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May 15, 2007




This argument began over at Scott’s blog looking at “class issues” in the Mike Daisey fracas. Theatre is elitist. We never really got to discuss the topic; this religion tangent stole that discussion.

You call people with religion stupid. I guess you mean that and it’s not hyperbole as when you said they were mentally ill.

So it’s elitist to view 90% of Americans (your audience and/or readers) as stupid. Embarrassingly elitist.



You’ve been a good bud to David in defending his beliefs. You and him against the world, well, against 90% of America, anyway. You both have made your private beliefs public. Most don’t feel that need. Many find it embarrassing. David is just now starting to blush.

Joshua James

"You call people with religion stupid. I guess you mean that and it’s not hyperbole as when you said they were mentally ill. "

I addressed this on my blog, but you haven't addressed my question.

Joshua James


I ain't defending anyone because I'm their bud or otherwise. I'm talking about ideas and principles. I'm defending a principle.

David and I have never spoke in person.

Are you suggesting that because David or I do not agree with the Christian view of things, we should be embarrassed? If so, I find that offensive.

And wrong. Why should I be embarrassed?

Next, simply because 90 percent of people identify themselves as christian means exactly squat in this debate.

Are you suggesting that since a majority of people are christian, we can't criticize? Last I checked, that was a guaranteed right in our constitution.

Are you suggesting that since 90% believe in God, David must automatically be wrong? Bullhocky, not when it comes to ideas.

Can I remind you that at one point, 90% believed the world was flat? And that the sun revolved around the earth?

That one race was superior to another?

David Cote

Darn it, Joshua got to it before me, but I'll post similarly anyway. Nick, listen to me: I don't care if 90% of Americans believe in God. That doesn't affect my opinion, it only makes me sad. At one point in our country's history, perhaps 90% of Americans thought that Africans should be our slaves and that Native Americans weren't fully human. Would that have made slavery and the genocide of Native Americans right? Would Americans have been stupid to support such atrocities, or immoral? Or merely of their time? You say theater is elitist. Well it can certainly be expensive. But I'm more worried by the fact that it's unpopular, not that it's elitist. As for me calling all religious people stupid, it was a provocative rhetorical tactic in the context of a review, which I have explained and re-explained ad nauseum. Do I think that it's stupid to believe in religion? I think it's delusional. So, yes, stupid. Do I think religious folks can be smart—smarter than you or me—in all sorts of ways? Sure I do. But I still think that belief in God represents a huge blind spot—intellectually, morally and imaginatively. Having an argument with you is clearly a futile, self-perpetuating chore.

Scott Walters

Yes, Joshua, I think I can say that, aside from you, I haven't really had much trouble communicating with theatre bloggers. True, a year ago there was a major dustup, from which you apparently still carry the wounds. I have moved on, and even, as a result of that experience, changed my style. I am capble of learning from experience. I also am capable of forgiveness -- for instance, I don't hold it against George Hunka how he behaved in that fracas. Can you say that you are not holding a grudge?

The issue in this discussion, it seems to me, has its roots in a disagreement of the basic premise. David states the premise bluntly in one of the posts above: "God does not exist." If you accept this basic premise, then everything else follows -- David is absolutely right.

But if you do not accept it, or believe that the existence of God has not been successfully disproven, then the syllogism no longer functions quite so smoothly.

That is the issue in terms of theology. But arguing the existence of God is not something I can really do from my personal position of uncertainty (I wouldn't even call myself an agnostic, because that's an actual position -- I guess I'd be "undecided"). Anyway, what I am arguing is that, in order to function, a pluralistic society demands civility and mutual respect between its citizens, and I am not certain how such a position qualifies as "censorious flag-waving" or "ad-hoc patriotism." While I do dream of a utopic day when civility is considered a patriotic duty, I hardly think we are at that point now in the Age of Karl Rove.

