Guest Post: On Being Atheistic.

This guest post was submitted by Johnny from The Fire Sermon. In it he echoes my own puzzlement at the suspicion with which atheists are viewed. I would also encourage everyone who took the Philosophy Quiz to check out Johnny’s reflections on Paul Tillich, the existential Christian theologian.

Next week Elaine Frei will grace us with a guest post on Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith.

Atheists have always gotten a bad rap. This deeply held prejudice has not even been exempted from many famous intellectuals in Western history. For example in John Locke���s John Locke’s Essay Concerning Toleration. concludes that that all groups are worthy of toleration except atheists. He says,

those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist.

Suspicion has often given way to disdain and being an atheist in our culture is the equivalent of having religious leprosy. One of my friends has noted that this isn’t really surprising since most people interpret atheism as the claim, ‘I disagree with everything you hold dear.’

Of course such an idea is false, but it may lead us to a deep divergence in values between the minority of theists and the rest of our culture.

I think this disagreement hinges on the value (or lack of value) of ‘faith.’ It seems most people believe ‘faith’ to be a sacrifice of the intellect in order to reach God. This sacrificium intellectus is a primary mode of life for many (though not all) contemporary theists.

Most of the atheists I know are strongly opposed to the sacrificium intellectus, and hold to a principled fidelitas intellectus (fidelity to the intellect). I also think that most atheists believe fidelitas intellectus to be a universal value or even an obligation. I take this value to often be at the heart of many atheists commitment to atheism.

I find it odd that such principled people are treated with such suspicion. Many people are probably not away of the difficulty of consistently adhering to fidelitas intellectus. Such a discipline requires one to be willing to reject any idea or principle that ultimately conflicts with a rigorous intellectual analysis. It also requires that a theist, who embraces fidelitas intellectus, must be at least open to the possibility of atheism.

Taking this possibility seriously means to be to some degree atheistic. It means walking at least a few feet in an atheist���s shoes. That is why I would distinguish atheism from being atheistic. Being atheistic is something that any believer who adopts fidelitas intellectus experiences, if only momentarily.

Such a person could never express John Locke’s lack of toleration. Such persons may not all be atheists, but all would have been, at one time or another, atheistic. As someone who embraces fidelitas intellectus, I cannot think of a better consequence.

41 thoughts on “Guest Post: On Being Atheistic.

  1. Great post, Johnny – glad to read you as a guest here.

    I think that the type of theist who treats very principled athiests with disdain is the type whose own principles and valued are founded solely in their faith. If one lives a life of principle because of her faith, then naturally she would fear another who doesn’t have faith – because then, why would that faith-less person live with any goodness or values?

    I am a theist who must own up to an amount of atheism – I am unable to know the unknowable. But, aside from acknowledging the necessity of a certain amount of atheism, I do have deep faith in God. Sometimes it makes me feel like I might be less principled than someone who is athiest – if I make a good decision that is even partially based on my faith, and you make the same decision 100% void from any sense of diety, your choice seems more profoundly pure than mine.

    As a theist, my way of adpoting fidelitas intellectus is to try to have faith but to live with principles and values not because of that faith, but because I am a team player in this world and a humanist. Easier said than done, but that’s how I try to do it.

  2. Thanks Johnny,

    I think at least part of the lack of respect for atheists comes from the perception of extreme dispathy … a sense that one has no idea where atheist are coming from … a kind of fear of the unknown.

    But one of the best things I’ve ever heard to counter this antipathy is something that Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett have made a central part of the gospel of atheism:

    That the _only_ real difference between most theists and atheists is the rejection of all gods except one. The atheist just takes it one step further. The theist knows exactly what it’s like to be an atheist with respect to all other gods.

    I really can’t think of an idea that has more potential to destroy the animosity between us.

  3. Great post and great responses!
    Atheism has undergone many definition changes since the term ‘atheoi’ first appeared to be used in ancient Greek to mean godless. The later terms atheos and atheotes were used to imply moral condemnation of the ungodly, or ungodliness. (Drachmann, A. B., “Atheism in Pagan Antiquity”). As Greek was the first language of Christianity as we know it today (I’m referring to how Christianity spread, and the language of the first bibles), it is easy to see how this concept was heavily used in early debates of Christianity. Some scholars claim the Romans called Christians atheos, for their belief in one gd rather than many.

