Why I’m Not An Angry Atheist

Recent comments:

…you’re entirely too nice and not forthright enough in your attacks on religious belief. You also seem to cozy up with the delusional too much and aren’t willing to engage them or challenge their inane ideas. Sarcastic comments like the ones you often provide don’t force the religious to examine their faith.

Cut the not-holier than thou stuff, Hemant.

I can’t believe I have to defend myself for not acting like a douchebag.

Not every discussion with religious people needs to be about how ignorant and wrong they are.

I certainly don’t believe in God and I do think those who believe in God are wrong in their thinking, but the best way to convince the majority of people that living without religion is even possible is to show them that atheists are kind, happy, and approachable– we’re not the bogeymen we’ve been made out to be for so long. If that happens, the logical reasoning behind atheism will follow.

Unfortunately, this “friendly atheist” image is not the one being presented. How often do you see an atheist on TV with a smile on his face?

Too many atheists wrongly believe that rational thinking is common sense. It’s not. It needs to be taught. And no one will listen and understand unless the teaching is coming from the mouth of someone whose trust has been earned.

Of course I’m against extreme religiosity, because it has caused so much harm in this world. I believe we’d be better off in a world where supernatural thinking didn’t play a role at all and I commend brilliant atheists like Richard Dawkins for bringing the intellectual challenges against faith to a broader audience than ever before.

But if your religious beliefs (illogical as they may be) are doing something positive for our community and our world, and in the process, you’re not trying to stop scientific progress, impede promising research, hurt my gay friends, control another woman’s body, force your beliefs upon anyone else, ask the government to give you special privileges, or make me fear coming out as an atheist in public, why should I be attacking you?

If you’re religious and you’re not doing any of that, I’ll be honest: I don’t really care what you believe. I’m glad you’re helping make the world I live in a better place for everyone. If the subject of faith comes up in conversation, I will hold my ground and challenge your beliefs. I’m confident that atheists will always have an upper hand when it comes to these discussions.

There are so many religious figures that all of us– Christian, atheist, anything– need to universally condemn. We can’t lose sight of what the real problem is. It’s not always “religion” itself. It’s the people that use religion as a tool to separate one group of people from another. Atheists know that we are all brothers, sisters, distant cousins; we’re all truly interconnected through evolution. Let’s bring down those people that use religion to ruin the lives of those who think differently, not the people that agree with us on the issues that really matter. Is our ultimate approval of others only stemming from their non-belief in God? Shouldn’t we be somewhat happy that they don’t believe the literal words of their holy books? Why not at least acknowledge that interpretation of the books might be a step forward?

For the “faithheads” who feel the same way I do, let’s start working together on the myriad of problems that religious and non-religious people agree need fixing.

When faced with those issues, there are more important things to worry about than why the good, intelligent religious people in our midst hold their beliefs.

And I’m sure there are many atheists that are reading that last sentence, ready to lash out at me because I used the words “intelligent” and “religious” together.

Being angry and antagonistic isn’t helping our cause. It never has. There are times and places when we need to be assertive, like when our rights are being violated. Usually, this is not the case.

Let’s give friendly atheism a chance here.

[Update: I removed one comment from the beginning of this post because I had misinterpreted what the author was saying. More info can be found in the comments.]


[tags]atheist, atheism, God, Richard Dawkins, Christian[/tags]

  • Daniel Lucas

    Hello, my good friends.
    We all know that this kind of conversation will never lead us for any point.
    For me, to believe or not believe will always be a hard choice to make. I don´t know about you guys, but I live in a eternal inner contradiction: sometimes I see myself just as a simple form of life, nothing more than an ameba or a vulture or a little red fish, lost in a huge ocean. Other times, I think that I am a part of a supernatural plan, that has been orchestrated by the Gods.
    Everything seems so weird for me.
    I feel that I am not just an amount of cells, but one part of me refuses to believe that I am better than the chicken served in my lunch.
    That same part of me is always trying to get answers for the injustices that are seen in everyday life. Why do the Creator, with all His Love and Benevolence, allow the existence of hunger, and misery, and muders, and illness, if He is suppose to have the power to take everything in His Own control? And if He is unsatisfied with the world, why doesn’t He appear to everyone and say, for once: “I am your Creator, and I am very sad with you guys, so it is time to you love each other, because I am exist and if you want to live forever, you got to follow this and that way of life”?
    Why everything got to be so complicated, so obscure, so hidden?
    I got to tell you something, guys: I really don´t know if I am a believer or no. But, one way or another, with the form that I have been educated, I even got the blame, the fear, of asking something like this, Deep in my heart, I feel I had the sin by questioning the existence of God.

  • Derek

    Daniel, you make some good points. I believe in a loving god and I still often question why he allows such suffering to exist in this life. one of my thoughts is that god has given us as people tremendous power to either hurt or help each other, Sadly we have so often CHOSEN to hurt instead of help, so we cant blame god for that. I believe that we as people can change so much that is wrong in this life and ease or eliminate the suffering of many people which I believe is a noble calling. keep asking tough questions, you are not commiting sin by doing so.

  • MTran

    For me, to believe or not believe will always be a hard choice to make.

    You are not alone in that at all. From what I’ve seen of people, many, if not most, feel that way either sometimes or always. For me, the choice is an easy one, but that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize the tension that arises in people as they struggle to make their own choices about matters that are important to them.

    [S]ometimes I see myself just as a simple form of life, nothing more than an ameba or a vulture or a little red fish, lost in a huge ocean. Other times, I think that I am a part of a supernatural plan, that has been orchestrated by the Gods.

    I don’t think those two views are neccesarily incompatible. Perhaps they are only two points along a continuum or different lanes along the same road.

    If you replace the words “supernatural plan” and “god” with “an unfolding of nature beyond comprehension” then you’ll come pretty close to how I often view things. But I seldom feel “lost” in a huge ocean, though, perhaps, I should!

    Although the ocean is a very large place, that littly red fish might not be lost at all and is exactly where it’s supposed to be. Maybe instead of a fish in the ocean, you could try to compare yourself to a single, but inevitable & necessary, note in an endless symphony.

    I think most people have the ability to experience the ineffable, though not everyone recognizes it and fewer still talk much about it. But I think that may be what you are experiencing.

  • Darryl

    Mike C.,

    Karen’s definition of faith is correct. You’re equivocating.

    Love,

    Darryl

  • Darryl

    Mike C.,

    Here’s what you said:

    I’ve found it so fascinating this past year to discover how many atheists think that the Fundamentalists are essentially correct in their interpretation of the Bible and subsequent practice of Christianity. It’s strange to me that they’d be willing to let the Fundies frame the debate in this way. And it’s also strange to me how unsupportive most atheists are of more “liberal” (I would say more historically and culturally contextual and therefore more accurate) interpretations of the Bible. Here’s what’s so weird about it: most atheists will say that they value intelligence and education – and yet when it comes to biblical interpretation they trust the people who are the least educated and most ignorant about history and culture and literary context. Why would you take their word for it? Why not trust the more progressive Christians who tend to interpret the bible through a much more educated lens?

    I don’t view scripture as a word-for-word dictation of God’s unchanging will for all time. The Bible, IMHO, is primarily a story, a narrative of God’s constantly evolving interactions with humanity.

