Vogue Atheism

The On Faith dialogue had an apropos question this week:

Atheism is enjoying a certain vogue right now. Why do you think that is? Can there be a productive conversation between believers and atheists, and if so over what kinds of issues?

We’re in vogue! You hear that, everyone?! Coolest. Religious. Minority. Ever.

What are the expert panelists saying about this topic?

Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo, professor of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College:

I never met an atheist I could like. Surely, somewhere on this planet, there is a friendly atheist, but I haven’t bumped into one yet.

*ahem* Hi. I’m Hemant. Please read the banner at the top of this page. Or use this thing called Google.

John Dominic Crossan, professor emeritus in the religious studies department at DePaul University in Chicago. (Where I go for grad school, incidentally):

A-theism validates theism by having only a negative to replace it. What atheism needs is a positive vision which would evacuate the need for that negative title. What might it be?

Yes… just like a-FlyingSpaghettiMonsterism validates the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

The positive vision for atheism is a world where everyone is equal, rational, and able to live a good life. That doesn’t happen when you have one group condemning another for believing in a different invisible being. It doesn’t happen when you think poor people in Third World countries need a church to fix their problems instead of focusing solely on physical health issues.

The award for least original thought ever comes from syndicated political columnist Cal Thomas:

It takes more faith not to believe in God than to believe in Him. It is also intellectually lazy. You have to believe the vastness of the universe “happened” without a Designer and that unique things like fingerprints and snowflakes occurred by pure chance.

An atheist wagers his or her present and eternal future that he or she is right. If the atheist is right and there is no God, there are no consequences. But if the atheist is wrong and there is a God and a Heaven for those who come to Him on His terms, and a Hell for those who reject Him, then that has the most important consequences.

Here is someone who doesn’t understand that “Snow is commonly formed when water vapor undergoes deposition high in the atmosphere at a temperature of less than 0°C (32°F).” (Thanks Wikipedia!)

And Pascal’s Wager (the common name for Thomas’ argument) is shot down here.

Susan Jacoby, author of Freethinkers: History of American Secularism, had this to say:

Isn’t it fascinating that the voice of God always sounds suspiciously like one’s own voice? When politicians start citing God as the authority for whatever they want to do, they are usually promoting some policy that defies human reason.

There is still a deep prejudice against atheists in this country, and this prejudice is expressed in the ridiculous notion that belief in God is some sort of qualification for public office.

What we ought to be talking about are decent human values that can be subscribed to by Americans of any faith or no faith. I could not care less whether any elected official believes in God: I care about what he or she does on earth. As an atheist, I believe precisely what the Bible says on this subject: “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

I like Susan Jacoby…

How would you answer the question originally posed (“Can there be a productive conversation between believers and atheists, and if so over what kinds of issues?”)?

I believe there can be a dialogue. And it can be positive. But it needs to focus on what people do with their beliefs, not what those beliefs are.

And what we do must be supported by hard data whenever possible. Relying on faith in any way simply doesn’t give us definitive, reliable answers.

This is to say, we can have the God/NoGod discussions, but we won’t reach a compromise anytime soon. How productive are those? Not so much between two people adamantly on opposite sides. But they can be useful to those in the middle.

(Thanks to Krystalline Apostate for the link.)

[tags]On Faith, atheism, atheist, Christian, Christianity, Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo, Brooklyn College, Friendly Atheist, Google, John Dominic Crossan, DePaul University, Chicago, Flying Spaghetti Monster, Cal Thomas, God, Wikipedia, Pascal’s Wager, Susan Jacoby, Freethinkers: History of American Secularism[/tags]

  • Will

    I never met an atheist I could like. Surely, somewhere on this planet, there is a friendly atheist, but I haven’t bumped into one yet.

    It always amazes me how Christians feel perfectly free to be prejudiced towards atheists – making unfair, negative generalizations about them – when they wouldn’t tolerate that behavior towards other groups. For instance, I wonder how Mr. Stevens-Arroyo would feel if someone said, “I’ve never met a Puerto Rican I could like. Surely, there must be a decent Puerto Rican somewhere on this planet. I just haven’t met one yet.” He would no doubt be offended, and rightfully so. And yet how many times have you heard Christians say that atheists must be narcissistic, or arrogant, or unfriendly…?

