What Are You, Stupid?

There seems to be a perception among religious people that atheists believe all religious people to be stupid, ignorant, or deluded. (Witness a recent question on the Yahoo Answers service.) Where this perception comes from is something of a mystery – given how severely underrepresented atheists are in the media, it is almost certain that it does not actually come from anything we have said. Nevertheless, there is no question that a large number of theists take the statement “Hello, I’m an atheist” as a personal insult. What can be the reason for this?

The most obvious answer, and the one I think many religious people themselves would give, is that atheism is an insult to the believer because it rejects the believer’s most cherished principles of faith as untrue. This answer seems simple and logical, but I am convinced that it is not the correct one.

For one thing, if this were true, then believers should be equally offended upon meeting other believers who share none of the key tenets of their faith. But this does not seem to be the case. Although our heavily Christian society strongly distrusts atheists, it is not equally distrustful of other religious groups who reject fundamental Christian claims – for example, Buddhists or Hindus, who just like atheists reject Christian claims about the nature of the afterlife, the divinity of Jesus, salvation by faith alone, and the rules given by God for living. Nor do Christians seem to be equally offended by Jews and Muslims who reject the single most important part of all of Christianity, the incarnation and resurrection of the Son, as well as the trinitarian nature of God. Even groups within Christianity disagree fiercely about vital areas of doctrine, such as whether baptism is necessary for salvation, whether communion involves the literal or only symbolic presence of the divine, or whether the Vatican is a legitimate inheritor of Jesus’ promise to Peter. But despite their vast differences, in general none of these groups seem to take the others’ existence as a personal affront. This persistent attitude of distrust and dislike seems to be concentrated solely on atheists.

One might also suggest that it is the atheist’s lack of belief in God that inspires resentment among theists. This idea does have the virtue of explaining why theists usually do not view other kinds of theists with similar suspicion, but I think it falters on similar grounds. Again, what can it possibly mean to say that two theists of different traditions “both believe in God” when they differ on every significant aspect of God’s character? Are Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu really equivalent in any meaningful way to the Christian trinity? Do the Zoroastrians’ opposing good and evil deities, or the Buddhist view of gods as finite beings subject to the law of karma just like humans, compare to the all-powerful god of monotheism? What about religious views that depict God as an impersonal, cosmic force, as opposed to ones that depict God as anthropomorphic and personal?

I have another proposal, which I believe explains the facts more convincingly. The religious dislike for atheists is not because atheists reject God – it is because we reject religion.

Despite their differing creeds, all religions are alike in that they give their adherents a sense of community, of belonging, and of identity: a social support structure, if you will. Atheists have nothing comparable, and this is easily interpreted as – in fact, in a way, it is – a statement that people do not need the structure of religion.

This is what angers and upsets believers who encounter atheists. They have devoted so much of their lives to their support structure, and their identity is so intimately bound up with it, that meeting a person who needs none of those things is naturally threatening to them, because it suggests that all their effort was unnecessary, even wasted. And from there, it is only a small step to the conclusion that atheists must think them deficient in intelligence not to have seen the better way, if there is one. In my experience, even people who care nothing for dogma and doctrine, who disagree with their church leadership on virtually every issue, often react with anger or incredulity to the suggestion that they leave their religion, because they have been brought up in it and participated in it for so long that it has become part of how they see themselves.

This hypothesis explains why believers are generally not offended by the existence of other believers: even if two groups of theists differ drastically about their actual beliefs, each can see that the other group provides its members with the same kind of social structure that their own religion provides them. In its way, this is a tacit affirmation that belonging to religious groups is normal and desirable and is how human beings are meant to live, and therefore reassuring. But the existence of atheists threatens to wreck this whole gentleman’s agreement (and religion is very much a gentleman’s agreement), and so it is no surprise that theists mistrust and fear us. They are offended and angered not so much by what we say or do, but by what we represent.

Is it possible to change this reaction? Certainly, if atheists want to be heard, we will have to improve our public image. But how can we do that if the negative perception of us stems from nothing we do but from our very existence?

Happily, the solution to this dilemma is the same as the solution to many other issues facing atheists: organize. Just because atheists reject the social structure of religion does not mean we lack any need to associate with others. No person, not even an atheist, is an island. Rather, we reject religion because a higher virtue, allegiance to the truth, compels us to stand apart. But so far, though many of us stand apart from religion, we have not taken the obvious step of standing together with others who do so. We can and should do this. Not only will it magnify the power of our individual voices, it may well improve our image in the eyes of the believing mainstream who see us as dangerous and strange iconoclasts.

I do not suggest that we form a “church of atheism” that mimics the tone and style of religious organizations without the content. That would strike me as silly and pointless, an opinion in which I trust I am not alone. But in addition to advocating political organization, I do not think it would be a bad thing for atheists to achieve a greater level of social organization as well (and of course the two are strongly linked). Why aren’t there more atheist groups that can organize excursions to museums and science lectures, nature hikes, and other worthwhile activities? There is a whole world to know and experience, and atheists have every reason to want to drink as deeply from it as they can. And the more worthwhile and enjoyable we make our lives, the more likely it is that others will see this and want to join us!

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • faust

    The Yahoo Answers questioner implicitly offends atheists with his question, then asks why we have a problem with such questions. He says, “They also seem to completely detest their divine origins”
    That assumes that we believe in his god (and detest him).
    No wonder such questions are met with hostility from atheists. It’s no different from asking “why do you hate your creator?”

  • http://mindmatters.livejournal.com/ Catana

    You got close to the crux, but just missed it. The social aspect of religion is important, but what’s more important to the religious is rules–what’s moral, what’s immoral, how your life is supposed to be conducted. Few people can manage their lives without the rules that others have defined for them. After all, that’s what arguments about the inerrancy of the bible boil down to. A person who doesn’t accept rules from an authorized source is presumably capable of anything and therefore to be feared and hated.

    No amount of organizing among atheists can overcome this.

    By the way, I don’t believe that all religionists are stupid or ignorant, but they are certainly all deluded.

  • Philip Thomas

    Excellent entry. Catana, maybe. But atheists can point to an authorised source of their own, if they wish.

    What does “religionist” even mean? If you are tallking about theists, I wouldn’t go so far as “deluded”. Mistaken, maybe.

  • Azkyroth

    Excellent entry. Catana, maybe. But atheists can point to an authorised source of their own, if they wish.

    Atheists can’t, or won’t, point to a *divinely* authorized source, though, so it doesn’t count, as far as certain theists are concerned. Having rules to follow isn’t enough (true), they’d argue: the Nazis had rules, and more of them than most societies (true). The rules need to be from a higher being, IE a god.

