Episode 109 – Atheism

Last Easter we did “Jesus” as a hurdle. Certainly a topic we could visit again, but I thought we should switch it up this time around. At first blush,  Atheism might seem like a strange nerd hurdle. If you’re a person of faith, you’re not avoiding atheism because it’s “nerdy” or “over-hyped” and no one’s asking you to become a non-believer.

Or historically that was the case. But recently things have changed. Atheists are no longer living by the golden rule, doing unto others as they’d have others do unto them. They’re no longer turning the other cheek and have begun casting the first stone. Atheists seem to no longer be content to go on not-believing and letting people believe whatever nonsense they want—they’re out to convert people now.

In recent year, they’ve been getting more and more dogmatic in their battle against religious dogma. Now it’s a crusade, a ministry spreading its own brand of dogma. It’s beginning to feel a bit like a religion itself with Richard Dawkins as its patron saint. The hypocrisy of this increasingly ferocious movement has become enough to make me hesitant to describe  myself as an atheist.

Or at least, I’m not willing to call myself a Militant Atheist. Though challenging faith-bases claims is something I can see the socio-political value in, I can’t fathom what good could come of chipping awaya person’s faith until they’re left with nothing. I see it as being the same as if I didn’t believe in seatbelts so I tried to convince people to stop buckling up. Personally, I don’t believe in a deity (or the possibility of one). But if someone else does, and that helps them journey safely through life—I’m not going to take their seatbelt away. Even if they try to convince me to start wearing a helmet I can’t believe in.

Basically, I  follow a higher power: Wil Wheaton and try to abide by His Law. Anyone who knows me IRL, will probably get a bit of a chuckle from that, but I try. Militant atheists appear to have cast this basic rule aside in favour of following the much easier road of just being a dick.

That isn’t to say I don’t understand the feelings behind militant atheism. The roots of the movement seem to have sprouted from the scientific community, specifically in regards to the United States of America. A country that sees itself as being predominantly god-fearing and Christian even though nobody on TV ever goes to church. Being as powerful and rich a country as the US is, it has the potential to influence the course  of scientific study worldwide by what does and does not get funded on its own turf. So when research gets shut down due to religious concerns and Evolution is being banned from text books, it’s understandable the scientific community would feel the need to fight back. And perhaps it’s good they are fighting back.

But are they fighting the fight they should be fighting? Is the enemy really religion?

There seems to be a feeling that if we were to remove religion from the equation, many the society’s problems would sort themselves out naturally. It’s the idea that the pro-life movement would disappear, people would no longer be homophobic, wars would end and stem-cell research would continue unfettered.

But none of these things are products of religion. Attacking religion is attacking the symptom, not the cause. The cause of intolerance, violence and hate isn’t belief in a deity—it’s us.

Forget what they say about money, human beings are the root of all evil.

True, some of us hide behind belief systems when we feel the need to justify our more ugly desires. But removing the justification won’t remove the desire. One thing human beings of all creeds have always had in common is the ability to commit atrocities in the morning and sleep soundly that night. Take away a bully’s religion, nationalism will take its place. Take away nationalism and racism fills the void. Take away race and class is the justification.

Take away religion and apparently militant atheism takes its place.

And it’s getting vicious. Atheist groups are beginning give me the feeling of bands of thugs intent on bullying people who don’t share the same beliefs. Atheism used to mean simply not believing in God, but it’s becoming a rallying cry to attack people of faith. Religious followers are being branded as simple-minded bigots. And it isn’t just religion being blamed for all the world’s problems, it’s religious individuals. Not content with challenging religious beliefs when it comes to matters of public policy, atheists now seem bent on breaking people of their religious beliefs. People of faith are now seen as indoctrinated victims who need to be deprogrammed.

Hey kettle, the pot called…

I harbour a suspicion many of today’s so-called militant atheists are actually agnostics who are uncomfortable with the idea there may or may not be a God and perhaps also harbour a bitterness towards specific religious people in their lives. I equate them with homophobes whose hatred of gays stems from being a bit gay themselves but are unable to admit it. Most people who are truly straight, and completely comfortable with their sexuality, don’t care where someone lands on the LGBT spectrum. The feeling I get from some of the most vocal militant atheists these days is that they’re not actually atheists at all—they’re actually closeted spiritualists. Like most human beings, they’re hardwired to believe in something bigger than humanity but can’t swallow the idea of a man with a white beard on a cloud and that angers them.

Methinks you doth protest too much.

I should make it clear, I am very much an atheist. I lack the very ability to even entertain the existence of deities or a “higher power” in the universe. Not a very scientific view, I’m not open to speculation, but I’m not claiming to be a scientist. I’m claiming to be an atheist.

It is with an almost religious conviction with which I believe, not only that there is no God, but that there is not even the possibility one existing. Not in the traditional theistic sense and not in the sci-fi incorporeal consciousness sense either.

I’m not a skeptic. I’m not waiting for proof one way or the other. I know in the very core of my being there is no supreme being or cosmic consciousness. I am open to reviewing the proof, should it be offered, but I know that no such proof is forthcoming nor will it ever be.

How do I “know”? Call it a matter of faith.

I am highly critical of the very idea of the existence of deities as it is patently absurd. What I am not critical of, however, is anyone who is able to believe in a supreme being be it Allah or The Q.

I can certainly understand the atheist argument against religion determining public policy. Naturally, I completely agree with that. I don’t think a 2,000 year old book should decide what control a person has over their own body. Issues should be decided on a case-by-case basis on the grounds of what is best for society at present. Doctrine shouldn’t be blindly followed, all available information should be rationally analysed to determine what is most beneficial for human life. Decisions should be re-examined when new information comes to light.