    Regardless, today there are many types of atheism. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett are of what
    Wired called “new atheism”
    , or what others have defined as “strong atheism.” The new atheists reject everything supernatural, as Dawkins says in the God Delusion, “As long as we accept the principle that religious faith must be respected simply because it is religious faith, it is hard to withhold respect from the faith of Osama bin Laden and the suicide bombers.”

    On the other hand we have spiritual atheism, such as Budhism, and more recently western religions adopting this concept, such as the Humanistic Judaism.

    So I think the concept has evolved for centuries and one group or another has adopted the concept and tailored it to their own rhetorical needs. With the new atheists we have other reasons for the Christian right to negatively label the concept–as Gary Wolf says, the new atheism is seen as “Contemptuous of the faith of others, its proponents never doubt their own belief”
    He continues, “But on the other hand, the New Atheism does not aim at success by conventional political means. It does not balance interests, it does not make compromises, it does not seek common ground. The New Atheism, outwardly at least, is a straightforward appeal to our intellect. Atheists make their stand upon the truth.”

  4. Mana wrote, quoting Gary Wolf:

    Atheists make their stand upon the truth.

    You know, I just read that article and wrote a brief post of my reactions here. Wolf made some excellent points, with the one quoted above among the best. Wolf ultimately rejects the positive assertions of truth with “New Atheism” makes … which I can live with. But I have to say that the “standing upon truth” thing — the firm conviction that there is an objective reality which all humans cas more or less grasp — this is what draws me strongly to the side of Dawkins, et al.

    Call me a Mormonaholic. Once you’ve imbibed the kind of firewater that is belief in objective truth, your craving can only be managed.

  5. Nice posts everyone.
    Without getting heavily into my own Atheism or reasons for it:

    I think that people try to get their needs met as best they know how. Groupthink, working cooperatively together and inclusiveness are some of the foundations of humanity. I would say they were primary reasons why humans evolved and came to the top of the food chain. All religions nearly fit into this scheme. They have survival value for the people who participate in them. Religions right or wrong are here because they were the strongest and so be it. Sure they mutate nearly by the decade, there are hundreds upon hundreds of versions of say Christainity in the United States alone. It evolves and it continues to have value. The reason is simple, it meets the needs of its participants.

    On a social, psychological, spiritual, intellectual level, I eventually became honest with myself. I didn’t need religion or God anymore. I think that was the most freeing experience I have ever had. In some ways I feel this being “born again” experience took decades. My own truth I think had taken me too long to say out loud, “I don’t believe in God.” It didn’t come from superstition, a croud or a group of people swaying me in a church with a torrent of emotion. It came from myself, quitely thinking.

    I think as horrible as it is for some children initially, finding out that dude from the north pole with reindeer isn’t true is liberating. Because they have the truth. Oddly, it is a system of behavioral modification and reinforcement.

    The truth to me is that there is no defintion of god that gives me satisfaction. 1.) because I don’t need the satisfaction anymore. 2.) because no arguments approach my standard for a reasonable belief. 3.) faith I find immoral and wrong.

    Maybe the frontal lobes of my brain reached down and grabbed the “spritual” or maybe more accurately the religion / God part of the brain and digested it.

    It doesn’t matter much to me. Religions I see as humanly valid and they will evolve overtime.

    Atheists, well we will always be here and many of us will be going to church.

  6. Wow, I feel like I am pinch hitting in the blogging big leagues! Thanks for all the responses so far…

    Elise- I find it interesting how people of faith try to implement the fidelitas intellectus and I think basing the principles one lives by on reason is a very interesting way to do so. I’d be interested to know all the different ways these ideas could be combined.

    Mel- I agree that there is a great fear of the unknown which is probably responsible for the negative reaction atheists get. One thing that you mentioned in your response is that this fear could be mitigated by pointing out theists reaction to others belief systems. I do think the analogy is helpful, however, I do think that an important difference arises when one compares naturalism to a general belief in a transcendent reality.