    What does “religionist” even mean? If you are tallking about theists, I wouldn’t go so far as “deluded”. Mistaken, maybe.

    I would interpret “religionist” as one who is not only a theist (believes in a deity or deities), but an adherent and advocate of an organized religion.

    Anyway, a delusion is defined as follows:

    n 1: (psychology) an erroneous belief that is held in the face of evidence to the contrary [syn: psychotic belief] 2: a mistaken or unfounded opinion or idea; “he has delusions of competence”; “his dreams of vast wealth are a hallucination” [syn: hallucination]

    “An erroneous belief that is held in the face of evidence to the contrary” describes theism almost perfectly.

  • Philip Thomas

    well, only if one prejudges the issue, on that basis the theist could equally say an atheist is delusional and then we’re just trading insults.

    Anyway, you have misread the definition by taking it out of context. The little bracket making it synonomous with psychotic belief is important! A psychotic belief is a fundamental error about the nature of reality that is obvious to any sane person: for example the person in psychosis may believe he is adressed by voices telling him to kill himself, or he may beleive himself personally responsible for the Iraq war and therefore under surveillance by the security services, who have cameras planted in all television and computer monitors (all these are examples of delusions which I have suffered from). But psychiatrists do not consider mere religous belief as delusional.

  • Azkyroth

    I’m aware of the clinical definition; I (like Catana, I assume) am using it in one of those senses that tends to follow numbered dictionary entries, separated by “hence” in italics.

    Besides, many theists do have such beliefs (that God speaks to them and commands them to kill, etc.) and these theists are generally recognized as delusional by psychiatrists. Significantly, if there is a reliable and objective way to distinguish these beliefs from “mainstream” religious beliefs, I have yet to hear of it. The main reason mainstream religions aren’t considered delusional, I suspect, is because they’re so widespread and pro-theistic bias is so deeply ingrained in our culture.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    You got close to the crux, but just missed it. The social aspect of religion is important, but what’s more important to the religious is rules–what’s moral, what’s immoral, how your life is supposed to be conducted. Few people can manage their lives without the rules that others have defined for them. After all, that’s what arguments about the inerrancy of the bible boil down to. A person who doesn’t accept rules from an authorized source is presumably capable of anything and therefore to be feared and hated.

    This is an excellent point which didn’t occur to me; I thank you for bringing it up. I think our views here are complementary, not opposed. After all, any social structure must be made up primarily of rules for what constitutes acceptable behavior.

    No amount of organizing among atheists can overcome this.

    I very much disagree. What we need to show to overcome this prejudice is that atheists are ordinary, moral, rule-following people just like everyone else, and again, the solution is to organize and to speak out strongly. We get our rules from a different source, true, but we still want the same things most theists want, the right to live in peace and follow individual conscience. If we can make this clear, there’s no reason to believe anti-atheist prejudice must persist. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve had the charge you describe leveled at me in debates a few times, and when I present a defense like that, the person making the charge often backs down. Granted, some people are determined to think the worst of us no matter what, but most theists are not like that, and we can reach them.

  • Rowan

    I must admit, when I first read the start of this essay I felt a bit guilty. I do sometimes think theists are idiots. Sometimes I tell them so. But at least I wait until we’re in the middle of a debate and they’ve said something stupid.

    Thanks, Adam, great article!

    I think the reason religious people often think atheists often think that they’re idiots is that atheists arguments are based around common sense and reason. I’m not saying that the arguments are based ON logic and good reasoning – that depends on how good a debater the atheist is. What I’m saying is that usually, as a matter of choice, theists argue with potential converts based on emotional appeals and rhetoric. With atheists, this doesn’t work; we’re not scared by hell, and we don’t buy “Jesus loves you”. So the theists are forced to meet us on the ground we use, which is logic and reasoning – scientific evidence for creationism, historical evidence for the Gospels, archaeological evidence for the old testament and above all, simply arguing whether theology makes sense or not.

    The problem is, this puts them at a disadvantage, and even with the art of apologetics and the strenuous efforts put into creationism their arguments often get exposed for what they are: faith.

    When the atheist points this out, and they refuse to budge, what else can you say but that their arguments are stupid?

    Personally, I don’t think that theists are stupid – but that smart people are capable of coming up with very good reasons for why they made stupid – in this case, emotional – choices.

  • http://secularalliance.ca A Pang

    But in addition to advocating political organization, I do not think it would be a bad thing for atheists to achieve a greater level of social organization as well (and of course the two are strongly linked). Why aren’t there more atheist groups that can organize excursions to museums and science lectures, nature hikes, and other worthwhile activities?

    Way ahead of you, bud. Well, as soon as we start organizing the potluck and Mythbusters/Bullshit! double features.

  • Valentin

    I’d like to add another aspect to the discussion: Doubt. I think it is the fear of doubt that creates the uneasy feeling in theists when meeting atheists. As we know atheism has quite a few arguments and I suspect that it is these that comes to mind as the theist meets an atheist. They quite simply fear to lose their faith talking to an atheist.

  • Philip Thomas

    Where theists have delusional beliefs, they can be seperated from non-delusional beliefs by careful investigation: hence psychiatrists do call these beliefs delusional but do not call ‘normal’ beliefs delusional. If there was no clear way of seperating delusions from religion, psychiatry would be a lot harder than it is.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    If I said that I often talk to someone that I cannot see, that I believe that that that same person watches everything I do and acts to reward and punish me, and that I am very important to him, I’d find myself in the rubber room. But when I then say, “Oh, I’m talking about God,” they’d release me and say, “Oops, we thought you were mentally ill, with hallucinations, paranoia, and delusions of granduer.”

    It is a double standard.

    Religious belief has all the hallmarks of a mental illness.

  • Philip Thomas

    all the hallmarks? I have experienced mental illness and religous beleif. Though there are similarities, I can tell the difference: and so can my doctors.

  • http://worthlesswell.blogspot.com/ Unbeliever

    Philip,

    This is partly because your doctors would never think to compare religous belief with mental illness. It is the same as saying that a majority of the world is a little crazy. But their reluctance doesn’t make it any less true.

    In your post, you mentioned that you suffered from paranoia. How is that any different than thinking that the devil is out to get you? You also mentioned what I believe to be delusions of grandeur, whereby you think that you are somehow the cause of important events. How is that any different than thinking that Christ died just for you?

