On Atheist Janitors

I recently received an e-mail which asked me if I believe that atheism is a worldview that anyone can take up, or whether the majority of society needs religion to keep them happy and pacified:

The question at the heart of the debate is: does the average Jacques need religion in his life? I am familiar with all the atheist talk of self-fulfillment and living the only life you’ve got to the fullest, and think it’s a great idea. Except for a snafu. The people who write about these issues tend to be highly educated, and at least relatively well off. Sure, it’s great to see Richard Dawkins walk among some stunning natural landscape and tell us to explore the world. But where does the average working schmuck find the resources to do that? Face it, the vast majority of people are losers, people who have to settle for less than others. It is a fact that many (perhaps even most) people’s lives suck, with or without religion. If it forbids you from having sex, advocates the chopping off of bits of your genitals, or makes you feel guilty about everything you do, religion might contribute to the unhappiness. But in terms of everyday living, the endless and often self-inflicted drudgery and boredom that is often the lot of regular people, perhaps there is solace in the thought that there is someone out there that cares for you, and that it does, after all, get better than this.

My question for you is this: do you think a fully atheistic society can survive, not only with atheistic doctors and social scientists, but also atheistic sewage workers and janitors? What would they have to look forward to? Or perhaps the “people at the bottom,” people who’ve never read a single book in their entire lives, are too limited to care about such lofty things anyway?

My answer follows below.

My question for you is this: do you think a fully atheistic society can survive, not only with atheistic doctors and social scientists, but also atheistic sewage workers and janitors? What would they have to look forward to?

I don’t mean to put this person on the spot, but his question is an excellent example of how, if we’re not careful, religious presuppositions can slip into our thoughts without our being aware of it. In this case, it’s the presupposition that human beings need something to “look forward to”, as if happiness can only come in a future time when all our problems will be solved for us.

Instead of placing all our hope of happiness in the future, we should seek it in the present. That’s what humanism is all about! Every day should be a joy to us. We should be grateful every day for the opportunity to be alive and to make the most of our time. I wrote in “The New Ten Commandments” that we should seek to live life with a sense of joy and wonder, and that is just as true for janitors and sewer workers as it is for famous authors and scientists. Working as a janitor may not be the best job there is, but I don’t think it must be so terrible as to foreclose all possibility of happiness.

Sure, it’s great to see Richard Dawkins walk among some stunning natural landscape and tell us to explore the world. But where does the average working schmuck find the resources to do that?

There’s no reason why an average person can’t explore what the world has to offer. I believe it’s possible to have an economic system in which every full-time job pays a living wage and guarantees the basic necessities of life, including reasonable allowances for leisure. If it seems otherwise in the world we currently live in, then that is an inequity that should be corrected, not proof that the world must be forever divided into haves and have-nots.

On the other hand, if religion teaches people to submit to a life that they would otherwise find intolerable, it seems to me that that is an argument against it, not for it. We should not teach people delusions so that they will meekly endure suffering without resistance. That would be a tremendously arrogant and evil idea. Instead, we should help people notice inequality so that we can work to correct it, rather than giving out band-aid solutions which make that inequality seem more tolerable.

But in terms of everyday living, the endless and often self-inflicted drudgery and boredom that is often the lot of regular people, perhaps there is solace in the thought that there is someone out there that cares for you, and that it does, after all, get better than this.

I believe this correspondent answers his own question here: as he points out, boredom is often self-inflicted. There’s a universe of ideas waiting to be explored, enough to occupy a hundred lifetimes; and with public libraries and the internet, the landscape of human thought is more accessible than ever before. As far as “someone out there that cares for you”, why are our fellow human beings not enough as a source of friendship and solace?

Or perhaps the “people at the bottom,” people who’ve never read a single book in their entire lives, are too limited to care about such lofty things anyway?

I strongly deny that humanity can be divided into classes in the way this remark suggests. On the contrary, I believe the evidence shows that all human beings are basically alike in intellectual capacity and dignity. The idea that humanity can be classified into a small number who are fit to rule, and a much larger number who are fit to be ruled, is one of the more pernicious doctrines our species has invented. It is an apologetic for tyranny, and history readily testifies to both its factual falsity and its disastrous moral consequences.

I also deny that atheism deals only with “lofty things”. On the contrary, the subjects which atheism addresses are the issues of basic concern that are shared by every human being: questions like, “Why am I here?”, “Where am I going?”, “What should I seek from life?”, “What is the best way to live?” These are not esoteric matters of interest only to a few, but fundamental questions which every person faces at some point in their life.

And in truth, atheism’s answer to these questions is quite simple. All that atheism proclaims is that we have the ability to answer these questions for ourselves, through studying the world and through the use of our own reason. We need not accept the widely believed answers just because they are widely believed, or because they are old and venerable, or because they come with threats attached for dissidents. Reduced to its bare essentials, atheism is the simple proclamation that these are insufficient reasons for believing anything to be true, and that better answers are available if we choose to use reliable methods. If it is a truth too terrible to speak aloud that we can make up our own minds, then humanity is in a sorry state indeed; but I do not worry for a moment that that is the case.

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.

  • http://gdgd.wordpress.com/ jGlenn Decker

    “The opiate of the masses” is what Nietche said, and opium can be a lot of fun. This post hits me pretty close to home because I have been married for the last twenty years to a woman who is a right wing fundamentalist that likes to listen to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, watches a daily bible “study” on tv and otherwise has been pretty obnoxious about her faith. She also has multiple sclerosis, fortunately it is remitting / relapsing and not the wheelchair kind, so she looks from the outside like anyone else, just gets tired fast. It broke her heart when I became deceived by Satan and asked the question “what if it simply isn’t so?”, and proceeded find out. So here is a person, and I used to see a lot of them when I went to church, who “has no hope” on this earth other than hope for a better life with a perfect body in the hereafter. There was a family with a 30-year old daughter in a wheelchair who was essentially a vegetable, and her dad had a bible probably his tenth or twentieth one, all ragged, with yellow marker on every page. He basically had gone nuts with this and memorized half the bible, searching for inspiration. While my wife’s life is more difficult than most, I don’t think her circumstance compares to this man’s, or for that matter to a lot of the disadvantaged in society. So it turns out that these people “need” jesus to have any kind of life, and when I have persisted with my wife, taking her to task on her irrational beliefs, I’m accused of persecuting her as a christian. Who am I after all to “steal” heaven from someone who at various times in her life has given up hope for the future in exchange for a hope being peddled by a lot of nicely dressed friendly people who show up every sunday morning in a well-decorated building. It is sad, but this is how a lot of people’s existence goes. GD

  • http://gdgd.wordpress.com/ jGlenn Decker

    “The opiate of the masses” is what Nietche said, and opium can be a lot of fun. This post hits me pretty close to home because I have been married for the last twenty years to a woman who is a right wing fundamentalist that likes to listen to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, watches a daily bible “study” on tv and otherwise has been pretty obnoxious about her faith. She also has multiple sclerosis, fortunately it is remitting / relapsing and not the wheelchair kind, so she looks from the outside like anyone else, just gets tired fast. It broke her heart when I became deceived by Satan and asked the question “what if it simply isn’t so?”, and proceeded find out. So here is a person, and I used to see a lot of them when I went to church, who “has no hope” on this earth other than hope for a better life with a perfect body in the hereafter. There was a family with a 30-year old daughter in a wheelchair who was essentially a vegetable, and her dad had a bible probably his tenth or twentieth one, all ragged, with yellow marker on every page. He basically had gone nuts with this and memorized half the bible, searching for inspiration. While my wife’s life is more difficult than most, I don’t think her circumstance compares to this man’s, or for that matter to a lot of the disadvantaged in society. So it turns out that these people “need” jesus to have any kind of life, and when I have persisted with my wife, taking her to task on her irrational beliefs, I’m accused of persecuting her as a christian. Who am I after all to “steal” heaven from someone who at various times in her life has given up hope for the future in exchange for a hope being peddled by a lot of nicely dressed friendly people who show up every sunday morning in a well-decorated building. It is sad, but this is how a lot of people’s existence goes. GD

  • andrea

    religion simply gives you a hope that is not worth the effort because it has *no* change of ever being fulfilled. It is worth it to “steal” heaven because of the useless activity that believers waste in their religion. It’s the old Pascal’s wager thing, what do you have to lose if you believe? Plenty. My self-worth, money, time, honesty, dignity, etc.

    My sympathy to you, Mr. Decker.

  • andrea

    religion simply gives you a hope that is not worth the effort because it has *no* change of ever being fulfilled. It is worth it to “steal” heaven because of the useless activity that believers waste in their religion. It’s the old Pascal’s wager thing, what do you have to lose if you believe? Plenty. My self-worth, money, time, honesty, dignity, etc.

    My sympathy to you, Mr. Decker.

  • terrence

    “I strongly deny that humanity can be divided into classes in the way this remark suggests. On the contrary, I believe the evidence shows that all human beings are basically alike in intellectual capacity and dignity.” —–

    My father dropped out of high school shortly after Pearl Harbor to assist the Marines in fighting the type of tyranny mentioned in the tail end of that excerpt. He never went to college, never read a book so far as I know, worked in a factory all hs life, repeated the same dumb jokes endlessly, and came across to many as a rather gruff, simple, uncouth type of person.

    I held up well when I discovered him dead in his flat, and at the funeral, and at the wake when I was handed rhe ceremonial flag. I did, however, totally lose it when going through his stuff later. There, in July 2001, at the bottom of a small strongbox of papers, were a series of handwritten poems on yellowed and faded paper, stunningly evocative views of a teenage soldier recalling scenes of childhood as an antidote to the realization of being a killer.

    Evidence, indeed.

  • terrence

    “I strongly deny that humanity can be divided into classes in the way this remark suggests. On the contrary, I believe the evidence shows that all human beings are basically alike in intellectual capacity and dignity.” —–

    My father dropped out of high school shortly after Pearl Harbor to assist the Marines in fighting the type of tyranny mentioned in the tail end of that excerpt. He never went to college, never read a book so far as I know, worked in a factory all hs life, repeated the same dumb jokes endlessly, and came across to many as a rather gruff, simple, uncouth type of person.

    I held up well when I discovered him dead in his flat, and at the funeral, and at the wake when I was handed rhe ceremonial flag. I did, however, totally lose it when going through his stuff later. There, in July 2001, at the bottom of a small strongbox of papers, were a series of handwritten poems on yellowed and faded paper, stunningly evocative views of a teenage soldier recalling scenes of childhood as an antidote to the realization of being a killer.

    Evidence, indeed.

  • An Atheist

    I am also, an atheist with a religious, multiple sclerosis wife. She also has major depression problems, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and has not yet quit smoking. We cannot talk about God for more that a sentence or two, without her getting very upset. If I ever did convince her (very unlikely), she would certainly become very depressed and probably suicidal. However, even in cases like this, atheism is still better than a false hope.