    Mana- I think understanding the origin of our concepts of atheism is very interesting. I also think it is important to distinguish “strong atheism” from “spiritual atheism.” I think understanding the diverse ways that this term has and is used will also lead to more understanding.

  7. Postifthen-

    Thanks for letting us into your atheistic “born again” experience. I can see how that would be liberating. I wonder how common it is for people to feel liberated once they finally let go of any need to believe in God.

    As for myself I don’t feel so liberated, I believe I am still in the process of figuring out what needs I have and don’t have and what is rational for me to believe. As I said in my post I reject “faith” as the sacrifice of the intellect, we’ll see where it takes me.

  8. Johnny,
    As usual, good subject!

    I would like to answer your question about why theists don’t trust atheists – at least the feelings and thinking I encountered from my upbringing as a Christian. What I am about to say is just what I’ve perceived, not necessarily what I believe…

    The main issue I think is one of morality. It isn’t that the theist doesn’t think the atheist has no moral code, just that their moral code is not based on something absolute, but something cultural – in other words, morality du jour.

    Cultural morality is a mixture of rules based on many complex forces – a mixture of common sense, religious influences, and self-centeredness manifested on a societal scale. If people in power are not heavily submitted to an absolute moral code, then they will “go with the flow.” – whatever they perceive to be right according to the culture they are in. Since power corrupts, the powerful will twist morality to suit their own selfish interests, and by doing so, change cultural morality in a society as a whole into something more selfish. In other words, without an absolute morality, it is human nature and social nature to gravitate towards a cultural morality that is more and more self-centered. Self-centered to whom? The powerful of course. Might makes right: A society focused on a cultural morality rather than an absolute one will end up being one that benefits the powerful to the hurt of all others. Its a downward spiral.

    At this point I wanted to clarify what absolute morality is, because I think atheists and Christians might approach this term differently. When the Christian talks of absolute morality, it is not fine-grain, like what is the correct day of the week to have church or such crap, but the basics: freedom to own property, freedom of religion, the sacredness of human life, not to steal, to be honest, to show kindness to parents, to love your spouse (and don’t cheat on them), not to envy others, etc. Of course Christian morality is more detailed (and hotly debated in the details), but the 10 commandments (minus loving God) are the beginning.

    Luckily today, in this country, cultural morality is not too different from Christian morality in most of the basics. But that is just the state of cultural morality now. It’s not too hard to go back and see that cultural morality was not inline with Christian morality at all. I think a lot of Christians I know, when they think of putting an atheist in some position of power, will readily think of Stalin or Hitler (to a lessor or greater degree) and what people without a sense of absolute morality can do who are consumed with their selfish natures. But in fairness, I personally see a lot of terrible things going on with people in power in the past who “claimed” to be Christians as well, but who did not operate under Christian absolute morality AT ALL: Crusades, Inquisition, etc.

    But to the Christian, this is not surprising. There are many “cultural” Christians – people who believe Christianity, but who are not committed to God at all in every area of their lives. Contrary to popular perception, believing in God does not make a person a Christian any more than believing in outer space makes one an astronaut. Even though they say they are Christian, their morality is cultural, not absolute, and when in power, they are more consumed with cultural conformity and self-gain then what is absolutely right.

    So basically, it comes down to this: If you are not strongly committed to God in a personal, transforming relationship, you do not have the strength to uphold absolute morality. The alternative is cultural morality, which if not dictated strongly by absolute morality, will be an inevitable slippery slope towards an ever-increasing saturation of self-centeredness in favor of those in power. The value of human life, personal freedoms, etc. will all be expendable with just the right ingredients in a society (hat tip to V for Vendetta for pointing this out so well.)

    So that is my best guess why the Christian does not trust the atheist or the cultural Christian. If they are in a relationship where trust is important, they will always wonder: where are they in their moral downward spiral? If they are in a position of power, the downward spiral is accelerated exponentially – they absolutely can’t be trusted. Anyway, I hope this helps! I’ve been as honest as I can about how I’ve seen how others think.

