The Benefits of Atheism

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“Imagine that the brain is a computer and that religion is a virus. Atheism is the wiping of that virus.” – Nick Harding[1]

 

What does atheism offer?”, “What good is it?”,  “What benefit can be gained from not believing in God?

Well that depends on how much you value intellectual honesty? How valuable is reason? And I say this without a hint of hubris or intellectual snobbery, although it is often taken to be the very height of just that by theists. But I mean this with the utmost sincerity born out of a genuine caring for people and concern for the future of my children and humanity as a species. For me, intellectual honesty and reason are incredibly important. I’d argue that progress as a person, a society, and as a species is contingent upon it. So when it comes to beliefs that shape our very lives, that provide the foundation from which we conduct ourselves and how we see the world, then nothing could be more important. Now before we delve deeper, let’s be clear, atheism is not a worldview, ideology, or philosophy[2]. Atheism doesn’t provide a foundation of it’s own. But it provides firm ground free of the debris of theism and clears out the religious weeds before they can crack through the foundation of rationality. Allowing instead for solid foundations to be laid. Well grounded foundations such as naturalism and secular humanism, for example. So then what good is it? Well provided that one accepts how rationality, knowledge, and human flourishing are of the utmost importance to the continuing development and progress towards the betterment of humanity as a whole, then one must also give consideration to how these are able to be derailed by bad reasoning, dogmatic ideologies, and faith-based beliefs[3], then the benefit of atheism becomes clearer. To make an important distinction, I’m not arguing that atheism is more rational than theism, I’m arguing that theism is irrational and must be rejected and/or removed from the methods of reasoning altogether. We even see this in the cases of credible scientists who are in fact religious. Those scientists who hold such a belief only hold to it when the white coat is off. They reason like atheists in the lab. Atheism in the context of this discussion is that acknowledgement. The crux of my argument is simply this… atheism clears the way for reason to properly operate.

 

There is a clarity in thinking that comes with having a foundation unfettered with underlying supernatural assumptions. Assumptions like a supernatural deity created the whole of reality and is pulling the strings. And that this deity has an ultimate plan and is watching everything with divine judgment. This foundational clarity allows for the methods of sound reasoning to build. We must be diligent in our efforts to be clear in our thinking and to be objective and honest in our analyses. It’s crucial to build our knowledge on a solid foundation. Even if it means arriving at conclusions that force us to abandon our most cherished beliefs. And the problems that are brought on board when one adopts a god belief chokes reason off at the root. These problems are found in the methods a believer must adopt of defending that belief at all costs. It’s in the fideistic attitude that reason is inadequate and ill-equipped or even an outright misology. It’s also found in the demonization of reason whenever reason challenges the belief in a god and the methods of attaining it. According to theism, faith trumps reason. The best reason can accomplish is to compliment faith. Reason serves to merely placate faith. Reason alone is the trickery of Satan or the product of a prideful fallen creation. Atheism, at this fundamental level, doesn’t allow for such manipulation to take hold. And thus allows for honest, critical analysis. That is all atheism needs to do. But let’s not think this as some trivial thing. Far from it.

 

“It is the absolutism of theism, its pernicious influence upon humanity, its paralyzing effect upon thought and action, which Atheism is fighting with all its power.” – Emma Goldman[4]

 

But there’s another, more personal reason how atheism can be a benefit. It must be acknowledged that many atheists were religious at some point in there lives. And given that religion is deeply ingrained in practically every society around the world. There’s no escaping it’s influence in some capacity. For those that escaped the grip of religion, or are constantly having religion shoved down their throats, atheism can be liberating. Many have witnessed first hand the harm these beliefs have on relationships and we are bombarded daily with news displaying the immense tension caused by religion in societies around the world. Many have been shunned by their community and ostracized by their own family. But consider those who live in regions of the world where harsh religious oppression is everyday life. Where religion isn’t a free choice and apostasy is punished. Where religious totalitarianism suffocates every independent thought of the people around you. Just uttering the words “I’m an atheist” is like a breath of fresh air. Even if it must done clandestinely behind closed doors out of fear of punishment, including death. It is a push-back against the unrelenting inculcation of dogma and religious extremism. Taking into account these two points discussed here, the necessity of atheism couldn’t be more apparent and its benefits are far-reaching. The fewer false, irrational, faith-based things we believe, the better we will be able to grasp reality and thus flourish. And atheism eliminates the biggest offender.

 

-Rich

 

Notes:

[1] Nick Harding, News Talk, January 25, 2016

[2] This isn’t to say that one’s atheology doesn’t contain philosophy, or the reason for one’s rejection of theism. But that’s irrelevant to the topic as atheism doesn’t require any. One can be perfectly justified in simply saying they have no place for a belief in a god belief in their lives.

