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Posted: 24 March 2008 08:34 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I apologize if this isn’t in the right forum, couldn’t figure out exactly where to put it.  Also, if this has been discussed before, I couldn’t find anything so sorry again. 

So as a fairly new individual to being able to freely studying and basically “be” a student of rationality, critical thinking, etc.  I’ve noticed that… well, god damn am I overloaded.  And what it comes down to for me right now is labels.  It’s always been an annoyance of mine that society has to label EVERYTHING.  You simply cannot be something unless it has a label to it (as Sam Harris put it… we don’t have names for non-astrologers). And what’s worse is I find labels such as these help enforce stereotypes.  When I said I was an Atheist to my friend, he responded that I no longer believed in morality, and that I was pessimistic, close-minded, etc.  (not saying this is the case for everyone but I know this is a common conception among many of the people religious or else wise, that I know)

So in my attempts to further study exactly I should call myself, I find I’m bombarded by so many labels that I have no idea.  Things like humanism (which is even further divided into so many names like secular, religious, education, etc), agnostic (two friends whom are “agnostic” both have completely unrelated and different views), rationalists, free-thinkers, etc. etc.  And then you get things like Epicurism, etc.

It leaves me sitting there going “holy crap” what exactly am I?  Well, I know what I believe in and what I don’t. But as to be labeled with a specific title… I kind of have that blank expression. 

Further more, when trying to read into these things and seeing how others respond to it I find people are argue about what the definition of these labels are.  On one hand it’s neat to see debate and discussion on the subject but also a bit of a mind boggle. 

So I’m asking for people whom have been around this much more often, how do you describe yourself? How do you deal with the stereotypes of certain labels, etc? 

Elisa

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Posted: 25 March 2008 06:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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When people ask me if I believe in god I say no, I am an atheist. But I don’t eat meat, and I don’t like calling myself a vegetarian. I once ended up (by a mistake) at a vegetarian fair where people were wearing t-shirts with a picture of Einstein (the one with his tongue sticking out, of course) that said: “Einstein was a vegetarian.” I left the place immediately. If people become fanatical about not believing in god (or begin associating Humanism with atheism), I’ll stop calling myself an atheist.

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Posted: 25 March 2008 08:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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As Sam Harris has pointed out quite eloquently, labels can be dangerous. It’s ok to find what you want to identify yourself with, but the message can’t be lost that there is a war between science and religion. As individuals when we are in open dialogs about such matters as stem cell research or abortion etc., we need to go the one step further and attack the core beliefs. It’s ok to say that one can agree with a religionist on the importance of allowing public funding for stem cell research for a greater good, but we can’t stop there, we need to tell them that even their beliefs are simply poison, that they affect a larger picture. The liberal or moderate religionist and the secular apologist are the ones allowing the virus to fester. They bring up their children with ideas that faith is alright, that it is something special and beyond critical inquiry. The political correctness of just nibbling away at the edges has failed us, it’s time to work toward an end to faith. We then must allow for an “open public square” and keep going the one step further to the goal of having no religion, to recognize that science can and indeed must, destroy religion. That we organize and only speak from labels such as humanist, atheist, skeptic is only asking to minimize the effect we can have. As Sam Harris has told us in no uncertain terms, it will invariably lessen our potential of willing participants.

Here is some quotes from Sam Harris’ important paper, The Problem with Atheism... I think we need to take these words to heart.

We should not call ourselves “atheists.” We should not call ourselves “secularists.” We should not call ourselves “humanists,” or “secular humanists,” or “naturalists,” or “skeptics,” or “anti-theists,” or “rationalists,” or “freethinkers,” or “brights.” We should not call ourselves anything. We should go under the radar—for the rest of our lives. And while there, we should be decent, responsible people who destroy bad ideas wherever we find them.
So we will, inevitably, continue to criticize religious thinking. But we should not define ourselves and name ourselves in opposition to such thinking.

So what does this all mean in practical terms, apart from Margaret Downey having to change her letterhead? Well, rather than declare ourselves “atheists” in opposition to all religion, I think we should do nothing more than advocate reason and intellectual honesty—and where this advocacy causes us to collide with religion, as it inevitably will, we should observe that the points of impact are always with specific religious beliefs—not with religion in general.

But we shouldn’t be fixated, and we shouldn’t be even-handed. In fact, we should be quick to point out the differences among religions..

