Am I an Anti-Theist?

The video below, part of The Atheist Voice series, answers the question: Am I an Antitheist?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project — more videos will be posted soon — and we’d also appreciate your suggestions as to which questions we ought to tackle next!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • double-m

    Isn’t the question that defines an Anti-Theist something more philosophical, something like this? “In the hypothetical case that a creature similar to the Abrahamic god did exist, should it be worshiped?” My answer to that question would be: “Absolutely not. In the unlikely case that it did exist, and if it had committed the crimes against humanity, which the Christian bible accuses it of, then humans should oppose it, not worship it.” I guess that answer makes me an Anti-Theist, and I have no problem with it.

    • Art_Vandelay

      This is exactly what I was going to say. On the other hand, if it’s just Joe Skydude chilling out after having had created all this, minds his own business for the most part but will come down and smoke a joint and offer up some advice if you happen to need it…sure.

      Yahweh though? I have no idea why anyone would think such a thing is worthy of worship.

      • double-m

        Exactly. That doesn’t mean religious people can’t make positive contributions. I’m sure the majority of North Korean soldiers are decent people, who love children and would help an old lady across the street anytime. The problem is with their boss, the ideology he promotes, and what this ideology makes his followers do once they have been indoctrinated in it. Same story with religions, even if their bosses, unlike North Korean stalinist leaders, are almost certainly imaginary.

  • Rain

    Even if there were evidence for a god, it wouldn’t necessarily mean we should be in a religion. We have evidence for toasters and/or bananas but we don’t worship them. Going from evidence of a god to having a religion is one giant freaking unwarranted leap in and of itself. Never mind the lack of evidence for gods to begin with.

    • B-Lar

      My toaster demands sacrifice. Burnt offerings which I, as its high priest, consume on its behalf. Bow down. BOW DOWN!

    • C Peterson

      I don’t have a problem believing that our universe was intelligently created. There are some (rather speculative) ideas in physics suggesting that new universes can be created, and that it could be done artificially. We might be able to demonstrate that some sort of creator exists. But as you say, the suggestion that it would require rituals and worship is extreme. Far more likely is that it would be completely unaware of us, or at least simply studying us. Assuming a team of scientists created a universe in some lab or supercollider, I hardly see them demanding worship from any lifeforms that happened to evolve in that universe.

      It is a powerful indicator that gods are completely human creations that we can’t seem to imagine them having emotions or motives any different than your average despot. Humans often feel the need to be admired and worshiped. It’s a pretty pathetic excuse of a god to require that, though.

  • Karel Vandenhove

    It is not because some people do good things in the name of their religion that religion is a good thing. They would probably do the same (or better) without religion.
    Religion is a invented by man to take control of their fellow man. And that is not a good thing.

  • yellownumberfive

    Hemant, name a GOOD thing religion has done in the last century that could NOT have been done via secular means.

    • Tobias2772

      Yellow,
      When we can change the “could NOT” to “has NOT” then we can overwhelm religion with secular goodwill and chairty and force them off the stage. Let’s overwhelm the with our positive actions !

      • yellownumberfive

        You’re changing the subject. We don’t NEED to be POSITIVE to justify anti-theism.

        • Tobias2772

          But I think we need to provide a positive replacement for the social services that churches provide their communities. I don’t want to just be anti-theistic. I want to do something to squeeze them out of the social square.

          • 3lemenope

            One of the reasons why Christianity in most of its modern forms has been so trenchantly anti-Socialist is that they (at least the perspicacious ones) are terrified that their role as a provider of essential services will be replaced by the state and so people who come to them not for the mumbo-jumbo but for the community building will stop coming. I think they perhaps suspect that the proportion of people who attend church only for this aspect is much larger than they would like.

            Given the teachings in the Bible about wealth, property, sharing, and moral duty, this is a painfully ironic stance that can’t be justified on any ground but nakedly pragmatic ones.

          • baal

            The awesome demographic countries in Europe have some of the best social services and least religiosity. I don’t think that’s accidental and do think that once people have decent lives all around, the religious messages (especially christian ones) are much less compelling.

    • 3lemenope

      A solid case can be made that the Civil Rights Movement in the US in the 60s and 70s would have either failed or had much more modest success if it weren’t for the fact that churches were heavily integrated into the African American community and so were a ready base of operations.

      One has to indulge in some pretty silly counterfactuals which in no way resemble the recent history of our universe to argue that it would have worked out just fine if only secular organizations tried to act on the same scale given the same conditions.

      EDIT: I would mention that one advantage unique to the religious argument for civil rights was that it implicitly (and occasionally explicitly) denied the legitimacy of any temporal authority, and so were very hard to counter on a rhetorical level.

      • yellownumberfive

        Thanks, got anything that occurred in the last 100 years, like I asked for?

        • yellownumberfive

          My bad, took it at first you were talking about emancipation.

          I hardly see the civil rights movement as hinging on religion though. There was a counter culture brewing since Viet Nam that really got that moving, and would have finished the job given the opportunity, imo.