    It is also complicated with her family. If they knew I was an atheist, there would be lots of anger, and probably threats of some sort. That’s the bible belt for you. She also has a 12 year-old daughter (I am the step father), who has in the last year or so, started going to all the youth services at church. She says thing like “I love God,” or asks questions like “I wonder why God….” I am torn as to whether to speak to her about it or not. She would not likely listen though. I would have to do it very slowly. I have been thinking about sending her emails from an anonymous source with the contradictory stuff in the bible, under the guise of understanding God.

  • Polly

    First off let me say that M.S. FUCKING SUCKS!!! If there were ever proof needed that nobody in the sky gives a shit about any of us, then my mother-in-law’s brand of MS was proof positive. MS is why I can’t be a deist who believes in providence like some of our founding fathers (USA).

    My mother-in-law died late last year from complications caused by MS. The disease robbed her of the ability to move but not the ability to feel pain. For 20+ years she remained completely immobilized until she died last November. The feeding tube occasionally caused infection and pneumonia seemed to be looming all the time. Fever finally fried her mind the last few days.
    My F-I-L and my wife are true believers, which is odd considering how cynical they both are about people, especially church people. I’ve laid out a lot of evidence against xianity and the Bible for my wife and I’m convinced that if this were purely an intellectual matter she’d already be an atheist. The discussion always ends the same way, with her saying:
    “If this is all there is then life sucks! What the hell is the point?! We’re just meaningless little creatures no better than wild animals.”

    The only hope she has of ever seeing her mother again is in Heaven. And she also brings up the drudgery aspect of life, often. She was raised in an environment where life on Earth offered nothing. Aside from his wife’s illness, my FIL had other problems, too – none of which were the result of any failings on his part, just bad luck. My wife is toying with the idea of telling her father about my lack of belief some day since. But, I confess, I’m not so sure I would want to “rob him of heaven” even if I could. Experience with my wife tells me I can’t, anyway. (actually I just want to convince my wife that I’m not going to Hell, that’d be enuff)

  • Prof.V.N.K.Kumar (India)

    Adam,
    I was wondering if you could incorporate one full chapter on this topic in your forthcoming book. This is a very real problem. Unless concepts like the ones in Secular Wholeness by David Cortesi is popularised and disseminated to all human beings, irrespective of their academic qualifications or socio-economic levels,we cannot hope to wean off all those who have a compulsive need to suck on the pacifier of blind faith.

  • http://artofdbellis.blogspot.com/ David Ellis


    I would have to do it very slowly. I have been thinking about sending her emails from an anonymous source with the contradictory stuff in the bible, under the guise of understanding God.

    Bad idea. Do it openly and honestly or not at all.

    Speaking of atheist janitors.

    I happen to be one. I don’t really fit the stereotype described though. I’m an avid reader and have a bachelors degree in fine arts. Like about 98% of artists, the sale of my work doesnt bring in enough to make a living so I work a rather menial “day job”.


    My question for you is this: do you think a fully atheistic society can survive, not only with atheistic doctors and social scientists, but also atheistic sewage workers and janitors? What would they have to look forward to?

    Quite a lot, as it turns out.

    Falling in love. Reading Harry Potter and Plato. Staring at the stars at night and wondering whats out there. Friendship. Raising children. Debating philosophy and religion with people from all over the world on the internet. Watching puppies chase each other around the back yard.

    And one could, of course, add to the list all day and barely scratch the surface.

  • Brock

    The remark “religion is the opiate of the masses” originated with Karl Marx, not Nietszche. By it he meant exactly what Ebon is talking about, that religion has the purpose of dulling the pain of those whose life sucks. (free paraphrase) It also has the effect of preventing people from taking their destiny into their own hands and doing something about their lives, instead of relying on god to eventually put things right. My goal as an atheist and a human being is to make life better for myself and those around me. If people didn’t operate on this principle, there would be no cure for all the disease like MS which oppress so many millions. I know there is not a lot we can do yet for MS sufferers, but that is no reason not to work towards a society where most diseases can be cured, and where everybody has some chance of living a meaningful life. I know whereof I speak. About ten years ago, I had a kidney stone slightly smaller than the Rock of Gibraltar make its presence felt in my life. Two hundred years ago, I would have died. As it is, I suffered from the inconvenience of a stent until such time as they were able to shatter it with sound waves, because it was too big to pass naturally. I didn’t even have to be concerned about invasive surgery and the possibility of infections. Science has also enabled me to change my diet to prevent a recurrence. If at this point you are saying, “Kidney stone, big deal!” than you are proving my point. It was a minor incident to me, but would have killed (did kill) many of our ancestors. And the people responsible for this were people who devoted some portion of their lives to making the world a better place, not by prayer, but by taking action.

  • heliobates

    Do atheist tax auditors count?

  • http://myspace.com/jamieguinn Jamie G.

    I think you have hit it on the head with this post. When I was a believer I had a hard time with my assumptions about other people with a different worldview. And so the questions that I framed were very similar to your emailer’s.

    I can also relate to your emailer’s question about how Everyman would deal with an atheistic world view. People who struggle to survive aren’t thinking about the big questions, usually. They are thinking about their survival, and will tend to grab on to anything that will help them get ahead, even if it is the promise of something better over the next ”mountain”. Plus, religion is everywhere, on every street corner, available to the poor and rich alike. Loftier subjects like science and philosophy tend to be more out of reach for most people. You can find a Bible in every library and hotel room, but books on freethought, atheism, and critical thinking are not always available for free. This is why I think local organizations that can host events and make materials available are a must if we want to raise the awareness of Everyman. One great source for me as a blue-collar worker (police officer) has been the internet, but not everyone has even this luxury.

    The only complaint that I have with this post is when you said, “And in truth, atheism’s answer to these questions is quite simple. All that atheism proclaims is that we have the ability to answer these questions for ourselves, through studying the world and through the use of our own reason. We need not accept the widely believed answers just because they are widely believed, or because they are old and venerable, or because they come with threats attached for dissidents. Reduced to its bare essentials, atheism is the simple proclamation that these are insufficient reasons for believing anything to be true, and that better answers are available if we choose to use reliable methods. If it is a truth too terrible to speak aloud that we can make up our own minds, then humanity is in a sorry state indeed; but I do not worry for a moment that that is the case.”

    I don’t think that atheism goes anywhere beyond a statement of non-belief, or lack of belief in any deities. This might cause someone to turn inwards to find those answers, but it doesn’t guarantee that they should. Atheism is a start, but can lead in MANY directions, and not all of them are productive and beneficial. I think this is why it has been hard for me to stand with any national atheistic organization like AA, but support groups like Kurtz’ CFI/CSH. I understand what you are saying, but I don’t think atheism encompasses all of this. Now, secular humanism, that’s something I can see doing all of these things.

  • An Atheist

    Perhaps you are correct; I completely agree that truthfulness is essential. However, I think I gave the wrong impression. I meant something along the lines of providing a few examples and saying if you can understand these, you will be closer to God; merely to get her to see that it is not all as it is presented in church; not as an apologetic for atheism (which she would not read). Though I suppose that could be considered an apologetic. My intentions are to get her to see some inconsistencies with the bible, and hopefully ask questions. She wouldn’t listen to someone on the outside, so offering it from the inside, hopefully she will listen.

    This makes it sound something like the religious who will be deceiving to get converts, since they feel justified, that in the end they saved your soul. Most people feel justified in some deception to get others to see the “truth.” I think this is negated by teaching to only accept something if it passes your own “intellectual test.”

    Though, like I said, I only intend for her to have questions, because she will not likely accept any doubter, if she has no doubts herself. If I said “how do you explain…,” she would feel it was an attack and back into her shell without considering a word I said. I must consider this further.

    Sorry to be off topic

  • An Atheist

    Your site is fantastic by the way.

  • Amy

    I am the person the original emailer is asking about. I am one of the working poor without much hope of moving up from that. I am also an atheist and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Life can be tedious and painful and downright cruel at times but at least I have the dignity of clear thought. I wouldn’t give that up for all the big sky daddies in the world.

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

    Wow. Truly, I’m blown away by the eloquence and candor of the thoughts expressed here – I think this might be the best comment thread I’ve ever seen on Daylight Atheism. My thanks to everyone who’s participated.

    After reading Glenn Decker’s and An Atheist’s similar stories, an idea occurred to me, one that ties in with what I wrote about unintentionally buying into religious presuppositions. Although atheism is not a comfortless philosophy, many religious believers have been taught to believe that it is, and so it seems comfortless for them. The idea that atheism is a cold and bleak worldview is a myth that religion sustains for its own benefit, by accustoming us to believe in magic and miracles that will wipe our problems away. To one who’s been taught to depend on that crutch, the prospect of life without it naturally seems frightening. Like any other addiction, the process of breaking free involves some pain and struggle, but once it’s done you’re better off for it.

    terrence: Wow. That was a heartbreakingly beautiful story. Some of the 20th century’s great poets were inspired by the horrors of war – strange that such an evil thing can give rise to beauty – and evidently your father felt the same inspiration. Have any of these ever been shared with the world? I realize they’re probably too personal to release, but I for one would consider it a privilege to read them.

  • http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com/ C. L. Hanson

    Marx’s statement (paraphrased by Brock) makes sense: “that religion has the purpose of dulling the pain of those whose life sucks. (free paraphrase) It also has the effect of preventing people from taking their destiny into their own hands and doing something about their lives, instead of relying on god to eventually put things right. My goal as an atheist and a human being is to make life better for myself and those around me.”

    Continuting this metaphor, there do exist situations where someone’s pain is intense enough that a reasonable person would allow them some morphine. If only religion could be distributed by prescription only… ;)

  • http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com/ C. L. Hanson

    To clarify:

    I think you’re dealing with two separate questions as though they were one question: (1) the classist assumption that janitors etc. have no hopes and nothing to live for and (2) whether there exists a case where false hopes are better than the truth.

    I think you’ve covered question (1) well, but I’m not quite as convinced on question (2). For example, take someone on his death bed who has no possibility of pulling through. Suppose all he wants is some reassurance that he’ll get to see his dead loved ones again (his wife, his son, etc). Is atheism better than false hopes in this case? It’s not obvious that it is.

    One might say that as long as there exists the possibility of doing something active and real, reality is better than false hopes. Still, I would hesitate to dismiss this question as simple or obvious.

  • Alex Weaver

    For example, take someone on his death bed who has no possibility of pulling through. Suppose all he wants is some reassurance that he’ll get to see his dead loved ones again (his wife, his son, etc). Is atheism better than false hopes in this case? It’s not obvious that it is.

