and, (shocker) still be heard by our government, which has taken a nasty turn inward and backward toward religion and god-controlled lives. Dont get me started on how unreliable the bible and other religious texts are….

  • Nick Gisburne

    To assume that the ‘poster boys’ of atheism (Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, et al) are the sole voices of atheism would be wrong. There IS a grass-roots movement in atheism, seen in the video makers of YouTube and many, many writers who blog daily on the subject across the spectrum of science, politics, ethics, psychology, and many other subjects related to religion and its faults. Christianity and Islam have themselves nothing new to offer – tongue-in-cheek I would ask: where are the sequels to the Bible and the Qur’an?May I recommend two books which are as far from the academic-based polemics of the headline atheists as it is possible to get:Nothing: Something to Believe in (Nica Lalli)The latter author, coincidentally, shares my name, address and date of birth!

  • yoyo

    I would like to believe in God.

  • E favorite

    Hello, Interested. Nice to see you here. Please be careful, though, to not over-quote me. While I did point out that Berlinerblau is a non-believer, I did not comment on his motives. He may want “more creative, more intellectually sound articulations of secularism” but I think he’s also irritated that other authors’ books are doing a lot better than his has. He’s also out-of-touch enough to open his essay by blasting atheist commentators – exactly what he accuses them of doing to religious believers. This is not what I’d call a sophisticated approach – unless it’s so sophisticated that I don’t get it.I find it fascinating that, even though it’s been mentioned several times now, a lot of the posters don’t seem to realize that Berlinerblau is himself a non-believer. I suspect that’s because people are so incensed by what he’s written that they reflexively respond, without first reading other posts. They want to give him a piece of their minds! To point out the holes in his thinking! Accuse him of blasting atheism! Reading his essay gives the false impression that he’s a believer. He never says he isn’t. It’s only because I did a little extra looking (after deducing that his book and his academic position did not suggest “believer” the way his essay did) that I found references stating that he is not a believer.

  • faithful

    It is sad that the people on this board have so little respect for the beliefs of others. As nonbelievers you don’t follow and study and live the faith of the people you insult. Don’t mention Falwell and Robertson to a true Christian. They don’t represent us. Christians Love God and Love their neighbor. True Christians believe that God is Love. A true Christian does not hold hate in their heart. A True Christian fights for the poor and the sick. Just because the Coulter’s of the world claim they know God and believe in the Lord, does not mean that they do. You can not spread lies and hate and know God. I don’t expect any one to believe what I believe. But don’t insult because you believe differently. Bad people have done bad things in the name of religion. But, bad people have done bad things in the name of science as well.

  • Anonymous

    Secularism: Boring (Part 1).Based on the rave reviews on this comments page, I can’t wait for the sequel! Bring on Part 2!

  • lambert strether

    What a hoot! I expected to find a bestselling author actually critqued or even mentioned.But n-o-o-o-o! All we get are generalizations and platitudes. To respond to only two:1. “nonbelievers craving media attention” — Last I checked, there was no secular equivalent of the Christianist Broadcasting Company, the 700 Club, or any of the many, many, many “pastors” on TV and radio stations all over the country. The country’s awash in religiosity, and somehow secularists are craving attention?2. “athiests have no new ideas” — Why do we need them? God has been the same bad idea since first invented. Why are we the ones who have to come up with new ideas?

  • Aaron

    1. The argument that the thinkers who are currently publishing books concerning religion and atheism are somehow “hooligans” is laughable. All of the voices I have read (Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins) have been very thoughtful and insightful, not unreasonable. None that I am aware have seriously suggested that religion should be banned, but it would not be uncommon for religious people (serious spokespeople mind you) to advocate for the forced religious compliance of all people. Calling atheism advocates hooligans is a completely false comparison.2. Secularism is boring…would that be because it has not had to consistently modify its ideas and conclusions since its introduction because logic and reason always come to the same conclusion? (Yes, of course, secularists vary and there are certainly ones that are worthy of much criticism. This is another problem with the statement since it lumps all secularism together, but for the sake of argument, I’m going to go with the version of secularism that describes me and many others, something along the lines of secular humanism) I’ll take correct and boring over constantly having to change my story to accomodate social progress and putting myself back into the right temporarily, until something else comes along that I’m horribly wrong about, but then I have to change because people start to realize how disgustingly immoral the old conclusions were (God says slavery is OK!…no wait. God says homosexuality is BAD…I can’t wait for the full reversal on this one :) )

  • A Hermit

    “bad people have done bad things in the name of science as well.”Not sure that’s exactly right; people have used science to do bad things, but it’s always in the name of something else; nationalism, race, religion, politics, economics. I can’t think of any examples of atrocities commited “in the name of” science…RegardsA Hermit

  • rm -rf

    How to get the secular-humanists back on track…Physics, History, Biology, Mathematics etc… are all boring, old and depressing – forget this stuff, nobody wants it, it is just not selling…What we need is an audio-visual presentation in which we tell people that they will live forever and be reunited with all their loved ones when they die. Where if they wish for something really hard a miracle will happen. That there is a being who will right all the injustices in the world… eventually… maybe in the afterlife. We can say it is all true because it is based on an almost unitelligible and ambiguous ancient text that only a select few can interpert. Oh and that they need to give us money so we can interpert the will of God for them – maybe we could even get/buy a president some day!that should get us back on track with some new ideas – it is all about the marketing…

  • rumicat

    So agnostics don’t have political power and are therefore boring and stuipid….

  • Katheryn Kenyon

    As an athiest, I challenge the writer’s view that “secularism” is stuck in the past. What a ridiculous statement given that all religions are completely stuck in the deep, deep past. Welcome to the 21st century people. We desperately need more individuals who value reason over fantasy.

  • jay

    “I can’t think of any examples of atrocities commited “in the name of” science…”Certain medical experimentation on humans, e.g. Nazi Germany or Tuskegee syphilis study. I don’t know of a scientist who condones those, but they were done.

  • victoria

    im a theist, and am not offended by secular voices, as i also have one. nor am i a political conservative by any means. it occurred to me that (ill just say atheists, insert any term appropriate) atheists say that rational thought is the only valid reasoning process. ok, well take that as a base. but if one ONLY uses rational thought- in a purely practical and machiavellian and evolutionary only the strong survive sense- what is the purpose of what is called humanity? (notice machievellian is first- please not the argument of compassion being necessary for survival- lets assume its purely practical and only rational thought will reign for this discussion) how does a rational atheist decide what is good? and how does “knowing” something is ‘good’ or ‘right’ differ from “knowing” there is a concerned and involved deity? ISTM this “knowledge” is based on the same inner counter-rational intuition that knowledge of god is based on. clearly from a purely scientific and logical stance, things like love, compassion,empathy etc… only get in the way of human success. (defining success from the physical and intellectual view) fulfillment of what i call the soul is not necessary to be a competent efficient human. so what is the criteria for asessing what is goodness? one can abuse and twist the humanist code to selfish ends just like a religious code. just curious, and respecting humanists atheists etc…. enough to be interested in their reasoned analysis. peace all

  • victoria

    im a theist, and am not offended by secular voices, as i also have one. nor am i a political conservative by any means. it occurred to me that (ill just say atheists, insert any term appropriate) atheists say that rational thought is the only valid reasoning process. ok, well take that as a base. but if one ONLY uses rational thought- in a purely practical and machiavellian and evolutionary only the strong survive sense- what is the purpose of what is called humanity? (notice machievellian is first- please not the argument of compassion being necessary for survival- lets assume its purely practical and only rational thought will reign for this discussion) how does a rational atheist decide what is good? and how does “knowing” something is ‘good’ or ‘right’ differ from “knowing” there is a concerned and involved deity? ISTM this “knowledge” is based on the same inner counter-rational intuition that knowledge of god is based on. clearly from a purely scientific and logical stance, things like love, compassion,empathy etc… only get in the way of human success. (defining success from the physical and intellectual view) fulfillment of what i call the soul is not necessary to be a competent efficient human. so what is the criteria for asessing what is goodness? one can abuse and twist the humanist code to selfish ends just like a religious code. just curious, and respecting humanists atheists etc…. enough to be interested in their reasoned analysis. peace all

  • jay

    Victoria: I would argue that you have it somewhat backwards. Religions have codified many behaviors they deem “good” but they certainly didn’t invent most of those guidelines. Humans are social animals, and our codes of conduct have a deep history. Cooperation and mutual support go way back and certainly occur in other social animals. Love, empathy, compassion — especially for those closest to us has parallels in other primates and there is reason to believe that they have benefited species who rely on a social network for survival. Many of our ideas about “good” and “bad” have changed over time. Slavery was once okay, as long as it wasn’t your particular group that was enslaved. Stoning someone for wearing the wrong fabric was okay. You find lots of things in the OT that we don’t regard as worthy of punishment anymore. Our ideas have changed with the increasing complexity of human society, and we recognize that black-and-white answers don’t always work. The overarching “good” that seems to be found in most democratic societies is that the individual should be respected, that rights extend only as far as where they start to interfere with those of someone else, that certain means of arbitration and decision making have to be put in place to ensure that individuals and their rights are not violated.