    Most people have some very mild form of mental illness. Most people are afraid of heights, but so long as it doesn’t become a problem, no treatment is warranted. Some people think that are very important when they are really not. We don’t diagnose them with megalomania. And if someone wants to be religous, I say let them, so long as their beliefs don’t cause them to harm another.

    BTW, just so you know where I’m coming from, I have battled moderate to severe depression my entire adult life. I’m no stranger to mental illness. But a society that says that is acceptable to believe in something that isn’t there isn’t doing its members any favors.

  • Philip Thomas

    Fair enough: I suppose the difference is that people don’t really believe the devil is out to get them: if they did they might well be hospitalised. Religous beleif for the majority is so attentuated it barely registers…

  • Azkyroth

    I suppose the difference is that people don’t really believe the devil is out to get them: if they did they might well be hospitalised.

    Many religious people do. Fully listing all the factions thereof is beyond the scope of my time at the moment. Have you read nothing that’s been printed by or about the Christian Right, and even plenty of moderate Christians?

  • Philip Thomas

    I don’t go out of my way to read the literature of the Christian Right, partly because they are much less common in the UK than across the Atlantic. I have read some “moderate” Christian material, mainly C.S.Lewis.

    Anyway, I don’t doubt that many many people say they believe the devil is out to get them, it is after all in the Baptismal rite. But they don’t follow that thought through to its logical conclusions, so they don’t become utterly paranoid and dysfunctional (I generalise).

  • Steve

    After debating religious people and other online for a number of years, I’ve concluded that if religious people aren’t stupid, they might as well be, for all the difference it makes. It is *blindingly obvious* to me that Christianity is a load of crap. How can anyone not see it? You may as well deny the existence of that big bright fireball in the sky known as the sun as argue that any religion you care to name is rational or makes any kind of sense at all. So, if they aren’t stupid, they are indistinguishable from stupid . . . count me among those atheists who consider the religious to be stupid without exception — I’ve not met even a single one yet who could give non-stupid answers fro believing, and I’ve met thousands.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Hello Steve,

    I take strong exception to that statement. I count many religious people among my friends; I know of many others whom I respect. I do not think any of them are stupid. I do think that many of them have not been taught how to think critically, or are unaware of important facts that might change their minds if they heard them, or simply hold faith commitments that make them incapable of analyzing their religious beliefs rationally. None of those things, however, are the same thing as being deficient in intelligence. In fact, I freely concede that even many of the fundamentalist Christian apologists whose beliefs and politics I despise are very intelligent indeed, because only a sharp mind could come up with rationalizations for twisting or denying the evidence as cleverly as they do.

    The important thing to keep in mind is that intelligence and critical thinking are not necessarily associated. As observers such as Michael Shermer have noted, intelligent people are almost as likely as unintelligent people to hold irrational beliefs; the only difference is that intelligent people are far better at coming up with excuses for believing them. What makes the difference is not intelligence, but the ability to think critically and skeptically. And when that quality is as undervalued as it is in our society, it’s no surprise that even people with a high degree of innate intelligence often do not possess it.

  • SpeirM

    Wish I’d gotten back in time to contribute to this thread. There’s so much good stuff here and things I disagree with strongly.

    Religion didn’t arise out of nothing. No, I’m not saying there’s any God who has anything to do with it. What I’m saying that is there is a very real human insecurity that grasps at anything, real or imagined, to hang onto. (Remember, it’s only been recently, and then only in some cultures, that the everyday need for fear has been largely been banished. Human nature has a lot of catching up to do.) But that’s typical of ALL of us–atheists included. We still have the same need and we do find ways to have it met. We may not call that “religion,” but it equates to something very similar. And sometimes, alas, it’s just as irrational.

  • Philip Thomas

    Actually, I would be less suprised to find a stupid person who didn’t believe in the sun than a clever person: the clever person would have more ingenious arguments against the obvious. Also, it takes intellectual courage and rigour to deny the existence of something most people take for granted.

    Whether or not its true that religous believers are stupid, it is tactless to say so. In general, when you are trying to persuade someone, telling them they are stupid is a false move. Of course, when they started it you may feel like trading insults- but how much better if you could “turn the other cheek”, impressing them with the tolerant nature of atheism.

  • Philip Thomas

    sorry, “more suprised”, not less!

  • Eziekel

    I think that we can all agree that there is an abundancy of stupid in our world, and frankly, i’m pretty disappointed they keep mating and reproducing into the more stupid, why can’t evolution just work faster dammit. But seriously, i do know some extremely intelligent theists who i deeply respect, however i will never agree with them on the existence of god. it is the problem of conformity that we face, most people are told from the moment we’re born, that god is there and that’s just a fact. and most of those people never question him (i was in fifth grade the first time i even found out that some people didn’t believe in god, and from that day i was an agnostic just waiting to become the atheist i am today) and when an atheist comes along, they’re fixed on their ideas, literally formed by pop culture, so much that we provoke fear. but i am nineghteen, so the religious people my age, are absolutely, invariably stupid. But i can’t understand why any atheist would not want to organize, i live in a predominantly white, fairly wealthy, suburb, so my beliefs are ridiculously contrasted by nearly 100% of the people i encounter on a daily basis. sometimes i feel utterly helpless and alone, because i am not silent at all about my beliefs, and i constantly get shit from my friends, colleagues, bosses, girlfriend, and even my family, who says i’m really not an atheist at all, and i just think i am, and am making a hasty decision that’s “irrational.” it’s not that i’m at all influenced by any of these people, but it would be awesome to have a support system who’s beliefs correlate to mine. and i think this would help our image in the world, especially if we showed more clearly that we contribute greatly to the society and environment, as well as have moral values, which can be and are independent from a transcendent source. but it is true that theists are generally frightened by beliefs that veer from the ordinary, because i think deep down, mosts theists know somewhat that god, is obsolete and unnecessary, when pretty much all phenomena has a natural explanation, and scientific enlightenments are made on a daily basis. this is an awesome blog by the way. on a different topic, delusions of grandeur were mentioned, did any one else ever think about the psychological health of jesus, hypothetically, assuming he actually existed, what is he was bipolar, doesn’t it just make perfect sense? he thinks he’s the son of god (cough- delusion of grandeur) and then a depressive state, and “sacraficed” himself. just curious, let me know your guys thoughts.

