Sunday, March 22, 2015

Gay Marriage and American Culture: It’s not as Clear-Cut as Liberals Pretend

No, liberals, this is NOT a clear-cut issue

My friend Matt, who like myself teaches English here in Taipei, is a committed American liberal and a Buddhist. On some issues we see eye to eye, on others hardly so.

Recently on Facebook Matt posted an article on the increase in Americans who don’t identify with any religious tradition: the so-called “Nones”. In Matt’s mind, this was a good thing, since like many liberals, he considers religion to be something modern cultures should get over. (Oddly he doesn’t seem to think this applies to his own Buddhism however.)

I immediately commented on Matt’s post that with the decline in religious observance, especially among the young, America was just drifting further into the nothingness of consumerism and pop culture--that the increase in “Nones” was not a positive thing, but a sign that our culture was losing its bearings. My reply led into a debate, and sure enough, within a few sentences Matt had to raise the issue of same-sex marriage. That many Christians oppose gay marriage is, for him, more evidence that Christianity cannot evolve, and should therefore disappear.

Of course I knew the allusion to gay marriage was coming. For many American liberals, the Christian stance against gay marriage, still held to by many churches, is the Number One Sign that Christianity is “outdated”. Liberals base this claim on their assumption that the rightness of gay marriage is “incredibly obvious”--that there really aren’t, and can’t be, any reasons to stand against it.

But regardless of how one thinks on the issue, I feel one thing can be stated as certain: There is nothing obvious about gay marriage. In fact, the arguments against it remain strong, and will not simply go away, and the longer liberals assume their position is so “obvious”, the longer will this serious social debate consist mainly of people talking past each other.

I for one am tired of being treated as a bigot because I still frankly point out people the solid reasons, aside from biblical prohibition, that Christians and other religious people may have for opposing gay marriage.

Below are some of my remarks to Matt. I’ve decided to post these remarks here at my blog because I think I’ve managed to sum up some of these extra-biblical reasons concisely. Yes, my friend Matt was cordial in his reply, but in fact he didn’t really answer my points here. I think to answer them one would have to consider them carefully, and to consider these points carefully is to give up the assumption that gay marriage is so obviously right.

Most liberals can’t let themselves do that. For once they give up this assumption, they have to admit that, well, they might not be as right as they assume they are.

And so: Why is gay marriage claimed as an obvious “right”? Why aren’t the following points ever acknowledged when this issue comes up in discussion?

Eric Mader
* * *

E.M.: Probably, Matt, you’ve read more than enough of my typing in recent days, but since I’ve got some time before work, I’ve decided to respond to one more of your comments, namely:
"As to gay marriage, either you believe in universal equal rights, or you don't."
You write this sentence to me more or less as if to say “It’s as simple as that”. In fact, though I agree with you on many things, I strongly disagree with you here. In fact I think this is anything but a simple issue. Rather: As usual when dealing with attempts to change long-established social norms, same-sex marriage is by no means the self-evident thing American liberals now claim it is.


1) The right to marriage is of course a right TO something, in this case the right to a particular social status accorded to married individuals. So that on the one hand, you have the right, which should be given equally to all adults, and on the other hand you have the particular status: married.

Well, in this respect, we might say that in 1980 homosexuals already had the right to marriage in all fifty US states. Yes, they were not inclined to exercise this right, given that marriage is a particular kind of relationship between man and woman. But that they weren’t inclined to exercise this right, understandable as that is, does not mean they didn't have it: they had the same right as anyone else.

An uncomfortable truth about the same-sex marriage movement follows from this observation. This movement is not, as most liberals claim, about extending a right to people who did not previously have it. It is rather about changing the definition of what counts as marriage. And that’s a very different thing.

In fact many people who now opposed to same-sex marriage have pointed out that in the case of marriage people have a natural right TO something, but not a right to change that something to suit their own situation.

Arguing this way may seem callous, but technically, I don’t see how it can be faulted. I put things in these terms simply to reveal what the same-sex marriage movement is really doing: It is changing the definition of marriage.

My friend Steve has a right to marriage too. If however he insisted on marrying his sister, what would happen is that the greater community would say to him: “Sorry. That is not eligible as a marriage.” Were Steve to follow the route taken by gays and lesbians, he would hit the streets and claim that his rights and those of his sister, who only wants him, were being cruelly denied. And then you, Matt, if you followed your own logic, would again have to argue that the case is simple: “Either all people have equal rights or they don’t.”

Now I know your answer will be that an incestuous relationship cannot count as a marriage because, as we know, it leads to deformity in children. Whereas on the other hand, we have no solid evidence that same-sex marriage leads to any negative social results. I would say, Yes, you have a point in raising this particular difference. Nonetheless, your point is irrelevant in terms of what I am saying here, and it is irrelevant in terms of the “my rights have been denied” logic of the gay marriage movement. Because in both cases, both a) same-sex marriage and b) brother-sister marriage, we are not talking about people who “didn’t have the right to marry”. Rather, in both cases we are talking about CHANGING what might count as marriage to suit particular circumstances. So there is a deep logical parallel between them.

