The Arrogance of Theism

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“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom.” – Thomas Paine [1]
“I suppose that one reason I have always detested religion is its sly tendency to insinuate the idea that the universe is designed with ‘you’ in mind or, even worse, that there is a divine plan into which one fits whether one knows it or not. This kind of modesty is too arrogant for me.” – Christopher Hitchens [2]

As atheists, we have all at some point been charged with arrogance. While it is sometimes aimed at a generalization regarding attitude or conduct, it is more often than not about the simple fact that we don’t hold a belief that a god(s) exists. But let’s explore why this charge is grossly misplaced and why the theist should take a long, hard look in the mirror before accusing anyone else of such a disposition. Especially when we consider that those casting this accusation are the same people who claim the entire universe was created as part of a plan for them; all the while claiming to be so humble. It’s difficult to imagine the “humility” it must take to accept that humanity’s actions and beliefs are so relevant to the functioning of the universe that the very laws of nature are altered by them and their God will destroy everything completely when not satisfied. When it comes to arrogance, theists have it in spades. We see it in the way they tout their faith around with such pageantry and in the expectation that their faith be given special privilege. We see it even more in the way not having a belief in their particular God is to be treated. To simply not believe in God (which is seen as the rejection of God by many theists) is itself a sin, in fact, it is said to be the ultimate sin. Many consider non-belief to the work of Satan, or of other demons, leading us astray. Non-belief is the surest way to earn a one way ticket to hell for eternity and apparently justifiably so. According to theists, the rejection of a God that is so self-evident, so axiomatic, is not as simple as just rejecting the validity of this claim, it requires that we must “disprove” their God’s existence altogether. Often times God is regarded as knowledge that every human possesses and to not believe is simply to suppress this knowledge in rebellion. It is as if we willfully reject our very existence. We can begin to understand why any dissension from their ideology is considered a direct affront to their God when we see how the theistic worldview functions in the adherents life. God is everything good, without God there is no morality, without God there is no meaning, there is nothing without God, and so on.

As I mentioned, there is a profound arrogance in the way opposing views are regarded. I admit that I have taken no small insult from the likes of Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, and many of their contemporaries that continually misrepresent atheists and atheism in the most grotesque manner. While these supposedly scholarly theologians seem to let the basic definition of atheism somehow escape their grasp, they apparently have no problem attributing their contrived definition of atheism to the most heinous crimes in human history. The popular apologetic assumption is that simply discrediting any opposing views leaves theirs as the correct one by default. In defense of the theistic argument, the focus seems to be an attempt to portray atheism as an “irrational” position, but the very formation of this argument is itself irrational. Not holding a belief in a baseless, undefined concept that not only lacks scientific credibility, but that it’s very existence would seem to violate the natural laws as we know them, seems to me the rational position to hold. When we hear things like “the absurdity of atheism” or “atheism is unreasonable”, what is really being said is “the absurdity of not believing in my conceptualization of God” and “not believing in MY God as I envision Him is unreasonable”. They are devoid of any practical meaning when taken in the proper context. Intellectual honesty doesn’t allow for such fallacious argumentation and atheism essentially strips these arguments of their privilege and holds theistic claims accountable for justification under scrutiny, Atheism points out that in religion[3], facts and truth are often operating in two separate spheres and reason is replaced by faith to connect the dots. While it could be said that these are problems within particular religious ideologies, theism in general is at the heart of it.

Now to address one of the prime examples of the arrogance of theism, we’ll take a look at the false dichotomy that’s being circulated ad nauseam by theists that one either believes in something (God) or in nothing (atheism). This clever bit of sophistry is merely a convenient attempt to put atheists in a situation of defending a position of “nothing” while theists get to enjoy the lofty position of “something else out there”. But let’s put this in its proper context. Theists are not simply arguing for a “something”, they are claiming to know what this something is and claim to even know it’s will. They make such unsubstantiated assumptions that this something possesses intelligence and other anthropomorphic qualities such as emotions that conveniently fits their particular religions concept of what God is. While there are variations in these concepts, theists seem to all be in agreement that this something is an intelligent, loving, authoritarian deity that created everything and is itself beyond natural laws and is transcendent of space and time while also simultaneously able to interact with the natural universe. We must then assume that this “something” exists in some unfounded, unknowable supernatural reality and can interact with the natural world unabated by natural laws, and this is to be believed on anecdotal evidence, speculation, and faith. By what right is their position so privileged as to encompass all of what this something might be and claim that their something is the only possible something and that their something is excused the same standard of justification and to subject their belief to the same investigations that all other scientific proposition are subject to? Theists are claiming to know more than the most brilliant minds that exist, or have ever existed.

