December 30, 2013

THe #SJW #privilege backlash is how I know Chris Arnade isn't all wet

From  XKCD website. Added here because Atheism Plus and
Gnu Atheism types love to trot it out as a sort of shield, a
"no true Scotsman" claim that they're not annoying.
For those of you not too familiar with him, Chris Arnade is an atheist. Who used to work on Wall Street, with a Ph.D. Who now works with homeless people not too, too far from Wall Street.

And, via his work with them, and the seeming degree of attachment many of them have to religious belief, has led him to call atheism an "intellectual luxury for the wealthy." Which certainly isn't a life of "privilege" and, per the SJW hashtag of "social justice warriors," is working for social justice.

Here's the heart of his piece:
(The homeless) have their faith because what they believe in doesn't judge them. Who am I to tell them that what they believe is irrational? Who am I to tell them the one thing that gives them hope and allows them to find some beauty in an awful world is inconsistent? I cannot tell them that there is nothing beyond this physical life. It would be cruel and pointless. 

In these last three years, out from behind my computers, I have been reminded that life is not rational and that everyone makes mistakes. Or, in Biblical terms, we are all sinners. 

We are all sinners. On the streets the addicts, with their daily battles and proximity to death, have come to understand this viscerally. Many successful people don't. Their sense of entitlement and emotional distance has numbed their understanding of our fallibility

Soon I saw my atheism for what it is: an intellectual belief most accessible to those who have done well.   ...

I look back at my 16-year-old self and see Preacher Man and his listeners differently. I look at the fragile women praying and see a mother working a minimum wage custodial job, trying to raise three children alone. Her children's father off drunk somewhere. I look at the teenager fingering a small cross and see a young woman, abused by a father addicted to whatever, trying to find some moments of peace. I see Preacher Man himself, living in a beat up shack without electricity, desperate to stay clean, desperate to make sense of a world that has given him little. 

They found hope where they could.
I hadn't intended to write a full blog post about it. I thought it was interesting, but not something I totally agreed with, though I understood to some degree where he was coming from, or where I interpreted him as coming from.

I called it a version of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. In other words, after people get a stable, secure situation in regard to food and shelter, then safety, then social belonging, after that, they're going to feel comfortable — and have the mental energy — to question old beliefs and old values systems.

I agree with him, and against some, though not all Gnu Atheists, that H. sapiens isn't all that rational, even when we're higher up Maslow's hierarchy.

And, this is nothing new. Look at black slaves who adopted their owners' Christianity.

That said, it hasn't stopped the Atheism Plus junior subset of Gnu Atheists from jumping all over Arnade.

And, the one that has topped off the dogpile, all while insisting she's not writing about any one person?

Quelle horreur! It's Stephanie Zvan.

To refute just a couple of the hints she makes, even if at no one in particular, whether always to be believed or not:
1. Arnade never said that religion had no connection with predatory capitalism. That said, the claim of religion is usually just a fig leaf.
2. Unearned authority is a problem far outside of religious groups. Like Gnu Atheism. Besides, in many religious groups, the members of that group have no problem with believing their leaders have earned said authority.
3. I'm sure that if Gnu Atheism gets big enough, by the law of averages, it will have its own scandals. Only Gnu Atheists, even more than many an intensely inward group, will probably trot out "no true Scotsman" claims enough to earn themselves a listing in places like Skeptic's Dictionary under that entry.

Add to this somebody on Facebook using a compounded version of the magical word privilege in a post about Arnade's piece, and barf.

Meanwhile, let's ignore people like that and get back to people like Pamela J. Stubbart, with a more nuanced critique:
Frankly, Chris, I think that your piece has more to do with sig­nal­ing con­cern for the dis­ad­van­taged (and sig­nal­ing that you’re not a dick like Richard Dawkins) than it has to do with athe­ism per se. Not that these are bad things to do — but it doesn’t seem to me that your athe­ism was chal­lenged at all. As far as I can tell, you just revised your opin­ions regard­ing the dif­fer­ing value of truth in the con­text of var­i­ous kinds of people’s lives. (That would make a slightly less catchy title, how­ever). We can agree that it would be “cruel and point­less” to try to talk these peo­ple out of their the­ism. But label­ing athe­ism itself an “intel­lec­tual lux­ury” con­sti­tutes a near­sighted attempt to imbue athe­ism with the con­no­ta­tion that it’s unnec­es­sary and friv­o­lous. Please don’t for­get that in other con­texts, the non-religious do impor­tant work towards cur­tail­ing religiously-motivated harms (female gen­i­tal muti­la­tion, any­one? allow­ing chil­dren with eas­ily cured med­ical con­di­tions to die?) At those times, it is keep­ing quiet about unjus­ti­fied reli­gious claims (“think­ing dif­fer­ently” from athe­ists!) which would be cruel.
I could largely agree with that. Unfortunately, I don't think most Gnu-type atheists, and certainly not the subset of them Atheism Plusers, would agree with Stubbart.

Knowing what I do about the world of addiction, I will say that, in part because these alternatives aren't recognized by the court system, and in part for other, more sociological reasons, secular alternatives to 12-Step addiction support draw a different crowd.

Plus, also indirectly back to Zvan, and others.

Yes, atheists/secularists donate food to food pantries, and other "street level" support. However, secularists don't have their own homeless shelters, at least not that I'm aware of. Not all shelters that do exist are run by religiously oriented private organizations, of course, but many are. And, even those that aren't, in working with alcoholics and addicts, offer up the religious nostrums of the 12 Steps, in part because, again, they don't know the alternatives. 

In short, to bring out another psychological phrase, if Arnade "confronts" the homeless he helps with the illogic, and lack of empirical basis, of their beliefs, he risks giving them a massive case of cognitive dissonance. As many of the homeless are not only alcoholics or addicts, but "dual diagnosis" folks, this is about the last thing they need.

At the same time, Arnade's piece almost makes it sound like he's "deconverting." I asked him that on Twitter, and I'm putting it in here now. 

Why do I say that? The middle section of the block quote from above:
In these last three years, out from behind my computers, I have been reminded that life is not rational and that everyone makes mistakes. Or, in Biblical terms, we are all sinners.

We are all sinners. On the streets the addicts, with their daily battles and proximity to death, have come to understand this viscerally. Many successful people don't. Their sense of entitlement and emotional distance has numbed their understanding of our fallibility.
Sorry, but you, without the burden of being on the first or second level of Maslow's pyramid, have just made a logical/empirical disconnect, as I see it.

First, sinners implies sin. Sin is normally associated with religion. It's a word with all sorts of connotative overtones. It implies either a theistic god or a an impersonal karmic metaphysical force judging sin.

And, it sounds like it was written deliberately, as a face-slap, especially with the addition of the phrase "Biblical terms." (Having done that at times myself, I know it when I see it.)

Second, it seems to imply all atheists are part of the "successful people." Commenters on Zvan's page point out that's not true. And, I know that myself. I'm a community newspaper editor with extra money in the bank, but I'm nowhere near rich, and I personally know secularists worse off.

Third, per what I said before about "dual diagnosis," many of the people on the street have been sinned against much more than being sinners. Without causing them cognitive dissonance, you could at least lighten the religious chains for them by giving them some version of understanding of that, even if you have to still fertilize it with some religious manure.

Fourth, related to Nos. 2 and 3, it seems to imply most atheists are more like this than like you are.

This all said, Arnade promises a more nuanced follow-up.

I'd love to see it. I'd also love to see a more friendly reception for him from the social justice warriors, too. And, yes, I would note that, too. See three paragraphs above.


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