My Old Kentucky Homesite

If You Want a Church-Like Community, Join a Church

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 04/14/2010

Allow me a not-so-brief rant. I’d be interested in hearing what my intelligent readers have to say about this.

Atheists, skeptics, doubters, whatever word you’d like to use for those of us who think the very concept of gods is ridiculous, have to be on guard constantly. The naive and ignorant among us have to to be very careful not to broadcast their own kneejerk opinions when dealing with religionists. Unfortunately, in today’s America, any atheist who claims to speak for a group of “non-believers” is automatically assumed by theists to speak for us all. Just as many atheists assume that the fundamentalist idiots and/or the Pope speak for Christians everywhere.

Obviously, that’s a stupid assumption, but god-believers have been known to jump to some really ridiculous conclusions.

So I was annoyed last month when the assistant organizer of the Lexington Atheist Meetup announced that he’d somehow wangled the authority to speak for atheists in our local rag’s “Questions of Faith” feature. Most of you have probably seen inane space-fillers similar to “Questions of Faith.” An editor poses a question to religious “leaders” — ha! — and asks them to submit short answers suitable for publication. When our “representative” asked by email if anyone in the Lexington group had an objection to his speaking on our behalf, I responded:

I do have an objection — a strong one, in fact — to your presenting yourself as an atheist leader, or someone who has been empowered to speak for other atheists. We don’t have leaders, because we’re not an organized church and we have no agreed-upon dogma. Let’s not give the idiots the wrong impression. You should probably make it absolutely clear that you speak only for yourself, and not for anyone else.

But I have no objection if, in order to give yourself credibility, you present yourself as exactly what you are: the Assistant Organizer of the Lexington Atheist Meetup. (Can we find a better word than “Meetup”?)

A few responders to the email agreed with me, but most of them said things like, “Oh, lighten up, Larry.” Lexington, as most of you probably know by now, is an excellent place for lightening up, but not such a good one for enlightening.

Anyway, today, the group’s email list was informed that our “representative” was asked to respond to the following question:

The Catholic Church has now issued a directive that explicitly requires church officials to report some crimes to the police. When dealing with abusive situations within a congregation, do communities of faith have an obligation to do more than what the law requires? What steps, if any, does your church or congregation take to protect its membership from sexual predators, spouse or child abusers? Does your faith community have specific ministries to help such victims or to prevent such problems

He suggested that he’d like to make these points: (1) Atheist groups have no problems with leaders because these leaders don’t speak for god, and (2) he’s not aware of any sexually abusive Atheist (sic) leaders, etc.

Auggghhh!

My response was:

You can’t be serious. Have you fallen into the mind-trap that atheist groups are comparable to churches? The next thing you’ll be doing is asking members to bring lime Jell-O molds and tuna casseroles to our Meetups.

The editor’s question is beneath contempt. It’s insulting even when aimed at religionists. That should be the sum total of your answer.

For you to answer it further would imply all kinds of things that are bullshit.

If you insist on doing so, you must make these points:
(1) There ARE no atheist leaders.
(2) Atheist organizations are not comparable to churches. They’re comparable to bridge clubs or quilting bees or a group of co-workers getting together for a few beers after hours.
(3) There’s no uniform atheist faith or spirituality or even agreement on any single idea.
(4) The word “atheism” should not be capitalized.
(5) While there may be sexual predators who happen to be atheists, there are no atheist sexual predators. Sexual predators in religious organizations get close to children (and adults, too) by deceitfully using their feigned authority to speak for their imaginary god. As leaders of their flocks, they become Catholic sexual predators, or Southern Baptist sexual predators, or Jewish sexual predators, or Muslim sexual predators, etc. But there’s no comparable situation for atheists because none of us has any authority to speak for anyone other than him- or herself, and there’s definitely no atheist flock. [When challenged with “of course, there are atheist sexual predators,” I embellished my answer to make it easier to understand.] No, there are no atheist sexual predators. There are also no “rationalist sexual predators” or “liberal sexual predators” or “existentialist sexual predators.” Conflating one’s philosophy with one’s criminality is ridiculous — except in the case of religious leaders whose criminality is tied inseparably to a philosophy that enables and even encourages that criminality. To speak of “atheist sexual predators” is as stupid as it would be to speak of “computer-consultant sexual predators” or “Dickens-loving sexual predators” or “Cheerios-eating sexual predators.” The adjective has nothing to do with the compound noun it modifies. We should not blithely accept this term when used by others, and we should definitely not use it ourselves.