The gay marriage movement is pushing for a change in the definition of marriage. That they seem to be succeeding in redefining an institution as fundamental as marriage is, understandably, seen as a problem by many people who think deeply about culture. This is not a matter of a “simple extension of rights”.

Personally I’m glad to see that there is no evidence (so far) that children raised by LGBT couples have any problems in social development. But I would point out that it’s still VERY early in the game to be sure that this evidential situation will continue. And I’m not at all certain that the organizations conducting this research (the American Psychological Association, for one) aren’t starting out with a preferred outcome that might be biasing their methodology or interpretation of results. I’ve no evidence this is so, but I’ve no strong reason to believe it isn’t so either. I’ve read enough about studies of this sort to know how things can go.

In any case, my point about having a right vs. changing the nature of what one has a right to should be clear.

2) I’m a firm believer in the wisdom of culture over the long run. We have myriad instances in modern history of well-meaning reformers or revolutionaries imposing on a culture some program or reform that ends up being disastrous. Such “reform mania” is characteristic of Western imperialism, 20th century Marxism, and our current neoliberalism; and as you well know, there’s already a veritable encyclopedia of cases where we have undermined indigenous or otherwise long-established cultures by forcing models on them that were not finally for the better, but in fact tragically wrong.

In terms of what marriage is in essence, the only way for us to know this in an unbiased way would be to study marriage across different cultures. And the collective experience of humanity is there for us to study, and in fact we (anthropologists, historians, etc.) have studied this record carefully. What does this record tell us?

In fact the record of all known cultures for the past few millennia, regardless of continent or level of development or religion, indicates very clearly that marriage is an institution effected between male and female. This is what the careful research of anthropologists and historians has revealed. Indeed, this is all the more striking because, of course, homosexual love has always and everywhere been part of the human picture. The ancient Greeks provide a good example of what I mean. Though in many parts of ancient Greece homosexual love was accepted and often glorified, still, even with the Greeks, such relationships were not subject to becoming marriages. Why not?

The human record is clear; it is in fact surprisingly consistent on this one point: marriages are not effected between people of the same sex. Moreover, in the very very few, strikingly few, instances where homosexual marriages have been recognized (in Benin in Africa, among certain Amerindian tribes, in certain regions of China at certain periods) the kind of homosexual marriage recognized was nothing like what is being legalized now in America. Rather, in the rare previous cases historians can find, one member of the married couple would take the clear role of wife, the other the clear role of husband. So that in cases where an Amerindian man married another man, one of those men was understood as taking on the female gender role. One was the “wife”, one the “husband”. Which is to say: The kind of same-sex marriages being demanded as a “right” at present--marriages of “husband and husband” or “wife and wife”--have precisely ZERO precedent in any culture ever recorded. Again: Why?

I don’t think I have to impress upon you how varied and multiform and how many the cultures of the world have been. And the nature of marriage has varied too: many cultures have allowed polygamy for instance. But, almost bizarrely, they ALL have seen marriage as between male and female. Even that minuscule minority of cultures (something like 0.2 percent) that have recognized homosexual marriages of a sort, the assumption was that it was still a matter of one of the spouses standing for husband, the other for wife.

As a believer in the wisdom of culture, I might very arguably say that same-sex marriage as it’s now being practiced in modern Western societies is not marriage. Certainly: It is not marriage according to the collective wisdom of humanity. And that’s a pretty serious indictment, no? Because this is not merely rejection according to to the teachings of those old meanies Christianity, Judaism and Islam, as dogmatic liberals keep implying. No, in this case these three religious traditions have the whole collective human record on their side--whereas the same-sex marriage lobby has . . . Ellen Degeneres and friends.

3) The American government should not have gotten involved in this current marriage debate. After all, marriage is a cultural institution that long predates the American republic. Some time ago the American government got in the business of registering marriages, but by registering these marriages that government did not thereby get the right to define what marriage is. This is a point that seems to be entirely lost on most liberals. But it is important: What has happened in the US in recent years is that the state has entered into a realm of cultural legislation that it is not entitled to. On this ground, too, there is reason to doubt the wisdom of this recent cultural shift.

Marriage is a status conferred by the community as a whole, not legislated from above by the state. I would agree in principle that the American community might confer the status “married” on same-sex couples. But this would only happen if the whole of the community were to acknowledge willingly that such couples are married. What do I mean by “the whole of the community”? Well, something like 99 percent would do. That is a consensus the American people may come to some day, I don’t know, but we are definitely not there now, and we certainly weren’t there when our president came out in favor of same-sex marriage in 2011.

It used to be the case in marriage ceremonies that before the couple was finally pronounced man and wife the officiant presiding would say: “If there is anyone here who may show just cause why these two should not be married, speak now or forever hold your peace.” These words served a very important function. They underlined the degree to which the validity of that marriage ultimately depended upon the community as a whole recognizing that it was legitimate.

