On Rejecting Atheism Because You Don’t Like Atheists

Chris begins an otherwise interesting reply to my post on Jon Stewart’s views on religion with this puzzling remark:

Well I agree with Stewart’s statement to a degree, you can be a good person without faith, I know several aethists who are not the sterotypical ahole. I guess this comment is more of a bouncing off of ideas.

Personally I’ve tried to become an aethist, but what has always stopped me is aethists themselves.

Wait a minute, stop right there.  Being an atheist is a matter of thinking it more likely that there are no gods than likely that there are any gods.  That’s it. It should have nothing to do with the “atheists themselves.”  If you find atheists’ arguments unpersuasive, then don’t agree with them.  If you find the arguments of deists, pantheists, monotheists, pantheists, personal God theists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Scientologists, etc. more philosophically persuasive, then by all means agree with them.  But “the people themselves” in any camp are irrelevant to the metaphysical questions of whether or not there are any gods or whether there is one or two or any other number of gods, etc.

The only relevance of the behavior of people to their beliefs about the existence or nature of a god or gods arises when the content of people’s beliefs entails as a logical implication certain dissatisfied expectations for behavior.  If someone makes a claim that there is the sort of god, for example, who transforms people morally as a consequence of his salvation, then the persistent ordinariness of morality or the increase of particular vices among those who claim to believe in and have been saved by that god is relevant.

But where there is a belief in a god or gods or a disbelief in a god or gods that makes no particular promises about an improved personal morality stemming from the belief, then whatever you think about the personalities or moralities of those believers or disbelievers should be irrelevant to your conclusions about the nature or existence of a god or gods.  Atheists make no promises that the very non-existence of all gods will be somehow evidenced by atheists being peachier people than everybody else.

So, in short, either you believe in a god or gods based on philosophical and/or scientific and/or “theological” reasons or you do not.  And that should be all that’s necessary to determine whether you are an atheist.  Even if you found that you loathed all your fellow atheists as arrogant, impolite, intellectually irresponsible, or even downright immoral people, this would all be irrelevant to the question of whether or not you have good reasons to believe in a god or gods.  Similarly, either you find the preponderance of your available evidence and capacities for logical inference lead you to theism, pantheism, monotheism, polytheisn, pantheism, animism, or deism, or by default you accept your atheism and take it from there.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with offering good reasons not to be an atheist based on the substance of the philosophical position and available refutations you think you have for the position.  And there’s nothing inherently wrong with calling yourself an atheist while criticizing the other beliefs of other atheists which you disagree with.  You can also join the ongoing conversation in the growing atheist subculture about what tactics politically, socially, and intellectually are most commendable or most problematic.  You can devote lots of energy to persuading your fellow atheists to reconsider particular of their views on religion or on what their atheism entails or what their politics should be, etc.

Atheists are not a monolithic group, precisely since all one has to do to be an atheist is believe in no god or gods and you qualify as one of us.  If from there you want to criticize a large segment of atheists for other incorrect beliefs they have, then you’re more than welcome to, just as having any other view in common with some one individual or group entitles you to disagree with that person or group on any number of other particular points.

I take the rest of your comment to switch from this irrelevant reason not to be an atheist (that you don’t like people who happen to be atheists in your experience) to a more potentially helpful critique of prevalent tactics, attitudes, and temperaments among the internet atheist subculture.  So, tomorrow morning, I will post my reply to those criticisms you have laid out in the rest of your comment.

In the meantime, Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.