  • Jeff T

    I was raised as a ‘holy roller’ and was very active in the church. One reason that I thought that atheists were not to be trusted was that in spite of all evidence, they were influenced by Satan. I remember hearing the name Ohare (sp?) and associating it with 666. Complicating this assumption was the biblical teaching that the ways of God are mysterious to man, and the wisdom of man is foolish to God. Basically looking at the evidence presented by atheists and ignoring it was easy, especially when one is concerned about losing one’s ‘soul’ by questioning God’s wisdom. Keep in mind that religion focuses a lot on repitition, and repitition forms patterns of thought which are probably independent of intelligence.
    Anyway, once I have worked a bit more on my grammar, I hope to send Adam my deconversion story. The thought that finally penetrated my conditioning was that if God was good, why was I in fear all the time? Was it God that wanted me to be afraid, or the man at the pullpit asking for money?

  • Philip Thomas

    I am bipolar. Delusions of grandeur, obviously (if false), but he doesn’t seem to share many signs of mania. As for depression, he is pretty low by the time he’s been nailed to the cross for a few hours, but I think that could be externally induced…

  • Eziekel

    I know a few bipolar people too, and i’m also a psychology major, the manic and depressive states vary from person to person. some bipolar people are misdiagnosed with clinical depression, and are given wrong forms of treatment, then when most people think they are recovering, it’s just a mild state of mania, again the degrees of mania vary as well. I’ll remind that delusions of grandeur almost without exception occur in the manic stages, so you can destinctively tell when jesus is in a manic period. but then right when these people seemingly recover from their depression, that’s when they kill themselves. and jesus, according to biblical text and scholars, knew exactly what he was doing in jeruselem, and the consequences he would face. I’ve read the gospels a few times over now and he really seems bipolar to me.

  • Philip Thomas

    Well, I’m not sure we have enough data on any figure of the ancient world to make a firm diagnosis. Delusions of grandeur are also characteristic of other psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia. Of course, Jesus had no money so he couldn’t go on a wild spending spree…

    On Palm Sunday he requistions a donkey and rides it into Jerusalem: so presumably he is manic then (assuming the hupothesis), likewise on Monday when he gets angry in the Temple. So in order to fit your recovering from depression model he would need to be depressed for three days then recover on the Thusday night enough to be arrested and goad the authorities into executing him. Its possible, but not provable.

    And of course it might have been mixed manic depression, which would confuse the symptoms still further…

  • Jim Speiser

    Such a great article, and a subject I’ve often gone over in my own mind. Hope its not too stale for a couple of comments. First, I have often fought this battle with fellow atheists who assume that anyone who doesn’t see the world the way they do is automatically stupid. If this were universally the case, we would all be surrounded by dummies. This does boil down to a difference of opinion, after all, no matter how “right” we “know” we are. And then there is the matter of counter-examples. Take my father, for instance, a Roman Catholic convert from Judaism, very devout (though somewhat liberal in theology). He’s just finished his 51st book. His 35 legal texts are compulsive reading in law schools, and have been cited by the United States Supreme Court. He is also on the Board of the Journal of Post-Keynesian Economics. Go ahead. Call him “stupid.” I dare ya.

    I venture that this is a matter not only of fear, of inculcation, of ego and pride, but also of perspective, and more specifically, the ability to shift same. To think outside of the box. We atheists, at some point, made a leap, or a shift of mental paradigm that gave us (we think) the proper perspective in which to judge the efficacy of religion; we stepped back and really considered life, the universe, and everything as uncaused, and it worked for us. I believe its possible that some very intelligent people are somehow unwilling or more likely unable to make that shift. And that’s a chasm that’s very difficult to guide someone across.

    In any case, I fully agree that we need to tone down the name-calling and rhetoric (to the extent such exists). We will catch more flies with honey than with battering rams.

  • SpeirM

    Ooh, I like Jim’s comment! Many of us were believers at one time. Were we any more or less intelligent then? There are believers out there who would probably best any of us in a debate. (Which, of course, need prove nothing more than who’s the better debater. Still….)

    I worry about this “believers are evil” attitude some of us seem to have. (We don’t even believe in transcendent evil!) Whomever we label evil, we tacitly consign to a lessened worthiness to continue in their existence. (After all, who wants evil infecting the rest of us?) Right now, we atheists are a woeful minority, but that may not always be. Right now we can bellow and rant and cause little more damage than hurting people’s eardrums. But, while those out of power beat with words, those in power beat with sticks. I truly worry as much about what might happen if some atheists gain power as I do about the possible rise of theocracy. It’s not like there’s no historical precedent, you know.

  • Philip Thomas

    Erm, Atheism isn’t incompatible with belief in transcendent evil, so long as the evil doesn’t take the form of a personal God. Atheism isn’t incompatible with belief in abduction by aliens, either…

  • SpeirM

    Yes, and?

    Maybe I’m the stupid one, but I don’t get the thrust of your comment, Philip.

    My point is that some atheists seem to paint theists with much much the same kind of transcendental evil brush as theists do atheists. (Even if they don’t use such terms or hold such beliefs.) That attitude is what worries me.

  • Philip Thomas

    I was being pedantic. I don’t think you’re stupid.

    Your broad point is reasonable. Of course, some theist actions are (and have been) morally wrong, and we shouldn’t be afraid to say so. But that is a far cry from “all theists are evil”.

  • SpeirM

    As long as we go that far and no further, I’m right with you. But some do take it further. Their words betray them.

  • Jim Speiser

    “Atheism isn’t compatible with belief in abductions by aliens, either.” How so? As a former student of the phenomenon, I’m curious how “lack of belief in deities” is equivalent to “lack of belief in aliens.” I know its off-topic, but it may wind up being instructive just the same.

  • Jim Speiser

    Ooops, never mind. “ISN’T incompatible with.” Those darn double-negatives again…

  • dhagrow

    I truly worry as much about what might happen if some atheists gain power as I do about the possible rise of theocracy.

    I think this is something athiests today should really be concerned about. Someday, hopefully, we may find ourselves to be a majority. How can we keep ourselves from abusing that power the way many religions have done? Perhaps militant athiests today are doing us a service by balancing (as much as they are able) the “evils” of religious fundamentalism. Should athiesm ever prevail, however, what will keep these individuals and groups from trying to force their views on others using the same methods that led many of us (myself not included) to become athiests?

    The 1st amendment certainly helps keep things from going too far, as Adam has pointed out in a later post. But that is only applicable in the US, a small part of the world. As far as I know, we are the only country in world that has anything like 1st amendment to protect us. Yet even here, with the uncertainty of seeing atheism as a religion/non-religion I see the potential for many loopholes when it comes to pushing athiest views in government matters. Of course, athiesm is non-religion by definition. In the context of church/state seperation, however, it may be in everyone’s best interest to see it differently. Atheism is, after all, a belief system. What we, as atheists, can do to keep ourselves from becoming what we revile remains an open question for me, and one which I think athiests should be trying to answer.

