Does the New York Times Think There Should Be Different Rules for Jews and Muslims at Public Pools? – Tablet Magazine

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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74 Responses

  1. LeeEsq says:

    Jews tend to code as white in the liberal mind. That means when Ultra-Orthodox Jews are seen as campaigning for things like special accommodation due to their modesty rules they are seen as bad in the same way that Evangelical Christians are with their anti-sex culture. Muslims are seen as not white in the liberal mind and deserving of special protection. Its a sort of weakness in liberalism that comes from the tribal politics of the big sort. Unless your a strong atheist, most liberals are going to inclined to make an accommodation for Muslims that they would not for other religious groups.Report

  2. veronica d says:

    It’s funny, tho. Conservatives suddenly becoming multicultural champions, but only if they are “protecting” Muslim women from practicing their religious belief.

    It’s almost as if people’s stated principles are not actually what is motivating them. Funny.

    I have the right to use public resources freely. So do Muslims. So do Christians. I dunno. Setting aside a small amount of time for a minority group seems reasonable.

    Does this mean Christians get to ask for a “no gays” hour in the pool?

    I dunno. What about gay Christians?

    In America, Christians and Muslims are not symmetrical. We can view them in the abstract and say, “One religion is the same as the next. Each religion’s concern is identical to all others.”

    But that is not actually true, and basing your decision making on untrue things will often lead to bad decisions.

    I do think religions have a right to set up spaces that are “only for us.” In those spaces, they can do as they choose. Thus the ideal solution is for Muslims to build their own pools, only for Muslims.

    I guess…

    If they try to run the pool as a public business, for the general public, then the rules of the general public apply. If instead the pool is an adjunct to the mosque, only for their own, then I won’t complain.

    In the meanwhile, Muslims in America are a small, relatively powerless minority. They don’t have a lot of their own stuff. They have to fight bigots every time they want to do anything. They can’t even open a mosque anywhere without its becoming a shitshow of hate. Give ’em an hour at the pool. The evangelicals can go pound sand.Report

    • notme in reply to veronica d says:

      Give ’em an hour at the pool. The evangelicals can go pound sand.

      So you endorse discrimination just you can spite the evangelicals? The more you speak the more your true nature shows itself. This has nothing to do with “saving” Muslim women. It has everything to do with not endorsing discrimination.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to veronica d says:


      I don’t know how this is Christian issue. Tablet is a Jewish magazine. Their argument is that if pools can set aside time for Muslim women, they can also set aside time for Orthodox Jewish women. Where did Christianity come into this at all?Report

      • veronica d in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @saul-degraw — Sure the pools could set aside time for Orthodox Jewish women. Is there a need for this?

        Things should be fair. But there is often a huge difference in material reality, and one must judge fairness against needs.

        For example, if a city has a small and poor Muslim community, and the women are unable to swim anywhere, and thus they don’t get to swim, then I can see how public officials would want to make a special arrangement. If there is no corresponding poor Orthodox Jewish community with women unable to swim… then there is less need.

        Is this simply, “Well they have it so we want it otherwise we feel slighted” — when you were never asking in the first place. I dunno.Report

        • Will Truman in reply to veronica d says:

          These were two different cases in two different cities, so I don’t think “They want it so we should be able to have it” factors in. The author of the piece was taking note that the New York Times denounced the latter, and wonders if that means they also oppose the former.Report

          • veronica d in reply to Will Truman says:

            Ah. Fair enough.

            So, different cities with different communities reached a different decision for separate groups?

            Maybe there is an issue here. Maybe not.

            Anyway, it’s a fair question. The New York Times should answer it.Report

          • Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:


            Another interesting thing to explore is how the New York Times is related to its Jewishness.

            The same family has owned the NY Times for over 100 years. They are Jewish but recent generations converted to Episcopalianism.

            The Ochs-Sulzbergers were German-Reform Jews with a good deal of embarrassment towards the old ways. They wanted a Judaism that matched perfectly with American life. They were also conscious of their Judaism and did not really want to be seen as Jewish leaders. The Times often downplayed anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany because they wanted the paper to be seen as a national and American paper, not a Jewish paper arguing for Jewish causes.

            Yet many of their star reporters and editors have always been Jewish but usually from the secularish and assimilated stock like A.M. Rosenthal, Anthony Lewis, Paul Krugman, etc.

            So I can see how the Times can decide defending the rights of Orthodox Jewish women is vaguely embarrassing because it connects them to the old culture and old ways. It is not the secular Judaism of Saturday and Sunday brunches. Orthodoxy is the Judaism of staying in services all day long on Saturday!!Report

        • LeeEsq in reply to veronica d says:

          Ultra-Orthodox Jews tend to be poor, so yes there is need to this. I actually live near the pool in question. The Satmar tend to be better organized politically than Hispanic and Eastern European residents of Williamsburg so aren’t suffering as much from gentrification but they are still members of the community and were there longer than the Hipsters and Hispanics so in some ways this there neighborhood in a way similar to Harlem being African-American or Chinatown Chinese. There are big cultural fights between the hipsters and Hasidim.Report

          • veronica d in reply to LeeEsq says:

            @leeesq — Then it seems reasonable to allow the Orthodox Jews some time to the pool.

