Nel's New Day

October 21, 2018

Why Atheism

Filed under: Religion — trp2011 @ 7:45 PM
Tags: , , ,

Author Greta Christina has an excellent blog about questions that people ask of atheists.  Many people ask routine questions of minorities that reveal offensive assumptions or simple ignorance. They may not intend to be rude, but the inquiries may reflect a bigoted marginalization—or just bad manners. They may ask blacks if they can touch their hair or Latinx if they are in the U.S. legally. “Where do you come from” can be questions of other people of color. LGB people are asked, “How do you have sex?” and transgender people suffer even more abusive questions about biology.

Christina lists nine of these offensive questions to atheists—and provides answers.

1: “How can you be moral without believing in God?”

Answer: Atheists have the same compassion and sense of justice as Christians—or at least as Christians are characterized as having. As social animals, humans evolved with core moral values hardwired in the brain—fairness, loyalty, concern for others who are harmed. Christina asks the question of religious believers whether they would lose all sense of morality without a sense in a god. She points out that these same believers often reject some parts of their holy book while accepting other parts. How many Christians support the stoning of adulterers—for example, the man sitting in the Oval Office—or not planting different crops in the same field? God is not responsible for whether people are good. Take Pat Robertson, for example, who doesn’t mind that a U.S. reporter was killed in a Saudi embassy in Turkey and wants to sell arms to Saudi Arabia so that they can kill more people. Being moral is a fundamental part of being human; saying that it comes from fear of punishment and desire for reward insults religious believers.

2: “How do you have any meaning in your life?” Or, “Don’t you feel sad or hopeless?” Or even, “If you don’t believe in God or heaven, why don’t you just kill yourself?”

Answer: All people find joy and meaning in the same things—family, friendship, work, nature, art, learning, love, kittens, cookies. Religious believers just tack on “making my god or gods happy and getting a good deal in the afterlife.” A belief that life is finite gives it more meaning, not less, because every moment must matter.

3: “Doesn’t it take just as much/even more faith to be an atheist as it does to be a believer?”

Answer: No. Atheism is not “100% certainty that God does not exist, with no willingness to question and no room for doubt.” It means “being reasonably certain that there are no gods,” or, “having reached the provisional conclusion, based on the evidence we’ve seen and the arguments we’ve considered, that there are no gods.” The question makes the assumptions that atheists don’t bother to think about their beliefs and that people are unable to come to conclusions by evidence, reason, and thinking instead of the “faith” in believing what someone else says.

4: “Isn’t atheism just a religion?”

Answer: No. Unless a definition of “religious” is “any conclusion people come to about the world,” or, “any community organized around a shared idea.” A belief of religion that includes atheism will also include Amnesty International, the Audubon Society, heliocentrism, the acceptance of the theory of evolution, the Justin Bieber Fan Club, and the Democratic Party. Claiming atheism as a religion changes it to a “faith-based” belief, not one from rational thought.

5: “What’s the point of atheist groups? How can you have a community and a movement for something you don’t believe in?”

Answer: Back to humans being social animals. People enjoy time with others who share interests, values, and goals. Like LGBTQ people, atheists sometimes lose friend and family support, which causes the creation of other communities. Then religious believers sometimes accuse atheism as being just another religion. See #4 above.

6: “Why do you hate God?” Or, “Aren’t you just angry at God?”

Answer: People cannot be angry with something that they believe does not exist—like gods and Santa Claus. This question comes from an assumption that non-belief is insincere, an emotional trauma, and/or rebellion. It’s just non-belief by people who see the world differently from religious believers.

7: “But have you [read the Bible or some other holy book; heard about some supposed miracle; heard about a religious experience]?”

Answer: Most likely. Atheists tend to be better educated about religion and its tenets than most religious believers. Reading the Bible may have led atheists to a decision in non-belief. Religion is so pervasive that it’s impossible to ignore; religious privilege permeates the culture through the arts, economic and political life, the media—everywhere.

8: “What if you’re wrong?” Or, “Doesn’t it make logical sense to believe in God? If you believe and you’re wrong, nothing terrible happens, but if you don’t believe and you’re wrong, you could go to Hell!”

