Author Topic: Advocating Atheism?  (Read 687 times)

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Offline jaimehlers

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Advocating Atheism?
« on: February 06, 2012, 10:47:09 AM »
While the term "atheism" is instantly recognizable, the fact is that the term means "not theistic" or "not religious".  It's occurred to me that this could be a case where the language used detracts from advocacy efforts.  Tell a theist - any theist - that you're an atheist, and to them, it's like saying you're the opposite of them.  Little wonder you see so many theists believing that an atheist isn't suitable for public office, or that atheists are also amoral - because they see their foundation of morality coming from their theistic beliefs.  While I agree that this is patently ridiculous (morality comes from the community and from what one is taught, not from a religious belief in the sense as coming from God (or gods)), the perception still matters.  The name is not the issue so much as the perception that people have of it.

I read an article linked elsewhere on this site which had an atheist mention that calling himself an atheist was like calling himself a non-astrologer.  A negative definition like that doesn't define what one is, it defines what one is not.  To wit, "You're not a theist?  So what are you, then?"  Most religious beliefs work because they give people a sense of community and a feeling of belonging to something, not because of the content of the actual beliefs.  And that explains the irrational behavior many people indulge in when people question those beliefs much more effectively, I think.  Because their sense of belonging to a community is threatened, so they hold to it despite how irrational it might seem on the outside.

So it seems to me that in addition to arguing against religious beliefs, atheists need to define what they stand for outside of that.  All well and good to talk about being against the superstition of religion, but it's more important to make it clear what "belonging to the community of atheists" actually means, and to define atheism as something other than the opposition to religion.  I think atheism needs to be something in addition to those, or the only appeal will be to other people who feel ostracized from a religious community (not that this is a bad thing).  Maybe it is and it's just not something I'm seeing, and if so, someone who knows could explain it to me.  But even if that's the case, I think this illustrates the problem.  If someone like me, who's spent more than half a year here, still doesn't really understand atheism to be anything more than the rejection of religion, then how likely is it that other people who have never encountered an atheist will understand it at all?

Offline velkyn

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2012, 11:04:49 AM »
While the term "atheism" is instantly recognizable, the fact is that the term means "not theistic" or "not religious".  It's occurred to me that this could be a case where the language used detracts from advocacy efforts.  Tell a theist - any theist - that you're an atheist, and to them, it's like saying you're the opposite of them.  Little wonder you see so many theists believing that an atheist isn't suitable for public office, or that atheists are also amoral - because they see their foundation of morality coming from their theistic beliefs.  While I agree that this is patently ridiculous (morality comes from the community and from what one is taught, not from a religious belief in the sense as coming from God (or gods)), the perception still matters.  The name is not the issue so much as the perception that people have of it.
I am the opposite of a theist and quite happy about that.  I think rationally, I care about evidence and I do not restrict who I love or who I care for by belief in the imaginary.   I’d say you do have a point, Jaime, but it would only work if religion wasn’t considered the default equivalent to “good” in our society.  I find it worth it to try to change society so that religion isn’t automatically considered good and that atheism is simply having no belief in supernatural nonsense.  IMO, it takes education, directly questioning mistaken beliefs and being out as an atheist so people can see that no, morals don’t depend on believing in an invisible sky buddy. 
Quote
I read an article linked elsewhere on this site which had an atheist mention that calling himself an atheist was like calling himself a non-astrologer.  A negative definition like that doesn't define what one is, it defines what one is not.  To wit, "You're not a theist?  So what are you, then?"  Most religious beliefs work because they give people a sense of community and a feeling of belonging to something, not because of the content of the actual beliefs.  And that explains the irrational behavior many people indulge in when people question those beliefs much more effectively, I think.  Because their sense of belonging to a community is threatened, so they hold to it despite how irrational it might seem on the outside.
Astrology doesn’t impact our society like religion does so I do find that the term atheist is useful.   I am an atheist, I am a cat lover, I am a humanist, I am social liberal and a fiscal conservative, etc.   I find that religious belief works in that people can be taught a belief, and then find acceptance.  They believe that for instance that homosexuals should be killed (or ostracized depending on the “interpretation) so they fit in.  They get validation from a crowd so that “must” mean that they are *right*.   

