Tebow, Atheists, The War of Ideas and The First Amendment

I was involved in a Facebook thread recently that began with the somewhat justifiable criticisms by some Christian friends of David Silverman, President of American Atheists, for what they considered over-the-top commentary and opinion on Tim Tebow’s very public religion and religious display. The article in question with Silverman’s comments is here.  I think they had a point overall but I did agree with Silverman on one or two points and that’s how I got involved.  It quickly turned into another matter however, when the thread’s host Kurt, asserted something else:

In my mind, the real issue at hand (and the one of most concern) is this desire to remove any and all dialogue or expression regarding faith or religion from the public square. One segment of our population seems to be saying, “Hey, stop asking the big questions of life in front of others!” I get an atheist being annoyed by Tim Tebow, but to go out and attack the guy? Really? I thought we were a nation of diversity…

So this is where it kind of took off.  Like most threads there were parallel conversations going on at the same time. There was the Tebow and football part of the thread complete with cheerleaders and all, and what’s wrong or not with public displays of religion, a sub-thread on science, and then there was this war on religion part of the thread. I have excised the comments on that aspect of the conversation and pasted them below.

My intention here is not to dishonor or bring any kind of ridicule on anyone but on the contrary, to present the conversation honestly as it happened because I think it was interesting and because I made some points in it that I would like to make a little more permanent than a Facebook thread.  My reply to Kurt’s comment above follows, and then the related comments after that, in order, with only grammatical and formatting edits.  I welcome the thread’s participants to elaborate or correct anything they would like in the comments below. Away we go….

Ojo: Do you really think this is about people wanting to silence those who want to make a religious statement? Would you all be as tolerant if it was a Muslim statement we were debating? To me this is another case of the religious using a platform to force a message on a captive audience who must either groan and eye-roll, or rightly criticize it, or else if they are on the “winning team” rejoice in it. It’s kind of like a couple making out. It’s fine to do that, they have every right, but I don’t want to see it or witness it necessarily, especially if it’s forced on me, and I can rightly say, “Get a room!” without having that interpreted as me trying to deprive them of their rights. Once he or anyone brings an idea to the public square, as you say, you open yourself to criticism. Don’t like it? Leave it at home.

Kurt: Joe wrote: Do you really think this is about people wanting to silence those who want to make a religious statement?

My opinion is, in a very general sense, yes. My conclusion comes from spending time at the websites put out by the American Atheist and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The agenda is pretty clear…

Ojo: What do you see specifically that leads you to believe that Kurt? I see lots of stuff about fighting against religious messages on public property at taxpayer expense. Where do you see anything about wanting to silence religious statements in general?

Kurt: Joe, a cursory reading of both websites reveal that the campaigns of both organizations go beyond church/state separation issues, but also reveal an effort to mock and debunk religious thought. De-baptismal certificates?

I think that’s why the original news article caught my eye…because I believe it reveals a person not just concerned with matters of church/state separation, but overall just can’t stand the sight of religious people. Just my opinion…

Ojo:  In what way does a de-baptismal certificate support the view that they are trying to silence religion? If a baptism certificate was issued without a person’s consent [meaning as an infant], or even WITH a person’s consent why is it wrong to want to undo that with a ceremony? But that’s neither here nor there. I have not seen from FFRF (and I know the founders personally) any attempt to silence religion. Without a specific reference, it’s hard for me not to conclude that you are falling into the same trap you accuse Silverman of falling into… imputing motivations to people that aren’t there.

A “cursory” view of Tebow might lead me to the same conclusion but then you and everyone else would rightly point out the fallacy of that thinking. Cursory reviews are not enough to make a point as strong as the one you’re making. A specific reference would be great. Even going as far as saying “religion is stupid” is not the same as saying that religion is not entitled to the same first amendment rights we all have, including the right to think and say that religion is stupid, if that’s what someone really wants to say.

Kurt: Joe, if these groups seek to attack religion (which some of their books, brochures and “nontracts” do), wouldn’t it follow that they would ultimately be most pleased if religion was done away with? These are not just separation groups, they are also involved in anti-religion pursuits. My question would be: to what ends?

Ojo:  I believe the world would be better off without religion. I also believe the religious should not be silenced. Those are not the same thing and they are not exclusive. You said you thought those sites sought to “silence those who want to make a religious statement.” That’s a direct quote that you said you generally agree with. Would the world be better off if religion was silent? I think it would. Would it be better off if the religious were silenced? That would be catastrophic. I think that distinction is loud and clear. Working to keep religious messages off of public property and funded only by private dollars is not the same thing as attempting to silence religion. It’s only asking them to play by the rules.