    If he already believes that I wouldn’t argue with him at that point. I don’t think I’d be comfortable lying outright.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Excellent post, and excellent comments. I do feel that I have to say this:

    I wouldn’t use janitors as an example, as I’ve known janitors who were thoughtful and happy and fulfilled (not so much in their work per se, but they were certainly okay with their work, and they were thoughtful and happy and fulfilled in their life as a whole).

    But when I think about an orphan in the Rio slums; a resident of an AIDS-decimated village in Zaire; a sweatshop laborer in China or indeed here in the States… I’m pretty damn reluctant to say anything along the lines of Dawkins’s, “Isn’t life magnificent? What more could you possibly want?”

    Now, I don’t think that constitutes an argument for religion. For one thing, even if we wanted religion to be true, that doesn’t constitute an argument for why it is true. And I definitely think the belief that the poor and miserable will get pie in the sky when they die makes a grand rationalization for why we don’t have to help them here and now.

    I’m just saying: I think the “isn’t life wonderful? how could you ask for more?” argument does, to a great extent, come from a place of privilege (or at least a place of non-hopeless-misery). I don’t know what I’d have to say to an orphan in the Rio slums whose only comfort was the thought of heaven. I don’t think there is anything to say. All there is is something to do: namely, trying to make a better world, a world in which heaven isn’t the only consolation. (Sorry for the self-linkage, btw: the original piece I was writing about seems to have disappeared from the Web.)

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Excellent post, and excellent comments. I do feel that I have to say this:

    I wouldn’t use janitors as an example, as I’ve known janitors who were thoughtful and happy and fulfilled (not so much in their work per se, but they were certainly okay with their work, and they were thoughtful and happy and fulfilled in their life as a whole).

    But when I think about an orphan in the Rio slums; a resident of an AIDS-decimated village in Zaire; a sweatshop laborer in China or indeed here in the States… I’m pretty damn reluctant to say anything along the lines of Dawkins’s, “Isn’t life magnificent? What more could you possibly want?”

    Now, I don’t think that constitutes an argument for religion. For one thing, even if we wanted religion to be true, that doesn’t constitute an argument for why it is true. And I definitely think the belief that the poor and miserable will get pie in the sky when they die makes a grand rationalization for why we don’t have to help them here and now.

    I’m just saying: I think the “isn’t life wonderful? how could you ask for more?” argument does, to a great extent, come from a place of privilege (or at least a place of non-hopeless-misery). I don’t know what I’d have to say to an orphan in the Rio slums whose only comfort was the thought of heaven. I don’t think there is anything to say. All there is is something to do: namely, trying to make a better world, a world in which heaven isn’t the only consolation. (Sorry for the self-linkage, btw: the original piece I was writing about seems to have disappeared from the Web.)

  • antaresrichard

    As someone down at the “bottom” of the economic rung, I find the broad-brushes of the original letter dismaying. With champions like him or her speaking up for us “little people” who needs oppressors?

    According to their stereotype (here we go again) we poor, average folks can’t possibly think or act for ourselves. It’s inconceivable! Why, wretched us, we’re virtually incapable of having meaningful lives. It can’t be done without our blindly having to resort to some form of mass delusion. Our problems are self-inflicted, cuz face it, we’re schmucks, resigned to our lot, and losers, and if we vermin don’t get our fix of God: Watch out, society!

    Goodness, Doctor Feelgood, if that should happen, who’ll fix the toilets?

    I hope you’ll excuse my sarcasm.

    As one of those lowly drudges and an atheist, I am amazed at the disparaging assumptions some people can, whether intending to or not, blithely make. How condescending! And as far as their raising our issues… Hey listen, do us a favor: don’t!

    Yes, I realize I may be guilty of the same generalization, but I could not let the remarks, or what they trigger for me, go without comment. Perhaps the original letter was merely pure jest.

  • antaresrichard

    As someone down at the “bottom” of the economic rung, I find the broad-brushes of the original letter dismaying. With champions like him or her speaking up for us “little people” who needs oppressors?

    According to their stereotype (here we go again) we poor, average folks can’t possibly think or act for ourselves. It’s inconceivable! Why, wretched us, we’re virtually incapable of having meaningful lives. It can’t be done without our blindly having to resort to some form of mass delusion. Our problems are self-inflicted, cuz face it, we’re schmucks, resigned to our lot, and losers, and if we vermin don’t get our fix of God: Watch out, society!

    Goodness, Doctor Feelgood, if that should happen, who’ll fix the toilets?

    I hope you’ll excuse my sarcasm.

    As one of those lowly drudges and an atheist, I am amazed at the disparaging assumptions some people can, whether intending to or not, blithely make. How condescending! And as far as their raising our issues… Hey listen, do us a favor: don’t!

    Yes, I realize I may be guilty of the same generalization, but I could not let the remarks, or what they trigger for me, go without comment. Perhaps the original letter was merely pure jest.

  • andrea

    I’ll have to say, after watching “Dirty Jobs” on the Discovery Channel, I respect folks who do that kind of thing, the “bottom of the economic rung” folks, more than any white collar worker (and that’s what I am right now). I grew up on a little dairy farm. We were po’ but proud. My family shoveled a lot of sh!& but they were good, smart people (I’d like to see the OP fix a tractor, medicate a cow or pig, work on plumbing, or gas lines, or any of the true skills needed for “bottom of the economic rung” jobs.) And though we went to church, mostly for community reasons, (I eventually became an atheist), we knew that we had to do the work and not some “skydaddy”, as Amy says. Nor did we need some skydaddy and some promise of “something better” as a lie to keep us happy. Indeed, the OP is amazingly ignorant.

  • andrea

    I’ll have to say, after watching “Dirty Jobs” on the Discovery Channel, I respect folks who do that kind of thing, the “bottom of the economic rung” folks, more than any white collar worker (and that’s what I am right now). I grew up on a little dairy farm. We were po’ but proud. My family shoveled a lot of sh!& but they were good, smart people (I’d like to see the OP fix a tractor, medicate a cow or pig, work on plumbing, or gas lines, or any of the true skills needed for “bottom of the economic rung” jobs.) And though we went to church, mostly for community reasons, (I eventually became an atheist), we knew that we had to do the work and not some “skydaddy”, as Amy says. Nor did we need some skydaddy and some promise of “something better” as a lie to keep us happy. Indeed, the OP is amazingly ignorant.

  • Ric

    “I believe it’s possible to have an economic system in which every full-time job pays a living wage and guarantees the basic necessities of life, including reasonable allowances for leisure. If it seems otherwise in the world we currently live in, then that is an inequity that should be corrected, not proof that the world must be forever divided into haves and have-nots. ”

    Adam, thanks for pointing out this typical non-sequitor that is foisted on us. You’re absolutely correct.

  • Caduceus

    I have a friend who is a longshoreman. He’s not really an example of the sort of person who the original letter writer was talking about (someone who hates and is unfulfilled by their job, presumably), because he is an active person who genuinely enjoys his job, and is also, generally, a pretty smart guy, who can read books about science and society without problems. He’s never actually come out and called himself an atheist, but when friends of ours have talked about God or higher powers he’s said things like, “Do you actually believe in that stuff?” He was, about a month ago, in a motorcycle accident which put him in the hospital for over a week, put him through three or four surgeries, leaving him with a permanent steel rod in his femur and some level of chance that he may not regain full mobility in his ankle. When I was visiting him in the hospital about 5 days after his accident, one of our mutual friends arrived as well. Our mutual friend, who is not actively religious but is prone to religiosity, said something about everything happening for a reason. My friend, fresh from a surgery the day before, doped up on morphine and still in pain, and still having a hard time breathing after one of his lungs collapsed, looked over at our mutual friend and said, in effect, “No it doesn’t. Sometimes shit happens.” He doesn’t even remember it he was so doped up, but he’s an example that no matter how shitty your situation is, people don’t need to believe in some God protecting them or rationalize bad things as happening for a reason.

  • Caduceus

    I have a friend who is a longshoreman. He’s not really an example of the sort of person who the original letter writer was talking about (someone who hates and is unfulfilled by their job, presumably), because he is an active person who genuinely enjoys his job, and is also, generally, a pretty smart guy, who can read books about science and society without problems. He’s never actually come out and called himself an atheist, but when friends of ours have talked about God or higher powers he’s said things like, “Do you actually believe in that stuff?” He was, about a month ago, in a motorcycle accident which put him in the hospital for over a week, put him through three or four surgeries, leaving him with a permanent steel rod in his femur and some level of chance that he may not regain full mobility in his ankle. When I was visiting him in the hospital about 5 days after his accident, one of our mutual friends arrived as well. Our mutual friend, who is not actively religious but is prone to religiosity, said something about everything happening for a reason. My friend, fresh from a surgery the day before, doped up on morphine and still in pain, and still having a hard time breathing after one of his lungs collapsed, looked over at our mutual friend and said, in effect, “No it doesn’t. Sometimes shit happens.” He doesn’t even remember it he was so doped up, but he’s an example that no matter how shitty your situation is, people don’t need to believe in some God protecting them or rationalize bad things as happening for a reason.

  • Paleoguy

    “There’s no reason why an average person can’t explore what the world has to offer. I believe it’s possible to have an economic system in which every full-time job pays a living wage and guarantees the basic necessities of life, including reasonable allowances for leisure. If it seems otherwise in the world we currently live in, then that is an inequity that should be corrected, not proof that the world must be forever divided into haves and have-nots.”

    I agree with this however, my fundamentalist family member would say that I am an evil murderous communist and that my atheism is the dogma of communism despite the fact that there is barely a mention from Marx and that atheism is not mentioned in the manifesto. It’s amazing that wanting basics for everyone can be construed as evil yet the type of division and violence that religion promotes is ignored. And that attitude comes from someone with a college degree and a career in engineering not someone with a lower level of education.

  • lpetrich

    There is a serious problem with the viewpoint that the next world will be MUCH better than this world. If that is really the case, then why not flee this evil world? Or failing that, why not turn funerals into celebrations of the successful exit of the dear departed?

    Consider The Catholic way of death, which contains:

    When the cardinal told the present abbot of Ampleforth that he was dying, the response was: “Congratulations ! That’s brilliant news. I wish I was coming with you.”

  • lpetrich

    There is a serious problem with the viewpoint that the next world will be MUCH better than this world. If that is really the case, then why not flee this evil world? Or failing that, why not turn funerals into celebrations of the successful exit of the dear departed?

    Consider The Catholic way of death, which contains:

    When the cardinal told the present abbot of Ampleforth that he was dying, the response was: “Congratulations ! That’s brilliant news. I wish I was coming with you.”

  • Thumpalumpacus

    As one who is of quite modest means, I have no problem with a fulfilling life. Between family, cycling, hiking, and reading and writing every day, thinking about big questions — and searching for their answers — ain’t all that difficult.
    And AntaresRichard, your words nailed my sentiments exactly, thank you. Sarcasm, when done deftly, is a delightful art. The truly sad thing is that those who thus condescend rarely, if ever, recognize their own rudeness.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    And Ebon, this is indeed one more example of the excellence which earns my readership. Keep it up.

