I am not a “Good Atheist”

I have on several different occasions been called “condescending” for stating that, as an atheist, I think that those who believe in a God, or in the spiritual, are mistaken. It makes me think of something P.Z. Myers once said:

S.E. Cupp [an atheist blogger] is a peculiar creature: she insists that she is an atheist, but I’ve never actually seen her defend or promote or even accept the idea of atheism. Instead, all she ever does is carp at atheists for being arrogant or smug or militant or whatever the current term of opprobrium might be. I don’t really understand her game, but then, I also don’t really care — she never says anything interesting, either.

But reading her latest column, I suddenly realized what she is: she’s the Good Atheist the believers want us all to be like. Good Atheists don’t criticize religion; they praise it and make excuses for it and pine away, wishin’ they had the faith themselves. Good Atheists do criticize atheism and atheists. They work hard to tell the Bad Atheists to shut up and stop making it hard for believers to be comfortable with their superstitions. Good Atheists love C.S. Lewis, and read theologians in their spare time, and marvel at their wonderful insights.

This phenomenon of believers’ conception of the “good atheist” is closely related a similar phenomenon that has been discussed by Greta Christina.

Many religious believers are intent on getting atheists’ approval for their beliefs. If you’re hoping for that — don’t hold your breath.

“But surely you don’t mean my religion!”

If you hang around the online atheist world long enough, you’ll notice an interesting pattern. Many religious and spiritual believers who engage with atheists seem very intent on getting atheists’ approval for their beliefs.

Typically, these believers acknowledge that many religions are profoundly troubling. They share atheists’ revulsion against religious hatreds and sectarian wars. They share our repugnance with religious fraud, the charlatans who abuse people’s trust to swindle them out of money and sex and more. They share our disgust with willful religious ignorance, the flat denials of overwhelming scientific evidence that contradicts people’s beliefs. They can totally see why many atheists are so incredulous, even outraged, about the world of religion.

But they think their religion is an exception. They think their religion is harmless, a kinder, gentler faith. They think their religion is philosophically consistent, supported by reason and evidence — or at least, not flatly contradicted by it.

And they want atheists to agree.

Greta Christina calls this “the atheist seal of approval.” Essentially, the believer is okay with the atheist criticizing fundamentalist religion in general, but wants the atheist to approve of her own more liberal faith and becomes upset if the atheist criticizes faith or religion in general.
Well, the thing is, I’m not a “good atheist,” and I am not handing out seals of approval. I really honestly think that there is no God and no spiritual realm, and I actually think that any spiritual belief is in some way problematic, because the spiritual realm lies outside of the world of evidence and is beyond testing. There is no safety mechanism, no reality check, no way of discerning which belief or conviction is right and which is wrong, it’s all based on subjective and experience and individual say-so. Now I am perfectly aware that liberal Christians, or those who simply call themselves “spiritual,” generally do not cause others harm the way fundamentalists’ do, but that doesn’t mean I think their beliefs are any more valid or true or correct than the fundamentalists’ are. I don’t.

Now don’t get me wrong – I understand that if you are religious or spiritual, your beliefs are very real to you. I understand that you are sincere. I understand that you feel that your beliefs make you a better, kinder, more peaceful person. Fundamentalists think the same. For over twenty years of my life, I had religious and spiritual experiences, I believed with all my heart, and I was very sincere. I get it. It’s just that I no longer think that those spiritual experiences are the result of the existence of a God or some sort of spiritual realm. Rather, I think that human brains are hardwired to look for patterns and meaning and to seek answers to existential questions, and that “spiritual experiences” are the result. I think that any belief in the actual existence of the spiritual, outside of our own brains, is irrational and incorrect. If you want me to pat you on the back for your “reasonable beliefs” or “rational faith,” you’ve come to the wrong place.

I think there’s a bit of a double standard that goes on here. Religious believers criticize atheism and atheists alike, and think it’s some combination of wrong, misled, and dangerous, but as soon as an atheist criticizes faith or religion, or says she thinks it’s wrong or misled or dangerous, they jump all over themselves calling that atheist a meanie. I’ve seen it happen many times. The thing is, criticism goes both ways. Just as believers are free to think that atheists are wrong, atheists are free to think that believers are wrong.  Thinking someone else is wrong, and saying as much, is not the same thing as being condescending or rude. I don’t have to live up to some sort of “good atheist” standard where I pussyfoot around the problems I see with faith and religion and declare everyone who isn’t a fundamentalist to be consistent or logical.

That all said, I have a lot of respect for many religious people. I can respect a religious person without respecting or agreeing with that person’s religious beliefs. I may see serious problems with religion, but that doesn’t mean I think every religious believer is a kook or dangerous or stupid. I don’t. I would hope that people who disagree with me could similarly respect me as a person even as they think my beliefs are incorrect or misguided or what have you. After all, I may think that there is no God, but I’m not going to try to force anyone to agree with me or legislate atheism. There is a difference between respecting a person and respecting that person’s religious beliefs (or lack thereof).
Furthermore, disagreement in belief should not stop people with similar goals and values from working together. I hold out my hand in cooperation to those who share my values and goals – things like equality, self-determination, love, and a desire to work toward the betterment of this world in the here and now – regardless of religious belief or lack thereof.  I believe strongly in freedom of religious belief, and my readers are free to believe whatever they like. I think people should be able to agree to disagree and concentrate on working together for the better good. After all, liberal minded religious or spiritual individuals frequently share many of my core goals and values, and it would be petty and counterproductive to refuse to reach across the aisle to work toward the betterment of society just because I disagree with their beliefs about what happens after death. At the same time, though, I’m not going to pat anyone on the back and tell them I think their religious or spiritual beliefs are logical or supported by evidence, because I don’t.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15172112981244682382 shadowspring

