How Do Atheists Face Despair?

Stephen Rapp sent in this question:

I am interested in atheism as a cultural movement. Every time I think about adopting atheism, I come up with road blocks. Here’s one: How do atheists face despair?

I rarely feel a complete loss of hope, and when I do, it usually passes with the help of a good book, good food, friends & family, and a change of perspective. But I know some face massive amounts of despair on a regular basis, and I can’t speak for what they do to cope.

So, what do you do when you face despair?

  • vorjack

    When I was a believer, I spoke to my priest and attended church support groups. When I left the church, I turned to counselors and friends. In the end I think it’s all the same thing: other people get us through. Religion adds a deity to the mix, but I never felt that there’s a benefit to that.

    However, I notice that Stephen’s facebook page locates him in Asheville, NC. As a former resident, I would think there’s enough good drugs down there to get you through anything.

  • Felix

    ‘Adopting atheism’?
    It’s actually very simple. Reality does not owe me relief from hardship and despair, so I must build it myself, by speaking with people I trust and love. By seeking help that actually does something. Sometimes you get offered help before asking – a superstitionist would give credit to spirits, gods or cosmic providence here instead of simply thanking the other person. You either accept reality and move on, or you find you can’t and either regress into faith or despair without return. It’s sad, but that’s just how it goes. I have faced despair in my life, and I still currently have a hard time. But I also know that others have it far worse, and that by my experience things almost never turn out as bad as you’re afraid they’ll be.

  • Casey

    I tend to take it head on and just let it slide off once I’ve gotten over the emotional part of it. Easier said than done, but it’s really the only way to get through the hard parts of life. And you don’t need religion to do it.

    • http://www.vidlord.com VidLord

      Darline: “I can only speak for me, but I don’t ever face despair.”

      You mean you haven’t faced despair YET.

      “I think true despair comes from helplessness–a complete inability to control one’s life and the events therein.”

      Imagine you feel a slight pain in your abdomen. It continues for a few months and after that time you have it checked out. Turns out you have advanced stage colon cancer and will die within a month or two by vomiting up and suffocating on your feces. You won’t see your child grow up. You might feel a little despair then. But now – with your child, your dogs, spouse and happy little life you’re content to say “Despair? Who has time for that?”. You’re far too busy being happy! You will face despair someday – it’s just a matter of when. But I commend you for a well thought out post. I happen to feel the same as you but as you can see I hold a much darker outlook on life :)

      • Nzo

        Turns out you have advanced stage colon cancer and will die within a month or two by vomiting up and suffocating on your feces.

        Do you get some sort of sick amusement out of saying this? You don’t know a damned thing about Darline. You’re throwing this disgusting indication of the inner workings of your mind out there for others to gag over while they ponder exactly how idiotic one has to be to say this after reading Darline’s post.

        Maybe Darline will die of cancer in a month. The message of his/her post wouldn’t change in the least. I feel the same way.

        You have to realize that you can’t possibly ‘feel the same’ as Darline and have that sort of outlook on life. It’s apparent to me that while you may have read his/her post, you lack the intellect to understand it.

      • darlene

        “You will face despair someday – it’s just a matter of when.”

        Oh, I do hate assumptions.

        You see, I actually do have a genetic disease which, in 20-30% of cases, causes death by brain embolism. Can’t be predicted. In many other cases, it causes kidney failure. I face my mortality every day.

        When my mother was in her mid-forties she needed heart bypass surgery. Right before they knocked her out, I was sitting by her bedside while she ranted about the possibility of death and all the things she didn’t do–the things she regretted. I swore that I would never allow myself to be like that; and that whenever death found me, it would find me in mid-stride, living my life to the best of my ability.

        And, to be blunt, should I find myself with any disease which would cause that much suffering without any hope for survival, I would make sure that my death was as peaceful, pain-free, and pleasant for those around me as I could. (My spouse and I have already had long discussions about how we would want to live-or die, and in that situation it would be: pull the plugs and up the pain meds!)

        And before I went, I’d throw the biggest, loudest, most obnoxious party I could, and invite everyone I knew, and make sure I told everyone anything I hadn’t yet had a chance to tell them–and make sure no one else was left with regrets. We’d all get stupid-drunk (so I wouldn’t be the only one vomiting up) and have a ball, and we’d all get a chance to say good-bye.

        I still don’t see why, even in the face of pain and death, I would choose despair over any other emotion.

  • darlene

    I can only speak for me, but I don’t ever face despair.

    How can I despair, when I know that my actions have the ability to change and effect my world? How can I despair when I know that the only “forces” moving against me are either random chance or scientifically based or just other humans being nits? How can I despair when I am free to make choices as needed to meet the circumstances, without worrying about an overseerer who may disapprove?

    Despair? When I can look at my life and claim absolute responsibility for all my triumphs as well as my failures? When I can know that I am where I am because of my own abilities and actions and ambitions; and that if I don’t like where I am I can change it?

    I have so much power over my own life, and I am mindful of that power. I fill my days with good books; and educating my child (I homeschool); and being a spouse; and working with my dogs; learning new things and reinforcing old lessons and doing volunteer work that is meaningful to me…I choose my life, and the people in it.

    Despair? Who has time for that? For me despair is a luxury, a chance to wallow in defeat for a few minutes, before I’m planning a comeback. Sure, I get sad, blue, sick, tired, sick AND tired, annoyed, etc…but despair?

    I think true despair comes from helplessness–a complete inability to control one’s life and the events therein. Since I don’t have the option of handing control of my life over to anyone else, despair doesn’t really play a part. It has nothing to latch onto.

    So how does this atheist face despair? By not giving it a toehold in the first place.

    But that’s just me.

    • Slurms

      I couldnt have said it better.

    • Devysciple

      If I had had the opportunity to read darlene’s comment before I put up mine, I would have remained silent. Awesome all the way!

    • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

      How can I despair, when I know that my actions have the ability to change and effect my world? How can I despair when I know that the only “forces” moving against me are either random chance or scientifically based or just other humans being nits? How can I despair when I am free to make choices as needed to meet the circumstances, without worrying about an overseerer who may disapprove?

      I don’t completely disagree, but I think there are a log of sociologists, with whom I would agree, that would argue that there are millions (billions?) of people who are so impoverished that they literally do not have the power to make very much of a difference. I know that’s not yout point, but I thought I would at least bring that perspective to the table.

      • Francesc

        I agree with you, all those people need to believe in something.
        Maybe they can believe in an alter-life and go trough life without doing anything to improve it; maybe they can acknowledge that their situation isn’t fair and fight for a better world.

        Anyway, Darlene here is speaking about “normal” people in a developed country. She indeed has some power.

        In another hand, i don’t like how “adopting atheism” sounds. Atheism is nor a religion neither a philosophy. A “cultural movement”?

      • darlene

        Yes, there are people who are impoverished to such a level that it would seem they have little power–even people so disenfranchised that they don’t have much power. I’m thinking victims of mass rape in Rwanada and the Congo, people who have watched their families and friends fall to waves of genocidial brutality and murder…

        And yet even the least powerful can always choose to make the best of things. I am always awed by the courage and compassion I see in those people who have been most sinned against.

        Personally, to think that there was a “loving god” who ALLOWED such terrible brutality would lead me to more despair then to just say “Humans suck.”

        I would suggest that being taught that some outside force has put you in a position of poverty and heartbreak is removing your power. Watching a tornado heading for me and thinking “Oh, god must WANT this to happen” seems more helpless then staring at it saying “This sucks!” At least in the second instance I have the power of response.

        And, I have a strong motivation to do something about people in those situations, instead of thinking that god’ll take care of them somehow.

        • Nzo

          Watching a tornado heading for me and thinking “Oh, god must WANT this to happen”

          This sort of thing is NEVER god’s fault to them. When the doctors sew them back together after transplants, transfusions, and other various scientific tasks… THAT is god.

    • Lisa S

      This is pretty much close to my opinion. Ever since I stop trying to figure out how to please an invisible god my despair level fell dramatically, in fact, it doesn’t exist. I actually enjoy life now and take more responsibility for my actions than I ever had as a Christian. I’ve found that taking responsibility for my actions, doesn’t allow despair to take a toehold.

      Well said.

    • KimV

      Very well said … I wanted to answer the question but I just couldn’t find an instance in my life when I felt despair. Low points? Definitely, and many. But to sink despair is to give over control of your own mind to someone else, and that’s something I refuse to do.

    • http://blogg.mostad.eu/ Utrykksfugl

      @darlene: It must be wonderfull never to despair. I wonder about what you say about your choises. It seems like all your choises only have either positive or negative consequences and that you don’t face choises where you have to weigh some good outcomes against some bad.

      I am also wondering if you allways know in advance what consequences your choises will have. I have often despaired as a result of choises I have taken without knowing their consequences untill later.

      Often we have to take risks to get something good. Sometimes taking risks involves the possibility of getting a bad result in stead of the positive outcome we wanted.

      I don’t really buy your belief in a reality where you can control everything by your own thoughts. Most of the people on this planet are born into families, social strata (“classes” if you prefer Marx’ terminology), townships, cities, cultures, religions &c that influence us tremendously and we are heavily impacted by theses circumstances. I would argue that most of our choises are done without us even noticing that we have the possibility to choose something different than what the cultural spheres we are living in are telling us is the “obvious” choise. And for most people on this planet, through most of the human history, economy and more importantly: natural resources have left us with few choises but trying to survive with all possible means. It seems you are heavily influenced by the American belief that anybody can be rich and do well. It’s simply not true, especially not in the USA, where only the rich get proper healthcare and a good education. I would argue that most of us could have been the ones living on the streets if we were born into other circumstances. If you truly believe everybody gets what they have chosen, then you can’t realy have much empathy for anybody not sucsessfull?

