"The last acceptable form of <SomeImmoralAttitude>"

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Reader T.B. writes:

I don't think I've noticed discussion of this snowclone: "X is the last acceptable form of prejudice/discrimination".  I've come across it in reference to obesity…now linguistic bigotry and gingerism.

The fact that it's become a snowclone almost makes it an empty claim.  You can be sure that something else will soon pop up to replace X as the last acceptable form of prejudice…

Beyond obesity, speech patterns, and red hair, a few searches of media sources and books turn up examples citing prejudice against Romani as being the last acceptable form of racism:

[2007] He believes that abuse targeted at travellers has become the last acceptable form of racism, which is why he plans to dispel Gypsy and traveller myths in the force with a new one-day training course on traveller awareness.
[2008] Discrimination against Gypsies and Travellers is said to be the last "acceptable form of racism".

And similarly against Asians:

[2009] Racism against Asians, in particular, is one of the last "acceptable" forms of racism in America.

Against Islam, Arabs, or Middle Easterners in general:

[2001] It is the last bastion of Orientalism, the last acceptable form of racism.
[2005] Said calls anti-Muslimism the acceptable face of racism, arguing that 'Malicious generalizations about Islam have become the last acceptable form of denigration of foreign culture."
[2006] Smearing all things Arab remains the last acceptable form of ethnic bigotry in America.
[2010] The museum will help to negate the malicious generalizations about Islam and unexamined presuppositions that have become the last acceptable form of denigration by the media.
[2011] She told the 2009 Conservative Party conference that anti-Muslim hatred had become Britain's last socially acceptable form of bigotry, and claimed in a magazine article last October that taking a pop at the Muslim community in the media sold papers and didn't really matter.

Also against various forms of Christianity:

[2005] Make no mistake, my brothers and sisters, at this time, in this world; Catholicism is now acknowledged as the last acceptable form of discrimination.
[2006] In August 1993 the fight to end the “last acceptable form of bigotry” against evangelical Christians found its most powerful and unexpected ally.
[2007] And that is that the last acceptable form of bigotry left in America is bigotry directed at orthodox people of faith, and particularly Christians.
[2008] Christian bashing – and portraying Christians as simple, ignorant, narrow-minded , hypocritical and even violent – has become the last acceptable form of bigotry.
[2009] Is it allowed only because bigotry against Catholics is the last acceptable form of discrimination?
[2010] We must boldly stand against any who attempt to degrade our Christian heritage. We must identify them as practicing one of the last acceptable forms of bigotry and hatred: Christophobia.
[2012[ Anti-Christian prejudice is the last socially acceptable form of bigotry in this country. People are scolded by society for saying anything anti-Semitic, racist or even homophobic. But you can say anything you want against Christians, and people will smile or laugh.

And even religion in general:

[1992] Religious leaders have been arguing for years that intolerance toward religious believers is the last acceptable form of bigotry in this country.

Among the commonest instantiations of the template are references to homophobia:

[2001] We'd reached a moment when homophobia finally ceased to be the last acceptable form of bigotry.
[2003] Anti-gay bigotry may be the last "acceptable" form of discrimination remaining in American politics.
[2008] This is homophobia, the last acceptable form of bigotry.
[2008] "Legally you (gay people) have the same rights in the UK but in America it's the last acceptable form of prejudice."

Then there's prejudice against conservatives:

[2004] In polite society, conservative-bashing is the last acceptable form of bigotry.
[2011] Sean, it is the last acceptable form of misogyny in this country. Hatred, prejudice towards conservative females.

Against Republicans:

[2012] Potshots at Republicans are the last socially acceptable form of discrimination. Would you blog that Jews are smarter than Muslims? Or that whites are smarter than Hispanics? This is no less offensive or hurtful. It is always so interesting to me that the people who preach the loudest about tolerance are usually the ones being the most vocal about their intolerance for others.

Against Americans:

[2000] Reitz represents him critically, betraying an anti- Americanism that is perhaps the last acceptable form of xenophobia among European intellectuals: Reitz remarks that 'American aesthetics' is the 'real terror.
[2002] Anti-americanism is the last acceptable form of racism in modern Britain.

