11.18.2010

On considering atheists

Anne Perry’s fictional detective Thomas Pitt, when asked to define “blasphemy,” says, “I think it is jeering at other people’s beliefs, making them doubt the possibility of good and making reverence appear ridiculous. Whose God it is doesn’t matter. It isn’t a question of doctrine, it’s a matter of trying to destroy the innate idea of diety, of something better and holier than we are.” (Half Moon Street, 2000)

***

I neither question the beliefs of atheists nor label their beliefs as disbelief.

What I question is their need to attack the beliefs of others.

Millions of people around this world find solace and strength and peace in their religious beliefs and great comfort in the power of prayer. Why would any reasonable human being deny them this?

Granted, throughout history religion has been both a catalyst for war and persecution and a suppressor of advanced knowledge. Anyone versed in history could never deny this. On the other hand, religion also has at its foundation moral precepts, and like many atheists, many who adhere to faith are both moral and pursuers of wisdom.

The search for knowledge has not been limited to those who deny the existence of a supreme being. And to deny that no knowledge has been advanced by adherents to religion is prejudice.

To quote Miss Perry in “Brunswick Gardens:” “Calmness and reason should always prevail over emotion, self-indulgence or any kind of indiscipline.”

Why then the need of atheists to be militantly opposed to organized religion? Why then must religious persons be militantly opposed to atheism?

I recently quoted famous lawyer Clarence Darrow who said he was not an atheist, because he could no more prove there is not a God, than he could prove there is. Darrow, who, according to his biographer Irving Stone, believe in God, was one of this country’s greatest crusaders for human rights and equality, and, reading the transcript of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, no one could ever accuse him of stifling knowledge.

I am a Christian, an adherent to the true teachings of Jesus Christ. I am both aware of and heartbroken that His teachings have been so misconstrued and distorted. I find fanaticism and fundamentalism in any religion deeply disturbing, for therein lie both the suppression of wisdom and disdain for others' beliefs.

Through the Internet I have had the good fortune to meet many atheists who are both moral and diligent workers for the betterment of society. I also have the insight gained from in-depth discussions with a beloved relative about his atheism. The only demand we have made on each other is that we expect respect.

Speaking for myself – and not for any religion which has greatly distorted and maligned its own teachings - I am offended by terms like “Christianistas” and “Jesusistanis” and by such statements as “Prayer doesn't work in elections any better than elsewhere.” I don’t care to read any Web site which says of Christians: “The core of their faith being based on an un-dead Jewish Zombie.” Such attacks are not just myopic, they are downright meanspirited.

How can one person determine what inspires another person? How can one person define another person's spirituality?

Like Darrow, I cannot prove there is a God. I cannot prove there is no God. It is equally difficult to convey the meaning of “faith.”

Perhaps this quote, again from “Brunswick Gardens,” comes close: “The essence of faith is courage and trust without knowledge.”

I have always been a strong supporter of separation of church and state, and I believe it is best not to bring religion or athesim into the political arena.

I am willing to respect any person’s convictions. I just demand respect in return. And the common decency of refraining from mockery.

As Ms. Perry opines: “It is all very well to preach what you believe to be the truth, but when it shatters the foundations of someone else’s world, it isn’t very clever. It doesn’t help. It only destroys.”

18 comments:

Ahab said...

Sadly, there will always be people who mock the beliefs of others in order to feel superior. Fundamentalists of all faiths do so, and overzealous atheists are guilty of it too.

Mutual respect is the most vital ingredient in a religious discussion.

Jerry Critter said...

My experience has been that Atheists come in all colors as do Believers ranging from bat-shit crazy Fundamentalists to fine, moral, non-judgmental, upstanding citizens.

True Blue Texan said...

Indeed, Jerry. And as with those who call themselves Christians but preach intolerance, there are atheists out there who truly believe that anyone who believes in God is an idiot. They can't see that their intolerance is just as wrong as the fundamentalists' and no different.

BBJ said...

Excellent piece!

Tiny said...

Tiny likes the quote at the end of the Scopes Trial about "take my name out of the Book of Life and put it in the Book of Love."

Tiny loves all human beings. That doesn't mean she has to 'like' all personalities or behaviors because she doesn't. But as human beings, all of us have the same basic make up and basic needs.

Tiny doesn't care what others believe. If what they believe fulfills the need in their life, they are entitled to that belief, just as Tiny is entitled to hers.

