Boghossian bites off more than he can chew

In the previous posting, we saw that Peter Boghossian has nine strategies to help Gnu atheists make more Gnus. There is a huge problem – Boghossian does not seem to understand the nature of the Gnu atheist. The Gnu atheist is about as likely to embrace and adopt those strategies as Richard Dawkins is likely to get in an elevator with Rebecca Watson. Let’s have a look.

1. Meet people where they are.

I have yet to meet a Gnu atheist willing to meet me where I am at. On the internet, this is simple. All you have to do is make a serious effort to understand and consider the point/argument I am actually making. The problem is that the Gnu atheist would rather lean heavily on the crutch of his/her stereotypes. And to force me to fit into their stereotypes, the atheist either ignores or skims the argument and then recasts it in straw man terms. I see no evidence that Gnu atheists are going to be willing to abandon this common tactic in an effort to “meet me where I am at.”


2. Non-adversarial relationship. Avoid doing anything to come across as the angry atheist.

This is simply a non-starter. New Atheists pride themselves on their anger and adversarial posturing. They build their whole position around the notion that Religion is Evil. Those who don’t share the attitude are ridiculed and mocked as “accomodationists” and “faitheists.” To adopt this strategy, the New Atheist either has to be dishonest in hiding his/her true feelings and opinions, or they would have to abandon the New Atheist movement. Boghossian seems rather ignorant about the views of his potential readers.

3. Reconceptualize – need to think of religious people as being infected with a virus, they are not well; don’t be upset with people who have caught the faith virus; need more compassion to help convert people to atheism.

Gnu atheists view religious people as being either stupid, dishonest, or deluded. Or all. I suppose this is Boghossian’s way of putting the emphasis on “delusion.” The problem is that there are many Gnu atheists who simply hate religion and religious people, so I don’t think they are capable to showing compassion. Nevertheless, I think Boghossian has stumbled upon a test we can use to determine whether atheists are indeed compassionate. We’ll explore that it in an upcoming post.

4. Faith is not god – do not target God, by arguing about God you are addressing the symptom, not the cause (faith)
5. Faith is not religion – do not target religion; target faith
6. Faith is not politics – discussions about politics will sidetrack the targeting of faith

Ain’t goin’ happen. If Gnu atheists could not talk about God, religion, and politics, they would have nothing to talk about. They might try to target faith, but, from my personal experience, it would take only a few minutes before they began railing against some religion or political view.

7. Avoid facts – don’t use facts when people are precontemplative as they will not work; no fact will change their mind

Finally, we get to one strategy Gnu atheists would have little problem adopting. For example, when you want to make the case that religion is the greatest evil in the world or raising a child in a religious faith is child abuse, facts should not get in the way.

8. Focus – always focus discussion on epistemology – on how people know

Gnu atheists cannot even focus on the point you are making.

9. Belief – divorce belief from morality; faith is simply an unreliable espistemology

The problem here is that Gnu atheists tend to think Christian belief is immoral. So how can they divorce belief from morality?

In summary, Boghossian’s Nine Strategies are very unlikely to succeed, for he may as well have written the Nine Best Ways to Cook Beef for a community of vegans. Nevertheless, the book will make Boghossian some real money for two reasons. First, the Gnu Atheist movement is very much like a modern day secular cult. And one of the rituals in this cult is to buy atheist books, especially if the author has a degree behind his name. Such an act helps the Gnu to feel as if he/she is part of something bigger. Second, many Gnu atheists do look to their leaders for guidance. If Gnu atheism is rooted in the hate of religion, this emotion needs to be papered over with rationalizations, helping the Gnu to believe his/her atheism is rooted in reason and not emotion.

Finally, I can offer my assistance. I will be happy to inform atheists when they are violating the nine strategies. But I’m afraid my fingers might cramp up.

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6 Responses to Boghossian bites off more than he can chew

  1. I appreciate the self-irony in complaining about the usage of stereotypes while using a stereotype.

  2. Michael says:

    Good for you. Given that so many Gnu atheists rely so heavily on stereotypes, they should not have a problem with this. We’ll be able to tell if my “use of stereotypes” was wrong if my prediction is wrong and we start to see many Gnu atheists who change their ways and adopt Boghossian’s nine strategies.

  3. Crude says:

    I appreciate the self-irony in complaining about the usage of stereotypes while using a stereotype.

    Considering one of the defining traits / MOs of New Atheists is ‘acting like a complete jerk / trying to be as obnoxious as possible whenever the subject of God or religion comes up’ – and we’re talking about this in terms of out and out urging from Dawkins, etc, themselves – this isn’t really a stereotype. It’s like pointing out stamp collectors like to collect stamps.

    And Mike’s criticisms are on target. Especially with regards to Number 2, because A) the preferred lurking ground of the New Atheist is online, B) but online, New Atheists are at their absolutely most obnoxious and clan-prone, and C) there’s no shortage of theists online for whom Petebog’s fundamental tripping point – his definition of faith – will not apply.

    Personally? If atheists try to follow his rules, I think by and large they’re going to walk into discussions where they explain what ‘faith’ is, Christians reply ‘but your definition of faith is incorrect’, and the whole thing is going to just devolve into namecalling and insults as usual. Because one of the many things that New Atheists can’t handle is when their own stereotypes (such as how they define faith) are defied.

  4. manu says:

    Although your article is mostly a rant, you make some good points, and some of them are made by Boghossian himself. That’s why he urges a change in the way a lot of atheists tackle the issue of faith. I just read his book and it certainly will influence me in correcting some of my (bad) attitudes towards religion.

    I’m still looking for a good criticism of Boghossian’s views (I found your page by typing “Boghossian Jerk” in Google) but in a strange way your article just confirm what he writes.

  5. Dhay says:

    > 7. Avoid facts – don’t use facts when people are precontemplative as they will not work; no fact will change their mind

    I looked up that odd word,”precontemplative”, and found that Peter Boghossian is likening Christians — and indeed expecting anyone and everyone receiving a Street Epistemologist intervention — to alcoholics in denial:

    Individuals in the precontemplation stage of change are not even thinking about changing their drinking behavior. They may not see it as a problem, or they think that others who point out the problem are exaggerating.

    http://psychcentral.com/lib/stages-of-change/

    Looks like a mere sneer to me, a negative portrayal not based upon evidence, or Science,or Reason. I’d say it’s a claim, the epistemology of which the claimer needs to investigate, that is as based on ‘claiming to know things you don’t know’ as any claims the Epistemologist is likely to encounter in the street.

    And is one of the nine basis’ for the Epistemologist’s own intervention on others for ‘claiming to know things you don’t know’. Hmm, go figure.

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