Kurt: Joe, I believe, after perusing those sites (which I did months ago when you announced your FFRF speech), that they seek to go beyond legal issues concerning church/separation issues. They do not state that they are seeking to silence religious expressions. But all the articles, billboards, etc. lead me to that conclusion. I’m just trying to be intellectually honest and logical. Once again I wonder when I read through all their material: What is the goal of providing a person with such information? And when I made my original declaration, I began it by saying, “In my mind”. It’s my deduction based on the evidence presented.

Ojo: Kurt, I respect your inquiry. It is in the name of sincerity that I also ask you for specific references for the claim that groups like FFRF are trying to silence religious people (and no, it’s not just Christians). So let me amend my thing above a little:

Would the world be better off if religion was silent? I think it would.
Will I continue to work towards that? Yes, I will.
Would it be better off if the religious were silenced? That would be catastrophic.

Mark: Ojo never offends me but the only reason there is any problem is because the media is up his arse. If I got to pick a guy that bows his head and give all the credit to his team mates vs the guy that thinks he is god and gives himself all the credit I am gonna take the humble kid. YES the religious should be obligated to respect unbelief. I respect you Senior Ojo. I have to say I am a bit SHOCKED in your statement that “Would the world be better off if religion was silent? I think it would.

Will I continue to work towards that? Yes, I will. ” Not the first part thats a matter of opinion and is no biggie. However, the second statement working to silence it really bothers me. Which would support Kurts supposition about FFRF. Also against the idea of freedom of speech. I get your points of view even thought I don’t agree with it often but this goes beyond my understanding

Kurt: I feel like I keep trying to answer that question…to me, both of those groups are at war against religion. Ergo, the point of war is to kill off the enemy. If those sites only dealt with legal challenges to school prayers and crèches and such I would be able to say that’s all they are about. But they go beyond that. True? So I ask, to what end? It’s not just about keeping religion off government property. Why are they waging war, and what is the desired outcome of that war?

I’d love to hear what you mean by this:

Would the world be better off if religion was silent? I think it would.
Will I continue to work towards that? Yes, I will.
Would it be better off if the religious were silenced? That would be catastrophic.

Ojo:  Mark, I’m surprised that you’re surprised! But since you and Kurt both asked, let me explain a little more…

1) Would the world be better off if religion was silent? I think it would.
I think there is nothing of provable benefit available to religious people that is not available elsewhere more effectively. I see the religious often have to put EVERYTHING through a theological filter, when a filter is not necessary. So given that arguable point, it is rather easy to show that religion also is often harmful. It has a bumpy history, has had to walk back its claims, has to deal with troublesome worldviews such as sin and guilt and shame, none of which are necessary. OK, I know there are those who believe in such things, but there is no evidence for it, so it is my belief and the belief of many others that the correct response to the lack of evidence and the harm that often does result is to ask why we need it in the first place? There is no provable exclusive benefit to religion.

2) Will I continue to work towards that? Yes, I will.
I am interested in the truth. Things that have not met the burden of proof but cause people harm in many ways need to be opposed. It is not the goal of silencing religious people, it is the goal of making it unnecessary. This is not that controversial. We have needed God to explain less and less as time went on. First it was volcanos and thunder. We don’t need religion to explain that anymore. Neither do we need it to explain cosmology, human behavior or unlikely outcomes in football games. I could just as easily have said: “Will I continue to work towards the advancement of fact based on the rule of evidence because that’s the only thing we know works? Yes I will.”

I think religion works the other way most often. It is religion that has to walk back its claims based on science, and it never goes the other way, where science has to walk back its evidence and findings because of religious revelation. Because of new evidence yes, but that’s science walking back science, not religion walking it back. Theology has given us nothing that is not available elsewhere.

3) Would it [the world] be better off if the religious were silenced? That would be catastrophic.
I believe firmly in free speech rights and that they should not be deprived from any group, Hitchens has a great video on this (below, with Kurt’s permission) and why even Holocaust deniers should be allowed to speak their views, which in many parts of Europe they are not. So while I think Holocaust deniers are wrong, that the world would be better off without them, it would be catastrophic for them to be silenced.

I hope this clears that up.

