Saturday, March 21, 2015

"Nothing is sacred" is cheap talk

I had an incidental disagreement on Tumblr the other day.  I said that atheists have the value that "Nothing is sacred".  Another person* replied that some atheists do in fact hold certain things sacred, and that's what makes atheist culture so racist and misogynist.

*I'd provide links and names, but the details aren't really important, and they're welcome to identify themselves if they wish.

I totally agree that there is widespread racism and misogyny in atheist culture, and that criticizing it is a worthwhile endeavor.  However, I disagree with this particular critique.

"Nothing is sacred" is just a slogan.  It has some meaning in the context of religion, where people feel that certain ideas are off-limits.  But when you get down to it, I'm really not sure what it means for something to be sacred.  Does it mean that people hold to the idea despite counterarguments?  Does it mean they don't like when people make counterarguments?  Does it mean that social pressure plays a role?  You could say that about every ideology ever.

And I'm sorry to say that this is exactly what atheists do sometimes.  They'll criticize anything, and if someone tries to defend themselves, it must be because they're holding the idea sacred, and off-limits from criticism.  So if I say that sexist jokes contribute to sexism, and cite studies saying the same, clearly the only reason I came to that conclusion is because I refuse to hold political correctness up to the bright light of science.

There's a major hearsay problem.  It's very easy to say that you know such and such person who just refused to see reason, and acted like you were wrong to even criticize them.  Yeah, I believe that's how you perceived the argument.  But that's practically every argument ever, from everyone's perspective.  I wasn't there, so I can't tell.

Yes, there are some cases where people hold a belief too close, and use "unfair" means to discourage criticism.  For instance, I've criticized Christianity for discouraging doubt.  But the critique must be precise to be valid! I needed to provide examples of specific Christian narratives which were contributing to the problem.  If I merely waved my hands around, saying Christians are so dogmatic, and this one time I met a Christian and they were just so offended when I gave them hard evidence against God, you could rightly dismiss it as cheap talk.

If you criticize atheists for holding certain beliefs sacred, you're just taking one of the lowest quality atheist aphorisms, and turning it around.  You're not helping.

1 comment:

miller said...

To me, "nothing sacred" means pretty much the same in daily life as it means when it is used to describe science - that is, everything needs to be open to questioning at least in principle. Obviously, some things are so firmly established that unless you have a pretty convincing counter argument, it's pointless to talk, but it is not a priory impossible for you to have such an argument, and then we should indeed talk about it.

So - on one hand, one needs to be able to tolerate questioning everything; on the other hand, there's nothing wrong with requiring pretty extreme efforts to make it seem worthwhile to question some things.

I hope that's how I handle things.