ReligionSkepticism

Is Dan Barker a fundamentalist?

A friend sent me a link to a Denver Post article about atheism this morning. I was glad to see the article for two reasons. First, just to have atheists given space in the local news and second, because I happen to agree with what the author wrote. Here’s an excerpt:

I don’t believe in the supernatural. This includes God (or gods). In the literal sense of the word, that makes me an a-theist (as well as an a-leprechaunist, a-goblinist, and so on).

Being an unbeliever in a predominantly Christian country can be a bit daunting at times, and I certainly understand the desire of my fellow unbelievers to speak out against hate, injustice, cruelty and prejudice, particularly when wrapped in a cocoon of religious rhetoric and passed off as love.

But the way some atheists go about it just makes me shake my head in wonder.

The author goes on to talk about the recent flap in Olympia, Washington, where the Freedom From Religion Foundation, headed by Dan Barker, put up a sign in the holiday display. Here’s their cheerful holiday message:

At this season of the winter solstice may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.

With the author of the Denver Post article, I have to ask “What the heck was Dan Barker thinking?” It’s not that I disagree with the sign, per se, but that I think it was entirely out of place for a holiday display. It was rude and grouchy and showed a complete lack of taste. And although religion can and does sometimes harden hearts and enslave minds, that is not always the case.

I’ve read Dan Barker’s book, Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists. I could relate to a lot of his story, the insider’s look at Evangelical churches in America. But I was dismayed to see how Dan pretty much went directly from being a fundamentalist preacher to being an atheist preacher.  He changed his mind about the existence of God and the teachings of religion, but other than that, he didn’t change much at all.

With this latest Christmas fiasco, it seems to me that Dan is still a fundamentalist. Let me explain before you say “there’s no such thing as a fundamentalist atheist.” Dan seems to still suffer from an inability to escape black and white thinking. From where I sit, it doesn’t look like he learned very much from leaving his faith behind. He simply changed sides. He still seems to be stuck in an “us versus them” mentality. It’s not just belief in specific doctrines that makes someone a fundamentalist, it’s also this habit of wearing blinders, of having a view that is limited and monochrome, and of always thinking the whole world is against you. 

Granted, I’m only speaking from what I’ve read. I’ve never met the man. But because I always say that reasonable Christians should speak out against fools like James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, and  Rick Warren, I have to speak out against Dan Barker. He does not represent me as an atheist. I don’t want people to think he is a good example of a normal atheist. I am glad that someone else called him out in the media.

writerdd

Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

Related Articles

140 Comments

  1. In what other ways is Simon Cowell better than God?

    Me either. And I think those like us are a lot more numerous than anybody thinks. We’re not the type to out and find people to slap, so we don’t get the attention or, often, get counted. But we’re here, and in quantity.

  2. You’re probably wondering about the Simon Cowell comment. Well, I had copied something from the Friendly Atheist site and it, well, you know. This is the quote I meant:

    He does not represent me as an atheist.

    I’m embarrassed.

  3. I agree. I listen to the FFRF podcast because they have interesting guests, but the beginning of the podcast just sounds so angry that it’s hard to take sometimes. I thought the sign was harsher than it needed to be.
    I agree with a lot of the fundamentals of what they do (the idea that the sign should be at the capital unless no signs or displays are there), but the execution is always a little messy. It could’ve been just “Reason’s Greetings!” or even the first half of their message. That way the media might have focused on the entire point behind the sign instead of “those mean atheists picking on Christmas again.”
    The Newdow/FFRF lawsuit is another case of that. I agree with their fundamental argument, but I don’t think that allowing some prayer at the inauguration is *that* awful. It almost seems petty. I wish atheists would spend more time on positive things – though I realize that’s not really the function of FFRF.

  4. I think you’re missing the point. Dan Barker is president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, as you probably know. Their goal is to keep religion out of our government.

    The purpose of the sign in Washington was to remind christians that if christianity is afforded the privilege of sharing their beliefs, then other irreverent beliefs should be afforded the same luxury. So the idea is to make christians so uncomfortable with publicly endorsed statements of belief that they abandon their tactics and keep nativities on private or church property.

    Dan supports critical thinking and reason. That’s the type of “fundamentalism” that I appreciate.

  5. yeah, as much as I love Dan Barker and the FFRF podcast (well, his music is pretty cheesy), I had a similar reaction to the verbiage on the sign. he does seem fundie in his atheism. *sigh*

    I do like their stance on separation of church & state, lawsuits, etc… but sometimes, and with this sign, they are moving into a more antagonistic front. Maybe there’s a call for that sometimes… I don’t know…

    ~Dan
    http://jazzsick.wordpress.com/

  6. I thought they were specifically against the supreme court judge using “so help me God” in the oath to swear in the president. They wouldn’t even mind if Obama said the words without prompting.

  7. Can someone define “fundamentalism” in a way that means both “a belief that every word in the Bible should be taken as literally true” AND what Dan Barker is doing? Is there some atheist scripture I don’t know about that he is interpreting incorrectly?

  8. @Ticktock
    I was listening to the them talk to Newdow on the podcast this morning and I was confused about what, exactly, they’re suing over in regard to the inauguration. I may have been distracted on my bus ride, though. It’s known to happen.

  9. @wytworm:

    So I am being a fundamentalist when I obey traffic laws. Got it.

    I believe using the word in reference to Dan Barker is incorrect, and it’s clearly meant as an insult. Yet another “oh those atheists are so rude, why do they have to argue so much?”

    I agree the FFRF sign was a little dull, but of all the goals we have in keeping church and state separate, “Thou shalt not be confrontational” should not be high on the list. Confrontation is inevitable when you are dealing with ACTUAL fundamentalists.

  10. I’m always a bit torn about this sort of thing. I regard the aggressive pushing of religion into government buildings, business, and ceremonies as an unkind, almost treasonous attack on the public good and the Constitution. Something that deserves to be met with loud condemnation, with something that will demonstrate the offensiveness of the behavior.

    On the other hand, I too winced at Dan Barker’s sign. It feels like bad public relations. But the thing about aggression is…it tends to work. It certainly works for Christians. And if they don’t wince in insecurity at the sight of their message being inappropriately foisted on the public, why should I wince at the rebuttal from my own side?

  11. I”m a Christian (I know I know… there are a few Xian skeptics out there…we can argue about it later), but hey, I think that sign was fine. In fact it was pretty mild. The Xmas holiday represents the birth of Jesus, but let’s face it, now it’s just a happy holiday that everyone can enjoy. Freedom of speech is something I support. Now if he had put up a sign that said

    “Jesus is as fake as Santa”

    in giant letters, I’d still support his right to do it, but it might be a bit more offensive.

    My Jewish neighbors have a tree, atheist friends have trees, the holiday is only religios for those that choose to celebrate it that way.

  12. I think it’s become a great go-to insult to call someone a fundamentalist. Same with ‘militant.’ The whole ‘militant’ atheist thing always annoys me. Really? Are atheists going around blowing themselves and others up the way militant religious people are? No. It’s an easy way to draw a comparison that really doesn’t exist. My apples, your oranges. And it’s also a way to exclude atheists. By posting a sign saying what we believe, we’re insulting what people of faith believe. But nobody is saying that the people of faith’s messages are insulting to us. Even though their messages are often far ruder and worse than ours. Just drive around the highways in the South and check out the billboards sometimes.