Joshua writes: "Respectfully I must point out (as I did in my post) that the Christian view of all those who do not believe in God is that they are condemned to suffer torment in eternal damnation....which is worse . . . someone calling someone else stupid, or someone else condemning another to eternal torment?" I would submit that both are bad, and if an individual Christian posted a comment that said as much, and I read it, then I would be equally vigorous in insisting on civility for that person. I would also think that, given the distaste expressed for the behavior of "Christians," one would be loathe to mirror that behavior in one's own. Wouldn't it be preferable to exhibit GREATER open-mindedness than the opponent one is attacking for close-mindedness?

The issue, for me, is not what anyone personally believes -- David and Joshua can believe that Christians are deluded, and Christians can believe that non-Christians are eternally damned as much as they like, as far as I'm concerned -- but that when they come into the public arena they must leave their firearms at home. One must grant people the right to hold their opinions without attack UNTIL THOSE BELIEFS BEGIN TO IMPACT THE LIVES OF OTHERS. Then, there's a problem. When members of a government deny the right of marriage to homosexuals, for instance, because of their personal religious beliefs, then they have crossed a line from the personal to the political and must be stopped. I have no problem with opposing the extension of personal religious beliefs into the political system on an case-by-case basis. But the holding of individual beliefs shold be respected. In the case of the Mike Daisey incident, I have no problem with people exercising their right to leave a performance if they believe their personal beliefs are being violated; I take great issue with the guy who poured water on Daisey's manuscript, which extended personal belief into the public realm by attempting to stop the performance completely.

To me, David has violated my sense of what constitutes civility, and the only way to address such a violation is personally through social pressure. Does David have the right to hold his opinion? Sure. Does he have the right to try to persuade others to share that opinion? Sure -- as long as those others have invited him to do so. But to diss others indiscriminately in a public forum like TONY, or even a public blog, to me, lacks civility. And that is the only point I am making.

David Cote

Can I just say to everyone who posts from this moment on, that the issue is not CHRISTIANITY alone? I'm equally critical of all religions and cults. Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc., are fair game in the discussion. This is not about me bashing Christianity exclusively. And just a quick note: Scott seems to think that Christians (or any believers, I assume) should exercise hypocrisy in their beliefs, they SHOULD believe in God, but they SHOULD NOT believe that unbelievers will suffer the torments of hell. I think a true believer would be offended by that notion Scott. It is a FUNCTION of their belief to know that the infidel will suffer. And Scott, civil society will survive my provocation, discussion, dissent and even the occasional calculated incivility. If, like theology, it can't survive a little pressure, it ain't worth much.

Rob Kendt

On the subject of misrepresentation, I have to pipe up and say that "It is a FUNCTION of their belief to know that the infidel will suffer" doesn't represent what I or any of the Christians, Buddhist, Jews or Muslims I know believe. Even remotely. David, Joshua--you may think religious belief is stupid, and by all means say so in any forum you want. But the phrase wasn't "people who may otherwise be smart but are stupid in this one area" or "people with a blind spot." You said religion is for "stupid people." I'm just taking exception to your sweeping choice of words.

Joshua James


"On the subject of misrepresentation, I have to pipe up and say that "It is a FUNCTION of their belief to know that the infidel will suffer" doesn't represent what I or any of the Christians, Buddhist, Jews or Muslims I know believe."

It's not a function, specifically, of Buddhism . . . but it is a function of Christianity and Islam, according to the wealth of people I've discussed it with, and the shelf of books I have on the subjects (can't speak for Judaism).

It may not be what you experienced or know, but in terms of Christianity, you accept God's word or your damned. It's pretty simple. Few religious leaders would say otherwise . . . so respectfully, you may not be following Christianity.

So Christians believe David is damned and David believes Christians (and others) are stupid for believing that. What's the issue?

And as I mentioned, I'm a Buddhist, so allegedly I'm among the insulted.

Joshua James

I should mention, Buddhism does have it's levels of hell, but they function in a very different way from the other major religions . . . too far to go into, but I just wanted to acknowledge that.

Joshua James


Freedom of speech means someone is bound to be offended by something - instead of parsing the civility of one thing or another, whose feelings are hurt when, can't we focus on the ideas and thoughts behind them?