To Kurt – on the FFRF thing. Yes I hear you and have heard you. I think I understand where you’re coming from. Yes, they are involved in a war of ideas, as we all are. Thus the Billboards, etc. That still is a far cry in my mind, of wanting to silence religion in the number 3 sense, even if they are working towards it in the number 2 sense. Thanks for your patience and for hosting this discussion.

The Christopher Hitchens video I mentioned was then attached where Hitchens talks emphatically about the importance of free speech even for such groups as Holocaust deniers (Part 1 of 3).

Sara:  Ojo and Ric [Alba, who had commented on the sports aspect of the thread], I know that you are very familiar with the Christian community and have been deeply involved with it. Obviously, there are deep disappointments for you and I am very sorry and wish I could do something about that. But, you know, that we cannot be silent without offending the Lord who has called us to bring His Good News, the salvation message to all the world. When you work to silence us, you are also working against truth and forcing disobedience on us. I know that many of our methods are downright ridiculous and I wish we’d learn better ways to communicate, but even if Christians seem ridiculous, Jesus never is!

Ojo: Sarah, I’m sure you are a very nice and reasonable person, and with all the due respect, I have to answer some of your outrageous suggestions.

First, I have no deep disappointments. That sounds more like a projection than anything else. I did not lose my faith, I dismissed it because it could not stand up to the scrutiny we insist on for similar claims from any other place. I hear that often, and nothing gives anyone the right to say that, especially after decrying someone who assigns false motives to Tebow! I know that many, not necessarily you, but many simply cannot abide the idea that truly opening faith claims to analysis can lead to healthy skepticism, the only appropriate response in my view. Instead, we are thought to be damaged, hurt, disappointed, that there is some emotional reason for dismissing beliefs. No, it’s the beliefs themselves. They don’t hold up as best I can tell from the evidence.

Second, what I wrote was this: “It is not the goal of silencing religious people, it is the goal of making it unnecessary.” Did you read that post? I said explicitly that silencing religious people would be catastrophic. But religion slipping into oblivion would be great, IMO. I said that explicitly, so please do not claim some kind of victimization or persecution. You have every right to air your views. Having said that, I hope you are also ok with all other people who do not hold your views airing theirs as well! Yes?

Third, I also hope you realize that once those views are aired, especially publicly, that they are fair game for analysis and critique using the same standards and methodologies we use for any such claims. That includes calling them silly and ridiculous and without merit when appropriate, and it is often appropriate, as you yourself even suggested. The fact that Christians have been commissioned by their scriptures is no excuse to be rude, offensive, nor does it give anyone a pass on stupid behavior and having dumb ideas given their due (predicted raptures, prophecies on the next election, who the antichrist is, and such).

[I later apologized to Sara for any shortness or abrupt tone I may have had in my reply.]

Sara:  Ojo, I would love to hear your definition of “persecution.” For me it is when someone presses me to disobey the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe your silencing mission fits my description and I would ask you to please reconsider. There are so many worthy causes out there where we can be involved in things that make the world a better place. I’m not sure why you chose silencing Christians. Have I misunderstood you?

Ojo: Yes you have.

Finally, on the matter of silence, let me try this another way. Nobody here is debating the veracity of Roman gods. We don’t believe in them or the stories and mythology around them anymore. But it was not always that way. People were killed for heresy, for blasphemy against those gods once upon a time. It was not just all a nice story. People really believed in them and not believing in them or making the right sacrifices had real and severe consequences. Well, we don’t talk about it much anymore. Nobody takes it seriously. They have, in that sense, been silenced over time, not by force, not by law, but because everything about those gods is irrelevant except its mythology. That’s what I am talking about, and that’s why I say it would be catastrophic to silence anyone forcibly by any means, by violence or statute.

————-

And that’s where the thread ended as of this writing, at least on this topic. One thing I did not mention that I would like to mention here is that I think Sara’s right in one sense; there are many worthy causes out there to make the world a better place and I think we ought to do all we can to actually try to make our world a better place.  Injecting religion into that mission though seems counterproductive and confusing (I had an earlier debate on a thread where I suggested people bypass Salvation Army’s little red booths over the holidays because of their position statement on same-sex relationships).  There are many other secular or at least non-religious groups doing work just as great without the Trojan horse agendas.

I would like to thank my friends for hosting the dialog. Please feel free to add your own thoughts and comments below, but please, no matter which side you take, please no personal attacks or insults.  These are my friends, after all.  “Be kind.  For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Thanks!

