Category Archives: Atheism

Laws: Strangely, Not Optional

There seems to be a strange misconception going around that the majority only needs to obey laws designed to protect minorities if it’s convenient for said majority. It happens on the grand scale with a huge shitstorm, like when Cranston West High School recently had its ass handed to it on a legal platter over an illegal prayer banner, and it happens in smaller scales without much noise, like when Portland Lindy Society and Stumptown Dance consistently refuse to enforce a flash-photography ban designed to keep epileptic dancers safe. The common denominator between the two is a majority ignoring the law at the expense of the minority.

Being in the majority comes with a shit-ton of privilege, whether it be Christian privilege or able-bodied privilege or whatever else. The majority is used to having a world that accommodates them, while the minority lives in a world where they are constantly reminded of how they don’t fit in. The minority gets used to having to give ground, and they often try to pass as much as possible to avoid trouble. The majority doesn’t even think about that stuff. The majority isn’t even aware that stuff exists. The majority has the privilege of ignorance – the privilege of not knowing how it feels to be treated as inferior.

So that’s why we have things like the ADA and separation of church and state. If unchecked, the majority will trample the minority – often without even realizing that they’re doing it. The majority will probably agree that it’s good to have laws that protect the minority (unless they’re for Ron Paul…). What they don’t seem to like, though, is having to change their behavior because of those laws. When someone points out the law and tells the majority to obey it, the majority howls about how their freedoms are being infringed. They whine that following the law would bankrupt their business. They demand that the minority ask more nicely, but when the minority does ask nicely, their requests are ignored.

But the fact is that laws are not optional. There is no inconvenience clause, no tradition clause. No amount of ignorant, self-righteous whining will make discrimination legal. But damn if the majority won’t try.

 

“Why is atheist activism ok if religious evangelism isn’t?”

My best friend, who’s a Christian in the loosest, most progressive sense of the term, asked me that question last night. I didn’t have an answer, and it really threw me. Was the movement I’ve come to care so much about doing the same thing as the evangelicals I can’t stand?
After a lot of thought, I came to a conclusion: No, it’s not. Atheist activism is propelled (or should be propelled) by the desire to better the world. Just as the feminists, gay rights, and neurodiversity movements want equality for all, so do we. We see a culture that rejects and suppresses the rights of minorities, that rejects and suppresses science, and we want to change it. We want to changes the attitudes that create this culture of suppression and inequality, and in order to change those attitudes, we need to change the beliefs that support them.
If all religious people were like my friend – if they accepted and supported science, believed that women should have a right to decide what happens to their bodies, that marriage should be between whoever wants to get married, that church and state should be kept separate – in short, if they truly supported good science and equality for all – then I would have no issue with religion. If all religious people shifted over to the type of religiousity as my friend, I’d call it good enough and be done with it.
But the fact is that many religious people don’t believe those things, and those people are, by far, the most vocal of the religious. The progressive believers should stand up to them and tell them that religion isn’t an acceptable reason to deny people rights, but they aren’t. And since they won’t, atheists have to.
We want equal rights for all. We want people to be taught fact, not fiction, and be able to make informed choices. And if religion is the reason people give for not wanting the same, religion needs to go. If we loosed people from the bonds of religion, the majority of them would probably come to the conclusion that equality and information for all is a good thing. Sure, we’d still get some anti-science bigots, but they wouldn’t have the special exemption from criticism that religion affords, and we’d be able to improve the world. And that’s what I’m fighting for: a world where there will be no acceptable excuses to deny people their rights.

Legal vs Ethical

There’s been a lot of talk in the atheist community lately about what is acceptable behavior, especially when it comes to speech. There are a lot of arguments that people have used to justify themselves, but a particularly annoying one is the free speech argument: “Free speech! I can say whatever I want, because it’s legal!”

Well, yes, you can say most anything without consequences from the government. But that’s setting the bar for behavior pretty damn low.  Is that really all you want your behavior to be? Legal? What about, you know, ethical? Legality is the minimum standard of behavior. We shouldn’t be striving to behave legally; we should be striving to behave ethically, and most of the time, that means exceeding the legal standards.

Atheist get a lot of shit about how we’re amoral. And we know it’s shit. But when we start saying that we can act however we want, as long as it’s legal, we’re failing our own movement. We need to do better than that. We need to actually think about whether an action is ethical – how much harm it will do to others, and how much benefit. Before we speak, we need to think if we’re treating the other person like an actual human being. We need to think about our individual privilege, whatever it may be, and make sure we’re not abusing it. We need to ask ourselves if we are being bigots, whether it be intentionally or unintentionally.