    Hmmm. Being the egocentric person that I am, I can't help but wonder if you think that I give a rat's ass what you believe about God, and I am somehow trying to persuade you or otherwise influence you for God.I don't. I won't. I couldn't care less about your lack of religion. When I state my beliefs, I expect nothing more than a dispassionate acknowledgement of where my thoughts are from/going on a topic.If you think I want your approval, or anyone else's approval, you are mistaken again. You haven't ever done shit for me, good or evil, and I don't expect you ever will. As such your opinions about me aren't relevant. But perhaps there are other people of faith commenting here that you are addressing?" I would hope that people who disagree with me could similarly respect me as a person even as they think my beliefs are incorrect or misguided or what have you."I think everyone wants that, and it was what I thought you had going on here already. Am I mistaken?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Shadowspring – If you don't think I'm referring to you, then you have no need to try to make it about you and then say I'm wrong. As it happens, you did once call me condescending, but that was a while ago and I was moved to write this post by the last comment thread run amok, not by your months-old comment.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15172112981244682382 shadowspring

    Okay, NOW I get it! Sorry to have started such a mess on the "Shame, Shame, Shame" post. If I hadn't gone out of town yesterday afternoon, I think it could have been cleared up rather quickly.Oh, and now I have to apologize for posting with twisted panties up above. Goodness, I am just one giant mess-making machine right now!

  • Anonymous

    Libby, Thanks for laying this out there. It highlights something that I believe is a struggle for both believers in atheists– how to offer respect to a person that your own beliefs force you to conclude is at least on some level willfully deluded, while being true to yourself and fair to them?I think wistfully wishing for acceptance and approval from those who think very differently from us is just part of being human, but learning to comfortably be in relationships with people without having (or needing) approval of all our core beliefs is part of growing up.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15172112981244682382 shadowspring

    Since I am a bad Christian, how could I ever look down on a bad atheist? lolz :p

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00916063114745954018 Vyckie

    Quote:Since I am a bad Christian, how could I ever look down on a bad atheist? lolz :pShadowspring ~ you crack me up.Libby Anne ~ thanks for this post. I can relate to your frustration because I often feel the same way. I really do appreciate those who can come out of spiritually abusive situations like Quiverfull with their faith still in tact ~ but I have a difficulty understanding how/why they hold onto what to me is an inherently abusive system.Some people are obviously able to separate out those parts they find of value and ditch the rest of it.What enables me to truly respect ex-fundamentalists who still believe in God is, as you said, having been there and knowing how real it is and how important, inspiring, and yes "empowering" faith can be. I had a video journalist named Erin here a couple weeks ago to do an interview for a documentary she's working on. One of the things we talked about was how I interpret my Christian life and my personal relationship with Jesus now that I am no longer a supernaturalist. I told her that I view my Christian experience as an important part of my journey toward maturity and wholeness. I think of my faith like a lifeboat which I built as a vessel to get me "through the rapids" of my life, but there came a point when, rather than Christianity carrying me safely through troubled waters, my journey took me in another direction which didn't necessarily involve water at all – so then, I feel like I picked the lifeboat up and carried it on my back over dry land. I had outgrown my need for that sort of faith, so it became a hinderance to my journey rather than a life saver.The reason I say all that is to point out that I do not view my Christian life as a complete waste of time – in fact, it was helpful and necessary for my journey – so I do not begrudge Believers who continue to find value in their Christian experience.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15172112981244682382 shadowspring

    I love your boat analogy, Vyckie. Well said.=) It can apply to any stage of life. I think about how I outgrew my need for the party lifestyle in similar terms. As a fundy, looking back on those days was full of shame and I felt compelled to renounce my actions, all my old friends, and my self in that time.Now I look at it as a necessary stage of my surviving my family of origin. I replaced my dependence on drugs with a dependence on religion, but it was still in many ways incredibly helpful at the time. Just like in many ways, the comfort of partying and romance was actually helpful to me in my teen years, dealing with so much depression and rejection.It's so fulfilling to not have to renounce my old self or my old friends anymore. It's just a part of my life, helpful at the time and then left behind when it was no longer helpful.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Vyckie – I like the boat analogy too. When I left fundamentalism I became Catholic, and that was my boat. I don't know how I would have made it through that time without it. I don't regret my time as a Catholic one bit, for me it was a necessary period in my life, but not the end of my journey (not that my journey is over now, though, I'm still in my twenties!). Shadowspring – I think there's something liberating about the ability to give up needing to live in someone's box and step outside and smell the fresh air. The world is so much more beautiful without taking someone else's orders for what to believe and how to live!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13930917517196516292 Jason Dick

    Wonderful post, Libby Anne! You're a much kinder person than me about it, though. The moment somebody tries to proselytize to me, I take the gloves off, and am as condescending and hurtful as I possibly can be. Well, except for friends and family. Then I have a measure of self restraint. But I simply have zero respect for the practice, and tend to be quite the ass about it. Sometimes I regret that I'm too short about it, that I don't reel them in a bit so as to really cause some psychological trauma for trying to push their horrible beliefs on me. But I feel no guilt at all about dealing harshly with people as long as they have come to me to try to convert me. I just see that as wrong.When it comes to more reasonable discussions, where it's supposed to be a debate, I will also show a bit more restraint. But I tend to get quite dismissive the moment somebody tries to claim that their beliefs deserve respect. Because really, they don't. At all.

