Principled & Productive National Discourse, or a Culture of Grievance-Mongering?

Here we have another profile in sleaze from the Atheist Ethicist. Today the object of his ire is a column by the American Spectator’s Melanie Phillips, who argues:

I see this financial breakdown, moreover, as being not merely a moral crisis but the monetary expression of the broader degradation of our values – the erosion of duty and responsibility to others in favour of instant gratification, unlimited demands repackaged as ‘rights’ and the loss of self-discipline. And the root cause of that erosion is ‘militant atheism’ which, in junking religion, has destroyed our sense of anything beyond our material selves and the here and now and, through such hyper-individualism, paved the way for the onslaught on bedrock moral values expressed through such things as family breakdown and mass fatherlessness, educational collapse, widespread incivility, unprecedented levels of near psychopathic violent crime, epidemic drunkenness and drug abuse, the repudiation of all authority, the moral inversion of victim culture, the destruction of truth and objectivity and a corresponding rise in credulousness in the face of lies and propaganda — and intimidation and bullying to drive this agenda into public policy.

Alonzo, in his Herculean struggle against “anti-atheist bigotry,”
responds with an analogy to scapegoating Jews for society’s problems, which “had some very ugly consequences” (I seem to recall a term for this sort of thing—I guess it only applies to them there pro-life yahoos…), a claim that Phillips’ words are “trying to promote hatred and bigotry of” atheists (predictably, he doesn’t bother to actually assemble a case that her words constitute anything of the sort; he just assumes it as a given), and whiny outrage that she isn’t “fighting for her job.”

Once again we see that our hero’s casual acquaintance with truth (or just sloppy reading skills; take your pick) strikes again. Look back at Phillips’ column, and you’ll see she talks specifically about “militant atheism” (geez, she even put it in quotes), and goes on to explain what she means by that—a specific mindset, a specific strain of atheism. As I’ve said before, public consideration of atheism’s (or any religion’s, for that matter) intellectual and moral merits is not bigotry, because religious belief and lack thereof are prisms through which we see the world, with ramifications relevant to society. Clearly, Phillips was not blaming the average skeptic for the financial breakdown; she was making the point that the expansion of a particular mentality in society has had a detrimental effect.
Right or wrong, it’s not bigotry, but a debatable sociological proposition based on her worldview and observations. Any punk with a keyboard and an Internet connection can call those with whom he disagrees names, or wish their careers were in jeopardy. It takes another kind of man entirely to engage an argument head-on.

But the Atheist Ethicist, it would seem, is interested in no such thing. He’s not interested in what Melanie Phillips actually said, but in grievance-mongering. According to the Alonzo Fyfe standard, it’s apparently not possible to criticize any aspect of atheism, any sub-group or sub-mindset within atheism, and not have it seen as bigotry against the entire atheist community. The state of public discourse in this country is already abysmal; the last thing we need is this sort of thing corrupting it further still.

Panic Over Palin

The Atheist “Ethicist” tries to smear Sarah Palin as a religious nutjob. Hot Air explains why that charge is bunk.

Andrew Sullivan’s
at it again, this time imagining an affair in the Barracuda’s past.

“If she loves special needs kids so much, why’d she slash their funding?”
Um, she didn’t.

And no, she’s
not a fascist, either.

And this is just the tip of
the iceberg

Hypocrisy, Thy Name Is "Ethicist"

Alonzo Fyfe recently devoted an entire post to condemning misleading, context-free attack ads, and in another, chastised a reader for taking his own words out of context:

Words get their meaning from their context and it is impossible for a person to write anything or to carry on any discussion that will not contain elements whose meaning changes in a different context. For this reason, there is no option but for the burden of the responsibility to be on the reader to understand a statement in that context.

