09 November, 2008

YES, I'm STILL Doing NaNo. Honestly

All right, so I got derailed for nearly a week by President-Elect Obama becoming President-Elect Obama, and I'm still a political junkie, and blah blah excuses blah, but I'm back on it.


See? 6,923 words. Considering I was at 1,700 at the start of last night, that's not so bad, now, is it?

I'll be sending chapters out to all of you who requested them quite soon. For now, content yourselves with a snippet. This comes from Chapter One: Right. What's An Atheist? We're talking here about atheists in action, and it's my sad little attempt at categories:

Hidden atheists: Those who are flying under the radar for fear of what their friends, families, and communities will do to them if anyone ever discovers they're atheists. Hidden atheists are, shall we say, atheists with the potential to act on their atheism, even though at the moment they're not speaking out.

Trailblazing atheists: They've found the courage to speak out: on blogs, in communities, founding organizations, and in a myriad of other ways. Their example makes it possible for the hidden atheists to emerge, throw off the shame they've been made to feel at their lack of belief, and start putting their atheism to good use. The trailblazers prove it's possible to live a full and happy life without belief in the supernatural or the afterlife. They debunk a lot of the myths just by living openly as atheists, doing good works, taking care of others through love and shared humanity, and showing that losing faith doesn't mean you lose your sense of wonder at the beauty of the world. Every atheist who's not hidden in a trailblazer in some fashion.

Atheist Ambassadors: These atheists are natural mediators, who work to foster understanding and cooperation between the religious and godless. You'll find a lot of them in the ranks of organizations like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. They strike a fairly moderate tone with the faithful. They're skilled at finding and emphasizing common ground. They often work to overcome the fear so many of the faithful feel when confronted with atheists.

Militant atheists: I hate that term, but a lot of them own it proudly, so in the book it goes. These are the atheists who work actively against religion: they try to deconvert the religious, tirelessly point out the dangers of religion, and argue passionately against the irrationality of faith. They may not go so far as to think of religion as an evil - although many do - but they envision a world where, if religion isn't eradicated, it's at least greatly reduced in importance. And they have an arsenal of evidence to show you that religion is uniquely capable of getting good people to do horrible things.

And yes, my darlings, those categories are prefaced AND followed by disclaimers explaining that this is a spectrum, and no one atheist is likely to fit only one category and no other, and I'll even whip up a nice little illustration to drive the point home when I'm done whipping out 50,000 words. I'm not trying to stuff us into restrictive little boxes, just make us somewhat comprehensible.


Actually, do. If you see the categories of atheists-in-action differently, by all means say so. Just remember I'm trying to keep it to four broad categories, not four thousand precise ones. While that would do wonders for my word count, it would really defeat the purpose of the book.

Keep in mind that the three broad types of atheist - Natural, Apathetic, and Dissonant, as enumerated here - have already been defined earlier in the chapter.

Right? Good. Then me and my aching brain are going to bed.


Woozle said...

(I'd love to see your chapters as they come out, but realistically I don't know if I'd actually have time to read them; contact info is here if you don't mind possibly not getting anything useful out of me... on the other hand, my new computer has made a lot of things possible that weren't possible last week.)

This might belong in a different book, but it may be important to point out:

Religion -- at least, the kind of religion possessed by some large proportion of the people you're targeting with this book -- consists of several things:

1. Scripture: a set of documents believed to be true in some fundamental way regardless of apparent contradictions with reality.

2. Dogma: a set of beliefs loosely based on that scripture.

3. Philosophy: a set of ideas and ideals for improving or at least maintaining the world, derived from dogma and scripture with varying degrees of reality allowed to participate.

4. Community: most religions have a physical gathering place (church) where people assemble, receive updates on items 1-3, and provide mutual social interaction and support. Many churches are also part of a larger network, so that if you are in a strange town you may be able to find a group whose attitudes you will know to be at least somewhat friendly and compatible with your own ideals, and who will let you hang out with them on community occasions.

It needs to be made clear that "militant atheists" -- most of them, anyway (and speaking for myself, at least) -- are not out to destroy item #4. We like community.

Nor are we out to wipe #3 -- moral philosophy and the betterment of humanity -- from the face of the earth. It just needs to be based on rationality, compassion, and the "best practices" arrived at by many centuries of scientific discovery, rather than thousand-year-old texts which are clearly wrong about a lot of things.

And nobody that I know of -- not even The Evil Dr. Dawkins and His Expulsion Machine -- wants to destroy item #1, works of scripture. Science has actually helped us learn a great deal about these works -- to uncover, preserve, translate, and catalogue earlier versions, and to see how they changed over the centuries. (In this aspect, science and religion are actually highly compatible -- though of course the more you discover about the history of your scripture, the harder it is to continue believing in its inerrancy.)

