I read some posting on Pharyngula recently that cited the Courtier's Reply, which is a much older Pharyngula posting. I don't have any quarrel with what P. Z. Myers says here, but there was one thing that bothered me (about my own sanity): if I agree that the Emperor has no clothes, why do I still spend time learning stuff about how finely those clothes are made? More bluntly, if I still read about religions and I learn to tell them apart, while being an atheist, am I just nuts? Or what?
The better analogy with the Emperor's clothes is that there are a whole bunch of Emperors, and they all are naked, but they are claim to have the finest clothes. The Courtier's Reply argument says we need to refocus the discussion on the fact that they're all naked.
Anyway, I am interested in hearing from other atheists who take the time to try and understand, say, the distinction between evangelical Christianity and fundamentalist Christianity. (We're talking, after all, about Christians who don't bother to understand the distinction between agnosticism and atheism.) Should we do this? Are we just nuts?
There is a historical reason, for me, to be interested in this stuff: I was raised as a Methodist in a family that has a long history of religious wars. I already know a lot about the Bible so it does not seem to cost much to learn more. But if it were not for that historical reason, I am not sure I would bother to learn stuff about various flavors of woo.
I think like every other minority, we are going to have to get some support outside to achieve our goals. First, we would have to have a clear set of goals. LOL! In order to reach our objectives, we have to be able to identify and recruit supporters outside our group, because we are simply too small to achieve much impact without some outside support. It would be helpful to understand the different religions and sects within each to identify who might go along with us and who might not.
Let's say one of our goals was to get rid of the tax exemption for ministers. I'm sure not all ministers out there get a tax exemption. This group who is not included in the tax exempt world of specialness might be a useful alley.
Or if we wanted to get rid of creationism taught in the public schools. Most Methodists, for example, think creationism is so much bunk and are supporters of evolution. In fact, many liberal theists also support of evolution, anti faith healing, pro vaccination and many sound medical and scientific ideas. They could also be useful allies.
We're never going to get them on our side about any issue if we don't understand them. They are not going to bother to learn to understand us. They can bully their way through and get their way, but we are too small a group to do that. If we want to achieve political and social objectives, we are going to have to appeal to a wider audience. So I agree with you. We should learn about them and try to understand them.
You will probably find that you don't have to learn very much before you know more than Christians know about each other. Frequently they don't even know a lot about their own sect. I grew up a Methodist and never knew that Methodism was "evangelical" -- it was certainly called that when it was new, in the 1800s. (In my church we had some people who were evangelicals and some who were not. My parents were not.)
Anyway, I am interested in hearing from other atheists who take the time to try and understand, say, the distinction between evangelical Christianity and fundamentalist Christianity
I'm currently reading Fundamentalisms Observed, which is an in-depth discussion of various forms of religious fundamentalism. I'm trying to understand the history of religious movements and how they gain influence on society.
In answer to your questions; I dunno; you study whatever you're interested in. If you like studying religion, or think it will be useful, then that's what you do. Whether you should do it is up to your own interests and goals.
If you're going to spend time debating religious issues, obviously you don't want to caught in a position of ignorance.
It's also just kind of neat-o. Gives you something else to learn.
When my parents took me to church (that stopped in 1986, I'm 38), "we" were Lutheran. Lutheranism is sort of Catholic Lite. You take Communion, and do a lot of stand up, sit down, kneel down, stand up, sit down, rah-rah-rah. The sermons are boring, the outfits are pretty, and the pipe organ is cool.
I have no idea how Lutherans really differ from Methodists, Presbyterians or Episcopals. Southern Baptists tend to be fire & brimstone, and the Pentecostals handle serpents and speak in tongues.
That's about as far as I've looked.