I can say “You’re not an atheist, so what are you then?”  In our culture, the assumption is that they are a wonderful, good and moral person.  But, between sects, it can be different since each sect sees other theists as the enemy (e.g. how evangelicals don’t like Catholics). 
Quote
So it seems to me that in addition to arguing against religious beliefs, atheists need to define what they stand for outside of that.  All well and good to talk about being against the superstition of religion, but it's more important to make it clear what "belonging to the community of atheists" actually means, and to define atheism as something other than the opposition to religion.  I think atheism needs to be something in addition to those, or the only appeal will be to other people who feel ostracized from a religious community (not that this is a bad thing).  Maybe it is and it's just not something I'm seeing, and if so, someone who knows could explain it to me.  But even if that's the case, I think this illustrates the problem.  If someone like me, who's spent more than half a year here, still doesn't really understand atheism to be anything more than the rejection of religion, then how likely is it that other people who have never encountered an atheist will understand it at all?

Atheism *is* opposition to religion.  Atheists also don’t agree often on things outside of not believing in superstitious nonsense. I’ve disagreed, hammer and tongs, with my fellow atheists on some issues.  I’d say we *tend* to be more rational, liberal, etc but I know that isn’t always the case.  Atheism by definition will only appeal to those who think that gods are nonsense.  Why would it ever appeal to anyone who thinks that there is a god or some type of woo?   Let’s say we redefine atheism to mean “one who needs evidence to accept the reality of something”, it still flys in the faces of those people who believe blindly in things that are nonsense.  It will still offend them.   
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Offline nogodsforme

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2012, 05:34:26 PM »
Maybe "rationalist" is more positive. But it kinda sounds like "objectivist" which is another nutty philosophy.
Rationarian?
Use-Your-Brainarian?
Rely-on-Evidencialist?
Believer-in-Real-Worldism?

Okay I've got it:
We are the Universal All-There-Is-And-Ain't-No-More-Arianists

I'll have the cards printed up.
Extraordinary claims of the bible don't even have ordinary evidence.

Kids aren't paying attention most of the time in science classes so it seems silly to get worked up over ID being taught in schools.

Offline jetson

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #3 on: February 06, 2012, 07:24:06 PM »
I use the term to describe myself precisely because it evokes such a visceral response from people.  To me, that means they take notice, good or bad...mostly bad, obviously.  But that's ok, because in real life, they couldn't pick me out of a lineup to save their lives.  I'm invisible in my atheism, unless I point it out.

I still think the comparison between atheists and homosexuals is a perfect comparison in how society accepts a group, over time.  The homosexuals have been at this for a while, are more organized and vocal, and they have actually made progress being accepted in society.  I think we can do the same.

I worry that if we tone it down too much, or water it down, we will lose the edge we have with the term.  I would love to see this come to an end in terms of how we are thought of, but we need more time, and we need more outspoken atheists. 

Offline Azdgari

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2012, 09:31:38 PM »
The only difference, and it's a troublesome one, is that being homosexual does not mean that you think that straights are somehow wrong.  Atheism does mean that you think theists are wrong.
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Offline Tero

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2012, 09:43:35 PM »
If it's little old ladies, I'm "not religious". To all the rest, atheist.

Offline jetson

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #6 on: February 06, 2012, 09:53:12 PM »
The only difference, and it's a troublesome one, is that being homosexual does not mean that you think that straights are somehow wrong.  Atheism does mean that you think theists are wrong.

I think atheists could largely drop the "you are wrong" argument if theists would simply mind their own business.  I don't spend any time chasing down the flat-earthers to tell them they are wrong.

Offline Death over Life

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #7 on: February 06, 2012, 09:56:48 PM »
The only difference, and it's a troublesome one, is that being homosexual does not mean that you think that straights are somehow wrong.  Atheism does mean that you think theists are wrong.

Then again though, theists believe atheists are wrong, so it must go both ways. If theists really didn't believe atheists are wrong, they wouldn't be trying to convert us or be hostile to us for being atheists.

Offline Azdgari

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #8 on: February 06, 2012, 10:01:48 PM »
I'm not talking about attitude, Jetson.  I'm talking about the basics of the position itself.  The sort of atheism we're talking about - conscious, realized atheism[1] - absolutely requires holding the opinion that theists are wrong about their theism.  It may be a weakly held opinion.  It may be one that never gets brought up for its own sake.  But the mere state of being a conscious atheist involves believing that the theists are wrong about their god-belief.