          • 3lemenope

            I’d recommend a more in-depth study of the movement, then. It’s pretty hard to see it happening elsewise. The broader counter-cultural movement, in many ways, actually hampered progress on civil rights by deflecting many otherwise sympathetic people away from the movement for fear of association, especially Northern rural whites. Yippies and their fellow travelers poisoned the well for a great deal of social reform, and we’re still suffering through quite a bit of that legacy (e.g. drug policy).

          • Tobias2772

            I would argue that the Civil Rights Movement predated and inspired the Anti-War Movement – not the other way around. Many anti-war folks cut their teeth on the civil rights stuff.

            • pRinzler

              History clearly shows that the Civil Rights movement preceded the anti-war movement. Just check the dates, it’s clear. They did overlap, however, at the beginning of the anti-war movement, after the Civil Rights movement had been going for a while.

  • Leland Somers

    I’m definitely anti-theist. But not all “religion” demands belief in a god and in particular not the god of Jews, Christians and Muslims. Non theistic religions are out there and provide a great way of life and no gods are involved except perhaps as metaphors. I’d change my mind about god if there were any evidence. There isn’t any as far as I’m concerned.

    • Tobias2772

      Leland, I am aware of some non theistic philosophies, but isn’t a supernatural power sort of a deining aspect of “religion” ? Am I just misunderstanding your meaning ? Can you give examples ?

  • yellownumberfive

    Theism is simply something we need to move beyond as a species. Sure, it was great when we were still hunter-gatherers or building our first cities. It gave us order when we desperately needed it.

    Can any of you imagine us sailing to other stars with that baggage in tow though?

    It’s a concept that has served it’s purpose, and now it needs to die, or we’ll be destroyed by it. The negatives of religion have long since outstripped any benefit we’re getting from it.

  • Makoto

    I think I see religion as 3 main components:

    1) Comforting belief – people see the promise of an afterlife and use that for comfort when a loved one dies, or they use the eternal reward/punishment duality in order to be a better person (as they see it). This, I think, is harmless on its own. If such a belief makes dealing with a death in the family easier, I’m glad it was there for them.

    2) Institutions – as you mentioned, a lot of religious institutions out there have a lot of members, power, and money. Unfortunately, this isn’t nearly as simple as the comforting belief above. Yes, many of these do good things – feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, adoption services, hospitals, and so on. Unfortunately, they also regulate the adoption process, limit what types of medical services they are willing to provide (no matter the religion of the patient or the staff of the hospital), and other things of that ilk that we’re all used to. On the balance, I’m still happy that they provide these services, I just think they could do a better job by lifting some of the limits.

    A subset of this would be religious business owners, like Hobby Lobby or the B&B owners that won’t let same-sex couples share a bed. These need to be locked down – they can own their business, but they should not be allowed to discriminate against people using that business, and they should not be able to limit employee health care because of their own beliefs.

    3) Government – sadly, this is the biggest problem. There’s no official religious test to get into gov’t, but it’s almost universally implied in the US. Religious institutions (not all of them, but many) often pressure local, state, and federal gov’ts on laws (the ACA, adoption laws, statue of limitation changes for child abuse, sodomy laws, the list goes on and on). They use their money (and even the threat of being kicked out of the church) to influence candidates and voters. They defy tax code and use the pulpit to tell their congregations how to vote.

    A subset here would be school issues. Between homeschool groups (often religiously based) working to tear down regulations on how kids are taught, and school boards and teachers who keep trying to inject religion into the classroom (or at least tear down scientific theories just because that science disagrees with their holy book), it’s rather scary.

    -

    That got kind of long. All in all, I can’t say I’m an anti-theist. At its core, belief doesn’t really hurt, and can help some people – I just don’t think it’s true. But unfortunately the religious institutions do visible damage to others, and that I am against.

  • Tobias2772

    I think Hemant makes a good point about some of the positive social things that churches do. Here in South Carolina, local churches are a significant part of the social fabric of the community. Local fellowship, charity, activities, etc. are sponsored by the churches here. Now, I fully understand about the negative things that they do and I get as, if not more, pissed off than some of you guys, but we shouldn’t ignore the positives. I also agree with Hemant, that we need to become much better at providing non-religious alternatives for those activities. We have to win people over rationally and emotionally.

    There is another aspect of this question that I think is of far more importance. As a humanist and a rationalist, I believe that our most potent tool for the improvement of our collective lives is our ability to think (despite some evidence to the contrary). This is why I have dedicated my life to public education. What I see in our schools is the incredibly limiting power of mythological indoctrination. Young kids with bright minds have been taught since birth, that there are important things that they mustn’t examine – that that’s just the way things are. They are taught not to trust the one ability that is their greatest asset to improvement and enlightenment. Sometimes these imposed limits present themselves rather acutely – they can make me want to cry. Most of the time the constraints are more subtle but more pervasive. These are the limits that are constantly promoted by religion and they damage our ability to confront and resolve our problems beyond my ability with words to describe. These are the millstones that we are allowing religious irrationality to hang around our separate and collective necks. And these are far more damaging to our progress than the good works that Hemant references.
    I am an avid anti-theist for these reasons, but I don’t want to legistlate the death of religious mythology. I want to kill it with the best tools available to me – rational thought, evidentiary examination, and human compassion. Religion is dead.

