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Atheists and believers have got religion wrong - Comments

AdrianB's Avatar Comment 1 by AdrianB

He has a point, although many here (myself included) will take issue with the use of the term militant.

I'm not trying to convert people, I'm just one of those POF (pissed off faithless). People are free to believe what they like, as long as they leave me alone and as long as their faith is not negative to society as a whole. Unfortunately this is not the case.

I like Mark Steel, and I would guess that he is a non-religious chap, so to hear him use the term militant atheist concerns me. The way I see it the only way we can avoid being called "militant" is to shut up.

I would like to take Mark Steel and Marcus Brigstocke out for a pint!

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 01:13:00 UTC | #60274

Jiten's Avatar Comment 2 by Jiten

In a just and fair world, these ideas would be no more harmful than the irrational following people have for football teams.

Good point.

For those who haven't heard of Mark Steel,he is a comedian and his articles are meant to make you laugh whilst making serious points.

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 01:22:00 UTC | #60276

GBile's Avatar Comment 3 by GBile

In fact everyone who ever lived up to about 1800, and most people since then have been stupid stupid stupid.

Not so, mr Steel, there is a difference between being stupid and being 'ignorant'.

Now, how shall we call a present-day 'Young Earth Protestant Creationist' ?

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 01:50:00 UTC | #60281

Thor's Avatar Comment 4 by Thor

In a just and fair world, these ideas would be no more harmful than the irrational following people have for football teams.

Well, yes, maybe so. However, religions do on occasion take it upon themselves to define what is "just and fair", don't they?
Which is more often than not part of the problem...

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 01:59:00 UTC | #60282

epicure's Avatar Comment 5 by epicure

There's a modern brand of militant atheist that can appear horribly smug and superior.

Jascha Heifetz wasn't far wrong when he said:
"No matter what side of the argument you are on, you always find people on your side that you wish were on the other."

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 02:19:00 UTC | #60284

Canuck#1's Avatar Comment 6 by Canuck#1

I am not sure that the phrase "irrational football fans" really captures the essence of what football fans are....restraunts with signs saying "No football buses allowed"....visitng fans being seated in a separate section protected by barricades and police and leaving the stadium after home fans have disappeared....films of fights, beatings, riots....however given the hatred, violence and verbal condemnation associated with religion maybe the comparison to fotball works.

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 02:28:00 UTC | #60285

Peacebeuponme's Avatar Comment 7 by Peacebeuponme

I like Mark Steel, he's a good guy. You should check out his "Mark Steel Lectures".

The article above however, does unfortunately tread tired ground and mischaracterises the atheist position. I certainly wouldn't call all religious people stupid. As much as I disagree with, for example, the fuzzy arguments of McGrath when it comes to god, he is clearly a pretty intelligent guy.

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 02:39:00 UTC | #60287

CJ22's Avatar Comment 8 by CJ22

In a just and fair world, these ideas would be no more harmful than the irrational following people have for football teams.

Ponders the images of football fans beating the crap out of each other and uninvolved passers-by, and wonders if Mark has thought this through.

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 02:55:00 UTC | #60290

mmurray's Avatar Comment 9 by mmurray

For those who haven't heard of Mark Steel,he is a comedian and his articles are meant to make you laugh whilst making serious points.

Didn't work for me.


Wed, 15 Aug 2007 03:04:00 UTC | #60292

hungarianelephant's Avatar Comment 10 by hungarianelephant

Or worse, there's these patronising stuck-up columns that go, "Aren't these Afghan peasants awful? I mean, I took the trouble to read Voltaire and Hume at university so why can't they? Their sexual politics is frankly shocking, and there's no excuse these days because with the internet they could order Armistead Maupin novels on Amazon and they'd be out to the caves of Tora Bora within a fortnight. I think the time has come for decent mountain tribes to say to these sexist types if they don't change their ways they won't be invited to any dinner parties or any openings of art galleries."

At the risk of nit-picking an article which makes some good points, that's not what most of these columns argue at all. It's not about "them". It's about "us" - and whether we are prepared to confront the mediaevalism in our own back yard.