    It’s impossible to be a fundamentalist Atheist because fundamentalism implies adherence to a book or set of rules. No such set of rules exists for atheism, as evidenced by the fact that atheists very often disagree with each other on the definition of atheism.

  13. @wytworm:

    That definition implies attendant dogma.

    The only basic principle of atheism is an absence of belief in a deity. That is the sole requirement to be an atheist. Stressing a strict and literal adherence to an abence of belief goes completely unnoticed.

    What hasn’t gone go unnoticed in this case are all the adversarial actions. And those are not dependent upon a strict and literal adherence to the basic principle of atheism. They really have nothing to do with atheism.

    So I don’t think “fundamentalist” applies.

  14. I used to be a fundamentalist and I still fight with fundamentalist tendencies decades later. I see the same tendencies in Dan Barker’s behavior and I don’t think it’s wrong to use that term to describe his actions. I used to think that fundamentalist atheist was an oxymoron but when I started to really think about what makes someone a fundy — and it’s not just following a holy book literally, it’s much more about the black and white thinking, the us versus them mentality, and the inability to see complexity and ambiguity in morality — I think these things can apply to atheists just as much as they can apply to religious people. And Dan Barker comes off that way to me. I could be wrong, as I said I’ve never met him, but from his writings and actions, it seems to me that he still has a fundamentalist type of thinking.

  15. @wytworm: fundamentalism: a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles

    —————

    Hmm… strict I get. After all, I’m a strict skeptic, in that I want to know what’s true about the world and I have definite principles about what constitutes valid evidence and so on.

    But the literal part, not so much. What is it that Dan Barker would be “literalist” about?

  16. I wonder if “fundamentalist” is inherently a bad thing? You could argue that Dan Barker is just as strident and single-minded as an evangelical minister. He has an idea that he adheres to at all costs, and he’s determined to force those who disagree with him to respect that same idea.

    But the position he’s so rabidly defending is that the government cannot show preference to one religion over another (or none). It’s a founding principal of our country, and it’s been reaffirmed over and over by the courts.

    Regardless of the secularization of Christmas, a nativity scene is a per se Christian display. By placing it on public property, the Washington State government was sending the message that it privileged the Christian message over all others. And implicit in that message is the idea that, if you don’t worship the baby at the center of this tableau, you’re destined to an eternal afterlife as barbecued heathen.

    Maybe the FFRF’s sign was a little confrontational. In fact, it made me a little uncomfortable. But the Washington government’s unconstitutional use of public property to favor Christianity bothered me a lot more.

    Dan Barker, depending on your definition, may or may not be a fundamentalist. If he is, he’s a First Amendment fundamentalist, and that’s the kind of unwavering dedication that I can get behind.

  17. Why do atheists have to be nice and fuzzy to the religious? The religious aren’t nice and fuzzy to us. I hate this, “BUT HE WAS SO MEAN!”

    No, he was not mean. He only said the truth, and even if you don’t believe what he said is truth (even though it is), he wasn’t being “mean.”

    The religious are allowed to put up offensive signs ALL THE TIME: Like all those awesome Christian Family Planning center signs I see all over Phoenix. Ah, but of course they are allowed to do that … but we atheists must be “nice” — whatever that means.

  18. @Oskar Kennedy (LBB): “Maybe the FFRF’s sign was a little confrontational.”

    Why do people see this as a bad thing? Again, why is it a-ok for Christians and the like to be confrontational (ALL THE TIME) and to infringe on our rights as a secular nation (ALL THE TIME), but as soon as an atheist steps into the public center to place his views along side a Christian’s, we’re being “mean” and “confrontational”?!

  19. @Ticktock: The same point about sharing beliefs could have been made by placing a Festivus Pole or a stuffed Flying Spaghetti Monster in the display. It’s one thing to subtly show how absurd religion in government is, it’s quite another thing to brutishly insult people’s personal beliefs by claiming them to be superstitious.

    I agree that Dan Barker is still a fundamentalist, although I think a better word to describe him might be ‘absolutist’. He can’t view the world beyond his own sense of black and white, right and wrong and anything that contrasts with it must be Wrong and deserving of insult, just as is with many religious fundamentalists.

    Notice how his sign makes no attempt to appeal to people. It just says in essance: I’m right–you’re wrong (and stupid). Compare that with the lyrics of something like John Lennon’s “Imagine” which contains the same message, yet manages to resonate even with people who consider themselves to be religious.

  20. @phlebas:

    non sequitur :

    So I am being a fundamentalist when I obey traffic laws. Got it.

    You asked for a definition there it is. Talk to merriam webster.

    There is nothing about atheism, skepticism or religion that preclude the fall into fundamentalism.

    Fundamentalism in any domain should be eradicated. In my opinion.

  21. I’d say that if a point can be made without coming off like an asshole, that’s the way to go. The points that FFRF’s sign made allowed people to focus on “atheists are mean” instead of “maybe there shoudln’t be any religious displays in a capitol.” Check the news stories about it if you don’t think so.
    I think the “well, Christians are jerks so we should be too!” argument is silly. What does that prove? It doesn’t make people want to think about what they believe. If we’re jerks just like them, what’s the point of listening to us? Obviously aggressive Christianity isn’t working on us, so why would we go with that tactic?

  22. @Masala Skeptic:

    It’s impossible to be a fundamentalist Atheist because fundamentalism implies adherence to a book or set of rules. No such set of rules exists for atheism, as evidenced by the fact that atheists very often disagree with each other on the definition of atheism.

    Does fundamentalism require one to be part of a group? Would it be incorrect to say that all that is required is that you have a set of basic principles that you adhere strictly to?

  23. I think “Fundamentalism” has gotten pretty Flanderized in recent years. It used to mean, very specifically, a response by certain groups of American Christians to the European Modernist movement, and dealt specifically with a literal interpretation of the Bible, etc. I think wytworm’s definition is as good as any nowadays, although it takes away the impact of dogma that is usually implicit with formal Fundamentalism.

    The trouble is, most people who make the ‘atheists acting as fundamentalists’ also make the statement ‘atheism as religion’ at some point as well (a particular hot button of my own). I think the problem is that what people are seeing isn’t religion or fundamentalism per se, but a CERTAINTY about the world that makes people uncomfortable (and yes, the all caps get pronounced).

    Yes, it’s a matter of semantics, but in this sort of discussion, it’s the semantics that really matter.

    As to whether such assuredness is appropriate, I suppose that’s a matter of debate. But, then, I’m agnostic. I revel in not being certain.

  24. @wytworm

    non sequitur :

    So I am being a fundamentalist when I obey traffic laws. Got it.

    You asked for a definition there it is. Talk to merriam webster.

    Is that really a non-sequitar? It looks to me like phlebas is pointing out how (what’s the word) weak that definition is. For a word that carries such emotional baggage, ‘a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles’ doesn’t provide the kind of punch we might hope to be delivering.

  25. @Sam Ogden:

    That definition implies attendant dogma.

    Where dogma is defined as a set of basic principles, I agree.

    The only basic principle of atheism is an absence of belief in a deity. That is the sole requirement to be an atheist. Stressing a strict and literal adherence to an abence of belief goes completely unnoticed.

