Offenders of the Faith

“Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?”

-Matthew 7:4

    After an excessive number of political rants, I’m going to take a break and tackle a less sensitive topic: religion. I promise to be just as insulting, if not more so.

    I’m not going to try to argue whether God exists: if you have enough brain matter to fill a pudding cup (and I am talking about the ridiculous little kiddie-size ones that only serve to remind you how good pudding tastes) you can tell that God is either dead or asleep at the wheel. “Intelligent Design” is the dumbest theory ever invented to support God’s existence; a better one would be “Malicious Idiot Design”. If you’re one of those who believes that an obscure nomadic tribal deity created the entire universe in a week six thousand years ago, deliberately designed it to look much older than it is, created trillions of galaxies for the sake of one tiny planet, peopled it with creatures who can’t help sinning and tormented them for being sinners, and then murdered His only child because it was the best excuse He could think of not to burn every single human being in Hell for eternity – and, furthermore, that this is a good thing – then you might as well not read any further. You’re not the kind of person I’m trying to piss off right now.

    If on the other hand you are one of those who believes that you have the right to not only believe whatever you want, but to rub your superiority in the faces of the majority you despise, demonize them, and not be subjected to recriminations and the odd death threat, you are right in my crosshairs. (My political rants don’t count because I don’t mind being hated by greentards, randroids, and other trash, and besides, I’m always right.)

    Of course I am (like all intelligent people) an atheist. I think that people should have the right to believe whatever they want without being penalized for it, and not be forced to participate in or subsidize any religion at all. People should not demand tolerance from those whose beliefs they mock and despise, when they are unwilling to grant the same tolerance themselves. They should not have the right to demand that every visible trace of conflicting belief – even atavistic Yahweh-worship – be expunged from public life. If the right of the majority to hold and express its beliefs is not protected, can we expect that the right of the minority will be?

    Lawsuits over a Nativity scene at a county courthouse, over the Boy Scout’s use of the Pledge of Allegiance (even after the brats in question were excused from saying the words, “Under God”!), over public postings of the Ten Commandments; controversy over a period of silence in schools – these are reflections of an obscene petty narcissism, not any concern for liberty. Even if the people who instigate such things truly have no better problems of their own to address (which I heartily doubt), they should be reviled for causing pointless disruption to others.

    The separation of Church and State (which does not actually exist in the Constitution) is no justification. In our modern world, where government is directly or indirectly involved in every aspect of our lives, there is no possibility of practicing religion without impinging in some way on the public sphere. Churches are going to be zoned differently than whorehouses, people are going to drive to them on taxpayer-subsidized roads, and our Great Annual Shopping Holiday is always going to be called Christmas. We don’t really need protection from this kind of persecution. We need protection from mandatory tithing, enforced church attendance, imprisonment, and burning at the stake. Yes, atheists have suffered such things in the past for their beliefs. So have Christians, and in far greater numbers.

    There are some people who like to get all in your face with their religion, but 99.9% are content to leave you alone if you leave them alone. If you get all offended because some well-meaning person says, “God bless you”, you are an asshole. Why should everyone have to tip-toe around the atheist to avoid pricking his fragile ego? If you want to have beliefs that are your own, and not parroted from the herd, you have to be willing to be different; you can’t expect everyone else to change to accommodate you. If you can’t handle being reminded that you are different, you do not deserve to have your own beliefs. You can’t escape the herd while remaining a herd beast. If you call yourself an atheist because you want to make some kind of statement against religion, you are not an atheist, you are a twit.

    I am an atheist because the idea of God is absurd – even the remote, passive God of Deists or Pantheists, let alone the anachronistic mythological chimera of Christianity. I am not an atheist because I think that religion itself, or religious people, are a curse on society (as some loud persons would have us believe). It’s easy to list numerous evils perpetrated in the name of God; some of them, perhaps, were even sincerely motivated by religion. But what about all the good and selfless things that people have done to please the imaginary Man in the sky? They may not be as spectacular, but they are undeniably numerous, and anyone who pretends otherwise is just being stupid. For every Jerry Falwell, there are millions of Christians who give to help out complete strangers – even atheist strangers. If they want anything in return, it’s a chance to save your soul. Condescending? Sure, but so is telling a Christian to move out of the Dark Ages, and I’ve never heard of anyone offering them a free meal in exchange for listening to it.

