Ever have one of those nights you really never thought would happen? Lately I have been having those. I have that night where I get emails from strangers thanking me for writing what I write. I have nights where someone I didn’t even know existed, who lives halfway around the globe, dismantled an entire piece I spent days writing. But then tonight, I had a special ‘one of those’ nights.
The food drive went really well and we had a great time packing boxes for the elderly. So, when I saw there was a ‘Nerd Herd’ night to be had with this same skeptics group, I was signed up before the page finished loading. The idea is that they get together once a month or so, and the group lets people give a short 8-10 minute talk about a subject of their choosing. Followed by a discussion of varying length depending on topic, progression of the conversation, and how many times Benito wants to talk. (Hi Benito!)
After signing up I read the ‘more…’ section of the description. It appeared there would be a ‘special guest’ at this meet up. Some dude named… let me see if I bothered to keep the notes…. um… oh yes, Russell FUCKING Glasser. Yeah THAT Russell Glasser. The man of atheistic fame from little shows like The Atheist Experience and the wonderful podcast The Non-Prophets. This man is one of the handful of people who unknowingly helped me get off the god glasses and get to doing the work I’ve found I love so much. I place him, for me personally, with David Smalley, Christopher Hitchens, Matt Dillahunty, Seth Andrews and Daniel Dennett. I mean that, this guy and his work are formative to me. So, no pressure… no pressure at all. It’s ONLY a chance to sit at a table of 12 or so people and having 8 minutes to basically show the guy what I’ve got.
So I did what any self loathing writer would do, I put a question out to my readership. “If you were going to this group, what would you like to hear me talk about for 8 minutes”. A few suggestions came in via email, FB, text, etc. The best one by far was ‘Apathy in Atheism’. So, today I plunked down at my keyboard and wrote what I feel like is a good representation of what my fears are with apathetic atheism, a few things we all could either start doing, or do better, and a couple of punch lines. What follows is that 8 minute talk. I wasn’t able to video or audio record, as it was too informal a setting. It would have just been weird, trust me. So, I have the written transcript as it were. I hope you enjoy it.
Oh, and I’m just going to leave this here.
Apathy in Atheism
First Id like to define apathy as “lack of emotion; or lack of interest; a listless condition; indifference.”
So, what does apathy matter to Atheism or Secularism as movements?
Here are a couple of quotes I have found on apathetic atheism (often referred to as apatheism):
“My unbelief is apathetic and simply follows from my materialism – I don’t see why I should care about the non-existence of gods.”
“Of course god doesn’t exist. So what?”
The above intentional apathy would make sense in a closed system where, once you discard those things which cannot be evidenced you move on, but we don’t live in a vacuum. We live in a world of thousands of different opinions about gods, their existence, and their roles in the world.
I’ve no doubt there are several ‘kinds’ of atheists here tonight ranging from the evangelical atheist like myself, to the more secular ‘live and let live’ kind. What happens in a movement like ours is that a lot of people see the movement gaining momentum and popularity (often a metric that’s distorted by ones own confirmation bias) and think ‘good, I’m glad someone is doing that’ or ‘whats the harm in my keeping quiet?’ or ‘I’m not a public figure, why would I need to be active in my non-belief?
That answer is two-fold: 1. Any positive publicity and ‘normalization’ of secularism and atheism will help keep the movement growing, reaching more people and to become a more accepted world view 2. Apathy like this allows entropy in the movement to propagate.
The first point is fairly obvious but nonetheless seems to be downplayed. People seem to undervalue the effect they can have on others. Your active, if subtle, work can mean the world to the right person at the right time. Not everyone is a ‘firebrand’ but you can be effective in your own ways.