    On a personal note, I’ve been reading Ebon Musings, and Daylight Athiesm for quite a while now, and I’m greatly appreciative to Adam (or Ebonmuse, if that’s preffered) for all the work he has done.

  • Azkyroth

    I think it helps that Atheists don’t have the “god’s will” excuse for forcing their ideas on other people, and Freethinkers and Humanists in particular have an implicit ideological commitment to freedom of conscience, including freedom of religion, for all members of society.

  • SpeirM

    “I think it helps that Atheists don’t have the “god’s will” excuse for forcing their ideas on other people, and Freethinkers and Humanists in particular have an implicit ideological commitment to freedom of conscience, including freedom of religion, for all members of society.”

    I think we do have that commitment–in principle. But Christians have a commitment to love in principle, and we’ve seen how that’s worked out very often. My concern is only that we pay careful heed to ourselves. We, too, can become blind by ideology and find ourselves justifying all kinds of nastiness in the interest of our perceived greater good.

    And, I’m not accusing anyone here of such leanings, just in case anyone’s wondering. However, there are others….

    “On a personal note, I’ve been reading Ebon Musings, and Daylight Athiesm for quite a while now, and I’m greatly appreciative to Adam (or Ebonmuse, if that’s preffered) for all the work he has done.”

    I’d like to echo the sentiment. A year or so ago I happened to stumble onto the Atheist Pages (Don’t even remember how) and bookmarked it. I was impressed by the perspicacious, yet commonsense quality of the essays and read them all. I came back from time to time to look for new work without even suspecting the Evolution pages or the blog. I hit upon those additional goldmines only recently. Good work, Adam! This is a great resource.

  • dhagrow

    I think it helps that Atheists don’t have the “god’s will” excuse for forcing their ideas on other people.

    The “god’s will” excuse is just that…an excuse. As much as the religious may be true believers, they are ultimately motivated by thier own desires. When it comes to influencing others, athiests are just as capable of the same weakness. On the other hand, it is true that one principle many athiests (and others as well) agree upon is that of the freedom of religion. Yet, if athiests hold to that principle today, it may only be because we are a minority.

  • dhagrow

    Damn. Before the grammer nazis catch me, I’ve just realized I’ve made the ‘i’ before ‘e’ fallacie. A thousand pardons. Atheist. Their.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Be at peace – we don’t crucify people for spelling errors around here. :)

  • Azkyroth

    Be at peace – we don’t crucify people for spelling errors around here. :)

    Right. Now, burning at the stake for forming plurals with apostrophes is another matter entirely… ;/

    Yes, I’m aware that it’s just an excuse, but it’s a convenient and time-tested excuse that’s absolutely denied to us as atheists.

  • B.J.

    So many good and noble things have been done by atheists: medical advancements, scientific progress and works of charity. But most people are totally unaware of this.
    Most religious people seem to think one must believe in God in order to live a moral life, one small step to acceptance might be to make everyone aware that one does not need to be religious to do good deeds and to be an asset to society.

    All the prayer in the world couldn’t cure smallpox, polio and a host of other terrible diseases…But science did.

  • Imli

    Believers are not developed fully as people — they do not have a concept of personal responsibility or morality, as their world view is built upon a punishment/reward phantasy involving a deity, rather than on logical reasoning and personal decision to be responsible out of ones free will.

    Paradoxically, this is the reason why most of them think that Atheists have no morals :-)

    Are children stupid because they haven’t worked something out yet? No, of course not. But they are still children and as such are limited in their capabilities. The same goes for believers.

  • Polly

    “In its way, this is a tacit affirmation that belonging to religious groups is normal and desirable and is how human beings are meant to live…”

    Probably is. How many here would identify with the statement, “I don’t consider myself a leader but I won’t just be a follower, either.”?
    Societies are made up of two kinds of people, followers and leaders. Most people also act in either of these capacities as needed depending on the situation. But, there is a third type, the independent-minded person. And he/she doesn’t seem to have a place in society. Generals give marching orders, soldiers obey. Where is there room for independent thought?
    Maybe this freedom, this SELF-SOVEREIGNTY, we enjoy is simply unavailable to most people. I’m not an elitist; I know plenty of people who are smarter than I. But, maybe atheists will always be the minority because we just don’t fit the societal mold. I know I’m assuming a lot about a very diverse group.
    There is something that seems arrogant about declaring one’s independance from both his fellow man (religion) and a creator god. Maybe it’s that perceived arrogance that gets the religionists so bent out of shape.

  • anti-nonsense

    I certainly don’t think all religious people are “stupid” Gregor Mendel was a monk after all and he was *far* from an idiot. They suffer from not having been taught appropriate critical thinking skills. Which is why I believe all high schools should have a dedicated “critical thinking” course where they teach students about common logical fallacies and such.

  • lpetrich

    I recall something about how Mendel had been anti-religion in his earlier years, considering a lot of Catholic practices superstition. But it was hard for him to have a professional career without entering the Church, so he became a monk.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Hello Ebonmuse,

    Based on my experiences, I think that theists on the internet feel that atheists think they are stupid because a strong minority if not a majority of the atheists that I encounter write to me in a clearly condescending, if not outright insulting manner. In short, I think that there are quite a few atheists who do indeed think that I am stupid.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • James Bradbury

    Matt,

    I’m sorry to hear that, although not especially surprised. Too often people pre-judge people by the actions of others who are of the same group. Perhaps many of them have met theists who generally are stupid, or at least unwilling to think for themselves. I’ve met plenty who tell me, “Jesus loves you” and expect me to be amazed, impressed or possibly even feel guilty for not reciprocating.

    There are a lot of people out there who need to learn that Respecting is not the same thing as Agreeing.

    I think we ought always to entertain our opinions with some measure of doubt. I shouldn’t wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine. – Bertrand Russell.

  • Fonzie

    I agree with James B. I would still say ‘Jesus loves you all!’.. but that’s more like a take home message. Its really up to each individual to decide whether to accept that or not. There are atheists who would impose on christians on the subject that there is no God. The fact is, hostilities abound regartdless of what you believe. The atheists are quick to point to the christians just as the christians are quick to point to the atheists. As James have said; I think it’s possible to respect each other without agreeing with each other. Brings to mind the cliche line: “Can’t we all just get along?”

