There is Nothing Friendly About Hemant Mehta’s Gross Ignorance

2019-08-31 — Updated 2019-09-03

My response to a particularly inept, obnoxious and anti-secular blog by a well known American atheist blogger who opposes Quebec Bill 21.

Sommaire en français Ma réponse à un billet de blogue particulièrement inepte, infect et anti-laïque publié sur le site d’un blogueur américain athée bien connu qui s’oppose à la Loi 21 au Québec.

Hemant Mehta is an American blogger who uses the nickname Friendly Atheist and who claims to support secularism. And yet, in a blog entitled Quebec’s Bill 21, Now a Law, Foolishly Bans Religious Symbols for State Workers, published the day after the adoption of the bill which institutes State secularism in the Canadian province of Quebec, Mehta attacks the legislation for its removal of some religious privileges (which Mehta, like religious bigots who oppose secularism, mislabels as “rights”).

We all know, or should know, that human rights cannot, in general, be absolute. There are always reasonable limits. The rights of one person may conflict with the rights of another. Freedom of expression cannot be infinite because, for example, defamation is unacceptable. Most reasonable people would agree that the rights of a pregnant women—i.e. to health, well-being and survival—have priority over any supposed “right to life” of the foetus she is carrying. The rights of children are limited because they lack the maturity to exercise those rights fully. Furthermore, one right of a person may even conflict with another right of the same person. If a child refuses a life-saving blood transfusion for religious reasons, then the child’s life must take precedence over the child’s freedom of religion, because a dead child has no freedom. Freedom of religion must not be absolute for adults either. If an airline pilot were to leave his or her post during take-off or landing, claiming that it was time for prayer, he or she would be guilty of criminal negligence.

Now consider the case of a classroom in an elementary or secondary school, with one teacher and, say, twenty pupils. Suppose that the teacher wants to wear an ostentatious religious symbol, even while teaching. Here we have yet another case of a conflict between rights, between the freedom of religious expression of the teacher and the freedom of conscience of the pupils, i.e. their right to an educational environment free from religious proselytism, including passive proselytizing using symbols. Which should take precedence? The answer is obvious:

  1. Schools exist in order to educate students, not to employ teachers. Students are the reasons schools exist, so their rights should have precedence.
  2. The students are for more numerous than the teacher. Thus, again, their rights should have precedence.
  3. The students are children or adolescents and are thus highly susceptible to influence. They should not be subjected to unnecessary advertising (which is what religious symbols are).
  4. The teacher’s duty is to impart knowledge, teach skills and serve as a role model. The teacher should remain neutral when dealing with sensitive subjects such as religion.

The obvious solution to the conflict between the teacher’s desire to express their religion even while teaching and the student’s right to a quality educational environment free from propaganda is for the teacher to maintain religious neutrality, including visual neutrality by refraining from wearing obvious religious symbols on the job. To do otherwise would be to grant the teacher a religious privilege incompatible with the rights of students. The teacher regains full rights when off the job.

Quebec’s Bill 21 wisely takes this approach by banning teachers from wearing religious symbols. Unfortunately there are exceptions: there is a grandfather clause for teachers already employed before the Draft Bill was first published. Also, it does not apply to private schools, which nevertheless receive considerable public funding in Quebec. Nevertheless, Bill 21 is a very good step in the right direction. The law also bans religious symbols worn by police, prison guards, prosecutors and judges, and this is also a progressive measure because all of these positions exercise coercive authority, and hence their neutrality, both in deed and in appearance, is very important.

So what does Hemant Mehta have to say about Bill 21 in his June 17th blog?

  • In the very title, Mehta says that the ban is “Foolish” when in fact it is eminently reasonable as explained above.
  • Mehta writes that religious symbols are banned for some users of public services too. This is patently false. For users, only face-coverings are banned.
  • Mehta writes that some religious believers are “required by their faith to wear certain symbols.” This is nonsense. Unless the individual is forced by their family or community to wear such a symbol (in which case banning symbols will help that person to resist unacceptable coercion), then they are not obligated by anything other than their personal choice. Even religious activists who vehemently oppose Bill 21 claim that they wear their symbol by choice. Well then, they can choose to remove it if required to do so for their job.
  • Mehta complains about the law’s invocation of the so-called “notwithstanding clause” to make the legislation less vulnerable to court challenges. That clause is part of the Canadian constitution. It is perfectly legitimate to use it, especially when, despite strong popular support for the legislation, a small but extremely noisy and irrational opposition (whose ideas Mehta himself echoes) threatens to delay or disrupt adoption of the law.
  • Mehta wants to have his cake and eat it too, to call himself secular while allowing religious interference in the State.

  • Mehta hypocritically claims that he “actively supports the separation of religion and politics.” That is false. Mehta wants to have his cake and eat it too, to call himself secular while allowing religious interference in the State. If he would allow a policeman or policewoman, for example, to wear an obvious crucifix or hijab or other religious symbol while on duty, then he is not separating religion from the State. On the contrary, he is allowing the State to endorse the religion being displayed.
  • […]advertising, whether commercial or religious, is not benign, especially where children are targetted.