    If that is what he had done, it would be interesting to see the result. On the other hand what he had on the sign was:

    Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds

    Sounds like he started with your definition of atheism, and added to some negatives on religion. Do you feel that this moves it to the dogmatic side of the scale?

    So I don’t think “fundamentalist” applies.

    I respect your opinion, and do not offer mine in this case. I merely defined fundamentalism for purposes of clarity.

  26. @marilove: The problem isn’t that it’s okay for Christians to flaunt their beliefs and not okay for atheists to do the same, it’s that not enough people realize that it’s wrong to impose your beliefs on other people period.

    I find wearing atheism on your sleeve to be just as repugnant as wearing your religion there.

  27. @sethmanapio:

    I didn’t say he did. I just put the definition from Merriam Webster there for reference. My point was there is nothing about fundamentalism that requires it to be linked to religion, not is there anything about atheism that immunizes its adherents from fundamentalist attitudes about it.

  28. @limadean:

    I am fine with not being an asshole given any other choice. Shame that “asshole” is a subjective term, and to the Christians, Barker would have been an asshole for trying to include any non-Christian message in a public display. If we allow the Christians to define when we’re being mean, we will be mean until we accept Jesus as our lord and savior.

    How would Barker (or any other non-religious group) make this point in a way that would not be considered rude and confrontational?

  29. @phlebas: I’m not sure that’s true. I know plently of reasonable Christians (see kittynh’s comment above) who would respond well to something milder. Like I said above, if they’d gone with something shorter and left out the “enslaves minds” bit, I think it would’ve been more effective.
    When you’re trying to tell people they can think for themselves, nothing fails faster than telling them their minds are already enslaved.

  30. @wytworm:

    You asked for a definition there it is. Talk to merriam webster.

    To what set of basic principles is Barker adhering? The only one I can think of is separation of church & state. I suppose that could be enough to meet this least-used definition.

    M-W uses the examples “islamic fundamentalism” and “political fundamentalism” to illustrate this definition. But if Barker is being a fundamentalist about one particular constitutional amendment, then I submit we are all fundamentalists about something, and the word loses all meaning.

  31. @fffanatic06:

    It isn’t a strong definition or a weak definition. It is the definition. What are the characteristics of it that make it seem weak to you? If you have a stronger reference than the dictionary, please cite it.

    For a word that carries such emotional baggage, ‘a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles’ doesn’t provide the kind of punch we might hope to be delivering.

    Do you have emotional baggage with the word due to its definition or due to the actions of those who have applied the concept of fundamentalism to this or that religion to disastrous ends? Do the actions of a fundamentalist have a relationship with the definition of the word?

  32. @Daniel: But they aren’t flaunting “beliefs” — they made a statement in a public space where other statements (symbolic and otherwise) were made.

    The religious are loud and obnoxious. We’re not going to get ANYWHERE by being nice because they are just going to smother us.

    It’s the same way in the LGBT movement. We’re not going to get anywhere unless we’re loud and persistant about it (not violent) about how our rights are being taken away.

    Some people may think he’s an asshole, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t work as he intended. He intended to make people think: “Oh … hey … yeah, we’re supposed to be secular.” more than trying to “convert” anyone to atheism.

  33. @limadean:

    Not to speak for kitty, but she also said she was fine with the sign as it was. Her long involvement here and with JREF have convinced me that she is not one of the people Barker is trying to convince.

    So we remove the “enslaves minds” bit. What happens when Christians are still put off? At what point do we say “we will not water this down any farther?” I hear over and over and over again that Christmas is a Christians-only holiday, and any attempt to interfere is treated as trespassing and oppression.

    Do we just have a big sign that says “THINK”? To we tape a copy of the Bill of Rights to the wall and hope someone gets it?

    At home, we are currently sheltering a stray dog until we can find a home for him. As I am constantly reminded, you do not set boundaries by politely conversing. (“I say, chap — would you please stop doing that to my leg? It is unseemly.”) No, you correct and you continue to correct until they GET IT.

    And yes, we’re talking about humans, not dogs, but if you’ve ever tried discussing things like this calmly with the type of people who don’t want C-S separation, you’ll see that they put just about as much thought into their positions.

  34. @wytworm:

    He could have knocked off the back half of the statement.

    And had he done that, the Christians would be in the wrong to be offended?

    Odd how in all the complaints they made about it, the vast majority were about the sign as a whole, not in the “enslaves minds” bit.

    The people causing the problems are going to be offended by the EXISTENCE of people like Dan Barker. (Anyone know how to contact him? If so, would you ask him how many death threats he’s been getting?)

    I know you will think I’m wrong, but any incursion into a Christian display by any non-Christian element will be offensive. That sign would have been stolen if it had been just a picture of Mithras wearing a Santa hat.

  35. And let me clarify: If he were talking to a very small group or to one individual person, I get the “need to be nice” — but he was basically trying to make a big point to the entire country, and from what I can tell, he wanted to make as big of an impact as possible. And it worked.

  36. @phlebas:

    To what set of basic principles is Barker adhering?

    I have no opinion to share on this. You asked for the definition and I gave it to you.

    then I submit we are all fundamentalists about something, and the word loses all meaning.

    One cannot by definition be a fundamentalist about something in the abstract. If by ‘something’ you mean to say a set of basic principles, then yes, one can be a fundamentalist against any given set of principles.

    the word loses all meaning.

    If by meaning you mean to say ‘the connotations associated with religious fundamentalism’, you are correct.

  37. @phlebas: I don’t think you are wrong.

    We are skeptics, here. Skeptics tend to think rationally. Normal, everyday Christians do NOT think rationally when it comes to their religion. They are NOT skeptics.

    “I know you will think I’m wrong, but any incursion into a Christian display by any non-Christian element will be offensive. That sign would have been stolen if it had been just a picture of Mithras wearing a Santa hat.”

    Yep. I am thinking of my normal Christian friend, Becky, whom I love, but I think is a bit nuts. She is not a “fundy” in the sense that most think, but she would be offended by ANY sign that was not Christian. Period. And she’s as normal as any Christian I’ve ever met.

  38. @phlebas:

    And had he done that, the Christians would be in the wrong to be offended?

    Yes.

    I know you will think I’m wrong, but any incursion into a Christian display by any non-Christian element will be offensive. That sign would have been stolen if it had been just a picture of Mithras wearing a Santa hat.

    I don’t think you are wrong, I just think it weakens his statement unnecessarily.

    I don’t believe in Mithras or Santa and that would offend me. Can we just take out ALL the advertising?

  39. @wytworm

    “What are the characteristics of it that make it seem weak to you?”

    *shrugs

    It’s neutral?

    “Do you have emotional baggage with the word due to its definition or due to the actions of those who have applied the concept of fundamentalism to this or that religion to disastrous ends?”

    probably because of the people and situations it is applied to. So kinda option (b).

    “Do the actions of a fundamentalist have a relationship with the definition of the word?”

    Are we having a discussion on linguistics or something? If I accidentally derailed the topic I’m sorry.

  40. @Daniel:

    I agree that Dan Barker is still a fundamentalist, although I think a better word to describe him might be ‘absolutist’. He can’t view the world beyond his own sense of black and white, right and wrong and anything that contrasts with it must be Wrong and deserving of insult, just as is with many religious fundamentalists.

    The FFRF is dealing with matters of Church-State Separation. Exactly how do you protest that without calling for a total ban of it? “Can we cut it down by 5%?”