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Posted: 25 March 2008 03:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Anya/Elisa, it depends on the source.  If someone I respect asks me within the context of a conversation, I have no problem saying that label (of the great many that describe me that fits).  If I don’t trust the person or think s/he’s trying to get a handhold to attack me, my answer is “I’m an eclectic”.  That usually confuses them enough that I can walk away.  We all fit myriad labels - gender, age, profession, ethnicity, philosophy, theology, politics, marital status, physical charactreristics, ethnicity, and on and on. 

If someone says, as your friend did, “that I no longer believed in morality, and that I was pessimistic, close-minded, etc.”, I suggest throwing it back in his court as follows:  “Well, I can see that you know an extremely small amount about atheism.  It would take too long for me to educate you, but I suggest you read a number of books by prominent atheists and secular humanists before you jump to any totally unjustified and incorrect conclusions.”  Then, don’t let him con you into continuing the discussion.  Merely repeat that you’d be willing to talk about this after he educates himself, and not continuing from sources that are biased against atheism.

Occam
=====
P.S. I disagree with Sam Harris quoted about.  Labels are fine as long as we take the time to define them carefully and completely.

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Posted: 25 March 2008 05:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Hi Anya,

I’m a Secular Humanist.  I say that because I believe in many of the tenets of this life stance.  I don’t spend time worrying about if gods or goddesses exist.  They probably don’t, as I don’t have any evidence for them.  I do believe that people are amazing, wonderful, and at times, awful creatures.  We are part of all life on Earth.  I wonder that we have figured out that all life began from one incident, that all life is related and intertwined (I can get a little hokey and poetic.  You must indulge me—I’m a skeptic and an English major!).  Every single beautiful and amazing painting, song, building, statue, whatever, was created from the brain of a person.  Likewise every great idea.  Of course, all the crap is human, too.  But, as an optimist, I see the glass as half-full.

I respect people for the people they are.  I try to educate those who don’t know things.  So, for your friend, as Occam says, I would take the time to have him examine what he really said.  He obviously knows you, and has for a while.  Let him realize that you are a moral person (I hope!!).  You certainly appear to be a thoughtful one.

If you don’t feel comfortable with a title, fine.  It is more important to understand what you do believe and why.  In time, you may become more forceful.  I have become more vocal about my atheism as I’ve gotten older.  I didn’t when I was young (and I became an atheist when I was 14ish).  Now, I feel that standing up for secular values is very important.  And I don’t care who knows it.

I’ve walked out on a limb, publically.  I am a recently elected official in a small western NJ town.  I chose to recite the “secular” oath when I was sworn-in.  I don’t know if spectators noticed.  I don’t care.  I cannot, in good conscience, “swear” to a pretend figure.  The best part of the secular oath is, in NJ, it ends with promising to uphold the laws that were created “by the People.”

And that was the best part.

So, read stuff.  Meet other people who are curious like you.  Poke around on this discussion board.  Don’t do anything that makes you uncomfortable.  That’s the value in ditching organized religion!!  Welcome!!  grin

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Posted: 25 March 2008 08:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I think we have discussed this before, but I don’t know where it is.  Anyway…

I just say I’m a Humanist.  I don’t care what Sam Harris says about labels and like HappyHumanist, the tenets of Humanism I believe in, thus it’s my lifestance.

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“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 26 March 2008 03:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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It’s a definite problem. I’m working on an essay on this very topic, but can’t seem to find time for it (too many other projects demanding my time).
What I’ve decided is, I am going to describe myself as “an individual” (a tip of the hat to Kierkegaard for that idea). And when people say to me
“do you believe in God?”, instead of taking the easy way out and thinking in label-oriented terms and responding “I’m an atheist,” I plan to say
“No,  I don’t believe in God. Want to know why?” Yeah, it’s more work than using label-driven shorthand, but no one said being an individual
was easy. grin

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Posted: 26 March 2008 05:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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That’s very good, Steve. I would add that in a situation where one is asked if they believe in God there’s really no reason to explain anything. If asked, then a reply of, there is no evidence for the existence of any God is right. The onus must be placed on the believer, not the doubter. It must be remembered that the bottom line is to see the end of religious thinking, faith, and the acceptance that we somehow explain ourselves. It is simply giving to much respect to the belief in God to ask if non-belief must be explained. If a debate ensues then showing why it is unreasonable to hold such beliefs is necessary. It is faith based beliefs that gave us the attacks on 9/11. The question, “do you believe in God” is usually some kind of set up anyway for the believer to proselytize or condemn, it’s time to plug that hole, not give them the chance.