            These things can be negotiated in good faith. It’s hard, though.Report

      • J_A in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        This is a non-trolling question

        In the Orthodox Jewish tradition, aren’t men required not to touch unknown women because they could be ritually unclean due to having their period? Is that requirement also applicable to women? Are they polluted by touching other menstruating women?

        If so how can you get into a pool that has been used by unknown-possibly menstruating- women even on a sex segregated basis. Unless the segregation is total, and the pool is drained if found to be ritually unclean?Report

    • Murali in reply to veronica d says:

      In America, Christians and Muslims are not symmetrical. We can view them in the abstract and say, “One religion is the same as the next. Each religion’s concern is identical to all others.”

      But that is not actually true, and basing your decision making on untrue things will often lead to bad decisions.

      Do you really want to go there? Conservative Christians want to force you to go to the toilet of the sex you were assigned at birth rather than the gender you identify with because they think your self identification is false. Those same people also want to put the 10 commandments on the court but are not willing to tolerate the Wiccan Rede because they think that the religions are not the same. Religions are different and we should not treat them symmetrically is a hell of a rabbit hole that I don’t think you should want to jump in to.Report

    • J_A in reply to veronica d says:


      As much as I think that most of what you say is sensible and reasonable, in particular, that things that are the same on paper are not the same on the ground, at the end of the day I cannot support your conclusion.

      I have a similar conflict with France’s (and other places )anti burqa laws. It puts Muslim women in a very difficult bind. The argument is that unless they are covered their relatives won’t let their women (the word “their” used intentionally here) in the street, and society is better accommodating covered women than forcing them indoors.

      As much as I regret the plight of women not allowed out, in the end, I support the ban. Our culture believes now (fortunately) that women and men have a basic equality and all options should be open to both. The purpose of the burqa is to reduce the contact between women and society. Burqa covered women are not supposed to interact with the outside society. It is basically a portable house around you. You are outside, but the walls follow you. Society should not say that this is ok, that is ok that some women are cut off from social interaction. I find that a price too high to pay to have relatives allow their women in the street.

      Same in pools. If an Irani style (muslimah) bathing suit is not enough to meet your modesty requirements, then the concern is not modesty, the concern is cutting interaction between women and men. That cannot be allowed in a pluralistic society, be it Somali women or Haredi women.Report

    • North in reply to veronica d says:

      I’m with you up until towards the end. I can’t endorse the “they’re powerless let them have their little illiberal customs” mindset. First we’re banning people from public pools so Muslims can use them as they see fit. Where does it end? Muslims don’t like a lot of things, so do a lot of religious minorities or majorities. They sure don’t like immodestly dressed women in public or gays in any shape or form.

      I’m all for them being allowed to build their own Muslim only pools just as I’m fine letting Christians build their own Christian only schools but once anyone starts demanding largess from the public fisc they need to make do with the public’ writ and that means no special treatment.Report

      • veronica d in reply to North says:

        @north — I agree this doesn’t generalize well. But I don’t fight on slippery slopes.

        It’s like, it can be really fucking hard to be Muslim right now.

        So here is the funny thing, I get a lot of dirty looks on the subway, which I’ve spoken about plenty. You know one group who seldom gives me dirty looks? — women in headscarves.

        Okay so I don’t know if they are Muslim, but I think they are. Why are they giving me, a honking enormous tranny dyke a warm, pleasant look?

        I don’t know. I think it’s cuz how minority status works in America. In fact, I tend to give them warm looks. It’s like, most of the people who hate them hate me also. Being collectively hated can form a strange sliver of common ground. It’s weird.

        They’re asking for one hour. In one pool. Fine.

        No, this cannot generalize. They won’t get all they ask for, but is that really a danger?

        This is very unlike what evangelicals are asking for.Report

        • North in reply to veronica d says:

          @veronica-d Well generalities are what government, policy and government philosophy deals with a lot- almost entirely.

          I have an acquaintance here in Minneapolis who is blind and her work involves flying a lot. The flying isn’t too much of a problem for her but you know what is a problem? Getting a fishing cab because a lot of Muslim cab drivers do not like dogs (unclean per their religion). They’ve had their hands slapped and flat out whacked but they keep trying to keep her out of their cabs. All kinds of excuses or reasons to say nothing of the hostility and aggressiveness because she’s a woman. That is purely anecdotal of course and I actually have found Muslim women to be super nice in my personal interactions with them. We can’t make public policy off anecdotal experiences though.