    Some people claim to believe that religion is not a real motive for generosity – that religionists are simply doing what they would do anyway. Well, if religion is the cause of all the crimes ostensibly motivated by it, then surely it can motivate good deeds as well? Either religion has the power to influence behavior, or it does not, and it’s ridiculous and self-serving to pretend, in the absence of any evidence, that it can work only for evil and not for good. I think it is clear that religion can do both, and I’m far from certain that it does more harm than good (excepting Islam, of course).

    It’s impossible to say whether Christians are more generous or less prone to crime than atheists, partly because the great majority of Christians are quite insincere in their beliefs – in fact, I suspect the majority of them are just directionless agnostics with a purely social attachment to a church. Atheists are more likely to have a moral character simply by virtue of the fact that one almost has to have some measure of character to be an atheist at all – the herd beasts stay in the herd, but it’s debatable whether they should be counted as Christians.

    Clearly, atheists, like Christians, can have good moral character (or very bad moral character), and religion is not a necessary motivator for morality. But I have to wonder whether religion has some utility in transmitting ethical standards from one generation to the next. Sure, there are atheist parents who do this quite effectively. But the average atheist is much more intelligent and better educated than the average person. Without the simplifying framework of religion and the reinforcement of its aura of authority, would the average parent – overworked, unaware, and barely literate – do as well? I have my doubts. Better that children learn their values from Sunday school than from television.

    People who are obnoxiously proud of being non-Christian usually style themselves atheists (unless they are into Wicca or some other form of pseudo-occult pseudo-pagan “religion” that exists solely for the purpose of giving dipshits an excuse to conflate their D&D characters with real life). Often such people are really agnostics, especially if they are pressed on the issue, because they don’t have the the personal integrity to maintain atheism or the intellectual capacity to defend it. An atheist believes something, an agnostic does not. Pretending that atheism is “lack of belief in God” is a dodge – the etymology of the name notwithstanding, a real atheist has a definite belief that God does not exist, and this is what the name has always meant. Those who claim otherwise are doing real atheists a grave disservice by pretending that we do not exist, and implying – by refusing to defend it and denying the value of doing so – that the belief of atheism cannot be defended. Someone who doesn’t claim to know whether God exists is an agnostic, or even a theist struggling with a crisis of faith, not an atheist at all.

    In the end, a genuine Christian and a genuine atheist probably have more in common than either does with an agnostic. The latter avoids the consequences of knowledge by denying its existence. He may not believe in a life after death, but he is not absolutely certain that death is oblivion. He may not be absolutely certain that God has no will for his life, but he can disregard the possibility. But someone with a real belief must accept the consequences that it has in his life – he has to live with what he knows. This demands an integrity that agnosticism or phony-Christianity does not.

    There is not much integrity displayed in the behavior of those loud atheists and pseudo-atheists who are so proud to have made so many enemies, who pretend that frivolous lawsuits represent the desires of all non-believers, who snivel hypocritically about intolerance while raining down wholesale defamy on billions of people who are, for the most part, no worse than they. Let them look to the log in their own eye…

5 comments on “Offenders of the Faith

  1. Tracy says:

    It is best to avoid the term “atheism” seeing that atheists differ on definitions. It becomes confusing and also meaningless to use a term in a narrow sense. It would be better just to state what an individual believes or has no belief of rather than assuming that everyone who uses that term uses it in the same way.

    It is like asking someone to define Buddhism. You will get about as many answers as you ask questions. Sam Harris didn’t even use the term “atheist” in his book “The End of Faith”. Atheism can be defined as positive, negative, weak or strong. Where as Harris and Dawkins abide by positive atheism, there are others, such as Martin and Kuvakin, who adhere to negative atheism. Negative atheism is the lack of theistic belief, positive atheism is denial of a god, and agnosticism is a lack of knowledge concerning matters of divinity. According to George Smith, author of “Atheism, Case Against God”, atheism is simply the absence of theistic belief. Smith writes, “Atheism in its basic form is not a belief: it is the absence of belief. An atheist is not primarily a person who believes that god does not exist; rather, he does not believe in the existence of a god.”

    Likewise, Valerii A. Kuvakin, philosophy teacher and author of “In Search of Our Humanity” claims, “It is wrong to identify an atheist as one who denies God, though this is what opponents of atheism usually claim. If such people exist, it would probably be more correct to call them the “verbal” murderers of God, for the prefix a- means denying as elimination. … I would like to stress that the prefix a- does not necessarily mean rejection. It can mean “absence of.” For example, “apathy” means “absence of passion.” Thus, the concept “atheist” does not necessarily mean nihilism.”