Also, if you DO insist on answering this question in print, please let me know so I can write an op/ed piece about “Why I Quit Going to the Lexington Atheist Meetup.”

Again, one of the responses began “Larry, man, take a deep breath.”

Unfortunately, I can’t. I don’t want to fill my lungs with Stupid. As I’d feared, it turns out that the Lexington Atheist Meetup is not an organization for a serious exchange of ideas; it’s one of these.

The sad truth is: We’re living in perilous political times. What atheists need most in Kentucky and elsewhere in the United States has nothing to do with being admired or being loved. We just need a nationwide respect for, and adherence to, the Establishment Clause,  and the recognition that all Americans have the freedom not to have religion foisted upon us.

What we definitely don’t need is to give the superstititous rabble the erroneous idea that we’re all members of the Happy Church of Atheism.

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49 Responses to “If You Want a Church-Like Community, Join a Church”

  1. Stay passionate.
    If the newspaper insists on a “leader” ask them if you can have space for an op-ed piece on why this is wrong-headed.
    (BTW: his point #2 is a classic!)

  2. John Evo said

    You know me well enough to know that I don’t hate the role I’m about to take on – being opposed to those you despise, and in opposition to you, too.

    First of all – Fuck the Constitution! It’s either right, wrong, or needs amending – BADLY. It ain’t “Right”, that’s for damn sure. Naturally, I’m an asshole with an opinion. But hear me out.

    Seriously, this worn-out piece of semi-religious dogma is supposed to serve as a libertarian benchmark for modern H. sapiens? It was impressive as hell… in 1800, when a man was a MAN and could do as he damned well please with his slaves (including the ones called “wives”).

    When police help was merely a 3 days’ walk away, a gun as birthright made as much sense as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. It’s a fucking anachronism now. I wonder if it wouldn’t have been 200 years ago if semi-automatics had been available. They might have outlawed them just to keep the mortality rate under 6% per year.

    We are fucked up, not because some people can’t respect the original intent of the Holy Founders but because we either can’t adapt to changing world realities or because we are paralyzed by fighting against those who would change the _wrong_ parts of The Constitution.

    Which brings me to this – stop signing the glories of independent “non-cat” mentality – POR FAVOR! We need everyone with an ounce of decency and intellect to “herd-up” ASAP or we’ll be forever in the mire of stupidity.

    The problem with us atheists – there aren’t enough of us indians. Everyone is a fucking “brilliant”, “freethinking” chief.

    …so to speak (apologies to eponymous pseudonyms).

  3. Lighten up, Larry. Take a deep breath. Your fearless leader may have a point.

    At my local Atheist Meet-up (we capitalize it), we always sacrifice a kitten before the opening chant to Darwin, after which the little boys are brought in for some good ol’ fashioned pederasty. It’s in the leather-bound copy of by-laws. You know the one. All the meet-ups use the same one, don’t they?

    Oh, wait. You said you wanted to hear what your intelligent readers had to say about this.

    Never-mind.

  4. Going:
    Stay passionate.
    I’m discovering that down here in the genteel South, passion (like too much intellect) is frowned upon — unless it’s for a basketball team or in favor of carry-permits.

    Evo:
    I’m certainly for “herding up” politically. But not philosophically. Or — yikes! — socially. Tuna casseroles are equally disgusting no matter who serves them.

    … there aren’t enough of us indians …
    I think there are. Check this out.

  5. SI:
    The only thing my fearless leader wants: Stop Moose and Squirrel from foiling plans for world domination. I happen to think Kentuckians have a right to eat squirrel if they want to. I’d advise against eating moose, though, because you’re in really big trouble if any antlers get stuck in your throat. Also, I hear that many moose are open-carrying these days.

  6. John Evo said

    “I think there are.”

    Only ONE reason I didn’t capitalize it, but point taken. I shouldn’t have used that particularly unpleasant and loathsome phrase. My apologies to all 1.15 billion INDIANS and to the few remaining Native Americans.