    I don’t see what’s so black/white about what Barker did. Instead of going to the courts to sue the Christmas tree out, he simply had a small sign sitting there as well. And then there was a flood of other marginalized belief systems asking to be included. That’s not absolutist, that’s inclusive in a way Christianity cannot be.

  41. @phlebas: I’ve got to agree with this. For an example, go read the comments posted to Julia Sweeney’s TED presentation for “Letting Go of Good”. I was honestly shocked, at the time, at the number of people who though she was an angry, bitter person based on the presentation. I can’t imagine what they would think of Mr. Barker.

  42. Basically, even the nicest, most polite sign would have gotten a barrage — a BARRAGE — of complaints. I guarantee it.

    He wanted to make a loud, obvious point, and that’s what he did. He wanted people to start talking about it. He wanted to point out the ridiculousness of allowing Christian signs and symbols. Guess what? It worked.

  43. @marilove:

    Some people may think he’s an asshole, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t work as he intended. He intended to make people think: “Oh … hey … yeah, we’re supposed to be secular.” more than trying to “convert” anyone to atheism.

    When he went from advertising athesim to ranting about religion, he crossed the line. Would you agree that incitement to ridicule can be considered coercive?

  44. @wytworm:

    Can we just take out ALL the advertising?

    If we can stop the Christians from advertising their product as well, I’m fine with removing it all. But if you’re going to allow one product, you must open the door for all of them.

  45. @wytworm:

    “I don’t believe in Mithras or Santa and that would offend me. Can we just take out ALL the advertising?”

    :) You hit his point. He’s not trying to move anyone to atheism. He’s trying to make a point that all this advertising is ridiculous.

  46. @marilove:

    Why do people see this as a bad thing? Again, why is it a-ok for Christians and the like to be confrontational (ALL THE TIME) and to infringe on our rights as a secular nation (ALL THE TIME), but as soon as an atheist steps into the public center to place his views along side a Christian’s, we’re being “mean” and “confrontational”?!

    For my own part, I wasn’t knocking him for being confrontational, and I didn’t say that he was being “mean.” I wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable making the same statement in that public forum, but I’m not the president of a national advocacy organization. As has been said before, every movement needs firebrands just as much as it needs coalition builders, and confrontation is often required in the face of great injustice. And to be clear, I think that public property exclusively given over to Christian displays is a great injustice.

    As to the broader discomfort of “people,” I can only speculate, but I’d guess that they’re concerned that Barker is playing into the stereotype of the “militant atheist.” There is a certain truth to the old aphorism about flies and honey, and I suspect that a lot of nonbelievers don’t want to be viewed as the vinegar in that equation. They’d prefer the public face of atheism to be cuddlier and less grating to the (let’s face it) overwhelming majority of people who find the godless perspective strange and unusual. I don’t think it’s that hard to understand why those folks cringe a little when they see the FFRF taking actions that might make religious folks not like them so much.

    We can get into a discussion about whether all cuddly, all the time is a productive strategy some other time. =)

  47. @phlebas: “I don’t see what’s so black/white about what Barker did. Instead of going to the courts to sue the Christmas tree out, he simply had a small sign sitting there as well. And then there was a flood of other marginalized belief systems asking to be included. That’s not absolutist, that’s inclusive in a way Christianity cannot be.”

    YEP!

    I’m kind of amazed that more people here aren’t getting that. He was not, in this instance, trying to educate people on atheism. That was NOT his point.

  48. @wytworm: “When he went from advertising athesim to ranting about religion, he crossed the line. Would you agree that incitement to ridicule can be considered coercive?”

    Yep, I would. But that’s why he did it.

    And guess what? Christians do it every single day. Every single day. But it’s a-ok for them to do it! Just not okay for atheists to do it!

  49. @Oskar Kennedy (LBB): “We can get into a discussion about whether all cuddly, all the time is a productive strategy some other time. =)”

    Why? That’s kind of what we’re discussing here.

    Short answer: It’s NOT a productive strategy.

    He wanted to point out the ridiculousness of allowing religious displays on public/governmental property.

  50. @marilove:

    We are skeptics, here.

    Are we? What kind? Philosophical skeptics? Scientific skeptics? Pseudo-skeptics?

    Skeptics tend to think rationally.
    Normal, everyday Christians do NOT think rationally when it comes to their religion. They are NOT skeptics.

    All that is required for an action to be rational is that if one believes action X (which can be done) implies Y, and that Y is desirable, he or she does X.

  51. And I think the point was made and was received the way he wanted it to be. To quote phlebes:

    “And then there was a flood of other marginalized belief systems asking to be included. That’s not absolutist, that’s inclusive in a way Christianity cannot be.”

    Eventually the government (which is where is aim is) is going to get the ridiculousness of allowing such religious signs on public/governmental property.

  52. @marilove: There’s no way to know that. Just as skeptics and atheists often talk about how we aren’t all the same and don’t always share tactics or opinions (as these comments make clear), there’s no way you can lump together all religious people. There are varying degrees of every level of belief, and the more rational people may have thought more about a sign that was less strident.

  53. @wytworm: I guess I should have said “Christians are not skeptical about their religion and tend to believe it at face-value no matter what, and most Christians are automatically offended at any anti-Christian sentiments (of any kind) in their space. Most Christians believe the US is a Christian nation and they feel that any intrusion on that is a violation of their rights as Christians. ”

    Any sign would have gotten a huge reaction for the sole reason that it was “anti-Christian.”

    Having had some funny reactions regarding my atheism from people in my home town, I am really confident about this statement.

  54. @wytworm: You have to be loud to be heard among the clamor. There is no way around it.

    Sometimes it’s better to be “reasonable” and not “an asshole” — especially when talking to individuals. But in this case, I think his sign was SPOT ON.

  55. I thought Barker could have done two different things.

    1) To have an inclusive display, just write some kind of secular holiday greeting that was fun and friendly

    or

    2) To make a specific point be very direct and say something like “Religious displays should not be on government property. Support the First Amendment.” And maybe quote the amendment.

    I thought the actual sign was in bad taste, did not make the point clearly enough, and was deliberately obnoxious.

  56. @wytworm:

    Does fundamentalism require one to be part of a group? Would it be incorrect to say that all that is required is that you have a set of basic principles that you adhere strictly to?

    You could say that but I’d maintain that atheism doesn’t have that set of basic principles. You say it’s about not believing in a higher power. Fine. But a lot of the contention about what Dan Barker said was related to his opinions about religion – the ‘enslaves minds’ comment. Not everyone who is an atheist agrees with that. It’s not part of a set of basic priniciples anywhere. Many may believe it, but you can’t call him fundamentalist because it’s not related to any set of basic principles.

  57. @limadean: Oh, I don’t know. The average Christian I know doesn’t really think skeptically about it. Maybe I’m just cynical because of where I’m from, a small town with average people — it’s not a very fanatical town, but being Christian IS the norm (unless your Mormon, which is another popular religion there) and nearly every Christian I have ever met doesn’t think skeptically or critically of their religion. “I believe in God!” I mean, most haven’t even actually read the bible.

  58. Also, there’s a lot of prejudice and negative stereotyping against Christians in this thread.

    I find the us versus them talk very disturbing, especially because I’ve been reading so much about the holocaust lately. I don’t even like making fun of people and calling them “faith heads” and the like. I think that’s equally in bad taste as telling Pollock jokes.