      Often circumstance dictates. Of course, there are free choises as to how you deal with your circumstances, but in many cases, moving to higher social strata is impossible because of the uneven distribution of wealth and resources. And despair is something a lack of resources is really good at creating.

      There is also a psycological factor. Many of us experience traumas or are born with psyciatric conditions. Often despair is a result of not being able to see any positive outcome of a situation. People with anxiety, depression, bioplar disorders &c are often not able to control their feeling of despair, even in situations where there is no reason to feel despair or where the despair is part of the problem itself.

      Throwing a God with a set of moral codes, with duties and sins and things to feel ashamed of and such doesn’t help with despair and can lead to many traumas in itself. That being said, I would think that even if you are not religious, despair is part of life and at some point you will meet it. I think that having experienced despair is something that helps us really appreciate the time when we don’t experience despair. It helps us be empathical towards those in worse circumstances than ourselves. Nobody sane would want to experience despair, but you might be missing out on an important part of life if you never feel a hint of it, I would say.

      Best regards from Sweden! :-)

      • http://blogg.mostad.eu/ Utrykksfugl

        I meant to say “throwing a God into the mix….” What I am saying is that religion can sometimes be traumatising in itself.

    • http://karlylarson.com Karly

      Karly likes this.

      • http://karlylarson.com Karly

        (@ Darlene)

  • Devysciple

    This might sound very arrogant, but for me it works fine:

    The last time I was in despair, it was the time when I had to drop off university. I simply could not take it any more. The deadlines, the wrecked private live, the endless procrastination. I had panic attacks, heavy migraine, severe sleeping disorders… I just couldn’t go on like that. So I left university and I am now struggling to get a grip on life.

    But there is one thing I realized for myself, that despair is not a condition you are put into by your environment. It is one you put yourself into. In other words: When you are in despair, see a counselor, a psychotherapist, a psychologist, anyone that is properly trained to help you. Despair is a state of mental imbalance. There are drugs and therapies that can help you…

    I did not (back then) walk that way, for several reasons, but I would now. My situation is quite difficult in many ways right now, but still I feel much better than in the days back at university. I have learned that I can cope with a lot more than I had thought. I know that to deal with most problems, the thing you most importantly need is stamina, and the willingness to do things even if you initially do not want to do them. That has helped me a lot.

    So in short: If your life is miserable, see someone qualified that can help you (yes, your close friends may be more qualified than some therapists, so some nice dinner, a little wine, and a long talk can work miracles). If you are just overwhelmed by the obstacles life throws at you, remember that every toddler had to start walking by taking baby steps. And baby steps will eventually bring you out of (almost) every inconvenient situation, unless it is really effed up, in which case you should rely on professional support.

  • http://www.distantisaluti.com Giovanni Fontana

    I also feel despair because I’m not married with Scarlett Johansson – but this doesn’t mean that I go throughout my friends saying: “yes, I believe Scarlett Johansson is my wife”.

  • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

    I would think Nietzsche would have something to say about this, no? Realize the world can suck and be unfair and man up.

    Also, I agree with vorjack: people get you through things. Atheists would reject the claim that these people are gifts from God, but that rejection doesn’t diminish the amazing power of people and relationship.

    I suspect that I, as a religious person, face despair in many of the same ways as others who frequent the blog. Many of us question how a good Go could let disaster strike, including myself. And then (or maybe before) we turn to our closest friends and colleagues for support and comfort. And finally, I cling to the hope that things will eventually get better (even if there’s no evidence that it will, hence hope).

    • http://progressatallcost.blogspot.com/ markbey

      @ brgulker

      ” I suspect that I, as a religious person, face despair in many of the same ways as others who frequent the blog. Many of us question how a good Go could let disaster strike, including myself. ”

      Does god ever answer your question? If so what does god say?

      • Francesc

        “Service not available at that moment. We will be back online on the Judgement Day”

        Sorry, I needed to do that joke. I think brgulker here is questioning himself, not God. As we all do everyday about a lot of things.

        • http://progressatallcost.blogspot.com/ markbey

          I know that I just would love to hear him explain his incoherent statement. Although brgulker is a nice enough non dogmatic fellow I have to admit, I would love for him to answer my question.

          I am not trying to deconvert him but I wonder how he can hold on to beliefs that require him to ignore what his supposed god actually says.

          • Slurms

            replace “actually says” with “supposedly says” heh

            • http://progressatallcost.blogspot.com/ markbey

              True that. My mistake.

    • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

      My point was this and only this: In moments of crisis, I deal with things like a lot of people here do or have done at some point in their lives. I turn to friends and family for comfort and support. And I ask tough philosophical questions. I was trying to emphasize that all of us here regardless of our position on belief, faith, or God have that much in common.

      • http://progressatallcost.blogspot.com/ markbey

        ” I turn to friends and family for comfort and support. And I ask tough philosophical questions.”

        Ill give you that you are open minded for a christian. In fact it wouldnt suprise me if you have not been harrased by ignorant ass christians.

        But Im still having problems understanding why you continue to hold on to christianity when you admit that some things in the bible are not accurate. That is unless I am misuderstanding where you are comming from.

        • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

          But Im still having problems understanding why you continue to hold on to christianity when you admit that some things in the bible are not accurate. That is unless I am misuderstanding where you are comming from.

          I made a really lengthy comment in a post earlier this week (maybe weekend) about what I understand the bible to be. In short, I concluded that I think the bible is a human book and that my faith isn’t in the bible.

          I don’t have time to look that post up right now, but if you want my full explanation, that’s the best place to look. In short, I’m a Christian because I choose to be, because it’s the worldview that best explains human life and infuses it with meaning for me. Others might find that something else does, and I respect that. But for me, Christianity works best, in spite of its glaring flaws.

          I suspect that you probably won’t ever fully “understand” (in the sense that understanding brings agreement) why I’m a Christian, because we’ve come to very different conclusions about that based on the same evidence. But, I hope that doesn’t hinder us from mutual respect.

          And yes, I get harassed by other Christians (and some atheists when I post here :P). But that doesn’t bother me. When I talk with Christians who think differently than I do, I do tend to get a bit evangelistic, but I’m not going to let it disrupt friendships or anything, and I know when to quit. Some people simply believe what they believe, and there’s no changing it. I just love them and try to work with them for the common good whenever possible.

          • Nzo

            It’s a free social club… provided you don’t tithe. Often it’s good for business. Churchies stick together, they don’t by from heathens.

            Makes sense on an economic level in the U.S.

  • Dan

    Hi. Long time reader, first time poster, etc.

    As a believer, this is something I’ve been curious about as well. I think about aging and sickness and eventually death, and the thought bothers me a great deal from an atheistic perspective. I am relatively young (a college student), and I like being young. Nobody can stop the aging process, and aging eventually leads to sickness and/or death. This would cause me a great deal of despair if I did not believe in God and an afterlife.

    Of course I would want to do all I could to make my life comfortable and help others around me, protect the environment, contribute to society, etc. But in the end, it seems that I would be faced with that same destination, and I don’t think there would be any meaning in my life besides subjective (I would say “pretend”) meaning. Reading a good book and eating a good meal is nice, but it seems like you’re distracting yourself rather than solving the problem.

    Thanks in advance for any responses. I am genuinely interested in this and I hope this does not come off as antagonistic. I would just like to know what the other side thinks!

    • http://www.lswtf.com JackGonzo

      Why would I “despair” when it comes to death if I don’t believe in God? If what you say is true then this world is in complete despair since billions of life forms die every day and as we all know only Dogs go to Heaven.

      All jokes aside, I can only say for my own part that I do not fear death. Death is a part of the natural order of things. Nature knows this, but it is only man who strives to find something outside of nature. It is only man who thinks there must be something more, not because you believe in God but that you fear death. You fear that once you leave this place, that’s it, your existence is over and some day in the future you will be worm food.

      I have thought for some time that is why you see so many folks in their 40s turn ultra-religious, they fear death and don’t know what’s next. Atheists? Most of those that I know don’t fear death, hell we think about the different ways we want to go out…and how our wife better follow our wishes, give us a viking funeral because I’ll be damned if I come back as a zombie.

    • Question-I-thority

      The fact that I am going to die some day does not diminish the value of each today but in fact enhances them. Life is rare fortune. You hit the lottery. Spend some of the cash.

      • ftsor

        Oh, well said!

    • http://progressatallcost.blogspot.com/ markbey

      @ dan
      ” But in the end, it seems that I would be faced with that same destination, and I don’t think there would be any meaning in my life besides subjective (I would say “pretend”) meaning. ”

      Is thier any meaning that isnt subjective, if so give me an example. Every human bieng that I know of (that is not comatose) attempts to understand the world around them in a subjective way because we as humans simply do not have answers to all of the universes wonders.

      Every day of our lives as human biengs we are trying to figure out or understand countless things that we have no answers for. If all humans are in the process of learning and developing, then wouldnt this indicate that all meaning is subjective.

      • Dan

        markbey:

        (Let me preface by saying that I am really trying to approach this as I believe I would if I were an atheist. I’m doing my best, guys.)