  • Mehta claims that the wearing of religious symbols in this context is “harmless.” Bullshit. Apparently he has never heard of advertising. Companies spend millions of dollars on it—because it works. Whether to sell a product or simply to normalize a brand (such as the Islamist veil) so that everyone gets lulled into thinking it is perfectly normal, advertising, whether commercial or religious, is not benign, especially where children are targetted.
  • Mehta uses the familiar “religious minorities [are] persecuted” excuse in order to grant impunity to minority religions. This is a standard strategy of the regressive pseudo-left. By doing so, he stigmatizes criticism of these religions and he lumps all adherents of a religion into the same category, which invariably benefits the most pious, fundamentalist and even radical coreligionists. For example, failure to criticize the Islamist program of imposing the veil anywhere and everywhere empowers Islamists, while betraying more moderate, secular Muslims and ex-Muslims. Allowing the hijab to proliferate unabated—or worse, to celebrate it!—sends the message that women who do not wear it, especially Muslim women, are impure and unworthy of respect.
  • Mehta complains that Bill 21 contains provisions which monitor its application, for enforcement purposes. Well of course it does! What good is a law which is left unenforced? What good is a law which may be violated with total impunity?

Basically, what Mehta is saying is that the freedom of religious expression of public servants and teachers is absolute and that the freedom of conscience of users and students is worth shit. He would allow unrestricted religious advertising by public servants and teachers while on the job. He gives total priority to those religious believers who are so fanatical that they insist on wearing their symbol absolutely everywhere, as if it were as essential to them as an internal organ. By doing so, he betrays the vast majority of citizens who have a right to public services and schools without religious interference.

Mehta displays gross ignorance of secularism and a total disregard for the importance of secularism in the French-speaking world. In comparison, the English-speaking world displays a disturbing ineptness with regard to the key concept of separation between religion and State, without which secularism degenerates into a pale caricature of itself.

Mehta is apparently completely oblivious to the role played by the regressive or identitarian pseudo-left in opposing secularism[…]

But perhaps most disturbing at all, Mehta is apparently completely oblivious to the role played by the regressive or identitarian pseudo-left in opposing secularism and in poisoning debates about religion and secularism. That toxic movement affects many countries but is particularly strong in the U.S.A. and Canada. It has been weaponized by political Islam in order to demonize secularism with the goal of destroying it. France is currently a major target. Hemant Mehta falls right into step by repeating that movement’s propaganda against Quebec Bill 21. Mehta’s blog is a typical example of regressive pseudo-leftist discourse.

In conclusion, I have this to say to Hemant Mehta:

My name is David Rand. I am president of an organization named Atheist Freethinkers (AFT) based in Montreal and spokesperson for the Rassemblement pour la laïcité (RPL) which is a coalition of several groups (including feminists, North Africans, AFT and other secularists) working for secularism in Quebec. We supported and continue to support Bill 21, while criticizing its weaknesses (for example, it should apply to the entire public service, not just parts.) I am proud to be part of that coalition. The Québécois people are in the vanguard on the issue of secularism, just as they have been trailblazers for several other social issues.

As for you, Mr. Mehta, you have no excuse for your ignorance. An ordinary person with no particular involvement with these issues may be easily confused by biased media reports. But you are a well known blogger in the atheist and freethinking communities of your country. You have a duty to be better informed. You claim to be a secularist. Yet you throw Quebec secularists, such as us, under the bus. Indeed you throw the Québécois in general under that bus. You also abandon secular Muslims to the Islamist wolves. You side with the fundamentalists and obscurantists who cling to their religious privileges, some of which you are all too happy to let them keep. You have no excuse for your unscrupulous betrayal of secularism in the one place in North America—Quebec—where it has made the most significant progress in recent decades.

At least we know who are friends are not.


Next blog: Sometimes Makeup Is Just Makeup

David Rand’s Personal Blog

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About this blog

À propos de ce blogue

This website is my personal blog—as opposed to blogs published on the site of Atheist Freethinkers (AFT). Here, most, but not all, of my blog articles are in English, accompanied by a brief summary in French, although some blogs are in French with an English summary and some are available in both languages. Most of my writings here deal with atheism, secularism and related issues, although not exclusively.

Ce site web est consacré à mon blogue personnel — pour le distinguer de blogues publiés sur le site de Libres penseurs athées (LPA). Sur ce site-ci, la plupart des billets de blogue (mais pas tous) sont en anglais, chacun accompagné d’un bref résumé en français. Mais quelques billets sont en français avec un résumé en anglais et certains sont disponibles dans les deux langues. La plupart traitent de l’athéisme, de la laïcité and de sujets connexes, mais parfois je m’aventure au-dehors de ces champs.