What we must bear in mind is that our choices have consequences. Whether we think those are good, bad or indifferent, they are consequences to our individual choices.

This is commonly called the law of "you reap what you sow," which is evident throughout nature. Sow corn, reap corn. Sow beans, reap beans. Sow discord, reap discord.

That doesn't mean we won't find some rotten corn, beans and discord at times because we certainly will. We just have to sort through the keepers and discard the non-keepers.

Regardless of your belief system, give some deep thought to the type of harvest you want to reap, then sow the best seed you have. Fertilize it with hope and prayer, calmness and reason, intelligence or stupidity, or whatever works for you.

As always, BJ, another great post.

tnlib said...

Very well argued, BJ. Tolerance and respect of ideas we do not agree with is a prerequisite for human understanding.

Lynn Lofton said...

A well-written and thought-provoking piece - good job! The older I get, the more tolerant I become and realize that no one group has all the answers.

Lynn

Frodo, like a good neighbor, said...

Frodo has a friend with two sons. The elder is slow, and he works in the facilities function for office buildings. The younger has multiple degrees and designs nuclear power plants.
On the rear bumper of the automobile of Frodo's friend, it reads, "My Son is a Jewish Carpenter."

He is, indeed.

It all depends on how you live your life, and how you treat your neighbor.

Kabas said...

"Millions of people around this world find solace and strength and peace in their religious beliefs and great comfort in the power of prayer. Why would any reasonable human being deny them this?"

Would you deny a Christian Scientist the autonomy to act on their belief in prayer-only healing, when their child has a fatal, but easily treatable desease?


"I am willing to respect any person’s convictions."

Do you respect racism? slavery? Some have convictions of the merits of these ideas.

Ash said...

Since an atheist is merely someone who does not believe in the existence of any gods, naturally no one can speak for them all. However, I will give some honest answers that I believe represent a large percentage of them...

"What I question is their need to attack the beliefs of others."

Most atheists who are vocal in their criticism do so because they see many unfounded religious beliefs as a key source of ignorance, bigotry, and suffering in the world.

"Millions of people around this world find solace and strength and peace in their religious beliefs and great comfort in the power of prayer. Why would any reasonable human being deny them this?"

Atheists don't want to "deny" anyone solace, strength, peace, or comfort; rather, we want to persuade people those things are attainable without relying on iron-age myths or a belief in the supernatural.

"The search for knowledge has not been limited to those who deny the existence of a supreme being. And to deny that no knowledge has been advanced by adherents to religion is prejudice."

No one denies this. However, all reliable knowledge has been gained *despite* religious belief. The more we discover about Nature, the more we learn that virtually all religious assumptions are wrong.

"Why then the need of atheists to be militantly opposed to organized religion?"

No atheists are "militant" in the true sense of that word; no atheists further their aims via violence, intimidation, or even through the force of law (as many religious adherents do). The worst we can be accused of is crass mockery. But we mostly rely on persuasion and sound argument. I already addressed the "why" above, but to add one more: many make strong arguments against religious belief because they place a great value on truth and have good reason to conclude that religion has been wrong on pretty much everything.

"I am a Christian, an adherent to the true teachings of Jesus Christ. I am both aware of and heartbroken that His teachings have been so misconstrued and distorted. I find fanaticism and fundamentalism in any religion deeply disturbing, for therein lie both the suppression of wisdom and disdain for others' beliefs."

The "No True Scotsman" argument is a fallacy. Plenty of Christians that you call fanatical would call you a false Christian. Plus, the Bible can be used to justify pretty much any position one wants to take.

"I have always been a strong supporter of separation of church and state, and I believe it is best not to bring religion or atheism into the political arena."

Atheism is not a political position, it is just a lack of belief in a god. But most atheists are secularists, and as such agree with you on keeping religion out of government.

"I am willing to respect any person’s convictions. I just demand respect in return. And the common decency of refraining from mockery."

There will always be jerks. But there is a difference between mocking an idea or a belief and mocking a person. Religious ideas should not be immune to criticism or mockery, and more than any other idea should be.

"As Ms. Perry opines: It is all very well to preach what you believe to be the truth, but when it shatters the foundations of someone else’s world, it isn’t very clever. It doesn’t help. It only destroys."