Rob Kendt

Thanks, Joshua, for straightening me out. To you I'm not a Christian because I don't believe you and David (or anyone) are going to hell. You seem almost stubbornly unwilling to understand the varieties and forms that religious faith takes (and that includes Buddhism in all its complications). If there's anything "true believers" find maddening, it's being informed what we believe. Like nearly everyone I know who has some kind of religious faith, for me it's a source of meaning and community in a seemingly meaningless and atomized world. It has quite literally nothing to do with exclusion and hellfire--in fact, it's entirely about the opposite, about a hope for our highest possibilities in our limited time with each other on this earth (not in some imaginary next world). That may sound touchy-feely to you; it may not sound like what some religious folk have told you they believe; it may even sound stupid. But it's a faith in which I and a not inconsiderable number of other people stand, with varying degrees of humility and clarity, and call ourselves Christian.

Joshua James


I did NOT make the rules when it comes to Christianity.

I'm simply telling you what it is, according to the sources and experts on it. Now if you have a quibble about those rules, it ain't with me.

We can get together and open a phone book and each pick out five pastors and priests and I have a feeling each one will give the same answer when it comes to the fate of unbelievers.

The fact that you want to rewrite christianity is admirable, but why argue with those of us who reject it?



Please quit proposing that I am suggesting this, that, and every other retarded thought that pops into your head. I am suggesting nothing. I am trying to say what I mean.


You said people of faith were insane or mentally damaged and in need of help. You later claimed that was hyperbole. You then said people of faith were stupid. You claim now that was a provocative rhetorical tactic.

Are taking back everything you said about people of faith, or just those remarks that pissed off everybody?

Imagine if Imus had tried to slip out of the noose that way.

“ I was using ‘nappy-headed hos’ as hyperbole, a provocative rhetorical tactic.”

Before replying, Reverend Al would first open his eyes real wide, contorting his face into an exaggerated expression of disbelief and outrage, giving Imus just enough time to shit his pants before the coup de grace.

Rob Kendt

Seriously, I can go priest for priest with you any day. No one's rewriting anything; if anything it's the fundamentalists who've changed the rules, as Bruce Bawer makes clear in his excellent book "Stealing Jesus." There's a good excerpt here:

David Cote

I do actually believe that people of faith need help: economic, psychological, cultural, and even spiritual (ha! bet ya didn't see that coming). I think if we had better government and better society, we wouldn't need religion. (Spirituality is different, and another post for another time.) It was wrong to call believers mentally damaged on someone's site, that's technically untrue. I retract that. As for the infamous, now legendary "stupid" put down, it was an insult, sure. Broad, sweeping, epigrammatic and made (I am now saying for the 87th time) in the context of a review where such a remark was sharp but appropriate. I have qualified what I have said, Nick, and taken back what I shouldn't have said (the mental thing), but that's about as far as it goes.

Joshua James

I have that book.

And it's fine, I don't have a dog in the Christian hunt. Your fight isn't with me - your fight is with other Christians . . . but if I don't need to believe to go to avoid going to hell, why bother?

Joshua James

But I will say that any priest who tells you non-believers won't go to hell is not affiliated with the Catholic church, in my experience.

Joshua James

I should let this go . . . I defending my view on my site, but I am a bit steamed that my thoughts are labeled as retarded - but Stealing Jesus does rewrite what is traditionally known as the bible.

Actually, the latter half known as the new testament.

Now that's something I am in favor of, Rob, okay? Rewrite it or even throw it out.

But damn, can you honestly sit there and tell me that your view of Christanity is really the established one?

I support your right to believe want you want, but don't get touchy with me because I group you with Pat Robertson and the Pope.

Greg M.

Scott--Your goals for civility are noble ones. Here's the major issue in my mind:

1) Society seems to have already acknowledged that it's okay for religious people to be very, very incivil towards atheists. (I know *your* goal is to be civil, but humor me & think globally.)