  • http://biblioblography.blogspot.com Krystalline Apostate

    Hey, Will, someone actually said that at the link. Was that you?
    Truthfully, I picked this up over at toomanytribbles’ blog. When I read it, I thought, ‘Hey, I know someone who’s a friendly atheist!’
    Oh, & I’m curious: I’m not on the blogroll? Dude, I’m hurt! ;) Kiddin’.

  • MTran

    Thanks for the links.

    I agree completely when you say: I believe there can be a dialogue. And it can be positive. But it needs to focus on what people do with their beliefs, not what those beliefs are.

    I’ve known a lot of discrimination aimed against atheists in general and, much less often, me. This type of hatefulness has seldom been directed at me from those I work with or know even casually. It has almost always come from near strangers who tell me “They say there’s an atheist around here and I just had to see what one of you freraks look like.” Since I look perfectly normal, this seems to disturb them greatly!

    Funny thing, though: I have worked with many priests, brothers, and nuns in Catholic instititions and elsewhere. None of them have ever insulted me this way (at least not to my face) and I have had many deep and pleasant conversations with them about faith and ethics. That has generally been my experence with mainline Protestant and Jewish spiritual leaders as well.

    So why do the hateful commentators, such as those in many of the articles cited above, demonstrate such psychopathological behaviors?

    That’s a real question; if anyone has any insights I would appreciate hearing them.

  • MTran

    Sheesh I hate making typos.

    freraks should have been freaks

    Is there a preview feature for these comments that I am missing? (I use Firefox, if that makes a difference.)


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

    So funny — I read that “Surely, somewhere on this planet, there is a friendly atheist” quote on another blog and immediately thought of this blog as well.

    Really, friendly atheists as so common that I decided I needed to be more specific than that when choosing a niche for my blog. That’s why I’m the “friendly American ex-Mormon atheist mom living in France.” And I hope there won’t be too many others competing for this coveted niche!!! ;)

  • http://atheistrevolution.blogspot.com/ vjack

    I’d rather be right than popular. Now that we’re in vogue, maybe we can be both.

  • Will

    Krystalline Apostate – no, that wasn’t me. I guess people must have had similar reactions to Stevens-Arroyo’s bigotry (and expressed themselves more eloquently than I did).

    I’d like to say to Hemant that I’ve been reading this blog for a while now, and it has become one of my favorites. I just haven’t felt moved to comment until now. Keep up the good work.

  • http://www.friendlyatheist.com Hemant

    Thanks Will, I appreciate it :)

  • txatheist

    The comments under Susan Jacoby got too lengthy for me but it sure got interesting.
    Someone never met an atheist? Go to a UU church and there will be some. :)

  • secularizer

    I don’t think it is possible to have a productive conversation with a faithist. Their entire world view is constructed with angels and holy dust, praying and waiting for miracles. That attitude is 100% unproductive.
    How can you explain to someone who believes in souls and ghosts that millions die every year simply because the faithists refuse to fund research that’d destroy about a hundred cells in order to figure out how to cure horrible diseases?

    What does death of a child even mean to a person like that? They shed a tear during the ceremony, but aren’t they also convinced the child isn’t “really” dead? What sort of morals are these?

    We need to work towards increasing the quality of life for everyone, and the faithists are often a very costly speed bump on the path to that goal. The more popular religious cults are in fact designed to influence its victims to be obedient and easy to manipulate; politicians are a great example of this strategy working.

    Faith is a blight, not a virtue. It is time to reject it.

  • gojo

    As a fellow atheist that was raised Baptist, comments like those by secularizer make me cringe.
    Many (not all) atheists truly have no concept of what most believers are really like, it is my experience that most are honest well meaning people who truly desire to make the world a better place.
    Don’t be guilty of stereotyping all faithists from those on the lunatic fringe.