Isn’t that remarkable? It seems the Atheist Ethicist understands and values the importance of context
more than he let on…

Atheists Crying Wolf, Part 2

This is the second post in a series addressing common complaints of so-called “anti-atheist bigotry,” as characterized by atheist blogger Alonzo Fyfe:

(2 & 3) Next we have two familiar bones of liberal contention: “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” on our currency. Fyfe argues that these are unjust and demeaning to atheists by implying they cannot be good Americans.

Part 1, I explained how God was vital to America’s founding principles. The nation also has a long tradition of turning to God in times of crisis and recognizing His hand in the course of history, such as Abraham Lincoln’s speculation that the terrible devastation of the Civil War was divine punishment for slavery, and his declaration that the United States’ “new birth of freedom” would come “under God.” Even the scientifically-minded Benjamin Franklin argued:

I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.

This is the true motivation behind “Under God” and “In God We Trust”: first, to remind the people of America’s philosophical roots to preserve the sacred status of individual liberty; and second, to honor this tradition and keep it alive in the hopes that God will continue to steer us through troubled waters and bestow His blessings upon the land.

To infer from these phrases a malicious intent to ostracize atheist citizens and impugn their love of country is fantasy, and smacks of paranoia. (This is not to say nobody wishes to denigrate atheists, or tries to do so via these phrases. But to take individual examples of intolerance and extrapolate from them conclusions about all, or even most, people who support them is a classic logical fallacy that indicates either weak thinking or rank demagoguery.)

Admittedly, this conclusion begs two questions: (1) What about the offense some atheists take at the implications, even if they are unintentional? (2) Just because something is tradition doesn’t make it right, so why does tradition matter in this case?

(1) Does the Pledge of Allegiance impugn the patriotism of atheists? Does it imply that “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” is an all-or-nothing deal, that rejecting God means rejecting the rest? No—it is a matter of historical record that America is “one nation under God.” Granted, nobody should expect atheists to say the country is literally under “God” in the sense of an omnipotent being who created and surveys the universe. However, there is no reason an intellectually-honest atheist cannot acknowledge that our society is under “God” in the sense of a set of philosophical assumptions about the source of human rights, reflected in our founding documents and the men who wrote them and fought for them. Likewise, “In God We Trust” was true of our Framers, and has been true of the overwhelming majority of Americans who have lived throughout our history. True, atheists don’t trust in God, but frankly, it isn’t a case of the nation not valuing atheists, but of atheists not valuing a particular element of the American fabric. As long as we’re the same nation we were in 1776, atheists should resign themselves to the fact that they’ve chosen a worldview that is, in part, simply incompatible with their nation’s identity. Which leads us to…

(2) A nation’s identity isn’t automatically a good thing; why should the mere fact that something is tradition be persuasive? Alone, it shouldn’t be (a point jovially-yet-morbidly demonstrated in a line from
this song). But every society has a basic right to keep its foundations alive through ceremony and tradition, and as long as that foundation is sound (as I’ve argued the founding’s religious component is), the tradition should stand. It seems to me that, in order for one to advocate abandoning such a tradition, one must also argue that the foundational element it reflects is flawed, and should be rejected.

The Atheist Ethicist: Just Another Propagandist

We interrupt Atheists Crying Wolf (no, I haven’t forgotten it; I promise Part II is coming!) for a special bulletin: the “Atheist Ethicist’s” credibility has hit rock-bottom.

this post, Alonzo Fyfe peddles a number of anti-Bible talking points, including the “abomination” of eating shellfish:

The eating of shellfish is an abomination because – well, have you ever looked at a shellfish? They’re disgusting. My wife has a hard time with peel-and-eat shrimp. So, of course, eating those things must be considered an abomination…

Current bigotry against homosexuals is not something that people get out of the Bible – something that people disapprove of because the Bible calls it an abomination. If people got their morality out of the Bible then they would be just as intent on protesting the eating of shrimp as they would homosexual sex.

It doesn’t take much to find out Fyfe hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about here. Neil at Eternity Matters
explains the issue very well in a detailed-yet-accessible post. You should read it all, but here’s his quick summary:

The short version: There were different Hebrew words translated as abomination. They were used differently in the individual verses and were used very differently in broader contexts. The associated sins had radically different consequences and had 100% different treatments in the New Testament.

