William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson
nova_one

A Big Bad Atheist Speaks Out

From a friend’s “25 things”:

12. Fundamentalist atheists piss me off even more than fundamentalist Christians. Sure fundamentalist Christians bitch and moan about the secularization of America while the separation of church and state is written right into their constitution yet a candidate needs to present himself as a good God-fearing churchgoing man before he even has a hint of a shot at election and it is not considered unusual for abortion clinics to be locked to keep out crazy redneck Republicans threatening to murder the doctors within. But fundamentalist atheists seem to delight in using essentially the same arguments as their Christian counterparts to definitively prove that they are better than me. When I talk to a "good" atheist, the conversation usually goes a little something like this:
ME: Well obviously there is no way of proving it one way or the other, but all things considered, I think there is probably a God, at least of some sort.
ATHEIST: You are right, it cannot be definitively proven, but all things considered I am pretty sure that there is no such thing as God.
The fundamentalist atheist will reply to my statement with:
ATHEIST: If you are still deluding yourself into thinking that a God of some sort is even remotely possible, you are indoctrinated and incapable of thinking for yourself. Go back to the middle ages!
Dear fundamentalist atheist: I am not saying you are wrong. I am not saying you are right. I am saying please stop being such a big fucking douche about it.


Well, color me a fundamentalist atheist. Truly, we should stop being such big fucking douches. (I'm sure she didn't mean me; I'm inserting myself into this discussion for my own purposes.) Now I’m going to take my own turn on the soapbox:

First, I have a serious issue with how belief in the supernatural is somehow sacred. In normal life, nobody says “Well, you think the moon is made of green cheese, and since that’s your belief, I’ll respect that.” But we encourage people to believe whatever they want (well, actually, we encourage people to stick to a set of fixed beliefs) when it comes to “spirituality” or an afterlife. I’m not saying that science has an answer here at this time, but nothing is really outside the scope of science – it’s a method, not a pre-determined belief system.

Secondly, doesn’t talk of God’s plan make you cringe as if you’re hearing fingernails on a chalkboard? Frankly, God doesn’t matter! If you think God is taking any kind of active interest in your existence, then your conceit is enormous – remember that this is the same “God” that permitted the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, innumerable wars, and endless suffering. I think it’s safe to say that we’re on our own. To think otherwise requires concocting a vast, narcissistic, self-deceiving “plan” that has many switchbacks and gotchas. Don’t tell me that the Jews and Poles at Birkenau were all part of God’s plan. You know that’s bullshit. Isn’t it far more elegant to assume that there is no plan? And if there’s no plan, what’s the point of there being a God?

Thirdly, people’s aversion to atheistic ideas comes down to, in my experience, cognitive dissonance. A key part of most belief systems is being taught not to question them directly, and this often extends to avoiding associations with those that do. You can talk about the weather, Gretzky vs. Orr, or last week’s Lost until you’re blue in the face, but as soon as the existence of God comes up, it’s “Can we talk about something else, please?” Of course they’re reluctant to set aside the ideas that they’re utterly depended on all their lives, even if they’re living on shaky ground. (Sometimes a Mormon or Witness who preys on this weakness comes by at an opportune time, and they trade up to an even more ridiculous set of ideas.)

While I’m not going to be staging protests outside churches anytime soon (for me this would represent an assault on free-thinking, which I’m very much against), I also think the recent backlash against atheists in general (now that they’re becoming more vocal, and not a moment too soon) is absurdly hot-tempered. Yes, there might be some meanie atheists out there who would go so far as to drop gloves with the Dali Lama. That would be a little ridiculous – it’s not as if people possessing religious belief is itself a problem, except when they promote abstinence-only sex education or fly themselves into buildings.

What I am asking people to think of is this: The next time you hear someone promoting atheistic ideas, ask yourself if your repugnance stems from cognitive dissonance – that disquieting feeling when two or more irreconcilable ideas come into conflict in your brain. Are you merely going to maintain the status quo out of your desire to spare yourself the anguish, or do you truly know that the new ideas aren’t any good because [insert reasons here]? If you run away screaming a few times, that’s fine – I did, too.

