You've all heard the claim that we aren't really atheists, we are just mad at god. (Or you will see such things as "so and so claims to be an atheist.")
Today, though I saw an argument in chat with a theist, and someone else's account of an argument they had out in public, and I stopped to wonder if maybe we aren't sometimes encouraging this line of bullshit, albeit unwittingly.
What happened in both cases was the atheist began recounting all the sorts of horrible things Yahweh is portrayed as doing or believing or commanding. In one case, I saw the atheist say "why should I love god when he won't love me back?"
The problem with this sort of thing is we usually don't take care to phrase our remarks to make it clear that god is a character of fiction. When discussing the misdeeds of Yahweh we tend to fall back on a convention we use when we talk about a fictional character in a book. We refer to him by name and talk as if the guy was real and the book was not fiction, for example, "In George Orwell's 1984, Winston Smith was arrested for thoughtcrime," not, "In George Orwell's 1984, the character Winston Smith..."
We know what we mean, because we both know Winston Smith (or god) is fictitious. But they don't know god is fictitious.
Talking this way with someone who believes the fictional character is real might cause him not to understand you are just following the convention. Your phrasing sounds to him like you accept god as real, he "knows" god is real, so he assumes at some level you think god is real.
What I am suggesting here is that you ever want to bring up how nasty this being is, you make it clear that you don't think he exists, make sure you put "fictitious" (or equivalent) in every other sentence at least, and not let them think for a minute that you assume the existence of god.
Yes I know that when you just said you were an atheist this shouldn't be necessary, but obviously many of these people don't understand atheism in their guts, so don't let their paradigm default you into a "believer but mad at god" box.
They didn't choose to talk to you about it in the analogy; you chose to talk to them and they indulged. The point is that participants in a conversation should try to equip themselves with the knowledge necessary to participate at the appropriate level. If that is not possible, they should do their best to recognize the limitations in their knowledge of the subject matter.
And this is especially true when we leave this analogy and get back to the original topic. If we're talking about atheism at this basic level, we aren't talking about specialized knowledge like string theory; we're talking about basic general knowledge. We're talking about crack-a-fucking-dictionary-once-in-awhile knowledge.
As I stated in my other post in this thread, I'm not above correcting a harmless misunderstanding when it arises, and I am not above moderating my speech to cater to specific audiences, but I think the original post takes things too far. If we have to lower our expectations of theists that we assume by default they will not understand basic contextual statements, the problem is deeper than misunderstandings. The problem, as a generalization, is the people making these 'atheists hate God' assertions' don't really care. Chewing their thoughts for them beforehand will not make them care; it just reinforces mental laziness.
Keith, you seem to have misunderstood the point of my analogy - I chose not to correct your first post, but your second one on the subject makes it necessary. The point was that different sociological groups have their own languages, and in the vocabulary of the theist, there is no word for disbelief in an immortal being capable of transcending the laws of physics. We should not be surprised then, when we discuss atheism, that they can't grasp our concept.
I haven't misunderstood. I've adressed it specifically:
If we're talking about atheism at this basic level, we aren't talking about specialized knowledge like string theory; we're talking about basic general knowledge. We're talking about crack-a-fucking-dictionary-once-in-awhile knowledge.
This is a point of disagreement I have with your analogy, not a misunderstanding of the analogy. Also, please read more carefully, (right down to my name).
Honestly? I gave my clarification, and kindly asked you to read at least carefully to get my name right. This is hardly attitude.
Yes, exactly. Basically remember who you are talking to and their context of knowledge.
Another example like the one you gave here is that biologists, talking to each other, will often anthropomorphize evolution, saying such-and-such organ's purpose is this, and that so-and-so was designed to... As if evolution were conscious of what it were doing. They know it isn't, but it's faster to talk that way, and neither risks being misunderstood. But usually they are much more careful talking to the general public because there might be creationists lurking. (And they most assuredly don't want to be quoted out of context as believing in ID!)
An MD friend of mine says he endeavors to say things like "The heart's function is to pump blood" even with other people who he knows accept evolution, just to not form bad habits.
biologists, talking to each other, will often anthropomorphize evolution
This is true for many, many expressions and cliches. (First one that pops into mind is "it's just the nature of the beast", when talking about any process or machine, etc.) I think it's a very important observation, because it points out one of the tendencies humans have to automatically assume purpose or cause or intent (and so on), because (perhaps) that's how our consciousness evolved.
Before we had adequate vocabulary or other ways to communicate our ideas to each other, it was much easier to assume there was some kind of "spirit" or other consciousness in other people, animals, or even objects (like mountains) or processes (like weather). This kind of thinking naturally made it easier to assume there were other, animating, conscious entities at work everywhere in the world around us.
No, I wouldn't say we are encouraging it through such behaviour. My expectations for other humans hasn't fallen so low that I'd make any sort of excuses for that kind of silliness. If it was an honest misunderstanding, that could be easily remedied through the course of the conversation. If it's just intellectual laziness or boorish petulance, there's a much deeper problem than someone thinking I hate God.
I already couch my words to an absurd degree to get by with people who cannot ever recognize context. It's tiring. 'Atheist' is a word I'd expect any junior high student to understand. I feel bad for people who's language education was so shitty that they don't understand the concept as adults, but is spoon feeding them the solution?
I agree it's tedious, and they should understand. Yes, they're often lazy and boorish, petulant, etc... and the problem really is deeper than their willful misunderstanding of what you mean. You obviously don't have to cater to theists' ignorance if you don't wish to.
But my purpose in engaging them is actually to help them see the absurdity of their position, even if I have to spell it out for or spoon feed them. When I engage atheists, I do expect them to have some rudiments already down, but I never expect that from theists. Should they be more educated? Yes. Is it their responsibility? Yes. But what should be and what are, are usually quite at odds. The sad thing is, I do think most of them are that dense and truly do believe we're simply angry; I think it does have to be spelled out that we're speaking hypothetically. I do feel like I'm speaking with three-year-olds.
If dealing with those types is not your thing, by all means, don't. Most of them won't do the research on their own and, if we want to make progress with them, we've gotta speak their language... or just continue letting them override all of our rights. It does make me feel resentful sometimes, but I do hope my efforts will be worth it.
I think your efforts are probably wasted, not that you aren't quite adept and knowledgeable, it's just that most theists identify so personally with their beliefs, that to attack the belief, is to attack them, which causes an immediate lockdown of the logic centers of their minds.
I rarely attack theists, for that very reason - I attack their Bible, the very foundation of their entire belief system, which is built on fable and fabrication. I can't honestly say that that has ever deconverted anyone either, but if I can just raise a question in a mind, or if I'm really lucky, a doubt, then I've done the best I can.
Religion will ultimately die on its own, I'm just trying to help it along by applying a tourniquet to it's neck.
I agree completly. It's very important to choose your words, or choose what words not to use. I have found it helpful to not use the word god at all. I try to keep the conversation on the topic of ideas, If you can learn to do this without lossing your cool, or your mind, your relligious foe will always bring it back to the bible, the "word of god". Your response to this should always be, no those are the words of the men who wrote the bible thousands of years ago. It has worked for me and no one has mistaken me for someone who just needs a push in the right direction for many years now.
Yes I think that would work well.