Gay marriages cannot have such validity in our culture, regardless of what the courts might rule. It does not much matter what the Supreme Court says. The Supreme Court also says corporations are people, but I’m not about to invite Monsanto out to breakfast. At present, I would argue that any American retains the right on grounds of freedom of conscience and religious freedom to say to any same-sex couple: “Sorry, say what you will, but in my eyes you are not married.” Should he suffer legal consequences for saying this, or lose his job, I’d do what I could to help in his defense. Because his losing his job, or being fined, would be a clear instance of our society offending against religious liberty.

You know me, Matt, and you’re probably a bit surprised by this last point--that an open-minded person like myself who has no history of hatred against gays or lesbians would actually be willing to support in the legal defense of what you consider straightforward bigotry. But I look at the case very differently. I find it’s that conservative Christian who lost his job who is the victim of the more obnoxious bigotry. Merely by standing by a long-established definition of marriage, merely by following his religion, this man is suddenly being persecuted. He lost his job. And the grounds on which he lost it are patently absurd, to tell the truth. Refusing to acknowledge a gay marriage as legitimate, refusing to accept this newfangled cultural institution that didn’t even exist a decade ago makes this man suddenly unfit to be employed? He has solid reasons to refuse acknowledgment, he has the whole of human history on his side here, yet suddenly because American liberals have gotten this new “reform” in their heads he deserves to be hounded out of the public arena? It is absurd and shameful. It is not progress, but a kind of cultural persecution.

So, I think you may see why, although I’m interested in studying grounds on which same-sex marriage might be accepted, say, by my own church, I’m not exactly impressed by the arguments that have been put forward for it so far. Some of those arguments have human depth, certainly, and I respond to this and will listen sympathetically, but most of the common arguments put forward are utterly shallow: merely a matter of demanding something be recognized as real because it is wanted. What’s more, it’s almost impossible to have serious discussions with most of these people, because nearly everyone in the movement functions with a stiflingly narrow perspective--as if human history were a matter of what has happened in North America in the past fifty odd years. To listen to them, it seems the ancient world was 1940s Hollywood, Stonewall happened some time in the Middle Ages, and modern history began in the 1990s. The human record, the deep human meaning of marriage since the dawn of history and across cultures, is entirely ignored.

These are just a few of the reasons I think gay marriage is not simply a matter of “either you support equality or you don’t”. If liberals are now claiming it is clear cut in this way, I think that’s mainly because they want to be able to label people like me bigots and get away with it. And yet very many people like myself care deeply about equality. And since we exist, and stand with our identity as Christians, to the extent that people try to hound us out of the public sphere because we don’t see this issue as “simple”--to that extent it is the gay marriage supporters who are the bigots.

Personally, since my youth in the 1980s, I’ve supported gays and lesbians many times in their push for rights: the right to be free of discrimination in employment, housing, expression, etc. But I’ll tell you frankly, Matt, I’m now very disappointed to see how quickly Gay Pride has morphed into Gay Arrogance. And to the extent that I see my faith attacked as obsolete or anti-social, I will fight back and help others who fight back.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Grass Eating (啃老族)

Shawn Chuang’s name was Shawn Chuang, but everyone called him Steve Chuang. He lived with his mother in a large flat above a bowling alley in the Shih Lin district of Taipei. The flat was large and the sofa in the flat was large and Shawn Chuang spent a lot of time on the sofa.

Though Shawn had been out of university for two years, he still hadn’t found gainful employment.

Shawn’s mother nagged him daily to find a job, any job. It wasn’t that Shawn hadn’t tried. In the two years since graduating, he had applied at three different companies for jobs. But finding work was basically impossible.

It hadn’t always been like this. As a kid Shawn had shown great signs of intelligence. Sooner than other kids, he yawned, he ate, he daydreamed. He could turn on devices with his fingers. And he was braver than other kids. He launched a rocket under his bed. He fired a cannonball at his navel. He swallowed gum, when other kids still believed their mothers who said gum must be spat out. He combed a stray dog’s fur with his own comb. He put a cockroach in his shirt in math class--and left it there. The girls admired him for this bravery, showing their admiration by saying “Gross!”

In all these ways Shawn showed great promise as a child. It looked as if he would have a brilliant future--but now what?

Shawn lay on the large sofa in the large flat and considered his prospects. His major had been chemical engineering, but what could one do with that?

Just the day before Shawn had seen a TV show about Taipei young people who had learned to turn their hobbies into small businesses. The lesson of the show was “Do what you love, and you will be successful!” The host suggested the first thing for a young person to do was make a list of things they loved doing, then consider which one might be turned to profit.

Shawn took a piece of scrap paper from the coffee table and started to write his list. After fifteen minutes he had a handful of items to consider. He went through the list one by one.

Item 1: “Getting up after 11.”

It would be great, Shawn thought, but I don’t see a way to make money from getting up after 11:00 a.m. Too bad.