  • Patrick

    This author has not respect for other beliefs other than his own, which is obvious from his first sentence.The author wrote..”Nonbelief will not become any less dull or predictable if it keeps wrapping stale criticisms of religion in more incendiary packaging. Fresh criticisms of religion in incendiary packaging are always welcome.”No more need be said, unless the fundamentalists want to beat up everyone that does not agree with them.

  • Ryan Haber

    Ok, I’ll chime in as a moderate believer, though I am not sure I am a moderate in your sense, because I am not sure what you mean by “liberal” or “moderate”, E-Favorite.I am completely devoted to the Catholic faith and the Church that holds and teaches it. I am also imperfect, in fact, riddled with sins and vices, as is the Church to which I belong. I was not born into a particularly religious family, but have become increasingly religious as time has passed, while some of my family have grown increasingly indifferent. If I am a moderate because I try to reason, and recognize that others have a right to reason, wherever their reason takes them, then so be it. If to be a moderate means to try to understand things in themselves, things in their moral and spiritual implications, and what roles churches and states should have in public life, without conducting the discussion in animosity or vitriol, then I am a moderate. But heaven protect me from the implication that I hold a moderated form of the Catholic faith. I am not.I had not chimed in previously because the dynamic was interesting enough. Professor Berlinerblau’s essay is not an attack on religion, but a critique of secularism in its current presentation. So religious people assume he is religious, and irreligious people make the same assumption. His critique is simply this: that secularism in its modern presentation is boring. He tips his hand slightly with diction that shows he believes this fact to be a bad thing.I agree with him that modern secularism is boring. I do not agree with him that the dullness is a bad thing.Modern secularists, along with most secularists, express their disgust with hoodwinking televangists who take advantage of mass media outlets to try to make a buck. Their disgust is very well founded. I cannot for the life of me stop laughing at the amount of money authors like Hitchens, Dawkins, Stenger, and Harris garner on their book sales. I can’t believe that so few seem to notice the sort of rhetoric they use, the sort of money they bring in, and wonder if they will also start television programs as telesecularists.Lots of religious people come across as angry. Many of them are, about one thing or another. All of secularism’s major voices, and most of its most active voices, come across as angry. Berlinerblau is right: rhetoric like “religion wrecks everything,” etc., mostly implying that about 90% of the world’s population is stupid, is not a very smooth or convincing way to make a case. Such rhetoric makes secularists seem to be angry and arrogant: not a very appealing combination. Most people don’t want to be or be associated with angry and arrogant people. Even if they thought secularism could possibly offer something positive to offer the world, like a balanced environment for open discourse, or scientific advances, they are not very likely to listen while being shouted at and called things like “imbecile”.Jay noted that secularism has issued a steady stream of scientific advances, but that is not exactly true. Many scientific advances, perhaps even most, have been made by secular-minded people, to be sure. But far too many advances and discoveries have been made by religious-minded people (who could not imagine why science should be considered an atheistic pursuit) to claim “science” as an achievement of secularism. An easy example is the eclipse of geocentrism by heliocentrism. It is not called the Copernican Revolution in science textbooks for nothing. Copernicus, not Galileo, developed the theories and found astronomical data to support them and to render the ptolemaic theories obsolete. That’s why it’s called the Copernican Revolution. And he was handsomely rewarded by the Catholic university at which he taught. Galileo’s punishment had nothing to do with the Copernican theories (that we 100 years old by his day) but with the secular ideology he attached to them. Speaking of Catholic universities, all universities as we know them today have their origin in the first universities, which were all Catholic universities. They grew, in the Middle Ages, out of the cathedral schools of the Dark Ages, when a schoolboy culture that could barely read and liked to fight a lot grew up enough to read and discuss civilly.Jay also noted that secularism has given us civil rights, but that also is false. The idea of civil rights is found nowhere in the ancient pagan literature. That’s just not the way people thought. But we certainly had civil rights before the last 100 years in which Jay expresses interest. Those civil rights were not founded in secularism, at least not according to our nation’s founders, who found those rights in the will of humanity’s Creator.Here’s my final analysis, to make a long chime short:”Seculum”, in Latin, means “the age” and refers to the world of here-and-now. Its opposite is “aeternum” and it means ageless, eternal, and it does not exclude the here-and-now, but only the exclusively-here-and-now. Aeterum speaks of the hereafter, but also the consequences of the here-and-now in the hereafter.I am not opposed to secularity, the idea that things can be considered primarily in light of this-worldly, natural, nonsupernatural causes and implications. That is a perfectly intelligent idea. It is Aristotle’s innovation over Plato.Secularism might be understood as the certain conviction that these purely natural and immediate causes and implications are all that really exist. Or else it might be understood as the more practical but less coherent conviction that those are all that should be publicly discussed. The first sort of secularism is commonly held by atheists, the other is commonly held by agnostics and religious secularists. But toward either sort of secularism, how can I but disagree? I have reason to believe that there are really things that are not merely unexplained, or even unexplainable with our current understanding of the laws of nature, but that are explainable within nature as such. If these things are real, then they can interact with the rest of reality, and reality will best be understood taking them into account.Secularity, the idea that this world can be discussed on its own merits, without reference to God, etc., I accept. Secularism, the ideology that this world MUST be discussed ONLY in such terms – well, that’s the secularists throwing down the gauntlet, not I. I am willing to discuss secular things. For their part, secularists don’t even seem to mind spiritually-minded discussion as long as they need not hear it, i.e., as long as it is out of the hearing of the public. To repress it they cry foul, mock, and instigate lawsuits, none of which, of course, help them come across as anything but angry and arrogant.Well, that’s my two (or twenty) cents.

  • Kathryn Simmons

    There is no god, it is mythology–why does that statement require anything? I feel sorry for people steeped in this mythology. There is no way to be free as an individual as long as one believes everything comes from some supernatural power.

  • Gerry

    Victoria,here I am again: You write: “…but if one ONLY uses rational thought- in a purely practical and machiavellian and evolutionary only the strong survive sense-what is the purpose of what is called humanity?”I am such a rational atheist and I claim the possession of love, compassion and empathy as much as yours. The word “machiavellian” does not have a meaning in this context, because it blurs the discussion by an implicit prejudice, even sly accusation.A lot of people love me, thousands read and learn from my books about music, respect even my errors – and I feel the same towards my friends and family, even unknown sympathizers.I don’t believe in any god, Allah or Jahwe, or Zeus, for that matter, and I think it is high time we start to upvalue reason and honest thinking instead of always putting it into an inferior position to faith. Alas, even convinced atheists and agnostics often put themselves into the defense position instead of taking the stance that free, unrestrained, unforced thinking is the first attribute of human dignity, way above of god – “fearing” – fearing a self-made spectre! To me, faith is the inferior level of human spiritual potential as compared to honest, profound and accountable thinking (and acting, accordingly)!If you cancel your favorite word “only” in your religious preachings, we would already be one huge step further!