Against Yankees (in the limited sense of Americans from north of the Mason-Dixon line):

[1996] Let me start by saying that, among Texans, hating Yankees is the last acceptable form of bigotry.
[1998] Our goal is to stamp out the last acceptable form of bigotry in Texas: hating Yankees. Except I can't get nobody to join.

And against Welsh people:

[2001] Without wishing to whinge (although I feel I've been in Wales long enough to compete in this national sport), it seems anti-Welsh sentiment is one of the last acceptable forms of prejudice in modern England.

Against short people:

[2003] Mr English has our sympathy as a victim of the last acceptable form of teasing. In his song, Short People, Randy Newman indulges in abuse that would not be allowed with any other group.

Against old people:

[2007] … age discrimination remains the last acceptable form of discrimination …
[2008] Age discrimination – the last acceptable form of prejudice – must be made illegal immediately," Ms Jopling concluded.

Against people on welfare:

[2003] The stigma against people on welfare seems to be one of the last acceptable forms of prejudice.

Against working-class people:

[2010] At its most disconcerting, this has evolved into a culturally sanctioned "class bigotry" in America, in which pejorative stereotypes of the white working class are freely disseminated in popular culture and uniformly embraced across identity politics lines as the last acceptable form of prejudice.

Against rich people:

[2008] John Walsh – a wealthy, self-made corporate chieftain – believes he is a victim of the last acceptable form of discrimination.
[2011] Julian Fellowes, a man who looks like he was born in a quilted smoking jacket and begged his parents to read him Burke's Peerage at bedtime, calls "poshism" the "last acceptable form of discrimination". He doesn't mean in a good way.

Against mentally ill people:

[2012] It's not surprising mental ill health is seen as the last acceptable form of discrimination when our law forbids people who've had a breakdown from serving as a juror, company director, school governor or MP.

Against people with genetic disabilities:

[2009] As stated by Elizabeth (cited in Chapman 2002), a woman with a genetic disability, 'I mean it is really the last acceptable form of eugenics, isn't it?'

And even against people who eat inexpensive food, or get up late:

[1998] I am a victim of what is perhaps the last acceptable form of prejudice: late-riser bashing.
[2001] I have long suspected that many who argue against cheap food might be sneering at those who eat it, indulging in one of the last acceptable forms of class prejudice in New Britain.

As usual with superficially-nonsensical turns of phrase, this one apparently means something different from what it says. It says that X is the last acceptable form of Y, where X is a negative evaluation of some group, and Y is negatively-evaluated term for negative evaluations.  It means that people who think of themselves as free of Y nevertheless hold attitude X, or at least accept the fact that others hold X. It can't literally mean that X is the last negative group evaluation of this kind, or even that it's one of the last few, since that's so obviously false. Instead, "the last acceptable form of Y" here just means something like "a form of Y that most people don't recognize as being Y at all".

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29 Comments »

  1. Gregory Stump said,

    June 15, 2012 @ 8:01 am

    In 2002, as an undergraduate linguistics major at the University of Kentucky, Rebecca Greene wrote an excellent senior thesis entitled "The Last Socially Acceptable Prejudice: How Eastern Kentuckians Perceive Linguistic Bias Against Themselves".

    [(myl) We've often discussed prejudice against speech varieties from the American south, e.g. "Lazy mouths vs. lazy minds" 11/26/2003; "Those slurry, sleepy southerners" 2/25/2004; "Southern accent reduction courses cropping up from Texas to Kentucky", 2/16/2005; "Annals of linguistic prejudice", 12/182009.

    This kind of prejudice is clearly a form of empirically unsupported negatively-evaluated group stereotyping that's common among people who believe themselves to be free of irrational social prejudice -- two of the posts listed above are about articles in the New Yorker. But I don't think that we ever used a version of the "last acceptable form of Y" template.]

  2. Guy Plunkett III said,

    June 15, 2012 @ 8:27 am

    Caffeine: the last socially acceptable addiction

  3. KeithB said,

    June 15, 2012 @ 8:55 am

    As discussed in skeptic circles, the Christian one is interesting, because they feel discriminated against when they cannot force their will on someone else.

  4. Adam said,

    June 15, 2012 @ 9:27 am

    As long as no-one says "X is literally the last acceptable form of Y"…

    [(myl) To my surprise, not so far...]