    And no, it’s not because I think religious beliefs have to be respected. But there’s a line — a very dangerous line — and it can be crossed by believers and unbelievers equally.

  59. @marilove:

    There is a vast difference in advertising one’s beliefs and tearing down someone else’s correct? Any group that engages in that policy is in the wrong. I am just not comfortable that any set of principles that relies on coercion to covert / destroy followers is really that sound…

    The way it was meant to be was one nation where everyone could come with whatever religion they felt like, and a separation between that and the state. His statement could have been, ‘take all of this out of the public square’ or it could have been ‘give us equal time’, but it should not have been ‘Christians are ridiculous’.

  60. @marilove:

    I disagree. I don’t think it is true of most Christians at all. I don’t think most have the concept of ‘Christian rights’ in their heads. I don’t have data to back that up, just my personal feeling based on life experience.

  61. @writerdd: Eh, I love many a Christian. I just don’t think they tend to think critically of their religion. Indeed, you kind of have to NOT think critically of religion to be religious, I think. You have to ignore a lot of logic.

    That doesn’t mean I don’t think they are otherwise awesome people, just that when it comes to religion, the tend to be pretty consistant and stead fast about it.

  62. @marilove: I agree. I don’t think most people think a lot about what they believe. They follow what their family and/or society follow. This probably also includes many agnostics and atheists, although perhaps fewer in the US than in some European countries where religion has less clout and popularity.

  63. I stopped listening to the FFRF podcast for similar reasons as well – it’s just too vitriolic. Most people I know are christians, and I can’t see how this type of in your face argument could possibly enlighten them. It just pisses people off so that they no longer listen at all.

  64. @writerdd: Yeah, that was basically my point, in a very non clear sorta way. :) I don’t think “Christian rights” was a good way to put it. Basically most Christians I have met (and I know a LOT personally, including family and close friends I’ve grown up with since forever), and they almost always automatically assume everyone else is Christian until told otherwise (seriously annoying). Most of the Christians I grew up with would have been offended by any “non-Christian/religious sign” put up. They most CERTAINLY would have been offended if the sign only read:

    “At this season of the winter solstice may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. ”

    Most certainly, 100% guarantee, there would have still been a large backlash.

    I also 100% guarentee that the reaction was expected and hoped for.

  65. @dividebyzero: “Most people I know are christians, and I can’t see how this type of in your face argument could possibly enlighten them. ”

    But that’s not what he was trying to do. His entire point was to point out the ridiculousness of the signs, PERIOD, and a nice, happy, fuzzy sign wouldn’t have made the point nearly as well (though something tells me there still would have been a large amount of complaints).

  66. And I dunno. The in-your-face arguments seem to work well for the religious, do they not? That seems to be ALL they do. Now, you could say the far-right fundies are getting a bit TOO ridiculous and losing a lot of ground, but even “normal” Christianity doctrine is still pretty in your face. That’s what they rely on.

  67. There’s another point, and something that I heard in reference to the atheist buses and signs in buses. It’s not all about getting a message to Christians or beleivers. It’s also about making the non-believers out there realize that they are not alone. I think the sign is meant to show other atheists that they are not the only ones who don’t have religious beliefs, something that can be a huge positive influence particularly during a season where Christian beliefs are shovelled down your throat fairly constantly.

  68. If I missed that someone said this I am sorry…but the message on the sign in Washington was a request by a resident of the state.

    The fact that they used it in Illinois is most likely because news agencies were talking about it.

    While I do not think all Atheist should be as extreme as Dan Barker it is very important that someone is.
    We all can’t just be like “Hey man, we’re atheist and stuff, and it would be cool if you were nicer to us and stuff. If you don’t mind…or not. What ever.” Someone has to be like “F-you man.”

  69. Every statement that I’ve disagreed with has been answered by wytworm, daniel and limadean so to you guys I say, “Testify, preach on brother man/sister”

    But to add on to what everyone else has already said, I don’t think being confrontational is effective for fundy Christians or confrontational atheists (can I use confrontational since militant, rabid, and fundamentalist are contentious).

    If a crazy man is standing on the corner of the street screaming about Jesus, is it effective to go up and get into a screaming argument with him? Is this going to make passerby’s “start talking about it”,

    -“Hey James, I think that one lunatic atheist screaming “religion harden’s hearts and enslaves minds” made a good point”

    -“I don’t know Bill the religious nutbar made a thought provoking retort with “burn in hell fag””

    The only thing that people would consider having observed such an exchange would be to make it against the law to have screaming contests on street corners. But then were getting into freedom of speech issues.

  70. @marilove: If that was his point, then why put up a sign that would obviously be interpreted like a huge insult? After putting up that sign, the intended audience did not comprehend the message because they were too busy brooding and being defensive.

    Instead, putting up a sign that more directly states what you said in your post would be far more effective in conveying that message (insert creative way of saying that here :)

    btw, I also agree that there is room in the debate for the snarky, in your face (and totally offensive to xtians) style that the FFRF campaigns often embody. It’s just not a mindset that I can personally get behind.

  71. The sign is a bit aggressive but it doesn’t sound like he’s trying to convert or appeal, he’s just publicly stating his own position. A corner soapbox. Ever been yelled at by a religious preacher in the street? I have. This is the same. Not the greatest tactic for getting your point across but certainly not ‘offensive’ unless you’re one of those people who think taking offense is a right.

    The only bit I have issue with is claiming outright that there are no gods, heaven etc. This is always foolish, because no-one can prove it one way or the other, but ‘the other’ believes itself to have the Bible, miracles, NDA experiences, visions, speaking in tongues, ‘feeling the power of god’ and so and and so on as evidence that those things do in fact exist. So it’s always prudent to go with a caveat. Claiming ‘there’ s no god’ doesn’t do much for anytone. As Ben Goldacre says, “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that”.

  72. @Masala Skeptic:

    My point is if he is the sole possessor of the set of principles that includes enslaved minds, and he strictly and literally adheres to it, does that not make him a fundamentalist? The number of people has nothing to do with it.

    I have not attempted to link fundamentalism to atheism, nor will I argue that atheism is a movement or has a set of principals.

  73. @writerdd:

    Also, there’s a lot of prejudice and negative stereotyping against Christians in this thread.

    Only because there are an awful lot of prejudicial and negative Christians. But keep in mind that at no point has anyone said “all Christians are like this.” When you are speaking in generalizations, only the most pedantic assume that we’re making blanket statements that can be refuted by finding one counterexample.

    I find the us versus them talk very disturbing, especially because I’ve been reading so much about the holocaust lately.

    Great, you Godwined your own thread.

    Cringing away from an “us v. them” label is an odd philosophical stance. When two groups are struggling to achieve opposite and contradictory goals, there is nothing harmful about thinking of the two groups as two distinct groups. When you fall into one of those groups, it’s natural to think of that group as “us.”

    It happens all the time in football. i.e. “I can’t believe we lost to those brainless sheep-shaggers from Alabama.” In that case, and in this one, “we” (either non-theists or Auburn fans) were working towards one goal, and “they” (theists or sheep-shagging Bama fans) were working towards the exact opposite goal.

    When we’re talking about Church/State Separation, what is the “us v. them” alternative?