  • jay

    Ryan: Two points of clarification.Religious people have made scientific advances, as you note. But the advances resulted from a naturalistic perspective of the problem they were trying to solve. They did not go to religious texts or seek divine revelation to answer these questions, they looked to nature and recorded and interpreated what they saw. Regardless of their faith, or lack thereof, they used methodological naturalism, the same tool scientists use today.I don’t think I said that civil rights were solely the product of secularists. I even noted that religious people were involved. Obviously MLK was no secularist. However it took some secularist thinking to get past the idea that people should not be judged by their faith, gender, race, etc. but rather by their status as individuals. Consider the current battles over the rights of gays to marry or adopt, or women to have a say in whether they have a child or not. Secularists and some more liberal religious folks are their primary allies. Their primary (perhaps only?) opposition comes from certain conservative religious groups.Anytime we try to improve the civil rights of a particular group, look to who the opposition is. I think you will always find a religious faction.

  • Jeff

    False stereotyping of non-believers is simply bigoted. Many of us non-believers are reasoned and respectful in our arguments. However, we are not published because our quiet comments do not get the ratings/readership of the unpleasant, sensational comments. This is true in all media and on every subject. You should know that by now.

  • the real tony

    Please don’t tell me you didn’t see this coming, Jacques?First of all, there is a good deal of “hooliganism” when “the faithful” talk about each other. When I first moved to North Carolina in 1981, I had people ask me with a straight face if priests really molested boys. I don’t want to bore you with other, similar tales, but it happens.I vary in my belief from Lapsed Catholic to Agnostic. Not ready for aetheist, I’m afraid, but I see their point.As for this “hooliganism” you mention, well, what do you expect after 20 years of Jerry Falwell’s interpretation of Christ’s Word? What am I supposed to make of the middle east, where supposedly authentic Jews and Moslems not only cannot make peace, they can’t even see the potential benefits of peace, blinded as they are by mutual hatred? You should be glad this secular hooliganism isn’t half as bad as it could be.

  • Elmo

    An acquaintance who is a follower (practitioner?) of the Baha’i faith was telling me about reading The God Delusion. So I picked up a copy at the library and started to read it. I don’t think Prof. Dawkins is using any of the epithets you describe. So there’s one place where your lead paragraph is — in a strange and counterintuitive twist of reverse logic — actually supporting the case that at least some of those epithets could be accurately applied to you.

  • interested

    To E. Favorite:My comment about Berlinerblau’s motives was my own. You are absolutely right that Berlinerblau could learn from the responses to his post–especially the ones that didn’t understand his post. Rob’s point that Dawkins and Harris have galvanized a movement and legitimated a political voice in our society is well taken. It seems that political movements need “shrill” voices to give others courage. It’s disappointing to read so many people misunderstand Berlinerblau. Right in the beginning, he defines his terms. He defines secularism as a sort of civil order (=”secular society”) that is advocated by both irreligious and religious people. Take a look at Harris’ column in the LA Times, if you haven’t already (www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-harris15mar15,0,671840.story?coll=la-home-commentary). It is evidence of Berlinerblau’s point. In his article, Harris describes two concentric circles. The interior one represents fundamentalists who, he feels, are dangerous and destructive to our society. The outer circle represents religious moderates, who in his view protect, legitimate, and require tolerance of fundamentalists. Harris argues therefore that religious moderates are just as dangerous to the health of society as religious fundamentalists. So Harris does want to wake up one morning and find religions only in museums of the past. It seems that for Berlinerblau Harris’ claims are examples of ‘uncreative’ secular thinking that disrupt without any positive outcome (hoolinganism). First, in practical terms, religion isn’t going to disappear. So if we want a secular polity (=secularism)–one that necessarily includes and is supported by religious people–we need creative proposals of how to achieve that in our day. Second, in terms of retaining a secular polity in the U.S., Berlinerblau doesn’t see religious moderates as arch enemies like Harris does. He recognizes that religious moderates are just as scandalized by the politics of the religious right as the irreligious. Berlinerblau isn’t abusing his political allies. (Much of the seminal thinking behind the separation of church and state in the U.S. came from committed religious people.) I think that Berlinerblau’s criticisms of Dawkins and Harris are right on.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, someone employed by a religious institution demeaning those who can be labeled “non-believers.” What a surprise.This “On Faith” part of the Post sucks.

  • Rich

    Why should academics or intellectuals invest any passion in disputing with the forces of theistic religion? No matter how large their numbers, they are simply, factually, wrong, and will be eventually and inevitably swept away by the tide of history. Your deliberate attempt to paint the opponents of theistic religion as extremists is more revealing of your own feelings of inadequacy about your position than it is an accurate description of what you’ve read. I’m sorry it makes you angry that you can’t stamp out your own doubt, but the cure for that is to let go of the myth, not to demonize those who remind you of your poor choice…

  • ray

    So religion is about political power? Thanks for coming out of the closet.

  • MIKE

    yeah, because when pat robertson pontificates, it’s like the skies opened up and the word of God sang forth.piss off, tool of the religious right.

  • MIKE

    yeah, because when pat robertson pontificates, it’s like the skies opened up and the word of God sprang forth.piss off, tool of the religious right.

  • Secular

    Mr. Berlinerblau:

  • dlw

    kudos to Ryan Haber.I liked his exposition of how a religious person can embrace secularism. As a political-economist who recently graduated from seminary with a masters in church history, I appreciate the historical view on things and the continuity between “modernity” and “pre-modernity”. our attitudes about Science vs Religion tend to be somewhat whiggish and we easily argue from the part to the whole, ignoring the extent that the name of Science gets taken in vain, particularly in my field of Economics. Reality is kaleidoscopic and can be defensibly interpreted from a matrix of perspectives. I think we also get stuck with popularized notions of “science” that when taken to their “logical-conclusions” produce more heat than light.these are thoughts…dlw

  • A Hermit

    “…Certain medical experimentation on humans, e.g. Nazi Germany or Tuskegee syphilis study…”The Nazis committed their atrocities in the name of the German race; Tuskegee is a good example of an unethical study, I guess we count those, but I’m not sure they rise to the level of the Holocaust or witch hunts…

  • newageblues

    The new Pope is a spiritual hooligan himelf, claiming there’s is no such thing as a Protestant church, and claiming along with many others, that there is no morality outside of religion. What does Mr. Berlinerblau think of the constant insults of seculars coming from the religious side?

  • seattledodger

    Interested gets to the key point: “So if we want a secular polity (=secularism)–one that necessarily includes and is supported by religious people–we need creative proposals of how to achieve that in our day.”so the faithful claim the ‘secular’ as theirs as well? this is the key conceit of the author and, indeed, has been missed by most of the (otherwise spot on) critics.first of all, it’s really disturbing that the author and his supporters could conceive that non-believers in x (let’s say the god Thor) can be defined in any reasonable way by that attribute. but that’s their game. secondly, he creates a special definintion of ‘secular’ that’s utterly disingenuous. note how they can claim to be religious when it suits but then magically tranform into ‘secular’ actors in politics, culture, etc.these are not just deluded folks, but dangerous ones.the fact that the religious need some ‘secular’ space or else they literally couldn’t live with the rest of us says far more about them than it does about non-believers. this author is really all about re-defining ‘secular’ to be just a subset of religious. nice trick, but it’s the same old crap warmed over.

  • A Hermit

    Two points, Seattledodger;First of all the author is apparently not a religious believer, and secondly, religious people certainly can be secular also; secular is not synonymous with atheist, it is the recognition that religion and politics shouldn’t mix. I’d think the more believers we can get on board with that ideea that better.Berlinerblau makes some good points, but he also wrote a confusing, unclear and seemingly self contradictory post…something I’VE never done…;-)… He dislikes the “hooligans” but thinks secularism is too dull and wishes for more “Fresh criticisms of religion in incendiary packaging…”Hopefully part two of his commentary will be a little less muddled…this one had that “thinking out loud” quality to it.RegardsA Hermit

  • AJ

    Perhaps you should begin your piece with a quote or eight from the “hooligan” agnostic and atheist commentators you deplore. Who are you talking about? Sam Harris? Richard Dawkins? Christopher Hitchens? Your garden-variety commenter at any of a million political websites?Methinks we are looking at another disingenuous strawman argument from the “values” militia.If you want to debate with an agnostic or an atheist, debate their ideas, not their manners.