  5. KevinM said,

    June 15, 2012 @ 9:43 am

    A variation, I think, on Peter Viereck's aphorism that "anti-Catholicism is the anti-Semitism of the intellectuals" (or, in some renderings, of the liberals).

  6. Pali, Lao, Cambodian, Hokkien said,

    June 15, 2012 @ 9:50 am

    The meme is more meaningful as a four-cornered proposition:

    [Major premise:] "Police-beatings are the last publicly acceptable form of murder."
    [Minor premise:] "Hatred of indigenous people is the last publicly acceptable form of racism."
    [Conclusion:] "In 21st century Canada, the police beating indigenous people to death has become the last publicly-acceptable form of racist murder."

    The other three guys on this blog who watch APTN are all nodding their heads right now.

  7. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    June 15, 2012 @ 9:55 am

    This one is hard to parse:

    > […] Catholicism is now acknowledged as the last acceptable form of discrimination.

    On first reading, it sounds like it's describing Catholicism as a form of discrimination — presumably not what is meant.

    My first thought for how to "fix" this was to infer something elided, such as:

    > […] [discrimination against] Catholicism is now acknowledged as the last acceptable form of discrimination.

    But then it occurred to me that maybe the author meant something a bit different — something that I would write this way:

    > […] Catholic-ism is now acknowledged as the last acceptable form of discrimination.

    with "Catholic-ism" being stressed on the first syllable, and having /k/ instead of /s/, and meaning "discrimination against Catholics" (à la "gingerism", "poshism", etc.).

    [(myl) I agree that this example is worded in a confusing way. To see what the writer meant, some context may help (Patricia Stebbins, "Church need another John Paul", Cape Cod Times 4/19/2005):

    If ever God put a man in the right place at the right time, it was our Pope John Paul the Great. Not a man of "one-size-fits-all" faith he upheld the ancient beliefs of the Catholic Church in a mighty way. [...]

    Make no mistake, my brothers and sisters, at this time, in this world Catholicism is now acknowledged as the last acceptable form of discrimination. We have felt it increasingly over the last several decades as society skidded down the slippery slope of moral disintegration and we have refused to slide with it. We will feel it ever more strongly soon, as those who would demand that we give up our beliefs of respect for the sanctity of life, preservation of the family unity as a man, woman and children and opposition to the destruction of embryonic stem cells for profit become ever more insistent. [...]

    The world they desire for us is devoid of moral values, individual creativity, critical thinking or spirituality. We are already consumed by materialism, casual sex, and numbness of mind from constant exposure to television and music which only promote more of the same. They would sacrifice our beautiful, creative minds and ideals on an altar of lust and mass, lock-step thinking. Only Catholicism stands in their way.

    I don't think you need any unusual morphology to construe this example — there are plenty of others like "Obesity is the last socially acceptable form of discrimination in our society". ]

  8. Pali, Lao, Cambodian, Hokkien said,

    June 15, 2012 @ 9:56 am

    I suppose its hollowness as a snowclone is demonstrated by the fact that its meaning doesn't change much if you invert it:

    [Major premise:] "Police-beatings are the oldest/original publicly acceptable form of murder."
    [etc.]

    Yes, it doesn't seem much different in its function from the meme "_____ is the world's oldest profession", or "…the world's second oldest profession" (now in use because the former is already too strongly associated with a single gag). I suppose the difference is the implied progress (that such things are disappearing or becoming unacceptable, a premise that is hard to prove in most cases).

    Certainly, there's a strong historical argument that the authorities murdering the indigenous people is the oldest profession in Canada.

  9. Gene Callahan said,

    June 15, 2012 @ 12:38 pm

    @KeithB: "As discussed in skeptic circles, the Christian one is interesting, because they feel discriminated against when they cannot force their will on someone else."

    KeithB offers us a little Christian hating for the road!

  10. Jerry Friedman said,

    June 15, 2012 @ 1:02 pm

    Speaking of Eastern Kentucky accents, the Guardian said last year, "Bashing rednecks may be the last acceptable prejudice in Hollywood, but it's coming to an end."

  11. lukys said,

    June 15, 2012 @ 1:48 pm

    No discrimination against the non-religious? because I'm sure I've seen that discussed in relation to the statistic that X (over 60 I think)% of Americans would not vote for an atheist candidate.