        My thinking is that, if everyone (and the universe) will eventually die, then nothing we do will have any real, lasting meaning. If I love my friends and family and spend time with them, or if I help out in homeless shelters, or work to preserve the environment of the earth, those things will all eventually be rendered void. My life, everything that brings me pleasure, will end, and my consciousness will disappear. And there is nothing that can prevent that. This is the despair I’m talking about. Therefore, when I look at all those things I could do with my time, their only meaning is in what I give them while I exist, or while those people exist, or while the earth exists. Eventually, it will all be forgotten. None of it lasts. Enjoying it now isn’t good enough, because there is a burden of death hanging over it all. For me, at least, living for the moment is no good, because the moment will end, and I am on balance no better than if I had not existed at all. And neither is anybody else, when the universe dies in a heat death.

        An example of something’s having objective meaning would be some action that would matter regardless of my life or the life of the universe. If I can have a relationship with God, and if I can have life after death, then I would say there is objective meaning in that. It means I can have a purpose greater than my own earthly experience. If the sun goes supernova and the earth is destroyed, nothing anyone ever did would have mattered. If there is a God, and through my life I come to know Him and can have life after death, then my life had objective meaning. Even after death, I can live with God.

        So basically, as I understand it (and please share your interpretations!): On atheism, there’s ultimately no meaning to anything I do. But if there is a God, then I can have meaning.

        What do you guys think?

        • darlene

          “So basically, as I understand it (and please share your interpretations!): On atheism, there’s ultimately no meaning to anything I do.”

          You answered your own question earlier in the post: “Therefore, when I look at all those things I could do with my time, their only meaning is in what I give them while I exist, or while those people exist, or while the earth exists.”

          Yes. That’s enough. I don’t need more. I don’t choose to live with death hanging over me. Instead, I choose to live knowing that what I do today matters, because it may not be here tomorrow. I’m busy gathering…

          “GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,
          Old Time is still a-flying:
          And this same flower that smiles to-day
          To-morrow will be dying.”

          ~ Robert Herrick

          • rodneyAnonymous

            There is no external, objective meaning. What is meaningful is what you decide is meaningful.

          • Dan

            How can something matter when it won’t be here tomorrow?

            • rodneyAnonymous

              Because it matters today.

            • rodneyAnonymous

              …and it cheapens the value of something that won’t be here tomorrow if you insist that it will.

            • rodneyAnonymous

              …and something that won’t be here tomorrow is arguably more valuable than something that will. Depends on perspective.

            • Aor

              Does your mother matter to you today? Would she stop mattering to you if she died during the night?

            • trj

              “How can something matter when it won’t be here tomorrow?”

              Because at the time it IS here it DOES matter.

              And that’s ALL that matters.

            • Soulless

              The question you should be asking yourself is whether or not “lastingness” is a realistic expectation in a universe where “change” is a constant.

        • http://progressatallcost.blogspot.com/ markbey

          ” My thinking is that, if everyone (and the universe) will eventually die, then nothing we do will have any real, lasting meaning. If I love my friends and family and spend time with them, or if I help out in homeless shelters, or work to preserve the environment of the earth, those things will all eventually be rendered void. ”

          I dont really get your statement, this is still no evidence or reason to believe in god. Why would the existence of god give these acts any more many than if thier wasnt a god.
          For instance thier are thousands of woman who struggled for the right for women to vote in this country that will forever remain anonymous.
          No one knows exactly how or who built the pyramids does that make them any less magnificant.

        • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

          @ Dan: Read Sartre.

          I’m sure there’s a wiki page on him that would sum up some of his big ideas. Many of the posts in response to yours echo a lot of Sartre’s thoughts, especially about the only meaning to life being the meaning we create from it.

        • Question-I-thority

          Dan – Setting aside sermons and Bible lessons, I’ve heard this same string of thoughts maybe a thousand times from Christians. I thot them myself when I was one. We’re all afraid of the dark.

          Upon leaving Christianity and after the withdrawal phase, I was very surprised by the reality of post religious living. I was more compassionate and loving. I had no desire to murder anyone :). I was no longer nagged by depression. As I said, I was surprised–at the peace of unbelief.

          Why can’t something matter today if it won’t matter a bazillion, illion years from now? And more important, why do you need it to matter way out then? Back in the day when I would raise the objectivist argument, or when others would do so, as far as I can remember the thing usually had a perceptible fear charge.

        • Question-I-thority

          On atheism, there’s ultimately no meaning to anything I do

          You’ve got it backwards: For atheistic meaning, there is no ultimately.

    • Ender

      I just realized that part of a previous post I made would have been better put here as a rely – so here’s the relevant part:

      As for dealing with death, it always strikes me that Christians don’t seem to get much relief from believing in the afterlife when a loved one dies. They seem to grieve no more or less than atheists. For an atheist a death is the end of that person, never to be known again. For Christians it’s just brief interlude in their ever lasting lives before they’re reunited… right? So why do they despair as much as atheists do at a death?

      And thus… does the Christian belief actually help with despair, or dealing with death – or do people just believe in the belief of it? (at which point I’ll hand you over to Dan Dennett… :)

      I’d be interested to hear your thoughts – specifically: if your belief in god does help you when someone dies, why doesn’t that better coping seem to manifest itself when compared to those who don’t believe?

      • Dan

        It’s definitely sad when loved ones (or strangers, for example, victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks) die. As a Christian, I would say it’s sad because we no longer get to be with those people while we’re here on earth and/or sad because those people did not have a relationship with God. Simply put, we despair because we love those people, just like non-Christians do. I can’t speak for other Christians who despair when loved ones die. I would be sad because I would miss that person in the here-and-now or because I knew that person did not have eternal life. If the person whose death I mourned had been a Christian, I would despair only because I would miss the person now, but I would be glad to know that I could be with that peson again some day. I guess a lot of the time we, as Christians, get too focused on this life and forget about eternity, which is exactly the opposite of what Jesus wanted us to do.

        And as for the deaths of those who do not believe, I agree that there is great sadness in that. I mean, if you believe that person is going to spend eternity separate from God, that’s about the most dreadful thing imaginable, right? I’m sorry if some Christians don’t seem to care; it shouldn’t be that way.

        • Ender

          Well as an atheist I clearly don’t agree that an eternity separate from your god is the most dreadful thing imaginable, because I don’t believe he exists.

          What would be worse, for me, is to find out that your god does exist, and that while you and I have both led similarly good lives, he punishes me to eternal damnation purely because I didn’t believe in him.

          But to return to my original point, why is it that when Christians loose Christian loved ones they seem to grieve no more or less than atheists do for the same person? And why do Christians seem to grieve more for upright and good Christians that have died, rather than those that have ‘wandered from the flock’?

        • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

          . I guess a lot of the time we, as Christians, get too focused on this life and forget about eternity, which is exactly the opposite of what Jesus wanted us to do.

          I would argue the exact opposite. Christians spend far too much time fantasizing about eternal bliss and eternal damnation, which is exactly the opposite of what Jesus did. We spend so much time obsessing about eternity and ‘who’s in and who’s out’ that we neglect to love the people we interact with on a daily basis. Like someone said above, having life is like winning the lottery. We just won. Now let’s go spend the cash. Love your neighbor. Dedicate your life to something you love doing. And if eternity is real, then we’ll enjoy it when it gets here. If not, at least we’ll have lived and loved fully while were ailve.

        • Kodie

          To be blunt, it’s a failure to accept reality. It’s a constructed notion to comfort people who are afraid of reality, and to some extent, a campaign to convince you to be afraid of reality by telling you not to be afraid because there’s more.

    • Francesc

      Would you choose to forget that you know Santa are our parents? Could you forget that?

      I don’t believe in any god. I can try to believe, but without any evidence… well, I simply can’t deceive willingly my mind. So I can’t believe in a god to diminish my fear to death. As I can’t believe in a god to have a role in the cosmic plan.

      Nevertheless, I understand that, if you indeed believe in a god, you may not want to renounce at him because of that fear. You and I are not in the same starting point. But still… would you prefer to be deceived and happier? Either is a god, or it isn’t, your beliefs doesn’t change the reality (lol, as far as we know)

      Anyway, enjoy your life all you can, as we don’t know if there is going to be another one

      (cynical and cryptic? sorry, lots of ideas in so little time, and my english doesn’t help)

      • Karleigh

        Your English is great =D What’s your native language?

        • Francesc

          Thanks, I’m doing an effort and I would like to think that writing -and reading- here I’m improving it.
          My native language is catalan -dou you know Barcelona?- and spanish

  • http://www.lswtf.com JackGonzo

    I notice that folks who “despair” are religious, those who do not are not. I would to think of this is what it is because we don’t have beliefs that can be rattled. We don’t have expectations, we don’t think the big zombie sky bully is on our side and when something goes wrong how he has forsaken us. If we have a bad day, we have ways to cope because we don’t see them as sins.

    We rarely face “despair” because we have learned to enjoy this life, not suck all the joy out of life tying to prove yourself worthy of the next life.

  • http://www.rationalitynow.com Dan Gilbert

    Two words: Friends. Family.

    • nomad

      Yeah, but what if they’re all religious? “Trust the Lord”.

  • Tyro

    I confess I find it odd that people should approach atheism as a cultural movement. Does truth and reality not matter anymore? Strange.

    Anyway, I have found a couple times in my life when I felt down and confused. I talked to a counsellor and that helped to get my thinking straight.

    In general I’d say that emotions can overwhelm us at times but I fail to see how reaching out to silent forces of nature (or supernature) could possibly help. Talking to someone is the way to go. Talk to a priest if you like but counsellors or therapists have specific training and won’t soil the experience with theological baggage.