          I mean yeah they’re a politically powerless minority but that doesn’t keep them from flipping out at people doing things they don’t like. Gay people get stabbed and “immodestly” clad women get attacked by this powerless minority. Also there’s the reeking hypocrisy of an ideology that loses its shit when Christians say something unpleasant about gays but responds to physical attacks on the same by Muslims with a “well you have to understand…”. No I don’t have to understand.

          And there’s also the simply practicality of the matter. If we start cordoning the sections of public goods off for religious minorities exclusive uses we’re going to run out of public goods long before we run out of religious minorities with needs for special accommodation.Report

          • veronica d in reply to North says:

            @north — I think I’ve been pretty consistent on public accommodation issues. A Muslim cab driver must treat everyone equally, and he certainly must follow the ADA. There is a different between saying, “We’re setting aside a small amount of time weekly for this group, as they are under-served,” and saying, “They get to exclude the public from their cabs.”Report

  3. Chip Daniels says:

    Lee touches on a good point, that Muslims force American liberals and conservatives to reassess our positions.
    Our Culture War has settled into a comfortable sort of trench warfare, where we know the other side predictable positions, and we exchange potshots and engage in incremental skirmishes.

    But Muslims open up a new front. They represent Traditional Religion, but a Minority one, so our conventional trench lines get scrambled.

    The view from our trenches, where we rehearse our strategy, is distorted.
    For example, we declare that we don’t want to favor any one religion over others, even as Christmas Day is a federal holiday and schools close for Easter break.

    Our laws regarding sexuality, family, children are all embedded with the cultural DNA of western secular Christianity.

    As Veronica points out, we can’t be symmetrical, and I would add that the more we try, the more we deny the tilted landscape, the more unjust it becomes.Report

    • North in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      Or we can simply decline to issue more illiberal religious accommodations. That some Christian customs are still (but to a diminishing degree*) imbedded in public policy is certainly not a reason to imbed more religious customs- merely reason to erode those intrusions as quickly as possible.

      *Though in the case of Christmas you might find most religious fundies not very happy at what that intertwining of the religious and the secular has done to the religious aspect of Christmas.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to North says:

        And make western secularism our state religion?Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          As if speaking against such a thing was not the equivalent of saying “I’m an atheist” in 1820.Report

        • J_A in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          We need to define what religion is and what it is for before we say Western Secularism, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or Christianity, or Budhism, or Greek Orthodoxy (you, know, the real Orthodoxy, as shown in BSG), of Islam, or Shinto, are religions.

          Is religion a search of the Trascendent outside of the Natural World? A search of the Trascendent inside the Natural World? A tool to organize society? Reverence for life, or submission to a Superior being?

          Is it an individual search, or must it be communal? Can I be individually religious in a society that does not impose religion communally?Report

        • North in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          In order to make western secularism out state religious we’d have to be banning religion entirely and having the state saying “God? Ain’t no such thing. Spaghetti monster fist bump!” The state’s silence on such questions and refusal to exclusively cordon off public goods for any strictly religious need would be studiously neutral on an endorsement of religion.Report

        • Zac Black in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          I mean, I wouldn’t say state religion so much as default stance, but yeah, basically. What’s the rational alternative?Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to North says:

        A longer response would be that liberalism, both the “classical” and contemporary kind, presuppose the existence of a neutral posture for the state to assume.
        But the neutral position is itself particular and very non-universal.

        What holidays should we observe, and why?
        What should be our policy toward family law, circumscision, corporal punishment, age of consent, divorce and child support?

        There is no neutral default posture here.

        And why should there be? Why shouldnt our laws reflect the various conflicting cultural traditions, that complex heterodox polytheist pantheon that reflects our actual society, rather than an imaginary secular one?

        I’ve heard it mentioned that the only TV show that deals honestly with religion is The Simpsons.
        Which is ironic since the premise of the show is about that imaginary typical Every Family in the most typical of American towns.Report

        • North in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          I can understand you when you’re talking about the state being fundamental and integral in things like property rights and the like but I think I’m missing some connection here with regards to religion. It’s entirely possible to be neutral qua religion since religion requires a positive affirmation. Our natural state is neutral towards religion.

          Can we pick holidays without regard to religion? Sure. Same for all the other things you list. Religion sure influences the poplar opinions towards those things so they may have an influence on the outcomes and there could easily be overlap but you can be neutral by sticking to principles that are non-religious even if some of those outcomes may end up congenial to one religion or another.Report

          • Chip Daniels in reply to North says:

            I view this as the “food and festival” multiculturalism, where everybody can do their own groovy thing.
            Which is good, and wonderful of course.

            But we are premising this all on a very particular, non-universal assertion, that there is a split between our religious and secular selves. It assumes that our religious identity is kept between consenting adults behind closed doors, and makes no demands upon the rest of the citizenry.