  • Final Anonymous

    Well, I brought up the condescending topic on the other thread about 1 a.m. and haven't been back yet to see the ruckus it may have caused, but in answer to this thread:I don't want to assume, so correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me you are freely admitting being (as respectfully as possible) condescending to religious people, correct?If so, well, I have to congratulate you at least a little bit. At least you're upfront about it. It's aggravating as hell to hear atheists whine "Why are you persecuting me? I'm not judging YOUR beliefs, I just don't share them!" and then turn right around and make fun of the (CLEARLY lack of) intelligence / experience of people with religion.For the record, none of this changes my favorable opinion of you in any shape or form. Now I don't think you're hanging breathlessly on the edge of your seat WONDERING what I'm thinking of you, lol… but having a more complete picture of your — biases? right word? — against us religious whackos may unintentionally inject a bit more snark in my answers once in awhile. About every 3 3/4 weeks, to be exact…Just wanted to make sure you still know I think you and your blog are awesome. ; )

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Final Anonymous: "I don't want to assume, so correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me you are freely admitting being (as respectfully as possible) condescending to religious people, correct?"See, I wouldn't say that thinking someone else's beliefs are incorrect, or even problematic, is condescending. I mean, if it is, then you are also condescending, because you've made it clear that you think my views are wrong. Really, everyone is then condescending any time they disagree with someone else. I don't think this is so. I think you can disagree and even say you think someone else's position on an issue is bullshit without being condescending. But then maybe you define condescending differently than I do.

  • Final Anonymous

    Okay. That said –In your religious fundamentalist days, you were 100% confident you knew The One Whole Truth, and the rest of the population was sadly misguided at best. If you could show them where they were erring in their interpretations, assumptions, or studious knowledge, and if they weren't just obstinately opposed to change, they, too, would eventually come to believe what you did, because it was right, it was The One Whole Truth, and other perspectives were wrong.But now, thankfully, after lots of inquiry, study, trauma, and searching — You are 100% confident you know The One Whole Truth, and the rest of the population is sadly misguided at best. If you can show them where they are erring in their interpretations, assumptions, or studious knowledge, and if they aren't just obstinately opposed to change, they, too, will eventually come to believe what you do, because it's right, it's The One Whole Truth, and other perspectives are wrong.To me, your beliefs haven't changed a whole heck of a lot. You've had more say in the decision, but you've just found a whole new dogma to latch on to.Different… but yet the same.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Ah ha! I knew it was coming! The "you're just the same as a fundamentalist" argument! Classy, really classy. Except for one problem. I believed what I did before because I was essentially brainwashed into it. I was never given any alternative information, I was never given any alternative perspectives, and I never even thought to question it. Today, I try my best to follow the evidence, question everything, and adjust my views when I find new information. I don't believe any sort of "dogma" except for asking questions and following evidence. At this point, I have come to think, based on everything I've known and seen and studied, that there is no God. And I'm pretty sure of it, because the margin of error appears pretty small. However, when I find new evidence or arguments, I always reevaluate. In fact, I'm constantly on the lookout for arguments for God's existence, because if I'm wrong I'd really like to know. The problem is, those arguments only ever disappoint me. I may not think there's a God, but I'm no dogmatist.

  • Final Anonymous

    "But then maybe you define condescending differently than I do."Hmmm. Maybe, maybe not, I'm not sure. I guess when I think of religious beliefs, I don't assume different beliefs are due to lack of intelligence, insight, etc.For instance, I know a lot of Mormons, and they are some of the most intelligent, studious, and hardworking people I know. Now I have studied that religion in-depth, probably because their members appealed to me so, and they have some WACKO beliefs and recent history that can be easily refuted by science, archeaology, etc… WAY out there, whoosh! No way I can get on board with that stuff.And yet, as you know, most of Christianity (and science-anity — topic for another day) has their whoosh! moments. And Mormons actually have some really good, progressive ideas and beliefs mixed in, and like I said, many are just as (okay, some even MORE) intelligent and educated as me.So I can say "Boy howdy, sorry, I just cannot get on board with that Own Your Own Planet plan!" and yet because I assume they are as intelligent as I am and have come to their beliefs in much the same manner as I came to mine, I do not add (condescendingly?) "Because you are just totally wrong — let me show you where you took the wrong turn."I used different religions as an example, but it could be different beliefs in politics, governmental systems, cultural mores, etc.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03820077215682328240 boomSLANG

    What a great post/topic. Thx for this.Vyckie said: I have a difficulty understanding how/why they hold onto what to me is an inherently abusive system.Yes, inherently abusive, agreed. And to attempt to answer your question—IMO, I think it's because it's easier to hang on to abusive ideals/values – which is really to rationalize them – than it is to face the highly likely possibility that this life is all there is.

  • Final Anonymous

    "Ah ha! I knew it was coming! The "you're just the same as a fundamentalist" argument! Classy, really classy."Personal attacks aside — why is that an erroneous statement? Just because you were brainwashed into the first and studied your way into the second doesn't negate the fact that at the moment they are similarly constructed: "This Way is Right; Other Ways are Wrong." Doesn't matter what system you use to fill in the proper nouns."Today, I try my best to follow the evidence, question everything, and adjust my views when I find new information."And to me, that statement implies that people who do not come to your same conclusions do NOT follow evidence, question everything, etc. That may be where we part company.Look — I am not trying to convert you or change your mind about God, and I'll go so far as to say I think you SHOULD be an atheist. Seriously. You've described in detail the horrors you experienced at the hands of religion, I have no doubt it was true and real and probably worse than you can describe here. I don't think there's much of anything healthy you can get from any religion right now, and maybe ever. I think your current approach to life from a scientific, a-religious standpoint IS healthy for you, and offers at least the same opportunities for growth and happiness that religion might offer someone else.The universe is huge and complex and full of mystery. There are lots of different people, and lots of Right Ways.I hate to leave when I've stirred the pot this much, especially as it seems to be getting emotional, but I'd better get some work accomplished. I'll try to respond later if necessary.