    • http://www.lswtf.com JackGonzo

      Well some would argue that truth and reality haven’t mattered in this country since 2000

    • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

      For the record, seminary training almost always includes training in counseling. But more importantly, most seminaries connect you with professional psychologists and teach you what to look for so that you know when to refer a deeply troubled person to a professional who’s equipped to deal with it.

  • Pingback: Despair? Who has time for that? | Rationality Now

  • Japanther

    Two of my friends died a few years ago in a car accident. I went to the funeral. I cried. I remembered the good times. I thought about them for a day or two, not talking much. Then I decided to live my life to its fullest because you might die at any moment. I got inspired to learn, create, experience as much as possible. Basically, I would say as an atheist I dealt with it emotionally first, then I was quick to integrate logic and reason to change what I could (me). I still have that drive, and I still miss them. However, I refuse to be selfishly living in a downward spiral of depression and misery, when I can easily still have a good life.

    Pain and suffering is normal. 100% of the people you love will die. It inspires everyone. Will you let your despair define you, or will you learn from it? That is the choice I arrived at. I don’t think this was an ‘atheist’ method of dealing with despair. Rather, a rational way to deal with emotions. This was certainly easier to do as a freethinker/atheist, than it would have been as a believer.

    How an atheist does NOT deal with despair:
    Wonder why God would let such terrible things happen (shit happens, people die, etc.)
    Rely on faith healers, or even plain prayer to make any difference (it doesn’t).
    Try to communicate with the dead (doesn’t work)
    Praying to an unhearing higher power for guidance (that never comes).

    • Nelly

      well said

      pretty much sums up similar experiences. make the most of your life, it’s the only one you got

      • Japanther

        exactly (:

  • J. Allen

    Atheists can deal with despair in a variety of ways, but at least those ways don’t include things like putting unnecessary guilt onto one’s self, or ignoring and hiding the emotions by pretending things like death are only temporary. I feel when an athiest comes out of despair, he will do so in a healthier place, having faced reality.

    Personally I find refuge in good company, long walks in the wilderness, and some alcohol for the hard nights.

    There can be no growth without failure and loss, even if it in meaningless loss, and when they come one needs to embrace that they represent the truth of our world, and not deny them with fantasy.

    • http://blogg.mostad.eu/ Utrykksfugl

      I think you are right on this. I used to be a christian in the past, but I’m not any more, and when I was a believer, there was allways this extra guilt of sins and shame of all the normal human thoughts and lusts and the feeling of not being good enough and the cries of despair to a God that never showed his mercy. That doesn’t help cope with despair at all, it just reinforses it.

      Thinking problems through in a rational way can solve problems, and asking advice of people I trust is usually the best way of getting a fresh perspective if I am feeling despair. And of course there are professionals dealing with emotional despair that can help overcome if the despair never dissapears or if it is highly irrational.

      • DarkMatter

        extra guilt of sins – unbiblical pressure by the church.

        • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

          Unfortunately, you are exactly right. A lot of us Christians are complete hypocrites when it comes to guilt. After all, if we are right about Jesus, then sin (and guilt as the result of sin) has already been abolished. The message of Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection should be a liberating message, not an oppressive one.

          But you’re right — we’re mostly hypocrites about that topic.

          • Molly

            @brgulker – This inconsistency was one of the many theological reasons I had for abandoning my faith. We (Christians & formers) are told that God loves us, God has special plans for our lives, we are children of the King, we are somehow set apart and worthy… and, in the same breath, we’re also told to humble ourselves, to consider ourselves nothing. We’re incessantly reminded of our unworthiness and our inherent flawed nature. Be grateful to God for this gift that you don’t deserve! Remember how little you deserve it! Want it even though you don’t deserve it! Remember that you’re eternally indebted to God for redeeming your soul, even though you never asked to be born sinful and in need of redemption.

            If we are supposed to be like God, and if we can assume God to be a morally upright being, than how can we justify accepting such a tremendous gift when justice would be served by dying as a result of our sins? Aren’t we circumventing divine justice by accepting God’s salvation?

      • John C

        My friend, respectfully what you described is the exact opposite of the truth. For…by this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ ONCE FOR ALL TIME, (Heb 10:10). This means that sin has been (past tense) dealth with…already once and for all. The reason no lightning bolts fell, that God didnt “yell” at you is because He doesn’t see it anymore, it (sin, that man of rebellion) has been crucified (He became sin for us) with Him on the cross and now we are raised to newness of life in righteousness.

        Guilt, shame, condemnation…none of these temporal “feelings” were from God, were of the spirit of truth but from a residual consciousness of sin within. “For then would not the sacrifices have ceased to be offered, because the consciences of the worshippers–who in that case would now have been cleansed ONCE FOR ALL–would no longer be burdened with sins?” (Heb 10:2.) We are not given a sin consciousness but a righteousness consciousness.

        Fixing our consciousness above the line of truth, in the unseen realm wherein truth resides, as opposed to trusting only in what our physical eyes in this temporal realm tell us is what faith is all about. If we will believe Father and fix our eyes on that sure and certain unseem realm then what is true in the changeless, eternal realm will become anchored and true within us, wherein the kingdom of God is found.

        The journey continues…Love wins and He (Love) loves you….still.

        • Molly

          I disagree with you both. There is a tremendous amount of both social pressure from the church as well as theological / biblical pressure from the verses that encourage us to “humble ourselves before the Lord” and recognize that we are INHERENTLY flawed (original sin) and incapable of changing this on our own. It’s a lot of pressure to be born fucked, so to speak. No matter what you do, you can’t alter your own circumstances, determine your own future, or shake this identity of sin, unless you admit defeat and “give up” to a higher power. Well, I don’t give up, I don’t want to cede control or responsibility for my own life to anyone else, and I will not be defeated.

        • rodneyAnonymous

          @JC: What exactly do you hope to accomplish with comments like that? Maybe the person you’re replying to will decide the Bible isn’t nonsense, and that what you’re saying isn’t ridiculous? Maybe someone who hasn’t decided the Bible is nonsense is reading and will be comforted by your comment? What?

          • John C

            Rodney–

            Respectfully, yourself and Molly are not familiar with me…I used to spend a lot of(way too much, just ask the forum regulars they know me all too well, ha) time on here but have gone away for an extended season (not long enough I’m sure, ha) dont often comment anymore.

            There is no malicious agenda my friend, I only offer a different perspective, one that I have personally experienced now for nearly a quarter century and hope to interject some (liberating) truth, some hope and some true understanding of the nature/character of God toward us.

            He is not condemning or harsh but merciful, loving and kind. His only expectation of us is to love Him in return. There is so much more to this Christ/God than meets the (natural) eye. Religion (as we know it) is a terrible, burdensome thing focused on external “behavior’s” while Christ is an internal change of nature, His within.v

            Its all about Love for that’s who He is, Love (1 John 4:16). Warm regards sir…and Ma’am.

            • Molly

              @ JohnC- I’m quite familiar with you :) I just don’t usually feel compelled to comment. As for your different perspective, I’m assuming I experienced something similar during m y 12 years as a devoted Christian. The most liberating truth I’ve ever encountered was found when I left Christianity behind for rational thought.

            • John C

              Molly, I do not judge or begrudge your past “christian” experience, we are all on a journey. If what you were living wasn’t liberating then trust me, I am the first to say I’m so glad that you discarded it, whatever “it” was.

              I wish you all the sincere, very very best Miss Molly and rejoice with you in your new found freedoms! JC

            • rodneyAnonymous

              Guessing the quotes denote sarcasm, i.e. Molly’s experience wasn’t truly Christian.

            • rodneyAnonymous

              You are assuming that because you are not familiar with me, I am not familiar with you :) I didn’t say anything about a malicious agenda, or even an agenda exactly… just: what are you hoping to accomplish? Offering a different perspective? Hm.

            • rodneyAnonymous

              Are you aware that your perspective has the probable effect of reinforcing an atheist’s opinion that the Bible is nonsense?

            • John C

              No, that was not intended nor implied…

            • rodneyAnonymous

              What was not intended or implied?

            • rodneyAnonymous

              Oh… specify… unintended probable effect… same question.

          • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

            Is calling him JC intentional?

            I mean, it’s funny either way, but it’s funnier if you aren’t calling him that on purpose.

            • rodneyAnonymous

              Sorry to be less than optimally funny, but yeah, it is when I do ;)

            • John C

              Those are my real initials, John C…just ask Daniel if you dont believe me…

            • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

              I believe you, John.

              It’s just that there’s also another guy with the same initials that gets mentioned here quite a bit as well, and the irony of that humors me.

            • Daniel Florien

              It’s true, John C is actually Jesus Christ himself. Or at least his representative on earth. Or his slave. Or something like that…

            • LRA

              Yes, JC is our resident mystic… In his words, “there is more… there is life!”

              ;)

            • Francesc

              There is internet in heaven? That will be so cool!

            • Japanther

              of course there is internet in heaven. You can even talk to god right now.
              http://www.titane.ca/concordia/dfar251/igod/main.html

              lol, he used to get really angry if you asked him about republicans.

            • Francesc

              Lol

              It was funny, I was trying to de-convert Him, but he didn’t go for the game

        • http://iwant2knowyourstory.blogspot.com/ Niva Tuvia

          I thought u were supposed to be gone for good, John C? :)

          • John C

            Ok, I can take a hint Niva…I’m doing my best to try and stay away but what can I say…I love you guys.
            ..
            Blessings.

            • http://iwant2knowyourstory.blogspot.com/ Niva Tuvia

              You enjoy this too much, man. Lol.