            But what happens when they don’t? Ethical and moral norms are founded on the idea that there are some behaviors that are so fundamental, that no one should be allowed to practice them, or everyone must practice them.

            We seculars assume that what we call “Human Rights” are universal, obvious and unassailable by any reasonable person.
            But as we’ve seen over the past decade, they change, sometimes rapidly.

            I’m not posing a irresolvable dilemma, so much as asserting that I don’t see the existence of a political or moral philosophy that can always and reliably produce a result that is “just”, by anyone’s definition.

            Like with the OP here, whether we reserve an hour aside for Muslim women, homophobic men, or naked Episcopalians, is largely a matter of careful negotiation and rough consensus, rather than ideological fiat.

            It really demands engagement and dialogue, even when that dialogue is tense and uncomfortable.Report

            • North in reply to Chip Daniels says:

              I guess, but I’m pretty sure it’s not hard for the government to not start out with the “Chapter X of verse Y of the faith of Z says men shouldn’t see women’s ankles so we’ll do this that or the other thing for all Z faithful.” If you start out with “Everyone and their uncle takes this day off so this would be a good day for a formal holiday.” Maybe you end up giving people a day off on a religious holiday but that’s incidental.

              I don’t think we seculars are quite as blasé about the origins of human rights as you put on here. I’m pretty sure that in the limited sphere where state policy over laps with morality it’s not difficult to discuss those policies in religiously neutral terms. And if a religious group shows up asking for special privileges with a public good based exclusively on what their holy write says is icky I think steep skepticism is very warranted.Report

              • Murali in reply to North says:


                The problem is when a whole bunch of secular minded progressive folk ask for (from someone else’s perspective) special privileges or deny reasonable demands based on on a public good which is itself grounded on something which is only believed by secular minded progressive folk. Taking state neutrality between religion and non-religion seriously is harder than it seems. It is usually fairly obvious when someone is making a religious claim. Usually they will say blah blah blah sin blah blah blah God, blah blah blah chapter and verse. The question is whether secular minded progressive folk can recognise when something is based on their own equally ill founded conception of the good*. To test whether some policy P is actually neutral between religious viewpoints** A and B. If you belong to A, ask yourself whether P sounds like a good idea if B were in fact true. If it doesn’t then you were implicitly assuming B’s falsity. But that’s not being religiously neutral.

                *I’m not saying that they are necessarily false only that when you ask enough “why”-s you end up realising that there is no particular reason to think that the secular progressive ones are any more likely to be true than religious conservative ones. More precisely, there isn’t really any argument there its just belly feels all the way down.

                **I mean this in the inclusive sense in which atheism and agnosticism are religious viewpoints too:they are viewpoints about religion. Even if atheism is not a religion per se, it can still count as a religious viewpoint in this sense.Report

              • North in reply to Murali says:

                Murali, I’d assert that atheism is definitely a kind of religious view but that its cousin agnosticism is not. Atheism makes positive claims regarding the metaphysical etc (there ain’t any) whereas agnosticism makes only a negative claim (it is unknown). So I think that agnosticism is the closest to a neutral natural state that can be possible. Though as an agnostic myself I would think that eh?Report

              • Murali in reply to North says:

                Well, imagine the proposition P: God Exists.
                Atheists assign it a probability close to 0. Theists assign it a probability close to 1. Agnostics assign it a probability close to 0.5. There is no particular reason to treat one particular probability value as qualitatively different from the others. P is a proposition concerning a religious matter and atheists, agnostics and theists alike have some attitude about that proposition.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Murali says:

                I think that a lot of the disconnect is in the whole difference between “a deity” and “this particular deity right here”.

                There are definitions of a deity that I very easily could agree with existing. I’m pretty sure that these definitions are so broad and even trivial that most folks who call themselves theists wouldn’t agree with me about how I’d be able to call myself a theist under that framework. (They believe in deities that have traits vaguely analogous to a personality, for instance. The deities that I’d be willing to agree with existing do not.)

                The problem is that a lot (a *LOT* a lot) of atheists have been hurt pretty damn bad by the church and it’s not about the existence of a deity at all. It’s about hitting back at this institution that has lied, cheated, mistreated, abused, etc… people just like them.

                So it creates a big mess.Report

              • Murali in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’m not dealing with reasons for belief or disbelief one way or the other. On at least most standard conceptions of deities I don’t think any particular reason exists one way or the other.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Murali says:

                Russell’s Teapot is a fairly strong analogy.

                There’s a point at which you get to say “it’s more reasonable for me to not agree with you than it is for me to agree with you”.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Murali says:

                I’m not dealing with reasons for belief or disbelief one way or the other.

                So, you’re saying that a physically and evidentially grounded probability assignment is not qualitatively different than an assignment based on complete ignorance?