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19 thoughts on “Tebow, Atheists, The War of Ideas and The First Amendment

  1. You are right, Ojo. I think what is happening . . . and this is emphatically NOT an ad hominem attack . . . is the distortion of ideas when filtered through an orthodox lens. Most true believers have an either-or, black-and-white mindset . . . an absolutistic binary brain that cannot allow any shades other than “cold” or “hot” (Rev. 3:16). They see all questioning or dissent as an attack, a persecution on their precious Lord and their personal faith. In fact, they feel GOOD about such feelings: “Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you . . .” (Matthew 5:11) It is an inability to distinguish between neutrality and hostility . . . like when Jesus was quoted as saying “He that is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:33, Luke 11:23) . . . which is a kind of paranoia you might expect from a small-town cult leader, or from an insecure monarch.

    The Freedom From Religion Foundation has never protested a nativity scene on someone’s front lawn. In fact, I always walk past a huge nativity scene (very tacky, in my opinion) close to our house, and I applaud their freedom to express their views and celebrate their religion as they choose in this free and diverse country. FFRF does not try to silence religious expression . . . we simply want our place at the table. In fact, that was the idea behind the Puritans, who came to this continent to escape governmental orthodoxy in religious matters. (More specifically, the Puritans were fiercely anti-Catholic, hating the influence of Rome over the Anglican Church . . . yet do modern evangelical Christians accuse THEM of trying to “silence religion”?)

    The Freedom From Religion Foundation only takes action against nativity scenes when they appear on government property, the property owned by all of us, and appear to be an endorsement or promotion of religion by the government. There is a difference between free speech and government speech. There are actually nativity scenes on government property that we do NOT take action against, when that property is part of a public forum where all views are welcome (usually with a permit for a temporary display), where the symbol is seen not as government speech but representing private religious speech . . . and in those cases, we often exercise the right to post our own views alongside the views of the believers. This is a free American, after all.

    Those of us who think religion is irrational, dangerous, and morally suspect will not cease to express our desire to see such a divisive and destructive force weakened or eliminated in the world . . . and that is a noble and positive endeavor, much like weeding a garden in order for the flowers to thrive. But this does NOT mean we think those who still adhere to primitive tribalistic superstitions should be silenced. They are just as free to argue FOR their views as we nonbelievers are free to argue AGAINST those views.

    There can be no religious freedom without the freedom to dissent.

    • Dan,
      Thank you. It’s a high honor to have your thoughts and intentions and those of the Freedom From Religion Foundation articulated so clearly and graciously.

      Anyone interested in more information, in receiving a free issue of their newsletter Freethought Today (which I read religiously, if you will pardon the expression) or in supporting the group can do so here.

  2. I think it is interesting that your comment about the world being better off without religion was treated as an attack on faith…I am pretty sure many Christians feel the world would be better off is everyone became Christians. I accept that and do not feel attacked by their feeling that way.

    Thanks for sharing that exchange.

    I think the only issue I have with Tebow is that Jesus addresses public prayer once. And he says not to do it. According to Jesus, it is the hypocrite that prays in public. I also have to admit I wanted to call shenanigans when I read how he would really rather be doing missionary work in other countries. Really? He is sacrificing his true passion of working for Jesus o play football, huh? Call me skeptical, but I think he has a choice here. And his claims of really preferring mission work ring hollow. So, I guess that is two issues. Do I think he should keep quiet about his beliefs? Not at all.

  3. Living here in Denver I get more than my share of Tebowmania. Like Ojo I spend a large portion of my life as a devout Christian who dismissed his former views when they didn’t hold up to rational inquiry. When Tebow is thankful for something in his life and takes a moment to thank his maker I respect his right to do that, even if I don’t agree with it. I imagine he’s probably saying something like “Thanks for letting me perform to my potential” and not “Hey Lord, thanks for the touchdown” and in that respect I cut him some slack because it’s more like he’s “praying in the moment ” rather than “praying in public”. It’s just that his “moments” are public.

    Speaking to Sara’s words I don’t think that someone sharing their thoughts about a matter is equivalent to persecution with the only exception perhaps being if it’s done with the specific intention of humiliating someone. Christians are allowed to tell us that we are going to hell and they don’t consider that persecution of non-Christians. Me saying that I think that I have to turn off parts of my brain for Christianity to make sense isn’t persecution either. When violence is introduced, when rights are taken away then it’s persecution. People having a discussion in a public forum…. not so much.