[3] see my blog where I argue against faith and it’s incompatibility with reason… https://coupleofatheists.com/2013/11/05/unreasonable-faith/  

[4] Emma Goldman, Mother Earth, Feb. 1916

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Religious Vs Secular Ethics: “Where Do I Get My Morality From?”

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We cannot abandon the idea of human well-being and pretend that our moral discourse make sense.” – Philippa Foot[1]

“Where Do I Get My Morality From?” This question simply doesn’t seem to suffice. It doesn’t get to the crux of the matter. I think the questions that would be better suited are “what is the foundation of our morality” and even more importantly, “how do we develop our morality?”[2] In this blog I’ll attempt to briefly summarize my argument as this topic could easily take several books to cover. Here I argue that a secular moral framework is the only way to understand and develop a proper moral system. Whereas religion (or God as the argument goes) not only cannot provide the foundation for morality, but actually undermines it.
Broadly speaking, morality has a naturalistic foundation as we evolved as a social species that can reason. And how we develop our morality is from the recognition and reasoned reflection of the human condition we find ourselves in and the states of affairs that affect it. It is the critical analysis of the various data that inform us about the correct and incorrect actions that affect the current state of affairs in such a way that is most conducive to human flourishing, thus improving the overall human condition. Then we implement these principles in everyday human interaction, so much so that they can become character traits. This is then in turn passed on to the next generation. Our actions have positive and/or negative effects on other people. And by extension, these actions affect or create states of affairs that are either beneficial or detrimental to well being, societal health, etc. that are necessary conditions for overall human flourishing. This is an objective moral fact and what we mean when we speak of “morality”.
Now a common objection to this is to say that there’s no “authority” from preventing me from doing otherwise, that may be, but we have a word for that… it’s called “immoral”. To suggest that “torturing for fun is moral” is a nonsensical statement. The word “moral” has a specific usage (which I outlined above). It’s this basis of what we mean when we say “moral”. It’s also how we can judge acts and ideologies (such as religion) as “immoral” as they don’t conform to any sense of the term properly applied.
Another common objection isn’t really an objection at all, and that is to ask “why should I care about human flourishing?” But this is a different question than what we are addressing here. However, this question when applied to religious morality does expose the real nature of the religious moral framework as being a self-serving consequentialism. Because when we pose the question to the believer, the answer is typically along the lines of “because God knows what’s best for us” or “this is God’s moral law” and by following these laws there are rewards and disobeying these laws result in consequences. Whether the consequence for disobeying God is eternal torment in Hell, the complete annihilation of the soul, or simply not being in God’s presence and experiencing him.[3]

“For our values to have universal appeal, they must be rooted in our common humanity, not in the faiths that divides us.” – Minette Marrin[4]

This shallow, self-serving consequentialism is ultimately predicated on blind obedience and thus an abandonment of our rational faculties. It destroys the very foundation of ethics and the means in which we develop them. It provides a cheap and hollow understanding of morality that doesn’t provide a means to get to the core of the issues and cuts us off from delving deeper. And this deficiency of religious morality is revealed when we attempt to apply it to real world moral problems we face today.
Religion, being an authoritarian ideology (and the most widespread and thus influential), lends itself to the forming of beliefs that have metastasized in some of the most evil acts imaginable. It’s primary fault is the psychological consequences of the beliefs it fosters. It gives justification for attitudes and worldviews that often result in actions that are detrimental and corrosive to any civilized, modern society and on a global scale.[5] Given this, the believer can no longer make any moral judgments beyond “what did god command” or “is this in accordance with God’s nature”. Within a religious framework, we are left without the ability to weigh “goodness” against other “goodness” or “evil” against other “evil” as these terms no longer have a demonstrable foundation in humanity. Good and evil become an outside standard that you cannot participate in, only obey.

“We are discussing no small matter, but how we ought to live.” – Socrates[6]

When I use terms like “moral” and “ethics”, I am talking about something of substance, something demonstrable. Religion can’t make even this most basic of claims about morality. Whereas religion destroys the very foundation of morality and thus results in a deficient and shallow ethical system, a secular moral philosophy grounded in humanistic principles and informed by science provides us with a robust moral system with the ability to grow and develop as our understanding grows and develops. It provides the solid foundation necessary to make proper moral judgments and not a system of simply following “laws”. This makes it the only viable moral framework and eliminates the faith-based religious framework from contention. I take it as my duty to challenge such ideology as it undermines morality, and morality is arguably the most important topic we as humans need to understand if we are to continue to progress towards a better future for all of humanity, here now and for generations to come.