  • http://foreverinhell.com Personal Failure

    Ah, the Good Atheist. If you're upfront about your atheism and why you are an atheist and what you really think about religion of any kind, you're a jackboot-wearing, militant atheist. Mind you, an equally upfront Christian is merely being Christian, or perhaps a good evangelist, but certainly not bad.The only good atheist is a nonexistent atheist, really, so I'll keep putting on my jackboots and saying what I think.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03820077215682328240 boomSLANG

    "Today, I try my best to follow the evidence, question everything, and adjust my views when I find new information." ~ Libby AnneAnd to me, that statement implies that people who do not come to your same conclusions do NOT follow evidence, question everything, etc. That may be where we part company.Personally, I see no such implication—I see it as her merely stating that it's the way she currently acquires knowledge about the universe, in contrast to the way she did, yesterday(i.e…before).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Final Anonymous – When I tell someone I think they're wrong, I'm not questioning their intelligence. For example, my dad is a VERY intelligent person, and I would never deny that. Yet, he's a Young Earth Creationist. Just because someone is intelligent doesn't mean I have to agree with them or think their views make sense, or even respect their views. You yourself admit this – that an intelligent person can have "WACKO beliefs." You differentiate between saying "I cannot get on board with your wacko beliefs" from saying "I think your beliefs are wrong, but I don't see these two statements as being different. After all, if you thought that person's beliefs were correct, you'd be converting rather than declining to do so.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Also, you indicate that you think I'm saying "let me show you where you took the wrong turn." I'm really not. All I'm doing is writing out my own personal perspective, and you can take it or leave it. My goal is not to proselytize. And really, I'm not simply writing for my readers, I'm also writing for me. It's very therapeutic (though less so when comment threads turn into shouting matches). So just because I state upfront what I believe and how I say things does not mean that I'm trying to proselytize you. Speaking of comment threads, my goal for these threads has always been for them to be discussions based on a desire to understand each other, not simply debates where we try to one up each other. That doesn't mean I don't want people to state their views – I do – but rather that I want people to try to understand what others say (and then disagree if they like) without simply seeing it as an attack or as condescending or something.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    And to me, that statement implies that people who do not come to your same conclusions do NOT follow evidence, question everything, etc.No, it simply means that I disagree with those other people and I think their conclusions are wrong. I can only speak for me and what I know and understand of the world, and that's all I speak from when I say "I really truly think that there isn't a God."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03242221594991245421 Bruce

    Everything I would say has been said by others. Great post, right on the money.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10374620768794536239 Sheena

    If I insisted that my friends shared my beliefs, I would have very few friends. I am fine with agreeing to disagree regarding religion, so long as respect, dignity, and kindness remain…Those are more important than going to the same church. Or any church.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13930917517196516292 Jason Dick

    Well, Final Anonymous, if you want condescending, this is condescending:The very idea that there are lots of "right ways" when it comes to questions what what exists and what doesn't is so ludicrous I'm not sure where to begin. You are attempting to claim that somehow, your emotional state determines what exists and what doesn't, and that somehow that can be different for other people. This is beyond idiotic. You might as well be claiming that if you only believe it really really hard, you can start pissing diamonds. So yeah, you go ahead and believe in your magic fairy tails. Don't expect people who are grounded in reality to confer respect on your ridiculous notions.Yes, I am saying you are wrong, and I am questioning your intelligence.Now, if you still think that Libby Anne has been condescending instead of extremely patient and kind, well, there is something wrong with you.P.S. Sorry if this post is too much for you, Libby Anne. I won't be offended if you'd rather delete it :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17500128753102750833 Mommy McD

    I wonder if I sometimes come across as the "pat me on the back for my religion" types, but I do try hard not to. I have only recently discovered this blog so I don't think I have here yet, but maybe other places. I greatly love reading the atheist perspective and I think that I share a lot of similarities with stories like yours. And maybe paganism is truly just my boat, as you say the journey isn't over yet!But I don't tend to get offended easily, especially by the opinions or experiences or perspectives of others. My own husband is a "militant" atheist who lovingly mocks my woo-woo and we get along splendidly. One of my best friends in the world is Mormon and even we can have conversations about religion without becoming offended. So yes, its completely possible to disagree without getting offended or being condescending and I think you do a great job!

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    For the record, Libby, I find nothing objectionable about the your views or the way you have laid them out here. I'm glad you wrote this post and I think your discussion with Final Anonymous has been illuminating. It's good to hear that you see non-atheists as simply incorrect in their conclusions, not inherently less intelligent, reasonable, logical, or enlightened than you are. There's nothing wrong with that and you're right, you're just doing the same thing I'm doing. You should not shrink from speaking your mind for fear of being accused of being too strident–as a feminist, that is the LAST thing I would tell anyone to do.I'm not looking for your "seal of approval." I'm not that insecure. I'm just looking to be respected. You are respectful. Not everybody is. Often I DO come up against the assumption that I am less intelligent, less reasonable, less enlightened than atheists. And I don't see myself as operating less on reason than atheists do. I was an atheist myself for a while and I ultimately rejected it, not because I "needed" to believe in something–I have no certainty about anything and certainly no dogma. And not because I think that belief makes me a better person–I was just a good a person as an atheist as I am now. It was because I found there to be problematic assumptions and internal contradictions within the materialist atheist view. I am 100% okay with someone disagreeing with my reasoning. I am NOT okay with someone implying that I've abandoned reason. Or talking to me as though I'm a fool. Or blatantly ignoring everything I actually say, in favor of burying me under standard-issue atheist platitudes and boilerplate. And it can really seem like the Twilight Zone sometimes. I am a hippie-dippy, radical feminist, pinko too-liberal-even-for-Reform Jew who is trained in philosophy–a very logic-based discipline–and reads scientific journals for fun. Am I really the enemy here?