    Personally, I’m still trying to understand the concept of a person’s conscious (regardless of if they believe in God or not) and how it plays a role in society (writing about it now on my blog), and so to me as a Christian trying to make up his own mind on the issue of morality regardless of my upbringing, I’m taking a humble attitude of I just don’t know. I really appreciate my moral atheist friends, which is why I like it here at MoF. :)

  9. I believe that this whole business of lableing ourselves and each other is very limiting and not productive in our spiritual growth no matter what our belief systems may be.
    The end all is that we are all of spirit.
    The label is a product of our ego. It is born of a desire to be right. Labeling is not conducive to our personal growth, it simply puts up barriers. When we drop the labels and recognize each other for the spirits that we are, then and only then will we make progress in our spiritual growth.

  10. Jonathan,

    I think it is an interesting explanation of the fear of atheism. I also think Locke’s quote seems to support your point. I think though, that is why so many atheists are puzzled because they often are very principled people (at least speaking from my anecdotal experience :)). That is why I wish everyone had to take an ethics class in high school, so they would realize the possibility and importance of secular ethics.

    Mark,

    I agree that labels often limit our understanding of each other. I often find it hard to choose the label or groups of labels that fit me best. But unfortunately, most people expect me to be able to label myself, so I continue to try to fit into them.

  11. Also, as the story goes one of the first commands god gave to Adam was to go about labeling things. So much for labeling being spiritually counter-productive. :P

  12. Jonathan,

    I think you made a common mistake and I need to correct one suggestion you may have made. Hitler was no atheist. He was raised Roman Catholic and most of his henchmen were Catholic as well. Hitler also in his speeches likened himself to Jesus and referred to God. No surprise he went after Jews. While he was critical of the Church he maintained his belief. He was ultimately clear in public and private regarding his faith in Jesus. Hitler said that faith was the foundation of a moral attitude. He stated he was doing the “Lord’s Work.” Hitler’s “absolute morality” from God if you will was his vehicle of mass murder. Hitler was a theist, a Christian and his Nazi party was strongly anti-atheist.

    Stalin was possibly an atheist however I doubt he would even consider the term useful as he was a communist above all.

    I am not sure that even Carl Marx would consider atheism a virtue or a necessity.

    Ultimately, I see communism as another religion out to gather as many members as possible and to eliminate all other religions.

    To Mark,
    You say labels are bad. You stated, “The end all is that we are all of spirit.” You just labeled yourself and everyone else. Hmmm…

  13. Jonathan, as a historian of religions, my conclusion is that, from the perspective of history, the values of believers are as culturally-based as that of any atheist’s. Values perceived as absolute in one age and locale are abandoned entirely in the next generation. The shifting perception among Christians on the immorality of slavery is one such issue (I’m pitching the latest book group here.)

    Johnny, I have a few instances of sacrificium intellectus in my life:

    1) I have irrational hope that humanity will survive its own short-sightedness and potential for self-destruction. I am willing to pour my entire life into pursuing this goal, even though reason seems to suggest that we will be our own undoing.

    2) The fundamental postulate at the foundation for my personal ethics is that life is precious and that human life is especially sacred. I don’t have rational support for this, but it drives my pacifism and my desire to help increase the quality of life for others.

    3) My love for Jana and my children is completely irrational. ‘Nuff said.

  14. i haven’t had a chance to read all the comments yet because i really must read _northanger abbey_ so i don’t look like a fool in front of my students tomorrow. but i wanted to comment briefly anyway.

    i have no distrust of atheists. but i do have a distrust of divides that are as stark as “you’re either participating in sacrificium intellectus or in fidelitas intellectus.” i imagine this is largely because the explanation you present here seems to suggest that one can only believe in god if one sacrifices the intellect; therefore to oppose sacrificium intellectus and fidelitas intellectus is also to oppose god and fidelitas intellectus. and i don’t accept that opposition.

    i also don’t trust people who think that they have the answers for everyone else. so i distrust atheists who believe that everyone else should be atheist or who attempt to convince others that they need to be atheist. i have no problem with discussion and sharing of ideas. but evangelizing atheists (and i’ve heard a few interviewed) are as bad as evangelizing christians. and for what it’s worth, i’m a mormon who dislikes missionary work. i have no problem talking about what i believe and sharing it with others who want to know. but i find it troubling for someone to believe that everyone else is simply mistaken if they do not agree on matters regarding the divine.