Curious about how he’d spin his way out of this, I posed the question to him in the comments section (yeah, that’s me under “Anonymous”). In response, not only did he refuse to defend his own claims, he actually argued that the original context was meaningless. After all, it only gives Christians “room for rationalization and self-deception.” Pot, meet kettle.

The exchange is stunning in how completely Fyfe dismisses the basic legwork that any reputable commentator, philosopher, historian, or theologian would do before making serious claims about serious subjects. He speaks without any regard for the truth. His writings will continue to satisfy his hardcore secular groupies, but I don’t think many other people are going to recognize him for the ethicist he isn’t.

Atheists Crying Wolf, Part 1

A while back I took on charges of anti-atheist bigotry leveled against an Illinois lawmaker by atheist blogger Alonzo Fyfe. Beyond that, Fyfe claims a whole host of things amount to prejudice against poor, innocent atheists:

(1) A sitting president said that atheists are not fit to be judges – and the statement can still be found on the
White House’s own web site.”[W]e need common-sense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God. And those are the kind of judges I intend to put on the bench.”

(2) We have atheists who stand and feign support for a Pledge of Allegiance that says, “As far as this government is concerned, atheists (those not ‘under god’) are the moral equivalent of those who would commit themselves to rebellion, tyranny, and injustice for all.”

(3) We have a national motto on our money and going up in more and more places in this country that says, “If you do not trust in God, you are not one of us.”

(4) Atheists are routinely blamed for everything from terrorist attacks to school shootings to hurricanes to the Holocaust.

(5) On this latter point, there is a movie that will officially debut around the country on April 18th that is making a blatant attempt to link atheism to the Holocaust.

I intend to show that these victim-centric interpretations are wrong, and that, when not distorted by atheist activists, none of them constitute bigotry against those who don’t believe in God. My case will be divided into three posts: this one on atheism and the judiciary, a second on ceremonial references to God & religious symbolism, and a third on atheism and violence.

(1) “[W]e need common-sense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God.” President Bush is right, and if a statement like this is enough to send Fyfe flying off the handle, methinks he needs to re-read the Declaration of Independence, brush up on American history, and take a couple deep breaths.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” So says the Declaration of Independence, the guiding light of American governance. Examples of the Founding Fathers echoing and elaborating upon this sentiment are abundant. John Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government assumes men to be “the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker.” The concept that our rights come from God was a sharp departure from prior conceptions that rights originated either from government or from cultural lineage. Its implications are powerful: it divorces human rights from intellectual, physical, or racial superiority, or from bloodline. All individuals deserve equal treatment simply because they are human beings. Accordingly, under this conception of God-given rights, government becomes a servant of the people, rather than the master.

If one believes in judicial originalism, that the purpose of judges is to faithfully glean and apply the original meaning and intentions of a law, then why wouldn’t it be legitimate to consider a potential judge’s understanding of the Framers’ conception of rights? A judge who sees our rights as God-given understands that he doesn’t have the authority to thwart them by judicial fiat, no matter how much he might think his personal views on any given case might be better. I, for one, think that sort of humility is highly desirable in a public figure, especially one wielding the power of an unelected, unaccountable, lifetime position.

Granted, the Constitution
prohibits faith-based legal disqualifications from public office, and Bush didn’t propose any. But that isn’t the same as the individual in charge of choosing a candidate—the executive making his appointments or the voter casting his ballot—having a preference for the type of ideas which he or she believes can best serve the office. Unlike skin color or sex, religion and atheism are ideas (or the absence of particular ideas) with implications relevant to society. Therefore, it’s reasonable for people to use them as criteria when judging potential public officials. Surely many atheists think believing Christians are less-than ideal officeholders, as is their prerogative. I’d passionately disagree, of course, but it’s not bigotry to take religion, or lack thereof, into consideration. Then again, perhaps the actual goal isn’t tolerance, but rather to insulate one’s worldview, via intimidation if necessary, from critical evaluation by the people.
By all means, atheists like Alonzo Fyfe should have equal opportunity to seek public office. But that doesn’t mean they get to pretend the philosophical foundations of the nation never existed, or to exempt their ideas from public consideration.

