Saturday, 20 April 2013

Unbelievably Distilled discussion part 1

Apologies for another massive (and three-part) posting from Facebook, this time from the Unbelievably Distilled group — and "unbelievable" is the word...


This group has been touted as a harbour of Christian and non-Christian tolerance. I'd be interested to hear members' takes on this example of what appears to be deliberate exclusion.

  • Seen by 34
  • Tom Tozer Get over yourself.
  • Paul Orton I think this is one of the areas that Christians (and presumably other faiths) don't realise the effects they have on others. Nonbelievers cannot feel they are an equal part of society when the state's 'in' group is so blatently the religious. And if they raise concerns about this they are frequently dismissed with comments like 'Get over yourself'.
  • Martin Davies If it were me organising the service then they'd be welcome. It's a little odd considering that the US (unlike the UK) IS a secular country. The author of the article has a point when he says that the problems arise because of the involvement of the state.
  • Paul Orton It is more than just about nonbelievers being welcome though. If the state is involved then the service needs to take their views into account.
  • Tom Tozer Nothing in the bulletin says you can't go to the memorial if you are a non-believer.
  • Paul Orton Nobody is saying nonbelievers wouldn't be welcome. I am absolutely sure they would be. The point is that the event is advertised by the State as an opportunity for the community to come together in the wake of the tragic events.
  • Tom Tozer Do they have to have Wiccan priest and someone to sacrifice a chicken and have Deepak Chopra say something unintelligible?
  • Paul Orton As I said before, nonbelievers cannot feel they are an equal part of society when the state's 'in' group is so blatently the religious.
  • Martin Davies There's no argument here. If it's backed by the state then it needs to reflect the whole of the community and be inclusive.
  • Tom Tozer Nah, then either you end up with a parade of every possible religious sect, or an atheistic nothin'. I don't see any problem with this. The major religions are acknowledged without any specific sectarian slant. It's not a Roman Catholic or Methodist service. It's not Sunni Muslim or Wahhabist, or Reformed Jewish.
  • Tom Tozer Paul Orton's solution would apparently be to take all religion out of it, which makes it atheist. So the atheists "win" and the majority of religious are ignored. That's not a solution.
  • Paul Orton Tom: It is not about one side winning over the other but about everybody rubbing along together. And I did not say you had to take all religion out of it. Where did you get that idea from?
  • Tom Tozer What religion would you "allow" in it?
  • Tom Tozer This was held in the "Cathedral of the Holy Cross" you know.
  • Paul Orton I didn't say anything about how the service should look. The issue is that it is an exclusive service that is backed by the state.
  • Peter Sean Bradley It seems that the people who gave invocations were either people who represent communities that identify themselves as "religious" or representatives of the government.

    I didn't see any representatives from the Sierra Club or NORML or Green Peace, for example.

    Are atheists and humanists now claiming that their NGOs are religions...because I thought that what I've been hearing is how proud humanists and atheists are about not being religious.

    Seems like there is a problem of wanting to have the cake and eat it also.
  • Tom Tozer What's exclusive about it? It doesn't say "you must be religious to attend."
  • Paul Orton Exclusive in the sense that nonbelievers cannot feel they are an equal part of society when the state's 'in' group is so blatently the religious.
  • Tom Tozer So the only solution is to cut out all the religion so the nonbelievers can feel they are an equal part? What is the solution? Not have the State do anything at all?
  • Peter Sean Bradley Atheists are always going to "feel" excluded insofar as they adopt the position that religious belief is a weird, strange, atavistic superstition - which is certainly the pervasive attitude expressed on Unb and here.

    So, is the solution to end "interfaith healings" or to change them to accommodate atheists by giving atheists a veto over what such activities can do or say...which actually sounds a lot like the humanist approach to marriage.
  • Paul Orton The premise of this thread was about tolerance. I sense a lack of so will withdraw from the conversation.
  • Tom Tozer Do you see some kind of solution?
  • Paul Jenkins "Do you see some kind of solution?"

    James Croft is one of the most religious-tolerant atheists out there. If he's exceedingly pissed off about the exclusively faith-based "healing service" then the answer to that question is "probably not."
  • Tom Tozer Well, we're not giving up our religion, and you all want to be pissed off, so I think we've arrived at common ground.
  • Paul Jenkins Thanks for telling us what we want, Tom.
  • Tom Tozer I've asked how many times now? What do you want?
  • Paul Jenkins If you already know, why are you asking?
  • James Croft Tom: Perhaps there's some misunderstanding I can help you clear up.