  15. John,

    I think those three examples of sacrificium intellectus are very interesting, especially #2. It seems like there might be ways of coherently integrating them in a manner that I don’t anticipate.

    Ameila,

    I wasn’t trying to oppose fidelitas intellectus with theism. There are many people that I highly respect who hold to both rigorously. But, I did say that someone who is who does accept fidelitas intellectus must at least open the door to atheism in an authentic way. I do think there is a difference between saying that a reasonable believer at least acknowledges the possibility of atheism and saying that atheism is the only reasonable position. I make the former claim, and not the latter.

  16. Johnathan mentions moral atheists, which implies there are a-moral atheists out there. Are these a-moral atheists any different than a-moral theists when it comes to morals? If they aren’t different, then should we just call them a-moral people? Or does morals just imply accepting a behavioral code, but not necessarily its application? In which case a theist is always moral by just accepting a moral code, and an atheist is always a-moral because of not accepting a theist moral code, regardless of how moral their acts are.

    Ah too many questions…

  17. postifthen -

    Thank you for that clarification! I think many Christians think Hitler was an atheist, probably because of his evolutionary ideas of a master race and the Natzi parallels to Nietzsche’s ‘Ubermench.’ Johnny, you might be able to shed more light on this – I have only read a small amount of Nietzsche. This falls into the category of Christian cultural morality terribly polluted by selfish gain.

    John-
    you are absolute right – morality seems a little shifty in Christian history.

    Speaking for myself (and not how I perceive other Christians as thinking like I did in my last comment) – I would classify this moral shifting as ‘cultural’ Christian morality, not absolute morality. This is where Christians adopt customs, beliefs, and attitudes from the culture around them and meld that into what they know about the character of God, and you get Christian cultural morality du jour. I for the most part really dislike this kind of morality. I may also be using the word morality wrong – I may mean something like ethics.

    In one time period, slavery is OK, the next, it is bad. What is right if the only difference is the time period and geographic location? From what I’ve read in the OT – slavery is discouraged, and the concept of servant hood is meant to be temporary (almost like a money debt). My best (and humble) guess is that God in the OT is slowly moving people away from their cultural morality standards and towards one that is closer to his nature. Slavery is one of these issues. It seems pretty clear to me in Deuteronomy that he does not want his people in lifelong servitude, even though it is allowed as a personal choice. He wants them all to be free. This is also seen in the regulation of the year of Jubilee. In the New Testament, we see him moving in the Greek cultures to slowly shift them away from their cultural morality towards a god-centered one.

    My concept of absolute morality is one that is based solely on the character of God as revealed in the Bible and more personally in my life – and I am finding that my (and I’m assuming everyone else’s) conscious seems to echo these characteristics – whether they believe in God or not. At least for me, my understanding of absolute morality is very limited – as I grow to understand God better by personal experience in life and by reading the Bible, it grows. Hope that helps explains my personal perspective on the matter. It’s very tentative at the moment – my best guess. :)

  18. Mana,
    Hey – I like you questions! I guess when I use the word “moral” it is in the context of whether a person follows an absolute moral code or not. In my best guess – this is found in some murky degree in the ethical portion of everyone’s conscious. By saying this, I am saying that there is an unethical portion of everyone’s conscious too (I have been writing about this a lot). Too long a discussion for here. This absolute morality is totally independent of a belief in any God, so an atheist or theist can be ‘moral.’ I’m beginning to worry that I might be using the wrong word here. Morality tends to be associated with cultural mores, and I’m more thinking of something that is time and culturally independent – I think the term is ‘ethical.’ I believe atheists and theists can both be very ethical. They can both be unethical as well.

    You absolutely right – they are either moral or a-moral people.

