If you know me in the real world or even here on TA you'd know I'm pretty passionate about the image of atheism, deconversion and evangelical atheism. A christian friend pointed me to a video (which you can watch here) by Greta Christina today that made me realize that there is a bit of a gap, a chasm, between what I believe and what most atheists believe that could probably be easily filled by a little clarification. Then, I realized, this might in fact be the key to addressing the larger, over-arching issue of anger amongst atheists and whether or not this is a good approach for evangelical atheists.
It just never occurred to me that this point of distinction even needed to be made, but listening to Great and the crowd watching I realized I had made a bad assumption. No, this distinction does in fact need to be made clear. Great gets it, so I'll try to recast her point here in the context of deconversion.
Adherents and their apologists who are angry about atheist anger are just trying to take away the one ingredient responsible for all social change. I took this as a given, but many don't realize that almost every major social movement, from women's rights, to the queer movement, to civil rights; have all been built on "righteous" anger. "Righteous" anger is a special breed of anger that, unlike unhealthy anger, is clearly justifiable. It is the expression of anger, imo, by an emotionally healthy, mature adult.
But what has concerned me is that I get the impression that all too many atheists are not applying this anger constructively. Rather, there is an almost immature, temper tantrum manner in which this gets expressed publicly.
My argument is that to be effective we must learn to channel that anger into something constructive, which means having the maturity and emotional stamina to refrain from public outbursts of anger and rather channel that anger into a social movement of change; of evangelical atheism which includes that unpopular topic of deconversion.
Atheists must learn that anger is a transformative force that can be used for constructive change. But this means being mature and learning how to express anger appropriately in public. There is a difference between anger expressed privately and anger expressed in public. Expressing anger in public is ill-advised if the only thing being expressed is anger. On the other hand, expressing how and why the things that anger you are reason for change is what we should be doing.
So, to be clear, my concern about the manner and tone of the "new atheists" movement comes about as a result of this realization, the same thing that Greta explains in her video much better than I can. And she also points out that when people demand that we "tone it down" they are really trying to take away from us the one thing that fuels social change. They are really just trying to "shut us up" and are doing what every reactionary element has done in the face of social change that begins to truly challenge status quo. For any role I've played in that I regret it and hope I don't do that anymore.
For my part I am so accustomed to refraining from expressing this anger publicly that I have to catch myself sometimes even in private conversations, especially with adherents, when I say, "oh, I'm not really angry about that". Well, I am, but I choose to refrain from expressing naked anger in public as it is counter-productive. When expressed publicly anger should, imo, be channeled as a constructive conversation used to persuade, not defame us and alienate adherents. So, the litany of things that anger us are valid things to talk about, I just think we should be careful in public how we frame it.
I'd like to thank my Christian friend for pointing me to this video and I'd like to know what others think about this. In particular, do you express your anger with religion differently in public and private?
I love it. I'm keeping it.
".. concepts are independent of words. Think in concepts. This is why so much philosophy careers off the rails - people rely on words. "
Sadly, we need to use 'words' to communicate concepts. If we are really good, a nice equation will do.
James - there you go, words are often inadequate, vague, misleading and multi-valued. However, I agree with you too - we use words to communicate. Somebody coined the term "The Healing Principle" and I think this covers it well.
I also like diagrams.
A lot of discussion between philosophers is simply the one endeavoring to understand what the other actually means when they make some statement; since a lot of philosophical terms are abstractions and there is often disagreement over precise definitions, it can take a while. Witnesses will sometimes think they have spent all that time actually arguing. Once they have gone through that effort though, the real argument begins.
I have often witnessed heated arguments on the internet, where it is plain to me that neither side has a clue what the other is actually trying to say--and sometimes it seems to me I am the only one in the "room" to realize it and know what's going on. Both sides get infuriated when this happens, because each person sees the other building strawmen and/or accusing them of holding an opinion that they do not, in fact hold.
It's as frustrating as, for example, listening to a creationist argue against evolution, and that creationist clearly doesn't know what the theory evolution actually is. That creationist is beating you over the head for believing something that, well, actually, you don't believe; the only thing your actual belief and his mistaken picture of it hold in common is that both are labeled (by someone) "evolution."
The only concrete advice I can offer is that if the other side starts complaining "that's not what I said" or "you are bringing up strawmen" it's time to pause and question them about what they intended to say, even if you have them saying something in black and white. (On the other hand flat denials of something you are quoted to have said are silly too; you should respond by saying you misspoke--or if there is an ambiguous term in what you said, by clarifiying it, not claiming that you "never said" X.) I will say that I have often had trouble following this advice myself.
"Think in concepts" is decent advice, but at any significant level of abstraction it's really hard to be sure your concepts are the same as your neighbor's.
Yes, you could say that words are descriptions of concepts and the relationships between them, like describing objects within a landscape. That's why I find diagrams useful.
They certainly can be in some situations, but by no means all.
Try drawing a diagram of "rights" or "god" or "justice" and I think you will find that either the diagram only means something to you (because you know how to fill in the blanks you might not even realize are there), or it's full of the verbiage you seem to think you can avoid with a diagram.
You're probably right.
I read it and it made perfect sense to me.
Maya - do you mean the "working notes" document?
Yes, you're taking the best of all worlds and appreciating all the good things spirituality has to offer humanity, right?
Absolutely. And finding a way in using concrete rationality and science.