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A preliminary response from Rudolph Basson, who as a citizen of the RSA is under no constitutional obligation to refrain from offending your sensibilities

November 2nd, 2007 · Posted by Who Knows? · 7 Comments

Rudolph Basson writes (subject line also of his choosing):

I haven’t had time to read through all your myriad posts on your blog or the emails you’ve sent us, but already a clear and thus far unanswered question is forming in my mind:

What exactly is your beef with us? We have not threatened to expel you from the society. We have expressed our willingness, nay, desire to work with churches in Stellenbosch on matters where we share a standpoint. We view you (with your obvious religious connections) as someone who can facilitate such cooperation. Yet in some way we have consistently offended your sensibilities. I would thus like to invite you to a meeting with the committee, which we will confirm with you later. But first I would like to respond to some of the ways in which you have expressed your disapproval of our society and what you view as “fundamentalist atheism”. I would like you to post this on your blog as a preliminary response from the Acting Chair of Freethinking Maties. It is not a description of what the society is, but rather an examination of some of the names that we have been called and their merit.

You have thrown around the labl (you’ll noticed I’ve made it a four letter word for you) “Fundamentalist Atheists” without clear cause, while consistently refusing to be clear on your own beliefs or why we are deserving of such an obscene title. Your beliefs are, of course, your own business and you are entitled to believe anything you want. Read the constitution of the RSA. You are even entitled to refuse to enter into open discussion of what exactly it is you stand for. The point is, you seem ever ready to labl others in simplistic terms while remaining convinced (just my impression) that you are the only person with a frame of reference that cannot be summed up in a few syllables. This is an unfortunate standpoint to assume, and is likely to cause great difficulties in communication throughout your life, as it already has. Please keep in mind that when someone calls themselves an atheist and fails to say “you can’t label me”, this does not mean that you can project onto this person the idea that you have formed of people-who-call-themselves-atheists and leave it at that.

What seems to offend you, (and this is pure speculation, seeing as you haven’t come clear on the subject) is that not everyone is willing to adopt your post-modernist, post-structuralist standpoint on religion. For someone who claims that you “would have been an atheist if it weren’t for the atheists”, you have expressed marked intolerance towards people who reject religion. Ironically the source of your unhappiness with us is that you seem to perceive us as intolerant towards religious people. On my own behalf, I don’t see where I have lacked this quality. The commitee (including myself) recognize the strong emotional aspect of religion, and the central role it plays in many people’s lives. We do not intend to approach the matter in an insensitive way. But you must accord atheists the same rights as you do Christians. I am entitled to believe that religion is nonsense. I am allowed to believe that its only redeeming properties are the secondary services it sometimes provides; being a platform for charity and community. I am entitled to say that I envision a world without superstition as being better than one where people believe in vampires, Jesus and the tokkelos, even if only because these things do not exist. I am allowed to seek to bring together like-minded individuals to further my dream for (what I perceive) as a more reasonable future. These are my personal rights. If I am a reactionary, then so are people fighting against famine, AIDS, use of children for mhuti and the common cold. I respect religious people and do not wish to offend anyone, but I perceive religon to be a viral meme which is not to the advantage of humanity. I acknowledge your right to believe whatever you want, but not everyone can be right. A fundamentalist ;-) post-modernist might disagree, but I am certain that some beliefs have more merit than others. I would like people to pay more attention to the merit of their own ideas.

Does the following offend you? (this is me speaking in my capacity as just a guy):

Religious belief is not based on evidence. I have never come across an argument for the existence of supernatural phenomena (including God) that took very much effort to refute. From a rational-empirical standpoint, beliefs in the supernatural are false.

The above statements are not argued for emotively. They are simply the conclusions (so I believe, and I defy anyone to prove me wrong) that one would draw were they to examine religious claims with a good understanding of logic and a rudimentary knowledge of the relevant facts and available research on such matters. They are always open to new evidence or arguments. I am ready to get down on my knees and start pleasing (any nice version of) Jesus as soon as it can be shown that his existence is more likely than his nonexistence. I am willing to accept knowledge gained through clairvoyance as soon as it can be demonstrated that such knowledge is likely to be accurate. I am always ready and willing to listen to any argument that any person presents for whatever claim and examine the facts as objectively as I can, consulting the relevant literature where I am uneducated on the matter. I would (if I had AIDS) feast on garlic, sure of my impending health and happiness; if there were reason to believe that it was an effective cure.