    [(myl) I was surprised not to find this. No doubt someone has used the "X is the last (socially) acceptable form of Y" template for X=atheism or secularism, but in half an hour of search-and-cut-and-paste, I didn't run across any.]

    Gene Callahan:
    If you have ever had a discussion with the kind of people who use terms like "rampant secularism", as though it meant anything worse than "rampant tolerance" or "rampant fairness", you will know that KeithB has a point.

  12. KeithB said,

    June 15, 2012 @ 1:56 pm

    Just an observation. Just read the quote that myl posted above!

    (And I am a Christian that happens to be a strong believer in the first amendment.)

  13. Rod Johnson said,

    June 15, 2012 @ 2:04 pm

    Gene, I think there's a distinction between a critical, although perhaps overbroad, observation and "hating." Unless, of course, you believe that to be critical of Christianity is to be against it, in which case, KeithB's observation has some relevance.

  14. Victoria Simmons said,

    June 15, 2012 @ 4:03 pm

    There's a blog that keeps track:
    http://lastacceptableprejudice.wordpress.com/

    As a folklorist interested in constructions of Southern identity, I often run into outrageous bigotry against white Southerners (Southerners being white by definition, apparently), as well as the response from Southerners complaining that this is the last socially acceptable form of bigotry. Georgia-born humorist Roy Blount Jr. writes about this fairly often; several of these essays are collected in his book, "Long Time Leaving."

    A recent example of anti-Southern bigotry and the response to it was on Facebook, where a group called Americans Against the Tea Party posted a racist quotation from Phyllis Schlafly's son, misattributed to her and irrelevantly attached to a photograph of a couple jumping into a mud wallow: instant meme. I discovered the unidentified photograph was from the Redneck Games in East Dublin, Georgia, an Olympics-parody event held annually for charity and including faux redneck sports such as toilet-seat tossing and watermelon-seed spitting. Detached from context, the photo inspired many humorous comments about in-bred family reunions, redneck weddings, and 'bruncles,' and guesses about how many teeth each participant had, in addition to really scathing remarks about the probable racism of the people in the photo, where they kept their white sheets, how treasonous and un-American they were, and how they just shouldn't be allowed (to breed, to stay in America, etc.). It was a fine display of intolerance from the proudly tolerant. Among the string of slurs was the occasional protest from a Southerner or one of the more well-intentioned non-Southerners, to the effect that it seemed okay in our society to hate Southerners, and several of them used a variant of the "last acceptable form of prejudice" snowclone. They seemed to have a fairly good point, since the group that posted the picture that inspired the hate-fest is explicitly against all the usual forms of bigotry.

    (As for my own experience of prejudice against Southerners and their accents, my accent rarely identifies me as a Southerner until I out myself, and when I do some of the reactions I get have to be seen/heard to be believed. A graduate student from Berkeley once responded, "You're from the South? But you're so intelligent!")

    I also occasionally come across angry white males asserting that the last acceptable form of prejudice is that against white males. Or even men who feel that male-bashing is the last acceptable form of prejudice in a world gone feminist.

    Christians do have a legitimate complaint against the American media, which rarely portrays them except as hypocrites, fanatics, or hypocritical fanatics. That doesn't make them a persecuted group, of course.

  15. D.O. said,

    June 15, 2012 @ 4:15 pm

    Exclusion of non-native speakers is the last acceptable prejudice in descriptive linguistics!

  16. Victoria Simmons said,

    June 15, 2012 @ 4:15 pm

    Sorry, I meant to post a link to an article that showed a different-angle version of the picture the Facebook group used. It's amusing that the Daily Mail would run an article about the Redneck Games, but I suppose in keeping with their less-than-exalted portrayal of human nature. The comments reproduce in much milder form those in response to the Facebook picture, in both condemning the people in the picture and excusing them. (Note that no one seems to get that the whole event is meant to be a joke or that these aren't authentic redneck pastimes.) If the comments had run to the 600+ that the Facebook thread elicited, I guarantee that the "last acceptable prejudice" snowclone would have made an appearance.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2013402/Redneck-Games-Watermelon-spittin-toilet-seat-tossin–sporting-event-year.html

