Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Question 2: Why don’t you just leave believers alone, their beliefs aren’t hurting anyone?

The first thing that comes to mind when theists bring this up is how evangelistic they are.  Though truthfully, many theists are, in fact, not very evangelistic.  Some believe religion to be a private affair, and many say they believe in the idea of evangelism but very rarely make any effort to “convert” anyone.

"I should totally convert her to Christianity...well maybe tomorrow"

The thing is, most atheists don’t really do this either.  Of course there are exceptions, there are people in any group who aren’t satisfied unless everyone else sees the world the same way they do.  

Stop believing in god or so help me I will end you with this spork.
However this behavior seems rather rare from atheists, at least no more common than it is from theists.  As a theist I frequently engaged in forms of evangelism, including walking up to strangers in a beach to convert them.  As an atheist I have yet to approach one stranger to start evangelizing them.  Every serious conversation I have ever had about religion with someone I was not very good friends with were initiated by the theist trying to convert me or someone else in the room.

I imagine atheist evangelism looks something like this.
Personally I think this problem is in part due from the normal bias that anyone has with beliefs they disagree with.  I’ve often found myself discussing interviews/debates done between famous atheists like Hitchens or Dawkins with theists and I am surprised that they say how abrasive or mean that the atheist was; even during interviews where I felt that the atheist was rather tame or circumspect and the theist was.

I had just such a conversation about the above interview between Dawkins and O’Reilly in which Dawkins comes across rather gentlemanly and O’Reilly comes across, as usual, as a jerk who immediately attacks Dawkins’ atheism despite the fact that Dawkins had not mentioned religion or god at all.  Don't get me wrong I'd happily admit Dawkins can come off insulting at times, just not this particular time.

Now, that being said, there are a few topics which often invite the ire of atheists.   Things like church-state separation related issues or religious based bigotry tend set quite a few of us off.  I believe that one of the main reasons this question gets asked is often because our weighing in on these topics is often viewed as a type of evangelism.  

I, of course, disagree with this assessment, but it does bear some discussion.  I think part of the problem is that, in this country, theists (Christians in particular) have a certain natural sense of entitlement when it comes to their beliefs.  

It seems a little like this to us.
 I have had many conversations with Christians who are offended that other groups, Muslims for example, should have certain freedoms that they feel are an intrinsic right of their group.   Those of you who question my assessment may want to give a moment of consideration to the significant group of Christians who believe that prayer and creation science should be reintroduced in public schools.  Yet the Christians who argue for this are unlikely want Muslim prayers or Hindu creationism taught in school.  

Exactly what evolution predicted humans evolved from.
Our early manophant ancestors were strange and wonderful creatures.
 This is typically where we atheist step in and say that given the disagreements among these groups the safest thing to do is not have any prayers from any religion publicly endorsed by any teachers in the school.  This is where we recommend simply teaching scientific facts about our universe and limit the teaching of creation myths to that of history class.  The best way to allow society to flourish is to keep government out of the business of mandating beliefs.

Some disagree.
 Unfortunately despite not being evangelistic in the least it is often interpreted as such by theists largely, I suspect, because atheism is viewed as just another competing religion to most theists.  They do not want to allow non-prayer in schools for the same reason they don’t want to allow Muslim prayer in school.  They try to remove the teaching of evolution in schools for the same reason they reject the teaching of the Japanese creation myth in science class.  

If you have ever heard a fundamentalist Christian say that evolution is just a creation story for atheists then you may have an idea what I am referring too.  I have heard them say, indeed, when I was a young believer I said it myself, repeated from sermons I heard.  To them non-prayer is viewed as a sacrament of atheism the same as prayer to their god is a sacrament to them.  Science, rather than a process by which we explore the natural world, is viewed as part of the “religion of secularism.”  Too many theists who ask this question secularism is just another competing religion that is seeking to drive their religion out of the public square and replace it with our own.

Extremism does differ a bit from group to group.
I wish a knew a way to win this particular debate because I truly think a secular government is not only better for me, but its better for theists of all types as well.  However some theists strongly believe that their religion should be given favored treatment by whatever government they live under, and any attempt to undermine that will be seen as an attack on their beliefs.
How dare you make laws saying we can't burn people at the stake!  Stop interfering with our religious freedom.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Question 1: Why do you lump all theists together into one big group when there are many nuanced views of religion and god that are not fundamentalist?