    Concerning the fidelity of the “practice of Christianity,” no sect has a lock on that. It is wishful thinking that some present form of an older religion (like Christianity or Islam) most accurately conforms to that religion as it was at the time of its origins. A cursory overview of the history of religions will be sufficient to cast doubt upon this notion. Religions are constantly changing. They always have and they always will. To an atheist, to argue that a particular branch of some faith is more authoritative, or deserving of more respect, or is in any sense superior, based upon fidelity to the original, is beside the point. There is no authentic Christianity, there is only Christianity as it is practiced: it is what it is. Atheists could care less about a competition for who’s the truest of the true.

    I’ve read some very sound and well researched Biblical interpretation, and from this I think I have come as close to a ‘proper’ interpretation of the Scriptures as is possible. I am an atheist, as you know, and I am also one with an extensive background in Biblical and theological studies. I know what the Bible teaches, and I also know that liberal interpretations of it are NOT the interpretations that the first Christians would have had. I know what the first Christians believed and I reject it. You, unfortunately, are in the position (as a believer) where you have to interpret the Bible so as to retain your liberal values. I respect and share your liberal values; but, please, do not distort the meaning of the Bible to fit your views. This only confuses the matter.

    “I don’t view scripture.” “View” is the operative word here. Treating the Bible as one huge metaphor is entirely your choice, but let’s not overlook the fact that you’re making a choice. Once you treat it as an evolving document, you never know where that might lead. The Bible can mean anything any of us want it to mean, or it can mean nothing. With this metaphorical view we can make any book a holy book–why the Bible? Why not the Koran? Why not the Philokalia or the Philosophical Investigations?
    The fundies have many errors of interpretation, but don’t fault them for taking the Bible as it was intended. If you don’t believe parts of it, then be straightforward and say so, but don’t try to convince us that it is something other than what it is. Your “more educated lens” is a filter that suits you; one that filters out those objectionable portions that don’t fit your beliefs. So, what is leading, your Bible or your beliefs? Why not be economical and get rid of the Bible, or better yet, pick and choose from all the best parts of the best holy books. Isn’t the Bible a pretext for your faith?

  • MTran

    The fundies have many errors of interpretation, but don’t fault them for taking the Bible as it was intended.

    Okay, I’m an atheist from way back but this sentence is very problematic. First, what do you mean by “intended”? Because the various contributors and redactors of the many books of the bible often had violently conflicting “intentions” in their production of the text. The pentateuch and history sections of the Old Testament show this sort of internal rivalry rather strongly.

    Some may have been “literalists” but there’s good evidence that many portions of the text (particularly the NewTestament) were intended — by their initial drafters — to be readable at more than one level, with the superficial literal one being meant only for “beginners” and the metaphoric or “hidden” meanings to be understood by those who were more fully versed in the underlying purposes.

    That most of the “metaphoric” or mystery tales were eventually rooted out by pure politics (purges, beheadings, general slaughter of rivals etc.) does not mean that the “literalists” were right in their interpretation, only that they had the will and ability to literally destroy most of their rivals or, at best, marginalize them and wipe them from most histories.

  • Darryl

    MTran,

    I agree with most of what you said about the Bible, and I don’t think it nullifies the point I was making that you quoted. Let’s be specific. I’m not talking about books like Revelation or the O.T. Prophets. Most fundies wouldn’t know how to begin to interpret these books, and there isn’t just a single interpretation. These are not the kind of books of the Bible that my comment had in mind–they don’t pose the problem for liberal or moderate Christians. But, take the letters of the Apostle Paul for example. You will find in them very little that requires non-literal interpretation. These are letters intended for regular folk, concerned with practical as well as theological issues. Paul is plain-speaking and doesn’t mince words. For instance, his teaching concerning certain kinds of conduct is not compatible with my views or that of most liberals. Just read his letters for yourself. Read what he says about fornication (I Corinthians 5:1; 6:13, 18; Ephesians 5:3) and homosexuality (Romans 1:26-27, I Corinthians 6:9-10). I will admit that the fundies have their interpretations right about what Paul says will be the fate of unrepentant fornicators and homosexuals–I just don’t believe it. Interpreting the Bible in such a way that you can get around such nasty passages only keeps this book from being regarded as what it is: an historical document, not a guide-book to living.

  • MTran

    Interpreting the Bible in such a way that you can get around such nasty passages only keeps this book from being regarded as what it is: an historical document, not a guide-book to living.

    We may be largely in agreement, it seems. And I don’t want to speak on behalf of believers, since I’m not one myself, but my experience has been that many Christians I have known see the Bible as one of many attempts by humans to capture the underlying purpose of a supposed deity, and they are quite happy reinterpreting, or simply ignoring, text that is contrary to their vision of that deity.

    Now many may say that those people aren’t “real” Christians, but I tend to accept people’s religious self-identification. If you tell them that they are “misinterpreting” their own religion, you’re not going to get anywhere because you are speaking right past them.

    So, to my way of thinking, it isn’t any verse in the Bible that persuades me that god does or does not exist. It is the fact that there is clearly no evidence that any supernatural entity or force exists. So I don’t usually waste time debating scripture with those who use a metaphoric interpretation. Literalists, though, that’s another story.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Darryl, I hate to say it, but again I feel like you’re arguing against a strawman version of myself. I don’t fault you for that, perhaps I wasn’t clear enough about how I interpret scripture, but nonetheless, I don’t really match either side of the dichotomy you paint between “fundamentalist literalists” and “liberals who treat it all as metaphor”.

    Again, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the emerging church movement, but it represents a kind of “third way” between these two caricatures – and it’s based on some very sound scholarship. I’d point you to NT Wright (on this particular topic try his book “The Last Word”) for an example of excellent historically & literarily contextual readings of the text. It’s that contextual reading that I think sometimes both the fundamentalist and liberal camps miss.

    I agree that we can’t ever have a perfect understanding of the original intent of the text – in large part because of exactly what MTran described: the text itself is multi-layered and represents more of a dialogue about the nature and actions of God, not just a single uniformed perspective (for more on that, see “How (Not) to Speak of God” by Peter Rollins).

    However, even with that being the case, we can do a better job of understanding the bible for what it is – i.e. a multi-layered, multi-vocal, dynamic text that expresses an evolving understanding of and relationship to the divine. This is more than just a mere “literal” reading that takes the text simply at face value, and assumes that all of it should be read in exactly the same way (i.e. as direct divine dictation). But on the other hand, it is vastly different than a purely “liberal” reading that just tries to make the text fit whatever our Modern sensibilities want it to say or throws out the parts it doesn’t like. It’s all just way more complicated than that.

    Anyhow, you’re right that there is no one sect that has a lock on the perfect interpretation of scripture, but then you confuse me by saying that you think that you’ve got it. I know you’ve studied theology and must certainly have a good knowledge of the text, but what makes you so sure that you’ve succeeded where everyone else has failed? What gives you the authority to declare that the fundies have it right and the rest of us don’t?

  • MTran

    Paul is plain-speaking and doesn’t mince words. For instance, his teaching concerning certain kinds of conduct is not compatible with my views or that of most liberals. Just read his letters for yourself.

    Yes, Paul may be plain speaking, but he isn’t god or Christ. I’ve heard quite a few commentators refer to certain styles of Christianity as being more “Paulist” than Christian. To me, that seems to be true of the Roman Catholic church but not very true for some of the other protestant denominations whose services I’ve attended.

    Have you ever read the Jefferson Bible? TJ did a rather convincing edit on the New Testament, and plenty of Christians take a similar, if unofficial, approach. If Paul says something that seems ethically questionable, he can be placed in his historic context and safely edited around.

    Darryl, I have defended Dawkins rather strongly on various discussion boards but I haven’t said much about Harris because 1) I’ve only read snippets of his books and 2) his insistence that literalists are the “true” believers and that non-literalists “wish” they could be as strongly “Christian” as the literalists is utter BS. It makes me wonder if he has ever met a non-literalist believer.

