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Wed Jul 30, 2014, 02:07 PM

Proofs, Disproofs, Labels and Semantics

First a couple disclosures and some shouts-out.

Disclosure: I'm a bit of a crank on the topic of semantics, because it is an article of belief for me that the words we use, and how we use them, both reflect how we think and shape how we think. And since that's a key to motivation and behavior, I look at semantic issues as a place to address cultural change. So if discussions of semantics seem superficial, pointless, or ineffective to you, skip this post and/or trash the thread-- if any thread develops.

Also, I think most regulars in this forum are aware I'm a theist, but that should also be disclosed.

Shouts-out:

Thanks to Htom Sirveaux for starting the discussion in this thread, which raises a few very important semantic issues.

And thanks to Trotsky for this VERY enlightening contribution in the discussion there:

"Why is there conflict? Because there are centuries of hatred, distrust, and persecution associated with the word "atheist." Some of us want to take the word back. Others want to continue hanging the negative baggage on the word. There's your conflict."


And finally to Brettongarcia for a thoughtful discussion too long to quote here but very worth reading, on the next level of "action choices" inherent in the semantics.

From reading in this forum and elsewhere, I perceive two aspects of focus in connection with the ongoing conflict between a theoarchic culture and an atheist minority, and they both relate in some way to the whole "burden of proof" issue.

The first clear focus is a very defined, very urgent, and very appealing need to end the institutionalized and systematic discrimination against, and oppression of, those who embrace an atheist identity. I really, really hope this is an unarguable slam-dunk on DU, without any ifs, ands, or buts. We should all, theists and atheists alike, be supportive of this, full stop.

Institutionalized discrimination against atheists-- including "dead letter" laws still on the books, hiring discrimination, disgusting cultural stereotypes and assumptions that seep into housing and access to services and acceptance in all aspects of community life-- needs to be gone, period.

The second focus-- which has much fuzzier edges, as far as I can see-- is the issue of identity itself, and the extent to which it requires shared acceptance of labels, terms, etc. When Brettongarcia used this post title: "This has been partially addressed on DU, as 1) a-theists, vs. 2) anti-theists" I at first misunderstood.

Here's why: To me, those terms "a-theist" and "anti-theist" have a meaning also. I have tagged them in my mind thusly: "An a-theist, or atheist, is a person without belief in the existence of deity. An anti-theist is someone who actively opposes belief in a deity, not only for themselves, but for others-- that is, they are invested in preventing others from believing, or promoting the abandonment of belief."

(Please note that I've specified these are MY semantic tags for these terms, and I'm not making any claims of correctness or appropriateness here.)

However, Brettongarcia then went on to state tags for these terms that differ in subtle but important ways from my own: "1) A-theists were defined as those who "just don't know" ... or care. They just never think about this. They feel no burden of proof.
2) Anti-theists were those who stated positively (or negatively?) that there is no god."


To me, the tag Brettongarcia defines for a-theist is similar to the one that I assign to "agnostic"-- someone who doesn't know, and feels no burden of proof. And the tag of someone who states explicitly that there is no god, is similar to my own tag for "atheist."

Now, why does all of this matter to me? And why am I sharing it here?

Well, I'm sharing it here because I'm both egotistical enough to think others who find the topic of this forum engaging might be interested, and because it helps me clarify my own evolving thought on an issue of importance to me.

It matters to me because I want my grandson's children to live in a world without theoarchy, where neither theists nor atheists experience hatred, discrimination, denigration, and/or negative social sanctions for their belief, unbelief, or lack of belief.

(Aside: This is terrifically important to me as a believer because of the critical theological concept of "free will." That is, if one does not feel a perfect freedom to not-believe, or to disbelieve, then the freedom to believe is similarly compromised. This affects my personal belief about the importance of the quality of connection between humanity and divinity. No one needs to share this belief at all, but it matters to me. A lot.)

So how do we achieve freedom from theoarchy?

There is the long, incremental, imperfect and challenging civil rights fight, changing laws, addressing assumptions, institutionalizing equity and negatively sanctioning discrimination. This is an agonizingly slow process and it seems never-ending. The benefits come slowly and incompletely in any given generation and only a future historian can assess success in any meaningful way.

There is also the dramatic, wholesale, and possibly even more challenging fight to annihilate belief itself, or at least to marginalize it and thus eliminate theoarchy via discreditation. I'm not actually opposed to this, because as far as I'm concerned, believers have it coming to some extent, and also if belief CAN be annihilated that way, it will prove me wrong and I'll convert.

But I think that second one is problematic, to say the least.

(Another aside, here: I do NOT, repeat NOT, believe that atheists who want to annihilate belief also want to discriminate against, damage, kill, etc., believers. It happens sometimes, when a sociopathic tyrant uses the cloak of atheism to eliminate potential opposition --see Stalin, Pol Pot, etc.-- but not even as often as when a sociopathic tyrant chooses the cloak of religion to do the same thing. I think most atheists who want to annihilate belief sincerely feel that to do so will increase the well-being, enlightenment, and humane status of our species.)