Because of this, atheism will tend to be an affront to theists in a way that homosexuality[2] is not an affront to straight people.

"I'm homosexual" to a straight person means that the speaker is attracted to the same sex.  And that's that.
"I'm an atheist" to a theist typically means that the speaker believes there are no gods, and, as a consequence, believes the theist to be mistaken.

That's a significant difference from the perspective of the one being spoken to.
 1. There are other kinds, of course.
 2. Obviously there are more varieties of "non-straight" than homosexuality.  I'm using either/or for simplicity's sake, since the existence of a spectrum of sexuality doesn't really impact my point.
« Last Edit: February 06, 2012, 11:59:37 PM by Azdgari »
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Offline Azdgari

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #9 on: February 06, 2012, 10:03:08 PM »
Then again though, theists believe atheists are wrong, so it must go both ways. If theists really didn't believe atheists are wrong, they wouldn't be trying to convert us or be hostile to us for being atheists.

Agreed.  But that's irrelevant to my point, which is to highlight a difference between the "atheist-theist" divide and the "gay-straight" divide.  The former involves both sides necessarily thinking the other is wrong.  The latter does not.  That has implications for atheist advocacy, especially when using the gay rights movement as a model.
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Offline magicmiles

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #10 on: February 06, 2012, 10:17:11 PM »

Astrology doesn’t impact our society like religion does

Isn't astrology a religion?

If not,  just point me to the daily newspaper with a more prominent bible verse than star sign reading

 
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Offline Azdgari

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #11 on: February 06, 2012, 10:28:19 PM »
What does that have to do with whether or not it's a religion?
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Offline magicmiles

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #12 on: February 06, 2012, 10:35:08 PM »
It doesn't. I make 2 points:

* Could astrology be considered a religion? I pose the question only - Velkyn seems to differentiate them

* If astrology is not a religion, I cite the fact that star sign predictions hold a much more prominent place in public newspapers than bible passages as evidence that might contradict Velkyn's bold statement that astrology does not influence society as much as religion.

I guess it's off topic so happy to just let it be an aside not worth discussion.
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Offline Historicity

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #13 on: February 06, 2012, 10:39:29 PM »
I've used "rationalist" and "skeptic" sometimes to refer to myself.

"Freethinker" always has a quaint 19th century sound to me.



Offline bosey926

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #14 on: February 06, 2012, 10:41:18 PM »
It doesn't. I make 2 points:

* Could astrology be considered a religion? I pose the question only - Velkyn seems to differentiate them

* If astrology is not a religion, I cite the fact that star sign predictions hold a much more prominent place in public newspapers than bible passages as evidence that might contradict Velkyn's bold statement that astrology does not influence society as much as religion.

I guess it's off topic so happy to just let it be an aside not worth discussion.

     Are you for real with this dude?  You truly believe what you just stated in the highlighted portion?

Edit: English error.
« Last Edit: February 06, 2012, 10:42:53 PM by bosey926 »

Offline jetson

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #15 on: February 06, 2012, 10:43:37 PM »
I'm not talking about attitude, Jetson.  I'm talking about the basics of the position itself.  The sort of atheism we're talking about - conscious, realized atheism[1] - absolutely requires holding the opinion that theists are wrong about their theism.  It may be a weakly held opinion.  It may be one that never gets brought up for its own sake.  But the mere state of being a conscious atheist involves believing that the theists are wrong about their god-belief.

Because of this, atheism will tend to be an affront to theists in a way that homosexuality[2] is not an not affront to straight people.

"I'm homosexual" to a straight person means that the speaker is attracted to the same sex.  And that's that.
"I'm an atheist" to a theist typically means that the speaker believes there are no gods, and, as a consequence, believes the theist to be mistaken.

That's a significant difference from the perspective of the one being spoken to.
 1. There are other kinds, of course.
 2. Obviously there are more varieties of "non-straight" than homosexuality.  I'm using either/or for simplicity's sake, since the existence of a spectrum of sexuality doesn't really impact my point.

Yes, I must be thinking mostly about attitude, so I don't disagree.

The "I'm homosexual" elicits a far stronger reaction depending on the level of homophobia in the recipient.  And the atheist receives deeper disdain and mistrust, almost regardless of the recipient (unless it's another atheist). 

Both are in a serious uphill battle for acceptance, and I'm not sure the basic distinction you describe makes much of a difference in practical terms?  Or am I still missing something?