  17. LDavidH said,

    June 16, 2012 @ 4:19 am

    @KeithB: If you're a Christian, why do you use the pronoun "them" about Christians?
    Let's avoid generalisations: yes, there are some Christians that try and "force their will on someone else"; most of us don't – although we believe that there are moral and spiritual absolutes, which it would be good for everybody to accept, which is why we insist on talking about them and propagating them. True tolerance means that everybody has the right to do the same with their convictions (and admittedly, the church hasn't always been willing to accept that), not that some views are given preferential treatment and others are repressed.
    "Secularism" is not the same as "tolerance", since "secularism" usually disapproves of any religious faith, whereas true tolerance should be neutral.
    (Sorry this is a bit off topic, but I think misconceptions should always be corrected, wherever they pop up.)

  18. Victoria Simmons said,

    June 16, 2012 @ 5:11 am

    @LDavidH:

    "Secularism" more specifically supports a division between religious faith and a non-religious public sphere, or a public sphere (especially government) not allied with a particular religious faith or not run according to religious law. There is nothing about secularism that implies disapproval of religious faith. Indeed, it can be a way for different religious faiths to exist together, so that the American separation of church and state, for instance, is meant to protect both.

    While on the topic, humanism is not inherently anti-religion either. Rather, humanism is a tradition holding that human beings can be studied (and are worth studying) in their own right, without reference to the divine. Most of the founders of humanism, such as Giovanni Boccaccio, were intensely religious. Secular humanism, as I understand it as an approach to moral philosophy and empirical study, is more specifically opposed to the intrusion of religious belief into either, but even it does not necessarily reject religious belief or religion.

    It tends to be people with pro-religion biases who portray secularism and humanism as anti-religion.

  19. spherical said,

    June 16, 2012 @ 5:26 am

    @Victoria Simmons: "Christians have a legitimate complaint against the American media?" For bias against Christianity? I'm finding that one hard to stomach in a country where the biggest television outlet is called Fox News Corp. and where the two most listened-to radio hosts are Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

    Just sayin'. Sorry for the thread derail, back to lurking.

  20. LDavidH said,

    June 16, 2012 @ 7:48 am

    You're probably technically right, but the "non-religious public sphere" is often interpreted as meaning "no religion allowed" rather than "no religion favoured". And I think that most people who would describe themselves as secularists do disapprove of religion (unlike humanists, as you say, who may or may not be religious themselves). Or maybe I should say that they disapprove of religious faith(s) having any impact on society – as if life was divided into water-tight compartments and faith was just one of those, kept isolated from other parts of life.
    That's part of the reason why this kind of discussion so often derails – different understandings of what "faith" means and how it affects your life. To most practising Christians (and Muslims, and Jews), faith is all-encompassing, and will influence our views of school, love, marriage, politics, diet… which is often unacceptable to secularists. (I'd love to be proven wrong, though; but my main example of secularism is Richard Dawkins, who thoroughly disapproves of faith.)

  21. [links] Link salad will pay, it will pay tomorrow | jlake.com said,

    June 16, 2012 @ 8:50 am

    [...] "The last acceptable form of [SomeImmoralAttitude]" — A linguist perspective on labeling bigotry. [...]

  22. Victoria Simmons said,

    June 16, 2012 @ 8:53 am

    @spherical– Sorry, I was unclear. I was referring to the fictional portrayal of Christians in movies and television: usually fanatics or hypocrites or both. The rare positive portrayal is a saintly person of deep faith. Plain old ordinary everyday church-going Christians are rarely portrayed.

    @LDavidH– Secularism usually refers specifically to government (and frequently public education), not love or diet. It has to do with the rule of law, not with how people lead their daily lives or make personal choices. The separation of church and state, and the insistence on no established religion, not only helps protect society from the excesses of religion, but also helps diminish sectarian conflict between religions (or even denominations) that might disagree on the rules. For secularists of that stripe in American culture–not necessarily anti-religion, but firmly opposed to religion playing more than a token role in government–you need look no further than the Founding Fathers, and most American presidents since then. And just as many scientists are believers, many believers (including Evangelical Christians) are strong secularists when it comes to the separation of church and state.