Is this the register of a Fundamentalist? I would like you to make clear to me exactly what we have done to earn this title.

With regard to Freethinking Maties’ membership requirements, you have in fact contributed to the future effectiveness of our society, and I thank you for making clear certain weaknesses or lack of clarity in our public relations and image. The committee is still in discussion on how the matter may best be dealt with. Clearly there has to be some coherence amongst our members. Our membership should reflect the values of the society and vice versa. The fishing club, after all, is not for those whose only outdoor activity is jogging. What seems likely at this stage is that we will not sift our members, but will make sure that our advertising attracts people who share the values of the society.

As stated earlier, this is a preliminary response from me, acting on my own initiative. We are sure that your grievances towards the society have been a result of miscommunication and that is why we would like to meet with you. In the future we would like all members to resolve their conflicts directly with the committee before making a spectacle out of it on the infratubes.

May the FSM touch your heart with his noodly appendage ;-),
Rudolph Basson

p.s. Keep in mind that the ideas I have expressed regarding religion are my own, and although I stand by them (pending further evidence) they are not at all an indication of what Freethinking Maties expects our members to be like. If anyone wishes to discuss what I have said or ask me a question regarding this message or the society, email me at bloodyrudhz@gmail.com. Please refrain from sending me abuse, as I am sure that all of us (no matter our metaphysical convictions) can agree that this would not be nice. Also, none of that “you’re an angry atheist” stuff. This idea of an angry atheist ( I find it rather amusing to picture one in my mind) does not apply to me, assuming that it refers to someone who rejects religion as a result of emotive arguments, is generally in a foul mood or gets angry at religious expression. My views on religion are based on critical examination. I don’t think religion is all bad, but I can say the same about Heroin. If you want to criticize my message, please focus on the content, not the tone.

p.p.s. This thing was far too long to proof-read.

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7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Hugo // Nov 2, 2007 at 5:27 pm

    Thank you for your reply. Sorry, this comment became longer than I hoped, but anyway… FWIW:

    I do not think I have any “beef” with the society. In fact, and I was very happy with what I saw at the last meeting. I was just uncertain whether it was that amicable only because the two most vocal committee members weren’t controlling it… ;)

    That meeting inspired hope, whereas previous meetings had me (and not just me) just a little bit concerned about stereotypical angry atheist sentiments that might have permeated the society. I am glad to see that these fears appear to be unfounded. I also apologise that some of my anger (clearly I’m an angry one, eh?) spilled over in the direction of the society. Hopefully the publicity does the society some good, at least…

    While it is true that I was never threatened with expulsion, my own prejudices probably made me feel uncertain whether I was welcome or not. (But hey, what was I looking for, exactly? A little welcoming committee handing out hugs and kisses when I become a member? No thanks…)

    Hopefully it is clear that my rant full of swearing the other day was directed largely at a straw man, constructed from various sources. I think there are some angry members in the society, but of course they should be welcome. They need a place to “heal” from the “hurts” religion caused. Is this offensive imagery? There must be a more neutral way of describing it? Ah… how about: a place where people will not be constantly bombarded by the incessant irritation of bad religion…

    The point is, you seem ever ready to labl others in simplistic terms while remaining convinced (just my impression) that you are the only person with a frame of reference that cannot be summed up in a few syllables.

    Valid point that, I should indeed be more careful about labelling other people. Thanks for realising the second part is just your impression, I know full-well there are many people that cannot be summed up in a few syllables. One of my pastafarian friends recently irritated me by refusing to be labelled (other than that satirical label). I didn’t understand why he was like that, until recently, when I noticed the damage the labels I had for myself had done. At this point, I’m again happy accepting any label that works, I just don’t really know of any…

    What seems to offend you, (and this is pure speculation, seeing as you haven’t come clear on the subject) is that not everyone is willing to adopt your post-modernist, post-structuralist standpoint on religion.

    I see, good to know how I come across. I don’t expect anyone to adopt my standpoint, I just hope they can accept it as valid… If I was “offended”, it was probably more just me feeling judged/criticised for my perspectives, when I haven’t even had the chance to share them. I also realise this is incorrect, and possibly just projection, or else ironically hypocritical…

    I completely agree with this:

    I am certain that some beliefs have more merit than others.