He crossed out item 1 on his list.

Item 2: “Putting feet up on the coffee table.”

It was true Shawn loved doing this, and he could get away with it when his mother was out, but he couldn’t see any way to make money from it. Could he maybe charge old people to help them put their feet up on their coffee tables?

He didn’t cross out number 2, but kept it open for further thought.

Item 3: “Scratch back on door jam.”

After graduating from university, Shawn discovered a great way to scratch his back on the door jam between his bedroom and the hallway. Could he teach other people to scratch their backs this way? He could maybe go to houses and say: “Hey, I know a secret way to scratch your back that is awesome, and if you pay me $250 I will teach you.”

At first Shawn liked the idea. But then: Not everybody has itchy backs, he thought. And what if their door jams aren’t good for scratching?

He scratched out item 3.

Item 4: “Computer games.”

He crossed out item 4. If you want to make money from games, you have to be a game designer, and he didn’t know how to use the software.

Without even thinking about items 5 and 6, Shawn tossed the list on the floor.

If I could only make money somehow without leaving the house, that would be the best, he thought. Or if I could make money by staying in the neighborhood maybe. I have to think of something I can do right near here.

Shawn considered it a great rule of life not to leave the house if he could avoid it and not to use any kind of transportation to go to other parts of the city. It had already been three months since he’d left the city block where his mother’s flat was.

Hm. That one time Mom bent that fork and I used my teeth to bend it back. I could maybe open a small silverware repair shop and do pretty well for myself. Shawn’s Silverware Rebend. Maybe I could start to put some money aside.

Or hide and seek. Everyone likes hide and seek. If people gave me their things before they went to work I could hide the stuff in the neighborhood during the day and when they came home they could try to find it. I could charge $50 for every fifteen minutes of seeking, which would be fun for the people after a boring day at the office and would besides encourage them to move faster, getting some exercise, because the longer it took to find their stuff the more expensive the game would be. I bet I could turn a pretty penny with the city’s first Hide and Seek company.

Or I could help the police with crime investigation by working with hair evidence. Whenever there is hair on the ground or the stairs I can always tell which hairs come from which persons. The police could call me in to help solve crimes.

Shawn imagined a scene in a crime documentary where the inspector is looking carefully at a sofa. “Call the Hair Specialist,” the inspector says gravely to his assistant.

Shawn was imagining more scenes from the documentary when his mother entered the living room.

“Hey, I told you to bring in the laundry,” she said. “Get off that sofa already! It’s almost 2:00 p.m.”

“I’m thinking about possible jobs,” Shawn said.

And he explained to his mother his idea for the Hide and Seek company, and after he was done explaining it the strangest thing happened: his mother took the slipper off her left foot and came over to the sofa and started beating him with it.

“Hey! Hey! Hey!” Shawn protested as the dusty slipper whacked repeatedly against different parts of his body.

“If you don’t get off your ass and find a job this summer, I’m going to throw away your iPad!” his mother yelled. “I’ve already thought about doing it. I’ve had it in my hand and was this far from junking it. I swear I’ll do it next time if you don’t get out and find a goddamn job!”

Shawn felt a wave of nervousness wash over him. Throw away his iPad? Things were getting serious.

After his mother had stormed out of the room, Shawn reached down and picked his list up from off the floor. He wrote down a number 7 for item 7. He set himself to thinking.

by Eric, Ryan, Claire (范姜詠欣) and Anthony (黃聖翔) at ZEI

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Science Now Makes the Case for God

The Carina Nebula

For a long time the discoveries of science have been used to show up the biblical account of creation as extremely improbable. Certainly the timeline suggested in the book of Genesis could not be literally true, and in many other areas as well the accounts found in the Bible didn’t mesh with the physical world as we now understand it. In fact, since the 19th century science has been generally seen as a force tending to undermine the faith of religious people.

But this has changed markedly in the past few decades.

Contrary to popular belief, there is now a very strong scientific argument for the existence of an Intelligent Creator. And again contrary to what many people think, it has nothing to do with rejecting Charles Darwin.

As a Christian, I personally have never subscribed to Intelligent Design at the level of species, which is the way many researchers approached it. To do so is wrongheaded and unscientific. Of course Darwin was right. The myriad species that live on our planet were not "designed", rather they evolved. To try to make the complexity of certain features in current species into an argument for Intelligent Design is to start at the wrong end of the timeline. At the level of biological diversity, Intelligent Design is a fool's errand.

But at the level of cosmology, things look very different indeed.

The best science of the past couple decades is revealing our universe to be an environment fine-tuned for the existence of life. The chances of the four basic physical forces turning out as they did after the Big Bang are astronomically small. And they came out precisely right for life. Which is downright uncanny. It’s as if you had a bomb go off in a grocery store, and instead of blasting random ingredients in all directions, the explosion instead baked a perfect birthday cake. And there the cake sits on the sidewalk in front of the wrecked store. Frosting and all. “Happy 30th, Mike!” How explain it?