  • Jed Rothwell

    Berlinerblau says that all atheist authors describe believers as “imbeciles, extremists, mental deficients, fascists, enemies of the common good, crypto-Nazis, conjure men, irrationalists, pedophiles. . .” I do not find any of these terms in the books by Jacoby or Dawkins.Perhaps Berlinerblau is suffering from cognitive dissonance. He believes the freethinkers are shouting insults when in fact they are presenting calm, rational, quiet and — I believe — irrefutable arguments.Berlinerblau says the arguments are “stale” which I presume means old, unfashionable, or perhaps often repeated. As long as an argument has merit I do not see why it matters how old it is. Berlinerblau should address the content of the arguments rather than their age. In any case, arguments supporting religion have not changed in thousands of years, and they are largely incompatible with a modern scientific outlook. (Most scientists are atheists, as shown by public opinion surveys cited by Dawkins and the Scientific American.)

  • yoyo

    VictoriaRegarding your comments above…

  • MultiplePOV

    Is the Washington Post ready to initiate an “On Secularism” section? Provide a platform for secular voices; then you’ll see some thoughtful, lively, reasoned discourse. (I’m not talking about a secularist given a chance for a rebuttal opinion piece subsumed in a section titled “On Faith.”) With no such forum in the offing, replies such as “…reactions ON THESE BOARDS which are NOT ‘routinely dismissed and drowned out’ but given full vent” are disingenuous at best.

  • Anonymous

    Calling those who call you imbeciles hooligans make you no better then them, yes?Physician, heal thyself.

  • seattledodger

    A Hermit: “First of all the author is apparently not a religious believer, and secondly, religious people certainly can be secular also; secular is not synonymous with atheist, it is the recognition that religion and politics shouldn’t mix.”hey, dude. well, does this mean that those who are religious must somehow separate their religion from the rest of their lives? how could they, and why should they? i don’t check my deepest beliefs when i enter the politcal fray.no, this smacks of the ‘separate but equal’ stuff they used to pull down south where i come from. the term ‘secular’ is really a confused and confusing concept. is it a space ‘outside’ of religion where the non-religious and religous can interact politically? is it a state of mind? or is it perhaps a philosophical equivalent to the theatrical ‘suspension of disbelief’ – or rather the reverse in this case? or, as i suspect, is it just another version of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’this issue is a subtext in this contribution, but i suspect that this is at the heart of what this author is about.

  • ReginaldSkeptic

    “If only it could be so….”Or, Kathryn, as John Lennon so eloquently put it:

  • Marianna Trench

    What was that great quote always attributed to Gandhi? “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”I see we’ve reached the “ridicule” stage here. Congratulations, my fellow secular humanists, this is progress! But strap on your no-gospel armor, it’s gonna get bloody.And for what it’s worth, I find Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris to be witty, eloquent, way more knowledgeable than their opposition, and yeah, even kind of sexy. Maybe it’s just that there’s a kind of appealing bad-boy element to atheism.–mt

  • jay

    “the old social animal for survival argument was specifically requested by myself not to be suffiecient for this question,i was hoping for something deeper-”I think I provided that answer, but maybe Gerry did also. Just because you don’t like it or didn’t request it doesn’t make it invalid. How much “deeper” do you want it? Do we toss out answers until you find one you like?

  • james tapley

    Please produce the tiniest piece of objective evidence for the truth of your sky god beliefs. Describe a single reproducible experiment which will prove your beliefs superior to those of, say, the Classic Maya.

  • MultiplePOV

    Basically, Mr. Berlinerblau, you need to lighten up.Apart from universal salvationists, religionists believe that since secularists don’t see things the way they do, an all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing being will consign them to unbearable, agonizing torment which may even be everlasting.Secularists, on the other hand, believe that since religionists don’t see things the way they do, they’re silly.Which attitude smacks more of hooliganism?

  • John Hubbard

    Perhaps there are no great thinkers about atheism simply because there isn’t much to think about. Most religion is obvious nonsense, and there isn’t much more to say.Actually, to me at least, the question is “how can anyone be religious?” Maybe some deism is vaguely understandable, especially as god and physical law become more and more indistinguishable, but the actual dogma of all established religion is obvious gobbledygook.So the question to answer is “why religion?”, and more particularly, “why ethics?”. It is all very well to say that there are no atheistic thinkers on the subject, but I suggest Axelrod and the strategy “tit for tat” as a definite counterexample. In fact, I think of Axelrod’s experiment as the only interesting thing anyone has ever said about ethics.Pleawse, when talking about the secularists, remember that 90% of the National Academy of Sciences members claim to have no perswonal religion. They may not be “thinkers about atheism, but they most certainly are thinkers and atheists.

  • pv

    I’ve read some very cogent and non-negative reasoning and words by ‘non-believers’ here today. Mr. Jacques’ premise was weak and ignorant.

  • A Hermit

    “does this mean that those who are religious must somehow separate their religion from the rest of their lives?”No, just that they recognize the best way to protect THEIR religious liberty is to protect EVERYONE’S, and that the only way to do that is to keep doctrinal religousconsiderations out of the political process.Most religious people I’ve met don’t have much of a problem doing that.

  • Capt. Fogg

    “Can an atheist or agnostic commentator discuss any aspect of religion for more than thirty seconds without referring to religious people as imbeciles,etc.”Well, of course and its done all the time and I’m attempting to do so now, but you’re not talking about the disparate set of people who do not believe in the supernatural, but in a group of “commentators” you’ve chosen as typical of a category of your own confection. There’s a problem with trying to establish a leadership or spokesmanship for those who have nothing in common but disbelief in a supernatural entity of certain properties which are at best, much in dispute amongst believers. Are you really trying to say that Atheists have something more in common than an unwillingness to accept your explanation of nature? Why would you attempt that if you weren’t building a foundation for the calling of names and the building of negative stereotypes?But of course since your query asks if I, without benefit of the supernatural, can talk about religion (as you define it) without doing it in a negative fashion ( as you define it) it’s a rigged query, isn’t it? Since Atheism isn’t a belief in anything, it cannot be coming up with anything new with reference to something that isn’t believed and since you won’t allow anything to be said about the history of religions that isn’t flattering despite the existence of that history, I’m restricted, by the rules of your game to flattery.If I honestly don’t see anything in the universe that suggests either the supernatural in general or a supernatural entity of any kind, the only way I can change my observations with the intention of being less “boring” would be to accept notions for which I see no foundation. In other words, you’re asking me to be dishonest about what I think for the sake of becoming a believer and that would make me a hypocrite, a thing I would avoid calling believers in general lest I lose my bet with you – unless I misunderstand, of course. So it really isn’t a serious query, is it? It’s a credo to rally the believers and burn the heretics, be they only of straw. Verbally, of course. I wasn’t suggesting anything about history.

  • Nuh: To James Tapley

    Hey buddy, you say:”Please produce the tiniest piece of objective evidence for the truth of your sky god beliefs. Describe a single reproducible experiment which will prove your beliefs superior to those of, say, the Classic Maya. It is not we unbelievers who must disprove your lies; you must demonstrate their truth.”If you have conviction about your beliefs (or non-beliefs, if you so insist), why would you care about what the believers think or believe in. Why do you ask for evidence? Not quite sure whether your “non-belief” if really correct? Still trying to gather evidence to decide which side of the fence to jump to? Guess that is how most non-believers are, NEVER SURE of themselves…they would always ask for evidence from believers!

  • pv

    In my humble opinion, “GOD” is what started the universe…. caused the “Big Bang”. Whatever entity it is that started this whole shebang in motion. But he’s not a little old man that’s sitting around on his cloud waiting for you to call him so he can step in and intervene on your behalf or punish other people because they DON’T believe. Praying makes you feel better; it ends there. And there haven’t been any miracles either… No raising anybody from the dead, unless they were in a coma. No walking on water (he was on a sandbar, OK?) No making the little French Nurse’s cancer go away because the Pope touched her. It’s not true. The ROUND Earth goes around the Sun. It’s BILLIONS of years old. It’s a wonderful planet we live on and people can be amazing creatures. Start thinking for yourselves.

  • Robert Bott

    Secularists don’t need new thinkers; the Enlightenment had plenty. Voltaire: “Religion began when the first scoundrel met the first fool.”Tom Paine: “My own mind is my own Church.”