  • LRA

    I have never felt more despair than when I was a christian. I understand now that there is probably not some great overseer keeping tabs on the good and bad in this world. That frees me up to live my life on my terms. What a gift to have! I’m grateful for it!

    • Molly

      exactly. well said!

  • AnonyMouse

    You don’t “adopt” atheism. It’s a way of perceiving reality, not a faith system. Though if the fellow is looking to give up what he seems to recognize as evidenceless deism/agnosticism, I can respect that.

    The funny thing about atheists is that, having realized that our life on Earth is the only one we will get, we enjoy it a lot more than people of faith. With no threat of eternal damnation, we never worry whether our actions will land us in a cosmic lake of fire – so although we may “sin” no more than the average Christian, we also don’t spend inordinate amounts of time agonizing over our choices. (Well, aside from dietary ones, where we worry that our choice of food will derail our attempt at weight loss.)

    As to prayer, divine comfort, etc. – it’s a very strange thing, but I actually feel more empowered as an atheist than I did as a theist. As a theist, I believed that I was relatively helpless and had to rely on God to take care of me. Having let go of that particular fantasy, I have had to rely on my own strength for everything – and have discovered that I am a stronger person than I ever gave myself credit for.

    And for those rare occasions when I do face despair – when life seems to be so utterly out of my hands that I wonder if I will ever get anywhere – I go outside and get some sun. Seasonal Affective Disorder is remarkably easy to treat.

    • Tyro

      Good point about empowerment.

      I never understood that crap that the 12-Step programs spew, about how you must say you’re powerless to change and it’s only through recognizing a power greater than yourself that you can improve. Nonsense! You’re making the changes yourself and so clearly you do have the power. There are real cults of helplessness in the world, labelling everything as diseases, as something which happens to you rather than something which you bring upon yourself and so something which you can change.

      When people start recognizing they can control their lives and make changes, then they are taking the first step towards improvement. I think we can draw a lot of strength from the idea that there isn’t any god screwing with us, there’s no divine plan behind our illnesses, trauma and tragedy and there’s nothing holding us back but ourselves. That’s a good step towards combating despair.

      • localtraveler

        Me too re: the culture of powerlessness and relying on one’s own strength. It was exactly in a period of profound depression, at a point of feeling helpless and stuck, that I had the clear and distinct realization that There Is Nothing After This. Though I was sort-of raised Methodist, I abandoned Christianity at a very early age. But I continued to half-heartedly seek out other magical ways of thought (astrology, etc.), apparently looking for some proof that my life was controlled somewhere outside myself, as if I didn’t want responsibility for it. But in that moment, I realized that though you cannot necessarily control life, you can control 1) your own decisions, and 2) your response to circumstances. It was then that I began to climb out of that bad space. There was no weighty despair at the realization that death is final, but energy and relief and liberation. It’s sort of like when I first revealed that I had decided to become a vegetarian. All my carnivorous friends and family said, “But what will you eat?!?” believing that I had just limited my culinary choices to a potato, some green beans, and perhaps dense wheat bread. In fact, my palate expanded exponentially.

  • Ender

    I do find the idea of shopping around for a belief rather odd – “I *would* be atheist, but wouldn’t it be harder to deal with some things? Maybe it’s not for me.” For me my atheism has always simply been a disbelief in any god, due to there not being any evidence for one.

    I suppose that being brought up Church of England (which is in effect little different from agnosticism) rather than a more strict variant of Christianity made my early conversion to atheism at around the age of 7 significantly easier than some people here who have clearly spent much longer portions of their lives believing in their god and relying on that belief to cope with various unpleasant parts of life.

    However I do remember that when I stopped believing in god it did cause me despair. I remember lying awake at night getting very worried about the concept of dead with nothing after it – the end of conciseness without even the realization that your not realizing. However I came to realize that pretending there to be an afterlife just so you feel better is no better than pretending to have invisible friends (which I’d given up on the previous year).

    As for dealing with death, it always strikes me that Christians don’t seem to get much relief from believing in the afterlife when a loved one dies. They seem to grieve no more or less than atheists. For an atheist a death is the end of that person, never to be known again. For Christians it’s just brief interlude in their ever lasting lives before they’re reunited… right? So why do they despair as much as atheists do at a death?

    And thus… does the Christian belief actually help with despair, or dealing with death – or do people just believe in the belief of it? (at which point I’ll hand you over to Dan Dennett… :)

  • http://www.houseofzot.com Zotmaster

    Though I know it was not the intent of the question, this is one of the most insulting questions I’ve ever been asked.

    To feel despair is to feel a complete loss of hope. Perhaps my definition of “complete loss of hope” is different from that of others, but when I think of complete loss of hope, I don’t think of something ephemeral, but rather I think of something that will linger unless something significant is done to change it. At the risk of stating the obvious, I imagine that is why people commit suicide: I wouldn’t truly know because I obviously have never actually done it myself, but suicide to me seems like a solution to what is perceived to be an otherwise insurmountable problem.

    Though I liken a complete loss of hope to something more permanent, I admit that at times my emotions have gotten the best of me and I have had bouts of irrationality where I felt like there really was no point in doing much of anything. This is part of why I find religious belief to be so silly: how can kneeling down – if necessary, facing the proper direction, of course – and attempting to project your thoughts possibly be doing anything constructive? Really, now: I’d love for life to work as simply as heaping my problems telepathically on someone or something else and have them simply be gone or work themselves out. It really would be great for Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand to be available at my beck and call to maneuver my life in a more positive and balanced direction. I think this is how “there are no atheists in foxholes” came to be. Fundamentalists like to use this phrase to show how powerful God is, but really, it’s a testament to how powerful God is not. In a life-or-death situation, you could get me to say, think, or believe anything if you could convince me that it would get me out of the situation. In such a situation, people don’t think rationally, and they are willing to do, say, or think anything to make order out of that irrationality: enter God.

    You know what, though? Life just isn’t that convenient. Just thinking about or wanting something enough doesn’t make it true. If that were the case, all of us would have more money than we could possibly ever spend. This is why I find it exceedingly funny when religious politicians argue against government social programs (welfare and food stamps come to mind), instead demanding that people go out and get a job. How is that not a contradiction?

    All that being said, here are some of the things this heathen does to restore a little bit of order to his life in times of chaos:

    1. Try to spend time with the people who matter the most to me. I don’t need a Bible passage to compel me to do the right thing. Making the people I care about happy makes me happy, and it reminds me part of why I feel that life is, in fact, worth living. Though sometimes it requires a long, in-depth discussion, sometimes simply being with the people I care about the most is enough to restore my perspective and get me through whatever brought me down.

    2. Distract myself from the problem at hand. Sometimes I can tell when I’m just being moody, and in those cases, giving my mind something else to do is often enough to make me feel better after a short while. Though my choice vacillates from time to time, it usually comes down to picking up a good book or playing a Jack Thompson-condemned video game. In most cases, the video game works a lot better, especially when it’s a game that allows me to get out a little bit of aggression. What media talking heads don’t understand is that having an outlet for negativity that doesn’t negatively impact anyone else can be a great way to make sure that the outlet never becomes anyone else. If I load up a title like Grand Theft Auto, I can jack a car, go hunting for pedestrians, and generally make a complete ass of myself, and in a little while, the negative feeling goes away. To this day, I have never so much as been pulled over by a police officer.

    I have two other solutions that seem crazy, but they work all the same:

    3. Take a nap. Oftentimes I notice that when I’m stressed out, I start feeling really tired. Perhaps this has something to do with using an excess amount of energy when I’m really upset. Whatever the case, I try to lie down and sleep for an hour or two, picking up my problems again when I wake up. It’s strange, but my problems never seem as heavy when I wake up as they did before I went to sleep.

    4. Deal with the problem. Yeah, I know, it’s crazy, isn’t it: talking about actually getting up and dealing with the problem? As it turns out, since I’m an adult, society has placed this expectation on me that many of my problems ought to be resolved in some way by myself. If I’m having problems at work, I usually confront my boss about it. If I’m having problems at home, I usually confront whatever family member is the root cause of the problem. If I decide it’s not worth it and don’t say or do anything at all, well, I take responsibility for my decision and face whatever repercussions come of it.

    No, I don’t need God to deal with my negativity. I find even the concept that atheists can’t possibly deal with their own problems abhorrent.

  • http://exfundamentalist.blogspot.com Lorena

    Hey, I eat & go shopping :-)

    And do something toward solving the problem, anything. As long as I’m doing something, I feel the desperation starts to wane.

  • Mike

    I don’t really understand the question.
    But, without wishing to lower the tone, “shit happens”, life goes on, get over it.

  • Pingback: The House of Zot » Blog Archive » Solving problems: no faith? No problem!

  • Cenobite

    How do atheists face despair?????

    How do christians face Science?

    • Francesc

      lol

      With a contundent weapon in their hands, like… a big book. Some of them call this book “The Bible”. It’s an evolution, many years ago they used a torch.

      • Japanther

        Im waiting for the movie. (:

        • LRA

          Wha?!? Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ didn’t do it for ya? Well, then check out Monte Python’s Life of Brian…

    • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

      Some of us face it openly and are willing to reconsider belief accordingly. But, we are the minority.

  • rodneyAnonymous

    I don’t feel despair. Or at least, if I do, I try to think it through rather than ignore it. The realization that my actions do not have eternal consequences — that there is no invisible camera in the sky — was a huge relief. Also, the character Cronshaw in Of Human Bondage puts the disavowment of the fear of death very well: “The only way to live is to forget you’re going to die”; your death might well be terrifying, but you do not decrease the terror by worrying about it now, you just add more. Disavow the terror. Face it then. Who knows, you might not even have to.