I’m not talking faith here. No. This is what the picture looks like in terms of physics and cosmology. This is what the hard sciences have discovered.

For those not interested in pursuing these developments in laborious detail, an article posted a few months back in the Wall Street Journal by Eric Metaxas sums up some of the basic points. Metaxas writes:
[A]strophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces--gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces--were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction--by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000--then no stars could have ever formed at all. Feel free to gulp.

Multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions, and the odds against the universe existing are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all "just happened" defies common sense. It would be like tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row. Really?

But I don’t think the writer puts it quite right here. It’s not really a matter of the universe not existing at all, but rather the kind of universe we live in: with stars and planets and physical forces that make life and evolution possible. Set any of the four dials on the Cosmic Oven in a slightly different way, and the universe would still exist, but it would be a place where life could never have arisen. Why, then, were the dials set so precisely right for life? Secular scientists now all acknowledge: The universe had no “reason” to turn out like this, but it did.

The sheer weight of the unlikeliness of our universe getting baked to be the Precise Cake it is finally wears down what many secularists and atheists have referred to (often quite reasonably) as the “anthropic principle”. Given what science knows now, that principle can hold its own only if one insists on a multiverse theory, for which there’s not a shred of evidence.

In short, militant atheists can only wriggle out of the likelihood of our universe having an Intelligent Creator by spinning a mythology of their own: the multiverse.

Understand that I don’t post this today to persuade readers to recognize Jesus as the Son of God. No, that’s a specific doctrine of Christianity, and this article isn’t about that. This article does, however, roughly introduce the case that our universe was made to certain specs--namely, those that would allow life, and eventually consciousness, to arise. And that in itself is arguably a religious assertion, because if our universe was made, there was a Maker.

I will leave the ball in the reader’s court: Assuming there is a Maker, can we know anything about that Maker? What can we know and how? Have we had any glimpses of that Maker in human consciousness? What was the purpose in creating this universe, very possibly fine-tuned for life to arise in it?

Eric Mader

Friday, February 27, 2015

Astonishing Footage of Twin Babies Who Don't Realize They've Been Born Yet! Must See!

A friend of mine just shared this moving video on Facebook. I started watching it, then realized . . .


"Dude, what's going on?"

"Oh, shit! We haven't even been born yet, and they're putting us on Facebook."

"Dude, no way! Next thing you know they'll want me to get a credit card before I even take my first piss."

"Man, this is fucked. What year is this anyway?”

“ It’s SICK. Filming us like this right out of the gate like this. No chance to pick duds or nothing.”

"We should've been born like 1850 or something."

"Try 1850 BC."

“Yeah, now you’re talkin’. No cops, no Twitter."

"No fucking McDonald's."

"Yeah. Get me OUTA here."



"Your hair. What's with all the hair? Sheesh!"

“What hair?”

“Your hair. You’ve got so much fucking hair! And it’s black. Aren’t we supposed to be twins?”

“I don’t know. I suppose.”

“Then what’s with all the fucking hair, dude?”

“I don’t know. Just chill, man. Lemme think.”

“Man, this is so WEIRD. I’m liking this less and less by the MINUTE.”

Monday, February 23, 2015


I’m in a dilapidated vacation home in the mountains. Broken, disused furniture is scattered about, and to judge by the view through the huge picture windows it’s somewhere in Colorado or Montana. My father is there and a few other people, but I’m not quite sure who.

That morning there’s been serious seismic activity, and I explain to my father that I can tell from the tremors that Godzilla is coming. My father generally seems to believe me, but has some lingering doubts.

Outside in the distance we can see a few other vacation homes, but for some reason we know they are all empty, abandoned even.

It’s a sunny day with fluffy white clouds here and there against the blue sky, but the colors through the window are a bit bright and technicolor, almost as in a move from the seventies.

Then suddenly I see Godzilla off on the side of the one of the mountains. But I can’t see him completely: only parts of his body protrude now and then from the cloud cover, only to disappear again.

Somehow I know that this partial appearance, Godzilla’s game of hide and seek, is for the movie, to create audience suspense. So we’re watching the making of a movie, behind the scenes as it were, but it’s clear we’re not supposed to be there.

We get down low behind the furniture because we don’t want Godzilla to glimpse us through the window.

The earth is shaking more and more: Godzilla is getting closer.

The suddenly I see three huge monkeys outside, dozens of stories tall, coming from the other direction. They’re walking slowly in single file like Buddhist monks. They are attired in traditional Chinese aristocratic garb, making them look like gargantuan versions of the Monkey King from Journey to the West. They proceed slowly, only about a kilometer away.