    What happened today is not that some private church sponsored an event which some atheists felt disinclined to attend even though they would not be shut out. Rather, the state government of Massachusetts, headed by the Governor's Office, organized and orchestrated an event to be an official state-sanctioned response to the bombings.

    They decided to make it an "interfaith event".

    This places upon them a number of responsibilities: 1) to ensure people of every religion and none feel welcome. 2) to ensure every community which wishes to participate, regardless of their philosophical tradition, does so (including the Wiccans etc. - I'm not sure why this seems to strike you as odd). They failed in both of these responsibilities.

    Your response - that this is difficult to achieve since it would require the recognition of many different faiths in one service - is precisely one reason why political secularism was invented. A secular service (not an atheist one, but a secular one) could easily have met the needs of all Bostonians without causing these problems.

    But these are the only 2 acceptable outcomes: a truly inclusive interfaith event, or a secular event. The current situation is outrageous.
  • Tom Tozer Right, so the only thing atheists will allow is some kind of "healing service" that caters exclusively to them and not to the majority who are religious, or some kind of goofy religious free-for-all.
  • James Croft Where do you get that conclusion from what I wrote?
  • Tom Tozer Did you NOT JUST SAY they are only two acceptable solutions? One "truly inclusive interfaith" whatever that means --please define what that looks like for me -- or a "secular" event? What would a secular event look like? Any God talk?
  • James Croft I did say that - you note the difference between your two most recent responses?

    A truly inclusive interfaith event might have included, for instance, a Hindu religious figure, a Humanist chaplain, a Mormon representative - any religious/ethical tradition which came forward should have been accommodated. If you're looking for specific examples, the Boston Pride Interfaith service has this character (in organizing that we actively seek out traditions we may have left out to get broadest possible representation).

    A secular service would allow individual citizens to grieve, mourn, heal as they wish but include speeches by elected officials in their capacity as elected officials, and not faith representatives or representatives of Humanist communities or atheist organizations (this is the normal response to crises such as this in many secular nations). God would not be "banned" from the proceedings, but neither would the event have the character of any religious tradition.

    I should say, further, that it is not in fact "atheists" who will "allow" these options: it is the Constitution of the United States of America, which is remarkably clear on this point!
  • Tom Tozer That's exactly what I just said. A religious free-for-all that caters to whoever comes forward rather than to the actual community, or no faith communities. I just said that. No, the Constitution is not about "feelings". I know people think that, but it isn't. It's about not establishing a state religion, not about making everyone "feel included."
  • James Croft So justify your position for me: why should the state represent only a fraction of its population in official events? How do you justify that politically and ethically?
  • James Croft Because it seems to me you aren't offering any arguments...
  • Tom Tozer You're wrong, then. Look back at what I said.
  • James Croft I don't see an argument other than an expression of your own preference.
  • Tom Tozer I don;t see one from you other than that either.
  • Tom Tozer The State can represent the vast majority of its members in a rare event like this without having to cater to every single religious group or make everyone "feel included." I don;t see how that "establishes a religion" in the sense that phrase was intended.
  • Paul Jenkins From Cornell University Legal Information Institute:

