February 26, 2013

"Faitheists" celebrating Lent? Spare me (extensively updated)

One does not have to be a Gnu Atheist to raise an eyebrow at Vlad Chituc's discussion of why he, as an atheist, celebrated Lent last year.

First, one need not confine himself to a Christian religious calendar to mark out a 40-day period of mental devotion, etc.

Second, there's the what he actually gave up:
I've been mostly a vegetarian for the last two years. But the reasons I object to eating beef and chicken apply equally to drinking milk and eating eggs: I don't necessarily object to consuming flesh per se, but rather how we treat livestock and how factory farming impacts the environment. So while I've been finding the transition from a vegetarian diet to a vegan diet particularly daunting, the Catholic Church provides me a perfect and relatively low-pressure avenue for a brief period of self-improvement. I don't see any reason not to try it out.
So, veganism is something you "try out," even though you allegedly have high moral reasons for doing so? If it were being done purely for health reasons, I could see trying it out, but not for a reason like this.

Rather, we have:
Hi, I'm Vlad Chituc. I really hate modern factory farming. I hate it so much I'm going to stop eating meat. But just for 40 days.
There's more wrong with this than that statement, though.

Michael Pollan sanctimoniousness aside, Chituc could eat non-CAFO meat, or since he was vegetarian before that, non-CAFO dairy and eggs. Second, Chituc says nothing about where he's getting his veggies — factory truck farming, in places like Florida, California and Arizona, takes a huge toll on how humans, namely immigrants both legal and illegal, are treated.

Seems like both your reasoning and your emoting is a bit addled.You apparently don't value a high moral value that highly, and contra standard atheist thought that morality is ultimately an inward, humanistic matter, find that you have to turn to religion for motivation.

More on that here, as Vlad decided to give Lent another whirl this year.
Atheists talk an awful lot about abstract intellectual values like Logic or Reason, and, insofar as these words mean something above simply denoting vague and feel-good smart-person-signifiers that We have and They (believers) don't, these values are certainly important. But so many human failures, particularly my own, aren't failures of rationality or clear thinking. Rather, what seems to trip us up is a more human failing -- we lack the willpower, strength, or foresight to do what we already know is right. 
First, he perpetuates a religious-based stereotype of atheists as unfeeling Mr. Spocks. Second, he again seems to feel that motivation and willpower have to be found in religious rituals and rights. In the world of addiction recovery, those of us who support secular approaches to recovery find the same problem with part of the reason many people continue to tout 12-step approaches.

He then offers what I consider a lame excuse:
I don't know what other secular alternatives there are for a brief period of more disciplined and self-conscious living. So, partly inspired by Alain de Botton's "Religion for Atheists," I couldn't see any reason not to try the perfectly good religious practice right in front of me.
Invent your own!

Whether on your own, or with other members of the Secular Student Alliance, or with Chris Stedman and other fellow bloggers at NonProphet Status. (And, per a post there, I'm not the only one to say "invent your own"!)

After all, the group of you are doing the "giving up for Lent" together. Why constrain yourself to a religious idea, and why go falsely chasing religion for motivation? In essence, aren't you saying, beyond perpetuating stereotypes, that secularism or atheism isn't good enough?

At his individual second Lent post, Vlad does admit:
But I want to make it clear that I don't think that an atheist celebrating Christmas or Lent or whatever else is purporting to capture the full spiritual and theological and transcendental experience of the holiday that might make these rituals important to believers. Even though it might be trivializing, we're just trying to make the most out of our lives, finding inspiration from traditions who have been working on this problem a lot longer than we have.
Good ... because people like him strike me as being like "Messianic Christian" congregations practicing about 10 percent of Jewish Passover ritual, about 1 percent of the rest of Jewish ritual, and generally coming off as holier-than-thou about it all.

Worse yet, the Catholic Christian idea of "renunciation," or "giving up," as specifically tied to Lent, goes unexamined by the group of Non Prophets.

Per Wikipedia:
The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer—through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial. Its institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week, marking the death and resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events of the the Bible when Jesus is crucified on Good Friday, which then culminates in the celebration on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

During Lent, many of the faithful commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penitence.
So, are Vlad, Chris Stedman, et al, repenting of something? Believing they need to repent of something? Or what?

This is why, per the "group of you" link, I don't totally disagree with a Tom Flynn criticizing them. And why, though I think Dave Silverman of American Atheists is in general even more of an ass on this "have nothing to do with religious holidays" idea, he's not 100 percent wrong, either.

And, you are "trivializing," you Non Prophets. Frankly, were I an Opus Dei Catholic, I'd find your attitude and practice to be an insult, not conductive to interfaith outreach. Beyond that, even if you're trying to catch the "spirit of willpower," what you want to do with that willpower also seems trivializing. Chituc says he's giving up checking Internet comments for Lent. (More on that below.)  Paul Fidalgo says he's giving up checking pageview stats. We're beyond trivializing to trite. (This isn't peculiar to you, though. The "Messianic Christian" groups are also trivializing, and have been told so by many a Jew. That said, they're "just" trivializing, while also engaged in shameless religious expropriation. You Non Prophets are just trite.)

Beyond trivializing, per the "repent" comment, you're giving credence to the need to hold to Christian Lent-related beliefs. In short, you're acting as much like "spiritual but not religious" New Agers as atheists.

And. there does appear to be some hypocrisy, too.

In that group post, Vlad said: "I’ll be reading no internet comments for the next 40 days, comments here notwithstanding."

Really? That seems NOT to include his reading my Amazon review of Stedman's "Faitheist," more extensively reviewed as book, as memoir, as branding tool and more in this blog post.

Beyond the triteness mentioned above, though, seems to be intellectual confusion,  uncertainty or similar. Chituc says elsewhere he wants to use the label of humanism for a "community," even though he says he thinks it's ambiguous as a philosophy. There and in the post behind it, it seems like he's struggling for cohesion.

This is why, when it comes to philosophy, one should never trust anyone UNDER 30. Like Stedman, I suspect the best label for Chituc is "seeker," not atheist. Call me back in five years; I've otherwise read enough.

With Faitheist AND Gnu Atheist friends like this alike, spare me enemies, please. And, I'm not the only atheist in my circle of acquaintances who wants nothing to do with either presentation of organized atheism.

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