I can see the appeal in the second approach AND I think that on some level, it's both viable and necessary. Ending theoarchy doesn't require an either/or strategy choice, it will likely be advanced most effectively by a combination of both.

However, both approaches in my opinion, could benefit from some semantic examination and shared vocabulary, that will allow shared assumptions about identity. I'm not demanding that anyone do anything about this. Just tossing it out to discuss, both to help me understand, and in the hope that my observations will be useful.

trepidatiously,
Bright

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Arrow 13 replies Author Time Post
Reply Proofs, Disproofs, Labels and Semantics (Original post)
TygrBright Jul 2014 OP
safeinOhio Jul 2014 #1
TygrBright Jul 2014 #2
rug Jul 2014 #3
TygrBright Jul 2014 #4
Jim__ Jul 2014 #5
Brettongarcia Jul 2014 #6
TygrBright Jul 2014 #7
Brettongarcia Jul 2014 #8
TygrBright Jul 2014 #9
trotsky Jul 2014 #10
TygrBright Jul 2014 #11
trotsky Jul 2014 #12
TygrBright Jul 2014 #13

Response to TygrBright (Original post)

Wed Jul 30, 2014, 02:39 PM

1. Thanks for the post.

I'm a simple, basic kind of person. As for the above labels, I look at myself as none of the above. I look at it as an outsider that thinks it is all very interesting, in an anthropological sense.

I'm terrible at language and this gives me a keen interest in it. Words are symbols and that is all. They can represent an idea or a thing, however they are not the idea or the thing. I can of get a chuckle out of things like flags and crosses. They too are symbols and not the thing or idea. For me words cannot describe what words cannot describe, so I leave it at that.

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Response to safeinOhio (Reply #1)

Wed Jul 30, 2014, 03:23 PM

2. "Symbols and that is all"

Yep.

First thing a good symbol does is start racking up the body count, too.

Thank you, BTW, for responding to the post, because it looks like this is about it as far as "thread" goes.

Yay, you!

appreciatively,
Bright

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Response to TygrBright (Reply #2)

Wed Jul 30, 2014, 03:31 PM

3. Don't give up.

 

When a thoughtful post is put up in here, without a smiley, snark, or insult, we denizens gape at it befuddled, like a bear emerging from hibernation.

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Response to rug (Reply #3)

Wed Jul 30, 2014, 03:34 PM

4. Thanks! n/t

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Response to TygrBright (Original post)

Wed Jul 30, 2014, 03:46 PM

5. A couple of thoughts.

The second focus-- which has much fuzzier edges, as far as I can see-- is the issue of identity itself, and the extent to which it requires shared acceptance of labels, terms, etc.


When you say shared acceptance of labels, do you mean that we should accept the label that someone applies to herself? I would agree with that. Or, do you mean that we should all come to an agreement about what the various terms mean? That may be doable across a single thread - although I doubt even that will work; but, I strongly doubt that everyone will agree on a specific meaning of these terms in general; and I especially doubt that people will agree to accept the the usage of these terms in an outside article - which is often the cause of disputes.

So how do we achieve freedom from theoarchy?

There is the long, incremental, imperfect and challenging civil rights fight, changing laws, addressing assumptions, institutionalizing equity and negatively sanctioning discrimination. This is an agonizingly slow process and it seems never-ending. The benefits come slowly and incompletely in any given generation and only a future historian can assess success in any meaningful way.

There is also the dramatic, wholesale, and possibly even more challenging fight to annihilate belief itself, or at least to marginalize it and thus eliminate theoarchy via discreditation. I'm not actually opposed to this, because as far as I'm concerned, believers have it coming to some extent, and also if belief CAN be annihilated that way, it will prove me wrong and I'll convert.

But I think that second one is problematic, to say the least.

(Another aside, here: I do NOT, repeat NOT, believe that atheists who want to annihilate belief also want to discriminate against, damage, kill, etc., believers. It happens sometimes, when a sociopathic tyrant uses the cloak of atheism to eliminate potential opposition --see Stalin, Pol Pot, etc.-- but not even as often as when a sociopathic tyrant chooses the cloak of religion to do the same thing. I think most atheists who want to annihilate belief sincerely feel that to do so will increase the well-being, enlightenment, and humane status of our species.)


You want to end theoarchy, and you accept people trying to annihilate belief. Do you think that people trying to annihilate belief plays into the hands of religious people who want to demonize atheism? I do. I believe the best way to overturn a power-structure (somewhat of my understanding of your term theoarchy) is to win over reasonable and tolerant people within the structure. Trying to annihilate the beliefs of such people seems counter-productive to me.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #5)

Wed Jul 30, 2014, 04:11 PM

6. It was to achieve that, that the concept of a-theism was introduced here, by someone

As I understood it, a-theism meant going a step beyond Agnosticism. The a-theist does not even sit around saying anything at all about religion; not even saying that it is seemingly impossible to know. Rather the a-theist as defined here, over the last 6 months of so, was apparently someone who ... just never thought about religion or God at all. In no way whatsoever.