Richard Dawkins -

I won’t miss [religion] at all, not one scrap, not one smidgen. I am utterly fed up with the respect that all of us, including the secular among us have been brainwashed into bestowing upon religion.

I think there is an awful lot of bending over backwards to be nice to religion going on. Even Steven Weinberg indulged in it to a certain amount. But, when we’ve lost religion, as I hope one day we shall. We shall have lost the appalling guilt that inflicts people brainwashed as children into being religious. We shall have lost the brainwashing of children, which indeed labels them as sharing the same religious opinion as their parents, it is a form of child abuse. We shall have lost the subversion of science which comes from teaching children that faith is a virtue, faith meaning belief without evidence…

Sam Harris - From ‘The trouble with atheism’

All we need are words like ‘reason’ and ‘evidence’ and ‘common sense’ and ‘bullshit’ to put astrologers in their place, and so it could be with religion.

...

This is certainly a future worth fighting for. It may be the only future compatible with our long-term survival as a species. But the only path between now and then, that I can see, is for us to be rigorously honest in the present. It seems to me that intellectual honesty is now, and will always be, deeper and more durable, and more easily spread, than “atheism.”

Of course he is talking about any such labels as he mentions in my first post above.

[ Edited: 26 March 2008 05:38 AM by bob james ]
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Posted: 26 March 2008 08:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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In ways I don’t mind labels because we do use labels for everything.  I think it’s because I’m still experiencing so many negative responses when I say “atheist” or “humanist”, etc. I knew it would happen.

I appreciate the insight as it does help a bit on how to respond to people.  Like today perfect example.  I’m sitting at a bus stop reading, of all things, A God Delusion, and a man comes up and starts talking to me. Turns out he’s a JW and is offering me his literature.  I just smiled and said no thank you.  He then saw the book I was reading and asked if I was atheist. I smiled again and said I didnt refer to myself as such but I didnt believe in God.  He totally went off on me about it and that I was an atheist and all the bad things of atheism.  I told him that he was more than welcome to feel that way but maybe he should educate himself on what the term atheism is.  cheese

I couldnt stop laughing for awhile because it was such an odd coincidence since what I had just asked for help with. 

I find my problem with labels in the end is that, I have no idea what to classify myself with.  There’s so much out there I think I make my brain melt after awhile so it’s nice to hear how others actually deal with this issue and such.

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Posted: 01 April 2008 11:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Hi Elisa grin ,

I think religionists in general need to compartmentalize and catalogue everything and everybody in order to insure their continuous pathetic coziness. I remember one time, about a year and half ago, upon seeing me reading a one year bible, a female asked me what religion I was , I replied “christian”, and then she jumped to the next question which was “what denomination?”, it’s like my answer was not good enough, now she has to refine her crap to get me to a point that will allow her to accurately self-situate based on what I said in order for her parnoia to be setteled!!! then I returned the favor by asking “and what religion are you?”, she responded “christian”, and then I went “now what is the problem?” and that simply shut her up. I agree with Sam Harris when he said “We should go under the radar—for the rest of our lives.” (thank you BJ for the quote), I personally a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y love that. When you don’t give them a reason to compartmentalize you, you are forcing them to ‘classify’ you in the unkown, they are so scared and frightened of the unknown they basically get disabled, and that’s how they need to be kept until they learn to use their empty heads. You told that bag you didn’t believe in god and look how he immediately evily-ignoringly-stupidly reacted. Basically you armed his wooden revolver, that’s what you did. in his sad mind, he probably thinks “he did great!” LOL why give him that false sense of accomplishement? I think you shouldn’t.

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Posted: 01 April 2008 04:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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If they leave us alone, fine, but not if they challenge us.  Rather than “flying under the radar” I believe we should go on the attack when someone does that.  Instead of just defending our position, we should tear down theirs with the same lack of sensitivity or consideration they show us.  As soon as the JW starts in on atheism, one could say, “As civilization is progressing, the irrational childish fairytales of religion that the uneducated or neurotic depend on are fading away.  Unfortunately, it’s too late for brainwashed adults like you.  Thankfully, as people like you die off, the younger generation is learning to live much happier, well adjusted lives based on reality and understanding rather than the cruelty and lies of religion and belief in fake gods.” 

I know I’m sometimes considered an obnoxious old fud, but it’s amazing how seldom anyone ever tries to argue religion with me, and they never do it twice.

Occam

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Posted: 01 April 2008 06:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I just remembered an encounter I had a few years ago.  I was at the train station and struck up a conversation with another woman.  She had been speaking with someone else, so I knew that she was a recovering drug addict, on a trip home for the first time in a long time.