We are crouched down very low behind the furniture. Now that the monkeys have appeared, to be seen would be even worse, because although Godzilla’s appearance is just part of the movie, for some reason nobody is supposed to see the three monkeys. It is some kind of forbidden secret.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Dealing with New Atheist Bigotry: Some Basic Steps

Teacher and student? New Atheists’ non-stop bigotry toward religious people was bound to lead to no good: Richard Dawkins and Chapel Hill murder suspect Craig Hicks

“Christian moron”, “religitard”, “sky fairy”, “medieval superstition”, “imaginary sky friend”--these are just a few of the words that get spat in one’s direction these days if one acknowledges one is a Christian.

It didn’t use to be like this, back, say, before Sam Harris published The End of Faith in 2004 and effectively launched the New Atheist Movement. Harris, Richard Dawkins, a few other writers and a gaggle of comedians all soon joined up in gleeful support of insulting religious people. Educated citizens were no longer to be civil toward those who didn’t recognize the truth Harris and Dawkins spoke. The New Atheists’ policy of confrontation and insult supposedly had a good purpose besides: it would snap people of faith out of their “silly nonsense”.

A handful of popular books and a lot of TED talks later, the protocol has shifted between atheists and people of faith. Specifically: the former must go out of their way to demean the latter (there are a handful of useful terms and soundbites for doing this) and the latter are to retreat to the margins of society, eventually to disappear.

Though there are signs that the New Atheist dog has had its day, there is also contrary evidence that the movement and its methods continue to gain support among the partly educated. So while most professional philosophers, sociologists and scientists now reject Harris’ and Dawkins’ extremist cultural thinking outright, many “bookish” members of the public continue to take their cues from these New Atheists. And various entrenched New Atheist ideas--that religion is something society must “get over”, that people of faith are at fault for the world’s wars, that religious people are brainwashed and inherently reactionary--these continue to spread like wildfire over the Internet and in the “liberal” press at large.

Such rabid anti-religious proselytizing has its risks. If religion, as the New Atheist leaders have insisted, is at the root of most of our evils, then it won’t take long before many of the their followers start believing that religious people themselves are evil. And should be gotten rid of.

This has happened in history before of course, both during the French Revolution and later under many of the communist regimes. People of faith were persecuted, imprisoned and often executed because of a dominant ideology that claimed to serve Reason and Progress. To have faith, during these periods of political terror, was seen as something inherently “outdated”, part of a backward “past” that we were all “moving beyond”.

Sound familiar? As a Catholic who blogs frequently, I don’t know how many times I’ve been told in recent years that my thinking on this or that subject was “outdated”, that I should “grow up” or “get over it” because society is now “moving beyond that”.

I often have to point out in reply that at age 49 I’m pretty grown up, that I’ve spent a lifetime of study, living in different cultures, and that in fact I used to be an atheist--but learned better.

I said that anti-religious indoctrination of the New Atheist sort had its risks. Last week in North Carolina a man nearly my age, Craig Hicks, a militant New Atheist, murdered three Muslim neighbors he’d previously argued with over parking. The Muslim sisters he killed had told their father on previous occasions that their neighbor Hicks clearly hated them for who they were: Muslims. Hicks’ Facebook posts show a slightly more equal-opportunity hate: both Christians and Muslims in his mind were a serious social problem to be met head on.

Whether Hicks’ action was a hate crime or not is still being debated. Other neighbors have claimed he argued with them too over parking issues. But there’s the rub, no? He didn’t finally execute the other neighbors.

I believe that what the New Atheists have created is a hate movement. Under cover of science and “rationality”, they’ve managed to promote a virulent but socially sanctioned bigotry. I strongly suspect Hicks is an example of how this bigotry may build up in individuals until it finally leads where bigotry usually leads: criminal violence.

I don’t at all believe that atheists as such are inherently violent people. I do believe, however, very strongly, that those who support the New Atheism are largely motivated by a deep-seated personal hatred for people of faith. The New Atheism is different from simple atheism. All one needs do is look at the way New Atheist writers write and talk about religion. And their followers, generally less polished, are even more direct in their fury.

This is not the case with atheists in general. It certainly wasn't the case with those I knew back in the years before 2004. The atheists I knew then had personal or intellectual reasons they didn’t believe, but were not likely to see people who did believe as a menace to be gotten rid of.

Though I consider atheism a normal part of the modern West, I see the New Atheists, who are actually anti-theists, as a dangerous and almost cult-like movement motivated more by hate than by the rationality it claims to serve.

I am writing this post today for other believers. Because I think that we as people of faith need to learn to quickly identify, label and respond to the kinds of tag words New Atheists typically throw around. We need to condemn these terms as bigotry as soon as they appear. This is what I mean by labeling. We need to say aloud: “That is a bigoted term.” And as for responding, personally, I’ve come to believe that we must then swiftly cut off further discussion with those who use such language. We must literally walk away or refuse to respond further to them. Especially if they defend their language or double down on it.

Identify, then, is to recognize clearly when you are dealing with New Atheist-inspired ranting. Labeling is to open your mouth or start tapping at your keyboard to point out immediately that such language is bigotry. Responding is to indicate that one isn’t going to discuss such important issues with a bigot.