  19. I think a lot of the reason why so many believers – epsecially Christian believers – don’t trust atheists has to do with what I see as the deep-seated suspicion of many believers that the only thing keeping people from misbehaving, and misbehaving badly, is the threat that God will “get” them if they aren’t good. Consequently, those believers feel that they can’t predict the behavior of atheists because atheists don’t subscribe to – and therefore don’t fear – eternal punishment if they misbehave. That must be a frightening thing for them, even if it is a wrong-headed idea.

    I’m not sure how to overcome that. As in the Locke quote you began with, Johnny, many believers likely fear that atheists will upset the balance, reject the social contract, and wreak havoc in society. Perhaps they mistake atheism for anarchism, or perhaps they believe that the two are the same thing.

  20. thanks for the clarification, johnny. i appreciate the distinction you make. my question would be if there is room for the spiritual gift of belief in your conception of a theist who is intellectually rigorous. or perhaps what it means to authentically acknowledge the possibility that god does not exist. i consider myself dedicated to fidelitas intellectus, but have never doubted or questioned the existence of god. and i don’t think that means i’m necessarily less than intellectually rigorous. for me, the existence of god is like the fact that the sun will rise tomorrow. there’s a possibility that the sun won’t rise, and i suppose there’s a possibility god doesn’t exist. i could subject the nature of the sun to intellectual examination and i could subject the existence of god to exmamination; i just see no reason to do so. i understand why others do. but i don’t feel that need. and i don’t think it’s simply a matter of indoctrination or nurture, as i know others who have very similar backgrounds to mine who have questioned the existence of god.

    just food for thought.

  21. “the existence of god is like the fact that the sun will rise tomorrow. theres a possibility that the sun wont rise, and i suppose theres a possibility god doesnt exist.”

    Here’s what a Dawkins atheist would say here: The sun’s existence is a scientific fact, the same as the fact that the planets revolve around it, so there is no possibility that the sun won’t rise. To say that one accepts gd’s existence the same as the rising of the sun is a beautiful metaphor but it lacks intellectual rigor, because we know factually why the sun rises, but don’t know factually (if we are to use parallel arguments and compare apples to apples) that gd exists.

    Now, I’m curious to see if anyone has any opinions on the skeptic as an atheist. Or can there be such an atheist who is not a skeptic?

  22. Now, Im curious to see if anyone has any opinions on the skeptic as an atheist. Or can there be such an atheist who is not a skeptic?

    I think it is definately possible for someone to be both a non-skeptic and an atheist. Otherwise, skepticism would imply atheism, and I don’t see how that’s true.

    I also think there are atheists who hold to their position rather uncritically. It seems to me that the advocates of “New Atheism” aren’t very skeptical at all about their naturalistic presuppositions. A consistent skeptic will be skeptical of all relevant presuppositions, not just the one’s others hold.

    I should clarify this by saying there is a cultural assumption among educated people that naturalism has a prima fascia justification and is true unless there are arguments to the contrary. I often see this assumption widely accepted without argument, and thus held unskeptically.

  23. I don’t think new atheists present naturalistic presuppositions. Dawkins himself says he doesn’t say there is no gd he only says that the probability that gd exists is so small that it’s discountable. Here’s a quote from the Wired article again:

    “Science, after all, is an empirical endeavor that traffics in probabilities. The probability of God, Dawkins says, while not zero, is vanishingly small.”

    That’s where I see the parallel between skeptics and atheists, they both deal in probabilities (so to say).

  24. I adore that term “vanishingly small”. Of course, so long as there is a greater than zero chance of god’s existence there will be hoards of believers…who, unlike scientists, deal in the miraculously improbable. The more improbable the better. Were it not so then what would there be worth worshiping?

    Just another point of enmity between theists and atheists.

  25. Not all atheists deal in probability, though many do. There are plenty of people who arrive at the conclusion that there is no god not through intellectual rigor, but as an emotional or intuitive reaction to bad experience with organized religion or because they were brought up that way. So yes, you can have non-skeptical atheists.