-Rich

Notes:
[1] Virtues and Vices, Philippa Foot
[2] I will use our instead of I as our refers to an objective standard that would apply to every human universally, whereas I would simply be referring to the subjective acceptance (or not) of this standard.
[3] There have been many variations on punishment as apologists have been attempting to reconcile the concept of an eternal Hell with a supposedly omni-benevolent God.
[4] Minette Marrin, Twitter, 02 Jul 15
[5] The argument isn’t about whether religion once was wholly beneficial to developing a society (which I reject) or not. Only that we see the problems that arise in today’s societies.
[6] Republic, Socrates

A Uterus from Nothing (part 8)

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1 month old

 

 

Arabella has arrived! It is exactly one month since the birth of my baby girl and finally I am able to sit down and share our story with you. The past month has been one of the best, maybe the best, of my entire life… but as seems to be the case for this entire journey, the road was not a particularly easy one.

It was July 19 when I first started feeling minor contractions that were different than the Braxton Hicks I had been feeling for months, the pain was mainly in my back and something just didn’t seem right. I went to labor and delivery on the 20th and they said it was too early and were about to send me home when a gush of fluid (like the kind you see in a movie) came out. I was quickly moved to a birthing room and the process started. The pain in my back began to intensify and then I began having full blown back labor. The pain in my back was so intense that I could not even feel contractions in my stomach, just my back. It turns out baby girl was facing backwards and her head was resting on my spine. She was unable to drop into my pelvis and so I could not dilate properly- I was given pitocin to try to rectify the situation, but it just wasn’t working. After about 8 hours of this, the doctor suggested they preform a cesarean section, this was the absolute last thing I wanted to happen. However, as soon as it was explained that it was not only best for me, but for my child, I consented to the procedure. The spinal block was administered and the procedure began. I remember while being in a twilight like state and looking into Rich’s eyes, that it was astounding that I had such options. Once baby was safely out of my abdomen they began to put me back together. I was not able to hold baby immediately, so her first skin-to-skin was with Rich. I was still on the table in a similar position as you typically see with Jesus on the cross. Within 20 minutes I was back in my room and breast feeding- and that has been her favorite activity ever since.

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1 day old

I was surprised at how many people seemed saddened by my situation. I received many apologies, some going as far as to say it was a shame I was unable to “give birth”. For the record, that is a bunch of b.s. . Sure, natural birth was not an option but I am thankful that medical science was there to intervene. I still feel that I birthed a child that day and no one will ever convince me otherwise.

Since my Atheism was not known by the nurses, residents and physicians I received many comments about my “little angel” who is “such a blessing”. I did not use this as an opportunity to chastise them for disrespecting me and my lack-of belief. Anyone who has read my blogs will already know that is not my style. Instead I thanked them and thought, she may not be a gift from God but she is a gift from the medical community. From the moment I conceived to the moment I delivered medical science was involved. I could not have done it without the perseverance of doctors, researchers and scientists. So I thank you all for my baby girl- you have changed my life.

As Arabella grows I hope to pass on to her the secular values that I hold so dear. I want to show her that just because someone may feel differently than you do, it doesn’t make them a bad person or a stupid person, it just means that they have had a different journey than we have. I want her to know that bashing those who believe is never the answer, but taking the time to hear them out and educate them is likely to go a long way. People always ask what we will do if she decides to take a different path than we have and chooses to believe. Well the answer is that I will respect her, I will love her, and I will only expect the same in return.

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A Uterus from Nothing (part 7)

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As my pregnancy is coming to an end I find myself reflecting on the experiences I have had and the things that I have learned. I cannot cover all of it, so I am picking the top two. First, when you are pregnant, people have no filter towards you. They will comfortably make comments about how you look, what you are doing, what you might potentially do once baby has arrived and sometimes you just have to ignore it. More importantly I learned that not every mention of religion is meant to be insulting. Some people just don’t know how to express themselves without a religious undertone. Miracles, blessings and even prayers can be appreciated by the secular, if the good intent is clear. Here, let me give you a few examples of what I have encountered.

While attending a book sale at our local Half Price Books a man approached me and said “Do you know anyone who is pregnant?” I assumed he was teasing me since the bump was quite obvious at that point. In jest, I replied “nope”. Then he went off on a rant about circumcision. The rights of a man to not be mutilated. The carelessness of parents who choose to risk infection on their sons. I interjected, letting him know that he didn’t have to worry- I am pregnant with a little girl and that I certainly do not condone female genital mutilation. This was not sufficient. He was relentless. Coming at me insisting there is never a valid reason, religious or otherwise.  I eventually just had to find Rich and leave. The topic of circumcision is so controversial that many of the internet groups I am involved in (concerning pregnancy) have banned the topic. So having a complete stranger approach me and feel that they could preach their views was surprising. I did not witness him engage anyone else in this type of conversation, but for some reason my baby bump made him feel it was ok to spill his guts on this particularly hot topic. 