Among bigoted terms I include those I opened with: “imaginary sky friend”, “medieval superstition”, “Christian moron”, “religitard”. There are others of course--some used more often against Muslims or Jews or people of other traditions. But these are the ones I usually run up against.

I’ve spent a lot of time this past year debating my Catholicism online, arguing history and ethics with folks apparently hardwired with the idea that progress is by definition making people of faith like myself go away. This is usually rather ironic for me, because on other issues I often agree with my debate opponents. Typically, in economic and various other areas, I’m on the political left. But still, for them, certain of my social or historical ideas make me the Enemy.

Yes, such debates and online wrangles are often tiresome and circular. The sad fact is that my opponents usually know very little about the faith they’re trying to erase. And they refuse to recognize besides how the Judeo-Christian tradition is the historical root of their own precious notions of human rights. They are often historically shallow, as if world history began in the 18th century.

But although I get tired of these discussions, I also recognize them as a necessary part of living in the trenches of a cultural war the New Atheists started--a war we cannot avoid. So these little “debates” with friends and others are arguably important, because the war in general is important. But how best conduct ourselves?

In online or verbal debate the other person may strongly disagree, that goes without saying, they may even got rather hot under the collar, but once they start referring to people of faith as “morons” or “insane”, or once they start referring to God as “your imaginary friend”, they should be told that such language is bigoted, and if they continue with it the discussion should be cut short. Why? Because in the current social climate people of faith should no longer let such anti-religious bigotry slide by as a part of “normal debate”. It is not normal debate, no more than it would be normal to start referring to African Americans or immigrant groups with slurs during a discussion of relevant social issues. When others attack one’s dignity directly, trying to stress a lower (social or mental or cultural) status, that is bigotry, quite simple.

The New Atheism is doing everything it can to paint religious people as 1) stupid, 2) full of hate, 3) outdated. What would one call it if a group were seeking to paint, say, Asian immigrants as stupid, belligerent and outdated? One would call it bigotry. New Atheism practices a similar bigotry, in this case against a huge population of people spread over the world: religious people. An excellent brief post at Philosophy out of the Box sums up this bigotry well (the comments by Kevin Stern following the post are also very useful):
Atheism becomes bigotry when it makes prejudicial statements about religious people. Prejudice is prejudice and intolerance is intolerance, and both are irrational regardless of who commits it. Despite its scientific pretensions and its pronouncements of love for reason, many atheists offer arguments laden with logical fallacies[,] hasty generalization, strawman arguments, and most of all ad hominem attacks.
Aside from the ethical sewer that bigotry leads to if unchecked, there is the further issue of how historically inaccurate, how tendentiously selective, New Atheists’ depictions of religious people usually are. Just look at their dismissive treatment of Christians, who are supposedly uneducated, motivated by hate or living in the past. Negating such bigoted propaganda, Christians are not known for stupidity (only look over the role of Christians in intellectual history, even modern history), they’re among the world’s most active in helping those in need (i.e., sharing love rather than hate), and they are definitely not outdated (they happen to currently exist, in the modern world, in huge numbers).

In The God Delusion, one of the veritable scriptures of the New Atheist movement, Richard Dawkins makes the astonishing claim that he can find little evidence of Christians winning Nobel Prizes in science. This is important because, in physics or chemistry, winning the Nobel is proof positive of serious achievement. Communities with a high number of Nobel laureates are necessarily on the cutting edge. Dawkins’ guiding assumption in The God Delusion is that fellow scientists nearly all agree with him on religion. He writes: “The only website I could find that claimed to list 'Nobel Prize-winning Scientific Christians' came up with six, out of a total of several hundred scientific Nobelists.” (126) Here Dawkins demonstrates the kind of shoddy “research” New Atheists do to back up their flippant assertions. The “only website I could find”? The facts are otherwise, as Dawkins surely must know. One 2002 study, Baruch Shalev’s 100 Years of Nobel Prizes, finds that 73% of Nobel laureates in chemistry, 65% in physics, and 62% in medicine self-identified as Christians.

How many of Dawkins’ half-educated readers are led to believe Christianity and science are incompatible because of the Master’s unfounded claims? More Nobel winners in science have self-identified as religious than not, and most religious laureates have self-identified as Christian. Why is Dawkins allowed to get away with such unfounded claims? I suspect it is because the great majority of his readers pick up his book already deeply biased against religion. As the writer is a scientist, they are willing to believe any mud he cares to fling. Without checking.

Another obvious area the New Atheists are dead wrong is in their claim, which has been repeatedly disproved, that most of the wars over history have been caused by religion. But I’m not even going to bother addressing this here: the hypocrisy of it is almost nauseating when one puts it next to the death tolls officially atheist governments ran up in modern times. (A recent book on the problem by scholar Karen Armstrong, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, raises the pertinent questions and shows up the shallowness of the old atheist canard about war.)