If a 15 year old British girl was kidnapped in her home, taken to France and raped, there would be hell to pay if the authorities didn't attempt to secure her return and extradite the perpetrator. But if it's Pakistan and the kidnappers are her family, and there's an enforced marriage thrown into the mix, then oh no, we mustn't tread on cultural sensitivities. This is racism, pure and simple. It assumes that those with the misfortune to be born into such families have fewer rights than every other citizen, and that those responsible are excused because they cannot be expected to conform with the rules of decent society.

If pointing this out makes me a militant atheist, smug and superior, then I'll wear it as a badge of honour.

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 03:32:00 UTC | #60295

d4m14n's Avatar Comment 11 by d4m14n

Comment #63607 by Beth

If being a 'militant atheist' means no longer tolerating the hatred, bigotry, and misogyny of religion - please call me militant.

What she said.

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 03:34:00 UTC | #60296

Corylus's Avatar Comment 13 by Corylus

Mark Steel wrote:

Because it's not ideas that drive actions such as these, it's circumstances.
Actually, it's both.

Yes, it is daft to say that without religion we would all be wandering about in tie-dye fabrics and singing folk songs.

However, it is also daft to say that: a just and fair world, these ideas would be no more harmful than the irrational following people have for football teams.

This is just another version of the simplistic wishful thinking that he is pointing out above.

The fact is that some people, in fact alot of people, simply aren't very nice. Humans are prone to all kind of vile and unforgivable actions like murder, violence, warmongering and leaving their phones on in the cinema.

What religion does is amplify the problem. What is does give the out-group hostility; to which we are all prone; a dreadful intractable legitimacy. N.B. It also divides within groups (e.g. treatment of women and homosexuals).

Bottom line, religion provides a specific and respected basis for (some!) people to make denigrating statements concerning the worth of others.

If religion disappeared overnight, we would doubtless still kill and main each other for a variety of causes, however, we would how one less reason and one less excuse for doing so.

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 03:42:00 UTC | #60298

Prufrock's Avatar Comment 12 by Prufrock

I'm sorry to be so slow, but I'm not really sure I understand what Mark Steel is getting at. Is he saying that religious belief is inextricably bound in with the circumstances of our lives? If this is so then what does that have to do with the truth value of belief? Is he saying that religion is some kind of coping mechanism for the disenfranchised and economically, politically, socially dominated, while at the same time, form the basis of a brave new world for the economically, politically and socially dominant? If this is so does a belief in a supernatural deity somehow provide the constructive energies needed to resolve the many difficult, but pragmatic, problems these people face in asserting dominance and dealing with the effects of that dominance? Why not call stuff what they are rather than invoke an impossible and imaginary mischief maker to make life easier or justify psychotic behaviour? Why not simply take responsibility for what you think? Please excuse me if I don't get his humour, but just because something is apparently reasonable, does not mean it actually says anything of the sort. The issue is truth. The method is rationality and the unpleasant to be repelled is superstition, irrespective of circumstance. A believe in the juju under the sea, to use an example from Prof Dawkins, does not mean that reality is going to change, when perhaps rationality will lead to the much needed changes in circumstance and fortune. We all have to obey the laws of physics whether we believe in them or not and wearing religion as a kind of badge to show your social status does not strike me as having any meaning or practical value. I have yet to come across this brand of atheism; and I think it is useful to remember that it is ideas which have not been evidenced, experienced or verified which are under attack and not the people who hold them. There is never a rational basis for an irrational belief, just perhaps an excuse or justification. Sorry for not getting it.

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 03:42:00 UTC | #60297

Crazymalc's Avatar Comment 14 by Crazymalc

This guy is funny. I like him.

"The trouble with genocide is it's too soft. It takes no account of lizards."

"From the Spanish Inquisition to Cliff Richard they've got to make a lot of excuses."

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 03:59:00 UTC | #60299

n0rr1s's Avatar Comment 15 by n0rr1s

Mark says that many atheists are "smug and superior". That's ironic, because while I've often found Mark to be interesting and entertaining, on the few occassions he is wrong, the tone he uses causes him to appear to me in just that way. I have the same issue with Penn and Teller in one or two of their BS shows. And I think that Mark is wrong here.