Another strange situation occurred at a local McDonald’s restaurant. A woman came up to me and made a remark about how I look like I am about to burst (it’s true!) and then touched my belly without asking. I politely backed up at which point she removed her hand and went into a story about her mother’s at home abortion. That’s right, as I was waiting to order my plain chocolate milkshake I had to hear about how good it is that I chose life… that it is sickening when people overstep God and take life into their own hands. The story was disgusting and I won’t go into details, but the overall point was that she was filled with resentment that she could have had a sibling if only her mother had followed God and chose life. I am not sure why I didn’t stop her preaching as I had with the man at the book store, maybe I was just in shock, Once again, someone felt that my pregnancy gave them carte blanch to say anything and everything that they wanted… and once again, I walked away without a fight.

Those examples are extreme and certainly don’t represent a regular day in my 39 weeks 2 days of being pregnant. Overall this has been the most incredible experience of my life. It has taught me so much about myself and at times restored my faith in humanity. One of the most beneficial things I learned was not to sweat the small stuff…specifically tolerance of random acts of religion…  seriously, it made my pregnancy much more enjoyable. 

For instance, there have been countless moments where strangers and friends alike have referred to Arabella as a “blessing”. I know some of my fellow Atheists would find this insulting, but I do not. For what a “blessing” is meant to represent, it is actually quite a compliment. Whenever someone would say that I would simply agree because to me, becoming pregnant truly is a gift, the only difference is that I don’t believe it is a gift from God… but why split hairs and start a fight when we are just celebrating my beautiful baby girl. 

Another moment that religion decided to sneak into my pregnancy came around the time of the baby shower… in the form of Noah’s Ark themed gifts and wrapping. I received at least 3 presents in gift bags with colorful animals on an ark (No Noah) that read something along the lines of “welcome baby”. I also received an adorable gift set that included a first year photo frame, first foot print/hand print frames and a special holder for the birth certificate. They all feature the ark and animal pairs (again, no Noah). I love the gift set and cannot wait to fill it with Arabella’s big moments… and to be clear I find absolutely nothing offensive about it at all. 

I have also had people pray for me and the health of my baby. They have prayed for a safe gestation and delivery. I know that they do this out of love and true concern for Arabella and I. Yes, I agree with the secular masses that praying is a useless act that doesn’t really mean anything… to us.  To them however it is meaningful and they are just saying “I wish you well” so why start a fight.  

There would be a great difference if the person calling Arabella a miracle added that she is a miracle of God and it is our duty to teach her his ways. If the person buying the Noah’s ark gift bag happened to fill it with rosary beads and a bible- this would be a reason to speak up. If the prayers that were being offered were meant to save my soul as well as the baby- asking that we lose our heathen ways and learn to follow God, I would absolutely tell them that they are out of line. None of these examples, or anything remotely close came into play throughout my pregnancy. 

I made the choice to embrace this experience all that it had to offer. When someone would mention my blessing or miracle, this just opened the door for me to educate them on exactly what advancements in medical science were able to do for me- how we created “a uterus from nothing”.  It has been an amazing ride and I have loved every moment… next stop, the arrival of my daughter.

 

Out of Context

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“It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”- Mark Twain

 

It can often seem like a mugs game to bring the bible into question during discussions with Christians. It never fails that when I post a verse from scripture that I think supports my argument, I’m immediately charged with taking that verse out of context. The arguments that ensue tend to deteriorate quickly and often frustratingly run in circles. When giving a critical analysis of Christianity in general, the religious faithful are quick to accuse me (and all atheists) of not doing my homework. But this is especially the case when I dare to tread on holy ground, which is the bible itself. It’s as if they assume I was never a Christian (which I was), never read the bible (which I have), and am just being exposed to it for the first time (which I haven’t). The general consensus among Christians seems to be that merely being a non-Christian automatically disqualifies one out of hand from accurately citing the holy book. This careless, outright dismissal proves to be little more than a dodge and it doesn’t excuse the believer from demonstrating this supposed misrepresentation.  

