Goodbye Fallwell

The Friendly Atheist has compiled some reactions to Fallwell's death from various groups and individuals, starting with the American Atheists and working his way down, down, down to Pat Robertson. You can read them all here, but here are the bookends:

American Atheists:

...the Rev. Jerry Falwell was a dangerous man who opposed and worked against many of the key values underpinning our secular American democracy.

Pat Robertson:

Jerry’s courage and strength of convictions will be sadly missed in this time of increasing moral relativism.

The Friendly Atheist also posted a link to a CNN interview with Christopher Hitchens. It includes some stellar quotes, including this one:

The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing, that you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you will just get yourself called reverend. Who would, even at [CNN], have invited on such a little toad to tell us that the attacks of September the 11th were the result of our sinfulness and were God's punishment if they hadn't got some kind of clerical qualification?

And there's lots, lots more being said in the blogosphere. I've never seen so many atheists wishing so fervently that hell exists!


Darren said...

Fi - your link to friendly atheist is busted. I too, fervently wished that hell existed, just so I could imagine the VERY surprised look on Mr. Falwell's face.

Darren said...

And another thing... why is it that the religious right is continually allowed to set up this false dichotomy between "moral relativism" and "'Christian' values as interpreted by conservative Republicans?"

I'm no relativist, and I'm no Christian either.

fiona-h said...

me neither :-)
good point.

rwp said...

I agree that Falwell was an "odious little toad," sure, but Hitchens' rhetoric is hardly calculated to make atheism attractive.

Atheists need to reach the average and decent person, not just the radical un-converted.

Let's take the average member of the United Church of Canada, the only one I'm familiar with, since I'm an atheist as well: the quiet 61-yr-old woman who donates money to social justice causes and volunteers for all sorts of issues, and whose faith has at least as much to do with goodness as with doctrine. I want this person on my side. To lead such a person away from God, atheism has to show that people can behave decently without the coercion represented by the promise of eternal peace.

Hitchens and Dawkins are annoying these people, so they're not attracting followers from among actual believers. Hell, they're annoying me, and I'm already on their side!

fiona-h said...

I don't think Dawkins has resorted to personal insults like this, has he? (Hitchens is Hitchens.... yeah, he can be a bit rude ). Dawkins is simply saying "time to stand up" (to quote one of his article titles).... he's attacking the reasoning with both barrels - not the reasoner, at least not that I know of.

rwp said...

Dawkins is much more careful, that's true, and for that reason he's generally more successful as a public face than Hitchens.

I started out in that post trying to say that Falwell made atheism attractive, but then I decided he just made Christianity unattractive. And for you to get converts, you need Christianity itself to be unattractive, not just some of its high-profile proponents. Otherwise it's a "my enemy's enemy" kind of thing.

(Which before a final proofread was "my enemy's enema," interestingly enough!)

Zootenany Hoodlum said...

rwp says "to lead such a person away from god..."

Why on earth would you want to?

I wonder, and in fact recently e-mailed a good friend (and former pastor) of mine about, why athiests cling as tightly to their athiesm as fundamentalist christians do to their christianity? It seems there are two camps equally certain of their rightness, condemning the others, and trying to lead people to their "side". How very bizarre.

I love the image of the united church woman, committed to social justice, and finding the church a good place to do such good works. The church - some churches - are exactly that sort of forum, which is what makes them so damn appealing.

Why don't we leave that woman there, where she is particularly useful and find our own ways to be of use?

Why seek "converts"? For either side? This argument, the whole desire for conversion, the condemnation of believes different than our own, and the need for others to be on our "side" smacks of fundamentalism under a different name.

Come on, guys. Lighten up.

fiona-h said...

for so, *so* many reasons. which I will start to get into in uncoming posts.

Zootenany Hoodlum said...

I think we should go back to the doing good works point, which rwp touched on so kindly.

Let good work be our focus. Good work will draw people to us as much as it draws people some people to church.

fiona-h said...

yes... and I acknowledge that many Christians and Christian groups do good works very, very well. The aspect of organized charity is one of the things I admire about many churches I've been to.

But, you must realize, this says nothing about the truth or not of god's existence. (Not going to say more about this now... but I promise I will later)

Zootenany Hoodlum said...

Right, but my argument is why are you so fussed about other people's belief in god?

Who, quite frankly, cares?

I care about people's actions. You condemn me for what I believe or don't believe? I care about that. You do bad things (in god's name or not in god's name)? I care about that. You do good work (in god's name or not in god's name)? I care very much about that indeed.

I think worrying what church your neighbour does or does not go to is a luxury I just don't have, my other worries are too real and too pressing. But, honestly, I don't miss that worry.

I do worry if my neighbour is volunteering four hours a week though. He really should. So should I. This worries me.

rwp said...

I worry about anything that keeps us from at least remembering the suffering and difficulties that face and surround us. This is one prong of the atheist argument, that faith in the afterlife distracts from work in this life.

Clearly, of course, some churches hold that responding to suffering is part of their basic mandates, and I admire them for this belief and for their corresponding actions. For these churches, especially those which don't make good works contingent on accepting their faith, belief in God is - in the opinion of this atheist, at least - honorable (albeit at best unnecessary).

But these aren't the churches associated with contemporarily powerful politicians, in any country with much power. Actions allegedly sanctified by the God of the powerful too often have the effect of increasing, not responding to, misery. Faith can distract people from the rightful focus on actions and existence. So can other things, obviously, and atheism's anarchic elements trouble me greatly, but what's the greater threat right now: W's faith-based view of the world, or my atheism?

In sum, to a much too long comment, private faith in God isn't something that bothers me, though I think it's misguided, as long as it doesn't reduce a person's ability to participate in the greater community.

Darren said...

Zoot, in brief: the reason to care about whether people are Christians or not is because Christianity (and religion in general)
a) often leads people to do *bad* works. (ie condemn homosexuality which harms no one, discourage birth control in lands where the primary developmental challenge is explosive population growth, put infidels to the sword, that sort of thing)

b) actively encourages lazy and anti-intellectual habits of mind. Not everyone wants to spend time exploring the mysteries of the universe, sure, but Christianity makes it a VIRTUE not to! This is Not Cool in my book!

Christianity does not actually *encourage* good works, it just refrains from getting in the way sometimes. There are plenty of outlets for secular good deeds.

rwp: I agree that Hitchens (and to a lesser extent Dawkins) are lousy as public faces for atheism... apparently Dawkins has quite a temper on him when confronted with True Believers. This is NOT effective.

Zootenany Hoodlum said...

Darren, I think that people's actions are concerning. Their faith doesn't bother me. People use all kinds of excuses to explain their bad bahaviour, and yes, for some that is their faith. But the faith itself isn't the problem, it's the action. As much as faith leads people to take actions that you view as bad, it also inspires an equal number of people to good work. I argue only that actions count - belief, itself, doesn't.

Molly said...

But you see, the beauty part is that we don't have to believe that hell exists. it's enough that Mr. Foulsmell believed it exists.

Darren said...

Then the question is: on balance, does faith do more harm than good? (ie does it encourage more bad works or more good works?) The militant atheist case (ie Dawkins) is that it does. I am inclined to agree but would like to think about it some more.