  74. I believe that militant atheists have a narrow, one-sided view of religion and can turn off some prospective converts from embracing reason, particularly those brought up in religious households. My reason tells me that life is very complex, that there is more than one way to look at any controversy, and that we should try to understand those who don’t agree with us. Another example of atheists failing at public relations is Newdow and his lawsuit to keep prayer out of the Presidential inauguration. Come on! Can’t we find anything better to raise a fuss about than that? I believe that a diversity of voices is the answer, letting people know that we’re not all just one big cultic mindset. And by the way, Darwin Day is coming up. Let’s all take the opportunity to celebrate our beliefs!

  75. @phlebas:

    I hit Submit before I finished my point about the football analogy.

    Anyway, not matter what the score is between the Forces of Light and Altruism and the Forces of Darkness and Sheep Rape and Keanu Reeves Movies, no one gets thrown into concentration camps, so I don’t see what writerdd’s fretting about the holocaust has to do with anything.

    The WORST that happens is that you have to wander out into Tuscaloosa to find your car has been run over by the thresher.

  76. @phlebas:

    The they are stereotyped because they are stereotypical argument!

    I think she was drawing a parallel in the fundamentalism of Nazi Germany as it progressed to the holocaust and the Fundie-Christian vs everyone struggle in the US.

    When you consider your football analogy, I would point to both teams having the exact same goal. Winning the game for their team. The only difference is their hometown.

    It would be better to question why either group would be fighting to get their splinter interest displays foisted into the public square when their common goal **should** be, both fighting to keep religious freedom for everyone, and a separation of church and state. The only ones that lose in that scenario are the Nazis.

  77. I am of the mindset that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Yes while the sign did show the hypocrisy in some, mostly by the stealing of the sign, it really hurt those who are Atheists in the minds of people who are on the fence. I have seen in response to the sign being mostly “this is why I don’t call myself an Atheist.” Generally, people aren’t inclined to listen to those they view as jerks. While the sign might appeal to those of us who already think that way, it will most likely not appeal to the person who does not.

  78. It seems to me to be worth it to remember that there are several fights going on, on several levels, and the form of communication appropriate for one fight might not be appropriate for another.

    1) There’s the fight to preserve the First Amendment and Separation of Church and State, which involves forming coalitions of mutual respect among believers and nonbelievers.

    2) There’s the fight to win recognition for brights/atheists/skeptics/etc. as equal members of society, not just in law but in popular regard, with religious believers; and this involves being out and heart-on-sleeves open, which will make some of our allies in #1 uncomfortable (not to mention a lot of atheists who would rather avoid confrontation altogether).

    3) There’s the fight to educate people about the history of religion and superstition, to explain why it’s a reasonable and desirable thing to disbelieve claims for god. Depending on context this fight will take a lot of forms, some strident and some gentle.

    4) There’s an old fashioned fight/contest for dominance and power rooted in ego, demagoguery, and high emotion, that probably cannot be waged in purely rational, respectful terms because human beings are in many ways not rational, respectful creatures. (I personally believe that we cannot shrink from this fight, but must find a way to wage it honorably.)

    5) There’s a kind of meta-fight about the rules of the rest of the fights, a fight to have equal standards of conduct applied to all sides. It’s unfair to regard a creche on government property — that is, an effective call for theocracy — as mere holiday spirit but an atheist sign voicing a contrary opinion as militant aggression, for instance.

    I don’t think any person or any organization or any action can be equally proficient on all fronts at the same time. Barker’s provocative message (and the FFRF’s provocative style) works well for some of the fights, but not all of them.

    The solution in my mind isn’t to try to distance ourselves from Barker as a bad atheist, or as a fundamentalist, over something like the sign in Olympia. He has an opinion; he asserted his right to voice that opinion right alongside the religious people of the nation. To my mind this is an act that needs to apology.

    Neither does he need to apologize for saying there are no gods. It’s not irrational or fundamentalist to say what you think, especially if you have a lot of evidence on your side. “I believe X” doesn’t equal “Nothing could possibly shake my belief in X.” Atheists do a disservice to themselves, and to their religious neighbors, when we equate the fact of a statement with the worst possible way of holding the opinion stated.

  79. @mslongjr:

    Well said.

    And I agree. There are plenty of valid (and needed) approaches. If Barker or PZ or whomever don’t appeal to you, then try something else. Kindness and respect are appreciated by your opposition, perhaps, but you don’t smile your way to victory.

    Ask any other minority group that has struggled to find equality — you gotta have your rabble-rousers as well. How many gallons of honey do we waste before we get their attention with vinegar?

  80. Sorry to keep rambling, but I just had a thought about generalizations and another double-standard that I think almost everybody employs without thinking.

    We wince at Dan Barker’s message in part because the “hardens hearts and enslaves minds” bit is an unfair generalization about the religious community. Not every religious person has a hard heart or an enslaved mind; arguably most do not.

    And then we wince because we know that others will read Barker’s message and decide that all atheists are “that way.” We fear that our cultural competitors will make unfair generalizations about members of our own group.

    But at the same time, we hope that if our individual spokespeople are nice enough, then people will be led into the generalization that atheists on the whole are nice people.

    That is, we reject the negative unfair generalization because we want people to fall, by default, into making the positive unfair generalization.

    When I suspect that what we really want to do is to teach people to not rely on such generalizations at all. That, or we want to promote a super-generalization: most people, given a chance, are good people, no matter where they come from. So don’t be prejudiced and give everyone a chance.

    But people naturally think in terms of groups and generalizations. It’s almost impossible not to. So how do we make the best of it?

    I’d say (again) that it’s a mistake to take the attitude that Barker is a bad/fundamentalist atheist, and I think it’s a mistake to say, “That’s why I don’t call myself an atheist, because I don’t want to be associated with people like him.”

    I think the only way to make the best of a bad situation — when a member of your group says something you disagree with — is to out yourself. “I’m an happy atheist, but I think Dan Barker has a number of good points to make, but I would have done things differently. For example, I don’t think that you, Mom, are a hard-hearted slave.”

  81. @wytworm: My point was there is nothing about fundamentalism that requires it to be linked to religion, not is there anything about atheism that immunizes its adherents from fundamentalist attitudes about it.

    ———–

    And yet, if there is no text to take a literalist interpretation of, you don’t have a fundamentalist, by that definition. And since the principles of skepticism, as I understand them, don’t really support a literal, absolute interpretation of any text, you would be wrong.

    There is actually a conflict between skepticism and fundamentalism.

  82. PS – Unless the person you disagree with says something truly reprehensible, such as arguing that the state should coerce everyone into parroting his point of view, or saying that everyone who isn’t with him is sub-human. In which case labeling the view or the individual as dangerous may be the most honest course, but I don’t think Barker rises to this level of offense by a long shot.

  83. @sethmanapio:

    You don’t need a text. You need a set of basic principles.

    Since you admit to a personal interpretation of the tenants of skepticism, that is a rather narrow victory, assuming you are correct.

    Would a fundamentalist necessarily be known to his/herself as a fundamentalist?

    Do the tenants of skepticism, as you understand them, support a strict interpretation?