The second point might be less obvious. Ideas and cultures take hold in society not because they are good ideas, but because people hold them up to BE good ideas. A lot of us would argue that a religious nation is a horrible idea, but there have been several over the years due to the ideas being actively propagated. When people stop actively supporting a cultural ideal or norm, that idea can fade from consciousness. When we stop actively endorsing secularism, or atheism, the movement can experience a lot of entropy and run down. An ironic but topical analogy would be the Church. If you leave the congregation to keep itself motivated, entropy starts to kick in and people get distracted with work, family, kids, politics, etc. The system runs down. What do they do to resolve the apathy in church? Revivals, camps, active study sessions, etc.
So, all that being said, what can we do to eliminate apathetic behaviors from our movement?
I feel there are four things we can do to eliminate apathetic behaviors:
Criticize Religious Belief
It’s important to point out why mistaken beliefs are mistakes. If people were able to maintain beliefs in packets or quanta, then a single bad belief may not be so bad. However studies seem to indicate that belief systems (and subsequently the process one uses to come to those beliefs) permeate most if not all of that persons decision-making. Believing that you are going to heaven might not be a destructive behavior on the surface, but it could also make one not resolve chasms between them and other family members filling that chasm with ‘we will be okay once we are in heaven’ not realizing you have just missed your chance to have a meaningful relationship with that person. Having a ‘Jesus take the wheel’ approach to life might sound harmless and even stress relieving, until you apply that mindset to your local bus driver’.
It’s also very important to not let people have unchallenged beliefs in the public forum. As has been pointed out time and time again, when we challenge beliefs and philosophies we are not necessarily working to change the mind of the person holding said beliefs, but to present thought bombs to others that are reading the material, watching the video, etc.
The more people have to rationally, publicly and without quarter, defend their beliefs and positions the more we will see these ideas for what they. These ideas can successfully thrive when in a closed system like a church, but when you have to apply them to reality and defend them in a public forum, they fall apart. People need to see that happen.
Promote Positive Atheism
This may seem obvious, but a LOT of people have the mentality of ‘that’s someone else’s job’. I’m not saying you need to be an activist per se. You may not want to do like me and write a blog, run a Facebook page or two, start a podcast AND work a full-time job. But that doesn’t mean you can’t speak up when you see something that needs to be spoken about. You can pass around information on Facebook, emails, casually correcting the course of conversations that you see headed down pseudo-scientific or nonsensical paths.
The other side of the promotional coin is more simple still, its promotion through action. Just by living your life as a ‘out atheist’ and showing people how you really can be good without god often goes further in showing that we have a more favorable world view than yelling about how stupid and retarded someones beliefs are. Follow the secular golden rule of ‘don’t be an ass’ and then be willing to explain to others how you came to your moral or ethical conclusions without invoking imaginary friends or bronze age poems.
Support other Atheists
Being an active member of atheistic or secular organizations like the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the clergy project, JREF, Back Yard Skeptics, or any other groups you can find is a great way to support other atheists. Giving money to activists activities, like supporting your favorite podcasts, Call-In Public Access TV shows… sorry I meant (*motions to Russell* ) Internet Show. *Note: inside joke, since dropping the Austin Public Access show and going internet based, Russell has had some trouble changing his intro spiel, and it’s quite funny*
You can attend conferences, or even small groups like this one. You do a great amount to support other atheists simply by giving them a community, a forum… Or like what you are doing for me now, a small boost of self-esteem to help keep me pushing forward in my own activism.
Lastly on the topic of supporting atheists, be sure to speak up in public or private conversations where you feel like an atheist or secularist is not being treated like a human being. Here in SoCal there is a lot less of this than in the south where I came from. Having the guts to stop a conversation that’s basically ‘you are a crappy human being, how can you not love god, you are going to burn in hell’ can be both a HUGE amount of support to the person being attacked, as well as a reminder to the attacker that they are not going to be allowed to be bullies anymore, that we stand together. Sometimes just being there for someone is enough. Just telling them that you really do understand what its like for them leaving their religion can be enough to keep someone on the path to stepping out from their delusions.