    I agree that for those who believe that religious law should rule every aspect of life and should be the law of the land, secularism is by definition wrong. And obviously there are areas of law where there can be disagreements predicated on moral philosophy and religious belief. But I do dislike the portrayal of public life in America as a war between religion-haters and theocrats, because most people are somewhere in the middle, there are lots of atheists and orthodox believers not interested in foisting their own beliefs on others, and secularism is written into the Constitution.

  23. svanduym said,

    June 16, 2012 @ 10:21 am

    Regarding the first comment, does anyone else find the use of "Themselves" in "The Last Socially Acceptable Prejudice: How Eastern Kentuckians Perceive Linguistic Bias Against Themselves" a little… odd? Obviously the meaning is quite clear, but I would expect "Them" instead, I think.

  24. LDavidH said,

    June 16, 2012 @ 11:48 am

    @Victoria Simmons: Yes, I'm also for the separation of church and state, and I'm an evangelical. (Although as I'm Swedish, living in the UK, my situation is very different from the US.)

    I think part of this thread is linguistic (phew!) – words mean different things depending on who uses them (I've recently heard Richard Dawkins referred to as an "evangelical spokesman for science" or something like that, and a man I met introduced himself as an "evangelical atheist" – which is of course nonsense according to standard definitions, but not with the redefinition of "evangelical" as meaning "totally dedicated to something".
    In the same way, in most cases "secularism" seems to mean much more than just "separation of church and state", even if that is the political / technical definition. Sweden was a very secularised country long before the state church was abolished (in 2000), in the sense that most people were not religious and Christian politicians had better keep very quiet about their faith, if they wanted to be elected. (Unlike American presidents…)
    So this is a reminder for us all: we need to make sure that we know what we mean when we discuss – far too often opposing parties fail to communicate because they use the same words with different meanings.

  25. Maureen said,

    June 16, 2012 @ 2:56 pm

    LDavidH said:
    the redefinition of "evangelical" as meaning "totally dedicated to something".

    I say:
    Actually, in the "evangelical atheist" construction, it usually means "someone who wishes to spread X idea and convert people to it in a missionary-like fashion, and who spends a lot of time doing so", with some humorous irony that someone who dislike religion would take an approach to spreading his own ideas that is semi-religious in nature.

    There are of course many atheists who are dedicated to atheism, but don't actually care what the heck other people think; or who spend a lot of time talking to other likeminded atheists, but don't feel a need to convert others.

  26. Victoria Simmons said,

    June 16, 2012 @ 4:01 pm

    @LDavidH– I agree that people can talk across one another because words such as 'secular' mean different things to different people. Words can also be used, accidentally or deliberately, to suggest an equivalency where it does not exist, as a sort of combined tu quoque and strawman approach: "Your secularism/scientism/skepticism/etcetera is believed in just the way I believe in my religion, and proselytized the same way, so we are each arguing for similarly-held belief systems in similar ways, ergo we are the same."

    There are certainly many people who believe in specific findings of science on the basis of authority rather than understanding, and therefore hold those beliefs (about gravity, say, or the efficacy of aspirin for headaches) irrationally. But for most of those who believe in the value of science as a human activity, science and religion are apples and oranges, not necessarily incompatible with one another, and done in quite different ways. But, as with secularism, for religious people science does require an ability to switch registers.

    I am well aware that the religious right in America considers 'secularism,' 'humanism,' and 'secular humanism' red-flag terms, and concepts opposed to religion, and also aware that there are many religion-bashers who make fun of those who believe in their "imaginary friend" Jesus. The noisy extremes are what get reported in our media, but the reality is much more nuanced and exists across the whole spectrum of attitudes to both faith and secular activity.

    Note that 'secularity' refers to any action not specifically religious. If you wash your feet before worship, that is a religious action, but if you wash them just to get them clean and cool, that is a secular activity. The most religious person engages in some secular activities, such as reading a newspaper or using a cell phone or slicing onions. 'Secularism,' on the other hand, is a political/social philosophy which, strictly defined, is about separation of church and state, and more broadly defined, is about keeping religious authority (but not necessarily religious belief) out of the public sphere. A nuanced approach to secularism might maintain that students in public schools should not be required to participate in prayer, but that there's nothing wrong with a Nativity scene on public property. But obviously not everyone agrees on how secularism should be practiced in public life, whether by statute or informal agreement.