First, I can't really speak for other atheists, but I do not think that religious people are stupid. I think that religious people are being stupid about religion. There is a big difference. I have observed that people can be extremely smart about one thing, while being considerably less than smart about another, even if the two things appear closely related. I know I have this failing.

Also, I think that few atheists are so blind to conditions around the world that they think that people in the grip of poverty are being ignorant by not having read, say, Voltaire.

And I disagree that "there's always a rational basis to the irrationality of religion". Sure, the religious will shape their faith somewhat based on the situation they have to deal with. And much of the muslim world has legitimate greivances with the west because of, say, the actions of GWB. But Mark seems to be using this to suggest that all religion is based on the prevailing conditions in people's lives, and therefore that it is rational. I say that religions are still based on texts that are thousands of years old, and there's only so much interpretation that one can do, only so much leeway that the texts allow. Religions were not invented because of today's conditions, and their tenets mostly do not reflect today's conditions. I do not think that they are rational.

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 04:02:00 UTC | #60300

ericcolumba's Avatar Comment 16 by ericcolumba

Mark Steel is an intelligent quick witted and charismatic individual. I would recommend looking at his BBC lecture series on you tube.

However, as a member of George Galloway's Respect Party it comes as no surprise that he downplays the dangers of religion. Especially since this party draws its support not only from the left but from British Muslims whose main motivation is the perceived persecution of fellow muslims by infidels(including the evil Jew).

Unlike Galloway Steel is an Atheist but he comes under the category of "I'm an Atheist but". Those who think that it while they don't believe in such superstitious nonsense it is somehow ok for others to do so. An arrogant point of view in my opinion. Also, I suspect that Mr Steel and his ilk are reluctant to admit that they might have been downplaying the role of religion in the middle east conflict. They have been out thought by Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins.
So how do the left react? Well, it would appear rather than evolve/reassess their firmly held political beliefs they mock.

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 04:12:00 UTC | #60301

faouloki's Avatar Comment 17 by faouloki

I like Mark Steel but this article is very sloppy. He doesn't seem to know what point he is trying to make, and it seems that whilst he wants to agree with the atheists, he also doesn't want to lose face with the religious and so ends up offending them all and isolating himself.
He also is making old, tired arguments which have been discussed to death.

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 04:22:00 UTC | #60302

Russell Blackford's Avatar Comment 18 by Russell Blackford

This Mark Steel bloke certainly comes out with a lot of dumb, trite observations for someone who is so smart (according to some of you above ... I'd never heard of him, myself). I can see how some of it might have been mildly funny if it had been fresh and original, but it could almost be a pastiche of sooo many others that make similar points, seemingly based more on what Dawkins, etc., somehow must be like than on any fair reading of what they actually say.

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 04:32:00 UTC | #60304

hungarianelephant's Avatar Comment 19 by hungarianelephant

On the "rational basis for irrationality" thing, I have to agree with Mark Steel up to a point.

If you look at something like the Ten Commandments, they make a whole lot more sense once you realise that Moses was leading a small desert tribe of maybe 800 individuals. It even states the purpose explicitly: "Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you." Adultery may often be socially damaging, but in a group that small it is likely to undermine trust not just in your spouse but in the whole group you depend upon. Coveting your neighbour's ox is a serious problem in a tiny, closed economy, and positively beneficial to a large capitalist society. I can even see the sense in pretending that these commandments came from God rather than trying to live with the anarchy of free thought which we now think of as essential to our well-being.

What most religions have managed to do is reform and reinterpret, which is a piece of cake when there is so much vagueness and contradictory nonsense in the original texts. In Victorian times, the whole Jesus story was shamelessly revised to turn a Jewish revolutionary into a gentle teacher, while over time most of the parts of the Bible which didn't work any more were simply forgotten.

It all goes horribly wrong when ideas from 3000 or 2000 or 1300 years ago are transplanted into a modern setting as if they were eternal truths i.e. fundamentalism. That is not a "rational basis" for irrationality. It is a "once-rational basis" and it needs to be dealt with.