Confront Our Own Hypocrisy, Biases, and Repudiate Bad Behavior
We aren’t Christians, how can we be hypocrites, right? Joking aside, at the bottom of all of these debates is the fact that we are human beings. Flawed, imperfect human beings. We all have, at one time or another, told someone not to do something when we have done the opposite. We have all chastised believers or other skeptics for their positions, lack of logic or rationality while not applying those methodologies to our own beliefs.
Hypocrisy is something we ALL commit. How we deal with it afterward and how we work to minimize it in the future is what matters. One must first be willing to admit they can be wrong, and be willing to call yourself out on your mistakes, instead of doubling down on bad information.
Biases are like assumptions, they are dangerous because most of the time you don’t know when you are wrapped up in one. Developing a good toolkit for recognizing and dismantling biases is a great way to fight the apathy of atheism. It’s good for kicking yourself in the butt every now and then and saying ‘I wonder what nonsense “I” still believe?’. The really hard thing is once you recognize an inconsistency is actually working on that evaluation and finding the truth. Being willing to say, “I was wrong” or to tell a story “where I was SO mistaken” not only helps you to (as Matt Dillahunty would say) believe as many true things and as few false things as possible. It also helps tremendously with showing others that its OK to be wrong, and that you can be wrong about things yet find the right answers.
Repudiating ‘bad’ Behavior
We simply MUST own up to our own actions or inactions, taking responsibility for ourselves. If you do something wrong, admit it. If you back a fallacious idea or philosophy , be willing to admit that and be willing to do the personal work to change. There isn’t much more that needs to be said. Own your side of the street.
Apathy in this movement could be a deathblow to all the great work that’s been done so far by so many, so please stay positive, stay active, and keep thinking.
At the highly publicized Apostacon event in Texas this month there will be lots of talks, presentations, get togethers and debates. But, one of those debates is going to be IN-FRICKING-SANE.
Matt Dillahunty will be squaring up with JT Eberhard in a mano y mano, no holds barred debate about whether Country Music Sucks. This could be the most important debate of our time! So much so the Matt has already tossed down the gauntlet….
How will JT respond? WWJTD?!?!?
Stay tuned to find out. Or better yet, head over to the Apostacon Event Page and register if you are going to be in the DFW area Sept. 18th – 20th.
Aron Ra gave one of his standard talks on how reality refutes religions, and creationists are science deniers talks this year at Gateway to Reason in St. Louis. All in all, its not his most informative speech, and seems to be one pandered to the ‘converted’. Aron does have a tendency to be condescending, and I agree that from his point of view he should be. He deals with people who are directly immoral, unethical, and are intellectually dishonest.
This one may not be a speech for everyone, but if you missed it:
But if you dont watch it, I dont want you to miss what I thought was the quote of the night.
Now remember, we are talking about a genie who can supposedly make everything Humans can’t make, but he can’t make anything Humans CAN make… So he need’s us to build his Ark and his Tabernacle.
For those of you new to Aron Ra, here is his basic bio:
AronRa is an atheist activist and vlogger. He is also an ardent evolutionist and vocal critic of creationism. AronRa is also the Texas State Director of American Atheists.
I’ve watched this Kim Davis thing go from a case about bigotry and being a horrible human being to being about whether SCOTUS can make a law. For those of you curious about how the system you are a part of works, read on.
When the Supreme Court announces its decisions and issues its opinions, it is often accused of “legislating from the bench” or making laws although it is not the legislative branch. Does the Court “make law” when it decides the outcomes of the cases that come before it? The answer depends on the definition of “law” one uses. When the Congress, a state legislature or some other established law-making body passes a law, it creates “statutory law.” These are the laws with which people are most familiar, such as laws regulating the speed limit, laws that define criminal behavior and the laws that establish government programs. Statutory laws, however, are not the only kinds of laws that are “made” and applied in the American political and legal systems.