Answer: Or that if believers are wrong about Allah? Or Vishnu? Or Zeus? Or whether God is the wrathful jerk who hates gay people, or the loving god who hates homophobes? What if you’re wrong about whether God wants you to celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday? What if you’re wrong about whether God really does care about whether you eat bacon? As Homer Simpson put it, “What if we picked the wrong religion? Every week we’re just making God madder and madder!” Climate disasters bring out religious believers who blame anyone not supporting their personal religion. What if God isn’t personally managing nature to attack atheists, LGBTQ people, and other minorities? Religious believers who bet on their personal god or gods are betting against the thousands of other gods. Is that safe? The assumption behind this question also wants atheists to fake believe in a god against their personal intelligence and values to take on a convenient idea. Is that belief?

9: “Why are you atheists so angry?”

Answer: In Christina’s book Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, she writes that not all atheists are angry about religion—and those of us who are angry aren’t in a constant state of rage. She pointed out that some anger comes from the terrible harm being done by religion to both atheists and religious believers. The question assumes that atheists are “bitter, selfish, whiny, unhappy, because we lack joy and meaning in our lives, because we have a God-shaped hole in our hearts. The people asking it seem to have never even considered the possibility that atheists are angry because we have legitimate things to be angry about.” Christina continues:

“This reflexive dismissal of our anger’s legitimacy does two things. It treats atheists as flawed, broken, incomplete. And it defangs the power of our anger. (Or it tries to, anyway.) Anger is a hugely powerful motivating force—it has been a major motivating force for every social change movement in history—and when people try to dismiss or trivialize atheists’ anger, they are, essentially, trying to take that power away.

“And finally: The people asking this question never seem to notice just how much atheist anger is directed, not at harm done to atheists, but at harm done to believers. A huge amount of our anger about religion is aimed at the oppression and brutality and misery created by religion, not in the lives of atheists, but in the lives of believers. Our anger about religion comes from compassion, from a sense of justice, from a vivid awareness of terrible damage being done in the world and a driving motivation to do something about it. Atheists aren’t angry because there’s something wrong with us. Atheists are angry because there’s something right with us. And it is messed-up beyond recognition to treat one of our greatest strengths, one of our most powerful motivating forces and one of the clearest signs of our decency, as a sign that we’re flawed or broken.”

In a recent example of religious harms, the “prayer of the day” email that Tony Perkins, leader of the Family Research Council, sent to his millions of followers begs God to elect people who will harm LGBTQ children by trying to make them straight. He wants to reinstate “conversion therapy” that causes suicidal thoughts and psychologically damaging guilt from prayer and other quack rituals.

Christina adds other questions that people shouldn’t ask atheists:

  •  “How can you believe in nothing?”
  • “Doesn’t atheism take the mystery out of life?”
  • “Even though you don’t believe, shouldn’t you bring up your children with religion?”
  • “Can you prove there isn’t a god?”
  • “Did something terrible happen to you to turn you away from religion?”
  • “Are you just doing this to rebel?”
  • “Are you just doing this so you don’t have to obey God’s rules?”
  • “If you’re atheist, why do you celebrate Christmas/ say ‘Bless you’ when people sneeze/ spend money with ‘In God We Trust’ on it/ etc.?”
  • “Have you sincerely tried to believe?”
  • “Can’t you see God everywhere around you?”
  • “Do you worship Satan?”
  • “Isn’t atheism awfully arrogant?”
  • “Can you really not conceive of anything bigger than yourself?”
  • “Why do you care what other people believe?”

She—and I—urge people to research questions that reflect dehumanization and religious privilege. And people should do the same to avoid bigotry and a sense of superiority when asking questions of other minorities.

Factoid: Ten percent of people in the United States don’t believe in God—that’s ten times as many as in 1944.

2 Comments »

  1. Thanks for addressing atheism.

    Like

    Comment by Lee Lynch — October 22, 2018 @ 11:03 PM | Reply

  2. Nice read. And, Since humans are a biological species, sharing DNA , microbiomes, and nature -connected life on earth, we have intrinsic spiritual options. Nature and female can be celebrated.

    i

    Like

    Comment by sheila swinford — October 22, 2018 @ 7:36 AM | Reply


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