    That said, I know of more people who move on the spectrum from unquestioning belief towards deep skepticism when they begin seriously examining their beliefs than the other way around. Examples include Elaine Pagels, Bart Ehrman, JD Crossan, Marcus Borg. My own experience has been like this, and that of many of my graduate student and professor friends. They don’t all become atheists, but they eliminate many cherished assumptions that they took on faith, and their skepticism increased considerably. I think that amelia’s one of the few I know who maintains the level of her faith commitment as she progresses through a program heavy with critical theory.

  26. Mana,

    I should clarify, I was not saying that Dawkins assumes naturalism is true. But it seems that he assumes that a theist has the burden of proof and if they cannot fulfill that burden, then naturalism is true by default. So the argument would go like this, theism has a low probability therefore naturalism is true.

    I might be wrong, so if I am please correct me. The problem is assuming naturalism as a default position.

  27. It’s certainly not the formulation “theism has a low probability therefore naturalism is true.” Naturalism does not lead from the improbability of theism.

    More like “naturalism is supported by observed and quantifiable phenomena therefore it is the most probable explanation we have to date.”

  28. Good work, Johnny! Way to raise the bar. :)

    I hope this drives people who are drawn to this type of discussion your way as well.

  29. “””# John Says:
    April 4th, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    Since weve got a passle of atheists here, Id love to hear your responses to Why do there seem to be so few prominent atheist/agnostic social activists in modern history?”””

    I am for lack of a better description, an Atheist and a social worker. The number of non-religious, non-theist, or non-christian social workers is very high in my agency. Without any doubt their representation is a much higher percentage in social services than in the common population. Atheists and agnostics typically don’t run around proclaiming what they believe and don’t advertize any good deed that they do. Why is this? Why are we not prominent? Why are we not noticed? We don’t need good press. Religion needs its propaganda machine.

    Hmmmm… maybe people are too buzy grouping us in with Hitler and Stalin. Two of the worst humans to ever walk the earth. That doesn’t make my comfort level go up a whole lot. I don’t think it is an accident that atheists are lumped in with them. Maybe atheists will do better in the next decade and get lumped in with pedophiles and rapists.

    When I was having discussions and debates over a decade and a half ago, I heard the exact same (emotional adn “philosophical”) arguments and statements regarding atheist/agnosticism/theism.

    I think i am done posting, so…

    To the theists I say, you can’t prove anything. Don’t worry though, you didn’t and have not committed intellectual suicide (if this were true you’d be blowing yourself up, drinking purple koolaide or killing someone else). Pascal, Locke and a few others I would say came very close with repeated stabbing attempts to their thick skulls but were unable to penetrate. It was likely do to their own evolutionary progression of needing more frontal bone mass as opposed to frontal brain matter.

    To the atheists I say, you don’t have to prove anything. If you are vocal about it, save yourself some time, buy a t-shirt that says, “feel free to hate me.” My recommondation is to hide (i.e. the internet), shut up, or try to blend in. Take comfort in living the life you choose.

    To the agnostics I say, even if your an atheist… don’t admit it. Enjoy your agnosticism though, people will like you and easily understand you. Take comfort in living the life you choose.

    To everyone, you deserve what you believe.

  30. postifthen,
    Just wanted to make sure I clarified something – when I said in an earlier post that Christians lump atheists with Stalin and Hitler, I wasn’t talking about myself, I was talking about the culture I came from. It probably sounded harsh, but I wanted to be as honest as possible about mainstream Christianity as I see it, but I also wanted to tell everyone that I don’t agree with it. I really hope I didn’t come across that I believed that stuff, and if you took that as how I really thought, I’m really, really sorry! Hopefully my presence here on MoF proves that I believe all people can be very moral/ethical, and I enjoy their company, thoughts, and ideas whether they believe in God or not. Sorry man for any misunderstanding I might have caused!

  31. Jonathan,
    No sweat I recognize your position is a statement regarding your view of other Christian’s view.

    I too believe all people have a shot at being very moral/ethical.

    However I will say this… I feel my religious upbringing was morality 101… don’t kill, don’t steal not real hard concepts to get etc. I think most people leave religion because they realize a higher morality. While this is hard to define or give many examples of, I think religions teach an us vs. them mentality. There are a set of rules for “us” and a set of rules for “them.”