As my step-brother had died of a drug overdose, I feel that people like her who have the strength to fight the addiction deserve praise whenever they can get it, so I told her so.  Her positive attitude, her bravery, her courage.  After a short while, as you may imagine, she brought up the god thing (she uses her faith to help battle her addiction.  Trust me, I don’t care.  Whatever she needs to stay strong and sober is fine and dandy with me.  I’m not going to disabuse her of her beliefs).  At the point where I felt it was safe, I gently mentioned that I didn’t believe as she did; that I was an atheist.  She argued a bit, of course.  But it was all polite and friendly.

As she was leaving, I asked her to remember one thing.  Somewhere along her travels, she met a kind and thoughtful person who wished her well and was a non-believer.  She may remember me.  I hope she also remembers that I didn’t need god to be kind.

It’s all timing.  But I try to let everyone know, if it is possible, that the nice lady they met is an atheist/secular humanist.

I refuse to go under the radar.

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Posted: 02 April 2008 12:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Occam - 01 April 2008 04:18 PM

...  Thankfully, as people like you die off, the younger generation is learning to live much happier, well adjusted lives based on reality and understanding rather than the cruelty and lies of religion and belief in fake gods.”


Michael Shermer brought up in “why people believe weird things” an example of this superintendant from Kentucky who recalled all Discovery Works text books, glued together 2 pages in each and every book that explain the big bang theory since supposedly these pages are offensive to creationism.  He brought up several others. 

I know I’m sometimes considered an obnoxious old fud, but it’s amazing how seldom anyone ever tries to argue religion with me, and they never do it twice.

Occam


Me too I tend to be confrontational with certain things, but the consequences can sometimes be too great if one in doing so thinks they are safe, one of the moderators of skeptic.com related how she and her family are constantly being viciously and criminally harrassed by the neighbors who happen to know they are atheists. One should keep their safety in mind out of reason not fear. I personally can hold my own ground but I would not recommend this approach to a person I know nothing about knowing that it might cost them.

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Posted: 02 April 2008 12:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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And if one refuses to go under the radar, they should not forget on the other hand to vote on election’s days for the candidat they think will be likely to consider an theist’s stand. One needs to act on legislative level, be a full activist, if you really want to make an impact, a bus stop conversation can be meaningless depending on whom one is talking to.  Again, I find this quote that Shermer brought up within the above mentioned book of Darwin very telling, “Moreover though I am a strong advocate of free thought on all subjects, yet it apprears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against christianity & theism produce hardly any effects on the public;  & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds, which follows from the advance of science.”

to go back to the labeling, I think when one says to a creationist that they are “atheist”, all they do is set themselves up as a target since one cannot reason with ignorance.

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Posted: 02 April 2008 04:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Daisy, what you say is true when dealing with adults, but I’ve found that kids are much more receptive to other views.  I’m obviously far more gentle and caring as I discuss theology, humanism, and atheism with kids and teens.  I’ve found that they listen, consider the ideas and seem to be much more respectful of diversity in views.  An important first step.

Occam

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Posted: 03 April 2008 11:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Occam - 02 April 2008 04:40 PM

Daisy, what you say is true when dealing with adults, but I’ve found that kids are much more receptive to other views.  I’m obviously far more gentle and caring as I discuss theology, humanism, and atheism with kids and teens.  I’ve found that they listen, consider the ideas and seem to be much more respectful of diversity in views.  An important first step.

Occam

My post was not an attack on your approach Chief, I am sorry if it came across that way, as I said, I am upfront too for the most part, in fact that was wrong for me to suggest that she was wasting her time with the jw dude, now that I thought about it a bit, I would have probably verbally smoked him have I been the one, TGD simply took me by storm when I read it, at the time I read it, I thought that was one of the best things that I’ve experienced since my birth, one of the reasons I loved the book is RD’s Buldozer-ing type of approach in writing it, he didn’t cut anybody any slacks as far as cutting out the deference and all that stuff theists are used to and continue to expect from the rest of us. And again I agree, kids are open-minded and non-discriminatory. I still agree with Harris in a sense that one sees people rushing in all directions to identify themselves as protestant, catholic, agnostic, atheist, jew, etc. as if they are afraid that their god or un-god would give them a mean spank if they don’t. I love Harris’ poise about the hole thing. I say this reminding all that I am new to the reality of atheism and that I still have a lot to learn.

[ Edited: 03 April 2008 11:24 AM by Daisy ]
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