Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"Fundamentalist" Atheists and Other Things That Go "Boo!"

There's an interesting post over at Pharyngula about supposed "fundamentalist" atheists, along with an interesting comment thread that displays some stunningly illogical and irrational arguments for theism.

First off an article quoted in the Pharyngula post that was published in the UK newspaper The Guardian quotes a Britsh theist as saying:

Atheists like the Richard Dawkins of this world are just as fundamentalist as
the people setting off bombs on the tube, the hardline settlers on the West Bank
and the anti-gay bigots of the Church of England. Most of them would regard each
other as destined to fry in hell.

Okay. First off, on the nitpicky side of things, the term "fundamentalist" doesn't make any sense at all when applied to an atheist. At dictionary.com they have three definitions for the term, and the one that doesn't relate specifically to Christian fundamentalism is: "[S]trict adherence to any set of basic ideas or principles."

For the umpteenth time, folks, atheism is not a set of ideas or principles. Atheism is lack of belief in a god or god(s). Period. Just because religions attach a bunch of dogmas to the basic truth claim that a god or god(s) exist doesn't mean the same is true of those who reject that truth claim. There are no precepts of atheism, no dogma, no principles, no churches, no belief system. Without some fundamental set of beliefs to try to return to, like fundamentalist Christians try to return to a more literal, inerrant interpretation of the Bible, there is no fundamentalism. Period.

Now, of course, this guy in the article actually means something else. He means that Dawkins and atheists like him are just as strident and crazy in their beliefs as fundamentalists who have blown up trains and persecuted gays.


That is a totally false analogy, because Dawkins and others like him haven't blown up trains, haven't persecuted others in the name of their own irrational beliefs, and haven't claimed a divine right to some piece of land currently occupied by someone else. Until and unless Dawkins and other atheists start doing things like this, there is no valid comparison between the two. Being committed to rationalism and being willing to blow something up for your God are not even comparable.

No, in fact, what this guy really means is that Dawkins and other atheists should shut the fuck up. That's what he's opposed to: that some atheists have dared to speak up and say something about the batshit craziness going on around them. Standing up and saying, "The Emperor has no clothes!" is not the same as beating up anyone who is willing to point out the nakedness of the Emperor.

And then there's the whole stupid issue of how we all have to "respect" each others' beliefs. Well, for one thing, that's rich, coming from theists whose contempt of other faiths is only trumped by their complete disdain for non-theists. And theists, particularly monotheists, have very little respect for beliefs much different than their own. I have rarely seen theists show anything close to respect to Wiccans, neopagans, or others whose beliefs they are quick to characterize as "barbaric" or "Satanic."

Believe whatever you want. I'm not stopping you. But when you bring crazy beliefs into the public square and want your crazy beliefs reflected in public policy, I am going to criticize them. That's what happens in the public square.

And, for another thing, just because a person holds a belief, that means we should respect it, no matter how insane? Why? People believe all kinds of weird things. None of them can be dismissed for lack of evidence? Because theists include questioning the truth claims implicit in their beliefs as disrespecting their beliefs. Do we really have to respect every bizarre dipshit thing someone believes in? Do you really think theists would respect my belief that I am the reincarnation of Napoleon? I doubt it. Disrespecting someone's beliefs is not the same as disrespecting them, and conflating the two is a favorite tactic of theists to try to keep criticism of their beliefs off-limits.

Then the article quotes some professor of "European Thought" (I wasn't aware that was a discipline) trying to play the old, "No one really believes all this crap, you fools!" argument:

"It is not just in the rigidity of their unbelief that atheists mimic
dogmatic believers. It is in their fixation on belief itself."

Gray argues that this fixation misses the point of religions: "The core
of most religions is not doctrinal. In non-western traditions and even some
strands of western monotheism, the spiritual life is not a matter of subscribing
to a set of propositions. Its heart is in practice, in ritual, observance and
(sometimes) mystical experience . . . When they dissect arguments for the
existence of God, atheists parody the rationalistic theologies of western

Re-e-e-ally? Hmm. I guess someone forgot to tell all the people who do actually believe in God and do believe that their religion is about "subscribing to a set of propositions?" Because there are a lot of them out there. If what Gray says were actually true, then the article in which he is quoted would never have been written, because, if whether or not God exists was beside the point for Christians, they wouldn't care about atheists denying God's existence. Christians wouldn't spend so much time and effort (fruitlessly) refuting non-theist arguments against God nor would they spend so much time trying to knock down any science that might conflict, in their perception, with the truth of His existence. The very fact that Christians get worked up over what "fundamentalist" atheists say is proof that Gray is full of shit.