Sure fundamentalist Christians bitch and moan about the secularization of America while the separation of church and state is written right into their constitution yet a candidate needs to present himself as a good God-fearing churchgoing man before he even has a hint of a shot at election

There’s a point I’d like to comment on: How scary is it that an entire country feels that the more time their leader spends in church listening to someone else’s ideas, the better? That people support a man of prayer over a man of thought?

(THE BIG BAD) ATHEIST: If you are still deluding yourself into thinking that a God of some sort is even remotely possible, you are indoctrinated and incapable of thinking for yourself. Go back to the middle ages!

Indoctrinated, maybe. Incapable of thinking for themselves? I should say not. Heck, sticking to some of these belief systems in the face of contrary evidence requires a great deal of mental chicanery and an intellect that is capable of tremendous self-deceit. There are some extremely intelligent people who adopt or promote religious beliefs. We all lie to ourselves to some extent, and most of us are serviceably intelligent – the differentiator lies in our choices, not our mental fortitude.

At this rate, I’ll have my own “25 things” list finished sometime in April.
Tags: 25 things, atheism, belief, facebook, facebook memes, lists, religion
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I guess that is what bothers me about the aforementioned fundamentalist atheist: the implication that theism and critical thinking skills are mutually exclusive, or that because I am still a theist I must be too afraid to take an honest look at my beliefs. As if people with PhDs aren't religious leaders.

That, and you know, the idea that the existence or non-existence of a God can be definitively proven.

If you haven't already read this, I encourage you to check it out. It's a witty, insightful, and balanced look at the a/theism debate called 10 Things Christians and Atheists Can (And Must) Agree On: http://www.cracked.com/article_15759_10-things-christians-atheists-can-must-agree-on.html
Also, I think that being taught not to question belief systems, while good for organized religion, is bad for the adherents. Growing up, I was never taught not to question my beliefs, but I was taught a sort of intellectual humility, i.e. that no one has all the answers. This may sound like an intellectual cop-out, but think of all the "evil" that has occurred in the world because someone thought that they knew all the answers. Maybe this is a protestant thing, but I was also taught never to just obey blindly, but to exercise my own judgment in what is right or wrong. This is also taught in the bible (I think it is Jesus in one of the synoptic gospels but it may be in one of the epistles).
Also, I think that being taught not to question belief systems, while good for organized religion, is bad for the adherents.

I very much agree.

Growing up, I was never taught not to question my beliefs, but I was taught a sort of intellectual humility, i.e. that no one has all the answers. This may sound like an intellectual cop-out, but think of all the "evil" that has occurred in the world because someone thought that they knew all the answers.

Very true. That sounds like a healthy position to take.

Maybe this is a protestant thing, but I was also taught never to just obey blindly, but to exercise my own judgment in what is right or wrong.

Ha-ha, thank God for protestants! I don't remember any specific teachings on my end, but I have to feel it was more the absence of hard dogma that allowed me freedom to think on my own a little bit. (But then I moved and then I went to a Seventh-Day Adventist private school for two years.) Secretly, I feel a bit ashamed of myself for being a failure in terms of healthy, progressive protestantism. Like if I were with a "serious" church, I wouldn't have escaped so easily. You see what I'm getting at here? =)
My response to this has exceeded 12,000 characters and become a new post. =)
I think most of the issues most people have with religion is really just with Christianity, not religion itself. You can't tar Zen Buddhism with the same brush as the one you use with Christianity. Since it is the mainstream/dominant religion in North America and much of the world, people don't know the differences between Christianity and a religion like Judaism that are very important distinctions to make.
No, I can't, and I admit that Buddhism is somewhat less warlike than Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. However, I have issues with religion itself, no matter the guise. It shouldn't be necessary. But I grant that there will probably always be religious people, for reasons that I understand and many that I don't. It can't all be bad, though - I read something by Douglas Adams about how the Hindu farmers on Bali use a temple calendar that turned out to be more sustainable than western methods that were tried. And religion is cited as a way some people stay happy, though to me that just means that people need something constructive with which to keep their minds occupied since we're not programmed to cope with surplus.
Yeah, and even within Buddhism, it's a toss up. I'd say that specifically, Zen hasn't had any warlike behavior. However, in the course of China vs Tibet realm, the Tibetan Buddhists have been violent.