    Dan, I appreciate the FFRF’s position on nativity scenes. I don’t have any objection to government displays as long as its not a singular endorsement of a single faith and if other beliefs (or lack of) are invited to participate. I have to say that I was tremendously amused the first time I saw a story about a nativity scene that ended up having a Flying Spaghetti Monster display right next to it!

    • I personally don’t care much either way about the religious displays in sports. I do an internal eye-roll, and it does say something to me about the person (I still think it’s self-pious and arrogant, and public displays in general suggest insecurity to me) but otherwise it’s harmless. In this case it doesn’t seem quite that innocuous though. Check out this link, for example, and follow the links in the article to see how this whole thing has descended into the absurd! Thanks, Dan.

  4. Ojo,

    Assuming that the others are as willing as you to truly investigate and discuss these issues, it looks like it might be worth continuing to discuss why you are perceived as choosing to silence Christians.

    I had no trouble understanding the difference between working for a future where Christianity is viewed as unnecessary or obsolete, and thus silent, and silencing individual Christians in today’s world. However, some of the others seemed to keep coming back to the “Ojo is trying to silence Christians” theme, even after you were very explicit.

    If you were *actually* trying to silence Christians, I’d have to wonder why you chose “talking to Christians about Christianity” as one of the tools in your toolbox.

    • Thanks, and good point, JeffMo.

      I can only think that people hear what they want to hear. I suppose I could have avoided the controversy altogether by simply framing it differently by saying I would like to work towards making it unnecessary to even have a religious discussion. I think they’d object to that as well. What Christians perceive as being silenced is actually most often just insisting they play by the same rules we all have to play by (religious displays on public property, etc.) or not letting them get away with offensive or just plain wrong behavior, like, for example actually insisting that the stuff that goes into science textbooks and classrooms is actually, you know, science! 🙂

      I think you’re right in any case… it might be worth continuing the discussion. It’s never easy. Thanks for the comment, and looking forward to seeing you and Ros at the solstice thing in March!

      ~J

      • As I read your blog-post-slash-Facebook-transcript above, I kept wondering how some folks would have responded to a direct claim that you don’t want to silence them at all. IMO, we all benefit by continuing the dialog and exploring why people believe as they do, why some feel threatened by church/state separation activists, why stating an opposing opinion is often viewed as an attack or “persecution,” and so forth.

        I’m really excited that you’re planning to come over in March!

      • Ouch, I want to clarify that last comment just a little. Upon re-reading it, I realize that you actually did issue that direct claim. I suppose I mean that it would have been interesting to say something like, “But I don’t want to silence you. I love these dialogs, and silencing you would eliminate the [insert here the various benefits that I mentioned in my last comment].”

      • Yes, that’s what I was trying to say. I don’t want to silence anyone and I tried to be as clear as I could possible be in that. I think some people just hear what they want to hear. That’s why I thought the Hitchens video was important, and I’m not sure how many people actually watched it (or were able to understand it). One of the major points he makes is that the First Amendment, or the right of free speech specifically is not only for the speaker, but for the rest of us as well. The speaker has a right to speak, but the rest of us also have a right to hear. Taking away those rights harms all of us, speakers and hearers.

        Having said that, I could go the other way on this. It would be also be great if some of the objective and scientific claims that religion makes were actually demonstrably true. What if, for example, we came across some of Jesus’ DNA and after analysis it was shown conclusively that he did not have an earthly father. That would be a fantastic discovery! We (I) would be compelled to believe it!

        Now, I don’t think we would actually find that and if we did, I don’t think it would show that Jesus was born of a virgin, but I might be wrong. Until we do have something more to go on than sacred texts from writers who were not disinterested third parties and blind faith, skepticism is the order of the day. This is especially true once we realize that in earlier times, if one wanted to assert one’s divinity, it was especially helpful if one could be said to have been born of a virgin, or at least miraculously.

        Hopefully once we come to terms with the validity of many of these claims or their mythological roots (note, I am not saying that there is no god, or that god can be disproved. I am simply taking on the existing claims made by religions that should have evidence, that should be supportable if they were true) then those things will be relegated to the heap of mythological silence we afford all other religious claims throughout history.