Some quotes from these blogs

Quelques citations de ces blogues

“The Islamist veil is a purity symbol, a form of slut-shaming. Wearing it means that other women who do not wear it, especially Muslim women who do not wear it, are impure, i.e. ‘easy.’”
Summary: The Islamist Veil

« s’il existe dans la société québécoise des préjugés ou des comportements blessants à l’égard de certaines minorités religieuses, ce n’est pas le résultat de Loi 21. Au contraire, un des buts de cette Loi est justement d’endiguer de tels comportements ! »
Le juge Yergeau reconnaît que la Loi sur la laïcité ne fomente pas la haine

“Given their lack of any plausible line of reasoning, antisecularists, in their vituperations against Quebec Draft Bill 21, have a strong tendency toward dishonesty, irresponsible speculation and sometimes complete nonsense. Here are a few examples.”
Quebec Bill 21 Causes Earthquakes, Anal Warts and the Collapse of Civilisation

« Lorsque le voile est porté par une enfant, cette ségrégation sociale est beaucoup plus sérieuse, privant la fillette d’une enfance normale en érigeant une barrière entre elle et les autres enfants. »
La CCDP endosse la maltraitance religieuse des fillettes

“Religious symbols are highly partisan and often political in their implications. It is reasonable to put restrictions on their display by public servants, similar to current restrictions on political expression.”
Tobacco, Politics and Religion

« permettre aux médecins et infirmières de porter de tels signes constituerait un accommodement religieux, un privilège accordé aux religions,[…] Ces accommodements religieux constituent forcément des entorses à la neutralité religieuse. »
Plaidoyer pour la laïcité dans les hôpitaux

“Locke is probably the reference for secularism in the English speaking world, but I would call his vision pseudo-secularism because of its assumption that everyone with any concept of ethics, any right to live in society with others, has a religion, and indeed a theistic religion.”
Secularism: Lockean and Republican

« Plusieurs croyants, dans le but d’obtenir un privilège ou un accommodement, veulent nous faire croire que leur pratique religieuse serait une « obligation », c’est-à-dire quelque chose d’inné, d’intime et d’immuable. Mais c’est un leurre, »
The Myth of Religious Obligations

“The arrogance and paternalism of British imperialism have been recycled and repackaged as multiculturalism.”
Hate Quebec, Hate Secularism

« la dénégation du droit d’apostasier est étroitement liée à la mentalité essentialiste qui soutient le multiculturalisme et le mythe de l’obligation religieuse. »
Apostasy is a Human Right

“use of the censorious accusation of ‘Islamophobia’ enables Islamofascism by making it even more difficult to criticize the excesses of political Islam and Islamist theocracies. In particular this harms the people who are already in a difficult position: gays, other sexual minorities, apostates, etc. who are persecuted by Islam.”
Pride & Shame in Toronto & London

« Une récente manifestation à Montréal par des militants soi-disant “anti-racistes” montre encore une fois que les ennemis de la laïcité manquent tristement d’intégrité morale et intellectuelle. »
The Moral and Intellectual Bankruptcy of Antisecularists



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David Silverman’s Firebrand Atheism

We Need It Now More Than Ever

2018-04-23, minor changes 2018-04-24

A consideration of three major issues raised by David Silverman: the utter baselessness of god-belief, the importance of calling oneself an “atheist” and Silverman’s rejection of Jewish identity.

Sommaire en français Je considère trois questions importantes soulevées par David Silverman : l’absence totale de fondement pour la croyance en dieu(x), l’importance de se dire ouvertement athée et son rejet de l’identité juive.

I first envisaged writing this blog several weeks ago, before I heard about David Silverman being temporarily suspended and then definitively terminated from his position as president of American Atheists. I see no reason not to go ahead and write it, but I feel compelled at least to mention those somber recent developments. David claims to be innocent and, frankly, I see no reason to doubt him. In addition to the well established principle of assuming innocence until proven guilty, I have at least two reasons: (1) the vagueness of the charges I have heard so far; and (2) the fact that the current socio-political context is replete with examples of false or exaggerated accusations of various kinds.

Of course some accusations are true, but which ones? In some cases (such as Wienstein or Cosby), evidence is overwhelming and undeniable, but that is often not so. Indeed, it is because of all the dubious accusations poisoning current political discourse that it has become more difficult to distinguish reality from fanatically invented fiction. It has become commonplace for accusers to throw all nuance out the window, so that criticism becomes demonization and the work of the accused person is anathematized. I reject such puritanical excesses.

Until I see some solid evidence, I will withhold my judgement. Now to the topic at hand.


Recently I had the pleasure of hearing David Silverman deliver a powerful speech on the subject of his trademark “firebrand atheism.” It was in Warsaw, in a small theatre-like hall in the Polish Academy of Sciences, during a session, entitled “We, The Atheists,” of the Days of Atheism 2018. David’s delivery was forceful, even charismatic, and his subject perfectly appropriate to the occasion. As I wrote in a recent AFT blog about Days of Atheism 2018:

… the highlight of this series of talks was the rousing speech by David Silverman whose “firebrand atheism” is resolute and determined. He criticized and mocked the idea that there is any doubt whatsoever about the complete falsehood of god-belief. Furthermore, he emphasized the critical importance of identifying oneself by the term “atheist” rather than other wishy-washy and/or poorly understood epithets such as “humanist” or “freethinker.” Paraphrasing his message: “Because I am a true humanist, I call myself an atheist, not a humanist.” David’s highly effective and dynamic delivery and his unapologetic approach to atheism reminded us why he is Atheist of the Year 2018!

Later, in conversations over dinner during the convention banquet, we briefly discussed David’s attitude towards Judaism and his opinion that there is no such thing as a Jewish Atheist.

These three issues raised by David Silverman: the certainty of atheism, the importance of the “atheist” label and the futility of ethnicities such as “Jewish” all resonated with me strongly because they reflect ideas I have thought and written about myself. David’s perspective throws new light on these issues, while confirming and adding nuance to the conclusions I had already reached.