It’s unacceptable to excuse things like Redditgate or anything said on #mencallmethings or calling things “retarded” or any variant thereof, simply because they’re legal. Be better than that. Recognize that it’s not ethical, and it’s intellectually dishonest. It’s treating others like objects or lesser humans. If you hate something, if you hate someone, go on the attack without relying on bigotry. You can say critical things to someone without being unethical. Hell, you can verbally eviscerate someone without being unethical. Just treat them like an equal human being while you do it.  Because we are better than that.

So act like it.

Faith Is Not A Virtue Part III: Fear

My last two posts have discussed why people have faith: lack of scientific understanding, and lack of reasoning skills. Today’s reason, however, is probably the most common reason people have faith: fear.

FEAR:

Fear is one of the most powerful motivators humans experience. Fear is supposed to protect us physically – we will do almost anything to avoid pain, because pain means death, and death means no gene replication. Fear also acts as a social constraint. Most of us fear being ostracized, because humans have evolved to live in social groups. Social groups increase our odds of survival and procreation, so ostracization is interpreted as a physical threat.

Religion makes excellent use of fear to replicate itself in two ways: explicit fear of hell, and implicit fear of being ostracized if you renounce your beliefs. Read the rest of this entry

Faith Is Not A Virtue Part II: Reason

So yesterday I talked about reasons people hang on to faith. I started with the reason of poor scientific education. Today, it’s time for reason number two:

LACK OF REASONING SKILLS

Like I said yesterday, critical thinking is not generally the natural way our mind works. When we’re trained in the scientific method, however, critical thinking becomes easier. It becomes habit to evaluate ideas based on their objective merit. Asking questions becomes a good thing. Asking for evidence becomes default, and saying “I don’t know” becomes acceptable. Even if the idea in question is religion.

If you don’t know how to think critically, accepting the contradictory claims of the bible (or any other holy book or religion) is much easier. “Because I said so” becomes a valid answer. If the information is from someone sufficiently powerful, it is accepted. An example:

God exists. Why? Because the Bible said so. Why is the Bible a reputable source? Because my parents, my pastor, my teachers told me. Why should I believe them? Because I trust them. Bam. End of discussion.

The key here, of course, is stomping out the urge to ask why before we get too old. Any 6-year-old could disprove the existence of god if we would just answer the damn questions. Asking why is natural, but so is trusting people. If children didn’t trust and believe their parents, we’d have died out by now. And so skepticism dies by the hand of safety.

If you can revive that skepticism, though, fallacies become obvious. The bible says god is love, but he commanded his people to commit genocide and mass rape when the Israelites invaded Canaan. He is compassionate, but he commanded his people to bash babies’ heads against rocks. And when they didn’t kill everything, he was pissed. But that’s not even the biggest problem! If god is perfect, why did he make something that was capable of fucking itself over so badly? Why did he give Adam and Eve the capability to sin? If he’s omnipotent, why wasn’t there a less horrific solution to the problem of sin than to have billions of people (and guiltless animals) suffer and die and go to hell? Why did he have to send his son/himself to suffer horribly and die (temporarily) and then leave no evidence behind? In short, what kind of sick fuck is god? Better question: Why the hell would you want to worship this psychopath?

Oh yeah, that’s right: If you don’t, you go to hell. Yep, god is most certainly love.

TOMORROW: Faith Is Not A Virtue Part III: Fear

Faith Is Not A Virtue Part I: Education

I was raised in an evangelical Christian family, sent to evangelical Christian schools (complete with daily bible classes and shitty science classes), and heavily involved with my evangelical Christian mega-church. Again and again I heard the explicit message “faith is a virtue,” which contains the implicit message “critical thinking is bad.” Obviously I ended up doing some bad shit, cuz, well, I’m now an atheist.

But I still hear the “faith is a virtue” argument from the religious people in my life when we discuss how untenable their beliefs are. My best friend is smart, very good at critical thinking, and has a degree in anthropology with a focus in archaeology. She understands evolution much better than I do, completely accepts it as fact, and yet for a long time she has wavered, torn between what she knew and what she had been taught while being raised a Christian. She has doubts about the bible and how all the bad things and the good things could be reconciled, and how the bible and science matched up. But, up until very recently, she chose to believe. Why? Because of her “personal relationship.” Because she didn’t want to give up her faith. Because faith is good.