  5. Firstly, Kudos on your patience with the repeated assertions that you are speaking from hurt feelings/disappointments. I’ve seen it here twice (and a couple times from my/our former circle). Perhaps, you may want to keep a written response in a seperate document so that you can paste it when this comes up again.
    Secondly, I really appreciate that you address these issues from a place of loving-kindness first, but also logicly. Like wood-chopping, it’s work, and it’s aggressive, but it isn’t angry.
    Thirdly, as a Canadian, I see the IRS going after duel- and inherited-US Citizens. This says something dire to me about the economy, but Presidential Candidates are running on platforms of faith (like gay marriage, and where one is allowed to say “Christmas”), like some kind of slight-of-hand trick. Politicians want votes, and to think that their “faith” is sincere is pretty naive, but common. For this reason, religion should be stricken from politics, because people should vote on political issues, not religious/”moral” ones.
    Finally, faith can be good for a person. Science has shown this (research on the sick and dying), but as a dogma-free believer, I approach it as a THEORY. The sense of purpose that my faith supplies is a fact, but the object of my faith cannot be proven to be superior to faith in the tree in your yard. I like Yoga-based faith (Buddhism, Hinduism) and Hermetic Kaballah, but that doesn’t make them “God’s favorite,” or the best answer for everyone. If everyone approached their faith this way, we could lose the aggression, but keep the colour that religions can add to the world. (perhaps this is why “Devotion” is still a favorite album. That and the steller musicianship).
    PS I described your presentation to my wife as “like Jon Stewart, without the biting sarcasm”
    PPS I couldn’t help but notice that you seem so sullen and brooding in the Undercover pictures, but in more recent pics, you look relaxed and joyful. The joy of the Truth is your strength.

    • Thanks very much for your thoughts, Will.

      As to your first point; I’m working on it. It’s in the queue but I have others in progress too that I am more eager to get out. Necessity may be the mother of invention though, and you’re right, it does come up a lot!.

      I like your last point too and that would also make for a long conversation. Overall I think the benefits religion offers are widely available, and I think that’s what you might be pointing out. It is not the doctrine or the specific belief. And in that sense, at least to me, these are human experiences, not supernatural experiences. There just may be a God! I believe there just may be. But i have no reason to believe in any God at present. And in the meantime, those things you mention are still available to me and I still have many practices that cultivate my inner person. Lots more to say, but in the end, you’re right! My life now is much more relaxed, joyful, truthful and connected to my world as it really is and to others. Thanks again.

  6. I plan to offer some responses to Joe’s post and Dan’s response. but it will have to be a time where I have some time to write out my thoughts. I want to be cautious about guarding my time and not becoming a “somebody’s wrong on the internet!” type of reactionary. I spent plenty of time writing in Facebook comment discourse this week, and I want to make sure my weekend is spent with those who live in 3D. So my time will go to playing Wii games with my son, a little triathlon training, hanging out with my fam, and maybe checking out a singer/songwriter friend playing at a local restaurant. (Oh yeah, and preaching a message on Sunday)

    One quick thought though:

    All in all, I find internet comment discussions to be a fairly poor form of communication. In review, there are things I see in what I wrote that I think could have been more concise…but hey it’s a discussion that plays out over a couple of days. Plus, others come in a make comments that don’t really speak to the original topic. I offer a lot of grace to those who dare to communicate their thoughts in this medium, because I know I fail at it often. Wish we could all gather around a table, hear our voice inflections, see our facial expressions, and realize when we are joking.

    That said, I’m up for some iron sharpen iron give and take. I’m no scholar, just a guy. I have opinions…I’m sure you do to!

    And one other thing. I suspect the Patriots will, at least temporarily, bring an end to Tebowmania. I hope not. I’ve always liked the Broncos. I just hope that if they lose, the amount of Christians whose faith is shattered is kept to a minimum. 😉

  7. Okay, a window of time opened up after a bike ride, washing the dog, vacuuming the house and throwing down some breakfast. My wife is giving my son a haircut which, because he has extremely thick hair will take a while (he’s listening to some remake of Steve Miller’s “Fly like and Eagle.” while she snips at his hair).

    As I wrote above, overall I am not a real fan of lengthy discussions on the net. I believe it is a very faulty, and I think the entire exchange that took place on my FB page is no exception. Also, I spend absolutely NO time searching around the internet search for atheists, agnostics, gays, or even Laker fans to mix it up with. Although I, just like everyone else, have opinions about life and how is should be lived, I find that argument and debate, for the most part, not very helpful to gaining understanding. Some love winning discussions on technical points, I’m more concerned with the big picture. And if I am involved in an intense discussion about something, I often, moved by something odd in my brain, will make a joke…perhaps a subconscious attempt at reminding myself not to take everything so seriously. In order to not confuse someone reading my posts from being confused. I employ a lot of smiley and winky emoticons.