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    btw, I agree that the "atheists are just like fundies" thing is, for the most part, a false equivalency. Fundie beliefs are (to me) completely morally repugnant, for one thing. (Although there are far-right atheists and their beliefs are repugnant to me too, but there are fewer of them.) And while I think that materialist atheist philosophy is flawed, I think it's A LOT more logical and consistent than "A man in the sky created the earth in 7 days." Those are some big, big differences.But honestly? SOME atheists can look a lot more like fundies than people who claim to stand for (among other things) tolerance and dialogue should. The ones who treat everybody else as though they're either idiots or sheep. The ones who revel in invented persecution. The ones who are far more interested in hearing themselves talk than they are in listening to anyone else. These people really do walk around acting like they've got the Good News and anyone who isn't interested in it is just a lost soul at best, or someone to be treated with utter derision at worst.I've lived in this country all my life. I am just as much an outsider to the conservative Christian establishment as you are, if not more–I'm not only liberal, I'm the wrong religion. The "Christian Nation" bullshit hurts me too. And, honestly, some atheists, while their actual beliefs are more palatable to me, actually DON'T seem that different from fundies in attitude. (And in hypocrisy–don't get me started on the "RELIGION IS EVIL BECAUSE OPPRESSES WOMEN! Now excuse me while I make a rape joke." phenomenon.) But I certainly wouldn't paint all atheists with that broad brush. But I think it is a problem that should be acknowledged.

  • Final Anonymous

    PP as usual makes the point far better than I, so I'll just agree with it as my main response.Libby, I wasn't shouting and certainly didn't mean to imply it in my comments. In fact I thought I took great pains to be kind while presenting a different viewpoint (which is why the "classy" comment took me by surprise, for example) but apparently that did not come across, and I apologize.I have absolutely no desire to instigate or engage in fiery debates on these issues, and am a bit dismayed whenever I seem to cause one. Since we seem to be misunderstanding each other, I wonder if we aren't both reacting to some triggers here.I love comparative religion and philosophy as subjects, love learning about people and cultures, what they believe and why. And I really love to be able to pick out the good and find the commonalities in various systems, thinking idealistically in the back of my mind perhaps that if we can all understand each other, we can stop fighting with each other at least a little bit.That's where I come from, but I don't always make that point well in my discussions, and I've realized it's probably better suited to forums than comments on an individual blog anyway. I'm speaking mostly in generalities, pondering issues I may not even have to deal with right now, while you're generously sharing a very personal journey. Sounds like a minefield of opportunities for me to stick my foot in my mouth and cause hurt feelings, which I would hate. And I certainly don't want to get in the way of your purpose for writing here.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12284971176688746388 Andrew G.

    It was because I found there to be problematic assumptions and internal contradictions within the materialist atheist view.Now I'm curious – what do you find to be contradictory?

  • Lisa

    Excellent article! I really enjoyed it. Could you expand on the part where you said, "Rather, I think that human brains are hardwired to look for patterns and meaning and to seek answers to existential questions, and that 'spiritual experiences' are the result." How and why are human brains hardwired to seek answers to existential questions?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Everyone – Thank you for responding to this post with understanding. PP and FA, I do agree that there are some atheists who can be very hateful and unkind, though I'm not sure how comfortable I am with using the word "fundamentalist" for them. I've said this before (http://lovejoyfeminism.blogspot.com/2011/07/sewing-hatred.html), but I think there are "tribalists" and "universalists" in every worldview, and I think that's what's going on here. Furthermore, I named my blog "Love, Joy, Feminism" and not "Love, Joy, Atheism" for a reason: I feel I have more in common with, and can get along better with, feminist religious types than atheist misogynists. :-P So yeah, we're all good. Lisa – "Could you expand on the part where you said, "Rather, I think that human brains are hardwired to look for patterns and meaning and to seek answers to existential questions, and that 'spiritual experiences' are the result." How and why are human brains hardwired to seek answers to existential questions?"It's too big a question to answer here. Maybe I'll do a blog post on my thoughts here! In the meantime, I do address this question just a little bit in this post: http://lovejoyfeminism.blogspot.com/2011/08/hole-in-your-heart.html

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    This is also why I call myself a "humanist" just as frequently as I call myself an "atheist." It seems to me that "atheist" is sort of a negative term – meaning, things I'm NOT – whereas "humanist" is a positive term – things I AM. When someone becomes an atheist, and is emptied of all religious ideas about morality and human purpose, she has essentially torn down a building and is staring at an empty lot. This is a good thing, because the old building (religion) was problematic and possibly rotten, and had definitely become a very unhealthy place for her to live. However, this new atheist has to build a new house to live in, or else sit out miserably in the cold and wet. The house I have built in place of religion is humanism. And I happen to think it's a very good house indeed. Hm. I'm finding this analogy very interesting. I would say that when I realized that the religion house I was raised in was a bad one, I started trying to improve it, changing the windows, knocking out walls, repainting, etc, as I moved to more liberal expressions of religion. But in the end I concluded that any house built on the foundation of religion was a problem, no matter how much I repainted, and so I tore the whole thing down and started again from scratch with a new foundation. Others simply repaint and redecorate and decide that the religion foundation is fine, and never have to tear the house down at all. Still others tear the house down partially and then rebuild from there, but on the same foundation and basic structures. Others raze it all the way down to the foundation, but still keep that. I might have to turn this into a post!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03820077215682328240 boomSLANG