In the comments to the Pharyingula post, a commenter says:

I like what John Gray said. I find it ridiculous/amusing/sad how PZ and Dawkins thinks that they get to define what religion is, so they can keep attacking it. If religionists want to "redefine" what they believe in so that it doesn't conflict with science, this pisses PZ off. Why? Because he's got fewer occasions for self-rigteous mockery and easy laughs?

I'm calling this line of argument a "reverse strawman" argument. The reverse strawman is where you make up a more defensible version of your position that bears little resemblance to the thing itself. Then, on top of making the indefensible defensible, you also get to accuse the other side of trying to set up straw men to knock down. This is a great strategy, and would work, if only there weren't so much damned evidence in this case that Gray's characterization of religion isn't one many theists would recognize and agree with.

In fact, theists have a great double-whammy they use on this front: First, the strawman, where they wrongly characterize atheists as "hating God" or "just denying what they know to be true," and then also pull the reverse strawman by claiming that their religion doesn't make the truth claims it actually does make. Awesome.

Great argument in comment #85, in an attempt to defend the idea that all the people who go to church every Sunday really just go for the ritual:

Yes, "going through the motions" (ritual) adds meaning to the lives of many.
That's just a sociological fact. Deal with it.

Yeah, 'cause no Christian has ever argued that life is meaningless without God and an afterlife, which are doctrinal facets of Christianity, not ritualistic. No.

But I like this "deal with it" argument. Okay, Christian bigots, guess what? Homosexuality is inherited and natural. That's just a sociological (and biological) fact. Deal with it.

Most people in the world don't believe in your God and never will. That's just a sociological fact. Deal with it.

Safer-sex education is vastly more effective in preventing teen pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease infection than abstinence-only sex education. That's just a sociological fact. Deal with it.

Countries where abortion is legal have lower rates of abortion than countries where it isn't. That's just a sociological fact. Deal with it.

Countries where drugs are legal have lower rates of use and addiction than countries where drugs are illegal. That's just a sociological fact. Deal with it.

Hey, this "deal with it" argument is fun!

And I love it when theists follow this line of argument, as evidenced in comment #101:

Sorry, I'm not buying it. People murder and wage war for a lot of reasons and justify it all kinds of ways. Whatever the justification, the result is often far more pragmatic: the acquisition of stolen lands and property. Simply removing religion isn't going to remove bigotry, and even removing bigotry is not going to eliminate competition over resources. People are always going to come up with a reason to kill each other.

The old, "Religion isn't the problem, human nature is, and getting rid of religion won't make human nature any better, so why bother?" argument. Which is interesting in light of the fact that theists also make the argument that morality is only possible through religion and that only religion keeps us from just acting like barbaric apes and killing each other indiscriminately.

So, the theists' argument basically goes like this: Human nature is terrible and can't be changed, so when people kill each other, even when they do so explicitly in the name of God, it isn't really religion's fault. Nothing, after all, can curb our human nature.

But man, we're lucky we have religion around, because otherwise, human nature would take over and we'd be having a huge sadomasochistic orgy of sodomy and murder faster than you can say "Bacchus!" It's lucky religion can curb our human nature!

Either religion has influence on how we act, and thus we can measure that affect and see whether, on the whole, it is good or bad, or else religion has no influence on how we act, in which case theists' claims that religion is necessary for morality and order are meaningless. If the former, then theists can't avoid the claim that religion is, over all, bad, destructive, and the cause of great suffering by blaming our unalterable "human nature." If the latter, then, while religion has no negative influence on our behavior, it has no positive influence either, which calls religion's utility into question.

It's fun when theists use incompatible arguments. It demonstrates the fundamental incoherence of their position.

Also, if we were to accept this poster's argument, then there is no point to any attempts to better mankind or improve society. As such, if theists accept this argument, there's no point in condemning or banning gay marriage, or murder, or abortion, or any of the other things they campaign so stridently against. After all, if people are "always going to come up with a reason to kill each other" and there's nothing to be done, then they are always going to do all these other things, and there's nothing to be done about them, either.