    I’m sure I’m not a “fundamentalistic post-modernist”. ;) I’m sure I am still fundamentalistic about something though. I’ve been tackling various fundamentalistic memes I’ve had over the years, and will challenge any others I come across in the future. I’m quite certain some will survive the challenge, and then be accepted and embraced as a part of me.

    With regards to reactionary: reactionary “solutions” to famine and AIDS would be to only address symptoms, rather than causes. Handing out drugs, rather than providing sex-ed and making condoms available. I do think I could fairly call the recent “New Atheist” publishing ‘movement’ reactionary, especially if I point out that being “reactionary” is not necessarily a bad thing. (I suppose the Emerging Church conversation/movement is at the opposite end of the spectrum. There is heaps of space for great variety between these two “movements”, both hoping to help address the same problems.)

    Does the following offend you? (this is me speaking in my capacity as just a guy):

    Religious belief is not based on evidence. I have never come across an argument for the existence of supernatural phenomena (including God) that took very much effort to refute. From a rational-empirical standpoint, beliefs in the supernatural are false.

    That does not offend me, no. I do however have a different idea of what “religion” is than I think you do. (Specifically: I think you mean “religion” as “belief in the supernatural”, while I use the term considerably more loosely.) This does make it a little harder to communicate, I guess?

    So, what is a fundamentalistic atheist? You are not, no, as far as I can tell. Someone that says “there is no value in the Bible”, however, I call a fundamentalist. I also recently learned of the concept of a “fact fundamentalist”, which is something I’d apply to anyone that is unable to see the “truth” in a “factually incorrect” story. ;-) And I don’t mean that in too negative a vein, more just a call to appreciate metaphor and figurative language, or something.

    So thanks, I guess that does mean to say I am welcome, which in hindsight I do realise I always knew. My little “renouncing” publicity stunt was probably just a knee-jerk emotional reaction to what seemed a fundamentalistic comment from a single member. I should realise if one member makes me feel unwelcome, it doesn’t mean I am unwelcome.

    Blessings… ;)
    Hugo

  • 2 bluegray // Nov 2, 2007 at 6:14 pm

    Is there such a thing as a closet atheist?

  • 3 Hugo // Nov 2, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    A closet atheist? Yes, I think there is? Why do you think there might not be? Or maybe this then turns into a “what is an ‘atheist’?” question…

  • 4 Johan Swarts // Nov 2, 2007 at 8:36 pm

    Ek kan nie anders om elke keer te lag as mense godsdiens gelykstel aan VIGS of hongersnood nie.

    Rudolph – as jy dit lees – ek dink jou begrip van postmodernisme en poststrukturalisme is ‘n bietjie gebreek. Dis sinneloos om Hugo se oortuigings met altwee te predikateer. Hou eerder by postmodernisme en los die poststrukturalisme vir literatuurteoretici.

  • 5 Negate // Nov 3, 2007 at 10:49 am

    > Ek kan nie anders om elke keer te lag as mense godsdiens gelykstel aan VIGS of hongersnood nie.

    Vra hoekom? Daar is ‘n goeie rede hoekom dit gelykgestel kan word. AS jy nie Rudolph se oortuigings verstaan nie, en vir hom preek dat hy nie ander se oortuigings verstaan nie, waar le die probeem regrig Johan?

    My opinie kan mens nie net by postmodernisme hou nie. Postmodernisme het soveel wortels en takke dis moelik om by te hou watse deel van die sosiale beweging om na te kyk.

  • 6 Johan Swarts // Nov 3, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    Presies. Juis daarom sukkel dit om poststrukturalisme te gebruik in hierdie gesprek. Postmodernisme is oorkoepelend genoeg om op godsdienstige oortuigings van toepassing te kan wees.

    Die probleem? Die probleem lĂȘ by Rudolph se oortuigings wat, hoewel hy deels verdraagsaamheid propageer, inherent van so ‘n aard is dat dit ander s’n verkleineer.

    Dit geld vir baie Christene ook.

  • 7 gerhard // Nov 11, 2007 at 6:09 am

    i think closet atheist means people who are atheist but haven’t realised it yet.
    i think that there are alot more closet agnostics theists out there than closet atheists.

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