But people haven’t spent 2,000 years calling adultery and murder sins because it’s written in a book. They put it in a book because people have always believed, and will always believe, that those are behaviours which create social discord. Similarly, religious beliefs might help prolong anti-gay sentiments, but the sentiments will always be there.

Religion isn’t the target atheists should be aiming for.

For myself, being an atheist means living my life without religion being a consideration, positive or negative. True, Prime Minister Stephen Harper did want to put some of his Christain-informed beliefs into law. But that wasn’t the wishes of the moral majority, so it didn’t happen. We still have a separation of church and state up here in generally respectful ol’ Canadia. Maybe in a country like the USA, religion more directly affects the lives of atheists who might even be a persecuted minority in their town. If I were a scientist in the States, I’d be tempted to prove to my critics why their beliefs were a load of hooey.

But ironically, convincing people there is no God is an unscientific goal.

Time and again scientists have tried to prove that human beings are hard-wired for the religious experience. From observational study, it seems to me we all fall somewhere on the spectrum of being highly capable of religious experience to not being capable of it at all. Whatever the God Helmet triggers, I seem to, for the most part, be missing it. But if someone is wired to believe in a higher-power, you’ll never be able to “reason” that away. Scientists should be able to recognize this.

Even though I lack the ability to believe in a deity, I am still hard-wired with a spiritual need. I channeled this need into Star Wars fanhood for years. When I was most down and needed a God I couldn’t believe in, I turned to escaping into The Force. No, I didn’t believe in The Force, but collecting figures and reading comics did give me what I needed. eventually, I began studying Taoism and abandoned Star Wars.

I’m still an atheist, Taoism isn’t a religion. It’s more (and ultimately less) than Buddhism without the Buddha. It’s closer to European existentialism without the crushing despair. My interpretation of the Tao is a completely metaphorical understanding of nature at its most unsupernatural. It’s less a code to live by and more… guidelines.

And so, when people ask me if I believe in God, I don’t say I’m an atheist, I say I’m a Taoist. To me, it means exactly the same thing, but no one secretly thinks I’m an intolerant, arrogant, smug, bigoted jerk.

All criticism aside, Richard Dawkins makes some good points in this TED Talks video on Militant Atheism.

The uber-feminist Firefly is sexist and Joss Whedon rapes his wife blog: http://users.livejournal.com/_allecto_/34718.html

Jakob’s original Ask An Atheist Day blog post: http://mrdapper.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/ask-an-athiest-day/

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7 Responses to Episode 109 – Atheism

  1. mike walker says:

    If only we could get rid of that great christian organization the KKK.

  2. Greg says:

    No doubt, “christians” who kept racist policies in place and terroroized people for more than a century will have a lot to answer for in eternity … but that is a Christian perspective.

    For what it’s worth, I see the KKK as a very good representation of what the Bible calls anti-Christ. (The actual concept has nothing to do with a weird kid with a 666 tattoo under his hairline.)
    Simple enough to say that anti-Christ as a concept/movement will pretend to be Christian as the perfect cloaking device to do the most evil possible.

    One day (speculating, I’ll grant) I imagine the homophobia that gets so much publicity will be recognized as anti-Christ within the construct of Mark 9:37-41.
    I say this on the possibly crazy notion that the true Christian church today is preferable to the one 500 or 1,000 years ago. It isn’t worse now; it was worse then. (To coin a phrase … it gets better.)

    Likewise, strange as it is to say … the KKK (while horrible) was better than institutionalized slavery.
    OR,
    Brown v. Board was better than Plessy v. Ferguson … but “separate but equal” was still better than slavery.

  3. Greg says:

    Oops, double-post, but I just watched most of the TED Talks video.

    Perhaps to ask a fiery question (not meaning to be incendiary, really): why is Dawkins so widely viewed to be an expert in everything?

    With Thomas Jefferson, for example, he seems to confuse deism with atheism. Yes, Jefferson rightly warns about what would happen without a separation between church and state. Seems that Jefferson had plenty of other things to say, about law for example, that Dawkins would openly mock (not just reject).

    His comparison between Judaism and Secularism in America and the basis for the support Israel as a nation is deeply flawed. Is he as smart as everyone says, which would call to question his ethics and integrity? Or does he not understand the difference between Jew as a race/nationality and Jew as a religious identity?

    Perhaps a significant number within the Secular slice of the pie chart he presented are still Jewish. None of this includes right-wing Christian support for the nation of Israel in a very misguided interpretation of eschatology. Politicians aren’t so naïve to believe they are courting the narrow religious slice of Judaism.
    And they aren’t smarter than Dawkins.

    America might not be better off if members of narrow intelligentsia were in charge of the governmental branches. I feel dirty just saying this, but what we really need are the brightest politicians and diplomats, and not the brightest physicists and biologists, in government.

    On the other hand, this point seems obvious. That leads me back to the original question. How wise should we regard a person who misses things so clear and obvious?

    (Stopped at 18 minutes in, but that’s on me. If I thought he was just some assistant professor somewhere, my expectations would have been lower and I probably would have hung in there longer. Ironic. My sound card dropped … and it just isn’t worth it to reboot and start over.)

    • nerdhurdles says:

      That was my general reaction to the video as well. Not so much with paying much attention to the minutiae of his mentioning of Judaism. That video was an overview of his ideology and because he was skimming the surface, it put into focuss the naivity of it.

      I think he’s capable of making a well-argued, er, arguement–“The Selfish Gene” seemed solid when I read it ten years ago–but whenever he talks about atheism it seems like he’s dumbing it down for the masses.

      Ultimately all he wants is for scientific research goes unfettered and evolution remains in schools. But over the years, he seems to have gotten lost down the rabbit hole.

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