                That seems a stretch Murali, no?

                Adding: I mean that in general rather than the specific case of assignments to the likelihood of a deity.Report

              • Murali in reply to Stillwater says:


                Well, obviously there is a sense in which for a given proposition the justified attitude (the one that fits all the evidence) is qualitatively different from all the others. But that’s not the kind of qualitative difference I was talking about. Doxastic attitudes about religious propositions remain doxastic attitudes about religious propositions regardless of how well grounded they are or of the particular magnitude (i.e. confidence leve). I was making the rather banal point that belief, disbelief and suspension of judgment about the existence of god are all attitudes about religious claims. i.e. they are religious attitudes in a wide sense. (Also we must distinguish suspending judgment about P from never really thinking about P. The latter is not an attitude, there is no intentionality about not thinking about it. The former is very much a doxastic attitude like belief and disbelief because it involves an intentional engagement with the proposition)Report

              • Zac Black in reply to North says:

                Atheism makes positive claims about nothing; it is a term entirely devoid of philosophical content. It just means that in the absence of evidence of the metaphysical/supernatural, there is no good reason to believe it exists. Which, if you’ll notice, is the same standard of reasoning we use for literally everything else.

                Agnosticism, to be frank, has always struck me as intellectual fence-sitting, especially since it’s applied so inconsistently. After all, I’ve never met a self-described agnostic who is agnostic about Thor, or Poseidon, or Quetzlcoatl. I assume, North, that you’re not unsure about whether there are gods living on Mount Olympus, or whether you should die a good warrior death so you can enter Valhalla? Well, then why would Yahweh be any different?Report

              • Murali in reply to Zac Black says:

                This is a very silly argument that doesn’t prove anything.

                Firstly, it might very well be the case that we should be agnostic about at least some of those stuff as well. The mere fact that we, without any good reason believe, or disbelieve a whole bunch of propositions (and to disbelieve something is just to believe its negation) doesn’t mean that we make no mistake in doing it for one more proposition. We should perhaps be non-committal about a whole range of propositions. It is a very strange dogmatism which requires us to just reject out of hand any proposition which we have not yet encountered evidence in favour of.

                Secondly, it is not mysterious why more specific propositions are less probable than more general ones. Specific propositions are conjunctions of multiple independent general propositions. If we suspended judgement about the more general ones, the conjunction of these various independent claims could end up being much smaller. And while for practical purposes we may approximate these very low credences to outright disbelief, we make a stupid rounding mistake by assuming that therefore the rational thing to do is to assign it 0 probability. So, even if the existence of Quetzlcoatl and Zeus are individually of particularly low probability, the disjunct of all these possible deities need not be. This is one of the problems when imprecision and heuristics cause people to stumble.Report

              • Zac Black in reply to Murali says:

                No. Disbelief is not the same as belief in negation, because negatives are impossible to prove. Therefore all things start with a default probability of 0, until evidence can be provided. Likelihood of truth scales upward as evidence of the proposition is added. Otherwise, you end up with the incredibly bizarre conclusion that simply stating something or having an idea causes it to be more likely than 0 to be true.

                “It is a very strange dogmatism which requires us to just reject out of hand any proposition which we have not yet encountered evidence in favour of.”

                Perhaps, but it’s an even stranger dogmatism that would have you believe that, as Stillwater put it, “a physically and evidentially grounded probability assignment is not qualitatively different than an assignment based on complete ignorance”.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Zac Black says:

                you end up with the incredibly bizarre conclusion that simply stating something or having an idea causes it to be more likely than 0 to be true.


              • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                I went to Anselm instead of post-modernism.

                But now I’m seeing how they’re overlapping. Whoa.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Post-modern Anselm:

                “Can you imagine a world with a being of which none greater can be conceived?”

                “Well, the term “conceived” is loaded with institutional power concepts revealing an oppressive logical regime devaluing my felt experiences …”

                “Just answer the question…”Report

              • That word. I do not think it means what you think it means.Report

              • Murali in reply to Zac Black says:

                Disbelief is not the same as belief in negation,

                This is absurd on any standard logical formulation. para-complete logics might okay such a move, but no plausible para complete logic can license such moves willy nilly. And i seriously doubt you want to jump down the rabbit hole of trying to prove para-completeness.

                Name on proposition which you believe and whose negation which you do not disbelieve. Or, the reverse. Name a proposition which you disbelieve, but whose negation you do not believe.
                because negatives are impossible to prove.
                This is false. The violation of Bell’s inequality shows the existence of at least one negative claim. Also, more mundanely, the fact that I don’t hear see feel a horse in my room does provide strong evidence that there is no horse in my room.

                This is also a non-sequitor. What does one have to do with the other? Even if negatives were impossible to prove, the belief in the negation of a proposition amounts to a disbelief in the proposition. That’s just what it means to disbelieve a proposition.

