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Dear PZ, Hitler was a vegetarian

Yes, I realise I have probably doomed any discussion, because the first sentence has broken Godwin's Law. But here I go anyway. I hear that you don't like "dictionary people", especially when it comes to atheism. I'm going to see if I can change that.

Hitler was, as I said, a vegetarian. Surprising, isn't it? That someone who was responsible for so many deaths and so much cruelty could care about animals. What a strange combination of beliefs he must have had, a combination that seems extraordinary inconsistent. It does make me question somewhat his mental health!

I'm sometimes vegetarian, but I do have a problem resisting fish. I'm going to try and stay off meat of any kind this February. I'm cautious about this, though, because of Hitler. What will people think of me if I eat like Hitler? "He's not just a strident atheist" they will say, "he's also a fascistic eater". I'll try and point out that Gandhi also did not eat meat, but they will just accuse me of a "no true Haggis-eater" fallacy (I do make a good vegan haggis).

So what is this all about? It's about diets, dictionaries, and baggage. My mental diet is atheist. I don't go for items on the menu with god in. Others do the same. There can be different reasons for such a diet: I have tried god before, and have gone off the flavour. Some people have never tried god and don't see why they should change. Yet others refuse god on moral grounds. Some are on an atheist mental diet because of positive values, some are on that diet because it's all they have ever known, and so on and so forth.

There is no one reason for vegetarianism. We don't declare someone not a real vegetarian unless they have come to it through a love of animals. We don't want choice of diet to have any baggage, both because people should be free to eat what they like without hassle and because it's not helpful for freedom of choice to set up a stereotype of vegetarianism. Dictionary vegetarianism is not just true, but useful. People rarely accuse vegetarians of wanting to invade Poland.

There are an awful lot of people in the world who are atheists and have little in common with each other than the dictionary definition of atheism. That's useful, because when believers insist that their morality comes from gods, we can point to those other atheists, some of whom are members of religions, and point out that such people aren't considered immoral, or nihilistic, or have a particular tendency to become tyrants, or even professors. It's also useful because it makes atheism more attainable. Atheism should not have an entrance exam to determine if you have the right kind of attitude to science and reason.

But mostly, it's useful because it means that atheism is not the opposite of religion. Religion is, generally, theism plus baggage: baggage such as scriptures, crackers and men in dresses. Atheism by the dictionary really isn't a-theism plus baggage. Without the baggage atheism doesn't have to play the same kind of games as theism, games such as "no true Scotsman", and "Where's the Despair?": Theists often insist that New Atheists aren't as good at being atheist as Old Atheists, who, as they say, used to read Nietzsche and really have a good despair. Heck, I can despair as much as the next guy, but it isn't due to my atheism.

So I ask this - if you want baggage, please put it on the Gnu, not the atheism.

All the best and keep up the good work,

Steve Zara

(By the way, Hitler was not that much of a vegetarian, and when he was it was to help deal with various maladies such as flatulence. It was not due to a general love of animals, but, partly, farting)



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