While I admire the compassion of Ms. Perry, challenging ideas about the nature of reality using reliable sources of knowledge is not a destructive act (although it can be initially painful).

I hope this has given you some insight into the perspective of an atheist.

Infidel753 said...

It is unreasonable to demand that we refrain from criticizing and mocking ideas which we know to be objectively false. You have criticized and mocked political ideas you objected to. Everyone does. I just refuse to grant religious ideas a special status which exempts them from the kind of critical examination and attack that all other kinds of ideas are legitimately subject to.

Many white supremacists doubtless find "solace and strength and peace and comfort" in their belief in their racial superiority. There is nothing wrong with pointing out that those beliefs are not only objectively wrong but dangerous and evil.

Why then the need of atheists to be militantly opposed to organized religion?

There are pages and pages on material on my blog and in countless blogs and books dedicated to answering this question. It's no mystery.

Thirty years of study of the issue has convinced me that religion is not only wrong and worthless but, yes, evil and dangerous. You're entitled to disagree. You're not entitled to tell me there's something wrong with my even saying so.

Your attempts to equate atheism and religion are dishonest. As I've repeatedly pointed out, atheism is not a belief system or even a belief. It's just the absence of one particular belief.

I am willing to respect any person’s convictions.

You have not treated me with respect, honesty, or decency where this issue was concerned. On your previous post you responded to my comment by flagrantly distorting what I had said and attributing statements to me that I had not made. You lied. When I called you on it and gave specifics, you neither apologized nor addressed any of the specifics.

I just demand respect in return.

I can respect individual religious people, when they behave decently. Asking me to respect religious ideas is asking too much. You could probably respect a 30-year-old who still believed in Santa Claus in the sense of respecting him as a person, but demanding that you respect his belief would be absurd.

Denouncing racism, sexism, and all kinds of other evils also shattered the foundations of some people's worlds. It still had to be done, because those things were false and dangerous.

Again, you're obviously entitled to disagree with me. You're not entitled to demand that I stop expressing what I think, as you do here, nor to lie about what I think as you did before.

I will not be back here. I can cope with disagreement. I'm not going to put up with lies about what I said or demands that I stop saying it.

tnlib said...

I think BJ's point has just been proven.

Oso said...

Infidel,you're the Michele Bachmann of atheism.

Good Southern Man said...

This has been a hard post for me to respond to. I have started it several times and erased every word. I think the best thing for me to do is to write it and hope that everyone knows that I am not trying to offend anyone with these words. This is the world as I see it.

I was once a theist and now I am an atheist.

I think the first thing we have to agree on is the fact that each side thinks the other is lacking information rather than intelligence. I really do think that the belief in a god or gods can be directly compared to mythology. This by no means is a disrespectful statement. It is merely the truth as I see it. I also know many people who are great people, intelligent people and good people that believe in what I see as a myth. As I said, I was once a theist and do not feel that I was any less intelligent while having that belief system. I learn from Atheists, Theist, Christians, Jews, and Muslims every day. I look to BJ's post to inform me of political things. I love her writings of the family and her writing in general. I think she is very intelligent and open. She is a family member that accepts me as an atheist and a homosexual. She asks about my boyfriends and doesn't try to shove God down my throat. That being said, I know she thinks I am lacking information by not knowing God. I do not find disrespect in this. She is so happy with God and wants me to be happy "period".

I actually agree with Ash's and Infidel753's response. When dealing with two different truths, it is unwise to think that one of those truths has to be false. Look at it in terms of language. "Yo" and "je" means "I" in Spanish and French respectively. If there was one Frenchman with no knowledge of English in a room of English speakers that had no knowledge of French, the English speakers would vehemently say that the Frenchman is incorrect for saying "je" instead of "I" and they would be wrong.

I do not believe in an afterlife BUT if there were a God or an afterlife, I cannot imagine that he or she would actually judge us on this earth. I would not want to be in the presence of a God that would do this.

tnlib's and Oso's last comments really cut through my heart. Please reread Infidel753's response again as if there were no gods. His response is full of passion and respect. I do not see him as angry but hurt. If you disagree with him then tell him so. More than religion or cults or myths, when like minded people get together without a challenge to their beliefs, you become a danger to society. Please invite Infidel753 back to the fold. If you believe in Jesus then you also believe in Judas and Jesus never got rid of Judas even though Jesus knew that Judas didn't believe in him.