  • Glenn Elliott

    I have but two comments to add to this:First, an argument loses some persuasive power when it rhetorically asks whether it is possible for athiest or agnostic commentators to go 30 seconds without calling believers nasty names, and then, less than 30 seconds later, it proceeds to call such people the “soccer hooligans of reasoned public discourse.”Second, and this is important, I think it’s sad that one important assumption is often made in the debate between athiest and agnostics, on the one hand, and believers, on the other. That assumption is that those who do not believe in a higher being or subscribe to a particular religion need to continually come up with “new ideas” to defend their position. But why? If you are a person who values reason and scientific method and are 99.9% certain that the “debate” on these issues ended when Charles Darwin first mapped out the “descent of man”, what obligates you to come up with new, fresh ideas for stating the obvious (in your mind, at least)? Sure, you can cite scientific studies about the Big Bang or discuss carbon dating of fossils dating back millions of years ago, but that’s not really a new idea, it’s just reinforcing the original idea that where science says one thing, and faith directly contradicts, you’re in the camp that sides with science and reason when it comes to matters of creation. You have no obligation to come up with any new “idea” at this point, and in fact, doing so could even be seen as a sign of weakness (just as some would argue that the so-called “Intelligent Design” movement is really an attempt to repackage creationism, which is supported by no facts, into a theory that is more difficult to defeat with facts). The bottom line is that there either is a higher being or there is not. All the arguments in the world aren’t going to change that, and both sides in this debate would be better served by spending less time coming up with “new” arguments and ideas to attack the other side’s views, and more time focusing on what the real disagreement is at the most basic levels.

  • seattledodger

    A Hermit: “First of all the author is apparently not a religious believer, and secondly, religious people certainly can be secular also; secular is not synonymous with atheist, it is the recognition that religion and politics shouldn’t mix.”hey, dude. well, does this mean that those who are religious must somehow separate their religion from the rest of their lives? how could they, and why should they? i don’t check my deepest beliefs when i enter the politcal fray.no, this smacks of the ‘separate but equal’ stuff they used to pull down south where i come from. the term ‘secular’ is really a confused and confusing concept. is it a space ‘outside’ of religion where the non-religious and religous can interact politically? is it a state of mind? or is it perhaps a philosophical equivalent to the theatrical ‘suspension of disbelief’ – or rather the reverse in this case? or, as i suspect, is it just another version of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’this issue is a subtext in this contribution, but i suspect that this is at the heart of what this author is about.

  • yoyo

    MultiplovVictoria.

  • Minnesota_Rationalist

    I don’t see that how nonbelief can ever be anything other than dull and predictable. If I don’t believe in God- and I don’t- then there is really nothing more to write or say about my nonbelief. I would rather discuss ideas I find meaningful and worthy of intellectual engagement. The ideas of people with unshakeable religious views are similarly dull: Is anything more boring than a televangelist who speaks from the same script day after day after day? What enrages me, and what I suspect enrages many other non-believers, is that some religious people would assert that my absence of any belief in God means that I have, by definition, no standing to discuss issues of morality. Last Friday, Michael Gerson published a piece in the Washington Post in which he wrote, “Atheists can be good people; they just have no objective way to judge the conduct of those who are not.” Unless Mr. Gerson can demonstrate that all religious people of all faiths will always agree on what is “good” conduct- and he cannot- then he seems to be suggesting that it’s not just atheists who are misguided. For his statement to be true, it must follow that, somewhere in the cosmos, there is a single, authentic moral truth, some absolute arbiter of all issues: abortion, war, the distribution of property, everything. The idea is not just wrong, it is dangerous. And it is why nonbelievers feel that they must respond forcefully to people like Mr. Gerson and Dr. Berlinerblau, and to do so in language that, sometimes, is intemperate, rude, and incendiary.

  • David Yatim

    One reason why secularism has not achieved the political muscle that evangelicalism has, as the author properly notes, is the fact that to reach a truly secular (but moral) position, it is required to have a substantial amount of personal development and intellectual fortitude. This is not the case of evangelicals, because whereas true seculars place all the responsibility on individuals (and groups of – that is, society) evangelicals forfeit all control of life to God – an altogether easier stance to have. Try to see it this way: who sells more CDs? Britney Spears, or the Boston Symphony Orchestra? Think of Britney’s popular reach as her ‘political muscle’… Does this make her any more attractive an object of interest?

  • seattledodger

    A Hermit: “No, just that they recognize the best way to protect THEIR religious liberty is to protect EVERYONE’S, and that the only way to do that is to keep doctrinal religousconsiderations out of the political process.”sorry for the double-post; hit the wrong button.anyway, secularism is just another word for tolerance then? and what if ‘doctrinal religious considerations’ are at the root of, say, your opposition to abortion? or a war? a person of faith can’t check their religion at the door. nor would i ask them to. that’s why this ‘secularism’ stuff is really just a sham.i think folks should be EXPLICIT about what they think and why.

  • daniel

    I have no desire to comment on the author’s piece, but I do wish at least some atheists would acknowledge the complexity of understanding morality in a world without God. For Millenia we have had Gods and Goddesses of various types and systems of good and evil and even if not having had Gods or Goddesses at times we have always supposed in some sort of absolute good we could aim at to orient ourselves. The path of atheism has been diminishing a belief in God and increasingly marching to the beat of science, but this has also been cutting into absolute notions of good and evil. This has made determining the both more and more difficult.I am not saying we should not take this path, but we have atheists naively saying “not only can we be good without God, it is religion largely the source of evil”, and in general telling us to take it for granted man can be good in the absence of religion. The veriest simpleton can see that 1) a world without God means man must increase his capacity at responsibility to drive man down through the centuries continuously in a world without God–in short meditation on actions must increase, and 2) all morality clearly falls on man and he not only has to determine good and evil, he has no absolute notions of such–unless science discovers such.I really wish atheists would think about these problems, for they will come to haunt them.As a closing note I would also like to say I find it preposterous for an atheist to defend his position by saying he can be moral in a conventional sense without a belief in God. This is like me looking up at the sky, ripping up a Bible and saying “God, I don’t believe in you” while my every action in life and in relationship to people is still quite conventional and good. I can hear God saying, “go ahead and disbelieve, but you had better be good…”. In other words, how does one know one is really an atheist unless truly committing heinous actions which would really earn God’s wrath? How does an atheist really know that he has stepped away from a belief in God? How does he know if really at heart he believes because although he says he disbelieves his every action in life is quite conventional and moral?I would describe myself as an atheist in the sense of being able to rip up a Bible and because I love science and because I put all beliefs “on hold” until evidence comes in, but I am a believer in God in the sense that if someone were to challenge me to commit some heinous act to really prove I do not fear God’s wrath I would shrink and say “I wouldn’t go that far”. In short I am not willing to really prove I am an atheist, and if I am not really willing to prove such, not really willing to be scientific about it and demonstrate it…then how can I really be an atheist?Perhaps I can rip up a Bible, put all beliefs on hold, take the side of science against religion, but I have clearly before me a vast unknown, and I would not want to really earn the possible wrath of something behind it by committing heinous actions…That is a type of belief for all my atheism, and I suspect the hidden belief of more than a few atheists and scientists.

  • khote

    Reality is not Alice in Wonderland.Is reality boring here, because it’s just one thing that is not any of those other things?Reality is not Religion.

  • Djo

    I would not argue the point that the evangalists have political power. I would argue however that it is inherently dangerous for religious groups to align themselves with a set of political power and ideals. First of all, what happens when a religious group backs a political party that endorses the use of torture? Isn’t there a clear conflict of interest there between the values and the church and the values of the government officials that were sponsored and supported by the church? Why should the church be held accountable for their decisions to support these candidates?Second, if the church is willing to break the seperation of church and state, and use their politcal might to control legislation. What is there to stop a backlash that would allow the government to regulate what churches can and can’t do/say. I would advise all religious leaders to stay out of politics if they don’t want to see (liberal) politicians regulating their religious practices.

  • Jim Philips

    Poor Christians! Stuck in a rut, since…oh..zero BC. What do you offer up as new and interesting? The Rev. James Dobson? You didn’t bother to tell us who you think are “soccer hooligans” (all the easier to make the claim, I suppose). But I’m assuming you mean people like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. Sure, Dawkins has been publicly provocative on religion. But I don’t think you can dismiss his arguments as hooliganism. Dawkins has a framework for explaining how religion grows and maintains its popularity. And I think it goes way beyond Sartre (who was no scientist). Dennett is much less a provocateur. His writings on religion are nothing if not “interesting”. But if you’re really looking for entertainment from an atheist, try Penn Gillette.