However, I don't think war itself is a bad thing-- it entirely depends on the pretext, but should be a last resort. But I can't really think of any time where Judaism ranks with Christianity or Islam in violence or war. While the Bible is bloody (but so was much of ancient history, and continues into modern history), we can't really be certain that all the battles listed happened or if they aren't meant to be taken literally (many of which was where Jews weren't the aggressors and were defending themselves). As opposed to Christianity and Islam, where the aggression towards each other, Jews, and others who aren't like them, is well-documented.

I was raised somewhat Catholic, but never really got into it and felt bad because I just couldn't hack it. I felt like I knew too much to be able to be a Christian. I spent a lot of time reading up on atheism and how Jesus didn't fulfill the prophecies like the New Testament said, and eventually stumbled on to Judaism. While in Christianity, stuff like evolution is a big deal because if it's true, then the Bible can't be the literal truth. In Judaism, the Bible is not taken literally and instead, things like the creation of Earth and humans is seen in a mystical light because they don't have a root in science as we are able to understand it today.

I had been interested in Judaism since I was younger, and it all sort of clicked for me. I'm converting but I don't feel like I am delusional or anything of the sort...
OK, so you felt bad because you couldn't hack Catholicism. Why did you feel the need to follow anything?
Although it wasn't just Catholicism, it was any Christianity. I tried to do the Protestant "getting saved" thing, but it didn't "work." I couldn't rationalize it, couldn't believe in it, and swore off religious stuff for several years.

I kind of didn't feel like I needed to follow anything that. I considered myself an atheist/freethinker, and so were my friends. That was what I followed, the absence of following (if that makes any sense).

I still don't feel like I *need* to follow anything, it's more like how someone picks up a musical instrument, or has another art form. You think, "hey, that looks interesting," and you start to get into it a bit, reading up on it, learning how to do it. If it sticks, then you start to be able to "see" things a certain way. For example, since I started doing photography, I can think in terms of light and it comes naturally. Would this be enough light, how would I have to adjust the exposure, what would I need to do in order in get a certain effect in this situation, etc.

I have gone through phases where I thought, "Why do I have to have a religion?" and tried to drop it but couldn't get away from it if I tried. I think too much in terms of Judaism. I can't just settle for being someone who knows a lot about Judaism, I have to be Jewish. I feel like I am supposed to. The religion label is kind of hard for me. And sometimes other people are like, "OMG you're religious now?!" Well, yeah, I guess technically I am religious. but it doesn't feel the way other religions have felt to me. I couldn't bottle it up and channel it into some other religion.

I didn't really have to change to adapt to the beliefs of Judaism. I read about it, and noticed that much of it was what I already thought: strong emphasis on science and education, not much freaky stuff about damnation, salvation, or afterlives. There is history, humor, mysticism, and social justice. I like that.

You also don't HAVE to be Jewish to be "good," in contrast with some religions where if you aren't a member, then you should be or else you're doomed. Jews don't go door to door or pass out tracts on the street. It is perfectly acceptable to be Jewish myself, but have friends or family who aren't. The evangelism is nonexistent and I like that.

It just fits.
Well, there are protestants and there are protestants. There are mainline protestants, evangelical protestants, and more. I was raised presbyterian (and also in a United church that used to be presbyterian before the merger, which is almost the same thing). By most definitions, they're not particularly evangelical, and don't emphasize a singular idea of "being saved." (At least that's how it was in Canada. There seem to be several "presbyterian" denominations in the United States, many of which (including this one) are more conservative and/or evangelical. To confuse things further there was a presbyterian church in my Nova Scotian hometown that was aligned with an American communion, but I don't know which one.)