    So, although some may have a tendency towards strong, positive atheism, there are many atheists who adhere to the negative form. This is not to be confused with agnosticism, because agnosticism is about lack of knowledge. It is not the same thing as lack of belief.

    Albert Einstein described himself as agnostic in a letter he wrote to a friend, “”My position concerning God is that of an agnostic. I am convinced that a vivid consciousness of the primary importance of moral principles for the betterment and ennoblement of life does not need the idea of a law-giver, especially a law-giver who works on the basis of reward and punishment.” Einstein also stated: “I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth.” Personally, my childhood did not include a religious indoctrination and I agree with Einstein, Bertrand Russell, and Kuvakin regarding philosophical stance, yet I can appreciate the views of hard or positive atheists as well as agnostic theists.

    I’d like to comment on one more aspect regarding the above post by Abgrund. People like Bertrand Russell and Sam Harris don’t say that religious people are evil. What they object to is the type of thinking that goes into religious dogma and short circuits rational thinking. They are not condemning the individual, as people are complex entities composed of many different variables. What they condemn is the mindset that allows for magical thinking to manifest as something objective because it is dangerous if one believes that the accumulation of knowledge is possible and that truth can be obtained through rational means.

    • abgrund says:

      I don’t think it’s necessary to quit using a word simply because some people want to twist and obscure its meaning. If you are “without belief in God” you are an agnostic. This is what the word agnostic means. There is no such thing as “weak” or “negative” atheism.

      Also, people like Harris do condemn religion per se as evil. To say that religion is an evil force in the world but that the people influenced by it are not evil is mere sophistry. Religion can be a force for good or evil, just as its followers can be good or evil. It is not inherently evil to “short-circuit” rational thinking. All moral restraints are irrational. Love is irrational. Clinging to a futile, finite life in a meaningless world is irrational. Reason is a tool, a means – not an end.

  2. Tracy says:

    I agree that reason is a tool and not an end. Life, like Art, may be inherently meaningless and irrational. Yet, we create meaning and make art meaningful through our interpretations, attitudes, and beliefs. Where as you may have a belief that life is meaningless, someone else could believe that the purpose of life was procreation, to lessen each other’s burdens, the fulfillment of personal happiness, self expression and communication, or even world domination and power. We could use rational means to support any of those views.

    On one hand I agree that love can be irrational in a passionate sense; yet, on the other it can be a choice and a way of living that is decided by rational means. Although irrationality may have its place in art and life itself, it does not have a basis in any form of morality. Morality can be an ideal standard of behavior which the individual deems most conductive to better living. Although there is no ultimate morality, that does not lessen the individual’s need to build meaning into life.

    If we can understand the view point of the philosophical rationalist, then it is apparent that to a rationalist, morality is based on reason. This implies free will as well, deeming that we can choose to behave one way or another based on what we believe to be good, and good need not be dictated by a supreme authority.

    So, although Abgrund may be a positive atheist who denies any form of absolute morality or purpose within life, this does not mean that all atheists share the same view point towards free will or life itself. Our views change our perception and truth becomes a mirror rather than a window if all we can see is our own reflection.

    • abgrund says:

      No, you cannot arrive at any kind of conclusions about morality or purpose through reason alone. Reason requires premises. If you try to establish a rational basis for any kind of morality or any statement about the meaning or purpose of existence, you will find that you are unable to do so without using unsupportable premises.

  3. Tracy says:

    A friend once said the only truth that existed was in mathematics, and even then the truth is not exact but approximate. Yet, it comes close enough that we can calculate the arrival of a rocket on the moon from earth. We may be off a foot or two, but we get it there, and in that way it is useful enough to be considered “true”.

    The same can be said with reason and morality.

    I liked this essay by Ulises Mejias

    He has an idea that morality is an emergent system, and that the sum of our parts is greater than the individual components. He also quotes Piaget,
    ““Morality is the logic of action just as logic is the morality of thought.” In other words, the two intimately interrelate: Moral reciprocity is rational just as rationality is prescriptive.”

    Another Wolf like friend points out that the above argument by Abgrund, yes, I called in for help, can be made for almost anything, as explained in Godel’s incompleteness theorems.

    Leaving analytical reasoning out of it and just applying common sense, we all have a desire to survive. We survive better as a group. In order to be part of a group we must learn certain manners and morals. The practice of these morals enables us to live a better life and to gain the help of our peers. We learn through trial and error in what Johnson calls from the bottom up. When we witness immorality, we tend to react either in defense of those wronged or we try to make sure that can not be repeated. So, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, is a basic premise that works well when dealing with moral issues.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s