  7. John Evo said

    By the way – I always knew SI was a pervert. That’s why I like him so much.

  8. Hey, Evo. I just checked our by laws again. I never noticed before, but it say “The Bible” on the cover. I’m not shittin’ you! Same copy as the one down at the local Catholic church. Of course, the pederasty is in code. I always wondered why our little boys wore those cute little black robes with the white frocks over them,. Now I know.

  9. I am not among those invited to comment, so I’ll hold my tongue.

  10. Des:
    I can’t understand you. Could you stop playing with your mouth when you talk.

  11. At the heart of this, as is often the case, is ignorance of what atheism means. The religious deliberately misrepresent what it means for their own ends, and one of the biggest misrepresentations is casting it as a religion. So the average person thinks atheism is the religious belief in there being no god (or worse, the denial of God), and that we all subscribe to some mysterious tenets and worship Science. It’s this shit that prompts such a ridiculous question from the editor, so rather than answer that question, your “leader” should take the opportunity to educate the editor and other readers about what atheism is, what atheist groups generally are like, and try to dispel the myths which the religious have conjured up to obscure who and what we are. So yes, he should respond with something comparable to what you wrote Larry, but perhaps in a more lightened up manner. ;)

    Btw, your local atheists really come off like a bunch of twats.

  12. Philly:
    I’d like his manner to be so lightened up that he doesn’t write any words at all. Perhaps a short “Hi, Mom and Dad” would be OK.

  13. Postman said

    This is why Drinking Skeptically is generally a better idea. By the end of the night, we’re all geniuses who agree completely with one another.

  14. Postie:
    I always drink skeptically. Particularly at restaurants that charge over $8 for a lousy beer.

  15. srsny said

    Should drinking skeptically be capitalized? Hokey Smoke, Bullwinkle, I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing Fearless Leader doesn’t care about that. He just likes to be feared and obeyed. If he gets his name in print, it will make him feel ever so much more powerful and influential. There’s no way we could stop him. So we’d better keep our minds on what’s imporant, like getting the Kirwood Derby safely back to Frostbite Falls. Or we could keep things light by prospecting for some upsidaisium – or should that be Upsidaisium?

  16. Srsny:
    You know far too much about 60s cartoons.

    Now watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.

  17. srsny said

    There’s no such thing as knowing too much about sixties cartoons. Where do you think you are Muni-Mula?

  18. I know too much about 60s cartoons, considering I only watched cartoons in the 70s. I’ll take old man Jenkins over Boris and Natasha any day.

    I’m always skeptical about $8 beer. Especially when accompanied by the overpriced fat-dripping Applebee’s or Chili’s food.

  19. Srsny:
    No, I’m probably just on Nit.
    Exit … stage left. Yabba-dabba-doo!

    Des:
    I had to look up Old Man Jenkins. I guess I’m even older than he is.

    Now watch me pull a … uh, I forgot what I was going to say.

  20. Catherwood said

    Okay, I have a suggestion for a name change. How about coven? The neighbors assume that any atheist in KY must be a witch anyway. Go with the flow.

  21. Catherwood:
    “Coven” is a good idea.
    So you’re a Nature Boy, right? Do you know where we can pick up some eye of newt, cheap?

  22. srsny said

    Same place you can buy some liver of blaspheming … oh I can’t say it.

  23. Srsny:
    I suspect there’s a terrible pun waiting to emerge, but I don’t get it. So don’t be so goddamned coy.

  24. Srsny:
    Oh, duh.
    You and your infernal wordplay.

  25. Postman said

    I saw this and thought of you, Larry.

  26. Postie:
    That definitely reminded me of myself. But if it were me, I wouldn’t be arguing about the banner. I’d be yelling at the others for arriving out of uniform.

  27. Any self-respecting Atheist knows our Bible clearly states in the Book of Pantone that the A must be Pantone 185. Clearly the cartoonist is not a Real Atheist.

  28. Philly:
    Perhaps the cartoonist is a member of the Church of Latter-Day Sherwin-Williamsists.

  29. They’re just a cult. Who could believe correct colors would be revealed to them on golden pallets by some ceiling painter named Moroni? Ridiculous. You know Sherwin and Williams were convicted con artists before forming their cult, right? The Book of Pantone warns of false colorists.