    'The First Amendment's Establishment Clause prohibits the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” This clause not only forbids the government from establishing an official religion, but also prohibits government actions that unduly favor one religion over another. It also prohibits the government from unduly preferring religion over non-religion, or non-religion over religion.'
  • James Croft Oh - then you have lots of constitutional law to catch up with. Nonetheless my case is more ethical than legal, and you have not addressed it.
  • Tom Tozer Oh -- then I disagree with that interpretation of the establishment clause. I haven't hears an "ethical" case other than "I feel bad."
  • James Croft Then you'll have to reread the original post. What is your objection to the alternatives I've provided anyway? You haven't articulated anything concrete?
  • Tom Tozer The hell I haven't.
  • James Croft You have simply suggested you would dislike it.
  • Tom Tozer Nope. That's not all I've said.
  • James Croft I don't see anything other than sneering at the alternatives. No principle by which you adjudicate between different options. What do you think an event like this is actually for, in your view?
  • Tom Tozer Then you're not reading very well. I already told you the principle. You just don't like it. In response to an event like the Boston bombings, the government can reach out to the vast majority of its citizens in the manner they are most likely to respond without that becoming some "establishment of religion." I don;t see anything "undue" about that. Refusing to "prefer" non-religion over religion in a case like this ends up allowing non-religion the trump card.
  • James Croft That's just a statement of your position: there is no reasoning as to why you take that position over others apart from the fallacious idea that secular=atheist. Why is it better to allow the government to be majoritarian in the way you suggest? I believe that to be oppressive and undemocratic.
  • Tom Tozer What religion is "secular" then? I think your "oppression" meter needs retuning. The reasoning is actually right there in the statement. The government in response to an event like this should reach out to its citizens in the way they will respond to, rather than in some way they won't care about. Because if it does, then they will respond. If it doesn't then they won't care. See?
  • Tom Tozer Not "should" but certainly "can."
  • James Croft Are nonreligious citizens not also to be reached out to? This is the entire point...
  • Tom Tozer I thought your point was that you were being oppressed and prevented from healing? Is all of this reaching out to supposed to be done at exactly the same time?
  • James Croft If the government is doing it, yes, otherwise you hit problems with the constitution and with basic fairness. I'm not sure what part of the argument isn't clear to you, but it seems to me reasonably obvious that the democratically elected representatives of a diverse people in a secular state should not engage in sectarian government-sanctioned displays such as this, particularly at a time when heightened sensitivity is called for.
  • James Croft Furthermore, your entire attitude to this question seems to me extremely callous. Instead of actually thinking about all the people affected - the enormous number of nonreligious people in MA and beyond who were affected by this - you support a majoritarian view which would ride roughshod over the humanity of people who have been affected by a terrorist attack. Alternatives are available (and have been presented) which would alleviate the problem, but which you oppose for no clear reason other than a misunderstanding of political secularism and some concern regarding a true interfaith service which has never been expanded-upon beyond some vague prejudice against Wiccans.

    Perhaps to you the feelings of people who do not believe as you do are unimportant. I cannot find it within myself to me nearly so heartless. I recognize that there are many here in Boston who have different religious views to mine and I would no more wish to subject them to a Humanist service as I want to be subjected to a state-organized (essentially) Christian service. IF the government wishes to lead people in healing it should do so as a representative of ALL the people, not of a particular majority or, indeed, of any minority.

    The Governor's Office could have stayed out of this event entirely had it chose and organized its own democratic alternative. It could have been more inclusive in its approach. It chose to do neither of these things and instead to add more harm to the significant harm already caused.

    Excuse me if I am not convinced by your snide asides and meanness to take your view, but you have done nothing to demonstrate its validity and much to demonstrate your prejudice.
  • Peter Sean Bradley The premise of this thread was about tolerance. I sense a lack of so will withdraw from the conversation. - Paul Orton

    This is illogical.

    If the issue was really about tolerance, you would stay and engage the discussion.

    On the other hand, if tolerance means something like "people should agree with me or I will call them names and leave in a huff," then your words make sense.
  • James Croft On reading your comments too, Peter, there's a startling lack of empathy for other people. It's really weird. Very disturbing.
  • Peter Sean Bradley James Croft - I'm not convinced that my lack of empathy is misplaced, particularly in light of the serious points I made, which no one responded to.

    Namely, I have been constantly told by atheists - broadly defined - that they are not a religion. That atheism is the equivalent of "not collecting stamps." In fact, that has been Paul Orton's position on a regular business.

    Now, I'm being told that people who identify themselves as "not collecting stamps" are in a fit of high dudgeon because there was no arrangement made for not including the "non-stamp collectors" and the "not baseball fans" and the "not in favor of chocolate ice-cream" people.

    I didn't make up that mindset. I think it's ridiculous.

    Nonetheless, given the abuse I've taken by the "non-stamp collectors" for daring - daring! - to make the observation that there are some non-religious who are very much non-religious as a kind of "faith."

    Also, James, your reference to the non-religious proves my point. Not every non-religious person is non-religious as a matter of identification. Most non-religious - 90% or more - are non-religious because of real indifference and sloth. Those people couldn't care less about this issue.

    This argument addresses the "significance" and "inconsistency" of your position. The next one will address the dysfunction that Tom Tozer has mentioned.
  • Peter Sean Bradley James Croft - Did you notice that the "faith-based" invocations were fairly generic?

    That's because in "interfaith" services, the participants go to a "least common denominator" kind of religiosity. Thus, there won't be any rosaries or Jesus hymns, which is as it should be.

    Did you also notice the word "faith" in the title?

    Presumably, this event was organized around the "faith" communities.

    I ask for the third time, are atheists a "faith" community?

    If they aren't, then we may fairly ask what the "least common denominator" of including faiths and non-faiths is?