    The idea that you will survive your own death may be very comforting, but that doesn’t make it true. I prefer a bracing truth to a comforting lie.

    • rodneyAnonymous

      Addendum: the realization that life is ultimately meaningless was also a huge relief. I’m not sure I fully understand reacting to that idea with despair.

      • LRA

        Well, for me it was a matter of suffering. I had some very very crappy things happen to me over the years and I really suffered. If all that suffering was pointless, then why go on? But after I left christianity and I realized that there wasn’t an ultimate judge keeping tabs, yes I felt disappointed that my abusers wouldn’t suffer, but I got over that and I realized that I am free to move on from that because this is the only life I have and I need to make the best of it!!!

  • http://thebeattitude.com theBEattitude

    I cope the same way everyone does. By leaning on friends and family to get through it.

    Belief in an imaginary god may work like a placebo to help you cope, but it certainly isn’t necessary. Christians find peace in believing their loved ones are in heaven when they die, but it doesn’t make them less dead. These are simply coping mechanisms.

    Everyone copes with dispair in their own way. But atheists are not left to cope with the question of “why me god?”

  • http://blog.nicholascloud.com ncloud

    Sometimes when I feel despair, I realize that it’s because I’m disappointed with my situation in life. Often it helps if I set very small goals, and then start accomplishing them one-by-one. The small accomplishments rebuild my self-esteem, and I start to tackle the problems I perceived as “too big” for me, because I have reminded myself that I can, in fact, accomplish what I set my mind too. It’s not a silver bullet, but it does help.

  • ddr

    I used to despair all the time. I comforted myself by realizing that the Republicans could not remain in power forever. 
    I am an atheist. But that only tells you what I do not believe and really does not tell you anything about what I do believe or how I interact with the world. What I do believe in is reality. Not reality TV, but real reality.
    The reality is that everyone dies. There is nothing I can do to prevent my own death or the death of my loved ones. And since there is not action I can take to prevent death, I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it. Because every minute I spend worrying about death is a minute less I can spend on problems I can affect. A minute less I can spend with loved ones doing things that I enjoy. It is wasted time. I don’t know for sure what happens when I die. I strongly suspect that nothing at all will happen, I’ll just be dead. But there is no way for me to know for sure. I can engage in a bunch of wishful thinking, but that is not knowledge. It is just what I would like to be true. Again, wasted time that will have no affect on what the reality is. The evidence suggests that when the brain dies, everything that is me dies too. I’m ok with that because I have to be. It is just reality. I don’t get when people say that my philosophy is too bleak for them. What they really seem to be saying is that they would rather believe a happy lie than a stark truth. I would rather know the truth, no matter how unpleasant.
    I do despair sometimes. I despair over all the people living horrid, violent lives. I despair over the future of our race when I hear people deny global warming or deny science. But I take comfort in the things I do to combat the things that lead me to despair.
    So that would be my answer. I fight despair by doing something about it. I can’t fix the world’s problems. But I can aid in the effort. Two hands working will get more done than a thousand hands clasps in prayer. I try to be the two hands working.

    • http://karlylarson.com Karly

      Karly likes this (too).

  • http://jonasbentzen.com/ Jonas

    Some people think that religion will shield them from despair. Personally, I think that it’s very much up to your personality type and way of thinking whether or not you’ll feel despair often and how you react to it.

    In other words; if you’re prone to frequent feelings of despair, you’ll feel that, no matter whether you’re religious or an atheist. But the feelings that cause the despair may be different.

    An example: Recently discovered letters by Mother Teresa revealed that she often had feelings of despair caused by her lack of faith (yes, seriously!) – there were even times when she had doubts about Jesus.

    I can’t claim to know her personality, but my guess is she was just prone to feelings of doubts. Those feelings manifested themselves as feelings of not believing strongly enough. Were she an atheist, she would probably have doubts as well, but maybe about something else.

  • Len

    How? Go for a ride on my bike. Of course, if it’s raining or snowing then there’s no hope and the world is obviously coming to an end. Then there’s only beer.

  • DarkMatter

    I just be myself. In the downside of my life, I learn more about myself and life.

    In despair, I seek solitude, sometimes with tears, when it ends, my life springs forth to do its’ bidding, continuing another phase of my life as I learn more about myself; my strength and weakness, my regrets and my accomplishments; learning to live among humanity.

    The vacuum christianity and the church has given me passes away each day as I become more of myself through ups and downs in my living till I say goodbye.

    • http://iwant2knowyourstory.blogspot.com/ Niva Tuvia

      Idk why, but that kinda sounded like poetry.

  • http://www.speaknowpeaceworks.wordpress.com Cheryl

    First answer: I read Unreasonable Faith of course. :p

    Second answer: I fairly regularly get very sad and upset about all the suffering in the world. Despair is too strong a word, but close. What works for me is to think about how much worse things used to be. As one example, although there’s still a long way to go, look how far we’ve come at establishing and protecting basic human rights. Until two hundred years or so ago, slavery was morally accepted pretty much throughout all of human history. Now, in most of the world, it’s considered unspeakably wrong. Although the abolitionists are all dead now, the ideals they worked to instill in society are going strong. If you want your life to have “eternal” or “objective” meaning, pick an ideal, and do something that causes society to progress toward it. Although there’s a lot that still truly sucks going on in the world, remembering that we have made tangible progress, and reading about all the organizations that are working so hard to continue that progress, restores my hope that one day life might be good for far more people (and animals, and trees, and….)

  • Len

    And lots of what the others have already said: deal with it, take a nap, eat, chat with a friend, watch a DVD (did someone already say this? There’s nothing like an old Arny or Sly film to make you feel better), write it down and look at what you’ve written (did someone already say this, too? It often works for me when there’s no more beer).

    • Ender

      Of course Christians do all those things too. And yet despite the supposed additional benefit from their god, they seem to cope with things no better or worse than atheists (in my experience).

      Occam’s Razor would imply that it’s the common human processes of grieving, discussing, reflecting, and so on, that help us with these problems, without the need to stipulate a god or gods in the process.

  • http://www.meatofthematter.wordpress.com Jim Etchison

    I focus on feeling the despair. I cry, I whine, I distract myself, I try to feel better. Eventually I do.

  • Molly

    I used to have issues with severe depression (which runs in my family). I was off and on medication and in and out of therapy for many years, and I assumed that this state of affairs was “just the way I was” and that I was doing my best to “deal with it”. I felt a near-constant state of despair, which I tried to assuage with, in addition to the meds and the therapists, church groups, intense prayer, Bible reading and memorization, etc.

    One Sunday, I woke up, turned to my husband, and said, “I really don’t want to go to church today. I just can’t do it.” And, that was the beginning (obviously, in addition to many theological / logical issues) – I haven’t been back to church since. Here’s the interesting thing to me: I didn’t stop going to church because I was unhappy. I never attributed my depression, despair, or unhappiness to my involvement with Christianity. But, not long after I stopped my religious involvement ( I told myself I was taking a break!) I realized that… I was mysteriously happy. I no longer take anti-depressants – my life is filled with joy. I frequently feel like I’m just in love with everything. Life makes me euphoric, and I am content, happy, stable, and whole, which was really weird for me at first, as I had grown accustomed to being “the depressed one”. It was just an assumed part of my identity.

    I feel comfortable saying that I haven’t seriously felt despair since leaving the church. Yeah, we all have bad days, but despair? Not anymore. Giving up Christianity has lifted so many burdens from my shoulders – there’s no personal pressure to police my thoughts, no guilt from failing to adhere to a strict, outdated Biblical behavioral code ( I can cuss! I can drink! Fuck yeah!), no pressure to keep my loved ones out of Hell by converting them. I take responsibility for my own life – I can see something that needs to be changed, and take the initiative to change it without waiting for God’s okay or God’s intervention. I feel a new appreciation for humanity, too – we are all in this together, united in a common doom. We all only have one life.

    • rodneyAnonymous

      I feel comfortable saying that I haven’t seriously felt despair since leaving the church. Yeah, we all have bad days, but despair? Not anymore. Giving up Christianity has lifted so many burdens from my shoulders – there’s no personal pressure to police my thoughts, no guilt from failing to adhere to a strict, outdated Biblical behavioral code ( I can cuss! I can drink! Fuck yeah!), no pressure to keep my loved ones out of Hell by converting them. I take responsibility for my own life – I can see something that needs to be changed, and take the initiative to change it without waiting for God’s okay or God’s intervention. I feel a new appreciation for humanity, too – we are all in this together, united in a common doom. We all only have one life.

      Testify!

    • http://blogg.mostad.eu/ Utrykksfugl

      When I finally decided I could not believe in God and Jesus and the whole package I grew up with any more, I physically felt my shoulders lovering. As a musician I have had problems with tenseness in my arms and shoulders. It is not totally disappeared, but after I stopped believing in God and when I finally stopped feeling all the guilt and shame and taking on all the duties of taking up the cross every day and all of that, i could physically feel it in my shoulders and arms and my playing actually improved. Even my asthma got sligthly better (allthough this might be placebo.) I think many of those emotional tensions are stored in the body, especially in the muscles.

      • http://karlylarson.com Karly

        You got it, folks! Step right up! You heard about it here first on Unreasonable Faith … ANTI-FAITH HEALING!

        haha …

        • Molly

          Ha ha… no, seriously. I’m physically much healthier too now that I don’t have to come up with something for my fellow church members to pray over me for :)

    • Molly

      This will probably sound sort of off the deep end, but leaving Christianity has given me such a different outlook on life that I swear, colors are brighter, the sun is warmer, and friends’ smiles are more meaningful. I notice the beauty around me more than ever, ever before, and it feels 100 times more precious.