Offline magicmiles

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #16 on: February 06, 2012, 10:46:42 PM »
It doesn't. I make 2 points:

* Could astrology be considered a religion? I pose the question only - Velkyn seems to differentiate them

* If astrology is not a religion, I cite the fact that star sign predictions hold a much more prominent place in public newspapers than bible passages as evidence that might contradict Velkyn's bold statement that astrology does not influence society as much as religion.

I guess it's off topic so happy to just let it be an aside not worth discussion.

     Are you for real with this dude?  You truly believe what you just stated in the highlighted portion?

Edit: English error.

perhaps instead of questioning whether I meant what I wrote you tell me why you might not consider it a valid point.
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Offline ParkingPlaces

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #17 on: February 06, 2012, 10:57:29 PM »
It doesn't. I make 2 points:

* Could astrology be considered a religion? I pose the question only - Velkyn seems to differentiate them

* If astrology is not a religion, I cite the fact that star sign predictions hold a much more prominent place in public newspapers than bible passages as evidence that might contradict Velkyn's bold statement that astrology does not influence society as much as religion.

I guess it's off topic so happy to just let it be an aside not worth discussion.

     Are you for real with this dude?  You truly believe what you just stated in the highlighted portion?

Edit: English error.

perhaps instead of questioning whether I meant what I wrote you tell me why you might not consider it a valid point.

If that makes astrology more influential, how important are the comics page and the sports section?
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Offline bosey926

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #18 on: February 06, 2012, 10:58:07 PM »
^^^O.K.  The obvious fact that Velkyn's comment was correct.  Unless you live in some greatly progressive society in which mathematics, science, and educational progression dominate; religion is obviously far more of an influence in modern society than astrology.
     Astrology is a simple piece of childish mythology; a goof of momentary entertainment that people enjoy for birthdays as they brisk through the morning newspaper.  Religion, on the other hand, is constantly battled against day in and day out in our governments. 
     Just look in the news over the past few days.  The case in Indiana where they were seeking to put creationism on parallel with evolution in science classrooms is just one example of how religion is persistent in its efforts.   You seriously think that astrology has more of an influence than religion does?  You have any statistics? 

Offline magicmiles

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #19 on: February 06, 2012, 11:01:40 PM »
It doesn't. I make 2 points:

* Could astrology be considered a religion? I pose the question only - Velkyn seems to differentiate them

* If astrology is not a religion, I cite the fact that star sign predictions hold a much more prominent place in public newspapers than bible passages as evidence that might contradict Velkyn's bold statement that astrology does not influence society as much as religion.

I guess it's off topic so happy to just let it be an aside not worth discussion.

     Are you for real with this dude?  You truly believe what you just stated in the highlighted portion?

Edit: English error.

perhaps instead of questioning whether I meant what I wrote you tell me why you might not consider it a valid point.

If that makes astrology more influential, how important are the comics page and the sports section?

an excellent point.

Should we start a new thread though? I don't want to go off topic.
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Offline Azdgari

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #20 on: February 06, 2012, 11:03:04 PM »
That claim is belied by your having introduced the point in this thread in the first place.
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Offline magicmiles

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #21 on: February 06, 2012, 11:04:18 PM »
^^^O.K.  The obvious fact that Velkyn's comment was correct.  Unless you live in some greatly progressive society in which mathematics, science, and educational progression dominate; religion is obviously far more of an influence in modern society than astrology.
     Astrology is a simple piece of childish mythology; a goof of momentary entertainment that people enjoy for birthdays as they brisk through the morning newspaper.  Religion, on the other hand, is constantly battled against day in and day out in our governments. 
     Just look in the news over the past few days.  The case in Indiana where they were seeking to put creationism on parallel with evolution in science classrooms is just one example of how religion is persistent in its efforts.   You seriously think that astrology has more of an influence than religion does?  You have any statistics?

If somebody wants to move this discussion and the posts made so far to a new thread I'd be interested to discuss it. I don't know how to move posts to a new thread.

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Offline magicmiles

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #22 on: February 06, 2012, 11:06:08 PM »
That claim is belied by your having introduced the point in this thread in the first place.

Hey, I read the posts made, saw a comment that struck me and commented. Now I'm suggesting we should move it. If we don't thats fine.
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Offline Traveler

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #23 on: February 06, 2012, 11:30:39 PM »
Then again though, theists believe atheists are wrong, so it must go both ways. If theists really didn't believe atheists are wrong, they wouldn't be trying to convert us or be hostile to us for being atheists.