I want to make one very important point here, it is ultimately the atheist that is free to inquire what else might be out there, and not the theist, as they are bound to their presupposition with no escape or be guilty of apostasy. Nothing about atheism suggests there is “nothing” else, nor does atheism rely on such dubious conjecture to fill the gaps in our knowledge. The theistic position ultimately ends the search for whatever something else might be out there. It is an end to investigations and to thinking critically as it purports to already have the answer. Also, the arguments in favor of theism are less than convincing. Atheists are constantly confronted with Intelligent Design as if this is some profound, enlightened argument that is irrefutable proof for an intelligent creator of the universe. For the sake of argument, even if the “design” argument is to be accepted, this still only leaves us with evidence for a designed universe. It speaks nothing of what the “designer” may actually be. Positing God is not only presumptuous on the theists part, it doesn’t have any explanatory power. Nevertheless, the best a theist can hope for with this argument is to infer a deistic conceptualization of God, the God being invoked by theism is a far cry from say, the kind of “god” Spinoza proposed. This problematic argument proves to be a very weak platform for theists to launch a defense from and we see that it fails for several reasons. By following the evidence, the only logical conclusion that can be drawn is that things can simply appear designed. The human mind looks for patterns and we see examples of this in all sorts of other apophenia. Here is no different. But theists insist on committing to fallacious argumentation and intellectual dishonesty to tailor scientific evidence to fit an otherwise unsubstantiated conclusion. Theists operate from extreme presumption and hubris, using scientific terminology to expound supernatural concepts to appease a deeply held religious belief. Ignoring that it ultimately collapses under scientific scrutiny, they opt for equivocal word games or a complete dismissal of contrary evidence. We would be hard pressed to find a better example of this than with the war between creationism and evolution.

Another display of extreme arrogance by theists, and in my opinion one of the most insulting, is the assumption that we can’t have meaning and purpose without a belief in their particular god. I personally see this as a hindrance to any practical application of these terms. According to theism, what purpose does THIS life ultimately serve? I matter to my loved ones around me and they matter to me regardless of any deity. Furthermore on a larger scale, we all matter as part of a functioning society in whatever capacity we can, which ultimately reverberates through the entire world. Such as a doctor matters to his or her patients, using treatments developed over time and perfected by others. The people who maintain bridges matter for safe travel everyday using tools and technology developed and made by others. Everyone involved with getting food to our table to feed our families. Our purpose is in doing our part to take care of one another as well as ourselves and ensuring we do everything we can to make the world a better, safer, healthier place to pass on to the next generation. While the universe will continue functioning without us, we as a species cannot function without our contributions and the responsibility falls on us and us alone. To posit that there is some alternate purpose that is beyond this reality is to undermine this very important point. The level of arrogance displayed to assume these things are not meaningful enough on their own and there has to be something more beyond this is quite disheartening. It reduces these meaningful things to merely serve as a pathway to salvation for the believer, to gain favor from their inculcated concept of god when facing “him” to be judged (even though this deity supposedly has no spacial or temporal properties). The afterlife becomes their sole purpose to either spend eternity in paradise or, in many beliefs, in eternal torment (which none actually think they are personally going there). The doctrine of salvation only extends to the individual, ultimately making it a self-serving proposition with no thought for the future. The believer is then  exonerated of any moral responsibilities that promote growth, human dignity, and the deep respect for human life that ensures the greatest amount of human well-being for the future while also alleviating the suffering of the next generations. Atheism has no such restrictions and in fact provides the open-mindedness that is needed to promote such values that is essential for a society to flourish. The fact that theists attempt to portray atheism as nihilism is to say these everyday meanings and purposes are illusory and is an insult to those of us who live meaningful and purpose-filled lives. The theist cannot account for how an absence of their belief diminishes these values. True meaning and purpose is not predicated on an afterlife and is found here in reality. If the theist wants to argue this, then lets see if they would actually follow the disgusting example of Abraham with his son Isaac. While this usually gets a rehearsed apologetic response as to why they are excused of this, it is still sad to see how someone can put God before their loved ones and defend such an ugly doctrine.

We should also take notice of the arrogant attempts by religions to monopolize terms like “God”, “morality”, “faith”, “love”, “belief”, and the list goes on. Basically everything good and worth valuing is considered to be their God. We won’t even get into the absurdity of how a “creator” that’s purportedly responsible for all of creation is somehow not responsible for all the evil, chaos, and suffering also. The idea that we can only be good with God is of the highest arrogance and nothing is more demeaning to our basic human dignity that this. But I will address the issue of morality and religion later as I can’t give it the treatment is deserves here. But back to the topic at hand, there is a sense from believers that their god is the ONLY possible one while looking at other religions as silly, contradictory, or self-defeating. Dismissing the dogmas of other religions out of hand, but expecting preferential treatment of their own. The point they seem to miss is that many of the same flaws they find in other religions are also found in their religion, and why theism is an untenable position. Theism’s inherent absolutism renders its outrageous claims immutable and is precisely why theism is unscientific. We don’t need “absolute” certainty to reasonably reject the claim that God exists, or any supernatural deity. We get along in life just fine without such presumptions. The pretentiousness of the theist is really displayed in the way they adhere to this antiquated, speculative belief with such pomposity, despite all of theism’s glaring flaws and lack of evidence. When we inquire openly and honestly about not only the veracity of the claims, but also what purpose does it really serve, we see the true nature of arrogance and why it is that atheism is on the other side of the spectrum. Theism ultimately leads to stagnation with potential for very real consequences, and the level of arrogance it takes to ignore that is disconcerting, to say the least. I think that it is clearly the case that theism takes far more arrogance than atheism is even capable of.

– Rich  

[1] Thomas Paine, Common Sense 1776

[2] Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22 2010

[3] “Theism” is not necessarily “religion”. They can, however, be used interchangeably here.

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