The Certainty of Atheism

First of all, we are not talking about absolute certainty, of the sort which exists only in abstract pure logic, or in the pretentions of religious dogma. I am talking about scientific certainty, or certainty beyond a reasonable doubt, where the probability of truth is extremely close to one. In the case of theistic religion, we should look at it from the opposite direction: what is the probability of the existence of any given god? Given that evidence is completely lacking, that probability is at most a number infinitesimally close to zero. Then, when we take account of the contradictions within each theism and the between competing theisms, that probability is reduced to zero. As David Silverman makes it clear in his talk, there is no room for doubt: “God” does not exist. In no other field, other than religion, would anyone even consider such a baseless hypothesis. It is time that we started applying to religion the same rigorous analysis which is normally applied in all other fields.

I have made this point in several writings in the past. For example, in Why We Are Not Agnostics, I criticize agnosticism because of its inherent a priori assumption of some non-negligeable probability of the existence of god(s). This error is especially serious in the case of what I call symmetric agnosticism which is based on the fallacy of the mean, assuming a probability of 50% from the get-go, without justification, something which even honest theologians would not dare to do. The doubt which is the basis of agnosticism is a method, not a final position. When that method of doubt is applied to any god-belief, the unavoidable conclusion is that belief is utterly baseless. Atheism is therefore a certainty until such time as theists come up with something to support their outrageous assertions.

The Importance of Calling Oneself “Atheist”

The very strong, very old and very well established prejudice against atheists, i.e. atheophobia, is an extreme form of religious bigotry. It is an essential aspect of theistic dogma, as each theism claims a monopoly on morals. Some atheists have concluded from this that we should avoid calling ourselves atheists publically. This is exactly the wrong approach; it is a recipe for hypocrisy and stagnation. We must boldy assert our atheism in order to oppose and weaken atheophobia. I have made this point in several writings, in particular in Atheophobia, An Ancient Prejudice, and Yet So Prevalent Today, where I define the term in some detail, and in Secular Atheophobia, where I discuss the problem of atheophobic attitudes even among the non-religious.

In his Warsaw talk in March 2018, David Silverman expressed it something like this: Being a true humanist, he calls himself an atheist rather than a humanist, because it is use of the label “atheist” which best challenges religous bigotry. Furthermore, says David, emphemisms such as “humanist,” and “freethinker,” etc. are poorly understood, or completely misunderstood, by the public, but everyone knows what an atheist is! I would express it thus: A humanist is just an closeted atheist, too cowardly to come out. The word “agnostic” is even worse, because it gives theism credit which it does not deserve. See the previous section of this blog!

Rejecting Jewishness

In an article in the online Tablet Magazine, Can You Be an Atheist and a Jew at the Same Time? David Silverman Says No., David Silverman’s views on Jewish identity are explained. He argues that Jewishness is ultimately a religion, only a religion, not a race or ethnic group. Once a person rejects the religion of Judaism, Silverman argues, that person is no longer a Jew. He asserts, “I am not a Jew. I am a child of Jews.” If one does not practice the religion Judaism, then one should abandon the Jewish identity.

I have expressed similar ideas, but from a different perspective. I would argue that if one continues to consider Jews as a so-called “race” or ethnic group, then it is important to distinguish that identity from the religion of Judaism. If that clear distinction is not made, if “race” and religion are conflated, then criticizing the religion becomes confused with antisemitic racism. Indeed, the importance of this distinction is a major problem with using the term “Islamophobia” as if it were a form of racism.

Indeed, this is precisely why Islamist ideologues promote the word “Islamophobia”: to conflate race and religion is exactly their goal, so that criticism of Islam can be dismissed as “racist.” Islamists want to create the same confusion between “Islam” and “Muslim” as already exists between “Judaism” and “Jewish”. What is needed, on the contrary, is to make the distinction clear. Jewish or Muslim identities have nothing to do with race because they are not immutable. A person’s religion is a choice, or at least should be. That is why the right to apostasy (to change one’s religion) is so important, and why the criminalization of apostasy in many Muslim-majority countries (punishable sometimes by death!) is such an egregious and dangerous violation of freedom of conscience.

Furthermore, David Silverman’s observation that a child of Jews is not necessarily a Jew is extremely important for the freedom of conscience of that child. Religion is not an inherited characteristic, it is a learned one. It is by a process of indoctrination that children end up in the same religion as their parents. This cycle must be broken by protecting children from such indoctrination. That is indeed is one of the purposes of universal public education. We must avoid such tendentious expressions as “Jewish child” or “Christian child” or “Muslim child” or even “atheist child.” Children must not be labelled by the choices of their parents. It is only when they reach maturity that they can make informed choices for themselves.

Rejecting Communitarianism

One final observation: the label “atheist” must not be allowed to degenerate into an identitarian label as if it were a religious affiliation. The purpose of calling oneself an atheist is to challenge and erode atheophobic attitudes promoted by various religions. It is not an expression of affiliation with a particular community. Atheism is not another religion competing with Christianity, Islam, etc. Rather, it is a rejection of unsubstantiated and dangerous supernatural beliefs, in particular god-beliefs. If one day in the future all theisms have disappeared, then atheism will no longer be necessary.