    "I think there are 'tribalists' and 'universalists' in every worldview, and I think that's what's going on here" ~ Libby AnneTribalist, here!(I think?).In any case, I agree—people are people are people. You will find the best and worst of people in every worldview(especially if you're lookin'). And most def', I am not a "Good Atheist", and admittedly, I'm not feminine(I'm male), and at the end of the day, I'm more interested in finding out what is more likely true about the world I live on/in, than I am in spreading joy or getting my interlocutor's "Seal of Approval". I know that sounds harsh – and maybe this blog ain't for me – but ultimately, I hope we can at least all agree that I could be the biggest meanie on the planet, but that doesn't mean that I'm wrong. IOW, this whole "Atheists are like fundies" and "You're treating me like I'm a non-scientific simpleton" rigmarole is ultimately a smokescreen–it's red herring.(fallacy)And yes, I *do* believe that the scientific method, to date, is the most reliable way for determining what has a referent in reality, and what does not. I further believe that liberal Christians, while they thankfully throw out the filthy morality and "judicial-system" of their bibles(OT, if nothing else), they still believe in invisible, conscious, divine beings….no, wait, scratch that, I've encountered a few Christians who didn't believe in Jesus' Divinity. In any case, I do NOT hate Christians(liberal, or otherwise). A lot of my family are still Christians and I certainly don't hate them. On the other hand, if they tell I'm going to be incinerated in their biblegod's chamber of horrors if I don't reconvert, all bets are OFF. The doctrine of "hell" is immoral and it thoroughly disgusts me. This is why I asked one popular poster here if she believed that I "needed Jesus", and that if I did, but declined, would I get "hell". Lastly, I hope no proponent of Christianity(or Islam, or Judiasm) will attempt to convince me that when their extremist counterparts unnecessarily harm or kill their fellow human beings, that this isn't a blatant reflection of these people's spiritual beliefs. You won't. Extremists get their "morality" directly from their "spiritual beliefs". This is demonstrably true.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03820077215682328240 boomSLANG

    It was because I found there to be problematic assumptions and internal contradictions within the materialist atheist view.Andrew G. responds…."Now I'm curious – what do you find to be contradictory?"Ditto(albeit, I can see this becoming tangential to the topic)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15654013636892916062 Erika Martin – Stampin’ Mama

    One of the best quotes I've come across is the following: "Tolerant isn't a position, it's how you treat people who hold positions you hate." -Doug TenNapelI think respect is key. respect for each other as individuals. We don't have to respect a person's belief, but we should respect that we each have a choice, even if we disagree with the choice.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00839186073018487540 Not Guilty

    Ahh the infamous Good Atheist. My family wishes I was one but I ignore them. I criticize religion every chance I get. If your beliefs can't stand up to criticism then maybe its your beliefs that are the problem, not the criticism. I think perhaps you are more tactful than I am.

  • http://worksofliterata.wordpress.com/ Literata

    I just found this blog, so please excuse me if I'm unaware of any of the commenting etiquette here yet. The thing I find most problematic about the majority of atheist conversations is that they totally erase religions other than the Abrahamic monotheisms. I can certainly understand that from Libby Anne's point of view, since her personal journey has been one away from Christianity. But when a thread like this goes on and on and yet all the assumptions about religion and deity assume Judaism/Christianity/Islam as the norm, it gets rather irritating for folks like me. I admit that adherents of non-Abrahamic monotheisms are a minority, and in the US a relatively tiny minority, but we do exist. And now I end up sounding like I'm seeking the Seal of Approval. I'm not: I'm asking you to be aware that Abrahamic monotheisms are not the be-all end-all of religion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Literata – Oh, I am aware of that. I usually discuss Christianity here, because I live in a country where that is the dominant religion, but I have taken religious studies classes and am aware of the sheer diversity of religion across the world. I actually took a class on the history of magic and witchcraft, and I found the pagan tradition fascinating. I think there is beauty that can be found in every religion, and I love that paganism emphasizes the power of the female and the feminine. That said, of course, I don't believe in any sort of spiritual world any more than I believe in a God, and I do see any sort of spiritual belief, whether monotheistic or not, as problematic because it involves superstitious thinking subverts the rational.As for commenting etiquette, I am glad to hear from commenters with a wide variety of views, but I ask that comment threads focus on mutual understanding rather than becoming debates where people try to one up each other. But anyway, welcome to my blog!

  • http://worksofliterata.wordpress.com/ Literata

    Libby Anne, thanks for your quick reply and the awareness you demonstrate.

  • Anonymous

    I understand your position on this issue of being compelled by the "religious" to hand out a "seal of approval" as you put it. If someone truly believes in what they claim, they shouldn't need the validation of others. If their was such a validation, either by logic, rationality, or common opinion, it would not be an issue of faith.However, I think one thing you overlook in this post is the position of the sincere Christian in regard to respect between both parties. If I am a sincere Christian (and I shy away from that term because of the injustice that has been done in the name of Jesus but use it for the quickest way to sum up my beliefs but then here I am apologizing as you say :P) then you have to understand (as I am sure you have heard before, no doubt) that I am concerned about your eternal destination. If I truly believe that there is a heaven and hell, and that those who don't put their faith in Jesus Christ for the redemption of their sins and reconciliation between them and God are lost to an eternity of separation from God's love, then I should be concerned when I find someone who doesn't agree with that. If I care about your well being, I shouldn't keep silent about what I believe and I shouldn't be satisfied if we "agree to disagree". The sad truth of this matter is that someone is right and others are wrong. I think one thing you strongly misunderstand about Christianity (in the Biblical sense) is that someone is a Christian because of morality or because they think that makes them better than others which is wrong. I think you can be "moral" by society's standards and be an atheist or any other religion. In the Bible, God does not offer people "morality" or "a happy, prosperous life" (*puke*) but offers them reconciliation between them and God and a chance to live with him. Yes, morals should be a result of that for those in a real relationship with God. Yes, having God in your life can give you perspective when things go wrong. But these are by no means the motive for faith.Finally, I would like to just tell you that the Bible completely supports the idea that rationality and faith don't mix and I get frustrated with a lot of my friends who are Christian and try to mix the two (Apologeticists). I Corinthians 1 says "For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles". The fact of the matter is Christianity is irreconcilably foolish from a rational perspective, which is why salvation comes through faith rather than reason.Anyway, I appreciate and respect your bluntness. I thought I would return the favor :P