 

It’s confusing at times to know exactly what is meant by “taking it out of context”. Take the story of Elisha’s journey from 2 Kings[1] for example. It’s hard to imagine how a passage stating that God sent two bears to massacre forty two children in gruesome fashion for mocking Elisha’s baldness could be taken out of context. Not to mention how nonchalantly this terrible event is treated and how casually the story moves on. It was as if the children getting torn apart was a mere bump in the road. As if it was hardly worth mentioning. What else are we to interpret from this? In what other context could this be taken? It can hardly be disputed what those words say here. According to the story, either God sent bears to maul forty two children or not. Any extraneous interpretation the Christian wishes to read into this doesn’t do much to make the story less vile and horrific. When Christians offer a different “interpretation” to this story, what they are doing is offering more than the words say. Whatever addendum is made, however many excuses are made, the context is pretty clear. When confronted with the merciless brutality of a passage like this, they often instead focus their attention on finding a way to establish some moral meaning behind it, which ultimately proves to be too big a boulder to push in this case, or they argue that it was badly mistranslated.  

 

Translation is a tricky bit of maneuvering that seems to be the preferred tactic for the more indefensible passages found within the bible, as it is for the passage referenced above.[2] While I don’t doubt that there are occasional mistranslations interspersed throughout the bible, scholars and historians still debate over this very topic, we can hardly say that this alters the context as currently presented in such a significant way as to warrant disregarding entire passages on a whim simply for the purpose of recreating them to appear more acceptable or reasonable. Nor does it account for all the versions of the bible circulating today that translate these passages in a very similar way. Lest the Christian wishes the conversation to regress to the very origins of the bible. At which point it may be the case that we ought to disregard the entire bible altogether. This, of course, would leave the Christian at quite the disadvantage and hardly seems to be their intention. So instead of conceding the bible, many shamelessly commit themselves to an act of intellectual dishonesty and create their own “translation”. And in doing so, they in effect become the ones taking verses out of context, and in the most disingenuous manner, I might add. Tailoring the bible this way is not only indecorous of the Christian, but also immoral. The attempt to hide the horrific nature of this passage, and many others like it, by assuming translational errors ultimately can’t salvage the bible from failing to uphold what we would consider to be the most basic of humanities and common sense. Furthermore, what the Christian fails to realize is that this “lost in translation” argument creates far more problems for the believer than for the skeptic. The biggest one being that they have effectively stripped their bible of any practical reliability, and along with it, any argument for biblical inerrancy.

 

As I stated earlier, being a non-Christian seemingly disqualifies one from accurately referencing the bible. Maybe the problem is in how “accurately” or “correctly” is applied here. Historical implications aside for a moment, the meaning here appears to be supernatural. The Christian often claims that the only way to truly understand the bible is to believe in God, because they believe the bible is the word of God. So, according to the Christian, it stands to reason that if one doesn’t believe in God, then one won’t be able to interpret the bible correctly. Along with the obvious objection of circular reasoning, as well as being a thinly disguised attempt at unfalsifiability, it fails for another very big reason. One that I see as being the most difficult problem for the Christian to overcome. This is the problem of the many various denominations of Christianity. They all believe and interpret the bible differently in some key areas. All claiming the same justification from God. To put this into perspective, just think about how many millions and millions of people claim, and have claimed, that the bible is the word of God. And how millions and millions of these same professed believers disagree with other believers, who are just as sincere, on some significant points. The thing they all have in common is they all claim God assures them they are right. They also have the same explanation as to why the others are wrong. To try to account for every interpretation that is accepted as truth by the vast number of denominations would be far too exhaustive and it isn’t the non-Christians responsibility to do so. My business isn’t to sort out all these doctrinal disputes. It’s as if skeptics (atheists especially) are being saddled with the burden of needing to know every interpretation of every denomination just to even mention the bible in any critical manner. And when we fail to satisfy this imposed burden, the charge of misinterpretation and atheistic bias is assumed justified. But then this would mean the individual believer must also know all the varying interpretations as well. For the believer to be excused this, then they must concede that their own claim to “biblical truth” could not have been from the the same exhaustive search that they hold the non-christian to and either accept that it isn’t necessary or admit they could be wrong. All these problems the believer is now faced with not only render their original objection moot, it sheds light on the shear volume of inconsistencies contained within the bible, and as we see, thus further expounding the Christians own problems…

~ Rich

 

[1] 2 Kings 2:23-24 (NIV) 23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.

 

[2] Apologists frequently attempt to re-invent this passage as if Elisha was being attacked by a mob of young men. In it’s original Hebrew, while the word na’ar (boy or youth) could mean “young man”, it is paired with the qualifier katan which means “little” or “small”. Translating literally as “small boys”. And they are telling him to “go on up, baldhead” or “get out of here, baldy” and Elisha turned around to curse them. This indicates that they were behind him and taunting him, not blocking his path or threatening him.

