Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Friendly Atheist still friendly, not so accomodationist


I’ve always quite liked Hemant Mehta and thought he was generally thoughtful and certainly a decent chap.  But I tired of what often seemed like a mawkishly accomodationist stance and stopped reading his blog some time ago.

He’s changed his mind though.  It’s moving stuff.

While a lot of people in my life know me as an atheist, the battle I used to fight involved getting the religious people to agree with me on other issues and finding common ground there.

I don’t have that problem anymore. Instead, a new problem has emerged.

Now, the battle is over when I should bring up religion with people who might agree with me on everything else. Do I fight with my friends over topics like religion? Should I argue with my parents about god’s existence? At least in my own life, no good can come from these things.

But I’m getting more vocal… I’m trying, anyway.

It seems so easy for PZ and Coyne to say these things because people already know them to be anti-accommodation.

It’s a lot harder when you’ve tried to build bridges with religious people and now risk tearing them apart.

I know what he means.  I think most atheists do.  It was hard for me to stop vaguely pretending to my parents that I’d become an atheist, let alone a grumpy and uncompromising one.  There’s a genuine hurdle to get over.  We’re brought up to feel bad when we don’t give undue respect to religious beliefs. But I think it’s only when we let go of that instinct that we can really start to think clearly about our lack of belief. 

For me, the change in attitude came sometime in the mid 80s.  Atheists and agnostics I knew kept saying things like “I don’t believe in any religions, but I respect them.”  This immediately seemed an astonishing thing to say.  What was there to respect?  And why were they deserving of respect?  It sounds silly in today’s climate, but I struggled with these ideas for quite a while.  There weren’t many people saying stuff like this back then.  And I was only a kid.

I really don’t want to sound patronising, but I hope that Hemant is now entering an awesome new world.  I’m sure he’ll still be friendly.  I don’t think for a moment that he’ll maraud about the place offending people for the sake of it.  But hopefully he’ll no longer pull his punches. 

The world just got a little bit more interesting. 


  1. Thanks for the feedback :) I appreciate it.

  2. I don't see the problem with being a respectful atheist, and I fail to see how that is accomodationist. You can disagree with theists without talking shit. In almost every other avenue of life, we respect the people who can make their point without being coarse, personal or mean. Atheism should be no less respectful.

    Accomodationists think we should just shut up about our differences. They think it's politically incorrect to bring up such matters. That's not my position at all. There is a big difference between discussing issues respectfully and not discussing them at all.

    (Case in point: I do not agree with the author and I said so. But I did not call him stupid, and I didn't say fuck six times.)

  3. I can only assume you didn't read a single word of my post other than "accommodationist".

    I think the key is to respect people, not their beliefs. That means respecting their rights to believe stupid things while making full use of our own right to tell them that those things are stupid.

    In the past, Hemant felt that people should respect beliefs *because* they are beliefs. That's pretty much the very definition of accommodationism. In this post, I praised him for changing his mind. Religious beliefs are stupid. It's fine to mock people for holding those beliefs and accommodationists like old-skool Hemant said it wasn't. All-new Hemant says it is. I prefer all-new Hemant.

    In fact, it's important that we *do* mock and otherwise challenge religious beliefs because they are so harmful and stunting. I don't care in the slightest whether religious people are offended when atheists mock their beliefs. They're welcome to be offended or to ignore us, whatever they like. They are *not* welcome to tell us that we're not allowed to offend them.

    *That* is the problem with the accommodationist stance. They side with the religious on this issue. We've seen it recently with the Jesus & Mo debarkle and the gender segregation at UK university events. People are *still* defending horrible behaviour because it is based on 'deeply held beliefs'. And they are *still* defending the holding of those beliefs *because* they're beliefs regardless of how stupid they are. I argued at the time that this wasn't a great tactic. We're seeing examples right now that suggest I was right.

    Let's attack the behaviour first, but let's also attack the belief. Let's be completely, wholeheartedly and without compromise disrespectful of belief in stupid shit. I know of no other way to encourage people to believe what's true instead of what's stupid and to do what we all know is right instead of what arbitrary rules dictate is wrong.

    In this post, I didn't call anyone stupid and I didn't say fuck six times. I didn't say fuck even once, which is quite unusual for me. I don't even think that putting the word "fuck" in brackets somehow defuses it. If I say fuck, I mean it. But I didn't in this case, so I have no idea at all what you are talking about. Your passive-aggressive message flew clean over my head, I'm afraid.

    I applaud Hemant for letting go of his former accommadationist stance, I applaud people like PZ and Ophelia for being pugnacious about this issue over the years and for making me realise that I'm not the only one who thinks that mocking and despising 'deeply held' religious beliefs is as OK as it is necessary.

    And I really, *really* don't understand your point. Assuming you have one.