Thursday, May 20, 2010

Whether to join "Offend Every Religion and Non-Religion Day"

Today is "Offend Islam Day" or "Everybody Draw Mohammed" Day according to the intent of the people involved in either creating or viewing the blog posts. I'm sure most of the rightwingers involved will claim there's no intent on their part to offend most Muslims, but simply to protest the censorship and physical violence directed against people who have drawn Mohammed. I think it's pretty difficult to unpack the two, especially when the only religion these rightwingers are willing to offend, conveniently enough for them, is one they're hostile to.

Still, I wish I could do something to support free speech while not purposefully seeking offense, especially against any one religion. So here's my drawing:

/ \

Those who seek to take offense by seeing it as Mohammed can do so, but I hope the vast majority of Muslims who would never violently attack a cartoonist choose not to see it that way. The same for a Christian or Jew that would choose to view it as a Gay Jesus or Gay Moses. Replace the torso of the stick figure with ( ) and an oversensitive Buddhist could choose to view an insultingly corpulent Buddha.

As for offending the non-religious who choose to go out of their way to be offended, it's a little tougher. For atheists, simply claiming that 100% confirmed atheism is an expression of faith just like religion is generally enough to arouse great offense among such atheists.

My own group, agnostics, might be the hardest to offend, except that all the other groups, religious and atheist alike, are offended at our very existence. The religious tell us to make up our mind so we can be either drawn into their religious debates, or become an atheist so the religious can accuse us of having a faith in the non-existence of God. The atheists think we don't have the guts to go all the way proclaim atheism, and accuse us of being less-brave versions of themselves. Maybe its my own blind spot that keeps me from seeing the best way to be ambiguously offensive to oversensitive agnostics, but maybe someone else can figure that one out.

Well, so much for this exercise. Not sure I'll bother repeating it when the same day rolls around next year.


  1. Speaking as a 100% confirmed atheist, my response to your claim is puzzlement rather than offense.

    "God" is a mythological creature man has invented, like the tooth fairy and Santa Claus. Is it "an expression of faith" to be 100% confirmed that the tooth fairy doesn't exist? The contrary argument is that "tooth fairy" myths exist in many cultures, some people (mostly children) have attested to the workings of the tooth fairy, and we can't entirely rule out the possibility that something *might* have once existed, somewhere, that if you looked at it in the right way bore enough similarities to our "tooth fairy" myth that we would want to call it a "tooth fairy" if we had positive proof that it existed. That doesn't mean that our *current* idea of the tooth fairy is worth lending more than 0% credence.

  2. To clarify, it's not my claim but a claim. The argument assumes the supernatural (unlike "evidence" for the Tooth Fairy) does not involve the natural world and is therefore not subject to proof. To disbelieve in something that's unknowable is therefore an expression of faith.

    I suppose people making this argument would have to concede that the unknowable could include a Tooth Fairy that doesn't leave coins for children. I think they get around this by saying for their part, the supernatural is unknowable to reason but sensible to us in other ways - a sense of supernaturality (Schopenhauer, IIRC), or perceivable through a leap of faith (Kierkegaard).

    I don't think it's a completely meritless argument, but it feels fairly contrived to me.

  3. Perceptible, not "perceivable". Yikes.

  4. "I suppose people making this argument would have to concede that the unknowable could include a Tooth Fairy that doesn't leave coins for children."

    More reasonably, the unknowable has to include a Tooth Fairy that leaves coins for *some* children but not others. Perhaps it only works for redheaded children who live in Ireland but other parents simulate the behavior so their kids don't get jealous.

    Or perhaps the Tooth Fairy used to exist "back in the old country" but doesn't exist anymore since people stopped believing, hence the current lack of evidence.

    Which actually goes double for God - the most popular arguments for him are about whether he existed at the start of the Universe, at the start of life on earth, at the start of human life, or ~2000 years ago. Hardly anybody even tries to make much of argument for God existing *today*. There's really nothing to distinguish between (a) God exists now, or (b) God existed 2000 years ago, did some miracles and stuff, but then caught a bad cold and died of pneumonia, died in a careless accident, committed suicide, or got bored of us and decided to go bother some other galaxy instead - thereby explaining the lack of followup appearances.

    Given that there is literally no positive evidence for God's *current* existence, God is in the same category as Russell's Teapot. Worse, actually, since the popular conceptions of God contain internal contradictions such that the described being isn't logically coherent, whereas Russell's Teapot is merely really really unlikely.

    To disbelieve in something that's "unknowable", "incoherently defined", "illogical", or all of the above is the height of rationality, not an act of faith. If your definitions of "faith" or "rationality" make it irrational to firmly disbelieve in things that are *by design* impossible to detect, your definition is faulty. I'm not willing to let that camel's nose into the tent because the rest of the camel includes every single thing The Amazing Randi has ever debunked and every god or monster ever invented for a bedtime story.


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