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 04:36:00 UTC | #60305

BAEOZ's Avatar Comment 20 by BAEOZ

Seems like he's too clever by half. Not sure he had a point, except that by setting up a strawman that "new atheists" think everybody is dumb so then he can treat us the same a believers in shared silliness and knock us all down in one hit. Who's the smug boy then?

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 04:40:00 UTC | #60307

AdrianB's Avatar Comment 21 by AdrianB

If he is to believe in his own logic, then Mark Steel can only conclude that he too is a "militant atheist" or a "militant whatever" since he is a very vocal chap, always telling people how to believe.

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 04:47:00 UTC | #60308

AJ Rae's Avatar Comment 22 by AJ Rae

The Mark Steel Lectures are brilliant. I think he's creating a strawman here. He seems to come from a position of ignorance, and have a sentimentality towards religion, much like David Baddiel.

Richard Dawkins does mention in his book he realises, giving Northern Ireland as an example, that other factors are involved. He also strongly states that religion isn't the only problem in the world. He doesn't think people are stupid, just ignorant, or mistaken, a delusion that can affect the most intelligent.

Mark Steel, like a lot of the Left, only focus on circumstance. Football fanaticism is a very good example of how irrationalism can turn nasty. In Football, the stakes aren't high, in the god game, they're high. Yet people have died from being a fan of the wrong football team.

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 04:48:00 UTC | #60309

pewkatchoo's Avatar Comment 23 by pewkatchoo

Nothing much to add to what has already gone before. Hungarianelephant sums up my position.

Mark Steel is unfunny. Sorry.

Profrock: "take responsibility for what you think!" Excellent.

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 04:58:00 UTC | #60311

Ick of the East's Avatar Comment 24 by Ick of the East

Smug and superior are we? As opposed to those who believe that they have a close personal relationship with the all-powerful creator of the universe, with whom they will live in bliss for all eternity as a reward for their correct beliefs.


Wed, 15 Aug 2007 05:11:00 UTC | #60313

Oliver Leif's Avatar Comment 25 by Oliver Leif

hungarianelephant: "This is racism, pure and simple. It assumes that those with the misfortune to be born into such families have fewer rights than every other citizen, and that those responsible are excused because they cannot be expected to conform with the rules of decent society."

Couldn't agree more!

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 05:11:00 UTC | #60314

JackR's Avatar Comment 26 by JackR

I have a lot of time for Mark Steel, so it's a shame to see him indulging in lazy straw men at the end of this piece. I don't know any modern atheist who sneers at Afghan peasants or pre-enlightenment people for ignorance which is not their fault. For Steel to suggest such an attitude is common amongst atheists is simply dishonesty in pursuit of a cheap laugh. He's usually better than that.

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 05:19:00 UTC | #60317

MrEmpirical's Avatar Comment 27 by MrEmpirical

No! The atheists are acting smug and superior!

Make it stop!


Wed, 15 Aug 2007 06:02:00 UTC | #60321

danceswithanxiety's Avatar Comment 28 by danceswithanxiety

If you start from the point of view that all religion is nutty, you've got nothing more to say to a Muslim than, "How can a mountain move, you idiot?"
That's a good start but that's hardly all there is to be said. Insist that the Muslim try harder for answers. Insist that he/she pull his nose up from the prayer rug and read a few more books, talk to a few more people, engage some fresh thinking. Good answers will come by this route, whereas the Koran has already given its answers, and they range from irrelevant to false to monstrous.

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 06:13:00 UTC | #60323

Moridin's Avatar Comment 29 by Moridin

In fact everyone who ever lived up to about 1800, and most people since then have been stupid stupid stupid.

The problem with this argument is that religion serves as a much stronger identifier than a mere football club.

When the animosities between Manchester United and Real Madrid have been active for 2000+ years with hundred of thousands of deaths on both sides because the different clubs makes incompatible and unsupported metaphysical claims, then we can talk.

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 06:23:00 UTC | #60325

wolf1168's Avatar Comment 30 by wolf1168

IanG that is probable one of the most succinct description I have ever heard. I think I'll pass that along to a couple of polysci teachers I know.

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 06:38:00 UTC | #60331