    I suspect the answer you would provide is "no faith based talk."

    But doesn't that transform the very nature of an "interfaith service," which would seem to have something to do with demonstrating a solidarity between the faith communities and the government, something which has always been recognized as permissible, wise and prudent by the Constitution ( Paul Jenkins' quote-mining to the contrary notwithstanding)?

    Further, after the same-sex marriage slippery slope, I am dubious about extending invitations to atheists with respect to "interfaith" services. No one thought that providing statutory protection to gays in employment, and then in domestic partnerships, would mean that the people would no longer be able to keep their understanding of marriage...and now we are learning that, yes, polygamy is really on the horizon.

    Similarly, with respect to atheist involvement in "interfaith" services, the first move would be to invite them in, the next step would be arguments that since they are there, they are oppressed by all the "God-talk", they are being exposed to, and that it should stop...which would transform the meaning of "interfaith" services as much as homosexual marriage will transform marriage.

    I think the better approach would be for the non-religious to organize the "non-faith non-service" and invite politicians to it. They might invite members of the real faith community to them and build up a tradition of trust and habits of accommodation that would defuse my objections.

    But I suspect we both know that that won't happen because, despite your claim about the legions of the faithless, there really isn't an interest among the slothful and indifferent godless - the vast majority of non-theists - for that kind of activity.
  • James Croft The problem with your points, Peter, is that they miss the point quite spectacularly. You ask whether atheists can meaningfully be included under the umbrella of an "interfaith" service: I am ambivalent regarding that question. Sometimes it seems to me very natural that atheists might be included, sometimes less so. But this isn't the substantive question - it's a dodge.

    The real question - the question I pose in my post - is whether the memorial service organized by the state government should be inclusive of all people or not. You seem to be arguing that it need not be: that it is entirely ok for the government to decide to host an official memorial which excludes from consideration Hindus, Sikhs, Mormons, Jains, Buddhists, atheists, Humanists etc. and that these excluded groups have no claim on your sympathy, even though doubtless members of these groups were affected by the bombings and many live in MA.

    Could you please justify that position before I go on?
  • Paul Leffingwell Just reading the OP, and it doesn't *seem* like any exclusion took place. Atheists have insisted that their metaphysic is merely a lack of a certain belief, it's hard from that to come to a clear means of defining a way in which atheists could be represented.
  • Peter Sean Bradley The real question - the question I pose in my post - is whether the memorial service organized by the state government should be inclusive of all people or not. You seem to be arguing that it need not be: that it is entirely ok for the government to decide to host an official memorial which excludes from consideration Hindus, Sikhs, Mormons, Jains, Buddhists, atheists, Humanists etc. and that these excluded groups have no claim on your sympathy, even though doubtless members of these groups were affected by the bombings and many live in MA.- James Croft

    I was responding to the original post - where it says "Atheists denied healing."

    Obviously, if you read my comments, you would have clearly seen the line that I drew as a matter of logic was between "faith" and "non-faith."

    My general point should have been non-controversial, namely we treat like things like. Insofar as Mormons, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists are faiths that can meaningfully participate in an "interfaith" service, then insofar as the "interfaith service" was subject to the Constitution as involving "state action" then discriminating on the basis of content is not constitutional.

    That incidentally is an accurate statement of constitutional law.

    The burden, though, is on you to show that "humanists" fall into that category. If "humanists" are simply "non-stamp collectors," then I would think that you would fail in your burden of proof.

    I also note that you don't respond to my point about atheists being "non-stamp collectors."

    Perhaps you want to revise the title of the post?
  • Peter Sean Bradley James Croft - I went back to your Patheos post. Here's your conclusion:

    //Atheists also deserve to heal.//

    True, but that is the reason why my comments were directed to your post. You were talking about atheists qua atheists.

    So, how about responding constructively to my points, particularly the one about "non-stamp collectors"?
  • Tom Tozer There was no exclusion. James Croft "feels" put upon and oppressed, and wants to play the excluded martyr. We're not going to persuade him otherwise.
  • James Croft There you go Tom - more snide dismissals and a complete lack of argumentation. There's nothing to respond to there. I'll respond to Peter once I'm back at my desk.
  • Christopher Soulos Do any of the politicians in opposition to the current government feel oppressed by the invitation? No, that would be read as inappropriate, turning this much needed service into a political football. I say, put on your own healing service if you cant join in with the political opponents and faiths that don't already see eye to eye that at least have the social and emotional maturity to mix at such an important event. Will atheists be in attendance? I hope so for their own relevance to the society they live in.
  • James Croft OK to address some of the points that have been raised: there is quite a serious misunderstanding of the requirements of secularism being displayed by a few people in this post. The question, I say again, is quite a simple one: whether official government responses to tragedies such as this should be sectarian or inclusive. My view is that they should be inclusive, for the following reasons:

    1) Elected representatives represent all the people, including those of different faiths, political persuasions, backgrounds, racial identities etc. to their own, and they should not serve one constituency more fully than they serve another.