  • Denise

    i have lived my life among believers pretending i am one of them trying to get along mentining nothing heard there rituals and stupid prayers and namby pamby “i believe in god so he must be true although in the bible it says nothing about descending from apes magnatism chemical formulas electricity space the universe that humans are not supirier just slightly more intellagent it still must be true” it seems to say that humans are not even in the same order as other animals ‘and god created the humans birds fish and animals’ for goodness sake humans and fish and birds are animals!!! it also says that he made light and dark the next day he created the moon and the sun where does light come from hhmm….. let me think oh thats it THE SUN!! people devote their lives to one stupid book it isnt even very well writen no adjectives no good verbs or metaphors i could have done better and i’m only in 2nd grade!! theists need to grow up and stop believin in “saint nicholas” “god” and “jesus”

  • Jarrod

    Wow, Denise, that whole blurb barely made sense. ‘I have lived my life among believers, yadda yadda’? Namby pamby? What kind of second grader speaks like this?
    Secondly, your ignorance is appallingly obvious. No good adjectives, verbs, or metaphors? Have you even bothered reading the bible? If you had, you would know that regardless of what you think about its contents, there are several very well written, poetic, and even beautiful passages. Whatever age you are, please grow up, and bother to be informed about what you’re discussing.
    In response to this whole post, I think the reason most theists think that atheists believe all religious people to be stupid, ignorant, etc., is that plenty of atheists assert these things themselves. Take our good friend Dawkins, for instance. In his most recent book, he calls the faithful ignorant, brainwashed, uneducated, and generally stupid. When the man revered by atheists for bluntly standing up for atheism speaks like this, how are theists supposed to know that this isn’t what most atheists believe? Furthermore, since I’ve started posting on this site, I’ve been openly or indirectly called an idiot, a liar, and an ignoramus. If this is how most atheists treat and view theists, it’s no wonder theists are suspicious or even hostile. So much for being better than those you oppose, eh?

  • Vicki Baker

    Well, Denise that was very well expressed (but watch the run-on sentences). I have heard from other atheists that they feel they have to “pretend” around believers. This is certainly more understandable in a second-grader than in an adult.

  • cmills

    I ran across a hilarious episode of Metalocalypse called “Religionklok” in which modern religions, as well as clashes between atheists and agnostics are satirised. The bass player “Murderface” has a near-death experience and is offered an honorary membership invitation to the church of satan which he ends up not liking much, and starts touring all kinds of religious institutions. He ends up saying “It’s all the same! It’s all just a bunch of boring crap! Is there a bar around here.” I suggest that if you all have a free moment and want a laugh, check it out on youtube.

  • Chris

    The arguments in this site only perpetuate the persecution of theists by atheists and of atheists by theists. To me, history is the undisputable proof of the destructive force of theism. Whether it is the current holy war among Christians, Jews and the various Muslim faiths, the mindless murders among the various Muslim faiths, the historical persecution of the Jews by so many, the extinction of the Americas by the Spanish explorers in the name of the Catholic Church, the Crusades and on and on, the facts are clear. I believe Bertrand Russell said it best, “Organized religion is the most destructive force man has put upon this earth”. For most of his adult life Russell maintained that religion is little more than superstition and, despite any positive effects that religion might have, it is largely harmful to people. He believed religion and the religious outlook (he considered communism and other systematic ideologies to be forms of religion) serve to impede knowledge, foster fear and dependency, and are responsible for much of the war, oppression, and misery that have beset the world.

    One of my theist friends, upon finding out I was an atheist, asked me how I could be a good, honest and moral person without believing in God. To me, moral character is a force that is within a person or not. I believe I am a good person, considerate to others for the most part and combative when not treated the same by others. I do not steal or cheat on my wife because I believe that is the way it should be and not because some secret friend tells me I should or should not.

    Perhaps it is necessary to continue the battles in order to limit the growth of the world’s population. In that case, we are not killing enough as the population trends are not slowing. However, I am afraid the trend of religious wars will result in our end through the destructive weapons mostly in the hands of the theists.

  • MisterDomino

    Whoa, careful there, Chris. You’ve made some pretty bad blanket statements.

    Whether it is the current holy war among Christians, Jews and the various Muslim faiths…

    Most of these struggles are no longer based on religious grounds. For example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict took on a political flavor when Arafat and the PLO took up residence in Beirut. It is true that many fringe lunatic groups still conduct atrocities in the name of religion, but these people are fooled into thinking that they are enacting God’s will by some figurehead who is trying to serve a political end. It’s not simply because of religion that these people are killing, but rather their religious conviction combined with some political hatred.

    …the mindless murders among the various Muslim faiths…

    There’s mindless murder amongst all kinds of people, even atheists. What’s your point? The Iroquois used to torture their captives in order to steal their strength to use in battle, and this had nothing to do with religion.

    ..the extinction of the Americas by the Spanish explorers in the name of the Catholic Church..

    I’m afraid I’m going to have to call you out on this one, because it’s just plain wrong. The Spanish Empire’s link with the Catholic Church was a direct result of the Reconquista, when the Church would fund military campaigns in part with the Castillian/Aragonese crown to battle the Moors and the Almohads.

    By the time Spain had been unified at the end of the 15th century, Columbus had discovered the Americas. The Church continued to fund Spanish expeditions in the New World and Spain used this to further their own political ends. Conquistadors came conquering “in the name of the King and of the Holy Church” simply because by that time, there was no differnce between royal authority and ecclesiastical authority for a soldier, as they recieved their funding from both. The men who went to the Americas were a new generation of Reconquista soldiers who missed out on the big show.

    The Spanish came to the New World to find gold and set up military outposts; converting natives to Christianity was simply an afterthought. For more information on this topic, read Nicholas P. Cushner’s “Why Have You Come Here? : The Jesuits and the First Evangelization of Native America.”

    For most of his adult life Russell maintained that religion is little more than superstition and, despite any positive effects that religion might have, it is largely harmful to people.

    You may want to read his autobiography again. Russell maintained a deist belief well into his twenties.

    He believed religion and the religious outlook (he considered communism and other systematic ideologies to be forms of religion) serve to impede knowledge, foster fear and dependency, and are responsible for much of the war, oppression, and misery that have beset the world.

    Religion is just like any other ideology: a two-edged sword. It can be used for great good for for great evil. History has proven that the bad outweight the good in the case of religion, but many of the grand atrocities in human history did not occur SOLELY because of religion. Thinking so is a grave mistake, and perhaps one of the reasons why atheists have such a bad reputation in certain places.

    One of my theist friends, upon finding out I was an atheist, asked me how I could be a good, honest and moral person without believing in God.