                Therefore all things start with a default probability of 0, until evidence can be provided.

                Let’s demonstrate the absurdity of your position. Consider the propositions “God exists” and “God does not exist”. Assume we have no evidence for or against either. on your account we should therefore disbelieve both propositions. Or perhaps you have some account whereby evidence for one is not evidence against another?

                Dude, better up your game because this is worse than sophomoric.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Murali says:


                He haunts us even yet.Report

              • Zac Black in reply to Murali says:

                I can’t tell if you’re being intentionally obtuse or not, but you seem to be fundamentally ignorant about the nature of atheism. It’s not that theists are saying P and atheists are saying -P. It’s that theists are saying P, and atheists are saying “Ok, prove P”. Only stupid atheists would say that there is definitively no such thing as deities, since that would be impossible to prove. Theists are making a claim whereas atheists are merely asserting that that claim needs evidence before it can be believed, and the burden of proof regarding the truthfulness of a claim lies with whoever made the claim; if this burden is not met, the claim is unfounded and its opponents need not argue further in order to dismiss it. In other words, that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

                But go on, tell us all how “sophomoric” I am for wanting evidence of extraordinary claims before I believe them.Report

              • j r in reply to Zac Black says:

                I can’t tell if you’re being intentionally obtuse or not, but you seem to be fundamentally ignorant about the nature of atheism. It’s not that theists are saying P and atheists are saying -P. It’s that theists are saying P, and atheists are saying “Ok, prove P”. Only stupid atheists would say that there is definitively no such thing as deities, since that would be impossible to prove.

                That is a series of relatively strong claim relative to any sober discussion of the boundaries of atheism. From my reading, you are saying that the only true Scotsman are agnostics. I am sure you wouldn’t have to look very hard to find atheists who would disagree with this.

                Anyway, you guys should probably define exactly what you mean when you use these terms; that might disaggregate how much of your disagreement is semantic and how much is otherwise.Report

              • Murali in reply to j r says:

                Well, a few posts up he explicitly said that there is no evidence for the existence of God and that we should assign probability 0 to things which we have no evidence for. He also called agnostics fence sitters. So, I doubt he gets the “only true scotsman are agnostics” out.

                Zac just seems to bizarrely reject one of the basic Kolmogorov axioms: P(A) + P(not-A) = 1 for any AReport

              • Zac Black in reply to Murali says:

                @j r
                Well, a few posts up he explicitly said that there is no evidence for the existence of God and that we should assign probability 0 to things which we have no evidence for. He also called agnostics fence sitters. So, I doubt he gets the “only true scotsman are agnostics” out.

                Right. Currently, at least as far as I’m aware, there is no evidence for the existence of deities. That doesn’t mean that such evidence couldn’t be produced one day, though given the extraordinary nature of the claim it would be an extraordinarily high bar to clear. But atheists, at least those I’ve encountered, aren’t generally blindly dogmatic about the nonexistence of deities; they simply provisionally assign it such a low probability as to be functionally not worth considering, up until they see evidence that would lead them to reassess.

                Regarding agnosticism, at least as far as I can tell, again from those I’ve encountered, is that the position is entirely culturally contingent; as I said above, I’ve never met anyone who’s agnostic about the gods of dead religions. Rather, it seems to be a transparent stance of wanting to be culturally neutral on the matter of local religions so that they don’t end up in debates like this one all the time, rather than one of rigorous intellectual honesty. I’m certainly open to having my mind changed on that point, but I’ve yet to encounter a passionate advocate of agnosticism. Point being, though, that agnostics don’t seem particularly interested in anyone proving P or not P, they just don’t want to be involved in the question at all. They seem to prefer to just shrug their shoulders and say, “Screw it, not worth the trouble, I’ll let those other guys fight it out.”Report

              • j r in reply to Murali says:

                As I said, clearing up the definitions would help. Is atheism simply the refusal to believe in deities or is the insistence that deities do not exist?

                And is agnosticism simply a sub-category or soft form of atheism or is it its own category?

                Until you make these categories clear, I fear that you will just be talking past one another.Report

              • Murali in reply to Zac Black says:

                I can’t tell if you’re being intentionally obtuse or not, but you seem to be fundamentally ignorant about the nature of atheism. It’s not that theists are saying P and atheists are saying -P. It’s that theists are saying P, and atheists are saying “Ok, prove P”.

                Bullshit. Because agnostics are also saying “OK prove P”. Calling for justification for P is not definitive of Atheism. Atheism is a range of views according to which the likelihood of P (that God exists) is low.

                Theism is also a range of views according to which the likelihood of P is high. Religious believers talk about feeling doubt all the freaking time.