  • Anonymous

    The default position on the God question has to be

  • jay

    Daniel: You lost me with your argument. You seem to be saying that as an atheist, I need to test my disbelief in a deity by doing something to invoke an alleged deity’s wrath???If the act is wrong, I will not do it. I don’t need a deity telling me. How do I know it’s wrong? Well, if I’ve had a proper upbringing, pay attention to the world around me and learn what is considered out of bounds in my society, I will know. If I have doubts, I’ll seek the counsel of a trusted advisor. None of this requires religion, although many folks do fall back on their religion in such situations.If I’m told by a religious leader that to please god I should blow myself up in a crowded marketplace, or deny my child medical treatment in lieu of just prayer, or ostracize a friend because he violated some church doctrine, or reject my son because he is gay, or…. should I do that? I as an atheist say no, that’s not right. Some theists say yes. Where are the absolutes you seem to think that religion provides? What distorted view of atheists do you have?

  • Anonymous

    Daniel

  • Anonymous

    If I had a religion, it would be something like this. My god would have all the power of a 9-volt battery and all the sentience of a gerbil. He woke up one day, nibbled on a singularity he found nearby, thereby kick-starting the universe (Big Bang), then curled up and went back to sleep.And the rest is history.Not much to worship, but makes a workable creation story.

  • Ruth Robbins

    It is “belief” that is dull and predictable. The canon has been written and preached over and over again.It is the freedom from dogmatic belief that is creative and alive.When I finally dumped the monkey of “god” off my back, life made sense and I was free to “live”.I am 80 years old – I have not hurt myself or others – I need no redemption, forgiveness or salvation. I have lived a great life and am not asking for more toys from “santa” because I have been such a good girl.As for the Golden Rule – the monkeys in the zoo practice that -

  • Scott

    Daniel-I submit that there are no absolute notions of good or evil-aside from that relative to personal existence-but nothing absolute in a cosmological sense. I think that much of what humans perceive as good and evil has to do with suffering. I believe that we are empathetic enough not to wish suffering on anything we deem “innocent”. The fact of the matter is that nothing in nature, aside from humans, makes such distinction when it comes to hostility befalling an individual. Hurricanes don’t- neither does the ravenous black hole at the center of our galaxy. Evil? I know people that wouldn’t put their neighbors at the same risk that they put their own dogs- so you see, for many (not all) there is a uniquely anthropocentric definition to “good” and “evil”. I’m making this a quick argument of this for bandwidth reasons, but suffice it to say that your “good” is often something else’s “evil”.Now, you also write:

  • gyrrab

    Mr. Berlinerblau is quite presumptious saying there are only two constituancies of secular Americans. There seems to be more rabid religious people trying to force their own beliefs on everyone else than people trying to force people to not believe in their own beliefs (does this make me a soccor lunatic?).People who believe in separation of church and state are both religious people and secular people.There are athiests, and people who just stopped believing, or don’t know and have chosen to give up the belief system they grew up with.And this is just in my limited experience.

  • E favorite

    Hello, Interested, I agree it’s disappointing that so many misunderstand Berlinerblau, but I can certainly understand why – He’s incendiary from the start. Atheists are primed for this disdainful approach and react accordingly. So, I’d like Berlinerblau to search his conscience, asking himself why he chose this approach. I’m completely serious. I think it’s very psychological and integral to his understanding and growth regarding this issue. I hope he has a good therapist or trusted confidant with whom to explore this. Considering that he’s an author and a university professor with bully pulpit, he could have much to offer if he resolved these issues.I did read the Harris piece, now and when it came out. I think our different takes on it are indicative of the differences between academia and the educated public. I thought Harris was completely clear. Berlinerblau was muddled – as evidenced by the public response. It doesn’t matter if academics understood him – in this venue, his audience is the public. I appreciate you attempts to translate for him and agree with some of your interpretations, but I shouldn’t need an interpreter. This isn’t bible study.

  • Stephen R. Friberg

    Well said! As a start, I suggest that our incendiary atheist friends start infusing reason into their arguments. For example, if they are going to catalog all the bad things done in the name of religion then they should catalog all the bad things done in the name of secularism. Contrast the body counts. Until that is done, its cherry-picking the data – ignoring what makes your side look bad. That is a no-no in both science and reasoned discourse.If you are a militant atheist who thinks that religion offers testable scientific hypotheses about the universe, you are right. But it is not what you think it is. Religion describes the universe as knowable with the conclusion that science as possible. Argue with this one, not the miracles of intelligent design.Steve F.

  • Stephen R. Friberg

    Well said! As a start, I suggest that our incendiary atheist friends start infusing reason into their arguments. For example, if they are going to catalog all the bad things done in the name of religion then they should catalog all the bad things done in the name of secularism. Contrast the body counts. Until that is done, its cherry-picking the data – ignoring what makes your side look bad. That is a no-no in both science and reasoned discourse.If you are a militant atheist who thinks that religion offers testable scientific hypotheses about the universe, you are right. But it is not what you think it is. Religion describes the universe as knowable with the conclusion that science as possible. Argue with this one, not the miracles of intelligent design.Steve F.

  • Roy

    Cambridge Dictionary defines a “hooligan” as someone who behaves badly or violently and causes damage in a public place. Methinks that this name better applies to the religious who in the name of each of their respective gods behave badly or violent and cause damage such as committing terrorism in the name of Allah, molesting little boys in Christ’s house, electroshocking gays at the direction of a Latter Day prohet, forming mercenary armies in Iraq in Jesus name and the list goes on. Just because someone doesn’t buy into these sheep mentalities, doesn’t make them any more of a hooligan than the so called rightous. The author claims he is not a fundamentalist Christian but he sure defends them as one.

  • David Werdegar

    I have been a secular humanist for over sixty years and I never have or felt the need to engage in name calling or a demeaning attack on theists who I have argued with. And I believe that holds true for the majority of my humanist colleagues.

  • Scott

    Stephen, you wrote:**For example, if they are going to catalog all the bad things done in the name of religion then they should catalog all the bad things done in the name of secularism. Contrast the body counts. Until that is done, its cherry-picking the data – ignoring what makes your side look bad. That is a no-no in both science and reasoned discourse.**I, for one, didn’t mention anything about religious atrocities until someone indicted atheists as having no moral compass because of our lack of belief. From what I’ve read on this forum, the mention of such atrocities have been made precisely because theists have made such silly pronouncements as : “…I find it preposterous for an atheist to defend his position by saying he can be moral in a conventional sense without a belief in God.” In the wake of such silly arguments you are going to find a lot of responses that expose hypocritical actions made on “faith’s” behalf. So please, spare me the rhetoric proclaiming that you suggest “incendiary atheist friends start infusing reason into their arguments.”

  • E favorite

    Ryan Haber – Thanks – I appreciate your response. I must admit I got lost with the distinction between secularity and secularism.Stephen R. Friberg – Berlinerblau is a non-believer. Does that qualify him as one of your “incendiary atheist friends?” Ruth Robbins – Brava

  • thrh

    “dead god walking.” That pretty much sums it up.Amen.

  • Secular

    Mr. Berlinerblau:You seem to miss the point we are making. The argument here is not weather how entertaining the our debaters are. I dont think I need to tell you that facts are not dependent on how many subscribe to a hypothesis, or how many disbelive it. Nor does it depend on who sbscribes to it or not. It is also not a function of how brilliantly the oponents argue against it. At the end of the day only thing that carries the day is not sophistry and superstition but evidence. I dont give a @^$* if you think we are stuck in 1890 and have no new ideas. You are sophist to say to claim that ateist have no new ideas. The burden of proof is on you folks to muster arguments for existences of a deity. Do not be a cheap cheat, and claim that we don have no new ideas. The matter of fact is that your ilk has not been able come up with cogent arguments based on evidence for last 120 years. Shame on you, you jerk.

  • Dan S.