    The disparities of power and unequal treatment toward groups of people that a particular religion shows, ultimately discloses its true morality.

    Often some religions will never graduate from morality 101, if they even practice 101.

    This is not directed at you please don’t take my words as a suggestion that you are not a swell person. I have a strong problem with these systems.

  32. Whew – thanks man! I was getting worried… I think morality and ethics is the most facinating area of study and thought for me right now. This probably isn’t the place for it, but I’d really like to hear your perspectives on higher morality – because I really agree with you – there is something beyond a huge list of do’s and don’ts.

  33. postifthen said,

    We dont need good press. Religion needs its propaganda machine.

    Hear, hear! I always think of that when I hear of yet another scandal in the religious sector. To drag out a recent one by way of example, not to drag him through the mud at all, if Ted Haggart were an atheist, his addition to men and meth would be boring & illegal, respectively. It would not be national news.

    One of my sisters once said (in relation to the Catholic pedophilia scandals) that Jesus associated with sinners, why should people be concerned that his followers do, too. None of us is perfect, after all. I think this would be national news even if it were the managers of an international (& atheistic) insurance company, but there’s something about the fact that these are people who preach perfection, even if they don’t claim to be perfect themselves.

    Religion always seems to want to come out smelling like ethereal roses. Probably because it’s much easier to equate a random evangelical or Catholic on-the-street with Ted Haggart or a priest-in-the-news than it is to equate an atheist on-the-street with Stalin.

  34. Miko I like your observations. However I can’t say I would take such a perspective as your sister. Practicing pedophiliacs are more than sinners needing forgiveness, they are criminals in need of incarceration. I won’t even speak to therapy, rapists I want to see do time and removed from the public.

    To shift gears:

    I would also like to add that the concept of “forgiveness of sin,” “salvation through grace,” “Plenury endulgences,” etc. put forth by various Christian groups is actually quite often a moral disability.

    I have witnessed personally scores of people in my lifetime write off even basic moral standards simply because they know they “will be forgiven.”


  35. I have witnessed personally scores of people in my lifetime write off even basic moral standards simply because they know they will be forgiven.

    Yeah – I’ve seen it too. I will always remember a book I read as a kid – “Where the Red Fern Grows.” A certain “Christian” character said that he would have fun sinning all his life, and at the end, he would ask for forgiveness and be OK. Pretty disturbing way to take advantage of grace. BTW, that is highly condemned by Paul in Romans. Anyone who is doing this is missing the point. A moral life is not following a big list of dos and don’ts and then making atonement for the don’ts, otherwise, taking advantage of grace would make sense. This is a low form of morality – as you said, the 101 version. The desire and reason for being moral is driven by something else entirely. That ‘something else’ is what fascinates me. It doesn’t seem to come from cold logic either, but something deep and emotional.

  36. A certain Christian character said that he would have fun sinning all his life, and at the end, he would ask for forgiveness and be OK.

    Hey! That sounds like Darth Vader’s story!

  37. I have witnessed personally scores of people in my lifetime write off even basic moral standards simply because they know they will be forgiven.

    can anyone say “Constantine“?

    I also feel that sometimes, when the religious sin & break laws at the same time, forgiveness becomes equated with atonement. I know whenever I went to confession, all I got were some “Hail Marys” or, if I was really unlucky, an “Our Father” (it’s longer & therefore more dreaded). I think it would have done a lot more for my (a) reluctance to sin again and (b) spiritual/moral development if, in addition to prayers, my penance included confronting the wronged parties. Sure, the “rift” between a sinner & their God needs to be bridged, but more so the tear in society that breaking a law or sinning against a person creates. A priest who molests a child should have to confess, probably be given a very strong penance: fast for a year, daily pray the Act of Contrition, turn yourself in. But then? He should do time. The family and child involved should also try to extend their forgiveness (if they can) to the sinner & criminal. But that doesn’t mean that they should absolve him of his duty to accept punishment for his crimes.

    sorry, [/rant]

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