B.J. said...

I appreciate each comment left on this important post. I have not responded to each comment as I believe my post speaks for itself.

I believe each comment was spoken with sincerity in response to what was said here, and there is only one response to all:

“This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.” – Hamlet

BJ

tnlib said...

GSM: Before I begin this hopefully brief response I need to explain that during my earliest days of blogging when I accidentally came across Infidel, I was impressed by his perceptions, keen mind, sense of humor and his enviable writing skills. Absolutely nothing has changed.

The same attributes attracted me to BJ somewhat later. Plus I was thrilled to find another southern belle who had managed to escape her regional shackles. I saw someone who had an open mind, who had compassion. A liberal with religious convictions that she didn't push on others. Trust me, this in itself was a welcome relief after growing up with Bible thumpers who were always throwing their religion in my face and telling me I was going to hell because I didn't worship the way they did.

You're right in your well expressed comment that Infidel writes with passion. Respect not so much. Instead, I'm afraid, I see quite a bit of anger.

I think sometimes when we as human beings feel deeply passionate about a certain belief we become less tolerant of those who don't share our beliefs. Our frustration in not being able to convince them of the error of their ways often leads to anger and disrespect of the other person's beliefs.

I once knew an absolutely brilliant man. A true scholar with a broad mind who was politically way left of center. The most tolerant human being I've ever met. We'd often stay up till the wee hours drinking wine and discussing every subject known to man. He never lost his sense of humor or his tolerance for differing views.

Except for one thing. Along the way he had converted to Catholicism. I learned early on not to mention THE Church's role in the "Jewish question" during WWII. This otherwise broad minded, tolerant, brilliant man - on this one subject alone - was so passionate about his religious beliefs that all tolerance and respect went out the window. Instead he became so angry and overbearing that it was impossible to discuss the matter in any civilized way.

This man was my uncle. I wish he were still alive, so I'd have the opportunity to listen to two very brilliant, passionate minds go at "it" from two very different belief systems. I'd also hope they wouldn't demolish each other with insults before it was all over.

Now, all bets are off when we talk about the Tea Party. ; )

tnlib said...

GSM: Before I begin this hopefully brief response I need to explain that during my earliest days of blogging when I accidentally came across Infidel, I was impressed by his perceptions, keen mind, sense of humor and his enviable writing skills. Absolutely nothing has changed.

The same attributes attracted me to BJ somewhat later. Plus I was thrilled to find another southern belle who had managed to escape her regional shackles. I saw someone who had an open mind, who had compassion. A liberal with religious convictions that she didn't push on others. Trust me, this in itself was a welcome relief after growing up with Bible thumpers who were always throwing their religion in my face and telling me I was going to hell because I didn't worship the way they did.

You're right in your well expressed comment that Infidel writes with passion. Respect not so much. Instead, I'm afraid, I see quite a bit of anger.

I think sometimes when we as human beings feel deeply passionate about a certain belief we become less tolerant of those who don't share our beliefs. Our frustration in not being able to convince them of the error of their ways often leads to anger and disrespect of the other person's beliefs.

I once knew an absolutely brilliant man. A true scholar with a broad mind who was politically way left of center. The most tolerant human being I've ever met. We'd often stay up till the wee hours drinking wine and discussing every subject known to man. He never lost his sense of humor or his tolerance for differing views.

Except for one thing. Along the way he had converted to Catholicism. I learned early on not to mention THE Church's role in the "Jewish question" during WWII. This otherwise broad minded, tolerant, brilliant man - on this one subject alone - was so passionate about his religious beliefs that all tolerance and respect went out the window. Instead he became so angry and overbearing that it was impossible to discuss the matter in any civilized way.

This man was my uncle. I wish he were still alive, so I'd have the opportunity to listen to two very brilliant, passionate minds go at "it" from two very different belief systems. I'd also hope they wouldn't demolish each other with insults before it was all over.

Now, all bets are off when we talk about the Tea Party. ; )

Oso said...

GSM,
In my opinion to believe or disbelieve in the existence of a god is a personal choice. It should never be forced upon anyone.

I have read many posts of Infidel's concerning religion, especially Islam.

His approach is the approach of a bully taunting someone who is different.

He doesn't use logic or reason, rather he links to hate sites to "prove" a point.

He was actually on his best behavior here, which was atypical.I have seen his work before, it isn't pretty.