    The Point of Inquiry podcast just did an interview with philosopher Philip Kitcher that’s maybe more what’s Berlinerblau’s looking for:”Friday, July 13th, 2007

  • Jason

    The merits of criticisms and arguments of anything have NOTHING to do with how “interesting” they are. They have to do with how valid and logical they are. Furthermore, if the same old arguments remain just as valid in 200 years, why do we need new ideas? Answer the old arguments, and then we’ll try to find new ones.In science, a theory is accepted until new evidence arises to dispose of it. Nobody ever accuses a theory of being wrong just because it’s old. Should we find a new theory for why we stick to the Earth, since gravity is so old? Even in religion, doctrine is accepted until new evidence arises to dispose of it (though, admittedly, it generally takes much longer than in science). Didn’t the Catholic Church hold that the Earth was the center of the Universe for more than 100 years after astronomical data disproved it?

  • ERAD

    I read B’s book on secularism and the Bible a year ago. He’s a high-culture type that doesn’t really care much for the atheist-in-the-street. An atheist for sure, but weirdly conservative about things. He’s a good writer though. I want to see what he does next.

  • jhbyer

    Anti-religion books not only are being published today, as they never have been, but are hitting best seller lists, owing to various causes, chief being that some are such rousing good reads, Mr. Berlinerblau can’t help but charge them with being boring! Isn’t God everywhere, precisely because he is nowhere? Straight out of Orwell’s book of lying propaganda! Criticism of organized religion is supposed to put people to sleep by reciting dry fact after fact. History? Science? Zzzzzz. In any case, secularism must never claim the moral high ground so painstakingly guarded by religion as to be immoral. This is the source of Mr. Berlinerblau’s unwarranted suggestion of self-criticism. He thinks secularism ought to do what religion can’t, or it would go up in smoke like a burning heretic.

  • Tony Meacham

    I note the comment “[a] second problem is that contemporary nonbelief lacks any discernible political dynamism, not to mention power.” Most religion, especially in the US is by its nature organised. However, an atheist is by definition not interested in religion. Atheists are not organised any more that people who have no interest in football or classical music. By extension, those who wish to not have adherents of any philosophy or practice they do not subscribe to not intrude into their lives wish for secular practices in others. This is not an organised or political thing. People may organise a love of religion or football or rifles into a political force, but it doesn’t follow that those who profess non-interest need make an equal and opposite political force to counter those who would intrude in their lives. They simply ignore those forces. Secularism is meant to be boring. It is not a force countering another. It is simply ambivalence.

  • Jerry M

    Yes, I will remember that it is secularists who call the religious names when I hear a theist state with delight there is “no atheists in foxholes.” In other words, I dont care if there are thousands of atheists saying they were atheists in combat, what is more important is disparaging their patriotism.

  • Wonder Ment

    >>This calls attention to one glaring problem with atheism and agnosticism today: it lacks new ideas. The movement abounds in polemicists, but has not produced a thinker of real substance since perhaps the days of Jean-Paul Sartre.>>I would look at the writings of Don Cupitt, many sociobiologists and D. Midbar for some interesting new — certainly post-Sartrean!! — ideas.

  • E favorite

    Prasheel, in answer to your question, I have not read Belrinerblau’s book and have not criticized it except to say it has not sold nearly as well as other recent books on atheism. That is a fact, not a “baseless accusation” and if you find my comments uninteresting, just count me as another boring atheist.

  • addicted

    Really! Is that the best you can do?Honestly, I would much rather be on the side whose biggest criticism seems to be “They are boring”, than the side whose criticism seems to be “They inspire people to fly planes into buildings, or burn people at the stake”.Your idea about political organization like the evangelicals shows how little you know about the subject you are spewing on. When was the last time you saw people organize themselves around the belief that UFOs dont exist? Non-believers by definition dont believe in God. That is the only common thread they have, and are very different from each other in almost all respects. How do you expect people to rally around a non-belief?Btw, you may like to call them hooligans, but these spokespersons you talk about are not the ones telling their neighbors (whom they should supposedly love) that they will go to hell. If their well constructed arguments lead to the idea that the world would be better of without religion, either refute it with evidence or logic, or stay out of the discussion. Just because you liken the conclusion of a well reasoned discourse to hooliganism, that does not make it any less true.Funny how the only argument you have against secularism (btw, secularism and atheism have nothing to do with each other, and a person can be secular and believe in god, and vice versa. Your careless usage of these terms further demonstrate your inability to think clearly) is nothing but an ad-hominem boiling down to “I dont like the way my chosen spokespersons for the other side speaks, so every idea the other side stands for must be stale and wrong”

  • Devesh Chandra

    Dear Mr. Berlinerblau,Your arguments don’t appear to be well reasoned.First of all, you somehow link Secularism with Atheism or Agnosticism. When actually it is religious plurality that demands secularism.Your discussion laments the absence of a clear voice like Sartre among the non-believers, yet it seems to be grounded solely in the morass of religion based politics. Are there any other parameters to judge an idea?One’s religion, faith, belief or utter lack thereof is a very individual matter. Must all commentary on an idea be from the political or popular stand-point? Personally I believe in deep spirituality, but I think that a person who doesnt believe in God and has no religion, yet keeps his or her moral bearings, probably never needs religion. Such a person, if at peace with herself, displays a higher spirituality, strength and intelligence than the most deeply religious person alive.Maybe it is a nonsensical idea that all religions and their representatives should disappear from the earth, but I for one would certainly hope that religion recedes from the political and public spheres, into one’s home and in fact exist solely in our hearts.There. No hate mongering, no brilliant idea either. But then, most good things in life are simple and clearly reasoned.But boring?

  • Devesh

    Dear Mr. Berlinerblau,Your arguments don’t appear to be well reasoned.First of all, you somehow link Secularism with Atheism or Agnosticism. When actually it is religious plurality that demands secularism.Your discussion laments the absence of a clear voice like Sartre among the non-believers, yet it seems to be grounded solely in the morass of religion based politics. Are there any other parameters to judge an idea?One’s religion, faith, belief or utter lack thereof is a very individual matter. Must all commentary on an idea be from the political or popular stand-point? Personally I believe in deep spirituality, but I think that a person who doesnt believe in God and has no religion, yet keeps his or her moral bearings, probably never needs religion. Such a person, if at peace with herself, displays a higher spirituality, strength and intelligence than the most deeply religious person alive.Maybe it is a nonsensical idea that all religions and their representatives should disappear from the earth, but I for one would certainly hope that religion recedes from the political and public spheres, into one’s home and in fact exist solely in our hearts.There. No hate mongering, no brilliant idea either. But then, most good things in life are simple and clearly reasoned.But boring?

  • Stefan

    Look you guys, I’m an idiot too – so don’t take this as a comment from just another jerk who thinks they are smarter than anyone else. What appalls me in these posts is how casually we treat our thoughts and opinions as if they are actual knowledge or truth. Most of the time any resemblance between what goes on in our heads and the truth is purely accidental. In fact, we mostly think what we want to think, namely stuff that affirms our egos and that makes us feel good about our imagined place in the word and doing what we want to do. When any of this is challenged (in this case by people who think differently) we defend our preconceptions, often by any means fair or foul. This process is at best only tangential to learning who we really are and what the universe is really like. Truth cannot be attained by pounding the circular universe into the square hole of our self-serving mental constructs, but that is what we do all the time. The first step to real learning is to abandon defending our notions and to commit ourselves to listening. We are such habitual defenders that most of us have lost any sense of what actual listening might be. But entry into the “school of the universe” depends upon it. As long as we are arguing, condemning, rationalizing, justifying, attacking or defending, we haven’t yet entered the schoolhouse door…

  • E favorite

    Prasheel – Please mention some of the good points Berlinerblau made in his essay. Then, if you’re so disposed, offer your thoughts on those points.Thanks

  • John Vreeland

    I’d have to say that the answer to your first question is a resounding “yes.” Actually, I think the whole paragraph makes more sense if you replace “atheistic or agnostic” with “devout believer.” Having been surrounded all my life by militant theists (who are still omipresent) I think that this complaining about a few people who think before they argue is half-blind. “First remove the log from your eye” might apply.The ideas of pop atheists might not be new, but do they need to be? Few people are aquainted with even the simplest of their arguments and I still hear theists complaining about straw man arguments that the atheists never made, so clearly they haven’t been listening (see Peter Berkowitz’s article last Monday in the WSJ editorial page for an eye-opening piece of broadcast ignorance).I don’t know, perhaps Hitchens, et. al. need to yell louder. It seemed to work for preacher on the street corner.