    So I’m inclined to say that there is not a lot of support for the notion that only a literal belief in scripture is true belief or that Christians who reformulate the texts so that they read in a morally coherent manner are not true believers.

  • Darryl

    Mike,

    I did not assume that you were a caricature. I was generalizing—I thought that was clear, but I guess it wasn’t—I just didn’t want to get down into the weeds on this complex subject.

    There is never “a perfect understanding of the literal intent of the text” for any text, so this is not a point at issue. Just try to get a room full of Americans to agree about what the Constitution means.

    You say that your “third way” is “based on some very sound scholarship.” In my view, how the Bible is interpreted is more about intention than the quality of scholarship. Every denomination has its scholars and they all come to different conclusions about the meaning of scripture. Some of the best Biblical scholarship that I’ve come across has been from atheists. The atheist Bible scholar has this advantage: he or she has nothing to gain or lose. As MTran has said, most folks just choose the parts they like and avoid those they don’t. I have no problem with anyone that does that—I just expect them to say so and not try to tell me that they have some superior way of interpreting the Bible that gets at its true intent. Why is this important? If Christians are just picking and choosing, then the Bible is not authoritative for faith and practice, because parts of it can be ignored without injury to one’s faith. It challenges the vaunted position of this book.

    If the Bible is not a uniform document but a mish-mash of conflicting materials that must be side-stepped when it is convenient to do so, then another layer of the Church’s authority and witness to the faith has been underminded. The question ultimately becomes: “On what are you basing your faith?” This is where I at least have some sympathy for the fundies, just as I do for the Constitutional-originalists. If the meaning of the Bible is always changing, then of what can Christians ever be sure? What will keep the faith from morphing into some terrible apostasy, or from being taken over by heretics? Now, of course the Church will say that the Church itself and its traditions, etc., will stay the course, but just look at how churches have and are changing. This is a constant. So, the Bible has to be viewed differently as times goes on, and it is.

    In short, IMHO, there is no church today that understands and follows the doctrines of the Bible as they were understood and followed at the time of the founders of the religion. When any church makes that claim, they are in error. All churches pick and choose; so, if you’re going to pick and choose anyway, then why not include other books, and why not do what Jefferson did and eliminate the objectionable or useless passages from the Bible?

    Anyhow, you’re right that there is no one sect that has a lock on the perfect interpretation of scripture, but then you confuse me by saying that you think that you’ve got it. I know you’ve studied theology and must certainly have a good knowledge of the text, but what makes you so sure that you’ve succeeded where everyone else has failed? What gives you the authority to declare that the fundies have it right and the rest of us don’t?

    I have an understanding that satisfies me for those areas of the Bible that interest me. There is much in the Bible that I don’t know about, and frankly, I’ve spent too much time on this book already. I have no interest in the architecture of the Temple or who begat whom and how. Once I threw off my faith, studying the Bible dropped down to the bottom of my list of things to do.

    Contrary to your statement, everyone else has not failed in understanding certain portions of the Bible. This understanding is not the matter of degrees—good, better, best, perfect. Sure, we’re all waiting breathlessly for that one archeologist to make that one find that will open up an extra layer of meaning in that verse of scripture upon which millions of words have been spent. But, it doesn’t take that degree of knowledge to understand the passages that I mentioned to MTran. I have claimed no authority to declare who’s right and who’s wrong on anything. But, I do have an opinion on the matter. I’ve come to an understanding of certain parts of the Bible having to do with the issues that are most problematic for liberal or moderate Christians and most interesting to the fundies—the moral matters. I say again, I know what the Bible teaches on these matters and I reject it. The Bible is not a guide-book for living for me because I do not make it that. It is neither compelling nor relevant.

  • Darryl

    MTran,

    So I’m inclined to say that there is not a lot of support for the notion that only a literal belief in scripture is true belief or that Christians who reformulate the texts so that they read in a morally coherent manner are not true believers.

    I agree with you on this. Belief cannot be accounted for, and ‘true’ belief says nothing about its contents.

  • MTran

    Darryl,

    I certainly agree with you that there is no one “right” way of “correctly” reading the Bible or that, if Christians were just diligent enough, they could learn what it was really all about and thus do it right.

    But since there is a long tradition (from before the thing was committed to writing) of reworking or working around troublesome portions of the Bible, then you won’t get very far in arguing against someone’s interpretation of a text.

    You especially won’t get very far if you insist that a believer doesn’t really understand the meaning or application of any particular verse of the Bible. With literalists, you can show pretty definitively where they and the text are clearly wrong. Not so much with non-literalists.

    There is an anecdote I once read by a theologian (who I seem to remember being a Jewish theologian but I could be mistaken about that). His response to people who told him “I don’t believe in God,” was “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in, because I probably don’t believe in him either.”

    Of course, he was completely missing the point of not believing in any god and his retort may have seemed clever to him but nonsensical to an atheist. Still, it demonstrates a mind-set that is extremely common. And if your primary argument about the invalidity of belief is that believers should understand the Bible the way you do and with that new, proper, understanding reject it, you just won’t get anywhere.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    If the meaning of the Bible is always changing, then of what can Christians ever be sure? What will keep the faith from morphing into some terrible apostasy, or from being taken over by heretics?

    Yeah, I’d probably just ask why these are bad things to begin with. In my view, the doctrines and practice of the church (along with its understanding of the Bible) has been changing and morphing all along, and this is a good thing! A static, unchanging faith, IMHO, is a dead faith, and not one that is worthy of a living God who continues to be engaged with a changing world.

    Maybe conservative Christians just need to get over their desire for “being sure”, and their fear of heresy. Maybe the point isn’t really about having the right belief in the first place – maybe it’s okay to say “we don’t really know” and for all of our theological statements to be provisional. (Actually, given human limitations and God’s transcendence, I don’t see how they could be any other way – again, for more on that, see the book I recommended, “How (Not) to Speak of God”.)

  • Darryl

    Mtran,

    And if your primary argument about the invalidity of belief is that believers should understand the Bible the way you do and with that new, proper, understanding reject it, you just won’t get anywhere.

    I think I have been clear about what my argument is. Believers will do as they please. I think your view of the Bible is problematic. Your line of reasoning leads to epistemological uncertainty. By that way of thinking one cannot interpret the intended meaning of any text with assurance. The Bible becomes off limits as to its meaning. Analogously, I’ve heard Constitutional scholars give good readings of the original intent of the document that both liberal and conservative judges can agree with. Where they differ is about the purpose of the document: does it evolve or not? I can no doubt sit down with Mike and we can come to agreement upon what a given verse means, but we will still disagree about the nature and purpose of the document.

    Concerning the letters of Paul, what we know to be his intention in writing the letters–what he asserts–and our assumption that he was not toying with the recipients but wanting to be understood, can only lead us to conclude that it is possible to understand their meaning. I mentioned specific passages so that we wouldn’t be dealing in generalizations about this subject and its implications.

  • Darryl

    Mike,

    Maybe the point isn’t really about having the right belief in the first place – maybe it’s okay to say “we don’t really know” and for all of our theological statements to be provisional. (Actually, given human limitations and God’s transcendence, I don’t see how they could be any other way . . .

    Wow. Suddenly you’re sounding like an agnostic. If you “don’t really know,” then what does that mean for your theism? And how do you have a faith with any certainties at all if all your theology is provisional? If God is transcendent, as you say, then this whole matter of understanding God is pointless. This sounds to me like I was asking the right question when I wondered if the Bible was but a pretext for your beliefs. It might be that any holy book would do the job for you, seeing that you want to be a religious person.