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Anonymous – I, too, appreciate your bluntness, but let me real quickly respond to a couple of points that you bring up. "If I truly believe that there is a heaven and hell, and that those who don't put their faith in Jesus Christ for the redemption of their sins and reconciliation between them and God are lost to an eternity of separation from God's love, then I should be concerned when I find someone who doesn't agree with that."I understand this, but I also have heard your beliefs over and over and once shared them, and I really don't think there is a hell. You disagree of course, but when you warn me about hell and my need to trust Jesus, well, from my perspective today, that just looks silly. Again, I get that to you it doesn't appear that way, I'm just pointing out that I understand your concern and I, well, simply don't share it. "I think one thing you strongly misunderstand about Christianity (in the Biblical sense) is that someone is a Christian because of morality or because they think that makes them better than others which is wrong. I think you can be "moral" by society's standards and be an atheist or any other religion. In the Bible, God does not offer people "morality" or "a happy, prosperous life" (*puke*) but offers them reconciliation between them and God and a chance to live with him."Actually, I do understand this. It's funny, it seems like a lot of people have trouble understanding that yes, I really was a Christian before becoming an atheist. I didn't misunderstand the gospel message, I didn't miss some point of doctrine, I wasn't a Christian in name only or anything like that. I believed that Christianity was indeed about "reconciliation between man and God," and that it was not so much about religion as about a relationship with God. For me, Christianity had nothing to do with being a good person, it had to do with having a relationship with my creator and savior, the God of the universe. Jesus was my best friend, and I did my best to listen to the Holy Spirit's leading. I didn't just say that I was a Christian, I lived it. "The fact of the matter is Christianity is irreconcilably foolish from a rational perspective, which is why salvation comes through faith rather than reason."And see, here is the problem. Faith is believing without seeing. But why? Why should I believe something with no evidence, no reason, just because someone tells me to? You see, this is just what Muslims would likely say, and other religions as well. They all talk about the importance of faith, but when it comes down to it, how do you pick which one is right? Which religion, or even within Christianity, which denomination? If it's all about faith, and not reason, there is no way to figure out which one is right. You just believe. And I happen to think that's silly. I mean, people have committed mass suicide, or sold all their belongings and gone to the hilltops to await Christ's coming, all based on "faith." Faith can justify anything, and it has no reality check. I really see absolutely no value in faith at all, absolutely none. But of course, I used to say the same as you. I pointed to the importance of faith, and said just what you do about faith and reason. I talked about "the wisdom of God" and quoted the same Bible verses. It's not that I don't understand where you're coming from, it's just that at this point I completely disagree.

  • Anonymous

    "I understand this, but I also have heard your beliefs over and over and once shared them, and I really don't think there is a hell. You disagree of course, but when you warn me about hell and my need to trust Jesus, well, from my perspective today, that just looks silly."I totally understand that it looks silly. My point is that the intention is to save your life so to me, appearing silly is worth it. I get that most "Christians" or religious people don't have that intention and I also understand that almost everyone I share with will either write it off or oppose it but I'm just sharing my perspective here."And see, here is the problem. Faith is believing without seeing. But why? Why should I believe something with no evidence, no reason, just because someone tells me to?"Again, you're trying to rationalize the irrational. :D My straight up answer is that by all rights as a westerner living in 2011 you absolutely shouldn't believe. That, however, doesn't invalidate the Gospel of Jesus and doesn't make the Bible any less true or God any less real.I will say a couple more things on this matter: 1) your assumption factors out that God actually exists. If he does, and he created man with free will so that he could be chosen and loved by them. And if he wanted to be loved by them but they rejected him. And if he made a way to reconcile them back to himself, then he would also create a way to confirm who he is to those who love him. You've already mentioned the Holy Spirit, whose job it is to confirm the faith of those who truly believe but I realize that this makes me sound even more "silly" :P I also realize that all my pre-suppositions to this argument aren't provable to a third party, but that's where faith rears its ugly head again :D2) You also assume that faith is simply who God is and whether he exists, which is also Biblically not true. I'm sure you know your Old Testament: The Hebrews at Mt. Sinai were keenly aware of God's existence. They told Moses to go talk to him because they were afraid of his holiness. Yet, in less than 30 days of being practically face to face with God, they were worshiping a false god they made out of gold. As Hebrews says, they perished on the way to the promised land because they didn't combine the gospel with faith. Faith, as described by the Bible, is much more than knowing who God is, and it's even more than living out God's commands, it's living every day of your life as God's soldier as I Timothy talks about. Real faith doesn't end at a certain point which is why I really push back when ex-Christians say they "lost faith", if that makes sense.Thanks for responding so quickly!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Anonymous – "Your assumption factors out that God actually exists."What assumption? I don't make an assumption. I don't think a God exists because all of the evidence that I have seen and all of the experiences that I have had point to there being no God. I don't have an agenda. I just really, honestly don't think there is a God. It's not a dogma. When I come upon new evidence or new experiences, I always reevaluate what I do and do not believe. But don't think that my lack of believe in God is an "assumption;" it isn't. "Real faith doesn't end at a certain point which is why I really push back when ex-Christians say they "lost faith", if that makes sense."Ah, so you're going to say that there is no such thing as an ex-Christian, because no true Christian leaves the faith? If that's what you're saying, you're not alone. Many Christians can't understand how anyone could actually be a true Christian and then leave it, but it really does happen. However, if this is what you are saying, there is nothing I can say to convince you that I was really a Christian before.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Anonymous – "My point is that the intention is to save your life so to me, appearing silly is worth it. I get that most "Christians" or religious people don't have that intention."Actually, most of the Christians I know do have that same intention. Basically, the breakdown is like this: liberal Christians, i.e. those who believe that God cares more about the heart than belief, are okay with my lack of belief, while conservative Christians, i.e. those who believe that God cares more about belief than the heart, very much want to convert me to save my soul. This same breakdown occurs over the issue of hell, as liberal Christians generally believe that there is no hell while conservative Christians believe that hell is very real, and that it means eternal torture. Thus any conservative Christian I know, and I know plenty, very much wants to get me to believe in God and Jesus in order to save me from eternal torture. It's just that I don't think a God who punishes people for not worshiping him with eternal torture is a God I would want to serve anyway, even if such a one did exist, so any appeal to convert me on these grounds falls flat. And yes, I know you'll say God doesn't want people to go to hell, and that people choose hell and God simply wants to save them. Look, I really did used to think the way you do as well. But the fact is, if there is an all powerful God, he made the rules and set the system up in the first place, so you really can't get him off the hook for the whole hell thing. Setting up a system where people can be tortured for eternity is just sick.