The only thing which really has to go is Item #2, dogma.

Lirone said...

Good luck for Nanowrimo - I nearly took the plunge but decided there was too much on just now.

I think there's one category you're missing, which would probably be "relaxed atheists". It's partly about environment - in Europe there's no stigma attached so no courage in "coming out" as an atheist. So I'd rename your trailblazers and describe them as something like:

Relaxed atheists: Open about their lack of beliefs and getting on with their lives. Depending on the attitude to atheists in their society, this may take some courage to calmly confront prejudice, or may be the norm among their family and friends. While they may not actively promote atheism, they get on with living a full and happy life without belief in the supernatural or the afterlife. They debunk a lot of the myths just by living openly as atheists, doing good works, taking care of others through love and shared humanity, and showing that losing faith doesn't mean you lose your sense of wonder at the beauty of the world.

Good luck with this mega project!

Woozle said...

Lirone's use of the phrase "lack of beliefs" pushed a minor button with me. I don't think Lirone meant it this way (I'm pretty sure it was meant to be shorthand for "lack of religious/superstitious belief"), but I've all too often seen it used to convey the idea that atheists don't believe in anything -- so I thought a little commentary on that might be worthwhile.

F'rinstance, comment #6 on a recent Pharyngula post:
The idea of an atheist community will always be a pipe dream, since the single common feature among atheists is not a set of beliefs but the absence of one.

This assumes that all atheists would have to share a set of beliefs in order to be able to form a community. Aside from being as ridiculous as the idea that all religionists would have to believe the same thing in order to have a community, it quietly slips in the assumption that atheists have no beliefs.

I think this is one of those things which religionists have a hard time grasping: the idea that our beliefs are not defined by our affiliations, but the other way around; we might be democrats or ACLU members because the democrats or the ACLU are fighting for causes we care about -- but we do not automatically believe or agree with whatever causes those entities take on, nor do we feel any need to do so (aside from the discomfort of supporting an organization for one reason and then finding that they're also working for things you disagree with; it's always a choice between continuing to support them anyway or finding another way to advance one's causes).

So, just because we aren't a member of some institution that tells us what to believe doesn't mean we don't believe anything.

We just can't be pigeonholed by which "sect" of atheism we belong to, because atheists generally don't go in for sect-loyalty. We believe what we believe because we've thought about it and looked at the arguments on each side, and decided to believe what looks most likely to be true.

Hope that stirs up some useful thoughts.

Efrique said...

As you suggest, "militant" is problematic - it's an incorrect use of the term.

I'd prefer not to concede the false characterization, and use a more accurate description, like "Outspoken Atheists"; one may speak very loudly, without participating in militant agitation (with the implication of violent marches, property damage and so on).

Typo: Every atheist who's not hidden in a trailblazer in some fashion.

"in" should be "is".

Chaos Lee said...

Can you believe I'm up to 16000 words? Not even including previously written stuff. ME? I'm obsessing. I can't focus on other things because of how preoccupied I've become with working on this bastard novel. I know most of what I've produced is utter shite, revision will be quite a task. But the plot is writing itself, twisting in strange ways... it's frightening in a wonderful way.

Cujo359 said...

I like Efrique's point - we aren't "militant" in the usual way. We are, at worst, a little pushy. That's something we have in common with most religions as practiced in the U.S.

In The God Delusion, Dawkins compared his criticisms of religion, which have been termed strident and hateful by various religious personalities, with those of restaurant reviewers. Apparently, religious people don't read food criticisms very often.

Blake Stacey said...

I'd go with fervent or even evangelical rather than militant. In my experience, the "militant" label is almost always a slur from a particularly bigoted theist who wants to equate putting a bumper sticker on a car with placing a bomb in same. Lending weight to that kind of hatred sounds like a bad idea; by analogy, even though I know a few gay people who might say, in friendly company, "Yep, I'm basically a perverted sodomite!" I wouldn't use "sodomite" in a taxonomy of human sexuality. Even if a few atheists adopt a label for themselves out of anger or irony, other atheists who have essentially the same views about the necessity of being vocal and all that might well reject the label. Why not choose a more inclusive option, one which has fewer disreputable connotations?

Sometimes, one hears of "militant environmentalists". This would be a reasonable term for somebody who actually goes out and blows up dams, but not for the guy in the office who always insists that aluminium cans go in the recycling bin instead of the trash.