But some of the best wingnuttery comes at comment #144:

I really don't understand this obsession with evidence. I have no evidence
that Attila the Hun ever lived, but I believe it. I have no evidence that there
are spatial objects orbiting the sun that are thousands of millions of miles
away, but I believe that. I have no evidence that there is a city in Australia
called Perth, but I believe that, too. Almost everything I believe, I believe on
the basis of authority, not of evidence. That is true of you, and PZ Myers, and
Dawkins, and all human beings.

Ah, now I see. I just have a crass "obsession with evidence." It's not like evidence has any value or means anything in and of itself. It's just a weird thing some people do, demanding evidence, and using evidence to determine the truth is no different than the one where you don't have any evidence... what's that called... oh yeah, making shit up.

They're both the same. You can just as easily figure out if a medication works by just deciding it does as by gathering stupid old evidence. Just make shit up. Nobody ever died that way, by taking medication that was actually poisonous or detrimental. No, never.

Why bother investigating crimes and gathering all that dumb evidence? Just go with your hunch. No chance you'll be put innocent people in jail. It'll be fine.

And we don't need any evidence that a new plane will actually fly. Just hop on board and it'll be fine. The engineers kinda think maybe it'll fly, but they didn't want to be accused of having an "obsession with evidence," so they didn't actually run any simulations or do any test flights. Where can I stow your bags?

This dipshit actually believes all these things on the basis of evidence, not authority, but he's too deluded to understand the difference.

For instance, since Perth, Australia, is a place you can actually go and see, and there are pictures in books, there are maps, you can see it on Google Earth, and even talk to people who have been there, the balance of the evidence is that it does actually exist, and therefore we should accept that it does.

Since the existence of Perth, Australia, is a very ordinary claim rather than an extraordinary one, and to deny the evidence of its existence would require us to believe something extraordinary -- like a vast conspiracy to make us believe Perth, Australia exists when it doesn't -- it is more likely that Perth exists than doesn't. Therefore, we don't need faith or authority to accept this fact, we need only see that the alternative is vastly less likely and accept what is indicated by the balance of the evidence.

But, on the other hand, while a lot of people have made a lot of claims about God and written books on Him and detailed supposed miracles, this extraordinary claim is not backed up by the extraordinary evidence we would need. When a bunch of people say, "I've been to Perth," since the claim is modest, on the balance it is more likely they are telling the truth than lying, since there's not much obvious gain in them all telling the same lie about Perth.

But, on the other hand, when a few people tell us that Jesus rose from the dead, for instance, we have to consider a couple of things. One, the claim is extraordinary and utterly outside our experience. But being lied to or misled, on the other hand, is common and not very extraordinary. As such, on balance, it is more likely, based on the evidence we have about how things work, that we are being lied to or misled than that someone actually did rise from the dead.

And two, is there motivation for us to be lied to or misled, or do we have evidence that people have often lied about this topic in the past? Well, I have no particular reason to believe that a bunch of unrelated people all have cause to lie to me about Perth, while I know that many people have such an emotional investment in the existence of God that they will not only lie to convince me, they will kill me if I disagree. As such, I have much more reason to believe I am being lied to or misled by a person claiming that Jesus rose from the dead than I do a person telling me they've been to Perth.

So, on balance, I can safely say it is likely that the evidence I have been presented that Perth, Australia exists is authentic, because it would be far more extraordinary and unlikely for it no to be than for it to be. But, on the other hand, with extraordinary claims like those made by religions, it would be much more extraordinary if the claims were true than if the accounts of those claims were falsehoods, mistakes, and delusions, so on that basis, I can safely conclude that the evidence for those claims is insufficient for me to rationally accept the claim.

Or maybe I should believe any crazy-ass thing anyone tells me so as to end my "obsession with evidence."



At 11:44 AM, Blogger R. Paul Wiegand said...

Also, I thnk, there is a difference between trust and faith. I trust that my admittedly second-hand evidence that Perth exists sufficiently warrants concluding that it is reasonable to believe it does exist; however, I can always independently verify the fact if I choose to do so.

I cannot independently verify that Jesus is the Son of God and rose from the dead.

Believing in something that could be verified, but choosing not to verify it is to "trust". Believing in something even knowning that it cannot by its very nature be verified is to have "faith".