                Agnosticism is yet another range of views according to which the likelihood of P is not significantly more or less than the likelihood of not-P.Report

              • Ken S in reply to Murali says:

                This series of replies has fallen into the trap that too many of its kind falls into to — an argument not about its supposed subject, the existence of God — but rather an argument over the correct definition of “atheism.” Like almost all semantic arguments, it has become futile and boring. Let’s be honest. Different people use the word to mean different things. To some, it means a clear belief that there is no god. To others, it means the belief that there is insufficient evidence in the existence of a god, and therefore one ought to suspend judgment on his (its?) existence. Which definition is the correct one? I don’t know and I don’t care. Just state a proposition and defend it; spare us the exercise in semantical one-upsmanship.

                I’ll go one step further, though, and assert that the existence of a God isn’t even a proposition. Most religions assign their God multiple duties; he is creator, lawgiver, judge,jury and executioner, he hears and answers prayers, and so on. So, if I believe in a being with half of these properties and not the other half, do I believe in God? A person who tries to apply law of the excluded middle to the supposed proposition “God exists” has first to settle that question.Report

              • Zac Black in reply to Ken S says:

                These are all good points. I’ll think on them and follow up later with the longer response they merit.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Ken S says:

                Do you want to see the arguments we got into a million years ago? Like, back when the site was new? Like, back in *2009*?!?

                Of course you do!

                You can read here and here and here.

                My favorite comment from that last one (it’s mine) follows:

                Did we ever get a working definition of “God”, by the way?

                For the most part, when I ask “what do you mean by ‘God’?”, it usually gets responses similar to the following:

                1) Of course you know what we mean when we say “God”, don’t be obtuse.

                2) Do you contribute anything at all to the discussion but threadjacks asking for definitions that nobody needs but you?

                3) I’ll condescend to answer your obviously trollish question and say that God is, erm, well, it’s a, erm, well… you know what, you are a troll and, with God’s help, I will endeavor henceforth to not feed trolls.

                4) I know It when I see It.

                Given that those tend to be the definitions of “God” that I get, I don’t tend to see why “atheism” is necessarily a belief system in and of itself. It’s not like there’s anything to refute! And when someone says (let me quote it here to give the full effect):

                “But you do believe in your own existence, perhaps even dogmatically, which in the end is really the same thing. It really is two sides of the same coin, and both sides are necessary for either to exist.”

                One is stuck, at the very least, reconsidering one’s opinion on the legalization of marijuana.

                Give me a definition of “God”, and then we can have a discussion of whether the folks who don’t believe are “deniers” or what have you.

                (After those four, we came up with two more):

                5) I already defined it for you. (Sometimes it comes with a pointer to something that ain’t a definition, sometimes it does not come with such a pointer.)

                6) I think your question is perfectly valid and I intend on penning a post that in part attempts to answer just that question. (The post never seems to materialize. Even now, I can’t recall Scott’s post and in looking for it, I can’t find it.)Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                God is a concept by which we measure our pain.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                In that case, I am a theist.

                If we want to say that God is a Social Construct, I am very much a theist.

                My problems come up when I agree with people that I am a theist and then they tell me “no, you’re not” when I explain that God is like “gender”.Report

              • Joe Sal in reply to Jaybird says:

                Is it just me, or does the world get more functional as God becomes an individual construct instead of a social one?Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                To me, God is the underlying moral fabric of the universe [1[, and religion our best [2] attempts to grasp that with our limited understanding.

                1. If there is one, of course.
                2. For some often very small value of “best”.Report

              • veronica d in reply to Jaybird says:

                I cannot always define my terms as well as I would like, since sometimes I’m trying to name something tricky or vague. After all, the brain is complex and language is a tool to express, in some capacity, the content of thought. But if I observe a subtle pattern? That repeats with variation? That has a thingness to it, but without being a natural kind? I dunno. How does language actually work?

                It seems a lot of “definition wars” are really nonsense. They are attempt to pin down complexity so we can set up our rhetorical chessboard and play a meaningless game.

                Much of what we call “debate” is rank bullshit that brings us further from understanding.

                On the other hand, sometimes debate is the opposite of that, and is a path to deep insight.

                I dunno. On which side falls demands to define “God”?

                Which, I think that the idea of God is literally preposterous in light of scientific understanding. But whatever. Brains are weird. They do all kinds of strange shit.

                The universe is huge and mostly empty.Report

              • Murali in reply to Ken S says:


                The only point I wanted to make was the semantic point, not actually debate about whether God exists or what the state of evidence for it is. If you go back to the origin of this particular thread, North claimed that agnosticism is a different sort of thing from atheism and theism and I was arguing that they were not. Each was just a probability assignment about a theological claim.Report

              • North in reply to Zac Black says:

                Actually @zac-black Yahweh is in the same company as the other category as the deities you describe. Yahweh’s theology is somewhat more internally coherent than some of the others and I recognize, for instance, that Christianity was the I-pod of religions when it came out (deeply effective in a market sense) but nope, I’m agnostically uncertain regarding the lot of them.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Chip Daniels says:


      The view from our trenches, where we rehearse our strategy, is distorted.