 

 

“There’s a difference between a homosexual and a Christian.”

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Pittsburgh Pridefest is one of my absolute FAVORITE events of the year.Typically I will kick the day off by marching with out local chapter of COR and CFI and then see where the day takes me…since I am 8.5 months pregnant I decided it was too much heat, too much walking and (apparently) just not safe. I almost always end up fighting with the religious protesters, trying to get them to leave everyone alone and move on their way… that seems to have backfired on a 19 y.o girl who was arrested, and assaulted by the arresting officer during a confrontation with the protesters… This video was released several hours after the assault occurred.  http://www.wtae.com/news/woman-arrested-during-pittsburgh-pridefest/26510854#!ZPG8D You hear the main protester comment that someone is about to be arrested and then you see a young woman being pulled, grabbed by the hair and punched in the stomach. My first thought was that, if she went a bit too far with them I understand the officer breaking it up, I even understand her being arrested…it is easy to become frustrated with people who only want to agitate and belittle a crowd of joyful individuals.  Others kept saying that we don’t know what happened and in one interview the officer stated that he was being physically attacked by her and that was why he threw her to the side to stop the fight… I always assumed that our police were trained to take down an individual in a humane manner. We put trust in them to use their best judgement to keep us safe… but when you grab a girl by the hair and punch her in the stomach multiple times you are out of line… plain and simple.

Last night the full video was released on our local news website. You will see the officer standing by along side the protesters, you will hear the girl argue against the protester, you will hear him yelling about pedophiles and the evil of homosexuality (including the statement “that’s what happens when you let homosexuals in the church” to explain child molesting priests ), all while she is overcome with emotion at the hand of this hate speech. After that it quickly escalates to the assault from the other video, no prior attack being shown. http://m.wpxi.com/videos/news/raw-full-video-officer-attendee-encounter-at/vCfBYf/

I love my city, it always seems that our citizens are accepting of just about everyone… that is why events like PRIDE, Anthrocon, and even the PA Atheist/Humanist conference can typically go on without a problem. What was sited as one of the most successful Pridefests our city has seen ended with this unfortunate ordeal… and what was the instigator? Religion. This  problem came about because bigoted, close minded, angry people felt the need to shove their beliefs onto others. They are not able to promote their views in a productive way and so coming down and disrespecting others seems to be their bread and butter. I hope that they are proud of themselves. On the video we hear that “there is a difference between a homosexual and a Christian”… well this is the only truthful statement I have ever heard from those men. Our LGBTQ brothers & sisters do not go out seeking to promote hate… they don’t stalk churches in hopes of hurting those that believe in Christ and the ones that believe in God themselves still stand by the church hoping that good is at the root of the evil that is promoted. Thankfully men like the ones on the street corner are not the majority, hopefully the Christians will join together to show us that this is not how they want to be represented and that  there is indeed a difference between a Christian and a bigot as well.

 

 

 

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.

stop shoving my Atheism down your throat!

I know there is a stigma towards Atheism… at times just speaking the word will get you a dirty look. That is why I tend to not discuss it in groups I know won’t appreciate my point of view. This is something I do out of respect for my friends, family or acquaintances (especially if i am not sure where they stand) but I have noticed more and more that this same courtesy is not given to me. In all areas of my life I come across people who want to tell me all about God, who want to pray for me, who think I need to be saved- despite knowing where I stand they are dumbfounded by my resistance. They are bothered by the fact that I am an Atheist and despite me not flaunting it, somehow they continuously manage to shove my Atheism down their own throat.

I am a member of a facebook support group for the female condition Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome. In general it is a respectful group but occasionally religion shows up and tempers flare. Secularists typically ignore the “I’m praying for you” or “God bless you” comments… but sometimes it becomes too much even for the most patient of us. About a month ago I just happened to catch a post that really hit home. One of my “cysters” asked “Please not trying to start religious debate, but does anyone know if there is a PCOS group for non-believers?”. She was immediately hit with inquires of “why would you want that?”, “why are you trying to segregate our group?”… many of the girls were nice, implying that despite our differences in belief our common bond is PCOS and the women of faith are simply sending support the best way that they know how… through Christ. I backed my secular friend up stating that sometimes when we post a question, we just want a legitimate answer  about treatment, rather than a foggy believer remedy such as the recommendation of prayer and putting it into God’s hands. I got this rant in reply…

“Please stop looking to science for ALL YOUR ANSWERS. Science told my cousin that her son would die as a result of being shot 5 times, once in the head. Science told her to get donation proceedings underway bc there was no way he would survive his injuries. 5 weeks later, he is out of ICU, no ventilator, no spinal cord injuries despite being shot 3 times in the back, no brain stem injuries, AND ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY! Prayer changes things. Im sorry the name of God causes you to be upset but US BELIEVERS WILL NEVER STOP PRAISING HIM so the best thing is to join a nonbelieving group. We have too much joy in the name Jesus to keep silent. We are not trying to be offensive.”