    The truth of the matter is, some people are simply not ready to give up theism. Their minds are either not able to adapt to the concept of a world without a detiy or they enjoy the social community that goes hand-in-hand with religion, and are unwilling to forefeit this for an individualistic atheism. The whole world’s not going to turn to atheism overnight; it’s going to take time, and it’s likely that we won’t reap the benefits of all the recent progress in our lifetime.

  • spaceman spif

    I very firmly believe that all believers, at some point, question silently to themselves whether there is any validity to their beliefs. Is there a God? Why do I believe all this?

    And on top of all that, living the life of a believer requires one to squelch natural desires and view normal things as “sinful”. There is a part of their mind and body that is trying to push aside those self-imposed restrictions and live as meant to live, but religious beliefs stand in the way.

    And deep down they sometimes wonder what life would be like if they chucked all those questionable beliefs out the window and decided to use their own heart and mind as their compass instead of a 2000 year old book. And they feel loathe to ever admit that sometimes…for a fleeting moment…the thought sounds good to them.

    And meeting an atheist simply pokes that very deep-seated “sore spot” in their psyche that they try so hard to push aside and ignore.

    And I spent 30 years of my life in the church. So I’ve met a LOT of believers who confided in me these exact type of questions and thoughts. Also, browse through a Christian bookstore. You’ll notice a very large number of books are devoted to helping Christians try to deal with these doubts. There must be a reason so many are writing and reading about it.

  • Chris

    Mr. Domino, you are grasping at straws and choosing to argue with some of the context instead of the content. Perhaps you should begin a career in politics. I stand by my statements in that in most of the middle eastern countries, it is impossible to separate religion and politics, e.g.The Taliban, etc. The politics of that region, as well as many others, are defined by the religious beliefs.

    the Iroquois and many other native tribes across the world historically have tortured, murdered and even consumed their organs in order to gain their courage, strength and knowledge. Their religious beliefs included these acts.

    Regarding the Spanish explorers, they derived their funding and support from the monarchy which indeed was the church or had the total support of the church. As they invaded, there is much documentation that millions of natives were slain due to their physical opposition to the explorers invading their land and due to most of the natives’ total opposition to acceptance to a new god.

    Regarding Russell, you made my point. He was a theist into his twenties. I said that most of his adult life, he maintained his opposition and criticism of all things religious. He lived to be 98.

    As you said, “History has proven that the bad outweight the good in the case of religion.”

  • MisterDomino

    Chris, please explain to me why I am picking at straws if the examples you use to support your assertion are misleading.

    Regarding Islamic holy law, or “Sharia,” it exists in many countries as a dynamic code of laws that has been modified through centuries of debate and interpretation, much the same as various forms of civil law. You’re taking a worst-case scenario, namely a radical fringe organization such the Taliban, and asserting that this is the norm regarding Islam.

    the Iroquois and many other native tribes across the world historically have tortured, murdered and even consumed their organs in order to gain their courage, strength and knowledge. Their religious beliefs included these acts.

    There are many anthropologists and cultural historians that would disagree with such an assertion. Native American religion, particularly those of the eastern North American woodlands, was not so much a “religion” as it was a cosmological and social worldview. If anything, the idea of the manitou, or other-than-human being, was simply a facet of sensory perception. The anthropologist Paul Radin wrote extensively on this regarding the Winnebagos:

    It was soon quite clear that the Winnebago did not base their test of the existence of a spirit on the presence or absence of corporeality; in other words, upon such sense perceptions as sight and hearing…He claims that what is thought of, what is felt, and what is spoken, in fact, anything that is brought before his consciousness, is a sufficient indication of its existence and it is the question of the existence and reality of these spirits in which he is interested. The question of their corporeality is of comparative unimportance and most of the questions connected with the personal or impersonal nature of the spirits do not exist (The Winnebago Tribe, Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology 37, p. 283).

    Such views were usually analogous amongst North American tribes. If you couple this with the fact that many Native American creation stories put humans on the lowest rung of nature, it seems illogical to assert that Iroquois torture was undertaken for the same reasons as something such as Jihad. For these tribes, there was no distinction between the natural and the supernatural, and the assertion that these acts were committed “in the name of religion” is false.

    You were probably thinking more of pre-Columbian, post-Toltec Native American societies, such as the Aztecs or the Maya, who practiced human sacrifice. However, this was a form of polytheism that was radically different from the spiritual beliefs of the Iroquois.

    As they invaded, there is much documentation that millions of natives were slain due to their physical opposition to the explorers invading their land and due to most of the natives’ total opposition to acceptance to a new god.

    “Total opposition?” You should regard the various mission accounts of Spanish Jesuits that denote records of successful conversions. The missions at Sinaloa and Sonora, or the religious community at Julí (modern-day Peru) are prime examples of how the efforts at proselytizing the natives – not killing them – were a success (once again, see Cushner). Even still, read any of James Axtell’s work on New France and the “flying missions,” as baptism rates amongst the Huron increased exponentially following the 1660s.

    From a purely practical standpoint, what purpose would it serve Spanish Conquistadors to spend all that money to go to the New World and slay every “infidel” who refused to convert to Christianity? The Spanish were greatly outnumbered and they would have been quickly driven from the continent if they adhered strictly to a “convert-or-die” policy, especially since other European nations were befriending the Natives. Yours is a simplified history that leads to a false assertion. There is “much documentation” about how native tribes assimilated their own religious beliefs with those of Christianity (which is why that area of the world has Catholic traditions unique in regard to the rest of the Church), so your claim that these killings occurred due to the “total opposition” of the Natives to Christianity is false.

    It was in the Spanish Empire’s interest to convert the Natives, not kill them, for purely economic reasons, as this would help secure their colonial holdings and provide them with valuable trading partners and potential conscripts for their army. At the end of the day, the Spanish Crown didn’t give a damn about the Church; it cared about its own power. The same is true of French Jesuits and the fur trade amongst the Huron and the Montagnais.

    Uprisings amongst natives occurred more because of Spanish intrusion on Indian subsistence economy rather than religious conviction, and Spanish retaliation was never because of religious conviction, either.

    As far as Russell is concerned, I am not aware that he ever said that religion is the most destructive force on the Earth. Rather he said something to the tune of “religion is used as an excuse to commit great atrocities,” but he never credited religion as the sole reason behind it. If anything, he cited a lack of evidence for belief as the sole factor in illogical action. Moreover, he said something like “Christianity is detrimental to progress,” by which he specifically meant scientific progress.