Next blog: Fairweather Secularists

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Carl Sagan’s Achilles’ Heel

2017-01-02

On the occasion of the recent 20th anniversary of Carl Sagan’s death, I discuss and criticize his refusal to reach the necessary conclusion of atheism.

Sommaire en français Pour marquer l’anniversaire récent de la mort de Carl Sagan, je commente et critique son attitude à l’égard de l’athéisme et son refus de cette conclusion nécessaire.

The 20th anniversary of Carl Sagan’s death occurred very recently—20th December 2016—and was celebrated by many, in particular by those who have strong interest in science and the promotion of scientific literacy, critical thinking, skepticism, etc. His life and work is very justifiably honoured as he was one of the great popularizers of science, perhaps the greatest of the late 20th century.

However there is one aspect of Sagan’s approach to science and skepticism which is largely overlooked and merits closer consideration. The anniversary date issue of eSkeptic, an email newsletter from the Skeptics Society, was dedicated to Sagan’s memory and included a number of quotes from his works. One quote in particular stands out:

On Theism & Atheism

Those who raise questions about the God hypothesis and the soul hypothesis are by no means all atheists. An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. I know of no such compelling evidence. Because God can be relegated to remote times and places and to ultimate causes, we would have to know a great deal more about the universe than we do now to be sure that no such God exists. To be certain of the existence of God and to be certain of the nonexistence of God seem to me to be the confident extremes in a subject so riddled with doubt and uncertainty as to inspire very little confidence indeed. A wide range of intermediate positions seems admissible, and considering the enormous emotional energies with which the subject is invested, a questioning, courageous and open mind seems to be the essential tool for narrowing the range of our collective ignorance on the subject of the existence of God.

“The Amniotic Universe,” in Broca’s Brain

The major flaw in the above declaration is the assertion that “An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God.” The validity of the first half of that assertion depends critically on the meaning of the word “certain” while the second half is a serious misrepresentation of atheism.

Consider the first half: “An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist…” If Sagan interprets certainty as meaning absolute certainty, then this is a caricature of atheism. Atheism is based on the scientific (not absolute) certainty that all theisms are false, that is, the falsehood of theism is certain beyond any reasonable doubt. Religions deal in absolute certainty and claim to possess it. But science is realistic. Absolute certainly is rarely if ever achievable and it is not necessary. An infinitesimal probability of falsehood is sufficient in order to draw a realistically certain conclusion.

There is no credible evidence for the god hypothesis; indeed, so-called proofs of the existence of god rely primarily on the argument from ignorance which is basically equivalent to the god of the gaps—i.e. we don’t know how it came to be, therefore god did it, which makes as much sense as saying “I don’t know why I cheated, therefore the devil made me do it.” Furthermore, the birth of god-beliefs in prehistoric and ancient times is readily explained by human psychology and our nature as a social species. Finally, theism is riddled with internal inconsistencies and self-contradictions which destroy its credibility even without reference to questions of evidence. See, for example, my talk, The Will of God: Pure Fiction.

Compelling evidence of non-existence is NOT required.

Now consider the second half of Sagan’s assertion: an atheist is “someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God.” Compelling evidence of non-existence is NOT required. Sagan himself is famous for repeatedly insisting that “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” an observation which recalls Euclid’s famous “What has been affirmed without proof can also be denied without proof.” Few claims could be more extraordinary or more lacking in proof than the god-hypothesis. The considerations listed above are sufficient to reject that hypothesis. Counter-evidence is not required.

The bottom line is this: atheism is the logical, scientific conclusion to a full consideration of the pretensions of theism. There is no room for reasonable doubt, no reason not to take that final step from agnosticism to atheism. For further discussion, see my AFT blog Why We Are Not Agnostics.

To his credit, Sagan was apparently not a symmetric agnostic, at least not according to Joel Achenbach’s discussions of Sagan’s views in Carl Sagan denied being an atheist. So what did he believe? [Part 1] and Why Carl Sagan is Truly Irreplaceable. (Although in the quote given above, Sagan speaks of the existence and nonexistence of “God” as “confident extremes,” as if there were symmetry here.) Symmetric agnosticism is a very dogmatic stance, occupying a middle ground resolutely centred between theism and atheism, putting the two on an equal footing and thus assuming—completely gratuitously—that theism has a 50% probability of being correct.

Symmetric agnosticism is a very dogmatic stance, occupying a middle ground resolutely centred between theism and atheism, putting the two on an equal footing …

However, even though Sagan leaned towards atheism, his failure to take that final step validates and comforts theistic beliefs. Even if Sagan completely rejected Judaism, Christianity and Islam (the three Abrahamic monotheisms), his agnosticism, his continued hedging on the ultimate question of atheism allows religious apologists to continue to peddle their nonsense with a minimum of intellectual opposition.

Such waffling has consequences. The skeptical movement has been infested with this mentality for far too long. For example, at its 2006 AGM, the organization Les Sceptiques du Québec (S.d.Q.) removed from its declaration of principles the mention of “secularism” (“laïcité”) which had been added the previous year. Why? Well, mainly because the proponents of the addition of secularism to the organization’s principles in 2005 were atheists, and the leadership of the organization was dominated by symmetric agnostics (and may still be, as far as I know) who displayed a total mistrust of up-front atheists. I emphasize that the principle removed was secularism, not atheism.