  • MTran

    I think your view of the Bible is problematic.

    Perhaps I have not been clear. This is not my view at all.

    This is the view that I have heard espoused by numerous educated believers in both casual and academic situations. It is also a view that I heard in many of the churches and church supported bible study courses I took in grade school and highschool. It is consistent with undergraduate religion and mythology courses I took. But it is not mine.

    You seem to be frustrated with the observations I have tried to describe to you. You will continue to experience such frustrations if you think that believers with “problematic” interpretations will listen to a single word you have to say if you insist that they accept your view as being relevant to their own.

    On the occassions when I have spoken with believers who are truly curious about why I am an atheist, and there is sufficient time to do so, I can go into ancient parallel mythic literature, problematic translations from several dead languages, the archaeological record, and dozens of other things to show why I do not specifically believe in a Biblical god, why I do not accept the historicity of most Biblical passages, and why I do not believe in any god or supernatural entity or force.

    Thereafter I will explain the scientific bases that support my naturalistic view of the universe, life, spirituality, and my place in it.

    But you seldom get the luxury of an interested, intelligent, educated, unprejudiced audience willing to put real time and thought into such discussions.

    Attacking someone’s interpretations of the Bible is fine if you want to try to convince them that they should switch to another, “truer” denomination. It does nothing to convince them that the “right” answer is “no god.”

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Wow. Suddenly you’re sounding like an agnostic. If you “don’t really know,” then what does that mean for your theism? And how do you have a faith with any certainties at all if all your theology is provisional?

    Uh yeah, I am an a-gnostic – i.e. without knowledge – not just about God, about anything. I’m a postmodern, which means that I don’t think “knowledge” or “certainty” is possible for human beings on pretty much any subject – we can have probability and working theories, but absolute certainty and unshakable knowledge are just pipe-dreams – relics of the flawed Modern project.

    (BTW, the AgnosticAtheist, who posts here occasionally, has a great explanation of the degrees of theism, agnosticism, and atheism here. I’m #2 on his taxonomy.)

    So I am an agnostic theist – I don’t know for sure God exists or what s/he is like, but at this point I think it is more likely than not – and frankly, I’m just as agnostic about the other options too. (I don’t think anyone has the right to say any more than that, no matter what their worldview is.) But I have committed myself to pursuing the possibility of God, and living my life according to it, because from what I’ve experienced so far it seems to me to be the best possible way to live.

    If God is transcendent, as you say, then this whole matter of understanding God is pointless.

    Yes and no. I’m not sure that “understanding God” was the point in the first place. Experiencing, celebrating, responding, following – these seem like better descriptions of the life of faith, IMHO.

    Let me put it this way. My journey into a postmodern/emerging Christianity has been one of rejecting faith as a set of absolute doctrines, and rediscovering faith as a way of life.

  • MTran

    Mike C.,

    Interesting link you provided.

    The Agnostic Atheist’s site lists varieties of belief that leaves out some of the possibilities I’ve seen on other such lists, though, and I don’t agree with the tag “Fundamentalism” to denote those who are simply “theists.” Fundamentalism has a whole truckload of connotations to its standard definition that I think it’s a mistake to use that word at all.

    What I’ve seen in the past goes something like: Theist, Agnostic Theist, Unaligned Agnostic, Agnostic Atheist, Atheist. Other people have argued that agnosticism is a variety of atheism because it does not, in itself, include a belief in gods.

    I end up at the Atheist end of the spectrumo according to most definitions of God. But my priest friends have told me they believe God will set aside a special place for me in heaven. I could not have asked for a higher compliment.

  • Richard Wade

    But my priest friends have told me they believe God will set aside a special place for me in heaven.

    I think God is very fond of atheists for a very specific reason. They’re not constantly pestering him with, “Thank you for this, forgive me for that, Please do this, please don’t do that, should I do this, should I do that, I dunno, you tell me, are you really there, sorry for asking, what’s it all about, no, don’t tell me, save me, kill them, kill me, save them, take me, not her, take him, not me, gimmie this gimmie that, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah yaketa yaketa yaketa yaketa yaketa yaketa yaketa yaketa yaketa yaketa it’s enough to make even an all benevolent supreme entity go completely nuts and yell SHUT THE HELL UP!!! But he can’t do that, he’s too nice. I mean multiply that stuff six and a half billion times day and night no wonder he’s kind of scarce. He’s probably 13.7 billion light years away trying to get away from all the incessant chatter. Astronomers have found that the universe is accelerating in its expansion. That’s ’cause he’s still trying to get even further away. Even if prayers only travel at the speed of light they’re still gonna catch up with him, and the poor guy lasts forever.

    Did you ever have to work outside on a dirty, difficult job and while you’re up to your elbows in muck some little kid comes up and says, “Whatcha doin’?” Almost always it’s a four-year-old boy and for some reason his name is usually Max. No matter where you go he follows you around asking you stupid questions and telling you inane stories without a single pause. You try to be nice and listen for a while, but then you realize that was a mistake but you can’t be rude and tell him to shut the hell up ’cause his mother lives next door and she’ll be pissed if Max runs home crying about the mean man. So you bite your tongue and hope to God that the little pest will finally go away. But hoping to God has already driven him out of earshot long ago, so you’re on your own.

  • Darryl

    Mtran,

    Attacking someone’s interpretations of the Bible is fine if you want to try to convince them that they should switch to another, “truer” denomination. It does nothing to convince them that the “right” answer is “no god.”

    I’m not attacking anyone’s interpretations, and I’m not trying to convince anyone to switch to a truer denomination. And you are right, my questions about the Bible are not likely to lead anyone to reject the idea of God. I have made this point myself a number of times in my previous posts. Nevertheless, I am interested in how the Bible is understood, or should I say, how it is manipulated.

  • Darryl

    Mike,

    You have an interesting view of postmodernism. I would think that you would have no need to argue about faith versus reason or science ever again. You can easily skirt the whole issue. Why do you defend faith and reason?

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    You have an interesting view of postmodernism. I would think that you would have no need to argue about faith versus reason or science ever again. You can easily skirt the whole issue. Why do you defend faith and reason?

    Indeed Darryl, I don’t see much reason to argue about faith vs. reason or faith vs. science. I’ve never been interested in arguing them since I don’t really see much contradiction between them.

    But I don’t reject them either. Of course I’ve given an oversimplification of postmodernism, but on the whole it’s not a rejection of things like faith or reason, just an acknowledgment of their limitations.

  • Darryl

    I was watching the first episode of Robert McNeil’s “America At A Crossroads” last night and it made me wonder: what will be the effect upon religion in America (and in the world) as the West challenges Islamic radicalism? I can see that Christian fundamentalism will react to the challenge (it is already), but will religious feeling on the whole increase here, and, perhaps later, will the larger lesson we take from this “global struggle” lead to a reform of religions that moves them in a direction similar to Mike’s emerging faith?

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    I don’t agree with the tag “Fundamentalism” to denote those who are simply “theists.” Fundamentalism has a whole truckload of connotations to its standard definition that I think it’s a mistake to use that word at all.

    I like Peter Rollins definition of fundamentalism (from “How (Not) to Speak of God”):

    Very briefly, fundamentalism can be understood as a particular way of believing one’s beliefs rather than referring to the actual content of one’s beliefs. It can be described as holding a belief system in such a way that it mutually excludes all other systems, rejecting other views in direct proportion to how much they differ from one’s own. In contrast, the a/theistic approach can be seen as a form of disbelieving what one believes, or rather, believing in God while remaining dubious concerning what one believes about God (a distinction that fundamentalism is unable to maintain.)