    I’m not sure why you took my post as a personal attack, but I addressed the content of your post specifically. If history has proven anything, it’s that nothing kills more humans than humans. Replace religion with any number of political or philosophical ideologies (fascism, communism, nationalism, ethnocentrism, etc. – which contrary to what Russell thinks are not religions) and the result would be the same. What I am arguing against is your claim that makes a scapegoat of religion for a host of complex historical problems (à la Sam Harris). It’s funny that you should think in this way, as this is doing exactly what you didn’t want this site to do, namely to perpetuate the conflict between theists and atheists.

    Blaming religion for all the world’s problems and using circumstantial historical evidence to back it up not only ignores the other side of the argument, but is akin to intellectual bankruptcy.

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com efrique

    You already said it yourself. I don’t need it. I get social interaction from lots of people, some theists, some not, even the most religious of whom see no need to being God into every part of their conversations. I’d happily socialize with atheists, because lots of them are interesting people and many of them share a few interests with me – but I already know lots of people who share more of my interests, and to be honest, for most of them I haven’t the slightest idea what their religious beliefs are, or even if they have any. And as long as they don’t harass me with them, I couldn’t care less whether they have them or not.

    The ones I’d have a problem with, I don’t socialize with anyway. Being an atheist doesn’t really “define” me; that’s the other things, which are largely covered already. My explicitly atheist friends are mostly online, and far from me. While there are local atheist groups in this city, I’d have to travel to talk to them and I’d rather spend most evenings with my family. In fact, to go spend time with atheists, I’d have to spend less time doing other things, and I like almost everything I do now. So I’d have to be reasonably confident that I’d like it better. I don’t see it happening.

    If the point is to have a social structure to make us less threatening to theists, I say “why?” – it’s not my job to make theists comfortable. I don’t need a church structure, or even an analogue of one. They might find it confronting, but it’s a reality they need to get used to. In fact I think it’s counterproductive to fit in with their social expectations, because it reinforces the false belief that some quasi-”religious” organization is necessary, even for the nonreligious. It isn’t.

    The cognitive dissonance of seeing atheists happily go about our lives without is confronting. It should be. It’s showing them their assumptions are wrong. They should worry that maybe they’ve wasted their lives on a false belief.

    It is not my job to make people comfortable in their false beliefs by being all nonthreatening. I see a better purpose in allowing them to confront the reality.

  • http://www.wayofthemind.org/ Pedro Timóteo

    They have devoted so much of their lives to their support structure, and their identity is so intimately bound up with it, that meeting a person who needs none of those things is naturally threatening to them, because it suggests that all their effort was unnecessary, even wasted. And from there, it is only a small step to the conclusion that atheists must think them deficient in intelligence not to have seen the better way, if there is one. In my experience, even people who care nothing for dogma and doctrine, who disagree with their church leadership on virtually every issue, often react with anger or incredulity to the suggestion that they leave their religion, because they have been brought up in it and participated in it for so long that it has become part of how they see themselves.

    I think this is the sunk cost fallacy in action. When the atheist says “I don’t need religion”, in effect he’s also saying “you don’t need religion, either”, which amounts to telling the theist “you’ve wasted your life”. And who wants to hear — or even be led to — such a conclusion? No wonder they react violently.

  • EKM

    Sometimes I do think that theists are stupid. Many times they will ask me if I have ever been to church, or if I have ever read the Bible, or they will tell me that their church is somehow different. Yes, I have been to church, yes I have read the Bible (granted, not the whole thing), and no, your church is not different. I think that every person who says these things actually thinks they are the first person ever to ask me, or that I have never done these things. (It is pretty hard to avoid churches in the USA.)

    On June 1, 2006, 5:05 pm, Eziekel said

    my family, who says i’m really not an atheist at all, and i just think i am, and am making a hasty decision that’s “irrational.”

    Where do these ideas come from?

    Sometimes theists get mad when we ask them if they believe in the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus, but I think these are valid questions. A lot of people think that atheists really deep down do believe in God. No, I do not. Why can’t these people grasp the concept?

  • Valhar2000

    A lot of people think that atheists really deep down do believe in God. No, I do not. Why can’t these people grasp the concept?

    Greta Christina wrote a rather interesting post once, in which she discussed this phenomenon as part of a much wider and very common pattern of thought. Here it is.

    It seems that people have a strong tendency to assume that what they consider normative is normative, even a moral imperative. It’s happened to me, and I’ve seen non-religious examples of it all over the place.

  • Starla

    I have experienced both sides of the coin, and I’ve often said that when I was a Christian, it wasn’t so much that I believed as that I was afraid not to believe. Religion satisfies emotional needs — that’s why you will almost never persuade a believer with facts, evidence, or logic, and why many very intelligent people nonetheless believe. The answers that science gives us are far from comforting: we are merely highly intelligent animals who evolved into sentience and self-awareness; death means oblivion and non-existence; there is no one watching over us, nor any point or purpose to human existence (or, indeed, to the existence of the universe as a whole). Pretty bleak. It takes a rather exceptional individual to accept these facts and still somehow function on a day-to-day basis. Most humans are not capable of this — take away their purpose of life and the hope of at least some form of life after death, and they would be basket cases.

  • EKM

    On June 19, 2008, 12:41 am, Starla said

    Most humans are not capable of this — take away their purpose of life and the hope of at least some form of life after death, and they would be basket cases.

    Do you have any advice on how to get them to realize that is THEIR problem and not mine?

    EKM

  • Rosemary Lyndall Wemm

    Countries where there is a high (and rising) percentage of atheists, such as northern European countries, do not show a corresponding rise in “basket cases”. Religions are socially sanctioned delusions. Take away the social support and they decline, along with other non-scientifically supportable beliefs. Loss of a religious belief has more to do with educational experience, environmental support (or lack of it) and personality attributes (most of which have a high genetic loading).

    As has been already pointed out, many atheists have come to this position having argued their way out of the religion which was sanctioned by the adults and authorities of their environment. We didn’t become more intelligent, we just dared to apply it in areas where others were reluctant or too terrified to try.

    The paradox is that most religious people believe that it is a sin to apply intelligence in this fashion, but not a sin for their deity or deities to create a person with the genetic tendency to do it. The “gods” do, however, seem to consistently view education in critical thinking as either evil or a mixed blessing.

  • Christopher

    Starla,

    “Most humans are not capable of this — take away their purpose of life and the hope of at least some form of life after death, and they would be basket cases.”

    Then they should learn how to give purpose to their own lives and worry about the grim reaper – do what you predisposed towards doing in life and try to smile as death comes knocking at your door. It works for me, and I see no reason why it won’t work for anyone else…


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