That an association which claims to promote scientific skepticism could refuse to endorse secularism is outrageous. If one does not support secularism, then one must be willing to accept compulsory religious instruction for children in public schools, instruction in the dogma of any religion such as Christianity, Scientology, Shamanism, or whatever. This decision by S.d.Q. was an example of intellectual inconsistency and cowardice, rationalized by a dogmatically agnostic worldview. An organization with such a pro-religious bias has failed to live up to its claim of being skeptical.

Of course my criticism of Sagan does not in any way reduce his considerable accomplishments. I am simply adding an important aspect to help complete the picture we have of him. Just as we can aspire to emulate him in his achievements, we can learn from his mistake with respect to atheism and do even better.


Next blog: More Dubious Words

Introduction

2015-06-10

Welcome to my personal blog. This is my first, introductory post, setting forth the main themes which I wish to explore and why I have chosen them.
Sommaire en français Je présente non nouveau blogue personnel qui sera dédié à l’athéisme et la lutte contre l’obscurantisme religieux et contre les croyances surnaturelles. Je m’intéresse particulièrement aux façons dont les incroyants eux-mêmes se laissent malheureusement distraire par des idées reçues et des préjugés populaires et agissent parfois contre leurs propres intérêts. Ces distractions sont souvent le résultat d’une mentalité religieuse — surtout l’athéophobie — mais ce n’est bien sûr pas la seule source des erreurs. Vous pouvez aussi lire de mes écrits sur les sites web LPA et AFT, mais dans ce blogue personnel je sortirai parfois du cadre des questions pertinentes pour une association athée.
The principal — but not necessarily exclusive — theme of my personal blog will be atheism and the struggle against religious obscurantism, because these are the issues that interest me the most, as well as concerns directly related to these issues such as secularism, freethought, critical thinking, rationalism, scepticism, humanism, etc. In particular, I expect to devote much of my attention to exposing and criticizing atheophobia in its myriad forms. My intent is to explore ways in which non-believers often act or speak in ways which are contrary to their own self-interests, because they have let themselves be influenced and distracted by prejudices and pre-conceived notions which are prevalent in society and have distorted their perceptions of the world. Of course, when we are dealing with atheism, the greatest distraction is the unavoidable and all-encompassing religious mentality — the idea that religious beliefs and practices are somehow essentially good and normal, indeed even necessary for morals and ethics, and that harm is done by religion only when it has somehow been debased or misused — a mentality which is ubiquitous in our society and in which we are all awash. In particular, the prejudice against atheism and against atheists — which I call atheophobia — is the most serious of these distractions, causes the greatest damage and therefore must be the first target of criticism. But it is not the only widespread prejudice which compromises the fight against religious obscurantism. You may be familiar with my writings which often appear on the web sites of the organization Atheist Freethinkers (or Libres penseurs athées) of which I am currently president. Why have I decided to start a personal blog when I can express my opinions through the web sites of that organization? There are several reasons. I expect to express myself here on a wider range of issues, possibly diverging from the field of topics which would be relevant for an atheist organization. I may wish to touch occasionally on more personal concerns. Furthermore, I have a lot to say and I do not want to monopolize the AFT and LPA sites, because other members need to express themselves too. Many of these personal blogs will be in English. Some will be in French. I will in general not attempt to be thoroughly bilingual. (This is another reason for this personal blog: the AFT and LPA blogs are bilingual, at least always have been so far, which makes them more laborious to prepare.) I do however plan to include a brief summary of each personal blog in the other language.
  1. Atheism is a scientific certainty, beyond all reasonable doubt.
  2. Religion and science are utterly incompatible.
  3. Religiously based morality is in general corrupt …
  4. There is no symmetry between atheism and theism.