Trust is also differentiated by the fact that the basis of the process itself can have evidence. For example, the google maps website and geography textbooks are reliable sources of geographic knowledge in terms of other, verified experiences. So they are "trusted" sources in the sense that they have historically demonstrated reliability with respect to such issues.

From that, as usual, I will spin off a little ...

I've been thinking about this respect/disrespect issue about which you and I seem to disagree.

Part of the answer might be found in the semantics. My gut reaction is that there is a false dichotomy here: It is possible to neither respect nor disrespect something, of course.

In your post you ask: "just because a person holds a belief, that means we should respect it, no matter how insane?"

No, of course not. But, by the same token is it necessarily the case that a belief that you find no reason for must be disrespected? Perhaps a "middle-way" (joke intended) is to simply not invest in their beliefs at all.

Of course beliefs often translate to actions and words, and as you point out, people are accountable for what they say and do when it affects others. That is the rub. And belief systems that repeatedly and fundamentally advocate actions to which I am opposed certainly warrant a response. As you've pointed out on your blog before, to some extent we are ethically bound to respond if we are to be responsible members of our communities.

But one can vigorously oppose an agenda while not maintaining an aggrevated disrespect of their opponents. There, again, would be a false dichotomy.

Despite my tendency to wax philosophic, I'm a pretty pragmatic guy when the rubber hits the road. That is, I very goal-oriented with these things.

Acrimonious and vehement opposition to the foundational belief system of our culture is not likely to produce an effective result. It is more likely to have the opposite effect: creating greater polarization. In my experience, people are more apt to consider your views when you speak from a position of mutual respect.

So I work hard to preserve respect for other people's beliefs (though it is admittedly hard to do sometimes when the situation is so often asymmetric) in part because my goal is to change the course of policy (not really thei beliefs), and I think that this is far more easily accomplished when people are listening to me.

Moreover, "theology" is a pretty broad topic from which to extrapolate respect or disrespect. In it's vagueness, it implies nothing about anything beyond unverifiable metaphysical elements. Since at its highest level belief in the supernatural deals with nothing tangible, it costs me very little (emotionally speaking) to grant people that respect.

And certainly I've known a variety of people who are deeply spiritual whose actions and positions are consistent with my views.

Typically I need something more specific to respect or disrespect. Christians believe Christ sacrificed himself in order to atone for our sins so that we might be saved. I don't believe that, I don't see any reason to believe that ... but, by the same token, I don't see any reason to disrespect that belief.

Some Christians believe that gay people should not be permitted to marry, and that homosexuality is a sin and should be vigorously opposed. That, to me is bigotry ... and that belief certainly warrants disrespect.

I don't believe religion makes people bigoted (though I believe it can amplify and entrench bigotry). People do bad things ... they will with or without religion. I'm not trapped by your argument here, btw, since my position is not inconsistent: I don't believe religion makes someone particularly moral either.

In the end, I'd like people to think more about their positions, not to simply accept them from some authority. I'd like people to use reason, logic, and civility (a protocol for interaction) to deal with public issues.

I think if more people did that, fewer people would be religious -- though if they did this it wouldn't matter to me whether they were or weren't. On the flip-side, I don't believe that disabusing people of their religious views will automatically make them this way. Again, it is a question of goals.

At 12:56 PM, Blogger mooglar said...

You actually bring up an argument that is raging in the non-theist community between what Dawkins calls the "Neville Chamberlain" or accomodationist school, which you, Paul, would belong to, and atheists like Dawkins who are less concerned with offending theists with their objections. On scienceblogs, this debate has proponents in Ed Brayton of Dispatches from the Culture Wars (Neville Chamberlain school) and PZ Myers (Dawkins school).

The accomodationists make the same point you do, Paul, that offending theists isn't going to go far towards changing their minds. Which, from a certain pragmatic view, does make sense. However, on the other hand, Dawkins and others say that, as long as we give religious beliefs an unearned respect -- respect we don't give other irrational beliefs -- we are in effect supporting the status quo, and that real change will only come through exposing the irrationality at the core of religious belief, even at the risk of offending theists.

Here's how I see it. There are those theists who aren't going to change their minds no matter what anyone says or does. I suspect that most of the theists who actually go out and argue with atheists, people like our own Anonymous, are of this class. They do feel that atheists like me disrespect their beliefs in how we present our arguments. They do feel offended, which, I suspect, is what triggers them to argue with atheists in places like this.