The most fundamental laws of this nation are the guidelines established by the Constitution. The “constitutional law” of the land includes the Constitution’s descriptions of the relationships between the three branches of the national government, the relationships between the national and state governments, the powers the Constitution grants to the national government and, most importantly, the limitations it places on governmental action.
The Legislative, Executive and Judiciary branches are all established and guided by constitutional law. However, the Constitution is sufficiently vague that each branch has frequently found itself in situations where the “right” course of action under constitutional law was unclear. The Framers of the Constitution, recognizing that they could not anticipate every possible circumstance in the new nation’s future, purposely left room for each branch to adapt and interpret their roles under the Constitution to meet the needs and challenges they would face. Most notably, the Congress was given the task of deciding what was “necessary and proper” to “promote the general welfare” and form “a more perfect union.” The necessary product of these decisions has been thousands and thousands of statutory laws.
As the Executive Branch has implemented the statutory laws passed by the Congress, it has also had to interpret not only its role under the Constitution but also the intentions of the Congress. In many instances the Congress has passed legislation that was purposely vague, leaving the details to Executive Branch departments and agencies to decide. When bureaucracies determine the details of the enforcement and implementation of a law passed by the Congress, the Executive Branch also “makes law.” These kinds of laws are called “administrative law.”
As this nation’s political system has evolved and matured, there have been numerous controversies about the laws passed by the Congress and the way those laws have been implemented by the President and the Executive Branch. There have also been disputes about the separation of powers between the three branches, the relationship between the national government and the states, the rights of the people and a host of other questions that arise under the Constitution. When such cases arise, they clearly fall under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. As Alexander Hamilton observed, it was necessary for the stability and future of the nation to “establish one court paramount to the rest, possessing a general superintendence, and authorized to settle and declare in the last resort a uniform rule of civil justice”. When the Court makes decisions in response to such cases, it is, for all intents and purposes, defining and interpreting constitutional law. Does it “make” constitutional law in the process? There are differences of opinion on this matter, but the Court has clearly gone beyond the strict “letter of the law” embodied in the Constitution in several instances. Whether its decisions amount to new law or merely interpretations and clarifications of existing ones is, for better or worse, a matter of opinion.
From Hamilton’s statements in The Federalist Papers, however, it appears that the Framers at least intended that the Supreme Court would stand between the other two branches of the national government and the people, preventing abuses of power and improper interpretations of the Constitution. Indeed, Hamilton declared it the duty of the Court to “declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void. Without this, all the reservations of particular rights or privileges would amount to nothing
As you already are aware, today has been filled with updates about Kim Davis. I have certainly been swept up in it., However, as the day draws to a close I’m starting to pay more attention to the ramblings of a madman known as Mike Huckabee. Im sure at this point youve all read these.
What I don’t understand is how any one that knows ANYTHING about law or civics could back up this lady’s behavior. So let’s assume for a moment that he was just swept up in a moment of Christian woe-is-me-ism. Fine, I get it. But then he goes a little more out on a limb… comparing this self-righteous bigot to Abraham Lincoln, and then quickly followed that with a comparison to Rosa Parks saying: “Immediately release Kim Davis from federal custody. Exercising Religious Liberty should never be a crime in America. This is a direct attack on our God-given, constitutional rights.”
First of all Mr. Huckabee, with all due respect, you are a fucking idiot. Rosa Parks didn’t voluntarily place herself in a position to be elected into a civil service job, who’s job it is to execute the laws of the State and Country she is an elected official in. Kim did. Secondly, LISTEN to yourself. “A direct attack on our God-Given, constitutional rights”.
Now, I didn’t get a degree in national history, or constitutional law, but I’m fairly certain that the people who gave you your constitutional rights all actually signed the document. I don’t see God’s name on there anywhere. But knowing the trickster god you believe in Mr. Huckabee, I’m sure he just used disappearing ink.
Go home, Mike, you’re drunk.