February 12, 2009

A Quick Note

...to my fellow atheists.

You know how annoying it is when someone says, "Oh, you're an atheist. You must believe X. You must believe the same things Stalin did"? You know how annoying that is? How unfounded?


Can we not do that to Catholics with respect to Benny the Rat?



Unknown said...


Silver Fox said...


Stephanie Zvan said...

Yeah, this should not be a tough one.

Anonymous said...

When I was still a Catholic I was quite separated from the Vaticans' teachings on several issues. In fact, some of the most liberal people I knew were Benedictine Sisters. Most of them still held out hope in the seventies that we were one Pope away from women priests and a sensible declaration on birth control.

I would never suspect that anyone as cool as Dr. Isis would follow blindly the ravings of a conservative wing of the Cardinal's College.

I can't understand her devotion to her faith overall, but that doesn't mean that she can't have her own reasons.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, but to be fair - if someone's a member of a particular authoritarian organisation I think it isn't all that odd to assume they agree with it, unless they have specifically stated otherwise. Of course this isn't an excuse for getting things wrong, such as about papal infallibility (which is why I asked rather than assumed), but really the comparison to "you must believe the same things Stalin did" doesn't hold up. Atheists aren't (necessarily) stalinists, but all catholics presumably have some sort of respect for the Vatican?

Had to google Benny the Rat, for the record - had no idea what that meant. :P

Blake Stacey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blake Stacey said...

I think you're using a poor comparison to argue for a valid point. The labels which people use for self-identification don't have to be terribly informative to outsiders. How much information is actually imparted by the statement "I am a Christian"? Judging from the infighting over who gets to call themselves real, true, honest-to-Jaysis Christians, I'd say — "Not much." All in all, then, I try to be cautious in inferring what people believe from what they call themselves. (Words are short, and people are complicated.) That's just courtesy.

On the flipside:

It's absurd and beyond the pale to say, "You're an atheist, so you must believe the same things Stalin did." However, is it so extreme to say, "You're an atheist, so I bet you agree with Richard Dawkins on most of the important stuff"? Dawkins isn't part of any formal power structure which has authority over me, but I've read some of his writing and, having done so, I've found I agree with a fair proportion of his arguments. "You must believe X because Dawkins does" is going a mite too far (often, the speaker of such a sentence quickly reveals that they don't actually know what Dawkins believes).

It's the difference between correlation and causation. The statement You believe X because PZ Myers said to believe X implies causation (and is typically untrue). The statement Knowing that PZ Myers believes X, I infer that you also believe X implies only correlation, and is significantly more reasonable. The inference can be in error, of course, as a person arguing "in good faith" would recognize. People whose conception of truth revolves around personal authority and the virtue of prophets are, I think, more likely to confuse this issue.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Blake and Felicia, I start to think I should have linked to individual comments rather than the whole thread. I meant to be pretty specific in what I was ranting about. I apologize for the confusion.

I completely agree that assessing the probabilities is a reasonable thing. It's specifically treating individuals probabilistically that I have a problem with, particularly when it's just as easy to ask for more information. I'm not fond of operating on assumptions when better data is so close to hand.

As Mike points out, and as my experience growing up supports, the exceptions among Catholics are such that relying on one's assumptions in this regard can end up making one spectacularly wrong on this particular issue. Not everyone who is more a cultural Catholic than a Vatican Catholic ends up an Episcopalian.

By the way, Felicia, I was very impressed with how you handled the thread. Sorry about Benny the Rat. That is a bit obscure. I'm impressed you were able to Google it.

Anonymous said...

Vic and I had a wack job send a letter to our HOME address and one of the paragraphs, seriously, started with "Let me tell you what you believe". I was like, oh FRUC YOU! :) I mean, seriously, and they can't see how rude that is?

PS: It was awesome to finally meet you in person!

Stephanie Zvan said...

Crystal, it was lovely meeting you too. Sorry I didn't get to stay for brunch.