    • Machintelligence

      If Europe is a valid example, religion (at least as a force in society) will die of natural causes in a few generations anyway.

      • Tobias2772

        I worry that religion will be much more persistent here in the USA. And I’d rather not wait a couple of generations. We need those young minds at work on our problems now.

  • Willy Occam

    When I first abandoned religion (Catholicism) as a teenager, my initial state was indifference: I didn’t believe in gods, and I had no interest in the idea of religion. It was simply not a part of my life anymore, and I didn’t give it another thought. Pushy religious zealots annoyed me, but I wasn’t bothered by more subtle displays of religiosity. Then in my late-20s, I started to become interested in religions from a purely sociological and cultural perspective. I read books like Karen Armstrong’s “The History of God” and later checked out websites on different religions… mainly wondering why people feel compelled to believe in any of it. In my 30s and 40s, I became increasingly annoyed by public displays of religiosity, perhaps after seeing some of the crap my kids experienced growing up here in Texas. In recent years, after reading books by Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, et al, as well as visiting websites like this one, I feel that I have become more anti-theistic. I can’t help but roll my eyes, chuckle, or groan whenever I encounter some religious behavior or comment anymore.

    I feel a little guilty about this… am I a bigot? intolerant? I certainly do not have any animosity towards people who “believe”— I have too many friends and family members that fall into that category! — I am just frustrated by the fact that so many good people delude themselves with their silly beliefs, and the negative impact that it can have on those of us who choose to live a
    reality-based life.

    • baal

      The more I know about the political efforts of the RCC and the Mormons (i.e. entities with huge piles of wealth) and the role of religion in the mid-east very Islamic countries (political Islam) has left me with a growing distaste for religions. I think it’s mostly a matter of how power works but I’d hope that the folks who are the moralists in society could do better. They don’t. So I take that failure as empirical evidence that if you want your social moralists empowered, religions aren’t the way to do it.

      • Willy Occam

        “I’d hope that the folks who are the moralists in society could do better.”

        Indeed. I wish we could outgrow this notion that religion is intrinsically linked to morality, when even a cursory reading of the Bible or Q’uran indicates otherwise.

  • C Peterson

    I think it is important to distinguish between anti-theism and anti-religionism. They are quite different.

    I am a mild anti-theist. That is, I am opposed to the concept of theism because I think it encourages an irrational way of thinking, and that seems to me always a negative thing, both for individuals and for society. But I’m not aggressively anti-theist because, by itself, theism is only mildly harmful.

    I am aggressively anti-religion. That’s because I see no unique value at all in religion, and a huge amount of personal and societal harm coming from it. I don’t buy arguments about religions bringing comfort, or doing good things, because there is nothing special about religion that offers these things. To me, it is no different from saying that heroin is good because it makes you happy. The ends are not justified by the means. And I’m not generally impressed by any sort of “atheist community” emulating some of the positive actions of religious communities, because I think the idea of an “atheist community” is pretty silly in the first place. Certainly, the same sorts of positive things religions get involved in are done by non-religious groups as well.

    I think Hemant confounds anti-theism (or really, anti-religionism) with being anti-religionist, however. While I am very opposed to religion, that does not predispose me to act negatively towards religious people themselves. I can recognize good things they do (for whatever internal motive) while still being strongly opposed to their religious belief systems.

    • Willy Occam

      Another negative by-product of religion is how many believers abdicate responsibility to a “higher power” rather than taking the credit (or the blame)… or for that matter, just acknowledging that sometimes shit happens, and there isn’t some cosmic reason for everything. Odd that many of these same people who drone on about “personal responsibility” (whenever they need a cudgel against social services, abortion rights, etc.) are the ones saying “It’s all part of the Lord’s plan” whenever anything good (or bad) happens to them.

    • Darrell Ross

      Great way of putting it. I need to snag a copy.

  • Guest

    I’m 100% anti-theist. There is nothing about religion or the ridiculous beliefs required to belong to a religion that I find remotely appealing or beneficial to any society in this day and age. Religion serves to divide and provides excuses for bigotry and hatred. Fu– religion.

  • Jasper

    I’m an anti-theist in the sense that if I were to come in contact with a theist, we’d annihilate each other in a burst of pure energy.

  • Keith Sewell

    Hello Mr. Mehta,

    Kudos and congrats on the fine site. In particular; ‘I Sold My Soul on eBay’ raised a chuckle. To the question ‘Am I an Anti-theist’, my own response must be a simple and hands down YES. If you have a few spare moments then I’d invite you over for a visit to my site, at poppersinversion.org ; and if you like what you find there then I’d propose an exchange of cross links.

    All the best, and more power to your keyboard,

    Keith


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