Grassroots Atheism

I met Chris McLaughlin at the Mid-Michigan Atheists and Humanists Meet-up last night. He talked to us about a movement he and other people from Detroit are hoping to get going called Grass Roots Atheism (In the link Chris is on the left of your screen). He'd like to see atheists take to the streets, not as the street preachers do who preach to people, but to simply hand people some literature if they're receptive and to let them know we atheists are good people. It's a worthy goal. Consider learning more and consider doing it in your area.

[Edit 3/3/10. It looks like the link is gone. Perhaps they aren't taking to the streets anymore I don't know. The simply found a prominent place with a poster that said "We are Atheists," and passed out some literature].

25 comments:

Bluemongoose said...

Good people, huh. But then we have to get into what one's definition of "good" is, and the debate over relativism rages on...

Geonite said...

Changing beliefs comes from inside. I don't know anyone who was won over by arguments or debates. Do you?

ismellarat said...

The news that there would be some sort of discussion board made me feel like manna had come raining down from my Heaven-construct, but now the whole thread has disappeared:

http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2009/06/new-forum-specifically-for-discussing.html

I didn't have the chance then to click on the links that appeared to point to something that I think was supposed to let us see a demo of the new format. Will it not be happening after all? :(

ismellarat said...

I'm sorry to see the other sister blog go, too:

http://debunkingchristianright.blogspot.com/

Teleprompter said...

Bluemongoose:

So none of the people who lived before the advent of Judaism, or who lived in societies untouched or largely uninfluenced by Christianity, were good people?

Do you really feel comfortable arguing that point? Do you really believe that - that not once in the entire sweep of history and civilization was there a non-Judeo-Christian who was a good person?

Is that you're implying? Or am I misguided here?

feeno said...

Good AM Teleprompter
I don't think "goodness" comes from religion. So I wouldn't argue that. However there is an argument that all good comes from God. And God was around before Abraham.

Dueces, feeno

Bluemongoose said...

Teleprompter, why do you automatically assume I'm implying that only people after Judaism, influenced by Christianity are good? According to relativism, there are many definitions of good. You jump to conclusions too soon.

What if I implied that not one human, influenced by Christianity or otherwise was good...

Chuck O'Connor said...

Bluemongoose,

Why do you assume that relativism is germane to a discussion of "good" as it pertains to atheists?

Sounds to me like empty rhetoric groping for an idea.

Can you fill us in on what reads like arrogant sarcasm on your part and how the concept of "relativism rages on" as it pertains to "good" atheists.

Thanks.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Feeno,

Which god do you speak of?

Thanks,

Chuck

Bluemongoose said...

Howdy, Chuck. John's original post talked about good atheists. I just merely brought up a popular defense used by atheists when combating theism: relativism. Are you suggesting that I cannot use it in the reverse? Wow, talk about double standards.

Arrogant sarcasm? Why, I can't believe you would insinuate such a thing. Why do you assume the worst? Your implications are very pessimistic.

Scott said...

Feeno,

Should God exist, how does he decide what is Good? Are the things God commands moral because he commands them or does God command things because they meet on some external metric of goodness? These are the two horns of the Euthyphro Dilemma.

And what is the Christian response to this?

C.S. Lewis said... "But it might be permissible to lay down two negations: that God neither obeys nor creates the moral law. The good is uncreated; it could never have been otherwise; it has in it no shadow of contingency; it lies, as Plato said, on the other side of existence. [But since only God admits of no contingency, we must say that] God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.

These may seem like fine-spun speculations: yet I believe that nothing short of this can save us. A Christianity which does not see moral and religious experience converging to meet at infinity … has nothing, in the long run, to divide it from devil worship."


So, it appears that the idea that morality under theism is not empty or arbitrary hangs on fine-spun speculations that seem to be desperate measures to "save" Christianity.

Merely saying it "Might be permissible" for God to neither obey or create moral law does not imply that it is plausible. Nor is the tribal God of the OT depicted in a way that somehow gives credence to such a possibility. In fact, to claim it is rational that God neither obeys or created moral law requires one to start with the assertion that God must be the source of good, which is the very problem that the Euthyphro Dilemma illuminates, and essentially redefine what is rational to support it.

God must neither obey or have created moral law because, otherwise, he wouldn't be the Christian God. Therefore, one's definition of God's nature redefines what is rational.

Bluemongoose said...

P.S. to Geonite. I've seen many debates between atheists/agnostics and theists, the results of which were nihilists had been won over -- on many occasions.

Teleprompter said...

Bluemongoose:

Ahh, thanks for clarifying.

So not one human is "good"? I will concede that point to you for the sake of argument, since there is a lot of controversy over what exactly being "good" means. (The meaning of altruism, ulterior motives, self-interest, etc.)