The general, mainstream attitude towards religion is that it is basically a good thing, or at worst neutral, and that it becomes truly harmful only when distorted or misused by fundamentalists or extremists. I consider this approach to be completely wrong-headed and dangerously complacent for the obvious reason that any worldview based on a falsehood must have harmful consequences sooner or later. In other words, religion is basically harmful but can be rendered approximately anodyne and inoffensive by diluting it with generous doses of reality. But supernaturalism always remains there in the interstices, waiting to rear its ugly head and make religious belief pernicious once again. Thus, when writing about atheism and religious obscurantism, I will inevitably engage in much criticism of religion and my approach will of course be anti-religious. However, I do not expect to direct my attentions principally to religious fundamentalism, extremism or radicalism, although those topics are certainly not excluded. Others have already dealt effectively with them and have exposed the intellectual vacuity of such ideologies. My focus will be rather more on how religious attitudes, or perhaps more accurately meta-religious attitudes, are internalized and expressed by those who are ostensibly more moderate — such as so-called liberal Christians for example — and even by those who claim to be our allies in freethought and rationalism but who sometimes betray their own, and our, principles. Acting against one’s own best interests is an extremely widespread phenomenon, so common as to be banal, and it is especially common when dealing with religion and irreligion. There are women who embrace misogynistic ideologies — for example any woman who willingly wears an Islamist veil. There are gays who willingly support homophobic religions, or who support currents such as some variants of “moderate” Christianity which have in recent years toned down their homophobia but maintain the life-denying worldview which gave rise to that prejudice in the first place. There are non-believers who foolishly participate in the denigration of atheists or atheism as intolerant or dangerous, thus implicitly denigrating themselves. There are those who claim to support secularism but oppose it in the very place where it has a serious chance of being formally adopted. As widespread and banal as these behaviours may be, they nevertheless remain irrational and must be criticized. I define “religion” as supernatural religion, i.e. always including a belief in supernatural agents or phenomena which inhabit or emanate from some hypothetical — indeed, fictitious — domain beyond our real, material world. There are other definitions of religion but they only serve to confuse the issue. The issue is supernaturalism. Finally, since my principal topic of discussion will be atheism from an anti-theistic perspective, I conclude by summing up some of the basic underpinnings of my point of view. These are NOT assumptions. Rather they are conclusions which are already well established in numerous books and articles which are widely available. If you have not yet grasped any one of the following points, then you will not understand my blog because you have not done your homework.
  1. Atheism is a scientific certainty, beyond all reasonable doubt. I am not talking about absolute certainty here, as religions often do. I am referring to a very solidly based conclusion which is falsifiable but has never been falsified. All theisms and supernatural hypotheses have been found to be completely baseless.
  2. Religion (i.e. supernatural religion) and science are utterly incompatible. This can be seen as a consequence of the first principle. Or it can be derived from examining the concepts of faith on the one hand and philosophy of science on the other.
  3. Religiously based morality is in general corrupt because it is based on false supernatural beliefs. Morality is a product of our biological and cultural evolution as human animals. Theistic morality is a corruption and perversion of that natural morality. It is thus a gross understatement to say that religion is not necessary for morality; indeed, it would be more accurate to assert that the abandonment of supernatural beliefs is a prerequisite for moral maturity. Religious believers are capable of acting ethically in spite of their supernatural beliefs, to the extent that they set those beliefs aside and do not allow them to interfere unduly with their behaviour.
  4. There is no symmetry between atheism and theism. Anyone who claims that atheism is a kind of religion or faith is either ignorant or intellectually dishonest, and probably both. Any attempt to put atheism and theism on an equal footing is as ridiculous and unethical as putting the victim and the perpetrator of a crime on an equal footing by claiming that both are equally guilty. Theism is an insult to human intelligence. Atheism is a refusal to accept the nonsense which is theism. (There is however one and only one context in which equality is appropriate: when dealing with human beings; i.e. in order to respect freedom of conscience of all persons, atheists and theists deserve equal treatment before the law. But there is no equality or symmetry between the ideas of atheism and theism.)