  84. @phlebas: Actually I was saying that there was a lot of prejudice and negative stereotyping against Jews for a very long time leading up to the holocaust and I don’t want to be a part of any type of behavior that could even remotely possibly lead to something similar in the future. No one said “All Jews killed Jesus” just like no one here, perhaps, is saying “All Christians are XYZ” but I still am concerned about all the bad mouthing I see going on. You don’t have to be spiteful, mean, or obnoxious, or call people names because you disagree with them. Even if they act that way. What are we 2 year olds saying “They started it” as if that justifies our own stupid behavior?

  85. Dan’s approach may not be for everybody, but I, for one, am sure as Helen, Georgia glad he’s there to speak out. I fear what this kind of mentality would have done during Ingersoll’s day, “He’s just a troublemaker.” “He’s only focused on the negative.” Guess what? The press eats up controversy, and if stirring things up will help get the message across that we’ll not be content as the protruding nail to be pounded down, then so be it.

  86. @wytworm: You don’t need a text. You need a set of basic principles.

    ————-

    I don’t even know what the tenets of skepticism are with any precision. My core principle is that I think it is important to be interested in the truth. If that makes me a fundamentalist, that’s okay with me.

    For any given definitions of “strict” and “literal” and “adherence”, we could argue that everyone is a fundamentalist. But if we start arguing that people who are passionate about, say, science based medicine are “fundamentalists” than I think that the word loses its negative connotations entirely.

  87. @writerdd: Can you give me some examples of prejudice and negative stereotyping of Christians in this thread? It has seemed to be pretty civil, for the most part. I may have missed something but I haven’t seen anyone being

    spiteful, mean, or obnoxious, or call people names because you disagree

    I think it’s easy to get overly sensitive about hate speech. I haven’t seen any here and I find it shows up pretty rarely on this forum (unless you diss Twilight. Then FSM help you!

  88. @writerdd:

    You keep talking about Bad Behaving Atheists. In fact, we naughty atheists chased you to The Atheist Way for a time, IIRC. But I’m not seeing this bad behavior.

    There aren’t a lot of people trashing Christians because they are Christians. What we are condemning are the nasty, oppressive, hateful things they do. Look at these two statements:

    “Oh, you’re a Christian? You must also be an idiot.”

    “Oh, you think atheists are immoral monsters who don’t have any right to express any views on what you think is one of your holy days, even if it’s just to protest the governmental support clearly prohibited by the First Amendment? You must also be an idiot.”

    You and I have gone around about this before. Smiling indulgently while guarding your tongue at bad behavior does not correct bad behavior. Ask any parent. Yet every post you make says that you would have us do exactly that.

    And this time, you you you started with the name-calling by claiming Dan Barker was a fundamentalist. Weren’t you always saying you didn’t understand why Skepchick readers couldn’t be as friendly and non-confrontational as the people on your knitting blog? Is insulting Dan Barker and the FFRF something your knitting blog would do?

    That said, flinging ad homs doesn’t help anyone. Maybe if you pointed them out when you saw them instead of making vague blanket statements, I would understand your point — frankly, right now, I do not see what you are seeing.

  89. I used to be a fundamentalist and I still fight with fundamentalist tendencies decades later. I see the same tendencies in Dan Barker’s behavior and I don’t think it’s wrong to use that term to describe his actions. I used to think that fundamentalist atheist was an oxymoron but when I started to really think about what makes someone a fundy — and it’s not just following a holy book literally, it’s much more about the black and white thinking, the us versus them mentality, and the inability to see complexity and ambiguity in morality — I think these things can apply to atheists just as much as they can apply to religious people. And Dan Barker comes off that way to me. I could be wrong, as I said I’ve never met him, but from his writings and actions, it seems to me that he still has a fundamentalist type of thinking.

    I haven’t read Dan Barker’s writing in particular but I certainly agree that fundamentalist types of thinking can exist in atheists as well as theists.

    Thanks for making that point especially since it’s not one that tends to win you friends among atheists.

    It’s interesting to me how atheists are quick to say they can be as good as theists can be (I agree) yet they are unwilling to admit they can exhibit many of the same flaws theists exhibit. Including the ‘fundamentalist’ thinking you described. Speaking for myself I think both atheist and theist populations include the best and worst human traits. I think people take the belief or non-belief system they ascribe to and make it into something good or evil, depending on what their personal values are.

  90. While it is important for people to be precise in the words we use to communicate ideas, I don’t think it’s necessary to overanalyze the use of the term “fundamentalist” in this context.

    There’s a difference between defining a new idea and wordsmithing to describe a feeling. I think writerdd was working on the latter concept – Dan Barker was displaying traits that made her feel the same way arrogant overbearing Christian fundamentalists do, and her use of the term certainly seemed to get the correct idea across to everyone who has commented on it – there doesn’t seem to be any ambiguousness as to what she meant…

  91. I had a hard time with the FFRF’s poster as well. I had the pleasure of meeting Dan in November prior to the display. I found him intelligent and likeable and I identified with quite a bit of his own personal story. He even took the time to sign copies of Godless for us and personalized mine, it was a real treat.

    I then heard about the sign and thought that that was a good thing because it was on public property. I think though the wording on the poster was unnecessarily antagonistic. It could have been possible to create a totally secular message in recognition of friends family and fellow humanity.

    I think this is a situation of forgetting to take the blinders off, and I hope this doesn’t ruin any plans other groups have next holiday season of placing secular messages and displays in public as an example, not a cheap shot.

  92. I used to listen to his FFRF podcast with his wife and crazy atheist songs, as well as received a complimentary issue of Freethought Today and I found him pretty extreme too. About all the articles had to do with all the bad things going on in religion and made me angry about religion and fueled my hatred at certain things about religion and I didn’t think that was a good idea. Anyway I couldn’t afford their high membership rate into the FFRF

  93. Germane to the actual topic,

    Dan seems to still suffer from an inability to escape black and white thinking. From where I sit, it doesn’t look like he learned very much from leaving his faith behind. He simply changed sides.

    To me this seems entirely plausible and places the fundamentalism aspect exactly where it belongs, in the narrow mentality of the person, not within the belief system the person points the narrow mentality at.

  94. @wytworm: places the fundamentalism aspect exactly where it belongs

    ————

    I find it curious that you can’t talk about people who aren’t “broad-minded” in the way you would like them to be without using a pejorative label. Perhaps you are adhering to some set of principles that leads you to think that your way of being is “better” in some way?

  95. I just have to comment to throw some love Dan’s way. I was once a fundamentalist Christian as well, and if it wasn’t for the in-your-face atheism of people like Dan Barker I would probably still be one. He has my gratitude.

    As has already been discussed, there is a difference between a fanatical adherence to a set of unquestioned principles (fundamentalism), and the use of strong rhetoric.

    While I may wince at some of the rhetorical extremes, when I first ‘deconverted’ it was very helpful to know that not only were there other atheists, but there were loud and proud atheists willing to go toe-to-toe with the fundies.

    Rhetoric is a tool, and one fundies are skilled in using. Not using effective rhetoric simply because your mind has associated the methods with the beliefs seems counter-productive. I appreciate that we have a complete spectrum of atheists, all using whatever skills they have to defend basic rights. I appreciate Dan Barker’s skill at defending these rights, and while he may be using some of the same rhetorical methods, it is not the same as being a fundamentalist.

    The entire discussion strikes me as the same as suggesting that police officers are the same as criminals because they carry guns and shoot people (just like criminals do), and being unable to see the difference in the underlying rationale and intent.