I'm not writing for them.

In fact, I want to offend them.

My reason for this, I think, is no less pragmatic than yours, Paul. See if you agree.

I want to offend them so that they will post and argue with me. Because I'm not trying to change minds that are already set in stone. I'm trying to get to people whose minds aren't set in stone yet. Those are the people I want to reach. And I think my strategy works twofold:

First, since religious beliefs are, in general, exempt from criticism in polite society, many people who have doubts about their faith may not have ever heard or seen anyone point out, in no uncertain terms, why those beliefs are irrational, incoherent, and nonsensical. They may, for the first time, be exposed to ideas about how pernicious religious beliefs are and how damaging irrational thought and belief can be. And it's very difficult to make these things clear if you're worried you might offend someone.

Secondly, by getting hard-core believers to argue with me, they damn themselves. Those I am trying to reach may not post, but they may see the ridiculous tortured logic that commenters like Anon use and see how they don't answer any the challenges put to them and how their arguments are vacuous. The things theists say when provoked is often a much better indictment of religious belief and those with "faith" than anything a nonbeliever can say.

And the more this happens, the more people who thought they weren't allowed to question the bizarre dogmas they were taught as children, the more that hard-core theists expose how hateful and bigoted and irrational they are, the more of them will abandon that faith, or at least disavow the crazies who are trying to legislate theocracy in the US, and the more marginalized those radical elements in theism will become.

But, as I see it, by showing respect to irrational beliefs I would be endorsing the fact that those ideas deserve respect and that, therefore, there must be something good and worthwhile to them, and thus possibly discourage those who need only see how ridiculous it all is to get the courage to cast off those beliefs themselves.

I choose to disrespect beliefs that deserve disrespect because I simply doubt that many theists who are actually offended by what I write could actually be reached anyway, while I fear that by pulling my punches I might miss out on reaching some who could have been reached. It's a tactical decisions, but it is no less pragmatic nor goal-oriented than the more respectful tactics chosen by others, in my opinion.

The difference is in whether we think that being respectful of religious belief is helpful to the cause or not. I see why some think it is, why some think it is necessary to change minds and win hearts, but I think it probably hurts more than it helps and that the unvarnished truth is more likely to advance the cause.

At 2:40 PM, Blogger R. Paul Wiegand said...

[I just re-read this before publishing and it sounds angier than I mean it. Since tone is difficult to convey in such a medium, I'll be explicit: I'm not angry in any way, just disagreeing with you. 8^) ]

I see your point, but I disagree. Also, I think a term like "accomodationist" is unnecessarily pegorative and undeserved.

Let me clarify what I mean by "goal-oriented." In the abstract: I don't care what anyone other than me believes about the supernatural ... and I don't see why anyone else would care either. I care about specific issues.

I care whether or not two consenting adults can be allowed to live their lives together regardless of their gender, that science be taught in science classrooms, that women be given the right to make choices that affect their bodies and their lives, etc.

I don't "pull my punches" in any way on the issues that are relevant to poliicy ... and I think there are one or two posts on your blog from me that are as vigorous a defense of position as anything else written here. I am not "accomodating" positions that I believe are wrong ... I am "concentrating" on the relevant factors.

I brook no wanton display of bigotry, but I don't care one way or the other whether someone believes Christ was the son of God.

Actually, I know a variety of people that agree with me on these issues, who are also theists.

I see how you are optimizing your own measure for pragmatism -- we simply disagree about our estimates of the end effects. As I said in my last message, I think convincing people not to be religious will not necessarily convince them to be rigorous and independent thinkers; however, teaching them to be rigorous and independent thinkers will probably lead to fewer people involved in organized religions.

People are irrational ... all people. It's perfectly reasonable to point out when someone is being irrational (I do it all the time) -- and it is admirable to try to be as rational as possible in one's own decision making. But it is a false dichotomy to suggest that the only way one can engage on this level is to do so offensively.

I also doubt the "unclaimed middle" argument. First of all, the vast majority of people in this country believe ... and anyone who believes will be offended by much of your blog. This is true whether they are fundamentalist or much more moderate. You wont reach people if you offend them.