  • Entomologista

    I’m a scientist, but I still don’t live for my work. I like my work, but I like a lot of other things too. In fact, I have a huge problem with the idea that we’re supposed to live for our work and that our jobs define who we are. That’s why I fully agree with your statement that every job should pay a living wage and allow for adequate leisure. Every person should have the opportunity to have a life.

  • KShep

    I love this statement made by the original emailer:

    “….but also atheistic sewage workers and janitors? What would they have to look forward to?”

    How about just about everything in the world? I’m just a simple printing press operator—-not exactly the bottom, but lower middle class for sure—-but I wouldn’t want my life any different than it is now. I have a thoughtful, caring wife who is also the very best friend I’ve ever had. I’m unbelievably lucky to know her. I also have two beautiful daughters, one who is in Guyana in the Peace Corps (helping to prevent AIDS—-the spread of which was greatly accelerated by the ignorance of the faithful) and one who has brought me two beautiful granddaughters, who are visiting my house as I write this. I have a second career as a bassist in a blues band—and a rather successful band at that. I have many great friends and acquaintances I’ve met through the blues scene.

    What do I have to look forward to? Tomorrow! Being religious means having to always hold something back. Being cautious in life—lest god (or at least his local representative) might disapprove of something you do.

    What a horrible way to live.

  • Serban Tanasa

    Dear antaresrichard,

    I am the author of the email and I don’t care if one is a janitor. That was merely an example, to illustrate a point in a larger email (parts of which you didn’t see). On the other hand I do care if one is stupid. And I have news for the people of this forum. There are stupid, ignorant, dumb people. I have met them by the hundreds. They are the people who will break a beer bottle on your head in a bar because they didn’t like the way you looked at them. They are the kind of people you cross the street to avoid. They are the kind of people who never read, or ever wanted to read a book. They are the kind of people whose idea of fun is getting wasted drunk and then beating their pregnant junkie girlfriend. And these people are ruining not only their lives, but, most importantly, the lives of many others as well.

    Oh, and I am not your champion. In fact, I don’t care about you at all. I don’t know you, but I can judge what you wrote. Your post is not filled with sarcasm, as you proclaim, but with bitterness. Think about it. Perhaps you ought to try religion, or maybe some other drugs.

    Dear Andrea,
    You wrote: “I’d like to see the OP fix a tractor, medicate a cow or pig, work on plumbing, or gas lines, or any of the true skills needed for “bottom of the economic rung” jobs.) Indeed, the OP is amazingly ignorant.”

    I find it funny how make assumptions about me. I arrived in the US alone and with only $200 in my pocket. And I have scrubbed other people’s toilets at some point in my life. I do all my own plumbing and electric wiring. I was also lucky enough to go to a good school, and to have people around me to open my eyes. I met a beautiful woman who loved me as soon as we met and still loves me now. So far I’ve lived a sheltered life, not from hardship of course (it wouldn’t be worth living otherwise), but sheltered at least from having major tragedies come out of the blue. I never believed in God, and probably never will. I am painfully aware, however, of just how easily I can lose everything.

    I know far too many people who have been hit, and hit hard. Not just being poor, anyone with a will to better himself and some brains can get over that, if he’s not unlucky enough to be born in a place like the Congo, of course. I mean losing husbands to war, children to disease, and family and friends to ethnic cleansing and rape. This is why I laugh when people tell me that people should find fulfillment in reading books. Are you trying to kid yourself? Because I’m not falling for it.

    I wasn’t even going to address Ebon’s utopian comments on how we should ensure a minimum income for everyone on a full time job sufficient to travel for leisure and all. Clearly Ebon’s not an economist, but a dreamer. I guess that’s his own variety of opium. Heaven not in heaven, but here on Earth, in a future world where everybody is rational and nice and loves to read books and stay late at night discussing the meaning of life. I ask you, is that any less of a pipe-dream than a celestial heaven? I know you’ll disagree, and that’s fine. It’s good opium.

    There is a lot of darkness in this world. And it is not going to go away. Atheists, if anyone, should always remain aware of it.

    If you want to spew vitriol or just continue the conversation, I can be reached at serban.tanasa@gmail.com

  • Serban Tanasa

    terrence,

    you wrote: “My father dropped out of high school shortly after Pearl Harbor to assist the Marines in fighting the type of tyranny mentioned in the tail end of that excerpt.”

    Your father has my respect. A warrior, a true idealist and a poet. Not many can boast of such fulfilling lives. I hope that will excuse in your eyes his lack of bookish curiosity. Indeed, the last sentence of my email was made tongue-in-cheek, as you probably guessed. It was written to draw out this remark out of Ebon:

    “I believe the evidence shows that all human beings are basically alike in intellectual capacity and dignity.”

    I believe the evidence doesn’t show that. There are bright people, whether they were lucky enough to exploit their potential or not, and there are dull people. Whether you like it or not, there is continuum from the Einsteins to the people with severe mental retardation, and most of us are somewhere in the middle. Closing your eyes to it won’t make it go away.

    I agree with the dignity bit. As humans we owe that much to each other. I am quite fond of the equality of opportunity, the “pursuit of happiness” from the American declaration of independence. Human dignity, and the pursuit of happiness, that’s worth fighting for.

    Thanks for your post, by the way.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    Gutsy one, Serban.

    Some thoughts:

    My own opinion is that we’ll probably never get everyone using critical thinking on a regular basis. But there’s definitely a long way to go on that one before we hit maximum. And if atheism is the dominant position, then I suspect that those who aren’t thinking very hard will follow along with it, just as they follow along with religion.

    I can’t imagine someone picking up religion all at once in order to deal with pain. Religion has various ways of stopping people from properly questioning it, and I think those things need to be in place as well before somebody can properly convert.

    Should we really be talking about ‘stupid’ people? The case you’re considering is one where a person (apparently) needs hope so badly that they’ll make it up and convince themselves that it exists. Presumably stupid people don’t actually need more hope than smart people as a result of being stupid. Maybe smart people could be just as vulnerable. Furthermore, I don’t agree that ‘most’ people’s lives suck that badly. I’ll reserve judgement on whether a few people’s do.

    Nonreligious versions of these things exist, too, as you’ve noted. What’s that line from ‘Piano Man’?

    He says, Bill, I believe this is killing me,
    As the smile ran away from his face.
    Well I’m sure that I could be a movie star
    If I could get out of this place.

    Yep, we’re never going to run out of ridiculous dreams, I’ll give you that. Still, I’m really not sure we need religious ones that everyone buys into. There’s a lot of change still possible. Don’t throw in the towel at this stage!

    That’s not a complete reply to your position. I’m still reflecting, and I’ll watch further comments thoughtfully.

  • Alex Weaver

    Serban:

    I think there’s strong evidence that certain kinds of highly abstract thinking come easier to some people (the Einsteins and so on) than others. I don’t think this really has any particular implications for potential self-actualization and happiness, though.

  • Valhar2000

    I am inclined to agree with Serban. There are stupid people in the world, and they exist in large quantities. Most people are not unique, beautiful snow flakes (although everyone knows someone who turned out to be just such a thing, counter to all appearances). Thus, I don’t think Serban said anything controversial or inflamatory.

    This does not negate the possibility that people could learn to co-exist better, or that society could be aranged better, or even that those very same stupid people could find ways to be happier than they are now, but it does mean that statements like “all human beings are basically alike in intellectual capacity” are really quite naive.

  • James Bradbury

    I am reminded of Dilbert’s Garbage Collector who, when presented by Dilbert with a ‘proof’ that god exists, replies,

    “You’ve made an error at the top of the page. You’ve proved your dog exists.”

  • Polly

    I think stupid outnumbers smart, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Education of a sort can do a lot to alleviate social problems that has nothing to do with the pythagorean theorem.

    Many react automatically in any situation with emotion or instinct in a haphazard fashion; that’s nature. But, as in martial arts training where the initial reaction is turned into a graceful, productive, and controlled motion, one can retrain themselves to use intelligence as a first resort rather than waiting until they’re in a prison cell to start thinking. We need more trainers and dojo’s of the intellectual sort. The religious have already set theirs up on every street corner selling their brand of self-defense, but our kung-fu is stronger. :)

    OK, I really pushed that metaphor. :)

    Anyway, is everyone going to become a book-worm? NO, and that’s not the aim. I think the best we should hope for is that the masses act rationally and take the long term into consideration whenever they are tempted by instinct or emotion to do something stoooopid. I’m a big believer in enlightened hedonism. If you like getting wasted and screwing a lot, fine. Just think ahead and plan for a ride home(while you’re still sober)and some buddies to reel you in when you get to being a mean drunk and have a ready cache of condoms – if the religious right hasn’t confiscated them. :)

  • An Atheist

    Though I have no basis for this other than my own thoughts; I have always considered the average person to have the same basic comprehension level. Of course there are exceptions with mental disabilities. I think that it is a learned ability, like many other things. Someone who has an interest in science or similar, would study and become intelligent, and learn to question. Someone who has no interest in such things will not pursue becoming more intelligent. I know some guys who are basically “good ol’ boys,” who have interests in drinking and things relating to that, and so focused all there free time in that pursuit. Though they seem dim, I have always thought if they tried, they could be intelligent. It reminds me of my step daughter, mentioned above. When I am helping her with her home work, she just wants the answer. Whereas I always wanted to understand why that was the answer. Is this because she is unintelligent, or because she just doesn’t care?

    Then again, maybe we all have a level of mental disability. With the example above of Einstein, he would have very little disability. The average person would have a medium disability, and the “mentally challenged,” would have a great deal of disability. But other than studying brain structure, I am not sure how we could test this. Because as I said above, people uninterested in being intelligent do not pursue it, and would do poorly on a written or similar test.

    That reminds me of another thought I have. “Good ol’ boys” are proud to be ignorant. If you talk to someone like that, they are proud to say things like, “I don’t like readin’,” and “I don’t know nothing ‘bout that.” I think that is another great contributor to religion; peoples pride in ignorance.

    And of course, there is nothing wrong with drinking and having a good time. It’s just an example.

  • andrea

    “Dear Andrea,
    You wrote: “I’d like to see the OP fix a tractor, medicate a cow or pig, work on plumbing, or gas lines, or any of the true skills needed for “bottom of the economic rung” jobs.) Indeed, the OP is amazingly ignorant.”

    I find it funny how make assumptions about me. I arrived in the US alone and with only $200 in my pocket. And I have scrubbed other people’s toilets at some point in my life. I do all my own plumbing and electric wiring. I was also lucky enough to go to a good school, and to have people around me to open my eyes. I met a beautiful woman who loved me as soon as we met and still loves me now. So far I’ve lived a sheltered life, not from hardship of course (it wouldn’t be worth living otherwise), but sheltered at least from having major tragedies come out of the blue. I never believed in God, and probably never will. I am painfully aware, however, of just how easily I can lose everything.