However, I refuse to concede the point that every human's default state is depravity. I am not trying to assert that people are basically good, but neither am I asserting that people are basically evil, as Christianity seems to suggest.

People are opportunists for the most part: amoral people shaped by amoral forces. When the circumstances become zero-sum (or when people believe that they are zero-sum), deplorable things tend to happen. When people believe that they have a common interest, people cooperate. This is my view of what is "good", and I assert that many people do satisfy this definition, as much as any Christian satisfies it.

I have given a rough definition of good, though I am sure that neither of us is ready to equate that with the "objective" good which it appears that you're seeking. I hope this can be a starting point for a relevant conversation.

Bluemongoose said...

Teleprompter, I can assure you that as long as you remember that debate is not the equivalent of a four-letter word, you and I will get along swimingly. I, in turn, will recall that passion for an ideal does not equate general malice for an individual.

Now, on to the tough stuff. You make some very interesting points. No. 1: Are you inferring that humans can operate within some morally neutral realm? If so, why? No. 2: Why do you say that you "refuse to concede the point that every human's default state is depravity"? No. 3: Why do you assert that Christianity suggests people are basically evil? Your use of the word, "seems", suggests you're not sure.

Teleprompter said...

Bluemongoose,

I agree with you on your points about the nature of a debate, so it seems that we can proceed swimmingly.

You ask excellent questions.

1) "Morally neutral" is an interesting way to phrase that. I'm sure that you are familiar with the "ought/is" problem. I believe that everything is an "is" problem - all of our morality is conditional.

"You should love your neighbor" is not coherent, because there could be possible circumstances in which it is not desirable to love your neighbor. My view of morality is that generally an action is "good" if it fulfills more desires, and so forth, than an alternate course of action. Of course this is sketchy, but it's where I am now.

"You should love your neighbor if you want to spread cooperation and advance positive feelings" is more coherent to me. You could say that "it is desirable to love your neighbor under x circumstances", so all of the statements about morality would be "is" statements instead of "ought" statements. Does that make my sense of human interaction "morally neutral"?

I'm not sure - I would probably dispute the point, though. I do assert that the conditions upon which we base our moral decision-making are subjective: whether this is morally neutral, I ask you. I have not fully fleshed out my beliefs about morality, so there is still some room to expand.

2) Why do I refuse to concede the point that every human's default state is depravity? Good question.

Let's name our definition of depravity, and let's see if humans seem to inherently fulfill it. For me, depravity is knowingly choosing actions that cause suffering.

Is this behavior featured in human beings? Yes, it is. Genocide, slavery, rape, etc. Is it so inherent that we could label it as the "default state"? No, I do not believe this. As I said earlier, I believe that when people perceive that they are in a non-zero-sum situation, they tend to act in ways that cause less suffering.

If humans were truly "depraved", then I believe that they would act in every instance to cause the action that inflicts the most suffering. Of course, you may have a different definition of depravity, and please explain your view if it does differ from mine.

3) Why do I assert that Christianity seemingly suggests that people are basically evil? And why do I seem unsure?

Your answer "what if I implied that not one human was good" indicated to me that you might believe that human beings are basically evil. However, I could not be sure. This is why I was hesitant to say for sure, because I don't want to misrepresent.

I know that a lot of Christians have stated their opinion that humans are basically evil and depraved, so it would not be unusual for you to say something similar, though you may not share that belief.

The traditional "fall" account of Adam has portrayed humanity as "wretched", that we were innocent and now we are irreconcilably imperfect. To what degree we are in this state may be a matter of dispute, as may be the matter of what caused us to be in such a state.

However, it is clear that when pastors and apologists claim that the unsaved are "captive in sin" or "enslaved by Satan", it certainly suggests a belief that humans are basically evil people. I don't know if this is your belief, but there are many Christians who espouse it.

Bluemongoose said...

Teleprompter:

Morality. Again, conditional, subjective, relative -- basically you mean there are no solid boundaries on morality (which is what's referred to as relativism).

Love your neighbor. Why should loving your neighbor have any basis in desireable outcomes?

The problem w/your definition of good is that it leaves a wide gap in which others can use to santize bad behavior to be included in that definition.

Spreading and advancing. Your implication here is that you should only love others if the spreading of cooperation and advancement of positive feelings is a guarantee. But we know w/humans there are no guarantees. Am I only to be nice to my sister when I know I'll get a positive reaction?

Morally neutral = nothing is right or wrong; it is all neutral.

Subjective = morally neutral? Subjective doesn't necessarily mean neutral, but it certainly opens the door to an arena where you are barred from judging anything as good or bad. Not a good scenario for, say, someone who was robbed.