When she was told that her rant was EXACTLY why we want a secular group she replied “Please do not try to attack me for what I believe.”. I can’t say I was shocked by this response, but I found the ignorance astounding. First of all, the story of her cousin simply verifies that science can do amazing things, they initially thought that he wouldn’t make it but by KEEPING HIM IN THE HOSPITAL AND CONTINUING TREATMENT doctors were able to save his life. Now, had she said that once the doctor said it was hopeless, they removed him from the hospital, took him to a church and left it up to prayer… well maybe I would be a bit more impressed. Secondly, instead of supporting the earlier statements that we shouldn’t segregate and should simply support no matter what, she flat out says it is best that we join a different group. So in the end, simply mentioning secularism warranted getting read the riot act, but stating matter-of-fact that the believers “WILL NEVER STOP PRAISING HIM” was a perfectly acceptable response. None of those girls who posted that the secularist shouldn’t try to segregate went on to tell the believer that she was out of line. In fact, the conversation continued with many more replies on how Jesus is important and that prayer does work… and if you don’t agree, well then just use the “hide post” option. Luckily, I did know of the secular group for this condition and was able to pass on a link to the girls who wanted it. I was swamped with private messages from ladies who just want straight talk and thanked for not making the link public.

I notice that this happens frequently in my personal life as well. For some reason the believers feel an entitlement to discuss religion without receiving a counterpoint. During a casual visit with friends, one person started discussing “the flood” stating that it is clearly true and citing evidence such as a seahorse in fresh water on a mountaintop. Now he isn’t alone in this belief, many have sipped the Kool-aid despite the obvious flaws. So fine, whatever, he’s still my friend. The time it becomes an issue is when he becomes offended that our Friday night is being spent with our skeptic group…suddenly we receive an eye-roll that just screams “you know I am not interested in that stuff!” . This behavior is not restricted to stating biblical beliefs… it can show up in smaller things such as people discussing the existence of ghosts and spirits. I have a friend who adores the “Ghost Hunter” type shows. He will talk for hours about the evidence they produce and which places in Pennsylvania are the most haunted. Mentioning that now that he knows the techniques he is more in touch with the spirit world and have started having experiences of his own. There really is no reply necessary to any of it, as I am supposed to just accept this as fact. If I choose to question it I become the stereotypical “arrogant Atheist”  always dismissing the unknown and pushing their (non)belief on others. However, if I dare mention that me and Rich will be speaking at the PA Atheists/Humanist conference… I get crickets. Maybe, just maybe I will get an “oh” of acknowledgment- but that is it, because after all it is inappropriate for me to mention Atheism in a believer environment.

Just last week there was a statement made by the boys mother that really shocked me. She stated that me and Rich have no right to tell his 14 year old son that there is no God. Implying that it is ok for her, as a believer, to tell him that there is a God. First of all, we rarely discuss Atheism with him unless he brings it up. He knows that we are Atheists but honestly, at this stage he has bigger things to worry about, like school and Xbox. Second, her family are the ones who attempt to force religion on the boys. They criticize them for identifying as Atheist, they dismiss the idea of actual discussion of the topic and they take no interest in the secular activities which they enjoy. I find the ignorance to be pathetic, she finds it to be completely justifiable. Somehow people cannot seem to see that pushing the belief of God on someone comes with the risk that they may not agree… you cannot say they are flaunting their views if you are the one insisting on beating the subject to death.

Listen, I have no problem just agreeing to disagree. If nothing is going to change your mind, and you don’t want to hear my side…fine. However, you need to remember that making this agreement means that you need to control the preaching and stop harping on our differences. If you can’t accept that and you insist on shoving my Atheism down your throat, there is nothing more I can do for you.

A Uterus from Nothing (part 3)

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We had our first sonogram last week. Witnessing the heartbeat and seeing the little fetus brought to life exactly how amazing of a gift science gave to us. That’s right, I said science. Ever since I started this process people have had plenty to say about the lack of credit I give to God.  In support groups, acquaintances will tell me that I have been blessed by God with a miracle baby… this doesn’t bother me… I know that they are just excited and expressing it the best way they know how. On the flip side- it was brought to my attention that though some of the believers in my life are excited for the baby, and happy for us, they don’t want to read negativity here. This does bother me.