In any case, historical facts carry little weight once a movement gains traction--especially if that movement is based on contempt for some cultural other. I recently see “imaginary sky friend”, to refer to God, appearing in interviews and articles not even related to atheism, as I see increasing references in public discourse to “insane Christians” (as if insanity was a defining characteristic of the group) or to Christians or other religious people “still living in the Stone Age”--as if we were not actually part of the modern world. Offhand insults like these need to be called out, and refuted.

Some might find that these terms or insults do not constitute actual bigotry. For one, I’ve been told that since Christians are supposedly the “dominant” group in America, they can’t be victims of bigotry because “they control things”. Uh-huh. Aside from the fact that Christians obviously do not in fact “control America”, this says nothing essential about the nature of bigotry. It is only a comment on the relative social position of different kinds of bigots.

Second, some might insist the term “imaginary sky friend” isn’t bigoted because, after all, the person using the term doesn’t believe God exists and so is right to refer to God as “imaginary”.

I strongly disagree.

When someone uses “sky fairy” or “imaginary friend” to refer to God, they are not doing so to show others they don’t believe. They are doing so as a way of insulting anyone who does believe. These terms are meant to insinuate that I as a believer am somehow childish compared to them: just like many children, I have my “imaginary friend” because I haven’t “grown up”. Whereas nonbelievers, in this register, are no longer stuck in the silly nonsense of childhood.

Repeatedly insinuating that some group of adults is inherently childish is a kind of bigotry. It was bigotry when men used to insist that women were inherently childish. It is likewise bigotry to insist that religious people are childish.

Referring to God as an “imaginary sky friend” is bigoted moreover because it is not commensurate with the subject at hand. It shows a lack of recognition for the important role belief in God has played in the long unfolding of our history as a culture--regardless of whether or not one believes oneself. As a term it is meant to demean all those who have taken the question of God seriously (virtually all philosophers in the Western tradition) even as it shows historical shallowness on the part of the person using it.

For these reasons I’m inclined to cut off discussion with someone using this slur in the same way as I’d leave a dinner table where people were using racial slurs. One shouldn’t dignify bigotry with one’s presence.

Am I maybe wrong here? In fact I’ve often hear from debate opponents that I shouldn’t be so sensitive about these insults--that imaginary sky friend or religitard or Christian idiot are “just words”.

Of course these are the same people who go ballistic when they hear someone using a racial or anti-homosexual slur. Then it is suddenly no longer “just words”. Then it is time for someone to lose their job.

Well, in my mind my left-leaning friends are right to stand strong against racial or anti-homosexual slurs. It’s just that slurs against religious people are also examples of bigotry. And the New Atheists have been coining and promoting such bigotry to the best of their ability for a decade now. And in general the liberal press has given them and their followers carte blanche to do so.

Anti-religious bigotry, like any form of socially sanctioned hatred, will feed on itself and only get worse until, as I’ve said, it leads where bigotry always leads: to violence and oppression. The momentum behind this vicious cycle will only be broken when people of faith loudly call out New Atheist bigotry for what it is and shun those who insist on using it.

Eric Mader


Many thanks to the Freedom from Atheism Foundation for bringing my attention to probably the sharpest response so far to the Craig Hicks case, “The Chapel Hill Murders Should Be a Wake-Up Call for Atheists”, by Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig. Learning of the murders, Richard Dawkins tweeted the following: “How could any decent person NOT condemn the vile murder of three young US Muslims in Chapel Hill?” Breunig brilliantly underlines how Dawkins’ very response reveals the shallowness of his understanding of culture. In a few sentences she makes clear just why the New Atheists are not to be trusted when they offer visions of a better social order based on atheism:
Dawkins takes the obviousness of his moral frame for granted; he doesn't feel the need to offer an earnest denouncement of these murders because he does not honestly believe any person could view them as an outgrowth of a system decent people like him are a part of. But this is a persistent problem with the New Atheist movement: Because it is more critical of religion than introspective about its own moral commitments, it assumes there is broad agreement about what constitutes decency, common sense, and reason. Yet in doing so, New Atheism tends to simply baptize the opinions of young, educated white men as the obviously rational approach to complicated socio-political problems. Thus prejudice in its own ranks goes unnoticed.
Exactly. Dawkins and Harris and their millions of secular fans do not understand culture well enough to realize just how constructed our social ideas are. Our modern Western sense of decency and common sense, as well as our concept of human rights, is the product of a very complex cultural history. It is not “natural”, and Dawkins, who has grown up and continues to live in a culture deeply shaped by its Christian background, is naive to assume that these common values will continue to prevail once one has aggressively turned one’s back on the tradition out of which they grew. There is good reason our modern concepts of human rights and individual liberty arose in Western Europe, i.e., in a Christian civilization, rather than elsewhere. Dawkins, in a very fundamental sense, is biting the hand that feeds him. While he benefits from his privileged social milieu, his angry followers, raised in less “decent” surroundings, may easily turn to less “decent” ways of expressing their anti-religious grudge--a smoldering and irrational grudge Dawkins and Harris glibly fan.