    I know far too many people who have been hit, and hit hard. Not just being poor, anyone with a will to better himself and some brains can get over that, if he’s not unlucky enough to be born in a place like the Congo, of course. I mean losing husbands to war, children to disease, and family and friends to ethnic cleansing and rape. This is why I laugh when people tell me that people should find fulfillment in reading books. Are you trying to kid yourself? Because I’m not falling for it.

    I wasn’t even going to address Ebon’s utopian comments on how we should ensure a minimum income for everyone on a full time job sufficient to travel for leisure and all. Clearly Ebon’s not an economist, but a dreamer. I guess that’s his own variety of opium. Heaven not in heaven, but here on Earth, in a future world where everybody is rational and nice and loves to read books and stay late at night discussing the meaning of life. I ask you, is that any less of a pipe-dream than a celestial heaven? I know you’ll disagree, and that’s fine. It’s good opium.

    There is a lot of darkness in this world. And it is not going to go away. Atheists, if anyone, should always remain aware of it.”

    Oooh, darkness. The same drek, Serban. Always threats of some bogeyman that will harm us. You have only yourself to blame for any comments you get. You seem to think that janitors and people who make little need the bread and circuses of religion. We have shown that they don’t. If you are indeed an atheist, and I have my doubts, you are simply a jerk, no matter what you call yourself. There is nothing we can’t accomplish economically if we actually try. There is nothing about Ebon’s comments that can’t be achieved.

  • KShep

    What I’m not hearing in this discussion is the word “power.” No doubt there will always exist people with lower intelligence. As has been noted, those people will probably follow along with whatever their leaders tell them to do.

    So the question becomes, “who do we really want in power, freethinkers or the religious?” People have been letting the devout rule in almost any way they see fit for all history, and I think it’s pretty obvious that that experiment is due for an overhaul. Think about this: we currently have a leader, deeply religious, who believes that health care should only be available to those who can afford it. Where has this man’s humanity gone? It deeply upsets me that there are people in the “land of plenty” who can’t go to a doctor when they’re sick, and we have leaders who are okay with this. Disgusting!

    The religious have screwed up almost everything they’ve touched for centuries and there’s no evidence that they’ll change anytime soon.

    I would much rather see a leader that genuinely gives a damn about his fellow man, which includes the lower rung of society. It isn’t socialism, it’s just simply respect.

  • OMGF

    There is a lot of darkness in this world. And it is not going to go away.

    Should we not try to make the world a better place? Of course we should. This, however, has nothing to do with religion. Simply because there is darkness does not mean that religion is necessary. In fact, religion leads to this darkness in many ways, like religious strife/war, attempts to keep the masses ignorant, beliefs that belittle mankind, etc. I think what we are seeing is that the “lower rung” cling to something that is self-destructive. Not only do they not need religion, but they would probably be better off without it.

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

    A reply to Serban:

    On the other hand I do care if one is stupid. And I have news for the people of this forum. There are stupid, ignorant, dumb people.

    I dislike the term “stupid” not just because it’s pejorative, but because it implies that people’s intelligence can be reduced to a single measure. Intelligence is such a complex and multivariate phenomenon as to defy such simplistic classification. I have an advanced education and I’m not ashamed of that, but I don’t doubt there are people with far less formal schooling who comprehend things in ways I never will. Really, rather than saying people are intelligent or stupid, we should say what they are or aren’t intelligent at.

    That said, there is certainly a spectrum of intellectual ability among humans. There are pathological cases as well as Einsteins and Darwins; I’m not denying that. What I’m saying is something different: I’m saying that, on average, all human groups are basically alike in intelligence. Any subgroup of the human population will have the same average intelligence as humanity as a whole. This point goes to Serban’s remark about people being divided into classes, as if there were “people at the bottom” who naturally needed the comforts of religion and others who were sufficiently enlightened to be above the need for such. I don’t think that is the case.

    They are the kind of people who never read, or ever wanted to read a book.

    And if that’s true, then what do you suppose is the cause? Do you suppose it’s an intrinsic aspect of their personality that could never have been changed? Obviously not. People imbibe their attitudes toward life from their surroundings and upbringing. A sick society – burdened with poverty, threatened by crime and violence, where there are few or no legitimate routes to success – will naturally tend to instill attitudes that look with disfavor on education. These harmful habits are self-perpetuating. But they’re not unbreakable, nor are they immutable.

    I mean losing husbands to war, children to disease, and family and friends to ethnic cleansing and rape. This is why I laugh when people tell me that people should find fulfillment in reading books.

    No one ever said that people whose lives have been devastated by tragedy should shrug it off and continue to be mindlessly blissful. Of course those people will experience sorrow and suffering. Nor has anyone claimed that reading books is the solution to such tragedies. The position you’re arguing against appears to be one of your own invention. What I say, and what I have always said, is that the humanist answer to great loss is not in offering shallow platitudes, but in people coming together to help those who are in need. When others are suffering, we should do what is within our power to ease their pain and restore what was lost. That is the real position you should be addressing, if you find such cause for bitterness and despair.

    I wasn’t even going to address Ebon’s utopian comments on how we should ensure a minimum income for everyone on a full time job sufficient to travel for leisure and all. Clearly Ebon’s not an economist, but a dreamer.

    I am a utopian, and I’m not ashamed of that. But I like to think I’m a realistic utopian, and I see no reason whatsoever to believe that working and living conditions cannot be further improved for people in all classes of society. After all, they have been improving for a long time now. Look back a few hundred years in the past, or even just fifty or a hundred years, and you’ll see how far we’ve come. Industrialized nations have consistently achieved longer life expectancies, better and healthier lives with more access to medical care, greater productivity, greater leisure – and these benefits have reached all echelons of society, not just the upper rank. Some of the wealthiest and most prosperous countries in the world today, most notably the Scandinavian countries, also have some of the best-developed social safety nets and greatest allowances for leisure.

    This isn’t to say that we don’t have a long way left before we achieve true equity. But to deny that any progress has been made at all, or that any further progress can be made, are clearly both erroneous claims.

    Heaven not in heaven, but here on Earth, in a future world where everybody is rational and nice and loves to read books and stay late at night discussing the meaning of life. I ask you, is that any less of a pipe-dream than a celestial heaven?

    Yes, it is, because unlike imaginary supernatural realms, the world I picture is one we can feasibly build through our own effort. And we’ve already gotten quite a long way there. We’ve ended slavery; we’ve vastly diminished racism and sexism; we’ve granted equal legal rights to women and minorities; we’ve outlawed domestic abuse and many other cruelties. These are undeniable accomplishments, and there are many more that I could name.

    Why is none of this progress, in your opinion? Who’s being more realistic – I in my belief that we can continue to build on past moral progress, or you in your belief that what we have now is as good as we’ll ever get and no further improvements in the human condition can be made? On what basis do you claim we’ve hit that wall?

  • Alex Weaver

    I dislike the term “stupid” not just because it’s pejorative, but because it implies that people’s intelligence can be reduced to a single measure.

    I’ve kind of got a running informal proposal to redefine the term “stupid” to refer to “the voluntary abdication of age-appropriate judgement, on matters of substantive import, by intellectually unimpaired individuals.” In other words, “stupid” isn’t the kid with a learning disability or a mental handicap who just can’t wrap his brain around the material no matter how hard he tries, it’s the guy who never opens his book all semester, stays up late most nights partying, bombs every test, comes to see the teacher after the final expecting to charm said teacher into giving him a passing grade, and feels victimized when this attempt fails.

  • Serban Tanasa

    I’ve kind of got a running informal proposal to redefine the term “stupid” to refer to “the voluntary abdication of age-appropriate judgement, on matters of substantive import, by intellectually unimpaired individuals.

    First of all I fundamentally agree with Alex Weaver’s comment above.
    A reply to Ebon

    This point goes to Serban’s remark about people being divided into classes, as if there were “people at the bottom” who naturally needed the comforts of religion and others who were sufficiently enlightened to be above the need for such. I don’t think that is the case.

    I am not saying that they need religion. I am saying that we may need them to have it, because without some such constraint, they may not start asking questions about the meaning of the universe, not even visiting the Pyramids of Egypt, but instead act like feral children without adult supervision. If you have English friends ask them about the meaning of the word ‘chav’ to see what I’m talking about. Or even better, read Our Culture, What’s Left of It. It describes the abdication of self-restraint by sections of what used to be the working class of England, but now is, if anything, a “non-working class” living on welfare.

    Again, A. Weaver’s point is well taken, i.e these people may do well in school if they wanted to. But they don’t, because they don’t see any value in working hard and in being curious. All they have is this world, so they’re not going to spend their time working if they can get a minimal level of help from the state. They will do drugs and alcohol and go clubbing. They will not commit to marriage, but have children out of wedlock, because there’s no shame in doing so since the kids won’t starve because of state help. The children grow up in single parent homes, watching their mothers get abused by a long series of such boyfriends, which is not often the best upbringing.

    If you think this is paradise, go ahead. Take a to London or Manchester, and live in council housing there for a few months. Let me know what you think.

    Now, is the lack of religion causing this, or just idiotic economic policies by the state? I think and hope it’s the second (which is why I openly admit to being an atheist), but cannot be sure. Perhaps some people really won’t behave unless scared by the big celestial boogie-man, but I do hope we’re better than that.

  • OMGF

    Serban Tanasa,
    Your disdain for Ebon’s idea of a working wage fits quite well with your disdain for the “lower rung” of society. The problem for you, however, is that our society would not function if everyone was a dentist or a doctor. We would still need people to staff, clean, and run the offices and services that make our society run. In that sense, a janitor is a vital part of keeping our society what it is and keeping us from collapsing. That we tend to value some professions more does not mean that we do not need those who perform the jobs we tend to value less. Since those jobs are vital to keeping our society afloat, there is no reason why the workers at these positions should not be paid a living wage.

    But they don’t, because they don’t see any value in working hard and in being curious. All they have is this world, so they’re not going to spend their time working if they can get a minimal level of help from the state. They will do drugs and alcohol and go clubbing. They will not commit to marriage, but have children out of wedlock, because there’s no shame in doing so since the kids won’t starve because of state help. The children grow up in single parent homes, watching their mothers get abused by a long series of such boyfriends, which is not often the best upbringing.

    I’m sure the situation in your example had nothing to do with the dynamics of the workforce, where a different skill set of jobs moved to an area for which the local people were neither equiped nor prepared? It’s so much easier to simply deal in stereotypes than the reality of a very complicated dynamic. But, I’m sure that all poor women are simply lazy, stupid, alcoholic, drug-addicted, whores who don’t want to get married because they would rather get slapped around by numerous boyfriends and pump out babies for more welfare money that they can spend on their next hit of crack.