      • Molly

        I haven’t, but I agree – it would be extremely interesting. Let me know if you come across anything, will you? Funny, I used to think that God / my “relationship” with God was all that was holding me together. I would have said that I was lost without Him and that life would be meaningless and full of misery without Him. De-converting, for me, was like desperately holding on to a buoy to keep from drowning, giving up & letting go, then realizing that I had only been knee-deep in a wading pool the entire time. I am so much stronger and more capable than I realized, because I had always been taught that self-reliance was a sign of not trusting God or not having enough faith to “let go and let God” (one of the worst phrases ever uttered, IMO).

        • http://www.speaknowpeaceworks.wordpress.com Cheryl

          I just have to say, this is the best analogy I have ever seen for describing what it feels like to stop believing in God.

          • Molly

            Thanks! It works for me.

    • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

      I feel comfortable saying that I haven’t seriously felt despair since leaving the church. Yeah, we all have bad days, but despair? Not anymore. Giving up Christianity has lifted so many burdens from my shoulders – there’s no personal pressure to police my thoughts, no guilt from failing to adhere to a strict, outdated Biblical behavioral code ( I can cuss! I can drink! Fuck yeah!), no pressure to keep my loved ones out of Hell by converting them. I take responsibility for my own life – I can see something that needs to be changed, and take the initiative to change it without waiting for God’s okay or God’s intervention. I feel a new appreciation for humanity, too – we are all in this together, united in a common doom. We all only have one life.

      That’s a really interesting post, Molly. It’s interesting to read for me, because I’ve had a very similar experiences in life, but I’ve not left the church.

      Have you ever done any research to see if there have been other documented links between leaving religion and decrease in depression? I’ve read studies about the converse, but I’ve never read any studies that deal with your experience. I think it would be fascinating.

      • Molly

        whoops, sorry, the above reply was meant for you!

      • http://www.speaknowpeaceworks.wordpress.com Cheryl

        It seems related to studies showing that people cope, psychologically, much more easily with difficult conditions when they feel that they have at least some measure of control over the situation. As one reference, this is discussed in the SAGE Handbook of Health Psychology. Read the second paragraph, under the section heading “Critical Stressor Characteristics”, here: http://tinyurl.com/qy6ljn. It is also mentioned several times in the following sections.

        • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

          Yeah, I’m familiar with such studies and the issue of control over one’s surroundings. That may or may not get at the question I asked, however, because one would first have to establish two things:

          1) Religious people do not feel they have power over their surroundings
          2) Non-religious people do feel that they have power over their surroundings

          If those two things were established, then the study you mentioned would get at my question directly. Do you know of a study that addresses the two issues I just raised?

          • Molly

            In my personal experience, at least, I was constantly told to give up control; it wasn’t that I simply “didn’t feel” like I had it. At churches I attended of several different denominations (charismatic / pentecostal, Southern Baptist, non-denominational, messianic Jewish, Quaker) the attitude was to lay your problems at Jesus’ feet, let God come into your heart and take over, give all your cares to Him, pray and pray and pray… there was little or no mention of simply getting your shit together. If something went wrong in a fellow church member’s life, we were instructed to pray for them, pray over them, or some combination of the two. We prayed against the devil who was obviously working in these good people’s lives. There was little or no encouragement for members to take control of their own lives and take responsibility for their own problems. As a member of any of these churches, I didn’t own my problems or own their solutions. Both were frequently attributed to a higher power.

            • Molly

              I guess another relief is that I no longer have to run my decisions by God. If I am offered an excellent job, I can take it without having to pray for God’s guidance in my decision-making process, because I am the ultimate decision-maker in my life. If I wanted to get married or divorced, I would think a lot about either choice, but I wouldn’t wait for God’s confirmation or assurance. I don’t waste time praying for God to reveal His will to me or show me the path He wants me to take. If it seems like a good decision, I have the authority to make it. If it ends up being a poor judgment call, it no longer means that I didn’t hear God’s voice clearly enough or I didn’t pray hard enough. I don’t pray for wisdom, I actively go out into the world and track it down.

  • carrotplease

    I don’t think I’ve ever faced anything I would call “despair”- but when things feel awful, my biggest coping mechanism is simply relying on friends and family, and making a plan.

    I believe there is *always* a way to make things better, it’s just finding the way to make that happen. I’m currently having some pretty bad personal/relationship problems, but a few beers, a pow-wow with supportive people seems to have me keeping my head on straight. I have a plan, which makes everything easier.

    When I face grief, or loss, that stuff is hard, but it’s part of life. I tend to embrace it, and turn my sadness towards the positive. If I lose someone I love, I think about all the good times we had or the ways they made the world a better place. Because that’s what really mattered anyway. :)

  • http://luckyatheist.blogspot.com Mike Caton

    First, I try to fix what’s bugging me.

    If I can’t and just have to endure, then I hold my wife, call my mom, talk to my friends, sleep, have a drink and relax, go for a long run, and/or go for a long drive.

  • Custador

    I drink beer.

  • Alexis

    When I was trying to be an xtian, I new a lot of despair. There are so many contradictory and impossible injunctions in the bible, that it is impossible to obey them all! Suppose god is really serious about all of those old testament rules that my family and church have been ignoring? Suppose god still wants us sacrifice lambs and doves, and stone people to death for stuff that no one will tell me really what it means. (What is the sin of Onan, anyway? I had an unbreakable habit before I knew what it was! Okay, I didn’t refuse to give seed to my widowed sister-in-law, but I…well you know. And what is adultery? I didn’t know until I was more than capable of it.) The attitude I ran into was “Let’s not teach the kids what these things mean or they might do it”. And then we came to the verse about if you’ve done it in your heart (or mind) it’s as bad as doing the real act. And I just knew I was going to hell over some trivial bible verse that I hadn’t even read or hadn’t understood but would be punished for anyway.

    But suppose that the god of the bible who says all other gods are false gods is in fact the false god while some other or others are real. Should I be reading the Avesta? Or the Rig Vedas and the Bagavad Gita? Or suppose the Confucians or Taoists or Buddhists are right?

    Realizing that the bible and other holy texts are man made codifications of primitive imaginings and that there are no gods took a real load off of my mind. I still worry a lot about the dangers in the real world, but I would say I no longer fall into despair.

  • Dr. Karl E. Taylor

    Despair is a subjective term. What may be despair for one person, is a challenge to be overcome by another. Atheism has nothing to do with it in either case. A simple lack of theism does not change the feeling of despair in an individual nor their ability to overcome it. Theists like to claim that they overcome despair because of a mythical deity. Well, hundreds of thousands of atheist do the same thing, without the mythical deity. Looking at it logically, the myth does not even factor into the equation. Success or failure to deal with despair is wholly up to the individual.

  • MakeTheMostOfLife

    @ Stephen

    “Every time I think about adopting atheism, I come up with road blocks. Here’s one: How do atheists face despair?”

    Hmm, I personally find it hard to have sympathy for this kind of question when it does come up, especially as it is worded in this case. Dawkins response always seems the most rational.

    You are struggling with the difference between what is comforting and what is true.

    Your question as it is….. I’m sorry to say, is completely pointless.

    ” How do atheists face despair?”

    Is an interesting question to ask, and I’m sure people can give a lot of advise and help with that & that is what people on this thread are doing.

    Indicating that potentially tough truths are causing road blocks to accepting the facts, that you seem to understand are facts…. Is weak. Sorry.

    You might as well say:

    “Every time I think about coming to terms with the fact that I have cancer, I come up with road blocks. Here’s one: How do cancer suffers face despair?”

    The universe doesn’t owe you anything……

    Stephen, get yourself together, accept the truth. You don’t adopt atheism any more then you adopt theory of gravity or evolution.

    Good Luck

  • Question-I-thority

    The grief range of emotions, from mild sadness on one end to abject broken-heartedness on the other can be channeled in different directions. When one defines it in terms of hopelessness we describe the feeling as despair. When it is attached to the injustice perpetrated upon us it moves toward revenge or hatred. Etc., etc. During the greatest heartbreak of my life I was fortunate to be studying Buddhism and was able, over time, to create a process that channeled the grief toward compassion.

  • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

    Why are people reacting so strongly to the original questioner’s use of “adopt.”

    Isn’t he simply saying that he’s thought about becoming an atheist? Is it just semantics? Or, is there a bigger point that I’m completely missing?

    • Soulless

      Adoption of atheism would imply that one chooses to either believe or not believe in a god. It’s the contention of many atheists, myself included, that one either believes or one does not, and that there is virtually no choice involved. Another way of looking at it would be that one is either convinced of the existence of a god or one is not. Adoption would imply that one can choose to be convinced when they really aren’t, or choose to not be convinced when they really are.

      Either way, “adoption” is really not an appropriate term. Especially in light of the fact that if one does not have an active belief in a god one is an atheist whether they choose to be or not.

    • MakeTheMostOfLife

      Using the word adopt doesn’t help as it makes Atheism sound dogmatic, but the choice of word is not that important, its what is implied.

      To admit a road block to accepting the facts of the universe is held up because the truth might not be comforting is the problem. The exacting wording doesn’t matter.

      The guy just needs some tough love.

      This is exactly the kind of weakness that religion thrives on to get followers. Making baseless empty but comforting promises.