Bullshit. Faith is not a virtue; faith is a weakness. I’d say I’m sorry for putting it so bluntly, but I’m not, so I’m not going to lie about it. Faith is unwavering adherence to an idea despite the dearth of supporting evidence. Or, to put it another way, faith is unwavering denial of evidence that refutes an idea. Faith is a blindfold that you cheerily put on right before you walk into the traffic of reality. Faith is socially accepted gullibility. And faith is something we’re supposed to idealize? Why would anyone fall for that?

Well, any combination of three reasons: lack of education, lack of reason, or fear. Read the rest of this entry

An Unapologetic Atheist Manifesto

I may have stopped believing in god about 5 years ago, and first labeled myself an atheist 2 years ago, but I’ve been very quiet about it until a few months ago. Even now, though, I pretty much shut up when I’m around the religious people I care about. If I do speak up, I say my beliefs in an apologetic way. In short, I submit socially to maintain the relationship. It wasn’t this way before I labeled myself an atheist. I miss the intellectual discussions my best friend and I used to have, where no one was attacked for their viewpoint, and calm rational debate was prized. But following my deconversion, I no longer feel I have the right to speak my mind.

But I do. So I’m reclaiming that right today.

I believe there is no god because I think the hypothesis of god is untenable. I think the belief in god is preposterous. I can give intellectual reasons why people would believe in god, but I cannot quite understand how they would. I also don’t understand why they would want to. Having studied the bible every school day of my life for 13 years, I have concluded that the god of the bible – particularly the Old Testament – is not a being I would want to worship, should he exist. I see no reason to worship a being as genocidal, racist, misogynist, and sadistic as the Abrahamic god. If god did exist, I believe it would be morally wrong to worship him.

But.

I do not hate religious people. I may laugh at them, yes, but that is because I believe that religion should not be shielded from criticism in the marketplace of ideas. If religion is tenable, if it is true, then it should be able to survive criticism. It should relish the opportunity to prove itself. It should not feel threatened by atheism. I certainly don’t find the idea of religion to be threatening to my beliefs.

I do not believe that religion is the root of all evil. I think many conflicts are exacerbated by religion, but if we didn’t have religion, humans would still find other reasons to seek to destroy each other. Humans are prejudicial by nature, and the solidarity of the in-group and the hatred of the out-group will exist, regardless of the label given to the strife.

I am a negative explicit atheist: I do not believe that god exists, but will not go so far to say that the statement is true. I accept that while the god hypothesis is wildly improbable, the minute potential for god to exist in some way, shape, or form rules out the absolute statement that god doesn’t exist. I cannot in good scientific faith say that god does not exist. I do say, however, that the existence of god is so improbable that it is irrational to accept it over the null hypothesis that he does not. I believe the well-substantiated theory of evolution offers sufficient explanation of our origins and is the backbone of good science.

I am not sad that there is most likely no god. I am not bitter; I do not despair. I am joyful. The absence of god is a supreme comfort to me. The realization that god does not exist, and that I could and should, in Dawkins’ words, stop worrying and get on with my life, lifted a huge burden of guilt off of my shoulders. The moment of my deconversion was my moment of salvation. I experienced the kind of bliss that believers attach to their moments of conversion.

I do not believe that humans are born flawed, broken, ruined by sin. I believe that view is harmful and psychologically damaging. It creates a society that is so busy trying to fix the individual that it never has time to fix the multitude. It teaches people that they are bad, and that they will never be good enough. It teaches people that the only reason they aren’t worthless is because a supreme being did something they did not deserve when he fixed them.

I believe we whole, capable of both immense good and immense evil. I think we will be judged not by god, but by history and our peers.

I believe everyone has a right to believe whatever they would like, provided they do not use that belief to harm others. I have found very few religious beliefs that fit this condition, but if they exist, I see no threat from them. I will not, however, treat religion with the reverence it does not deserve. I will not openly mock the religious people I care about for precisely that reason: I care about them. But I believe I do them a disservice if I refuse to discuss our mutually incompatible beliefs. Out of respect for them, I believe in a dialogue.

I do not believe in proselytization. I find it intellectually offensive. I welcome discussion and debate of ideas. I believe in the marketplace of ideas, in the natural selection of memes, that leads to greater understanding and a more ethical life.

And I believe I have the right to say all this.