Next blog: “Secularism Betrayed, Part I

Contents

Table of Contents

Table des matières

2020-08-10 Lettre aux médias pour dénoncer le Conseil québécois LGBT
2020-07-21 Racialism versus Secularism
2020-07-01 L’ineptie d’Émile Bilodeau
2020-06-09 Le Conseil québécois LGBT refuse mon adhésion
2020-05-28 How the Woke Broke Secularism
2020-05-21 Secularism Betrayed: 2020 Version
2020-05-04 AAI’s John Richards Interviews D.R. about Quebec Bill 21
2020-04-09 Updated: A Reading List on Quebec Bill 21
2020-02-24 Intersectionality: The Death of Feminism and Anti-Racism
2020-01-21 À l’intersection de l’intersectionnalité et de l’islamogauchisme
2020-01-07 5e anniversaire de l’attentat contre Charlie Hebdo
2019-12-29 Please Remove Your MAGA Hat at Work
2019-12-20 Quebec Court of Appeal Ruling, 2019-12-12
2019-12-18 Décision de la Cour d’appel du Québec, 2019-12-12
2019-12-03 Three Examples of Cultural (Mis)Appropriation
2019-11-28 Ontario NDP: Still Crazy After All These Years
2019-11-26 Immigration, the Great Unmentionable
2019-11-25 L’immigration, cette question intouchable
2019-11-18 English Canada Continues its Hysterical Opposition to Quebec Bill 21
2019-10-31 Two Questions About Bill 21
2019-09-20 Sometimes Makeup Is Just Makeup
2019-08-31 There is Nothing Friendly About Hemant Mehta’s Gross Ignorance
2019-08-21 Another Notch Lower for Canada
2019-08-16 This Does NOT Promote Child Health
2019-08-12 Summary: The Islamist Veil
2019-07-21 Le juge Yergeau reconnaît que la Loi sur la laïcité ne fomente pas la haine
2019-07-13 A Reading List on Quebec Bill 21
2019-07-09 Le crucifix enfin retiré !
2019-06-22 Quebec Formally Declares State Secularism
2019-06-17 Le Québec est laïque !
2019-05-21 Quebec Bill 21 Causes Earthquakes, Anal Warts and the Collapse of Civilisation
2019-05-20 Six Pseudo-Arguments of Antisecularists
2019-05-07 CFI Canada Rejects Secularism—Again
…and lends its support to religious fanatics
2019-05-05 For Secularism in Hospitals
2019-05-04 Plaidoyer pour la laïcité dans les hôpitaux
2019-04-27 Children’s Rights Before Teachers’
Opponents of Quebec’s Bill 21 Neglect the Rights of Children
2019-04-22 CHRC Endorses Religious Child Abuse
2019-04-21 La CCDP endosse la maltraitance religieuse des fillettes
2019-04-07 The American Model of “Secularism” is 18th Century Pre-secularism
2018-04-05 The US Constitution is Not Secular
2019-04-17 The CAQ’s Secularism Bill is a Positive Step Forward
2019-04-03 Tobacco, Politics and Religion
2019-03-28 Quebec’s Draft Bill 21 Implements State Secularism
2019-02-12 An Open Letter to the Council of Canadians
2019-02-08 Three Strategies of Islamists
…and their dupes and allies in non-Muslim countries
2019-02-01 Support #NoHijabDay #FreeFromHijab
2019-01-30 Sinéad O’Connor: A Metaphor for the Degeneration of the Left
2019-01-07 Fourth Anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo Massacre
2018-12-29 Open Letter to TheConversation: An Organ of Anti-Quebec Propaganda
2018-12-13 Canada’s Anti-Blasphemy Law Repealed, But M-103 Remains
2018-11-15 My Favourite Graph
2018-10-16 The Dishonesty of the Globe and Mail
2018-10-08 The Moral and Intellectual Bankruptcy of Antisecularists
2018-10-04 The Quebec Election of October 1st 2018: Some Good News & Some Bad
2018-09-22 Ensaf Haidar Challenges Canadian Orthodoxy
2018-09-20 Les extrêmes se touchent : Twitter censure une caricature de Charb
2018-09-11 Quebec-Bashing: Three Recent Examples
2018-09-03 The Greatest of All Vices
2018-08-27 The Identitarian Left
2018-08-10 Banning Face-Coverings is Both Necessary and Beneficial:
A Response to Stephen Evans of the NSS
2018-08-01 In Praise of Cultural Appropriation
2018-06-03 Banning Religious Symbols: When & Where?
2018-05-29 Laïcité, législation et gouvernement au Québec
2018-05-21 Screw the Monarchy! Vivent les patriotes !
2018-05-01 Fairweather Secularists
2018-04-23 David Silverman’s Firebrand Atheism:
We Need It Now More Than Ever
2018-04-15 Status of Women Canada Endorses Political Islam
2018-04-13 Religious Symbols and the Montreal Police
2018-02-21 Notes on the Regressive Left, Part V:
The Vicious Circle of Islamophilia
2017-11-18 Notes on the Regressive Left, Part IV:
A Collection of Important Articles
2017-09-13 Notes on the Regressive Left, Part III:
ANTIFA: Kangaroo Court Implemented by a Street Mob
2017-08-25 Notes on the Regressive Left, Part II:
ANTIFA: Shock Troops of the Regressive “Left”
2017-07-27 Quebec’s Right to Self-Determination
2017-07-20 Pride & Shame in Toronto & London
2017-07-15 Notes sur le racisme, IIe partie
2017-05-24 Notes on Racism, Part I
2017-05-06 Notes on the Regressive Left, Part I
2017-04-28 Notes on the Islamist Veil
2017-04-20 “Islamophobia”: a weapon against reforming Islam
2017-03-12 Rules for a Discussion about Religion
2017-02-21 The Undauntable Fatima!
2017-02-18 Islam and Islamism
2017-02-17 Exploiting Mass Murder for Political Gain
2017-02-15 Charles Taylor est-il compromis avec le Prix Templeton ?
2017-02-05 The Quebec City Attack: Some Context
2017-01-29 Fools Against “Islamophobia”
2017-01-16 More Dubious Words
2017-01-02 Carl Sagan’s Achilles’ Heel
2016-12-01 Anti-Muslim Incidents in the USA
2016-11-06 Multiculturalism, Orientalism and Exoticism
2016-10-10 False Memes from the Burkini Wars
2016-09-20 Challenges for Canadian Secularists
2016-07-23 The Acquired-Innate Spectrum
2016-07-22 Aphorisms about “Islamophobia” and “Racism”
2016-06-23 Of Pigs and Prayer
2016-05-31 The Extended Weinberg Principle
2016-05-11 Dubious Words
2016-05-04 Words to Cultivate
2016-04-07 Apostasy is a Human Right
2016-04-05 Freedom of Religion is Not Fundamental
2016-03-23 Toronto Life Magazine Lionizes Islamist Agent
2016-03-20 The Cult of Impotence
2016-02-06 Hate Quebec, Hate Secularism
2016-01-24 Secularism: Lockean and Republican
2015-10-26 Secularists Have Nothing to Celebrate
2015-10-19 How to Reassure a Concerned Citizenry … and how NOT to
2015-10-16 Trudeau & Mulcair Can Easily Resolve the Niqab Issue
2015-10-12 Thoughts on the Niqab
2015-07-23 Secularism Versus the Multicultis
2015-07-03 The Myth of Religious Obligations
2015-07-01 Secularism Betrayed, Epilogue and Update
2015-06-24 Secularism Betrayed, Part III
2015-06-17 Secularism Betrayed, Part II
2015-06-10 Secularism Betrayed, Part I
2015-06-10 Introduction