First, there's the whole "non-religious people are going to Hell" thing. I know Rob's trying to weigh in on that, but here are some questions
A) If the Pope said tomorrow that atheists are going to Hell, would he suffer any consequences?
B) If Cardinal Egan said agnostics will burn in Hell, would he suffer any consequences? Would there be any criticism from his followers?
C) Ditto Pat Robertson?
D) Would *any* major Christian leader suffer for saying "atheists are going to Hell?" I'd bet a large sum of money on "No."

So, we as a society have already decided that it's okay for religious folk to be rude & hostile to atheists/agnostics. Heck, George H.W. Bush said they're not even citizens.
As far as I'm concerned, this relieves David of any civic obligation to be "civil"--and, again, he's been far more civil than his counterparts.
Is David going to change people's minds? Probably not. But that may not even be his goal. But I repeat: There is no societal obligation for nonbelievers to be civil--on their own blogs, no less--to possible believers until believers clean up their own act. Which ain't gonna happen. And even then, people still have a right to be uncivil.

2) "But if you…believe that the existence of God has not been successfully disproven, then the syllogism no longer functions quite so smoothly." Er. Well. You can't prove a negative. Ever. So the existence of God can *never* be "disproved" in conventional terms; I think the burden of proof is still very much on those who believe in God.

3) Nick: Wow, there's nothing like veiled threats to make me listen to someone's argument more closely. Really.
"Summon that Culture Vulture of scandal to descend on you in all its godlike glory to peck at the flesh of your belief and expose its bone." I find your assumption that David *hasn't* already tested his beliefs to be presumptuous. How do you know he hasn't been in that time & place of crisis?

Joshua James


That was a very well thought out response . . . I'm not saying that simply because it's in agreement with much of what I've been attempting to say, but in envy because you stated it simpler.

I'm still sort of in awe that there's an argument out there that Christianity doesn't maintain non-believers go to hell . . . it's a great goal and sentiment, but it certainly is not the Christianity I've experienced and studied (and I've wandered into far more churches than most, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, few others whose name I forget, etc) when I was really into it.

About six to nine months ago, I ran an errand on the upper West Side of Manhanttan . . . on 79th and Broadway there's a grand old church, been there forever, I've walked by it a million times (I used to live nearby) but never walked in (as that was done with Christianity by the time I moved to nyc) so I couldn't tell you which denomination it was, but it's a fairly popular church, judging from the traffic.

They have a board out front in which they put the subject for the following Sunday's sermon.

That day I walked by, the subject for this Sunday's sermon was:


I found that very amusing.


In the summer I’m a nudist.
In the winter I’m a Buddhist.

A buddha is a person who discovers the true nature of reality through lifetimes of spiritual cultivation. He investigates the various religious practices of his time. The transformational discovery brought about by this investigation, cultivation, and meditation is called Bodhi, commonly called “enlightenment.”

Mocking and ridiculing Christianity or any other religion is not right thinking. Joshua (as a Buddhist) will need to change his pattern of thought on this. He may need more than one lifetime to do that.


Nick: Joshua is not mocking or ridiculing Christianity. He is taking a firm moral stance and using logic, reason, history, empathy and, yes, humor to criticize what he reasonably identifies as hypocritical or unenlightened aspects of the faith. Unless you are a fanatical follower of Christianity, you can't deny that, even if your comment exists just to prolong this argument. It is every thinking, moral person's duty--be he/she spiritual or not--to question and critique institutions and ideologies.


David,in secular or psychological terms both you and Joshua have “a problem” with Christianity. You both will likely deny that (which is part of the problem), but it obvious to all observing or participating in this debate. As a practicing Buddhist this problem is a formidable obstacle for Joshua within the ethical and meditative discipline he has chosen for his life.

David Cote

A problem? With all religions? No argument there. Nothing objectionable in aforementioned ideology with which to have a problem? Argument there, and it has been exhaustively argued here and elsewhere for the last few days.

And that, folks, brings the Great Theistic Histrio Clusterfuck Debate II to a close!

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