The short answer to this question is that I don’t do this, or at least I try not to.

In fact, I will admit, atheists do this from time to time.  For the most part, however, this is not done out of any malice, this is simply human nature.  It is the way our brain has evolved to work.  We create categories in our head to fit people or things into, and once in that category our mind automatically assumes a certain level of similarity between all things in that group.  This is just basic psychology.

This conversation is generally brought up by theists who are more moderate or liberal in their beliefs.  I have often had conversations, for instance, with more liberal Christians who seem to think that I only find their beliefs objectionable or incorrect because I have incorrectly assumed that their beliefs are the same as fundamentalist Christians simply because both groups are attached to the name “Christian.”

“Why would you disagree with my beliefs, it’s not like I think being gay is a sin (insert any other fundamentalist talking point here), just because I'm a christian doesn't mean I agree with all those fundamentalist beliefs,” they will say.

Being gay is OK, but tell me you think my religion is wrong and I will break you.
 I can’t speak for every atheist but for me I think this question is the result of a basic misunderstanding between these two groups.  First, I am well aware that there is a wide variety of Christian beliefs.  I may have been a fundamentalist myself, but I interacted with many moderate/liberal Christians while I was a believer and since I became an atheist.
Some of these theists, like me, left some form of fundamentalism themselves, and I think they, more than anyone else, have trouble understanding my issues with religion.  I did actually consider becoming a more liberal Christian during my own disillusionment with fundamentalism; I also considered becoming a Buddhist and Taoist and several others.  I ultimately decided against all of those options because I felt the claims of all of those options were not proven by the evidence.  

See, I think the key difference is that the more liberal believers were offended or bothered by the social results of certain fundamentalist teachings, while atheists, by and large, have an issue with the lack of proof that religious people offer for their claims.  Don’t get me wrong, atheists also often have a problem with much of the social teachings of fundamentalists, abet for different reasons, but it starts with empiricism, which translates into a basic philosophical disagreement about how best to understand reality.

(From SMBC)
 Every person who believes there is a god must, at a minimum, believe in something for which they can offer no conclusive empirical evidence.  Indeed insistence on evidence is often maligned by more liberal believers, and I have found myself on the receiving end of criticism from so called “open minded” liberal Christians.  The thinking among more liberal believers seems to follow a post-modernist bent where the emotional content of your beliefs is more important than the factual content.  In an odd twist I have had many of these same theists suggest that I was just another form of fundamentalist no better than Christian fundamentalists I left, which relates to another question I plan on answering.  

So to sum up, I acknowledge that there is a myriad of various theist beliefs out there that weave a rich tapestry of diversity…and all of them have failed to produce evidence to suggest their beliefs correspond to any being that actually exists.

Maybe he is hiding behind the couch.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Christians say the darnest things...to atheists

The last few months I have been feeling the urge to write down my thoughts on a set of questions that seem to come up repeatedly whenever Christians or other theists engage me in debate or conversation.  Of course these “questions” are rarely actual questions.  You see when someone asks a question they usually are looking to find information they currently do not know yet, in other words they actually care to listen to the answer that is given.  

With these questions that is rarely the case, they are usually asked by a person who thinks they have come up with some question that will stump all atheists and presumably cause us curl up into a ball in a corner and lament the meaningless of our existence.  

Perhaps they imagine me doing this.

 To be honest some seem surprised when I don’t.  “How can this question not make you see how vacuous your world view is?” they seem to wonder.  Though I am, perhaps, projecting a view onto them that only exists in my head.  It does seem a reasonable assumption since I find time and time again if a discussion goes on very long the theist will ask the very same question again, often claiming I never answered it the first time.  

Maybe if I ask a few more times.
Now I am sure the answer I gave was not satisfactory for some reason but I have never had any of them explain why it is not satisfactory, they just repeat the question.  In many cases this is likely because they heard the question from a pastor or read it in an apologetics book presented as a question to stump atheists, and books on apologetics are usually bereft of a section on counterpoints to the argument they just made.  

They apparently think this is kryptonite for atheists.
You might think that as common as these questions are they have already been answered about a billion times, and you would be right.  This is probably the number one reason I had not bothered to write something on these before.  However, given the likelihood that these questions will come up I thought it would be a good idea to write out my own explanations.  If nothing else I will at least have a sort of FAQ to point to every time they are brought up. 

I'll make a post on the first of these questions tonight.