Agreed.  But that's irrelevant to my point, which is to highlight a difference between the "atheist-theist" divide and the "gay-straight" divide.  The former involves both sides necessarily thinking the other is wrong.  The latter does not.  That has implications for atheist advocacy, especially when using the gay rights movement as a model.

This is an interesting distinction, and one that I'll have to think about some more. But on a first reading, there actually is a right/wrong element to the gay/straight divide. Conservative religious folks believe that homosexuality is wrong. Most atheists (I think) do not. So aren't we, by supporting gay rights, saying religious folks are wrong about their opinions on sexuality? I certainly think they are very wrong when they judge any consenting adult on their orientation. Now,  perhaps a straight person doesn't automatically judge a gay person as wrong and vice versa. Maybe that's your point.

I think the more fundamental issue is that, at least with conservatives, their god belief is such an essential part of their identity. My atheism is only a tiny, tiny bit of who I am. If it weren't for the fact that this country seems to have been overtaken by right wingers, I'd barely give it a second thought. For someone who lives and breaths for their god, my apathy perhaps is seen as a slap in their face.
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Offline Azdgari

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #24 on: February 06, 2012, 11:57:09 PM »
Traveler, the "you're wrong" divide with respect to homosexuality is between those who are homophobes, and those who are not.  A world can be envisaged in which homosexuals and non-homosexuals co-exist without either thinking the other is wrong.  Because that's just not a component of homosexuality, heterosexuality, or whatever.  Homophobia and non-homophobia is a separate quality, one that can apply to anyone, homosexual or not.

By contrast, a world in which atheists and theists can coexist without either thinking the other is wrong, is impossible to envisage, at least as far as my imagination reaches.  Because both camps are defined as thinking the other is wrong.

This is true of any sort of opinion-based grouping.  Libertarians and non-Libertarians can surely coexist, and peacefully, but each will necessarily think that the other is wrong, if they think about the topic at all.  This is because the groups are defined by a particular opinion.
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Offline ParkingPlaces

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #25 on: February 07, 2012, 12:22:00 AM »
I think atheists could largely drop the "you are wrong" argument if theists would simply mind their own business.  I don't spend any time chasing down the flat-earthers to tell them they are wrong.

And I'm glad you don't. I'd hate for the two of us to have a falling out...
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Offline velkyn

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #26 on: February 07, 2012, 10:46:13 AM »
It doesn't. I make 2 points:
* Could astrology be considered a religion? I pose the question only - Velkyn seems to differentiate them
* If astrology is not a religion, I cite the fact that star sign predictions hold a much more prominent place in public newspapers than bible passages as evidence that might contradict Velkyn's bold statement that astrology does not influence society as much as religion.
I guess it's off topic so happy to just let it be an aside not worth discussion.
do some research on astrology and its acceptance.  Then come back.   As for religion in the newspapers,  every newspaper I have ever seen has at least one whole section to it at least once a week.  Religion has radio stations and tv stations. The last astrology show I saw was on Univision, more than a few years ago.

Christianity declares homosexuality wrong and many Christians say it is a willful choice against their god, demanding retribution, by humans and/or their god.  this is where I see atheism and homosexuality, as viewed by *some Christians* to be quite similar. 
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Offline jaimehlers

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #27 on: February 07, 2012, 08:10:11 PM »
By contrast, a world in which atheists and theists can coexist without either thinking the other is wrong, is impossible to envisage, at least as far as my imagination reaches.  Because both camps are defined as thinking the other is wrong.
That's why I brought up the topic.

This dichotomy bothers me - you either are an atheist who believes no god exists, or you are a theist who believes that one or many gods exist.  And there's no real middle ground between the two, as agnosticism is more or less divided between the two.

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Re: Advocating Atheism?
« Reply #28 on: February 07, 2012, 08:17:16 PM »
I believe lots of people are wrong about a lot of things. It doesn't mean that we can't coexist. We simply have to agree to disagree. I really don't see that as a problem. I don't care what people believe, as long as their belief doesn't come past my nose. In other words, I won't force my opinion on others and I expect others not to force their opinions on me.
If we ever travel thousands of light years to a planet inhabited by intelligent life, let's just make patterns in their crops and leave.