  30. Larry:
    I wore that outfit to my First Communion.

    Philly:
    If Google is to be trusted, pantone 185 is the official color of the Salvation Army.

  31. Oops, I meant 186, the same red as the KC Chiefs, and my embarrassed face currently.

  32. Postman said

    Aaahh! Philly’s a deist mole! nail him to a wooden A!

  33. MacNutz said

    Ha! I read the write up and was about to make some sort of smarmy comment. Then I read the comments and completely forgot what you were talking about before I started laughing at the comments.

    Sadly, I caught every reference Srnsy made in the trip through the garden of 60’s comics. Verily, I am ancient and wise in the ways of dated foolishness.

    My close friends are all unbelievers but I’m the only one that uses the word atheist to describe myself. There appears to be an advantage to that as there are no club assumptions, limits, or required context for discussion. There are no rules except we Recliners, as we call ourselves, are very conscious of wastage, be it wine or energy. So, we never rise up from a comfortable position during debates except to fetch food and or drink or to relieve oneself. Any willful action beyond that would be seen as “Egregious Action”. Something we recliners take very seriously.

    Oddly, not labeling the shared lack of belief seems to forestall the idea that “we” have a special shared identity based on that one shared agreement. There is no operating concept of what one ‘should’ be or believe based on that shared lack of deities of any variety.

  34. Philly:
    Don’t worry about your red face. It matches your thinning hair.

    Des:
    We’ll have to wait until Chappy gets back to ask her about the Salvos’ positions on color.

    Postie:
    It’s just like the deists to pick as their mole the most easily spotted person in a group. Philly’s about nine feet tall, did you know that? He has never revealed exactly how wide he is, but I have a secret suspicion that the measurement is growing. Has anyone besides me noticed that he hasn’t ranted about fat people in a long time?

  35. Linwood said

    OM_* – I suggest we form an official Atheist Group immediately for the sole purpose of kicking your Lexington not-fit-to-be-spokesperson out of it.

    * We non-believers need our own expressions, acronyms, text shorthand, curses, etc. How come the religionists have all the good ones?
    Oh My non-existant supernatural being!
    Secular shit!
    Go to the non-existant netherword you believe in!
    Charles H. Darwin!
    Somehow they don’t have the same impact. But I do like secular shit!

  36. Mac:
    Oddly, not labeling the shared lack of belief seems to forestall the idea that “we” have a special shared identity based on that one shared agreement.

    I think that’s fine; my friends and I have always operated that way. But it doesn’t work so well when political action is needed. Which it is, badly, in Kentucky — as you know if you’ve been reading my posts. A political group needs a name and some kind of basic shared philosophy. That’s why I joined the atheist group in the first place. I already had more than enough intelligent friends.

  37. Linwood:
    The latest craziness in the group’s long, long, long email thread is whether or not atheism is a religion. Most people don’t think that’s an important enough issue for us to try to agree on. Augggh!

    Our self-proposed representative, of course, thinks that it is. I suspected as much, from the moment I saw how excited he was that he would get to participate in “Questions of Faith.” That’s such a wrong venue — for so many reasons — to express an atheist viewpoint.

  38. Linwood said

    It’s incredible that there are people who call themselves atheists who are even open to the idea that atheism could be a religion. They are people who have left the flock, but maybe still need a shepherd, or at least a benign sheepdog to corral them.

  39. Linwood:
    I love “benign sheepdog.” I assume you’re referring, of course, to an Old English Sheepdog.

    What I’m finding more and more is that many people who have “abandoned” their church still want to belong to some organization in which the members support one another by smiling blandly at the most vapid ideas.

    As you know, that’s not a kind of venue that I can tolerate for long.

    To be fair: I have to say that the Louisville Atheist group is not at all like the one here in Lexington.

  40. There’s only one question of faith, and that’s why is it held in such high esteem when no one would even use it to cross the street. That’s all your “leader” needs to write back to the editor.

  41. Philly:
    Oh, so simple. I think all our “leader” needs to do is to point out that on one Sunday a few months ago, most churches were closed because of bad weather.

  42. The latest craziness in the group’s long, long, long email thread is whether or not atheism is a religion.

    Hmmm:

    Magic friends? No.
    Priesthood? No.
    Afterlife? No.
    Rituals? No.