      Boy, there is so much truth packed into that one short sentence. The use of the word “strategy” here is perfect.Report

    • KenB in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      Chip Daniels: For example, we declare that we don’t want to favor any one religion over others, even as Christmas Day is a federal holiday and schools close for Easter break.

      In the town where we live, Columbus Day is not a school holiday. In the town where my wife teaches, which is heavily Italian, it is.

      Imagine that there was no national holiday on Christmas Day or Easter but that otherwise everyone had the same religious/cultural practices on those days that they do now. Wouldn’t it be practical to turn those days into holidays anyway, since you’d expect over half the population not to be coming in? And if you made that decision for that reason, would it really be “favoring a religion”?

      Edit: leave aside Easter, since it’s a Sunday — actually in my experience schools’ spring breaks don’t necessarily line up with Easter anymore anyway.Report

      • North in reply to KenB says:

        Well consider in the case of Christmas that the vast majority of the people who enjoy that holiday are practicing an utterly a-religious bacchanalia of capitalist enjoyment and leisure. Call it the revenge of the Romans.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to KenB says:


        The same thing happens in heavily Jewish areas on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I grew up in a heavily Jewish suburb in the Northeast. About half the students and a good number of the teachers were Jewish. So the High Holidays became school holidays because most students and teachers would just call in sick.

        Interestingly, I went to grad school at a private university in NYC that also canceled class on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Some of the non-Jewish students who grew up in non-Jewish areas were shocked by this because it was the first time they saw a minority group have enough power to flex some serious muscle and cancel school on days that were normally for work/school.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      I see the Christmas Day thing as an issue of practicality more than anything else. Most people would take the day off anyway for cultural reasons so you might as give as many people as possible a holiday. Its the same reason why schools in very Jewish areas used to close on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. So many students and teachers would be out that having school would be pointless because they couldn’t get enough substitutes and many students would also be missing.Report

  4. Kazzy says:

    The title here is an interesting one. The title of the actual article is slightly different: “Should There Be Different Rules for Jews and Muslims at Public Pools?” But in the URL, it has the title quoted here.

    I’m much less interested in what the NYT has to say about it or what their position is or whether they are indulging in anti-semitism than I am in the heart of that matter. Don’t get me wrong… if the NYT is promoting anti-semitism via its editorial page, that is a very real issue. I just think that is a different conversation.

    At the heart of the matter is how should public pools respond to such requests? I think they should deny them. Respectfully, provided they’ve been submitted respectfully. Yes, our society values freedom of religion. But it also values equitable treatment of different sexes and genders. Muslims and Jews are in no way inhibited from practicing their faith by denying this request: their “freedom of religion” is in tact. But honoring this request DOES undermine equitable treatment of different sexes and genders.

    I suppose a case should be made that different faiths can have time carved out specifically for members of that faith and that its adherents can develop rules for that time. But the question then becomes which faiths? And what happens when members of the same faith disagree on the rules?

    So, yea, I’d say that this is a public pool available to all. Muslims and Jews and everyone else is free to swim but special rules that exclude access for others will not be made or honored.Report

  5. Francis says:

    Personally, I would prefer a government that tries to reach reasonable accommodations with all factions within its jurisdiction.

    For example, there is nothing inherently religious about setting aside 1 hour per week for a woman-only swim environment. If there is a group of men petitioning for 1 hour per week of men only, then that request should be granted also.

    We can get more weird, too. I know (distantly) people who really like to swim naked. If these people want to ask for the pool to remain open 1 hour later on a Friday night, and are willing to go in front of the Parks and Rec Commission to admit their preference in public, go for it — clothing optional swim hour from 8-9 pm. Why not?

    An hour here, an hour there, especially at the beginning and end of the day — these seem reasonable to me. Insisting on significant blocks of time where other members of the public are denied access to a public facility — then I start grousing.Report

    • Mo in reply to Francis says:

      An interesting difference is that all of the cases highlighted in other cities are about one hour one day a week (in one case it’s 90 minutes), while in the NYC case it is 2 hours 4 days a week. It seems like taking up 8 hours of swim time is a significantly different accommodation than 8 hours. 8 hours represents 17% of total pool time in NYC, while 1 hour is only 2% of total time.Report

  6. Jaybird says:

    An interesting article here.

    It’s about homophobia against a gay sauna in London.

    Luton Borough Council says that in addition to the petition, it received 103 objection notices which cited concerns over “cultural sensitivity”, the sauna’s “proximity to places of worship” and worries “about the number of families with young children living nearby”.

    Cultural sensitivity? You’d think that the bloody C of E would know better by now. Those people should… wait? What? Who? Well, you have to understand…Report