    2) The constitution has been interpreted as prohibiting politicians from conferring benefits and recognition on one faith or set of faiths over others, faith over lack of faith, or lack of faith over faith. A government-sanctioned religious ceremony which promotes and recognizes Christianity, Islam, and Judaism but does not do the same for any other faith, or the faithless, clearly flouts this precedent.

    3) At a time of national tragedy being scrupulous regarding inclusion is particularly important, because peoples feelings (pace Tom Tozer) actually matter. Indeed the whole purpose of an event like the service is to heal people's feelings. If the result is that people feel left out and excluded, that means the event has failed.

    4) Alternatives exist which would have solved this problem without harming anybody else. A truly inclusive service or a secular service would not have harmed anybody and would have catered to everybody's needs.

    5) This case is particularly insulting because Boston has one of the most organized and effective communities of Humanists and atheists in the country, and we offered our assistance and asked to be included.

    For these reasons I stick by my position that the sectarian, exclusive religious service organized by the Governor's Office was a mistake. I have yet to see and cogent reasons addressing my case here. Present them if you have them, or quite the field.
  • Tom Tozer 1) So what. Vote for different ones then; 2) prohibiting "undue" favoritism, not prohibiting all recognition that religion is a force in our public life; 3) If you honestly look to the government to "heal your feelings," you have a sad life. The event was successful for some, not for others, so what; 4) You still have utterly failed to describe a "truly inclusive service" in anything but vague general terms. Do Wiccans get to be in it? Can someone sacrifice a chicken? Nor have you defined "secular service." How does anything lacking -- in the first case -- any seriousness whatsoever, or -- in the second case -- any spiritual value at all, "cater to everybody's needs"? Not everybody is a humanist secularist.

    My prior comment wasn't seeking a response. So I guess it was successful.
  • Peter Sean Bradley James Croft - Why don't I get an answer to my questions?

    Too much contradiction with what other atheists say?
  • Peter Sean Bradley 1) Elected representatives represent all the people, including those of different faiths, political persuasions, backgrounds, racial identities etc. to their own, and they should not serve one constituency more fully than they serve another. - James Croft

    Elected representatives represent all the people in their dealings with communities and organizations outside the government, whether that is foreign governments or subgroups within the community itself.

    I take it that elected representative attend union rallies and Planned Parenthood events.

    I also take it that the "faith community" is as real a community as a the union movement or the civil rights movement. I don't assume that people outside the union movement have a right to complain that employers aren't represented at union rallies, or that the Ku Klux Klan has a right to be involved in civil rights meetings.

    But then I'm a libertarian conservative and a strong believer in the associational freedom, which includes the right to define the boundaries of the group.

    Your problem, which you've been non-responsive to all day, is how are atheists part of the "faith community"?
  • James Croft Peter: You don't get an answer because your question is beside the point. Tom: your points are now becoming desperate. "So what?" is not an argument. As for the nature of an inclusive service, I described above that it would include all communities which wished to be involved. I even gave an example of such a service. You obsession with Wiccans is really strange, too (what's wrong with Wiccans?).

    Peter, you say:

    "Elected representatives represent all the people in their dealings with communities and organizations outside the government, whether that is foreign governments or subgroups within the community itself.

    I take it that elected representative attend union rallies and Planned Parenthood events.

    I also take it that the "faith community" is as real a community as a the union movement or the civil rights movement. I don't assume that people outside the union movement have a right to complain that employers aren't represented at union rallies, or that the Ku Klux Klan has a right to be involved in civil rights meetings."

    You are failing to make a critical distinction here: between an elected representative visiting a privately-organized meeting (like a church service or a union rally) and an elected representative organizing, on behalf of the government, a meeting with the imprimatur of the government, using tax funds to do so. Since the office of the governor decided what would happen at this service (and therefore staff time was dedicated to it by the government) this is an example of the latter case. This is a very significant distinction - do you see the difference?

...continued in part 2
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...