    Getting to the matter at hand, the comment I made that seemingly sent the earth off its axis 🙂 was this:

    “In my mind, the real issue at hand (and the one of most concern) is this desire to remove any and all dialogue or expression regarding faith or religion from the public square. One segment of our population seems to be saying, “Hey, stop asking the big questions of life in front of others!” I get an atheist being annoyed by Tim Tebow, but to go out and attack the guy? Really? I thought we were a nation of diversity…”

    Joe then asked me (in the midst of a longer comment):

    “Do you really think this is about people wanting to silence those who want to make a religious statement?”

    I came back with this:

    “My opinion is, in a very general sense, yes. My conclusion comes from spending time at the websites put out by the American Atheist and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The agenda is pretty clear…”

    At this point, most of the discussion that followed seemed to be somehow connected to this exchange.

    When I looked back over all of this, I believe that there is a simple explanation for what took place and why it went the way it went. My intent in posting was to say that I believed that the elimination of discourse was the GOAL of these groups. My sense is that Joe thought I meant that silencing people was the MEANS. That they were on a mission to disallow people the right to free speech. But that’s not what I had in mind. Ever.

    In my mind, Dan’s response confirms my feelings when he writes:

    “Those of us who think religion is irrational, dangerous, and morally suspect will not cease to express our desire to see such a divisive and destructive force weakened or eliminated in the world . . . and that is a noble and positive endeavor, much like weeding a garden in order for the flowers to thrive.”

    Joe appeared to communicate a similar sentiment a couple of times within the comment thread on my FB page:

    “Would the world be better off if religion was silent? I think it would.
    Will I continue to work towards that? Yes, I will. ”

    Because there was so much confusion about the silence issue being discussed, Joe later took time to clarify:

    “1) Would the world be better off if religion was silent? I think it would.
    I think there is nothing of provable benefit available to religious people that is not available elsewhere more effectively. I see the religious often have to put EVERYTHING through a theological filter, when a filter is not necessary. So given that arguable point, it is rather easy to show that religion also is often harmful. It has a bumpy history, has had to walk back its claims, has to deal with troublesome worldviews such as sin and guilt and shame, none of which are necessary. OK, I know there are those who believe in such things, but there is no evidence for it, so it is my belief and the belief of many others that the correct response to the lack of evidence and the harm that often does result is to ask why we need it in the first place? There is no provable exclusive benefit to religion.
    2) Will I continue to work towards that? Yes, I will.
    I am interested in the truth. Things that have not met the burden of proof but cause people harm in many ways need to be opposed. It is not the goal of silencing religious people, it is the goal of making it unnecessary. This is not that controversial. We have needed God to explain less and less as time went on. First it was volcanos and thunder. We don’t need religion to explain that anymore. Neither do we need it to explain cosmology, human behavior or unlikely outcomes in football games. I could just as easily have said: “Will I continue to work towards the advancement of fact based on the rule of evidence because that’s the only thing we know works” Yes I will. I think religion works the other way most often. It is religion that has to walk back its claims based on science, and it never goes the other way, where science has to walk back its evidence and findings because of religious revelation. Because of new evidence yes, but that’s science walking back science, not religion walking it back. Theology has given us nothing that is not available elsewhere.”

    He concluded the comment by once again affirming his support for freedom of speech:

    3) Would it be better off if the religious were silenced? That would be catastrophic.
    I believe firmly in free speech rights and that they should not be deprived from any group, Hitchens has a great video on this (below, with Kurt’s permission) and why even Holocaust deniers should be allowed to speak their views, which in many parts of Europe they are not. So while I think Holocaust deniers are wrong, that the world would be better off without them, it would be catastrophic for them to be silenced.

    For Joe, this seemed to be the cardinal issue of the discussion…that FFRF was not in the business of taking away the rights of freedom of speech. For me, I never meant that they were, and tried to explain this several times. Joe finally responded with:

    “Kurt – on the FFRF thing. Yes I hear you and have heard you. I think I understand where you’re coming from. Yes, they are involved in a war of ideas, as we all are. Thus the Billboards, etc. That still is a far cry in my mind, of wanting to silence religion in the number 3 sense, even if they are working towards it in the number two sense. Thanks for your patience and for hosting this discussion.”

    So, really this issue was sorted out at my FB page. I was focused on the number 2 sense the entire time. And with adequate explanation that came through.