"Atheist Ethicist" Should Rethink Blog’s Title

Atheist blogger Alonzo Fyfe is up in arms over a controversy in Illinois. It seems that, while debating a proposed public donation to Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago, Democrat Rep. Monique Davis went nuclear on area atheist activist Rob Sherman:

I don’t know what you have against God, but some of us don’t have much against him. We look forward to him and his blessings. And it’s really a tragedy—it’s tragic—when a person who is engaged in anything related to God, they want to fight. They want to fight prayer in school. I’m trying to understand the philosophy that you want to spread in the state of Illinois. This is the Land of Lincoln. This is the Land of Lincoln, where people believe in God, where people believe in protecting their children […] What you have to spew and spread is extremely dangerous, it’s dangerous…It’s dangerous to the progression of this state. And it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists! Now you will go to court to fight kids to have the opportunity to be quiet for a minute. But damn if you’ll go to [court] to fight for them to keep guns out of their hands. I am fed up! Get out of that seat! […] You have no right to be here! We believe in something. You believe in destroying! You believe in destroying what this state was built upon.

Anybody who’s ever listened to Christopher Hitchens for about five minutes knows there’s at least a strain of atheism that is so “enraged in anything related to God, they want to fight.” I agree that atheist attempts to purge even the most innocuous signs of America’s religious heritage from the public sphere are attempts to destroy America’s foundation, and I suspect most atheists trying to rewrite history know better. Is disbelief in God dangerous? In activist form, absolutely. I’d even say the accusation that Sherman “believe[s] in destroying” is accurate, since
this is his idea of a good cause. However, it is stupid to suggest an atheist has “no right” to be part of the debate and decision-making process.

his website, Sherman reports that Davis called him to apologize:

Rep. Davis said that she had been upset, earlier in the day, to learn that a twenty-second and twenty-third Chicago Public School student this school year had been shot to death that morning. She said that it was wrong for her to take out her anger, frustrations and emotions on me, and that she apologized to me. I told her that her explanation was reasonable and that I forgave her.

End of story? Not for Fyfe: evidently the apology is
even worse than the initial comments:

She hears about a school shooting, and she immediate takes it out on the first atheist she comes into contact with. She says, “You believe in destroying” and “It is dangerous for children to even know that your philosophy exists.” Obviously, she is a victim of the prejudice that says that atheists and evolutionists have been responsible for every act of school violence since Columbine. This was no apology. This was actually nothing more than Davis admitting her bigotry, and slapping Sherman and all atheists again with the accusation that atheism was responsible for this student’s death.

What is this guy smoking? The original context of her explanation is crystal-clear: horrible news of yet another injustice against a child filled her with pent-up anger looking for an outlet, and she blew up in the face of a passionate disagreement, which just happened to be with an atheist. Presumably, had the docket been different that day, any number of different straws could have broken the camel’s back.

There is not a shred of substance behind this attempt to play victim. But then, it’s not as if Alonzo Fyfe really gives a damn about demagoguery—about scientists (and those backing them) actively working to disprove the Left’s global warming propaganda, he

I consider those who funded and supported this campaign to be among the most evil people that this planet has hatched, easily comparing to those Nazis who not only knew about the Holocaust but actually participated in it. These people are willing to put hundreds of millions to billions of people at risk, and inflict tends of trillions of dollars, all for the sake of personal profit.
Peddling false claims about other people doing precisely the sort of thing the peddler is guilty of isn’t quite my idea of an “ethicist.”
UPDATE: Apparently I’m a bigot because I don’t think challenging the secular crusade is akin to making atheists second-class citizens. Heh.