    BTW, by “a/theism” Rollins is denoting an atheistic approach to theism, not necessarily to the kind of atheism that some of you here espouse.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    will the larger lesson we take from this “global struggle” lead to a reform of religions that moves them in a direction similar to Mike’s emerging faith?

    I’m already seeing some indications of an “emerging Islam”.

  • Siamang

    Mike C,

    I remember reading someone who wrote that he holds religious beliefs, but the primary aspect of that belief was that the beliefs were personal and provisional.

    He seemed very much in line with that a/theism point of view… he recognized that his beliefs were correct and true for him, but did not neccessarily point to an absolute truth from all possible perspectives.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Yeah, that might be another way to put it – though I’m not sure I’d put it quite that way. Provisional, yes, but “personal” smacks too much of Modern Individualism to me. I’m more of a communitarian when it comes to epistemology. We don’t just have personal truth, we have social truth.

  • MTran

    Mike C.,

    About this part:

    BTW, by “a/theism” Rollins is denoting an atheistic approach to theism, not necessarily to the kind of atheism that some of you here espouse.

    Could you explain a bit more about the difference(s) between Rollins’ definition of atheism and some other popular definition?

    Darryl,

    You’ve got a pretty big job ahead of you If you hope to find out how others interpret / understand / or rationalize the Bible! Though I suppose the same thing could be said about any other human activity.

    On another blog, I recently read comments by a young woman who chastized those who claimed that there were contradictions in the bible. According to her, the Bible was free from contradictions and was clear in it’s meaning throughout. Guess that’s why there have been so many schisms throughout history.

    So when you say:

    Your line of reasoning leads to epistemological uncertainty.

    It’s rather beside the point for the great majority of people I have encountered. Most of the run-of-the-mill believers of any pursuasion don’t seem to care about epistemological anything, or even know what it is. And plenty of them, if you even mention such issues, will respond with hostility because, clearly, you are just a deceitful troublemaker.

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  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Could you explain a bit more about the difference(s) between Rollins’ definition of atheism and some other popular definition?

    I’ve posted an excerpt from Rollin’s book that describes what he means.

    Just to clarify. He’s not proposing a “better” definition. The standard definition still applies. He’s just suggesting another use of the term atheism specifically in relation to the way in which theists think about God.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C
    Your line of reasoning leads to epistemological uncertainty.

    It’s rather beside the point for the great majority of people I have encountered. Most of the run-of-the-mill believers of any pursuasion don’t seem to care about epistemological anything, or even know what it is. And plenty of them, if you even mention such issues, will respond with hostility because, clearly, you are just a deceitful troublemaker.

    And then there are those like me who will say “Woo-hoo for epistemological uncertainty!” :)

  • MTran

    And then there are those like me who will say “Woo-hoo for epistemological uncertainty!”

    Exactly. This was a common attitude within the churches I grew up in. And as a consequence, I had very little (essentially no) animosity toward believers in general until the nut-cakes started flying planes into skyscrapers.

    Actually, it wasn’t the suicide jet crashes themselves that turned my attention to serious problems with American religious literalists. It was the literalists themselves, seeking a holy war and invading the public school rooms.

  • Richard Wade

    …until the nut-cakes started flying planes into skyscrapers.

    9-11 seems to have been a turning point in many of our inner lives, mine certainly so. Sam Harris said he started writing “The End of Faith” on that day. That would make a very interesting and perhaps therapeutic thread for Hemant to start here; to discuss how we responded and how our beliefs and views have changed as a result of that terrible day. I would only want to discuss such things with the mutual input of of others.

  • MTran

    Richard Wade,

    I would certainly be interested in seeing the thoughts of others, and sharing my own, in a thread related to the lasting effects of 9-11.

    But I don’t normally like to commit myself to on-line exchanges because I never know when my health will make it impossible to respond. People complain often enough about my opinions, which is to be expected, but I don’t like to give the impression that I am ignoring questions, or worse yet, am “chickening out” on some argument.

    As I’ve told others, I don’t want to be mistaken for a dilatory jerk when I’m really just a plain old debilitated jerk. ;-)

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  • Richard Wade

    MTran,
    You and I are always the night owls. In addition to insomnia, I suspect we’re both further west than most of the others who post here.
    If Hemant started a discussion on that topic I think there would be so many people eager to speak that if you couldn’t contribute, while I’d certainly miss your input, the talk would roar on its way until you could join in. This thread is too long and old. A new one would be better. Hey Hemant, what do you think?

    MTran, only a true jerk would mistake you for any kind of jerk.

  • Richard Wade

    Holy smoke. Ask and it shall be given, even before you ask. Thanks, Hemant!

  • Andygal

    I think God is very fond of atheists for a very specific reason. They’re not constantly pestering him with, “Thank you for this, forgive me for that, Please do this, please don’t do that, should I do this, should I do that, I dunno, you tell me, are you really there, sorry for asking, what’s it all about, no, don’t tell me, save me, kill them, kill me, save them, take me, not her, take him, not me, gimmie this gimmie that, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah yaketa yaketa yaketa yaketa yaketa yaketa yaketa yaketa yaketa yaketa it’s enough to make even an all benevolent supreme entity go completely nuts and yell SHUT THE HELL UP!!! But he can’t do that, he’s too nice. I mean multiply that stuff six and a half billion times day and night no wonder he’s kind of scarce. He’s probably 13.7 billion light years away trying to get away from all the incessant chatter. Astronomers have found that the universe is accelerating in its expansion. That’s ’cause he’s still trying to get even further away. Even if prayers only travel at the speed of light they’re still gonna catch up with him, and the poor guy lasts forever.

    Did you ever have to work outside on a dirty, difficult job and while you’re up to your elbows in muck some little kid comes up and says, “Whatcha doin’?” Almost always it’s a four-year-old boy and for some reason his name is usually Max. No matter where you go he follows you around asking you stupid questions and telling you inane stories without a single pause. You try to be nice and listen for a while, but then you realize that was a mistake but you can’t be rude and tell him to shut the hell up ’cause his mother lives next door and she’ll be pissed if Max runs home crying about the mean man. So you bite your tongue and hope to God that the little pest will finally go away. But hoping to God has already driven him out of earshot long ago, so you’re on your own.

    Thank you for making me smile, Richard.

    I am strongly atheistic when it comes to all personal gods, I suppose I am an agnostic atheist when it comes to an indifferent, impersonal “Prime Mover” god which doesn’t interact with people and doesn’t really care all that much, maybe the univese was an egg he left in the microwave for too long and it exploded and someday he’ll come along and scrub the universe off the inside of the microwave.

  • Richard Wade

    Andygal,
    Your exploding egg cosmology is very funny, and the cosmic microwave background radiation could confirm it. Thank you for making me smile in return. I think a “sense of humor” is a real sense that we use to perceive the universe’s absurdity all around us. A very important sense for our survival.

  • Derek Ellis

    Hey guys and gals. You people seem to have alot to say about me and my faith so Heres somthing I wrote about you

    MY VIEVS ON NON CHRISTIANS.