  • Chiba

    I’ve been reading your blog for some time and I really enjoy it. That said, I must say, it’s sad that a professor would make such a foolish comment about not meeting any friendly atheists. I suspect he has met some but they didn’t feel a need to tell him they were an atheist. Those of faith, many times, have a need to tell you they are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, etc. and I have never understood why they need to express that to me as though it were some kind of special qualification that will make our conversation have meaning. LOL I have never felt that I needed to tell anyone I’m an atheist. If the subject of faith comes up, I have no problem saying I don’t believe in any god/gods…which usually gets a strange stare followed by “You’re kidding me?”
    I do think it’s possible to have rational discussions with those of faith. I have them with my husband who is a catholic and well educated ( a lawyer..LOL ok I know all the jokes). I do not try and “bring him to my side” and he doesn’t try to “catholisize” ( my made up word) me. He believes in science and evolution but still thinks there is a grand designer in it all. I truly have no issue with that at all. Regardless of one’s belief/disbelief, I feel it’s the way you live your life here…on earth…in the present, that matters most. I’ve seen arrogance and ugliness from all sides. I do think it’s time, as atheists, that we put forth a very positive rational face and let the theists understand that we are not the spawn of satan, amoral, etc. Even when I’ve been called names and threatened by some theists, I’ve found the best response is to ( try) and remain calm to continue a discussion or simply excuse myself, thank them for their attempt at discussion and walk away. One thing I don’t want to see is militant atheism. That would put me on par with militant theists and I refuse to ever enter that level.
    Great blog you have here!

  • txatheist

    Most atheists I know are former xians so I do think many understand the xian mindset they just no longer believe in the supernatural.

  • secularizer

    Azstecs were meaning well too – their faith had them sacrificing people in order to get the sun to rise. Modern faithists seem to find it trendy to slaughter millions by derailing scientific research, and all manner of other things, not the least of which is support of extreme right wing political/economic ideologies.

    It only takes faith to be a lunatic. Having their world view based on wishful thinking instead of evidence allows for them to be easily swayed by wolves in sheep’s closing towards literally any position.

    Do you think people like Phelps magically appear out of a void? They are intentionally grown by society that still seems to mostly think faith is a virtue, and not a blight.

  • gojo

    Well said txatheist, I agree completely. I said ‘many’ atheists don’t understand believers, not ‘all.’ It’s good that we do have some friendly atheists around.

    And secularizer, you are more close minded than most christians I have met. You seriously need to chill, you are posting on a ‘friendly atheist’ site and you clearly aren’t friendly. It’s ironic that you appear to be much of what you accuse christians of being. Bashing people over the head with your ‘doctrine’ isn’t going to help anyone. Wow.

  • secularizer


    And secularizer, you are more close minded than most christians I have met.
    Are you going to claim all beliefs are equally valid? Why is your mind closed to the view that faith is socially destructive? Accusing someone of closed mindedness is nothing more than an attempt to call yourself right, without providing an argument in support of that position.

    you clearly aren’t friendly
    Being friendly with a destructive force is unwise.

    It’s ironic that you appear to be much of what you accuse christians of being
    I appear to what? Is this the point in our conversation that you want to accuse me of advocating the use of violence? I do not advoacate violence, I advocate rejection of faith.

    Bashing people over the head with your ‘doctrine’ isn’t going to help anyone.
    Changing minds is the only method we have of altering what people believe and do based upon those beliefs. It is not wrong to point out the destruction caused by faith, and the positive effects of a scientific world view.

    You need to stop apologizing for people who choose to believe instead of thinking, and help us stop the social slide back into the Dark Ages.

    A lot of people’s lives are at stake. Quite literally.

  • txatheist

    gojo said

    I said ‘many’ atheists don’t understand believers, not ‘all.’ It’s good that we do have some friendly atheists around.

    I realize what you said and almost every atheist I’ve met was a xian. It’s very common for atheists to have been a member the predominant religion before leaving and becoming atheist. In the US, it would be xianity. Hemant is the first non-xian atheist I’ve known. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard people say they are a “recovering” Catholic or “recovering” baptist. Texas is a little behind the times in people stepping out and expressing their atheism.

  • secularizer

    I’ve never been a xian either :) Nice to meet you!

  • txatheist

    I was one who went to church a couple times a week.

  • http://everythingispointless.blogspot.com/ Louie

    Everything is pointless. Holding out hope that there will ever be any way of convincing all theists that there isn’t a god, is just plain silly. Atheism is about not believing in those stupid fictions which other people comfort themselves with.