    I have a lot of thoughts about what Dan wrote, and have in fact written them out a couple of times…but I keep hitting delete. He got his say…I just wonder if he read through the entire discussion at my FB page. Joe only posted a portion. I’m sure Dan would find stuff that would drive him crazy…as did I. But as I said…I’m into the big picture. I’ve been married 25 years. Discussion can be tough. Things get said that aren’t meant to mean how they sound. I think Atheists, agnostics and the religious feel like they are over-stereotyped…

    Hope this helps. I’m sure there is stuff I left out. A 70 comment thread is packed with a lot of info and opinions. My big fear is that all of what I wrote creates more questions than clarifies things. Truth be told I’m not always the most engaged debater…much more of a stream-of-consciousness commentor. I go with my gut a lot.

    Have a great Saturday….

    • Kurt:

      I want to thank you for a well-written and even-handed expansion on some of the ideas addressed in this wide-ranging discussion. It certainly helped me to better understand the disconnect between various parties.

      I would go just a little farther and claim that for many freethinkers/agnostics/atheists, elimination of discourse is neither the means nor the goal. I’m glad you agree that those groups under discussion (e.g. FFRF) have no interest in stifling individual believers’ sincere expressions of faith or public discussions about religion. (I do think that some of the other participants may very well have different opinions on that; I have had similar discussions with some Christians who think the goal is in fact to criminalize or otherwise to prohibit any overt theistic communication whatsoever.)

      My perspective is that many freethinkers (at least in the United States, with which I’m most familiar) are coming from a place where discourse on these topics has been taboo for a long time. What they seem to value in the short- and medium-term is to have honest and open discourse, where taboos and default positions are discarded, and frank discussion can occur about WHY people believe, disbelieve, or reserve judgment.

      When Ojo (or the FFRF, or many of these groups) talks about a future in which “religion is silenced,” I don’t think any of them are wishing for the death or elimination of discourse. Instead, it’s a way of restating the opinion that we will one day view today’s predominant religions in a similar light to the way other, ancient mythologies are regarded: an interesting part of human history, perhaps, but not something which holds much relevance for understanding humanity’s place in the cosmos. Discourse would hopefully continue, and be just as vibrant as it is today, but as a species, we will have moved on to other topics.

      • Just to clear one thing up here, but a very important nuance… I tried to be very clear about the idea between religion being “silent” and religion being “silenced.” They are very different. I hope religion does become “silent” for the reasons Jeff mentioned, but I hope it is never “silenced,” which implies that it is somehow imposed from outside. Again, I think this is an important distinction that cannot be understated.

  8. Thinking back to my original post…linking the article about Silverman’s reaction to Tebow…my intent there was to show that all sorts of people are going a little crazy over this whole Tebow deal. I have no problem saying that some Christians have gone goofy over all this…but I think Silverman did to. Hopefully I’m an equal opportunity critic. Reality is about 95% of my criticism is reserved for those within my own tribe…

  9. What a pleasure it is, Ojo, to learn of your personal transformation! I was one of those kids in the audience, and owned several Undercover records. I saw you guys perform once at the Warehouse in Sacramento. And years later, like you, I finally came to a new understanding of life, a better life I am sure, without god and without regrets.

    On the current topic, I’m glad the Tebow nonsense has been put to rest, at least until next season.

    It is nearly impossible not to offend a Christian when challenging their religious beliefs because their personal identity is so dependent upon those beliefs. If the doctrines are false, then their whole life (they might conclude) has been wasted. And, as you pointed out, the Bible introduces the culture war theme in pretty strong terms, keeping believers in a constant ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality. I think Sara falls into this category, when she accuses you of ‘silencing’ or ‘forcing’ or pressing her to disobey Jesus. Most times when I hear this type of accusation, at bottom it merely means to be critical about religion, to ask people to think about what they believe and why. THIS is offensive because it could lead to unbelief, and apparently god cannot tolerate unbelief. Still, no one can produce a single example where you say anything at all threatening to personal liberty. I commend you on your tactfulness and patience when answering unfounded objections!

    A while ago I began to notice a lot of Christians playing the Poor-Persecuted-Minority card, following the recent rise of a vocal and persistent atheist movement. Accusations were often made that atheists who merely criticize religion are rude, militant, nasty, fundamentalist, etc. So I wrote a standard response to all these types of accusations, since they seem to arise frequently. I wonder if I can share a link to it here, as it relates to the current topic, and it may apply to some of your readers.

    http://www.whirledbulletin.blogspot.com/2011/03/christian-remove-plank-from-your-own.html

    Thanks for writing. I always look forward to the next post!

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