    I believe in the God of the bible alone, though I dont always obey him I believe in him. I have to accept the fact that not everyone shares my faith, theese are my general beliefs about non christians.
    1.I believe that lack of belief in christ can lead to sin but it doesnt make someone into an evil person, There are many non christians (atheists included) who do more good to people than me.
    2. I believe that apart from christ there is no salvation yet I dont think it is my place to say who will be saved (live eternally) I believe that God will call who God will call and I cannot know in advance whom that will be. 3. I believe non christians fail to percieve some or all spiritual realities yet this does not mean they are foolish people with nothing to add to the world.
    4. I believe God loves non christans as he loves me and he wants all people to come to faith in him (and obedience) yet I dont believe God hates non christians (with possible exeptions for truly vile, evil, unrepentant people).
    Often the words and behavior of everyone (christians included) upsets me.
    I am upset by atheists who disregaurd my intelligence, muslims who kill innocant people and fanatical christians who do more harm than good.

    I hope you see that we christians are not all about condemning you to hell and that we do accually think about our views from time to time.

  • danasue

    Hi, Hement! Just wanted to let you know I saw you on James Robison’s show and I really appreciate you being there. It’s nice to see someone who isn’t beligerant about what he believes and will listen to opposing viewpoints without getting angry. You know, I don’t agree with my husband on everything, but we still coexist quite well, and I really don’t see any reason why the same can’t be true of you and I.
    Something I would like everyone to understand, though; when a person has a life-changing experience, no matter the origin, they are compelled to share it with those they care about. This is the driving force behind many (sadly, not all) Christians who share their views with others. It’s like finding a great sale at the store – you call your friends and tell them! The news we share is so much more than that, obviously, and because we have truly experienced freedom from the things that have been plagues in our lives, it is all the more compelling to us.
    I am sure that you feel equally compelled to share your views with Christians. It is refreshing to know that we can just discuss our differing views without animocity.
    Thanks again for your apperance on the show. I pray that God will bless your life!
    ds

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  • jEdijAy

    It’s very easy to be atheistic when you’re sure who you are and you see the world the way it is naturally, perceived by our natural senses.our 21st century intelect,knowledge of the physical world and observation of our species up to now,it seems to appear almost provable that God doesn’t exist. But now science is being made to change it’s mind about creation of the universe,evolution,Darwin (What a guy!). Soon there will definitive answers across the board on the whole arguement.
    People who are athiests and people who believe in God have a few things in common,they both have their belief systems. neither can proove God does or doesn’t exist, for the moment. And we’re all going to die some day, but the big big difference between being athiest and believing in God is, the athiest will take his or her last breath and die without any hope…..
    I’ll bet many bold and devout atheists become pleading repenting believers in their last moments of life on Earth.Thank God!

  • jEdijAy

    It’s very easy to be atheistic when you’re sure who you are and you see the world the way it is naturally, perceived by our natural senses.our 21st century intelect,knowledge of the physical world and observation of our species up to now,it seems to appear almost provable that God doesn’t exist. But now science is being made to change it’s mind about creation of the universe,evolution,Darwin (What a guy!). Soon there will definitive answers across the board on the whole arguement.
    People who are athiests and people who believe in God have a few things in common,they both have their belief systems. neither can proove God does or doesn’t exist, for the moment. And we’re all going to die some day, but the big big difference between being athiest and believing in God is, the athiest will take his or her last breath and die without any hope…..
    I’ll bet many bold and devout atheists become pleading repenting believers in their last moments of life on Earth.Thank God!

  • bluefireiceeyes

    “So you’ve actually met a religious person who fits the above criteria? I have to say I don’t believe it. There may be some theists out there doing some good, but I’d say that the chances that they aren’t doing/thinking at least one of the above negative things is slim to none. And as has been argued time and time again, even the most moderate, intelligent theists, as harmless as they may seem, enable other hardline theists by lending their inane beliefs credibility. And you’re indirectly lending them credibility as well by “respecting” those with the softer god beliefs. You know damn well that moderate theists don’t stand up to their fanatical cousins, especially when it comes to the political sphere. Let me know how your ridiculous double standard for arguing with theists works out for you. These maniacs have already seized control of our country, I don’t think playing nice is the answer. ”

    Well, maybe you haven’t MET such a person, but there’s one right here, and I know PLENTY of others. The question is, are you so closed-minded that even if you met one of us, you’d refuse to acknowledge it? If you don’t want people stereotyping atheists and saying “all atheists are angry, mean people” based on the actions of some, don’t do the same things to us. Try and keep an open mind. Before I got on this website, I didn’t think there was such a thing as a friendly atheist, now I know better. I hope the same happens to you with regards to not labeling all religious people the same. And I don’t “lend credibility” to anyone. I fight fundies every chance I get, and I haven’t been treated too well by them as a result, but that doesn’t stop me. And there are plenty of others like me. Newsflash: fundies hate people like me even more than they hate you, b/c you they can dismiss as a “crazy nonbeliever” in their minds. Me, they can’t understand how I can believe in God and not stick to their interpretation, when in reality, it’s quite easy. So keep an open mind and don’t close your eyes when you see one of us, cause you will. The question is, can you accept it? I hope you can.

  • tonja johnson

    I am enjoying your book and and wanted to share my simple solution on the Pledge of Allegiance issue. I simply recite it as it was originally written. I just don’t say the two words “under god”. Don’t have to set it out, leave the room or draw attention to myself.

  • M

    The Unbrainwashed said,

    March 11, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    The only reason people don’t like the ‘bullhorn guys’ is due to their brutal honesty. Religious topics are either true or not and to partonize those that do not have the correct answer (e.g. the religious) is absurd. If I have a completely incorrect and illogical approach to a math problem, it does me no good for my teacher to try to reach a compromise with me. Rather, i expect that my teacher tells me straight up what I am doing incorrectly. Dawkins and Harris engage in this and the religious willingfully ignore them on the shallow grounds of their brash approach. It’s simply another cop-out for the religious. The means of which a message is spread should be of no importance when compared to the veracity of that message. The religious, in their delusion, simply do not want to hear their faith being portrayed as it is and thus prefer those that won’t fully challgene them.

    So in otherwords, only atheists can decide what’s true and what’s right?

  • jEDijAy

    Dear brainwashed,
    What a bunch of utter crap!
    like Sculley once said: The truth( is) out there, The truth is, you guys don’t really want to know the truth, be it theological or scientific….
    Physics , nano technology.astronomy,archeology, they’re all pointing to a creator.

    The reason why you don’t see it is because you’re so intellectually arrogant, the thought of there being an omnipotent , omnipresent, omnicient”Supernatural being”who created all things, who actually is in control and ultimately in control of your final destiny, pisses you off.
    It’s your self indulgence that feeds your ignorance and denile of what really IS the truth . And that’s pathetic and very dangerous………
    check out this website:www.leestrobel.com (ex-athiest)

  • http://no derek ellis

    Jedijay, I like you and agree with you in everything you say. However this website is becoming boring so im never coming on it again. M-tran, you are highly decieved and so is you messiah dawkins (or whatever his name is).

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  • bloo

    Hi Hermant,
    I am happy to see that you want to be peaceful with everyone and work together. I am not an atheist, however, I believe in tyring to come to a middle ground between an atheist and a person of regious faith. You are right about atheists being seen as angry and hateful individuals, but there are far too few who are kind and peacemakers.

    There are individuals from both camps who are extreme and think “you believe as I do or else!” This is never the way to approach a different culture, religion, or otherwise. However, I do notice you calling religious people uneducated, wrong, illogical, or lacking in critical thinking skills. This doesn’t speak well for peacemaking abilities. You have to realize that religious people also think you and other atheists are uneducated, wrong or “stupid” if you want to throw that out there. So, you see, it is an opinion, not a matter of education. In order for the two groups to co-exist, you have to be accepting of the other persons beliefs so that you can be accepted too or at least treated with respect.