    While it is the case that words acquire the definitions groups of people believe them to have, there are limitations to the extent to which people can legitimately define the beliefs or behavior of others. 'Secularism' doesn't mean "opposition to religion" just because its opponents say it does, any more than 'Roman Catholicism' means mariolatry or paganism just because its opponents portray it (or genuinely see it) that way. Or any more than various political policies can be defined with the use of 'socialism'/'communism'/'fascism' or other negative buzzwords just because they get tagged as such by their opponents. Or, for that matter, any more than a religious believer is by definition a fanatic or a terrorist, depending on which religion/denomination and who is doing the defining. This calumny-by-definition isn't simply the natural development of the meanings of words; it is an attempt, deliberate or unconscious, to control the discourse by being the one to define the terms.

    Perhaps that's why any meaningful discussion should start with a definition of terms. There will always be those, especially at the extremes of the continuum, who refuse to agree on the key terms. But it's worth affirming that there is that continuum between the extremes.

  27. Sili said,

    June 16, 2012 @ 5:33 pm

    Well, the euangelion is the good message, and most scientists would see the scientific method and the discoveries made therewith as very good messages indeed.

    I can't speak for Dawkypoo, but my impression is that he sees the message of their (almost certainly) not being any gods as being a good one as well.

  28. Joshua said,

    June 16, 2012 @ 8:43 pm

    @Spherical: Fox News isn't the biggest television outlet in the U.S. It's the most-watched cable news television outlet. The ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news programs each typically have viewership at least double that of Fox News's most-watched program ("The O'Reilly Factor").

  29. spherical said,

    June 17, 2012 @ 7:27 am

    @Joshua: Oh, okay. Should've bothered to check.

    Re: the science/religion conundrum, I do not think the two are easily separable. They are in conflict with each other, and efforts to ignore this conflict are becoming increasingly demanding on one's ability to do mental contortions.

    All major religions have a history of making claims about the nature of the universe (e.g. some sort of creation narrative), and about human nature (e.g. the existence of an immaterial mind or soul that is the seat of consciousness and separate from the physical body, and that will keep tagging along in one form or the other long after the body has been metabolized or cremated out of cohesion).

    As science has been continuously expanding its knowledge-generating toolkit, many of these assertions have since become testable. Whenever that happened, any but the most trivial of religion's claims have either failed to be corroborated by evidence or been proven wrong.

    Religion has responded to these developments in two major ways: The first is to salvage what can be salvaged and authoritatively declare that, no matter what the doctrine was in the past, the findings of science are not in conflict with it because religious doctrine wasn't meant to be taken literally in the first place. Examples include the Vatican's position on evolutionary genetics or the origin of languages. The second is outright denial, sometimes combined with political moves to suppress the dissemination of scientific findings to the public.

    One of the areas where current research is happily chipping away at the foundations of religious doctrine is neuroscience with its implications for our understanding of human consciousness. It is becoming more and more clear that consciousness, to paraphrase biologist and science fiction writer Peter Watts, is very much like the invisible boss in the Dilbert cartoons who sits in his office on the 15th floor, gets the occasional memo informing him about what's been decided and then proceeds to take credit for having made these decisions.

    Neuroscience's recent findings neatly shoot the legs out from under Christian notions like the mind's having "a decision-making faculty that is not bound by the laws of cause and effect [but] has an innate tendency to choose sin" and that "mental health comes from recognizing God's purpose, choosing good and repenting sin, and loving God and one's fellow humans for God's sake." (Steven Pinker)

    But what about values? One argument that keeps being brought up on the Christian side of the table is that there must be a god, soul, absolute standard for good and evil because there is no other way to anchor the values without which society would disintegrate into a Hobbesian war of all against all.

    I do not think so. Atheists like me do not stab each other in the face for want of a divine injunction against. I believe that the more meaningful of our values have come into existence out of an evolutionary necessity for cooperation, and that this necessity will not go away when we rid ourselves of various after-the-fact rationalizations, faith-based or otherwise.

    To close (again) with Steven Pinker: "If we are not to abandon values such as peace and equality [...], then we must pry these values away from assumptions about our psychological makeup that are vulnerable to being proven false."

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