    Now, is the lack of religion causing this, or just idiotic economic policies by the state? I think and hope it’s the second (which is why I openly admit to being an atheist), but cannot be sure.

    If religion is involved, it is surely negatively. Xianity teaches a negative self-worth, which is what a lot of people suffer from during an economic downturn, especially those hit by it. Teaching humanist notions of self-worth could only be a good thing.

  • Polly

    Serban Tanasa – you really shouldn’t have used “janitor” even as an example. You just created a lot of work for yourself to get the point across.
    I see what you’re saying and I’m sure that there are many who are just plain stupid (in A.W.’s sense). I’ve noticed that religion does nothing to curb that kind of stupidity – it simply adds a layer of superstition and false grace/forgiveness to the lousy behavior:
    “I may rob liquor stores, but I cross myself at church or drop some of that loot into the offering plate so I’m not all bad. Besides, Jesus forgave me why shouldn’t YOU.”
    I’ll offer my $.02: (subject to change)
    The best solution is a system that automatically make it worth their while to do what’s best for themsleves and society even though they may be too stooopid to know what that is.
    That’s one reason why a higher minimum wage, low-to-no taxes on the poor (including the horribly regressive payroll tax), and more law enforcement on the street might be a better idea than handouts. But, a higher MW might increase unemployment. Hard to tell without specifics about each local economy.

    As for children, that changes the parameters drastically. But cash is still not the answer. Strictly child-related items can be distributed or subsidized so no one skims off the top of their kid’s aid. But, if the mother (or father) is a screwed up drug-addict then foster care is the only option. Incentives for those willing to take in children might be helpful, but then there’s the risk of abuse, again.

    Public education is already freely available and more cops on the stret means lower truancy. Pehaps we should stop developing better bombs and tanks and spend more on education, law enforcement and social services? But, then this impacts the upper level job market and the associated tax revenue, too. But, building bombs can’t be any more productive than educating children…

    Legalizing drugs would remove virtually all the profitability from the gang-industry, reduce violence, increase tax revenue, and make a regular job more attractive. Plus, it would free up a lot of wasted law-enforcement resources. But, will people become junkies or will they be mere recreational users? I dunno.

    Leveling the playing field with illegal immigrants so that there’s no advantage to hiring an illegal over a citizen would also help. This takes enforcement of the law – either bar the illegals or force employers to pay them a (livable) MW.

  • Polly

    Oh yeah, in case I didn’t ramble long enough.

    I know someone who receives/d government aid. He finally got a job and what does the state do? They cut his “allowance” to the point where he’s working but making the same amount as he had before (less if you count associated job costs)without working. He, nevertheless wanted to work because of his pride and ambition. So, he forwent the handout. Not everyone feels that way.
    These are exactly the kind of disincentives that hadouts create.
    I realize no one has come out as pro-handout, but that’s the system we have today.

  • lpetrich

    The problem is not with it being a “handout”, but with how it is structured. What Polly describes is essentially a 100% marginal income tax, which all of us can agree is excessive. I think that such measures are intended to prevent cheating, but they clearly backfire.

    And is inherited money also a “handout”? Are gifts “handouts”? Is charity a “handout”? Wasn’t it terrible to receive all those handouts from your parents when you were children? Seriously.

    Furthermore, if you pay taxes, then you might want to get something back, right?

  • windy

    The original emailer wrote: But in terms of everyday living, the endless and often self-inflicted drudgery and boredom that is often the lot of regular people, perhaps there is solace in the thought that there is someone out there that cares for you, and that it does, after all, get better than this.

    and later:
    Now, is the lack of religion causing this, or just idiotic economic policies by the state? I think and hope it’s the second (which is why I openly admit to being an atheist), but cannot be sure. Perhaps some people really won’t behave unless scared by the big celestial boogie-man, but I do hope we’re better than that.

    Nice trick: started out as the flower-hatted auntie, morphed into Mr. Burns.

  • Alex Weaver

    Serban, I think it would do wonders for your reasoning if you were to make a conscious effort to rid yourself of the kind of thinking that J.S. Mill is decrying in the following excerpt:

    Of all difficulties which impede the progress of thought, and the formation of well-grounded opinions on life and social arrangements, the greatest is now the unspeakable ignorance and inattention of mankind in respect to the influences which form human character. Whatever any portion of the human species now are, or seem to be, such, it is supposed, they have a natural tendency to be: even when the most elementary knowledge of the circumstances in which they have been placed, clearly points out the causes that made them what they are. Because a cottier deeply in arrears to his landlord is not industrious, there are people who think that the Irish are naturally idle. Because constitutions can be overthrown when the authorities appointed to execute them turn their arms against them, there are people who think the French incapable of free government. Because the Greeks cheated the Turks, and the Turks only plundered the Greeks, there are persons who think that the Turks are naturally more sincere: and because women, as is often said, care nothing about politics except their personalities, it is supposed that the general good is naturally less interesting to women than to men. History, which is now so much better understood than formerly, teaches another lesson: if only by showing the extraordinary susceptibility of human nature to external influences, and the extreme variableness of those of its manifestations which are supposed to be most universal and uniform. But in history, as in travelling, men usually see only what they already had in their own minds; and few learn much from history, who do not bring much with them to its study.

  • Alex Weaver

    Incidentally, I don’t recall stating that the term “stupid” as I define it applies necessarily, or even probably, to the people on or near the “bottom rung” of society, so I’d appreciate it if that position wasn’t implicitly imputed to me. :/

  • KShep

    Quote from Serban:

    I am not saying that they need religion. I am saying that we may need them to have it, because without some such constraint, they may not start asking questions about the meaning of the universe, not even visiting the Pyramids of Egypt, but instead act like feral children without adult supervision.

    Then:

    ….because they don’t see any value in working hard and in being curious. All they have is this world, so they’re not going to spend their time working if they can get a minimal level of help from the state. They will do drugs and alcohol and go clubbing. They will not commit to marriage, but have children out of wedlock, because there’s no shame in doing so since the kids won’t starve because of state help. The children grow up in single parent homes, watching their mothers get abused by a long series of such boyfriends, which is not often the best upbringing.

    Just trying to understand this point—-are you saying that religion plays a part in keeping people from the kind of activities listed above?

    If that’s what you’re saying, then I have to disagree. All the problems you list above are pervasive all across the American deep south—–a region dominated by xtianity. A vast majority attend church regularly, yet these problems persist. This certainly doesn’t make the case for religion.

    Religion isn’t any more effective at keeping people from behaving poorly than anything else.

  • Serban Tanasa

    A. Weaver, on whom I’m not imputing anything, wrote:

    Serban, I think it would do wonders for your reasoning if you were to make a conscious effort to rid yourself of the kind of thinking that J.S. Mill is decrying.

    You are 170 years behind my friend. If you are a supporter of the “blank slate” (which is not clear, but seems likely from your post) I have news for you. The fact that genetic differences exist (and are independent of “cultural” influences) has been scientifically demonstrated, in natural experiments with matched pairs of identical twins separated at birth serving as controls.

    Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p.47

    Testing confirms that identical twins, whether separated at birth of not, are eerily alike (though not identical) in just about any trait one can measure. [...] Identical twins are far more similar than fraternal twins, whether they are raised apart or together; identical twins raised apart are highly similar; biological siblings, whether raised apart or together, are far more similar than adoptive siblings. Many of these conclusions come from massive studies in Scandinavian countries, where governments keep huge databases of their citizens, and they employ the best-validated measuring instruments known to psychology.

    In a perfect case-study country with 100% social mobility, where all immigrants come in at the maximum skill-level they can attain, and where the education system somehow manages to do the same for natives, you would have a meritocratic system, and different layers of society would reflect genetic differences. Of course, in a real country like the US, with a lot of unskilled immigration and slowly decreasing levels of social mobility, plus strong biases against “acting white,” that doesn’t tell you a lot. I leave it to you to judge for yourself just how far the US is from that theoretical state.

    KShep wrote:

    . All the problems you list above are pervasive all across the American deep south—–a region dominated by xtianity. A vast majority attend church regularly, yet these problems persist. Religion isn’t any more effective at keeping people from behaving poorly than anything else.

    I am not sure what they’re doing in that deep South. I don’t see many of the problems I described in Arab Muslim countries, regardless of their wealth level ($1000-$20,000). Perhaps it’s not (just?) religion, but (also?) living in a traditional society. I have no idea. This is why I wrote the question in the first place. I was hoping for feedback.

  • Alex Weaver

    The idea that human beings have no instincts or genetic predispositions to certain behavioral patterns or personality traits has indeed been discredited. The idea that EVERY variation in human circumstances, patterns of thought or behavior, and realized potential is due to the simple and direct effects of “superior” or “inferior” genetics, does not follow from this, and in light of human experience and both lay and scientific observations of the effects of environment and culture on the development of individual character, is ridiculous on its face. Similarly, the idea that the mindset and ideas of every person are, upon reaching some arbitrary age, set in stone and incapable of being changed by any influence, lacks both evidential support and logical validity. Since one of these last two assumptions is necessarily a premise (explicit or otherwise, self-acknowledged or otherwise) for the kind of argument you’re making about people who “need” religion, your argument fails.

    Incidentally, are you really arguing in your post about “council housing” that the fact that the sort of system Ebon describes as ideal does not presently exist means that it never possibly could?

  • Alex Weaver

    In other words, you seem to be under the impression that either 1) environmental and cultural influences play no role whatsoever in the intellectual and moral developments of humans or 2) their effect is incapable of being shaped or directed in a positive fashion. This is as obviously wrong as the strawman position that genetics plays no part in human psychological development.

  • KShep

    Serban:

    I am not sure what they’re doing in that deep South. I don’t see many of the problems I described in Arab Muslim countries, regardless of their wealth level ($1000-$20,000). Perhaps it’s not (just?) religion, but (also?) living in a traditional society. I have no idea. This is why I wrote the question in the first place. I was hoping for feedback.

    Well, here’s some more feedback. Maybe those problems are fewer in Arab/Muslim countries because their religious rules are the law of the land, enforced with the threat of death? It should be obvious that those countries have a great many problems as well, with the lack of rights given to anyone not a devout male. There is not enough bandwidth here to go into the abuses of human rights committed by theocratic governments.

    We can, as a society, do something about the problems of out-of-wedlock births, drug abuse, domestic violence, etc. but there is a huge wall of opposition from religious groups, who just want to get everyone in church and thus “solve” the problem. This tactic has proven ineffective, yet the belief that it works still perseveres. A theocratic government in the USA (which is closer to reality now than it ever has been before) would definitely NOT fix any of these problems.