    I have atheist friends that I love dearly. They respect my faith, as I respect their belief that there is no God. Isn’t that the way it should be? I know you don’t believe, but according to Christian faith, God gave man free will. This means you and I have the freedom to believe in Him or not. I believe that with all my heart.

    You are right, we need to address the real issues, but you have to also realize that those of religious faith will have a different view on how a situation needs to be addressed. To be a true peacemaker, you have to give a little to both sides and come to a middle ground. I am not going to have the same beliefs that you have. Not ever, but I think there is always room for compromise in a situation that needs to be addressed.

    Don’t ever assume that you can change people. I tried to change my spouse and it didn’t work, but I ended up respecting and loving my spouse for who they were. The same approach needs to be applied in a relationship with an atheist and a religious person.

    You have gay friends . . . great! I have family that is gay. You will find that those that are hateful to gay people do not follow Jesus’s teachings. He was not hateful to the whore that approached Him, but told her out of love to “go and sin no more”. This is the true Christian. We are not supposed to be haters, but to reach out in love to others and share our faith without being pushy and shoving it down someones throat. If someone chooses to close their ears to the message . . that is their God given choice. I don’t hate gay people, I dislike the act or sin as Christains would call it. I love my family, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with their practice of homosexuality and I don’t. This goes for abortion too. I feel life is precious and no matter what life brings, a baby has a right to life as well. That is an opinion just as it is your opinion that the government has no right to tell a woman what to do with her body. That is a whole other debate, that doesn’t need to be addressed here. My point is, if you want to work together, you have to be willing to give too. Don’t be so eager to take our faith and flush it. If you respect us, we will (at least some of us) respect you.

  • http://www.carm.org jonathon

    Im a born-again Christian. Too many times Christians give up their intellect when they become Christian, it’s a shame really. I must admit it perceives the faith as a ‘bunch of unintelligent kooks who don’t know how to reason and use rationality’.
    Most are afraid of anti-God websites, refuse to be friends with atheists (but will gladly hide behind their computer and tell someone they are “going to hell”..etc…
    I would rather chat with atheists most of the time. At least they haven’t given up their intellect. (On the contrary I’ve debated many atheists who are losing the debate and bring out the “Oh religion is an emotional crutch-It gets a little old that one, and the whole bible being a ‘fairy-tale’ etc, these people in my opinion have given up their own rational thinking, that is to only repeat what they’ve heard rather than do the digging themselves)

    I like listening to Podcasts that include Atheist vs Theist. I encourage you all to listen to them.

    Best advise I can give to people (especially my daughter) is “Don’t follow the crowd, don’t make assumptions based on the majority, and think logically, rational and respectful”

    Take care all… Hope to get an email off someone.

  • Lauren

    yay Jonathan! A man after my own heart! I am tired of athiests using “faith” as an excuse to say that I will believe in anything. (fairies, santa, spagetti monster) The reason I became a Christian is because I studied evolution and looked through history and compared that to the predictions in the bible and I had no choice but to convert. I based it on logical, rational thinking and I gave evolution a really good shot because I didn’t really want to be a “christian”. (being honest) So please don’t call me irrational, illogical or someone who bases christianity on faith alone. Belief got me to repent, experience keeps me at church with God.

  • Johnrap

    I have an idea that might solve the problem. Stop judging people. That’s what’s happening right? You have judged someone incorrect and you want to straighten them out. But, the thing is, we’re all incorrect.

    It is not only religious ideas from a hundred or a thousand years ago that seem laughable, it’s scientific ideas too. People believed a lot of crazy stuff in the past. People in the future will laugh at what we think now. So, atheists may feel like they have the “upper hand” on religion. But that’s only because the atheists are a seemingly cohesive minority and religious are a split majority.

    The majority of people do not believe that science has answered all of their questions yet. But the minority that thinks science can explain our world feel that they are on the same page with the other atheists. They likely are not. I don’t think all atheists are geniuses at math and physics and statistics. Everyone just sort of assumes that the scientific community has this solved, even if as an individual they don’t follow it.

    You might be surprised to learn that many people have been persuaded to religion by their studies of science. Most people who have been dissauded from religion, I believe, is because of human failures of religious people. But are human failures of smug evangelists a fair basis to judge the question of religion? In other words, just because Jerry Falwell is a dick doesn’t mean Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount wasn’t brilliant

    Fact is that religious people were the first recorders of history, the first astronomers, the first doctors, the first philosophers, the first mathematicians, the first chemists, the first physicists and the founders of many other scientific communities. I’m confident that if someone invented a time machine and we could travel to the year 2108 we would look back at the year 2008 and find that most of the significant scientific advances from that year came from people with religion.

    The reason a religious person, I believe, is more likely to advance science is because a religious person is humble. Someone who believes man has all the answers is more likely to defend his/her turf than to look for new answer. But someone who believes in an omniscient God is continually looking for what God has created that man has yet to understand.

    With that all said, I do very much appreciate the “friendly atheist” approach. I think there is more common ground between atheists and religious than not. And we only benefit from bringing our differing perspectives together to search for solutions to common problems. For example, you believing in chaos theory and me believing in intelligent design isn’t really a problem; as long as we both are determined to unravel all the individual mysteries that make up the labels. Because, honestly, gravity works exactly the same whether you think it was designed or whether it was random.

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  • plutorip

    Hi there,

    As a Christian who has had an interesting faith journey, I would like to say that first, I was really pleased to stumble across this website. Here’s a little outline of my journey to this point, because I think it’s important for us to understand each others journey’s if we are to understand each other.

    I was raised in a moderately religious household (i.e. we went to church regularly, and we were brought up on what some might call “christian morals”, but we were also free to choose our own religious paths.) As a teenager, I because one of the angry atheists mentioned here, in part because of some negative experiences I had with the church, in part because I was a more scientifically minded individual, and in part because of the injustice I saw in the world, and the WASP guilt I felt imposed on me. I couldn’t change the WAS part, but at least I could change the P part!

    As I matured, and in part due to my moderately religious parents responses to my attempts at teenage rebellion, the recognition that many of my well respected friends were Christian (the horror!) and just my need to become a happier individual, I grew into a friendly atheist with more agnostic leanings. I recognized that we really couldn’t know for sure that God did exist or that God did not exist. That is still a pretty major part of what I believe today.

    At university, I started to see the question of God and religion in a different light. Perhaps somewhat ironically, as someone who was originally lead away from belief in God, in part due to science, it was my continued studies of science which lead me back to belief in God. I now find it quite difficult to look at the wonderous universe and not see in it the hand of God.

    It is almost impossible to criticize the religious belief without the person who holds those beliefs feeling insulted.

    and

    I believe there is a different standard applied to religious belief that is not applied to say, politics or any other ideological belief.

    I would disagree with the first statement, and agree with the meaning, if not the intent of the second. I think it is possible to criticize religious beliefs without insulting the individual. If someone says to me that they don’t believe in God, argues against belief in God using Occams razor, etc. I don’t get offended.

    As for the comparison to politics, as I stated, I agreed, but probably not with the actual intent. Democracy relies compromise and as such, I think there is more toleration and respect for opposing political viewpoints than exists for opposing religious viewpoints.

    So how do we move forward? How do we learn to discuss our differences without inadvertantly insulting each other. I think Mike C hit upon the answer. Our way forward lies in not trying to win arguements by annihilating the opposition, but rather in getting others to see the validity of our perspective, even if they don’t actually agree with it.