Depravity. Merriam-Webster defines it as "a corrupt act or practice". Depraved means, "corrupt, evil or perverted". One might go on to say counterfeit (because that also is synoymous with corrupt). Why would I bring that up? B/c the Bible tells us that a sinful life is counterfeit to the life God had planned for us. That would thereby make us depraved or living in a state of depravity. What usually happens here is peopel don't like the word "depraved" and like it even less if it is applied to themselves. So instead of studying why we might be called depraved, individuals tned to dismiss the concept altogether. A varitable ostrich approach.

Again, notice how you keep throwing, "I believe", and other similar phrases around (I think, I feel, etc.) That's a habit you're gonna have to stop if you don't want to continually get tripped up by relativism.

My Question No. 3. Now, now. Proper rudimentary conversation and polite decorum requires you to answer my question first. But I explained why I asked that in my clarifying statement immediately after the intial question. If you don't understand, just say you don't understand.

Humans are basically evil? What if I said to you, "We are unworthy, but not worthless"? What of God's statement in Genesis after He was finished creating everything, "It is good"? What if we are enslaved to sin after the fall but before we accept Jesus's gift, and subsequently we are free from sin only b/c of the Holy Spirit's work within us? That sounds suspiciously like the old adage: "It's not about anything we can do, but it's about what God can do if we let Him."

Gandolf said...

Bluemongoose said..."Love your neighbor. Why should loving your neighbor have any basis in desireable outcomes?"

Hmmmm,yes its a real tough one for faithful folk huh.

Tell ya what why not use a very simple type of scientific method at home,go on God wont strike ya down with lightening for daring to think outside the square.

Treat yer neighbors like real shit for as long as it takes.Abuse the hell outa them and rip out their lovely rose bushes in front of their house etc,then see whats (most likely) to happen next.

Then come back here and try telling us again you still cant see any basis in desirable outcomes :)

"The problem w/your definition of good is that it leaves a wide gap in which others can use to santize bad behavior to be included in that definition."

Its such a big deal??.What you telling us that absolutely nothing written within the supposed good book the bible,could ever be also abused in this same way?.

Bluemongoose said...

Hey there, Gandolf!

I think you misunderstood what I was suggesting. If you don't understand something I have posted, just ask for clarification. I promise I will not make you feel stupid about it. Also, please refrain from using expletives. We want to perpetuate a climate of respect amongst the community here, and you do damage to non-religious belief systems and others who share your views when you lose your temper like that.

My implication was merely this: Why should we automatically expect to get anything in return for being kind to others?

Your last paragraph. You're implying that age-old critique: The Bible is man-made. But what if I told you that the Bible is under God's supernatural protection? And if God is who He says He is -- wait for it, I know you're getting antsy right about now -- not human, therefore not bound by human limitations, then why do you believe it would be impossible for Him to protect His holy Word/Bible? Do you actually think one human or any number of humans could "slip something by Him"?

So it comes down to this: Do you believe God is a liar???

Chuck O'Connor said...

Hey Blue,

You seem to know this guy god really well. What does he look like? What's his favorite meal? Does he prefer jazz or blues or indy rock or maybe none of the above? How did you get to know him so well and when did he deputize you as his spokes-person?

Thanks.

Bluemongoose said...

Ah, shucks, Chuck. I will take that as a compliment. But I sense a hint of facetiousness in your comments. If you're wondering why my posts are so effective, it's because I am an apologist and have studied the subject of theism versus atheism marginally well.

ismellarat said...

Bluemongoose, since you so profoundly wrote

"What if I implied that not one human, influenced by Christianity or otherwise was good..."

are you saying you have no word to qualitatively describe the difference between the life lived by, say, your mother, and Pol Pot?

Even Christians say that so and so is a "good" person. How hard is it to see that the word does have other, commonly accepted, shades of meaning (one of which John surely had in mind) apart from the "good is God's will, and nobody knows what that may be, since his ways are not our ways, but we'll still be judged as if we did, unless we get his forgiveness" one you seem to have in mind?

I think you're seeing a debate where there isn't one.

Gandolf said...

Bluemongoose said...Hey there, Gandolf!
I think you misunderstood what I was suggesting. If you don't understand something I have posted, just ask for clarification. I promise I will not make you feel stupid about it. Also, please refrain from using expletives. We want to perpetuate a climate of respect amongst the community here, and you do damage to non-religious belief systems and others who share your views when you lose your temper like that.

My implication was merely this: Why should we automatically expect to get anything in return for being kind to others?

Bluemongoose i do give respect when i think its actually earned and deserved.It might be that you are more suggesting that maybe i should also be respectful of people who maybe havent even earned the respect.

But running with those types of orts or absolutes etc,then im left wondering if i should also automatically afford rapists and murderers and the like the same right of respect as well.

And i happen to think you are really mostly playing word games.Should i respect that?.

Rather stupidly you have shown me nowhere where ive actually misunderstood you,all you have done once again is swap a few words around hoping with such faithfulness to confuse me.