    Unfortunately, nobody ever promised us anything. Science doesn’t have to give us happy answers. There is no god. The universe was not made for us. And one day we’ll all be dead.

    In a godless, pointless universe we are the only ones looking out for each other. Shame we do such a bad job of it really. Hope you all have a nice existence. ;)

  • Erik

    Sort of off topic but does anyone here know what its like to be an atheist when you are forced to go to a Christian school because there is no alternative in a foreign country and everyday you sit there having to put up with people preaching and telling me that I am misguided all the time. It makes me mad because I apparently go to a ‘Foreign’ school with many religious beliefs. Yet they treat the world as though everyone else is wrong and they are right. I was so annoyed by my class when they prayed for me when my grandmother died I left the room and went walking around the halls until someone made me come back to class. They didn’t understand why I was upset. Also just for extra information I go to Seoul ‘Foreign’ School in South Korea and I go to this Christian ‘foreign’ school because the only alternative is go to a Korean school.

  • Siamang

    Wow Erik,

    That sounds terrible.

    What do your parents believe? Do they have any options for you?

  • Erik

    Well if I really wanted to I could go to a Korean school but my parents mostly use it as a joke when I want to change schools. (Korean schools are good but extremely tough and unreasonably harsh. My parents don’t follow any particular religion so I am not necessarily alone just I fell like I’ll never truly fit in with everyone at my school and I am actually limited from get certain awards or joining clubs because I don’t show Christ like attitudes.

  • Siamang

    All I can tell you is that this is part of your education then. It seems hard and difficult now, but eventually you do grow up and get out of school. I’d say continue to seek whatever fellowship you can online with other atheists, and learn as much as you can about people different from you at school. It can only serve you well in the long run.

  • http://www.everythingispointless.com Louie

    I’d like to second what Siamang has said. I went to the London Nautical School. We dressed like sailors and in the UK bullying is rife, especially if you’re a bit clever. School is often not that fun, regardless of what you believe. Hang in there and soon you’ll be old enough to enjoy adult things. You quickly forget what those long days at school were like. ;)

  • Ken

    It has almost always come from near strangers who tell me “They say there’s an atheist around here and I just had to see what one of you freraks look like.”

    I think that’s more of “You’re DIFFERENT!” than anything else.
    (“You are not of The Body. You are Archons…”)

    I never met an atheist I could like. Surely, somewhere on this planet, there is a friendly atheist, but I haven’t bumped into one yet.

    Maybe he had a lot of run-ins with “Anti-Theists”, those who have gone beyond plain atheism to automatic hostility to anything outside atheism? Every belief system has its rigid and hostile “Fundamentalists” who are looking for a fight, and that type tends to keep a high profile.

  • Jon

    I grew up in a mixed religious family. I have had personal contact with christian faith and self realization. I must say that from a very young age I never understood why we took time out of a Sunday morning to go to church when I could be playing outdoors, with Nintendo etc. I knew enough not to protest much since that would bring sanctions.

    Now I’m agnostic. That being said I am much closer to be an atheist than I am to anything else. The only thing that separates me from saying “No God(s) or force is out there” is the beginning of the universe.

    We will probably never know enough in this lifetime to fully understand why we or anything else is here. I’m not saying that “Somebody had to have put us here” just because we don’t understand but I must admit that this issue prevents me from declaring that I am 100% atheist. At any rate I hope that more secular attitudes take hold around the world.

  • Erik

    I completely agree i just wish people would leave me alone.

  • Richard Wade

    That was a very honest statement. No pretentions, no canned wisdom from somebody else, and no chip on your shoulder. Just an intimate sharing of where you’re at right now. Thank you for that refreshing honesty. Just keep being honest; don’t worry about truth.

  • http://atheista.net benj

    Friendly Atheist, this was a great rebuttal. I just realized that your site does what I intended my site to do (at least in the Filipino milieu). Unfortunately, this 21 year old still can’t hold his temper when dealing with the fundies. Kudos to you and thank you even amplifying the voice of Atheism and Secularism to the rest of the world.

    I will be linking to you. I hope you don’t mind.