That leaves a very, very small set of people who are possible to sway. I think there's a much larger group of moderate / liberal theists who can be pursuaded about key public issues by vigorous and rational assertion of position ... and that this can be done by dealing with their religion positively.

A case in point: Last year I co-led a Sunday school class at my wife's church called "religion in the public square" where we dealt with issues such as: How should the Church interact with government and politics? To what degree should religious positions of our culture affect educational cirricula (i.e., evolution in science classes, etc.). My co-organizer is a scientist, a theist, and agrees with my position on all these issues. Indeed, in the end, most of the class agreed with us on most of the issues ... and, as far as I know, I was the only non-theist in the room.

I can have those conversations with that group, even while they know my theology, because they also know that I respect their theology. I could not have even had that opportunity if I'd started the class with: "First: You are all very irrational ... let's drop the pretense of this fantasy you called 'Lutheranism' and then we can have a productive conversation."

That's anecdotal, but emphasizes my point.

I know you believe that being a Christian indicates a severe form of pathological irrationality that reduces your trust in a persons capacity to have a meaningful exchange over salient issues ... and certainly reduces your trust they can effectively make decisions about policies.

But that is in and of itself a fairly extreme claim, is it not? It is one thing to say that irrational decisions are (typically) bad ones and that theological beliefs are irrational. It is quite another thing to say that anyone with a theological belief is fundamentally incapable of dealing with the major issues of our day in a cognitively appropriate / productive way. More than extreme examples are required to defend such a generalization.

In the meantime, I will concentrate on the specific issues, not on the foundational belief systems themselves. Ultimately, I don't care whether or not my neighbor is a Christian any more than I care whether he likes chocolate or enjoys yoddling in the Swiss alps. I do care if my neighbor supports bannin same-sex marraiges or is seeking to undermine Roe v. Wade.

At 4:15 AM, Blogger R. Paul Wiegand said...

I have been thinking about the semantic and pragmatic aspects of "respecting" and/or "disrespecting" someone else's beliefs. And I thought I'd take this opportunity to, as always, use Marchiarchy to segue a bit.

My wife, long ago, made an observation to me that she wasn't sure someone could really respect a belief if they ultimately thought it was wrong. It would be tantamount to saying, "Well, Jimmie, I respect your belief that Rome is the capital of Canada, but I have to (respectfully) disagree." You can say that, but it's far more likely that you just think Jimmie is ignorant of certainly geographical facts.

Of course metaphysics is a whole different ball of wax in terms of provability, but a similar objection might be lodged in terms of the sincerity of "respecting" differences in belief.

After my last exchange with you, I've returned to this debate in my head. Can one really "respect" another person's belief while simultaneously beliving they are wrong?

I think one can, but we should be clear on exactly what we mean by "respect". I mean two things. First, I respect the right of the other person to believe differently. Second, I hold no active disrespect of their beliefs as such.

The first piece is easier to reconcile with metaphysical questions, but clearly a deflection from what was originally meant. I do respect Anon's right to believe that Christ was the Son of God. But respecting his right to believe is not the same as respecting his beliefs.

The second piece relies on my ealier observation that it is a false dichotomy to assume one either respects or disrespects something. As I said in my last post, I don't really care whether Anon is Christian or not; I'm simply uninvested. At a high level, I don't disrespect those beliefs. Of course, there are no doubt some specific issues that stem from his theological beliefs about which there will be some displeasure, but that is natural.

Marriam-Webster offers this definition for the word. I suppose we should be clear which we mean ... probably 2 (giving particular attention to) or 3a (hold in high regard).

If the former is meant, I certainly "respect" Anon's beliefs. I could hardly be asked to pay more attention to Christianity ... from the looks of it, I pay more attention than most Christians do.

If the latter interpretation is meant, I don't know. However, I think holding someone's right to believe differently in high esteem, while simultaneously not displaying contempt for that belief is about as much as can be humanly expected ... at it is certainly much more than most theists give my beliefs (having trouble getting past the first one).

At 6:52 AM, Blogger mooglar said...

As a proponent of civil liberties, I definitely respect the right of others to believe what they want to believe. In fact, I am very much in favor of that right. I just wish theists had the same respect, but, as you have noted, many don't. That's about as far as I go. I don't think beliefs merit respect, in and of themselves, just because someone holds them. They have to have some merit to recommend them aside from that.


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