  • Serban Tanasa

    Weaver:

    The idea that EVERY variation in human circumstances, patterns of thought or behavior, and realized potential is due to the simple and direct effects of “superior” or “inferior” genetics, does not follow from this, and in light of human experience and both lay and scientific observations of the effects of environment and culture on the development of individual character, is ridiculous on its face.

    It is ridiculous on its face. It’s also not what I said. Do not impute unto others, lest they impute unto you. What I said is really rather banal and can be rephrased as such: As social status becomes less strongly determined by arbitrary legacies such as race, parentage and inherited wealth (as it would in the theoretical society with 100% Social Mobility and, as I hope, it is everyone’s ideal), social status will become more strongly determined by talent, especially (in a modern economy) intelligence. Since differences in intelligence are partly inherited, when a society becomes more just, it will also become more stratified along genetic lines. Smarter people will tend to float into the higher strata, and their children will tend to stay there. This is true even if (especially if, in fact) we shape environmental and cultural influences to be the most benign possible for everyone.

    This is based on a mathematical necessity: as the proportion of variance in social status caused by nongenetic factors decreases, the proportion caused by genetic factors has to go up. Note that even if something such as luck accounts for 50% of the variance, the argument would still be true.

    I would like to state that we’re still far from this ideal state, since legacies still influence social outcomes.

    Incidentally, are you really arguing in your post about “council housing” that the fact that the sort of system Ebon describes as ideal does not presently exist means that it never possibly could?

    The only way everybody on Earth could be paid such princely wages is if human productivity increases so much that it actually makes economic sense to pay such a high minimum wage. Otherwise, if you set minimum wage that high, you just get a lot of unemployment. And still we’d have to subsidize the lives of people whose mental deficiencies prevent them from reaching that minimum level of productivity. That would mean that the lowest skilled people of the future will about as productive as a high-end scientist or professional is now. Is it theoretically achievable? Probably. Practically? With the way schools are currently going, I have my doubts. I don’t understand economics well enough to dare a guess, but certainly it is not achievable for several generations.

    Kshep:

    We can, as a society, do something about the problems of out-of-wedlock births, drug abuse, domestic violence, etc. but there is a huge wall of opposition from religious groups.

    To paraphrase Scooby Doo: “I would have solved the society’s problems too, if it weren’t for those pesky religious kids.” It is not so immediately obvious to me what the miracle solution that religious groups prevent actually is. WHAT IS IT? I promise to abandon my wife and home, and spend the next 10 years of my life lobbying against religious establishments, if you give a detailed explanation.

  • Serban Tanasa

    Comment by: windy

    Nice trick: started out as the flower-hatted auntie, morphed into Mr. Burns.

    It can be both. Santa Claus can bring either gifts or a stick, can’t it?

  • OMGF

    I don’t see Kshep as proposing any “miracle solution.” If there were a solution that would help the world, it would be reason and rationality. Religious groups tell people that they are inherently unworthy, that they should simply accept their plight; that they deserve to be sh*t upon because they are evil. This is simply counterproductive, yet it is what you seem to be advocating. Or are you backing away from that now? I’m not sure how far the goal posts have moved.

  • KShep

    It is not so immediately obvious to me what the miracle solution that religious groups prevent actually is. WHAT IS IT? I promise to abandon my wife and home, and spend the next 10 years of my life lobbying against religious establishments, if you give a detailed explanation.

    Well, I don’t want you to dump your wife, and I don’t propose any miracle solutions. But there are ways to make progress. Let’s take the problem of out-of-wedlock birth for an example. Religious groups have tried to deal with this by, among other things, forcing pregnant teens to give up their child for adoption, even running baby farms to achieve it. Or forcing teens into marriage by lowering the age of consent, so 14-year-old girls can get married and “legitimize” their child. Did these solutions work? Of course not, they caused a host of other problems, worse than the original problem.

    It has never occurred to these people to try and lower the rate of unwanted or accidental pregnancies, and one easy way to do that would be to take away the religious ban on contraception. But that isn’t what they are doing, they’re doing the exact opposite—working hard to reduce access to all forms of birth control, even by married couples, using tactics such as passing laws that allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense contraception to their clients if it violates “their” religion. Or removing sex education from their schools, leaving normal, sexually curious kids to figure it out for themselves. This is progress to them.

    I can’t right now think of a finer example of religion standing in the way of legitimate social progress.

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

    I’d like to briefly address an earlier comment in this thread by C.L. Hanson:

    For example, take someone on his death bed who has no possibility of pulling through. Suppose all he wants is some reassurance that he’ll get to see his dead loved ones again (his wife, his son, etc). Is atheism better than false hopes in this case?

    I touched on this topic last year, in “Kicking the Crutches Away“. I don’t think we should preach at the bedsides of the dying – that would be rude and disrespectful. On the other hand, if the person’s crisis is caused by his own faith, like a Jehovah’s Witness who’s refusing a blood transfusion, then I think it would be appropriate to try to persuade them to consent to lifesaving treatment.

  • Serban Tanasa

    Thanks, Ebon.

    “Kicking the Crutches Away” is a very thoughtful article I hadn’t read, and it comes very close to addressing what I should have actually asked. That said, I still stand by the comments I made on this page.

    Sincerely,
    Serban

  • Vicki Baker

    Chiming in late, but I wanted to say how much I appreciated this article and subseqent comments. For me, many of the comments spoke to how the process of achieving more truth and openness in relationships is so much more complicated than just getting our metaphysical facts straight.
    I thought the article was a beautiful contrast to an undercurrent I see in some streams of the “New Atheist” (for lack of a better word) movement: the idea that the forces of reason are beset by “barbarians at the gates” – ignorant aggressors infected by harmful mind viruses, with whom there is no chance of reasonable discussion. Probably some people will vehemently deny that such an undercurrent exists, but I think Serban’s comments are a good example of what I mean, though he seems to be saying that it’s okay for “those people” to have religion if it keeps them under control.
    To Serban – you might want to get hold of a copy of “The Human Documents of the Victorian Age” In it you’ll find as much horror and shock at the “unchurched” underclasses as you could possibly muster today. Many of these documents are transcripts of interviews with child factory workers and the like who have heard the name Jesus but have no idea who he was, or who otherwise display shocking ignorance of England’s state religion. Many Victorian reformers found this ignorance even more disturbing than the appalling material conditions of these workers. To them, the problems of the underclass – prostitution, venereal disease, alcoholism, poor hygiene- were caused by moral failings that could be addressed by Sunday Schools. This seems ridiculous to most people today, because we recognize the economic vise in which the Victorian poor were trapped.

  • ZekeCDN

    It seems I’ve arrived too late to contribute to this discussion, but I’d still like to pass along my thanks to all of the contributors for a terrific, thought-provoking thread.

  • Angie

    Same here – arrived late but really appreciate this forum.

  • c

    My answer to the argument that atheism makes society collapse is Sweden. Now hear me out before you laugh. Many studies have found Sweden to be the most atheistic country on Earth (about 60-80% depending mostly on definition). Is Sweden a cesspool of crime and violence? In fact, the general trend is that wealthy, developed nations tend to be far more atheistic than nations in deep poverty (with some exceptions like the US and Vietnam). The evidence does not suggest that religious countries are more successful, in fact, it implies the exact opposite.

  • meg

    As a person on the lower end of the economic scale who has spent many years drudging on the bottom as a certified nursing assistant in a long term care facility, I can assure you as an “average” person atheism is pretty viable. Doing post-mortem care on shriveled, disease ridden bodies is actually pretty condusive to an atheistic point of view!!! Also, I manage to find time to read books and make myself happy. Oh the shock of it all!!! I know I am contributing late to this dicussion, but I felt it needed to be said.

  • Virginia

    I have met with a Christian who said if there’s no God, our lives will be meaningless and like wild animals. To which I replied, “You totally leave out your very capability of choice and freethinking in the equation”.

    People do not want to take up the heavy “duty” to search / define meaning of lives by themselves because they are never ever enpowered to do so — and taught by others not to trust humanity

  • Virginia

    I am also looking for input from Ebon on a matter. I believe imbalance relationship, especially those from feudalistic society, for example, like the father deserves more respect then his child and that the father can freely hurt the children’s pride/dignity, is no way justifiable — based on the humanists approach I read so far.
    Yet religions (organized ones) stipulates the kind of “dividing” people into classes which some get more respect than others (e.g. man over woman, old over young) regardless of the person’s deed, objective evidences etc.
    Is there anything that can shed some light ?

  • Alex Weaver

    What exactly is the question?

  • Tom

    I think Serban is on the right lines in assuming that the fading of religions has worsened delinquency in what are generally known as lower classes – not necessarily for giving them a religious motivation to work, but for the structure and strong sense of community they provide. Speaking from the perspective of the UK, I don’t think it can be denied that youth society has deteriorated – gang membership, delinquency and violence are rising alarmingly, but it’s not really surprising why, considering that the institutions of many Western societies seem to be becoming increasingly sociopathic in a number of ways:

    Materialism has come to eclipse all other values in life, people are judged and always encouraged by popular culture to judge others exclusively by what they posess – I have no doubt whatsoever that this is deeply psychologically harmful for the lower classes, those who are indeed, for whatever reason, irredeemably left of the bell curves of intelligence or employability and who are fully aware that they are doomed forever to a low income – enough to stay alive, perhaps even enough to live on comfortably if you’re careful, but, crucially, nowhere near enough to register in material wealth compared to the middle and upper classes. With no other sense of worth afforded to them in an exclusively materialistic world, and unable to achieve equality to their neighbours in material worth by honest means, is it any wonder that frustration and anger and, of course, muggings and robberies are high amongst that class? The average religion accepts rich and poor alike, and affords them the status they crave, consciously or unconsciously, for tasks that absolutely anyone can do – typically little more than turning up once a week and loudly affirming faith, so naturally it will tend to provide a natural alternative to material self worth, even if it’s entirely artificial (which, as an atheist, I of course hold it to be)

    The world of material wealth production is notoriously sociopathic, and always has been. Human beings have no value whatsoever to an industrial or economic entity other than as producers of products; if more efficient ones become available elsewhere, you immediately fire the ones you’ve got and hire them instead. Notions of loyalty, community or simple compassion don’t come into it. There is no such thing as job security at the present time, no sense that one is of any more value to one’s employer than an inanimate object, and so no real sense of belonging or having found one’s place in life can be gleaned from the pursuit of materialism in the form of western capitalism either. Religions, by comparison, positively excel at providing a sense of community, of loyalty, of belonging, of family. Again, when religion vanishes, any sense of security, of community, of being amongst friends, vanishes with it. This one isn’t, I don’t think, exclusive to the lower classes but damaging to all levels of society – take a look around, people are becoming ever more distrustful and alienated from everyone else, because there’s simply nothing to bring them together. There’s a current moral panic about gangs, but is it any wonder that they are forming when they provide their members with a sense of loyalty and security that they simply cannot get anywhere else? Again, the less intelligent and the uneducated are hit the worst, I believe, because the educated and the intellectual have a tendency to automatically feel a certain kinship and community with any other intelligent or educated person they meet – a glance over the logs of this board alone is a testament to that.