    If Dan Barker starts suggesting that non-atheists are going to spend eternity in hell, or any other unquestioned principles, you get to call him a fundamentalist. Not before.

    Cheers,

    Ron

    (P.S. I don’t think I’ve commented before, but I’ve been reading the blog for a year now. My thanks for all your work!)

  96. As to whether it’s okay for atheists to offend Christians, of course it’s okay – we don’t have a right to not be offended, thankfully, even if it’s getting more and more difficult to see that and uphold it in courts.

    As to whether that’s the right method to get across the idea that religious symbols don’t belong on government property, at least not displayed in such a way as to imply endorsement by the government? *I* don’t think so. My opinion is that, by keeping the insult that religion enslaves minds, Mr. Barker *did* mean to stir up controversy, but instead of people paying attention for the right reason, I think that people are saying, “Look at those crazy atheists that felt the need to insult us Christians!” and “Look at those crazy Christians who got all uptight about us atheists wanting equal real estate!” Now there’s definitely an Us and a Them, or rather two Thems. Because I’m not a part of either of those groups. And Mr. Barker succeeded in pushing the “confrontational atheists” group and the “fundamental Christian” group both further from my own place on the spectrum.

    I’m not sure I agree that minorities must have aggressive confrontational members in order to be heard. No, I can’t point to a minority group that has gained respect without having such members; I also can’t point to any group with more than ten members that doesn’t have any assholes. Not that aggressive and confrontational = asshole, but I dare to generalize that asshole = aggressive and confrontational. So it’s not a matter of needing such members to gain respect, but a matter of probability that any group will have such members.

  97. I understand the need for precise language and definitions. For me though, when I read the term “fundamentalist” it was translated to “person who believes that everybody else on the planet must be made to believe whatever this person believes.”

    Maybe fundamentalist isn’t the proper word for that, but I believe that’s what the context suggested.

  98. @Danarra: person who believes that everybody else on the planet must be made to believe whatever this person believes.

    —————-

    I don’t think there’s any reason to think that Dan Barker believes that everyone on the planet must be made to believe whatever he believes, so that definition would miss the mark as well.

    I think it’s pretty reasonable to ask people to clarify what they mean when they use a word, especially a loaded one.

  99. The sign was an obnoxious embarrassment. Unfortunately the atheist community is plagued by these people. Einstein described Barker’s style of atheism:

    “You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth.

  100. As for the other matter. It’s tempting to refer to evangalizing atheists as fundementalists but there’s no atheistic doctrine to fundementally adhere to so it’s never appropriate.

    It would be more apt to refer to them as fanatics. A fanatic is anyone who descends into self parody and I think evangalizing atheist fits the bill.

  101. But I was dismayed to see how Dan pretty much went directly from being a fundamentalist preacher to being an atheist preacher. He changed his mind about the existence of God and the teachings of religion, but other than that, he didn’t change much at all.

    That’s because one’s personality traits have nothing to do with their religion, or lack thereof. Madilyn Murray O’Hair was an atheist who was as hateful and bigoted as any fundamentalist Christian. As for me, I’ve been a Christian, an agnostic and a Baha’i and in all the changes of my spiritual life, my basic moral character never changed. That convinced me that religion is really useless.

  102. @drockwood:

    I see you falling into the same trap you accuse Dan of. In a world where non-believers are marginalized for their lack of belief it is necessary for people like Dan to speak out. This blanket generalization of labeling outspoken atheists as fanatics is nothing more than an ad-hominem attack.

    What would you call an evangelizing atheist anyways? one who is outspoken about their point of view as being more beneficial than the many theistic alternatives? Is it fanatical to want to stand up and speak out when there is an unending list of examples that religious dogmatism has caused harm? Is it fanatical to speak out against creationism in the science class, denial of marriage equality based upon sexual orientation, hiding of child-molesters to protect the clergy?

    I personally disagree with the wording on the poster put up by the FFRF. I think that there could have been many other secular messages that could have been posted, or other displays placed. I however agree that the statement was correct though. While the venue for the message on the poster was not well thought out, nobody has actually disputed what it said.

    As I have mentioned earlier, I met Dan shortly before the incident in question. He was a very pleasant man, and willing to have a few words with all of the attendee’s of the lecture (we even had beers afterwards). If he is coming to speak in your area I’d suggest you take the time to see him and even talk to him.

  103. @wytworm: So I’ll ask the same question – can you point to specific examples in this thread of prejudice and negative stereotyping of Christians? Or where you consider civil discourse is not happening? This thread, in my opinion, seems pretty civil but like I said, everyone’s filter is different.

    I am really bothered when there’s a concept that ‘disagreement’ automatically implies ‘insult.’ I think in a lot of cases, people assume that pointing out a flaw in what someone says or even just questioning it or asking for clarification is a personal attack or, worse yet, a sweeping generalization about the person.

    On this site, you’re expected to defend what you say. I think that’s fair. I think in most cases, these threads don’t get ugly or personal. But maybe I’m just viewing it with rose colored glasses. I just don’t see the hatred or lack of civility in the vast majority of this or other threads on this site.

  104. Huh. If Dan Barker is a ‘fundamentalist’, so what? Are we all so fundamentalist that we can’t recognize, accept – and celebrate – the fact that different people approach things in different ways? He is I’m sure amenable to reason, and that’s good enough.

  105. Dan does represent me as an Atheist. I think his point, that despite the separation of Church and State proscribed by the Constitution Christianity is afforded a legitimacy in what should be a secular public arena, is right on the money. However, as PR man, Dan is sorely lacking.

    If his aim is to make Christians uncomfortable by demonstrating some abstract philosophical point well, full marks. If he’s attempting to win hearts and minds, then yes, this constitutes a huge failure. This sort of display doesn’t alter public opinion of skeptics and atheists in any (positive) way. At best it serves to provide the intellectually hip with a smirk worthy but condescending and unctuous”in” joke. At worst it alienates any on-the-fence believers who might have been proselytized by reason to his “side” (I dislike that framing the intellectual conflict that way but for the sake of brevity, will to hell with accurate semantics) and puts people on the defensive.

    Is Dan a fundamentalist? Not until he starts saying things like “You know who had it right? The KGB. We should bring those guys back!”. Are his tactics a little [email protected]&ish? Yah.

    Even though I think what Dan is saying is correct, that doesn’t mean that Dan still isn’t wrong.

  106. @writerdd

    you wrote: “Here’s their cheerful holiday message:”

    and

    “With the author of the Denver Post article, I have to ask “What the heck was Dan Barker thinking?” It’s not that I disagree with the sign, per se, but that I think it was entirely out of place for a holiday display. It was rude and grouchy and showed a complete lack of taste.”

    You say that you don’t disagree with the content of the sign but find it rude, grouchy, tasteless, out of place and less than cheerful. It seems to me that your problem with Dan is in large part his willingness to be confrontational. I’m guessing you would much rather his signs say something like “Merry Solstice” and leave it at that? Or would that sign be fine if it were put up during the summer?

    I vehemently disagree with this whole fundamentalist label claptrap. I grew up fundamentalist, and I know a lot of fundies, and neither Dan Barker nor Richard Dawkins are fundies!

Leave a Reply

You May Also Enjoy

Close
Close