Martin Hughes’s Bad Reasons for Leaving Anti-Theism

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Imagine a theist coming up to you and making this argument:

“I’m not anti-atheist. I know that God exists and that your belief is false, but I also know that you need atheism, because without it, you wouldn’t have a purpose or something to rebel against, so I’m just going to just accept your atheism.”

Wouldn’t you feel insulted by that? Then why is it that we feel it makes sense to make the exact same argument when it comes to theists? And why do we feel that telling theists that “I’m not anti-theist because you need theism not to get depressed” is respectful and compassionate and not deeply condescending and rude?

Devil knows that I have said this many times before. But the latest reason for me to repeat this is Martin Hughes’s deconversion from anti-theism. You can read his article here. I’m going to rebut it here.

One of the many reasons I stopped being an anti-theist is that I became uncomfortable with this pride. I couldn’t ever really embrace it. I mean, I’m a relatively comfortable individual who is privileged in a wide variety of ways. I’m not in a position to make fun of someone else’s weakness, their difficulty in facing the outside world. If you’re alone, and you’re destitute, and you’re struggling to make it through each day, and you don’t have a friend — maybe sometimes you have to make someone up. Who am I, in my position, to be proud that I’m not doing that?

He then goes on to tell how the belief of God and her personal connection with the concept helped his mother through some very rough times. And then he goes on to generalize that to many theists:

So she hung on to God tightly. Maybe other people could have pride in their stoicism, but my mother, in those circumstances of often crippling desperation and weakness, couldn’t afford that pride.

And I’ve seen the same thing in Facebook friends who have clung to God in horrible illness, as I’ve imagined them struggling in their hospital beds. I’ve seen it in person in the eyes of people who have lived beautiful lives, over and over again. I’ve seen anti-theists — hell, I’ve been an anti-theist — who have insisted that these people would be stronger if they stood on their own two feet and were “weak” because they leaned on God.

But as I’ve studied religion and the motivations for why people believe in God, I became increasingly hesitant when it came to demeaning people who depend on God to get through hard times.

I think it’s very funny how Hughes accuses anti-theists of pride, considering how utterly arrogant this way of thinking is. Martin Hughes doesn’t think religious people are as intelligent and strong as he is to undergo the same process of losing faith. He is smart enough to live with reality, but those poor weak people need to make someone up to live through their shitty lives. That’s not what he says in words, but if you scrap away the niceties and look at the argument and its implications, it’s hard to come to any other conclusion.

I’m an anti-theist because I am still convinced that religious ideas are inherently harmful. However, I don’t think of myself, until Hughes clearly does, as “stoic”, or I don’t give a single fuck about my place in universe. My anti-theism is joyful, hopeful, and I look at it as a celebration of freedom, human dignity, and I firmly believe everyone’s lives will be improved upon by doing away with ideas of desert charlatans and warlords of thousands of years ago.

Even if you for some reason think a godless world is a bleak world, why would you feel that people lying to themselves would make the situation better? If I am madly in love with someone, and they don’t love me back, would it be good for me to delude myself into thinking that they do? In what scenario not knowing the reality helps people? And if delusion helps someone, who are you to decide that for them? Who are you to say — you, you specif person — are better off not knowing reality?

I have been a teacher for ten years now. And I have never lied to a child or a teenager about things might hurt their feelings. I gave them the respect to tell them the reality, and allow them to make informed decisions. People with terminal diseases have every right to know their condition.

This is my message to religious people: you don’t need bullshit. You don’t need imaginary friends. You don’t need connections with things that don’t exist. You’re a functioning adult. Don’t worry. You’ll be fine.

Hughes’s other reason for not being an anti-theist is even more baffling for me.

And I’m beginning to see — especially in the wake of a Trump presidency that was disturbingly supported by many anti-theists — that eradicating God doesn’t necessarily increase our love, care, and consideration for people. In some cases, people seem to see the deletion of God as the creation of a playground without rules, where (to put it plainly) they can treat people like shit. I’m not interested in being authoritarian but I do think loving people, in a reality-based world, carries some importance and value.

It took Amazing Atheist supporting Trump for you to see that? Had you not heard about Stalin, or Pol Pot, or Mao? I always assumed that the atheist who claims leaving God automatically makes you a kind and perfect person was a theist caricature, but apparently one of the smartest and most eloquent atheist writers I’ve ever read was that before his deconversion from anti-theism.

For the record, I’m an anti-theist because I believe that the concept of God is harmful and that religious doctrine and tradition makes the world a worse place. It isn’t defined by Amazing Atheist and his ilk and won’t be.

Being anti-theist means knowing that this distinction is false:

There’s a difference between the God my mother needs for strength, through her tears, in the midst of her disease and cancer diagnosis in the privacy of her home, and the God who thinks gay people should be stoned to death. There are many differences between, as another example, God as a privately experienced source of meditation and personal strength, and God as a publicly enacted concept that has fueled control and domination.

No, there’s not. Oppressive religions wouldn’t have survived only with a carrot. Religion wouldn’t survive if it didn’t promise “comfort” or “community”. There’s no private god. There’s no private anything, really. That’s how power really works. And that’s even ignoring the fact that encouraging lack of critical thinking and normalizing falsehood is harmful in itself.

But anyway, what really drove me to write this rebuttal is all the preaching that goes about “enriching people’s lives” and being compassionate and stuff while the truth of Hughes’s new attitude is extremely condescending and reductive of people. I know it always pissed me off to hear this when I was a theist.

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