    At first glance, you might confuse my post as an argument in favour of the return of religion to dominate life, either sincerely or as an Orwellian ruse by the upper classes to keep the lower classes in their place. It is neither. The trouble is, Serban seems to have couched his posts only in terms of what was, and what is – and expressly seems to hold that nothing better than one of the two situations can be arrived at. I disagree. Many have lamented that atheism, on its own, merely states that religions, for all their benefits as I have described above, are ultimately dangerous delusions based on frequenly insane myths and stories that do more harm than good, but offers nothing in substitute for the good aspects that would be lost along with the bad were religion to disappear; depressingly, this seems to be exactly the way much of secular Western society is headed.

    Does it have to be that way, though? Atheism isn’t an exclusive belief; it’s a starting point for higher things. Secular humanism has been mentioned already. While current secular societies certainly, and potentially disastrously, do not offer anything like the socially stabilising effects that traditional religions do, as described above, is there any reason that they couldn’t? The problem is clear: we need some new construct, some new system, to provide those beneficial aspects traditionally supplied by organised religions, but based on something sane and rational, something compatible with atheism. Fundamentalist theists love to accuse atheism of being a religion, even though it patently isn’t; perhaps it could benefit, however, from acting more like one in some practical respects.

  • ajanitor

    I am also one of the people this emailer is speaking of . I am a janitor as for never reading a book . we janitors have plenty of time to read more than most people i imagine , (except security guards of course ) :P . atheism is appreciable by all you don’t need a life of intellectual pursuit to enjoy asking yourself the questions raised by life . It just helps to be getting payed for it .Thinking and questioning life is a ability that is free and requires almost no resources. so for every janitor or laborer who’s never read a book .There are also the ones who like to spend there day trying to understand why space and time are essentially the same thing ,( even if we have a hard time understanding it we still try because its fun ). Tho i may have regrets about were i am in life, i may not have seized all the opportunities.That doesnt stop me from enjoying what i do have and what my mind can conceive of . Truth is the greatest opium :P

  • ajanitor

    I am also one of the people this emailer is speaking of . I am a janitor as for never reading a book . we janitors have plenty of time to read more than most people i imagine , (except security guards of course ) :P . atheism is appreciable by all you don’t need a life of intellectual pursuit to enjoy asking yourself the questions raised by life . It just helps to be getting payed for it .Thinking and questioning life is a ability that is free and requires almost no resources. so for every janitor or laborer who’s never read a book .There are also the ones who like to spend there day trying to understand why space and time are essentially the same thing ,( even if we have a hard time understanding it we still try because its fun ). Tho i may have regrets about were i am in life, i may not have seized all the opportunities.That doesnt stop me from enjoying what i do have and what my mind can conceive of . Truth is the greatest opium :P

  • Kopa

    I realize I’m a couple years late in replying so I probably shouldn’t even bother… But it’s just that I come from Finland where practically NO ONE CARES ABOUT RELIGION. Not that people don’t believe in god, some do, some don’t, it’s just that we don’t talk about it. I didn’t even know my twin sister believed in god until we were both 25 years old! It’s just not a part of our lives.

    That doesn’t mean that we don’t privately explore our place in the universe, or that we can’t discuss religion if we want to. It’s just that it isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. There are traditions in our culture that come from religion (like Christmas, Easter, baptism etc.) but a lot of us really don’t see them as religious. We have a holiday in the middle of summer that supposedly comes from Jesus getting baptized or something, but no one knows that. We just don’t care. It’s another holiday.

    We, too, have the problem of some people just living off of welfare and not doing anything for the society they live in. My oldest sister is like that. Her behaviour, however, is not accepted in the society. She and her kind are frowned upon, and they are ashamed of themselves. Usually these people have some kind of an addiction to something. So I don’t believe it’s the lack of religion that causes this, because most people aren’t like that despite being atheists (or just not thinking about it).

    The fact that Muslim countries have fewer crimes is because their law is different from ours. If stuff that is legal in a Muslim country was done in my country, it would be a crime. So in a sense there is much more crime in Muslim countries than there are in many (most) Western countries. In fact, I think that Muslim countries are the perfect example of why religion is bad.

    As a participant in one of these identical twins researches in what is labeled a Scandinavian country, I really would have liked to see a source for that, just because I would have been interested to read it. In my personal experience, if identical twins want to be exactly the same personality-wise and appearance-wise, they can make it happen. If they don’t, they can make that happen too. While I acknowledge that I and my twin are very similar in many ways, our thought processes differ in major ways in many cases. Like the god thing (though I’m not sure how major that is from our point of view) and immigration. So I believe that genetics plays a part in how we think and how intelligent we are, but I also believe culture, experience, and personality play a big role in it too. I have never wanted to be lumped in with my twin, to be regarded as “one of the twins” or to have people automatically assume that I agree with her or that we’re exactly alike, so it infuriates me when people say that we are basically the same person are because of some study.

  • Kopa

    I realize I’m a couple years late in replying so I probably shouldn’t even bother… But it’s just that I come from Finland where practically NO ONE CARES ABOUT RELIGION. Not that people don’t believe in god, some do, some don’t, it’s just that we don’t talk about it. I didn’t even know my twin sister believed in god until we were both 25 years old! It’s just not a part of our lives.

    That doesn’t mean that we don’t privately explore our place in the universe, or that we can’t discuss religion if we want to. It’s just that it isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. There are traditions in our culture that come from religion (like Christmas, Easter, baptism etc.) but a lot of us really don’t see them as religious. We have a holiday in the middle of summer that supposedly comes from Jesus getting baptized or something, but no one knows that. We just don’t care. It’s another holiday.

    We, too, have the problem of some people just living off of welfare and not doing anything for the society they live in. My oldest sister is like that. Her behaviour, however, is not accepted in the society. She and her kind are frowned upon, and they are ashamed of themselves. Usually these people have some kind of an addiction to something. So I don’t believe it’s the lack of religion that causes this, because most people aren’t like that despite being atheists (or just not thinking about it).

    The fact that Muslim countries have fewer crimes is because their law is different from ours. If stuff that is legal in a Muslim country was done in my country, it would be a crime. So in a sense there is much more crime in Muslim countries than there are in many (most) Western countries. In fact, I think that Muslim countries are the perfect example of why religion is bad.

    As a participant in one of these identical twins researches in what is labeled a Scandinavian country, I really would have liked to see a source for that, just because I would have been interested to read it. In my personal experience, if identical twins want to be exactly the same personality-wise and appearance-wise, they can make it happen. If they don’t, they can make that happen too. While I acknowledge that I and my twin are very similar in many ways, our thought processes differ in major ways in many cases. Like the god thing (though I’m not sure how major that is from our point of view) and immigration. So I believe that genetics plays a part in how we think and how intelligent we are, but I also believe culture, experience, and personality play a big role in it too. I have never wanted to be lumped in with my twin, to be regarded as “one of the twins” or to have people automatically assume that I agree with her or that we’re exactly alike, so it infuriates me when people say that we are basically the same person are because of some study.

  • http://www.fetlife.com Tyro

    Good, thought-provoking commentary. I enjoyed and benefited from the read.

  • Aquaria

    Late to this discussion, but my husband and I are these “lower rungs” this scumbag talked about, and we’re gladly and INTELLIGENTLY atheists.

    Our roommate is an atheist who is even lower on the rung. He’s living ‘on handouts’. Because he HAS TO. Appalling classist creeps like Serban doesn’t seem to get that there are cases where people don’t have any damned choice about being on government ‘handouts’. Ask any transplant patient. If you guys think YOU can pay $10K or more PER MONTH on your medications to STAY ALIVE, and pay it out of your own pocket, then I know you’re independently wealthy and too privileged to have a clue about what this is like.

    Jerks like Serban seem not to know what it’s like to decide between working and dying.

    And for the record that transplant victim who lives with people whose household income is only $28K a year, but WE have opened up our home to this person in need, not some rich jackass like you, Serban. Why do you suppose that is? Maybe it’s because we’ve figured out that pooling what few resources we have and cooperating can help all of us have a little more than we would have separately…ya think?

    And it’s because we’re realists and practical that we’re atheists. Denying reality does NOT improve our lives, you classist jerkwad. It makes things WORSE. Because hoping on a maybe someday only leads to disappointment and heartbreak. Religion and wishful thinking does NOTHING to solve the problems we face.

    NOT

    ONE

    DAMNED

    THING.

    We’re also not morons, even though our circumstances are so grim. Some of us have simply had some tough breaks in life, previous disastrous marriages (my first husband became a coke head AFTER we married–think that didn’t ruin some finances, cupcake?). There have been layoffs and health issues and hiring/promotion freezes, and on and on and on.

    It doesn’t mean we weren’t educated. I’ve attended college in the past, but I’ve had some bad luck with being able to stay in school, job transfers for myself or my spouse in the middle of semesters, a serious illness another time, getting laid off and having to move back in with my parents, 300 miles away–things happen when you’re down here that are beyond your control sometimes. That’s just how it is.

    But it doesn’t mean we’re as stupid and presumptuous as you are, Serban.

    So take your classist assumptions and your unevidenced stupidity and shove it.

  • Aquaria

    Oh–and my grandparents, who raised me, had even less than I do. They were dirt poor. They didn’t even get past 8th grade in my grandmother’s case, or 4th in my grandfather’s. Yet they were atheists, when it was scary to be that. My grandmother was a homemaker, of course. She was born in the early 1900s. That’s what women did. My grandfather was a jack of all trades: Wiring your house, building an extra room off your parlor, bricking that new barbecue out back, shoeing and training your horses, blacksmithing, plowing your field–he could do all of it.

    And my grandparents were so poor that we ate squirrel to make our vegetables go farther during a bad winter. Have you ever been so damned poor you had to eat squirrel? I have, and I’m not one bit ashamed of it. I’m only angry that the world was so selfish and heartless and hateful as to reduce two hardworking, intelligent people to resort to that, to survive in their old age.

    Of course, a classist pig like Serban probably thinks they had it coming to them, for being dumb enough to be poor. Never mind how they managed to raise 8 children through the Depression, have a son get killed in WWII, another who was disabled permanently from it, a son who they pulled through polio, other children who suffered the usual but then deadly childhood diseases like scarlet fever, pleurisy, whooping cough, diphtheria, measles and so on–

    Nope, they’re just stupid and must have needed religion to get them through hard lives, not reason and sense. Because poor people are just too stupid to think for themselves and sort through things on their own, donchaknow?