When I discuss this pregnancy and give credit to scientific advancements and my body’s reaction to them- I am doing so in a positive way. During this exchange it was explained to them that I am sorry they don’t enjoy reading but if the content makes them uncomfortable, it is probably best they don’t read it. Apparently this is not the right answer and instead, since they don’t like it, I shouldn’t write it. This is not going to happen- I am excited to document my pregnancy and express my gratitude to the scientific community for making it possible.

I have loved observing each change in my body during the past few weeks of pregnancy. I knew I would change physically and heard that mannerisms and moods will change as well- but experiencing is believing! It blows my mind that a simple burst of hormones could make someone who ordered extra bacon on everything suddenly not desire any meat at all. And no, I have not been craving loaves and fishies… so I think we can take God out of the equation.

So far I was able to go from tests revealing that I was having anovulatory menstrual cycles… to taking a medication watching follicles grow and an egg releasing…to seeing a fetus growing inside of me… this is not a miracle, it is my body and science working hand-in-hand to make the impossible, possible… and this just the beginning. I still have to see a specialist to find out how my Epilepsy medications will effect me and the baby in later stages of pregnancy. That happens in a month or so and I am pretty sure that I will not need an exorcism. I will be receiving genetic testing to make sure the baby is developing properly and to see if we have risk factors that will need special observation and care. I put my trust in the doctors and plan to do everything that is medically necessary to keep my baby safe.

Unlike believers, when I work for something and accomplish a goal I give credit where credit is due. I don’t believe in the typical copout that we are powerless against God and he makes all the decisions and is responsible for all accomplishments and failures.   I am proud to say that it was me, Rich and a slew of doctors who made it possible for this fetus to grow. Up to this point it has been an amazing ride and I cannot wait to see what lies ahead.

Disproving God’s existence isn’t my job.

I like you both and you make valid points. But really, aren’t you going to an awful lot of effort to disprove God’s existence? I find that so very sad. You seem to be very intelligent people and yet you hang your hat upon, what I surmise, you wish to be remembered for challenging people who believe in God.
Go down to the Philippines and help rebuild a house; hug a child who has lost her entire family, her world. Go to Somalia. Go to South East North Carolina. Better yet, go to………..

Cyn

This was left as a response to the couple of atheists blog. I dismissed it as a comment because I felt it served a better purpose as the focus of a blog… on the misconceptions of some believers. Cyn has been notified that I will be writing this, I hope they check it out.

First and foremost- Atheists are not out to disprove the existence of God. I am not sure when this atrocious accusation became so popular, but Rich and I hear it all of the time in debates and I feel the need to kick out the leg they think they are standing on.

In order for Atheists to be required to disprove God, there would have to be proof of God… and there isn’t. It is that simple. Believers have the burden of proof. They are claiming that there is something more out there dictating our lives and so before this needs to be disproved, it has to be proven. For me, as an Atheist, I am simply attempting to keep these beliefs out of our public policy.  I am not even a militant Anti-theist and I don’t believe my words or actions ever display something different.  When it comes to religion, believe what you want, but don’t claim it to be a truth and stop asking me to substantiate your argument…because I am not going to do it.

Cyn speculated we want to be remembered as people who challenged others belief in God. This is simply a way of making what we do a negative instead of allowing it to be positive… again, I won’t allow for this. I don’t see what I do in my local community or through this blog as simply “challenging” those who believe. I see it as educating those who perhaps never had access to information other than the religion in which they were raised. I am a firm believer that if you are able to come to the conclusion on your own, without bully tactics or being born into it, well c’est la vie! Adults have the right to research, learn and decide what works for them- so as ridiculous as I think it may be- I never “challenge” for the sake of “challenging”. Cyn said that they like me and Rich, but to make such an accusation shows that they know nothing about us, or at the very least, me. All of my friends of faith will tell you that I never belittle them. I open myself to discussion, I am glad to give information when requested, but never do I force my atheism onto them- as I find that practice to be just as dogmatic as any religious practice.

Moving on to the final portion, where I was directed to all of the things I could do instead of educating others on social issues. First off- kettle, kettle- black, black… as Cyn had plenty of time to hate on my blog while they could have been hugging those poor children and rebuilding houses. I am not going to give this part much weight as I don’t believe it deserves it. I could gush about my favorite charities and causes and all the good I do… but frankly that isn’t the point and I don’t need my good deeds to be justified to anyone.

So there you go. I hope this has cleared up any confusion that  Cyn or anyone else had concerning couple of atheists agenda. I’d join in and say you can “go to ……” but I am not the one that believes in that stuff… so I will just say, thanks for reading.