  • Richard Wade

    Hello Plutotrip, and welcome to this site. You may not get much response on this thread because it is so old and most of the regular commenters tend to follow the more recently posted articles. Anyway, I appreciate your thoughts, your story and your positive and inclusive outlook. I’m one of those atheists who agree with Mike C that “winning” arguments around here is futile most of the time and seldom productive even if it can be done. I prefer to work toward getting past misconceptions, prejudices and stereotypes so that mutual understanding can grow even when we disagree.

    As for the problem of criticism of a religious belief inadvertently resulting in feelings of insult, It has been my experience that it is very hard to avoid. The person challenging another’s belief may be trying very hard to be tactful and respectful, with no intention to insult the holder of the belief, but sadly very often the believer takes offense. Here the phrase “takes offense” is often very appropriate, since even though the offense is not offered or intended, the owner of the belief chooses to be offended and to feel insulted. So insult has happened but in such cases it is the creation of the person who feels insulted. From that point the dialogue usually deteriorates rapidly despite attempts to reconcile things.

    I avoid psychoanalyzing people but if the damaged conversation staggers on long enough it often reveals that the person has become so attached to the belief that he or she identifies with it, so that they perceive any criticism of the belief as a personal attack on their very being. This makes any further critical discussion too touchy to continue.

    Fortunately this is not always the case and we have enjoyed some very stimulating and informative conversations between believers and those who refrain from believing. I hope that you can continue to engage with others here about topics which you find significant.

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  • tiredoldbruce

    Hemant-

    I read your original blog posting at the top of your page and started to mellow out on my militant atheistic views.
    Then I read all of the responses and now I’m all pissed off again.
    I don’t believe there is any point in sharing my atheistic views with religious people. It is possible to live a normal life and be a social person without having to discuss religion with non-atheists (theists, I guess). I feel no need to try to convince people to reassess their beliefs. I also feel no need to put on a show to convince everybody that atheists are kind happy and approachable. Cause I’m not. Come to think of it, what kind of a coalition can atheists form when they only really have one thing in common: they do not believe in something. We could all also form a “we don’t believe in talking bears” group. Atheists are about as widely spread out as a group of people can be. And I for one am pissed off most of the time. And not because there’s no Jesus in my heart either. Just everyday stuff- you know.
    I used to have a roommate who would put food in the microwave, start it up, then run into the other room because he was afraid of microwave radiation. I told him “you’re a frickin idiot”. He’s an idiot for believing it would harm him and more of an idiot for continuing to use it anyway. Why can’t I tell my 70 yr. old aunt that because she prays a rosary every day? “You’re an idiot for mumbling to yourself while holding a string of cheap plastic beads for an hour every day”. I could most definitely say to Stephan he’s an idiot but there’s two billion other people in the world who worship his god- why would he care what I think?
    Ugh. Maybe I would be happier if I found god. I’m gonna beat my head against a wall until I dumb myself down enough to get suckered into some born-again crap.
    God bless you all-

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  • ByGrace

    I have enjoyed reading the comments on this blog. Great conversations! I’d like to pose a question. I’m not looking for a “right” answer, I do not think there can be because it is purely hypothetical. Just curious about the thoughts it may evoke.

    What would the world be like if everyone where indeed atheist?

  • GullWatcher

    ByGrace, you would probably have better luck posting that question to the forums (see upper right part of this page) than adding it to the end of a post nearly two years old.

  • Lyn

    I could state many bible verses on non believers, but you wouldn’t believe it
    anyway.

    But the one that sticks out the most:
    Do not give that which is holy to the dogs, or put your jewels before pigs, for fear that they will be crushed under foot by the pigs whose attack will then be made against you.

    This is a parable, I am not calling you dogs, or pigs. Jesus doesn’t want to waste
    our time on people with hardened hearts against him. We still will pray for you,
    and one day I know, I’ve seen it, some of
    you will change your views. Only passing
    through…you can start your attacks now :)
    Peace be to you, Lyn

  • Anthony

    I completely agree with what you are saying here, being angry really serves no purpose and, in my opinion, makes us just as petty and infantile as the theists. Getting angry only makes people throw up walls and stop hearing what you are trying to tell them.

  • Pearl

    As a Christian I enjoyed reading your blog and I am happy to see people in your walk of life take a more positive view of their choices in life. Honestly, I get tired of the snark and smug behavior of many atheists on the internet and this was a refreshing/positive change. Good luck to you and I hope others in your follow in your footsteps and go in a more positive/loving direction :)

  • Richard Wade

    Hi Pearl,
    Please feel free to hang around the more recent posts. You are welcome. It’s nice to meet with positive and open-hearted Christians. We don’t need to agree, just keep trying to understand each other.

  • http://www.angryatheist.net AngryAtheist

    I am an angry atheist. I try not to be a douchebag, but there are so many things to be angry about :)

  • Gatogreensleeves

    While I, of course, believe that people should always be civil over any discussion that merits it, this post is verging on a strawman, because atheists generally don’t get “angry,” except where it is warranted (you excepted “trying to stop scientific progress, impede promising research, hurt my gay friends, control another woman’s body, force your beliefs upon anyone else, ask the government to give you special privileges, or make me fear coming out as an atheist in public”). That’s a lot of ‘excepts’ already and it certainly isn’t all of them, which must have given you pause after writing it. My point is that there are a lot of angry atheists, because there are a lot of reasons like you mentioned to be angry about, but IMO, atheists generally don’t get “angry” (there are exceptions to that too) about religious issues that don’t warrant it, such as a theistic label or a ritual or some texual discrepancy like they would about actual acts of religious bigotry, female subjugation, etc.
    Also, everyone should understand one thing:
    ideas do not have rights, people do.
    When passion or even immense distaste from both parties is honestly focused solely upon the ideas and not upon the other person, there should be no personal offense. That should be openly discussed. There should never be ad hominems anyway. Last, IMO when you actually truly believe that someone is wrong- even willfully ignorant sometimes, it should inspire pity and compassion rather than hatred, but that said, political correctness should never take away from anyone’s conviction over an issue.

  • Zenabowli

    I have a hard time considering right and wrong, when it comes to the issue of atheism vs. religion. There is a culture of us that share the opinion that there is no definitive answer, nor proof, on either side of this debate. Both sides seem to cling to their point of view with an unbending fervor that, in itself, reeks of religious FAITH.

    Now, this is an obtuse point of view that needs no pity. What is pitiful is the relentless posturing on an issue that does not have a conclusion… other than the fact that no one has proven any thing for sure.

  • http://angryatheist.net ANGRYATHEIST

    Nothing wrong with being angry once in awhile for things that are worth being angry about :)

  • Louise

    I doubt any of the original posters will see this, years on, but may I say what a pleasure it’s been to read this most civil and thoughtful blog? I have enjoyed most of the contributions (the 2007 ones – haven’t got any further yet) and found all of them interesting, if in many cases WAY over my head.

    I believe in the Divine Creator, but don’t follow any religion.

  • Richard Wade

    Hi Louise,
    I still haunt this post, and it’s always nice to meet new people like yourself who have positive and civil attitudes. I hope that you hang around and visit more recent posts as well.

    Don’t worry about some of it being “over your head.” Much of it is for me too, but I just ask frankly for someone to explain. If they’re not willing to educate me directly, usually people are willing to refer me to some resource where I can learn about whatever it is myself.

    Some conversations are not quite so thoughtful and civil, because the door is open for anyone to comment. Just enjoy the roller coaster parts as well as the canal cruise parts, and don’t take stuff too personally.

    I hope to see you around.

  • Louise

    Thank you, Richard!


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