    I’m missing where anyone might confuse atheism with a religion.

  43. Des:
    Don’t ask me; I’m only the messenger. It seems that the guy has invented some esoteric definition of religion, into which atheism fits.

    In an email to me, Philly made a suggestion that I’d usually take: Ask him to define “religion.” But this Lexington crowd is so linguistically unsophisticated that I decided not to open up the conversation to even more ignorance.

    My main philological point, although it might have had too much nuance for some of these Kentuckians, would have been that in a conversation with a theist, we should use “religion” only as the word is commonly understood. It includes certain specific components. (You’ve listed some of them, but you left out a biggie: “holy book.”)

    When asked to define the term in my own words, I said

    A religion is a codified set of fundamental beliefs which include a supernatural or spiritual “faith” component that can be neither verified nor falsified, and which attempt to answer humankind’s basic questions about existence.

    Notice that, even by omitting any mention of gods or an afterlife or ritualistic practices, I still managed to come up with a classification in which atheism would definitely not fit.

    But even after that, he still insisted that atheism was a religion. Obviously, he’s concocted his own convoluted definition. But I didn’t ask him what that was. I’ve had far too many dictionary-games arguments with theists. So I didn’t press the definition issue, because, hey, fuck it — the other members are supposed to do some critical thinking for themselves.

  44. Arguments involving diction, etymology, and semantics are a particular area of interest for me. Linguistics has been one of my favorite pursuits since high school. I even knew who Levi-Strauss was (not the jeans guy, by the way) when his death was announced recently.

    Confusion about the language is absolutely key to many of the arguments against sound science, atheism, and democratic government. You mention “faith” in your definition. That is a very typical problem word. We say faith with the scare quotes as belief in the existence of an entity for which no evidence exists:

    I have faith in Jesus.

    Without the scare quotes, faith can be many things. I have faith in my colleagues: a high level of trust in the judgment and competence of a person, institution, or other such entity. I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow: acceding that a high-probability event is likely to occur. I have faith that the Democrats will grow a backbone and quit acting like a powerless minority (or, alternately, I have faith Jesus will take me to heaven for chowing down on his corpse with industrial-grade sacramental wine*): Claiming that an event for which history gives a probability of approximately 0.0% is very likely to occur.

    *Note: Wine Spectator gives “Jesus Corpse-Squeezings” an unprecedented low of 11. For comparison, treated sewage averages a score of 19.

  45. Des:
    Because of its inseparable ties to religion, I try to avoid using “faith,” even though it has other perfectly good uses, as you’ve pointed out. I usually substitute “trust,” although it’s clearly not the same thing.

    I’ve heard that Lévi-Strauss never wore jeans. But then he didn’t compose any waltzes, either.
    (FYI: The waltz commonly known as “The Beautiful Blue Language” was composed by Georg Kärlin.)

  46. There should be a distinction between faith and trust. Trust is based on evidence (ie – I trust the lights will come on when I flip the switch, I trust that when I wake up tomorrow, I won’t be a cockroach, etc). Faith isn’t. When one extends their trust further than the evidence warrants, then trust can become faith.

    The confusion is entirely due to religion, imo. Faith should be a shameful act, but thanks to the prevalence of religion, it’s considered a virtue.

  47. Philly:
    Well put and I agree. That’s why I never use “faith.” However, in common conversation, many people do use “faith” and “trust” interchangeably. It would become tiresome to them and to us, if we constantly corrected that. So I’d probably let it go, unless I specifically wanted to get a conversation like this one going.

    Actually, when I think about it, I can’t remember any of my close friends ever using “faith” for “trust.” But I have faith that they’ll correct me if I’m wrong.

  48. Godless Randall said

    what i don’t get is why he didn’t object to the questions and more importantly why the guy asking didn’t think to adjust them for, oh you know, an atheist

  49. Godless:
    I suspect that he didn’t object to the questions because he’s eager to be included on the “Faith” page. But that’s only a guess.

    The woman (not guy) asking the questions didn’t think to adjust them for an atheist because nobody ever thinks of adjusting anything for atheists. We’re non-existent in America, which is — as every idiot (and I do mean every idiot) will tell you — a Christian nation.

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