  • Anonymous

    I'm sorry, perhaps "assumption" was the wrong word to pick. Maybe "conundrum" would have been more accurate in the sense of deciding if any religion is true."Ah, so you're going to say that there is no such thing as an ex-Christian, because no true Christian leaves the faith?"It's not me saying that, that's something the Bible says. One such statement is in Philippians where the Apostle Paul says that he is confident that "he who began a good work in you [(referring to the Christians in the church)] will see that work out to completion." Even Paul, who suffered many things for the gospel and spread it all over the world of his day said that he didn't act like he had already attained his salvation until he actually finished the race and completed the task God called him to.I'm not sure whether I fall into what you classify as liberal Christian or conservative Christian (though I am confident you have already put me in one box or the other) but the Bible makes it clear that God cares for both belief and heart, they're inseparable according to scripture. Believing in Jesus Christ as God's son and looking to him for salvation is the method of receiving righteousness which is the only way to have a relationship with God. You probably have a different definition of "belief" and "heart" as I do but I hope you understand what I'm trying to say.Regardless, I know that I can't convert you (not you specifically, but anyone who doesn't believe), only God can do that, and luckily, it isn't my job to convert anyone. My only job is to testify to Jesus. The Apostle Paul said the he was the "aroma of Christ" to the people he preached to. To some, he was the smell of death, and to others, the sweet smell of life.I know my scripture better than pretty much any Christian (I'm seriously not trying to sound arrogant but rather point out the sad fact that most Christians don't even take the time to read about the faith they so confidently affirm) and I know what it says about God's character and heaven and hell and I in no way would try to get God "off the hook" so-to-speak. At a base level, the Bible never tries to justify things that God does (it gives some reasons which I could explain through scripture but it'd probably be a waste of your time anyway), it simply says that hell exists because of sin, and that God killed his son to provide the only way out of that, and that some people will still end up there. It's sad, but true. However, that does not make God unjust or unfair. Do I understand everything God does? Of course not. Will I ever? Probably not, maybe in heaven. I still follow him though because one aspect of faith is trusting that God is who he says he is.One thing I will point out (that a lot of Christians don't) is that God loves everyone unconditionally, that is nowhere found in scripture and I push back against a lot of my friends who try to claim that scripture says that because it simply isn't there.Whoops…I feel like I went too long on this one :P

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13930917517196516292 Jason Dick

    Torture forever for simply not believing that Yahweh exists? While a murderer who does believe in this god gets eternal bliss?Yeah, that's pretty much the definition of unjust and unfair right there. Dress it up however you like, you worship an imaginary psychopath.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03820077215682328240 boomSLANG

    Anonymous Sep 25, 2011 04:34, says…"Regardless, I know that I can't convert you (not you specifically, but anyone who doesn't believe), only God can do that[...]"Perfect. So, the ball is clearly in god's court when it comes to nonbelievers. This is good to know. I just want to add, in my case, god will have to "convert" me against my will, that is, unless he can somehow convince me how/why I should feel happy and "blessed" that an innocent man had to be murdered to pay for a supposed crime that neither the murder victim nor I had anything to do with, and more outrageous, that if I don't feel happy and "blessed" about it, I will be tortured w/fire 24/7 for all of eternity. If these sorts of ideas are "fair" and "compassionate", then like I said, I will have to be FORCED by god to believe it—that, and the rest of the bible's nonsense.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17212877636980569324 James Sweet

    Followed here from FtB… Yeah, that we have to keep explaining this… so frustrating. How hard is this concept? Consider paragraph A:"I have absolutely no problem with most atheists. Almost all of the ones I have known have been good people. However, I do think that pretty much everyone could benefit from coming to Christ. It's not necessary in order to be a good person, but I think there is a lot to be gained from accepting the gospel."Pretty innocuous stuff. And now consider paragraph B:"I have absolutely no problem with most believers. Almost all of the ones I have known have been good people. However, I do think that pretty much everyone could benefit from abandoning faith. It's not necessary in order to be a good person, but I think there is a lot to be gained from accepting reality."ZOMG, it must be a militant atheist! Blah..

  • Musical Atheist

    Sorry to refer to something so far back in the comments, but the boat analogy is great. As a point of interest, the parable of the ferry boat is actually a specific parable in Buddhist teaching about the value of religious doctrine on the path to spiritual enlightenment. You practice Buddhist (or other) practices until they get you across the river, when you don't need them any more. I love the fact that there is one religion in the world which has built in the idea that you should give it up once it stops being useful.

  • Pingback: Atheism and religion: it’s all in the axioms


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X