Tell me Goose who said anything about any ort or should we should automatically expect?.I know you are caught in the old faithful rut of the need of orts and should`s and god given moralities etc,i just gave you a situation to observe in hope that you might manage to get some small type of understanding that maybe these things are not really so necessary.

And if you thought about it a little more i think you might have realized we need not automatically expect anything,but if we use our brain along with some simple scientific method.With experience it shouldnt be that hard to work out in the end what type of actions etc produce certain types of outcomes.

Bluemongoose"Your last paragraph. You're implying that age-old critique: The Bible is man-made. But what if I told you that the Bible is under God's supernatural protection? And if God is who He says He is -- wait for it, I know you're getting antsy right about now -- not human, therefore not bound by human limitations, then why do you believe it would be impossible for Him to protect His holy Word/Bible? Do you actually think one human or any number of humans could "slip something by Him"?

So it comes down to this: Do you believe God is a liar???"

To be quite honest bluemongoose im not that likely to have complete faith in that much you told me,or anyone else for that matter.And tell me if im a atheist or even agnostic why the hell would i then need to believe any god is a liar?.

Hey goose you are being a bit faithful by thinking your words games have some how managed to upset me,aint ya? :)

I promise it wasnt any anger i was dealing with, it was my amazement at just how stupid faith can make some people.Why?....Well to be honest even my kids understand that actions often cause outcomes.

Bluemongoose said...

Gandolf:

You give respect when you think it is deserved. Some problems with that: 1) Notice how you said, "I think", indicating you are using yourself as some sort of moral foundation. But who exactly are you to judge others in that way? Aren't you atheists against that? Or is it only when you perceive Christians are judging you? 2) Aren't all people equal in their humanity? If so, then that alone is why we should be at the very least respectful of others. Remember, disagreeing with someone is not the same as degredation of personal character. But if you think your perspective can't stand on its own merits w/o being propped up by name calling and expletives, then by all means continue on.

Rapists and murderers. At the very least, b/c they are equal in their humanity, they are due the right to a defense of their side. Sure, it's easy for one to make extreme statements like yours, until someone in your family is accused of rape or murder.

You think I'm mostly playing word games. Or maybe you've just never heard my arguments before and are thus confused? Notice how it's about your preception -- again. In a relativistic society like the one atheists purport to be true, who cares about your interpretation? Why should it be valid to anyone but you?

Swapping words. You can make declarative statements all you want, but if you don't back them up w/any examples, then one can conclude you're just avoiding the issues b/c you're scared you will lose the debate.

"Tell me Goose..." I'm not sure I understand what you're asking here. Not harping on any misspellings alone, but they do in this instance make it difficult to understand what you want. Will you please clarify?

"And if you thought about it..." Ah, ye olde "if Christians would only think about it" argument. That one tanks. Can't you atheists come up w/anything better than that? Your statement does a lot of assuming, and you know what happens when you assume. Wouldn't it be better to just ask me how much thinking I've done on this? In fact, I've done more than just thought about this and other related issues. I've independently studied them for a long time. What I post here at this blog are my conclusions from that study.

The truthfulness of God. You tried to avoid my questions, but you de facto gave me an answer: You believe that the existence of God is a lie, and, therefore, anything God says is also lies. But you just believe actually stating that is too harsh. You and other atheists relish in implications. It helps you to think you've kept your hands clean.

Why do you believe I was trying to upset you? You've given away your position in the old Freudian fashion.

Actions often cause outcomes? You impy sometimes actions don't cause outcomes. Why? 2) You imply Christianity/religion doesn't support 'actions getting outcomes'. Why? 3) You imply that only non-theists subscribe to the actions cause outcomes slogan, but then you imply that's not always the case by your use of the word, "often". Your written words betray your attempt at hiding your true intent.

scooterwes said...

OMG - 46 years of witnessing and handing out tracts finally behind me, and now someone's asking us to hand out "anti-tracts" for the agnostic/atheist side that I now inhabit!

Sorry, it's too scary and gives me flashbacks to my life as an fundamentalist evangelical!(though secretly I would love to cause someone to question their evangelical roots and beliefs!)

Gandolf said...

Bluemongoose said..."In a relativistic society like the one atheists purport to be true, who cares about your interpretation? Why should it be valid to anyone but you?"

Then later."I've done more than just thought about this and other related issues. I've independently studied them for a long time. What I post here at this blog are my conclusions from that study."

L.o.L ....Why would i waste energy on replying to somebody who argues "why should it be valid to anyone but you" ,and then later trys suggesting something they say should.

Someone who also says this "You think I'm mostly playing word games. Or maybe you've just never heard my arguments before and are thus confused? Notice how it's about your preception -- again. In a relativistic society like the one atheists purport to be true, who cares about your interpretation? Why should it be valid to anyone but you?"

L.o.L ....Who`s confused??