In some way, I suppose this kind of person is rather like the "none"s found on questionaires about what our religion might be, too. We don't have a god, because we never think of one.

Importantly? The a-theists that appeared on our DU blog, did not even particularly want to argue with anyone - for or against. In that sense, they were at least, rather pacifistic and non-threatening. They were not trying to annihilate beliefs. They simply turned away from them, and ignored those things.

Strangely, that kind of a-theist might be one step in the direction that Jim advocates. They are not attacking religious beliefs, first of all.

The next step? Might be to say, simply speak about different values, and the good they do. Without mentioning Religion at all, some are now speaking more about the usefulness of Reason, say.

In this way, there are no attacks from a-theists, on the old religious way of thinking. Instead they are say, just speaking in a positive way about something else.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #5)

Wed Jul 30, 2014, 04:16 PM

7. While I think we should accept labels others apply to themselves...

...I think that doing so without sharing an understanding of what that label means to the individual claiming it can add many more layers to misunderstanding.

I grew up in white-privileged isolation, while it wasn't intentional on the part of my parents, family, school, etc., I encountered almost no one who wasn't white until I was in college.

At that point I made some well-intentioned assumptions about the identity labels people claimed for themselves and had some learning experiences.

I don't buy into the "we shouldn't need or use labels, we're all just human beings" thing, either, because we have differences that we SHOULD cherish and take pride in and allow to infuse our identity, so long as they aren't also used by others to despise us.

It may never be possible to have a 100% confluence of understanding about something as fluid and individual as the words we use to describe parts of our identity. But the more we work toward understanding how others define those words in respect to themselves, and the more we can work toward a middle ground where there's broad and respectful overlap among our understandings, the further we evolve.

You raise a very good point here: "Do you think that people trying to annihilate belief plays into the hands of religious people who want to demonize atheism?"

I'm not sure that those who are determined to demonize atheism really would be influenced one way or the other by those trying to annihilate belief-- it might confirm the unfounded assumptions they already have, perhaps.

There is always an argument to be made among the institutionally oppressed that if they are NICE enough in demanding the oppression to end, it'll end faster than if they're not nice. So far I think both work. Whipsaw 'em, play good-cop/bad-cop, say I, somewhat (but not too) flippantly. Would there have been more and faster gains for African American Civil Rights if only voices like Martin Luther King's had been heard? Or was Malcolm X's voice necessary, too?

No way to tell without a machine that will allow us to travel across time and multi-verses.

And if a faith can be annihilated by the arguments of those without faith, it may be a good thing and even divinely ordained that it is so annihilated.

responsively,
Bright

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Response to TygrBright (Reply #7)

Wed Jul 30, 2014, 04:45 PM

8. I see value in both those atheists who just turn quietly to something else; and those who speak out

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Response to Brettongarcia (Reply #8)

Wed Jul 30, 2014, 05:23 PM

9. So do I.

While the risk of multiple approaches is real (the whole "divide and conquer" phenomenon) I think in the long run it is more powerful because it reflects more of the evolutionary diversity of human thought.

amiably,
Bright

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Response to TygrBright (Original post)

Thu Jul 31, 2014, 08:48 AM

10. "So how do we achieve freedom from theoarchy?"

My thoughts on this particular question:

We need to neutralize religious belief as a valid reason, in and of itself, for taking political positions or political action. This will necessarily involve removing religion from its place of privilege in society. Today, people are free to pretty much call any idea "baloney" EXCEPT for religion - when they cross that line, they are attacked and shamed.

Some - even right here on DU - push hurtful lies that by intensely criticizing religion, atheists are "demons" who want to destroy belief and believers. This doesn't help. (By the way, neither does your use of the word "annihilate."

I think that by allowing free and open criticism of ALL ideas, including religious ones, religious belief will necessarily wane - or at least evolve into a less harmful form.

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Response to trotsky (Reply #10)

Thu Jul 31, 2014, 01:19 PM

11. Is there a word I should be using instead of "annihilate?" n/t

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Response to TygrBright (Reply #11)

Thu Jul 31, 2014, 01:32 PM

12. Confront, criticize, challenge...

It's a process. By eliminating the place of privilege religious belief enjoys in society, by making religious ideas compete with others on a level playing field, I think we create an environment where those beliefs can't be used to oppress anyone. In the process, I am certain this will mean more people rejecting religion entirely. Who knows how much.

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Response to trotsky (Reply #12)

Thu Jul 31, 2014, 02:54 PM

13. It sounds as though you view "rejecting religion entirely" more as...

...a positive byproduct of the transformation out of theoarchy, than as a means of producing the transformation, then?

And I'm rather inclined to agree, although I suspect we differ about what "rejecting religion" means.

I reject it myself, but as you know I am a theist, so that may sound to you like weasel-wording. But my experience of belief is that religion is not necessary and is often unhelpful to spiritual growth.

curiously,
Bright

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