  • globo-mojo

    A Hermit – Sorry for the delay. I have to follow the currents of the masses. If you talk to a christian, they will say they believe God is good. They will never say that they reserve some possibility that indeed satan is good, if that should be proven later. Likewise, atheists, at least the ones I’ve spoken with, are resolute in their conviction that no god exists, regardless of the obviousness of improvability. Someone who respects improvability and thus considers the possibility of the existence of a mystery-being as an significant component of their worldview, generally, tends to identify oneself as an agnostic. I used to joke that I’m 99% atheist and 100% agnostic, but in retrospect I realize that the 1% of me which prevented me from being 100% atheist, indeed, prevented me from being an atheist at all. I say this because of my experiences with *true* atheists, 100% atheists, who are very resolute in their conviction that there is no god, regardless of their knowledge that such a statement is unprovable (i.e. for them it is a matter of faith). I reserve the term atheist for them, and no longer for myself, because it is a significant difference and thus deserving of a unique term. If the two terms get indiscriminately intertwined, then we have lost a crucial ability to easily communicate a not-so-subtle difference of opinion.

  • A Hermit

    Globo-Mojo; I guess it comes down to which definition of atheism you want to use; to me it just menas “an absence of belief in the existence of gods”, which pretty much describes where I’m at.In any case, “99% atheist and 1% agnostic” is a long way from the “worlds apart” you started with, isn’t it? And for me, it’s more a case of agnostic method producing an atheist conclusion; albeit a provisional conclusion, not an absolute certainty. But if you just ask me the simple question “Do you believe in God” my simplest answer is “no, I don’t.”Of course, simple answers like that never tell the whole story, but that “no” to me equals atheism.RegardsA Hermit

  • globo-mojo

    A hermit-it’s sounds like we’re going to just have to agree to more-or-less agree ;-)

  • E favorite

    Hello Prasheel –I didn’t read through 54 pages of footnotes, I just counted the number of pages, to ascertain that it was indeed a well-researched and referenced book. This made it even stranger to me that the author would begin with an unreferenced assertion – the kind which could be easily referenced (if a reference existed), and which would easily pique the interest of scholars and cultivated laypersons (to whom the author says the book is directed), with questions such as – “How does he know that? Who did the survey on that? How long ago? How large was the sample? What else did they learn?” Also, because the assertion about secularists being biblically illiterate is so different from my own experience, I began to wonder if the author was going on his own experience – speculatively, 3rd generation secular Jews in New York City. All these questions are unanswered because there is no reference. Yet, as an opening sentence it sets the tone for the book. Imagine a book that started out “In all but exceptional cases, today’s believers are biblically illiterate.” It could be true, but the author better have the stats to back it up.By the way, the Dawkins and Hitchens books open with anecdotes, not assertions. Harris opens with a scenario of a suicide bomber. Dennett’s book opens with 2 referenced quotations and a referenced description of a biological phenomenon. I haven’t counted up their combined footnotes, but don’t doubt, as you say, they are fewer than Berlinerblau’s. Their books are more anecdotal and directed to the general public (as you suggest), so this is to be expected.I don’t think my time has been wasted here and know that you have not accurately characterized the motives behind what I’ve written here. Like Berlinerblau, you seem inclined to make unfounded assertions and generalizations. I didn’t comment earlier on the hooligan remark, but like a couple of other posters, I sort of enjoyed it. I don’t think Berlinerblau brought any “beloved leaders” “down a notch.” If anything, I think he brought himself down a notch by doing exactly what he was accusing them of doing. Even if he had provided any evidence for atheist commentators’ bad behavior, it’s not a very classy way, in my opinion, for a Georgetown University professor to begin an essay.I think for a worthwhile conversation on secularism, or any serious subject, for that matter, to begin, it’s important to learn the facts, to speak with respect for facts and to separate fact from anecdote, opinion and fiction (and in the case of the religion – dogma, legend, myth and tradition). I hope if Berlinerblau is reading this, he is able to do that and move the conversation forward.

  • VICTORIA

    what i find semi-interesting is that there seem to be alot of secularists on this blog- would anyone care to comment on what is happening in turkey right now? it’s interesting and pertinent because in their political system, secularists have attempted to completely obliterate religion from the political landscape. but its a democracy. so the forced secularism isnt working. another interesting fact is that this democracy, based entirely on secularist principles, is in a country that is 99% muslim! i saw the4 most absurd and ridiculous “opinion” from a guest here- i had to laugh out loud. one of the faith files “news articles” it was by a german man who claimed that “islamists” are trying to take over turkey- its all too ridiculous. (besides, the term “islamists is a post 911 invented word anyway) so how do you all want it? turkish elections are tomorrow- arent democracies supposed to reflect the will of the people? it will be interesting to see what happens. but weve seen the 80 year old ataturk regime of pure secularism- become ossified into some caricature of some atheistic utopia- except that it didnt work. turkish politics are pretty deep and a quick run to google isnt really going to shed any light on the subject. especially if you have an opinion formed before you know the facts, and try to force it to fit to prove a point- just wondering if all the secularists out there have any idea what is happening somewhere outside of america. any real and reasoned opinions out there formed from facts and past research? im not holding my breath. (i anticipate some instant google experts, but i still hope for a meaningful dialogue. well, i can dream, cant i?)

  • Scott

    A Hermit and E FavLike you, I merely bookmarked this page to get to it, but also there is an RSS feed to this page as well- that way you know if there is a new post without going straight to this page. BTW, I love reading both of your posts- my metamorphosis to atheism/agnosticism took nearly 20 years. I had little but supportive family (a bunch of Presbyterians) to bounce ideas around- it’s only been a year since I’ve been comfortable saying that I fully reject what was drilled into my skull as a child, but my path to this point has been my own. It’s been very buttressing to find such articulate and thoughtful people who share my views as yours. I appreciate your contributions.Regards,

  • E favorite

    thank you Scott – it’s nice to get some positive feedback. I’m sick and tired of being told I’m going to hell. Even though I know it doesn’t exist, I know it’s being said as an insult.Was this site or the recent books on atheism instrumental in your metamorphosis?Mine just preceded the books. I heard about the Harris book in 2005 when I was already on the road to atheism. It made more sense than anything I’d ever read about religion. I had arrived (via my own research on Christian and biblical history) by the time Dawkins came out, so it didn’t open my eyes. It enboldened me, though.

  • Scott

    Hi E Fav- It’s been 18 years since the death of a loved one started me down this road. After all of the internal thought, and late night passionate discussions with family, it’s rather cathartic to post some of my thoughts in a forum such as this- and to read posts that echo so much of what I’ve been thinking and feeling. Regards,

  • E favorite

    Thanks, Scott – I’ll check out that book.I think part of what’s interesting these days, is that because of heightened awareness, there is a whole new crop of non-believers – and more of us are speaking openly — because we have others to talk to.

  • Scott

    E Fav:Indeed, I now know several people at work who are non-believers- this wasn’t the case even five years ago… well, maybe it was and I just didn’t know it. Personally, I think the only reason the Post has run this series (as well as other magazines and news agencies similar coverage about faith) is because of the enormous political leveraging these past several years of the word “faith”. That has ticked off a lot of people, and I think non-believers are starting to come out of the woodwork. As with many social causes, I think that when we hit critical mass then not only will we be culturally accepted, we may have the most credibility.

  • J.S. Abbott

    This article is referenced in the 9/2/2007 NY Times blog by Stanley Fish on “liberalism” and “secularism”

  • Gerard Stocker

    Secularism has no new ideas? The basic “ideas” in the major religions are all over 1000 years old. Doesn’t seem to stop them from chugging on. Besides, tarring all secularists with the same brush that secularists are supposedly wont tar (for example) Muslims is about as useful as all such generalizations. Not all secularists think in soundbites, any more than “Jesus loves me, yes I know” is representative of the profondeurs of Xtianity. PS if Hitchens is down on abortion (as he has himself suggested), is he the secularist that it’s OK for religious types to like?

  • Allan Cohen

    I believe that nonbelievers will produce a great thinker and he or she will proof to the world that religion is the cause of 90 per cent of the world problems. If you do not have religion the world would be a better place to live in.

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