    • Elemenope

      It escapes me too. I’d point back to this conversation a few months ago. If you don’t like long-winded arguments, skip near the end when the discussion turns to dispositional beliefs. Mainly, Atheists like to deny that Atheism requires a dispositional belief about the proper standard for making judgments about hypothetical God entities, and so claim that there is no volitional element or logical consequences of making oneself an Atheist beyond the obvious stance towards the issue of whether God(s) exist(s).

      I personally think most Atheists can only maintain this stance by being naive about the consequences of choosing a justification schema for holding beliefs and that, in general, they are wrong in thus claiming that Atheism is not a belief nor choosing it a volitional act.

      • Soulless

        Since Atheism is the default position for everyone, that is to say “without theism” just as everyone was born into. Everyone is born atheist. Yet you think that there is some volitional element, or conscious choice, in “making” oneself an atheist. I would have to agree in the context of your statement. If one were to “Make” oneself an atheist then Yes, there is a volitional element involved. However, that is not how these things work. When on the journey to atheism and that is indeed what it has been for many of us, one finds oneself disbelieving because one is no longer convinced. Are you suggesting that we are choosing to be no longer convinced? How does one do that exactly?

        • Elemenope

          No, everyone is born agnostic, and *most* are born with a tendency toward apophenia, which generally leads in the absence of countervailing (skeptical) epistemology to so-called “magical thinking”. The posit of a deity or deities (or at least daemons, in the original sense) is a logical consequence of those natural tendencies playing themselves out upon consideration.

          Atheism is for the most part a counterinstinctual behavior, and so, no, everyone is *not* born an atheist.

          Now, everyone is born a *situational Atheist* insofar as nobody is born believing in any particular God. But that is a far cry from what is being claimed by “atheism is the default position”.

          • rodneyAnonymous

            I disagree. Agnosticism is variously defined as “one who believes it is impossible to know anything about the existence of God”, “a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience”, “a person who denies or doubts the possibility of ultimate knowledge in some area of study”, “One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God”, “One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism”, “Doubtful or noncommittal”… all of which seem to require giving the matter some thought.

            Atheism, on the other hand, is the lack of belief in gods (weak atheism) or the belief that there are no gods (strong atheism). Humans are born weak atheists.

            • rodneyAnonymous

              Another way to put it: agnosticism concerns knowledge, atheism concerns belief. If you have no knowledge, you can’t be agnostic. If you have no beliefs, you are an atheist.

            • Elemenope

              Allow me to reframe; infants are weak agnostics, in that they lack the cognitive frame necessary to conceive of god or lack thereof. They are unable to assert a knowledge claim about that which they cannot conceive. I guess one could call them weak ignostics on that basis.

              But my broader point was that this does not make Atheism any sort of “default position”, as the natural tendency of humans *is* apophenic; we seek patterns and explanation and meaning in all experiences. Absent a person standing over the child’s shoulder at every stage of life and encouraging a rigorous or skeptical approach to apparent patterns, magical thinking is bound to rapidly overtake the child’s epistemic field.

              Generally, a person as much learn to be an Atheist as you learn to be a Theist, though the former is obscured and the latter obvious because the latter is structured as such, with the former generally less so. It is further obscured by the fact that overlaying this educational process is an existential choice as to how a person considers themselves in terms of labels and identity.

              ———
              On a slightly related matter, when one has no beliefs (if such a thing is possible, a claim upon which I have strong doubts), one is a nihilist. Atheism is a belief claim about a certain theoretical class of entity (namely, a belief that this certain class of entity has no real members). Significantly different.

            • Soulless

              Technically speaking “agnostic” only means “without knowledge” and strictly speaking everyone is born without knowledge. Agnostic also has other connotations that are more philosophical but in the literal sense we are also born agnostic.

            • rodneyAnonymous

              Fair enough. But Soulless put it still another way: atheism and agnosticism are not mutually exclusive. Asserting that babies are born agnostics does not affect whether or not they are also born atheists. One is knowledge, one is belief.

              Also:

              “On a slightly related matter, when one has no beliefs (if such a thing is possible, a claim upon which I have strong doubts), one is a nihilist. Atheism is a belief claim about a certain theoretical class of entity (namely, a belief that this certain class of entity has no real members). Significantly different.”

              Yes, I realize that, and my statement is true: if you have no beliefs, you must not have any beliefs about gods. That is, if you have no beliefs, you are (among other things) an atheist.

              Even if you successfully argue that it is impossible to have no beliefs at all, I doubt you would argue that babies are born with beliefs about gods. Perhaps I am mistaken.

            • Elemenope

              If you have no beliefs, you are an atheist.

              If you have no beliefs *about God*, you are an ignostic. This would include belief agents who, like a baby, are somehow precluded by their position from forming a belief one way or the other about God (in this case, through lack of the ability to understand the question).

              Atheism means possession of a metric to determine a stance towards the question of God. That implies a great deal more than a general lack of beliefs, and certainly does not mirror the baby’s status as incapable of even considering the proposition.

              “I can’t know claims about [A or not-A]” is a different assertion in nearly every respect than “I believe that not-A”.

            • rodneyAnonymous

              If you have no beliefs, you are a nihilist. Nihilists are also weak atheists.

            • Elemenope

              “Weak atheism” is poorly named. It has next to no relation to the atheism that is generally meant when we speak of atheism. Like I said, “I can’t know claims about [A or not-A]” is a different assertion in nearly every respect than “I believe that not-A”; we accept this easily as true in pretty much every other area of epistemology, as well as implicitly in real life. Why so trenchant against recognizing the distinction here?

          • Soulless

            We are all born Agnostic Atheists. We are born both without knowledge and also without theism, and since the only criteria for being atheist is having no active belief in a god, everyone is indeed born atheist.

            Children only believe in the supernatural and god because such concepts are presented to them by adults, and children are preprogrammed by an evolution to believe the things told them by adults because doing so has survival benefits.

            Atheism is not part of a counter instinctual behavior. It’s just that theism feeds into one of our instinctual needs. Humans have a need to have all of life’s blanks filled, and the god concept does that very well. That however, does not mean that the answers that theism provides are in any way accurate. They’re just placeholders till science can fill in the blanks with real knowledge, as the “god of the gaps” attests.

            Being atheist is only a lack of belief in a god. It doesn’t matter if it is “situational” by birth, a consequence of being unconvinced after being presented theistic nonsense, or finding oneself disbelieving after years of theism.

            • Elemenope

              Children only believe in the supernatural and god because such concepts are presented to them by adults, and children are preprogrammed by an evolution to believe the things told them by adults because doing so has survival benefits.

              Children naturally construct the supernatural, and god is a natural extapolation of the supernatural hypothesis.

              And I think that calling Atheism the mere lack of belief elides exactly what that actually means. Atheism is a possible propositional response to the inquiry “A or not-A?” Namely, it is the assertion that “not-A” is likely to be true.

              What a strong agnostic is saying is they believe “A or not-A”, which is not an answer to the question “A or not-A?” But it *is* a belief statement about the coherence of concept “A”. There is a third option, which is to deny that “A” is a coherent concept; an agnostic by asserting “A or not-A” is asserting that “I can make sentences about A such that A could exist”. This is what distinguishes Agnostics from Ignostics (who would claim that “A” is merely a cipher).

              Call the theistic inquiry “A or not A?” with “A” being something like “there exists an entity such that it meets the qualifications for the definition of God”. An infant is not able to understand the propostional inquiry “A or not A” becuase they cannot construct the consequences of what “A” means or for that matter consequently what “not A” means. The infant is a “weak” ignostic insofar as “A” is a cipher to it, weak because it isn’t capable of analyzing A in order to make the claim of A being incoherent.

              My contention is that asserting “not A” as an occurrent act (claiming Atheism) implies a dispositional belief. Specifically, it implies a dispositional belief regarding what the appropriate justification schema is for claims about “A”. In order to make *any* claims about “A” the Atheist must assert as the Agnostic does that “I can make sentences about A such that A could exist”, and then apply a justification schema to justify the denial that A *actually exists*.

              This stems from the fact that atheism and the several theisms and agnosticism are all competing in the same epistemic space, that is, they all have consequences for how that propositional question is resolved for the agent. There isn’t anything “mere” about the assertion of atheism because atheism is a positive claim of an answer to the proposition, and thus a claim of the possession of a metric to judge claims about the proposition. It is precisely this and only this that separates atheism from ignosticism (the claim that the question is non-sensical).

            • rodneyAnonymous

              But my broader point was that this does not make Atheism any sort of “default position”, as the natural tendency of humans *is* apophenic; we seek patterns and explanation and meaning in all experiences. Absent a person standing over the child’s shoulder at every stage of life and encouraging a rigorous or skeptical approach to apparent patterns, magical thinking is bound to rapidly overtake the child’s epistemic field.

              Yes, humans are natural teleologists and dualists; but we weren’t talking about a child during development, we were talking about a child at birth.

              Generally, a person as much learn to be an Atheist as you learn to be a Theist

              Strong atheist, sure. Weak atheist, no. I think the root of this misunderstanding is your refusal to acknowledge weak atheism as “real atheism”. All of your examples and descriptions are of strong atheism.

            • Elemenope

              Strong atheist, sure. Weak atheist, no. I think the root of this misunderstanding is your refusal to acknowledge weak atheism as “real atheism”. All of your examples and descriptions are of strong atheism.

              Essentially, yes, See above.

              “Weak atheism” is a misnomer, perpetuated by (someone in the past with a pen and a penchant for classifying things) not thinking critically about the distinction between the lack of ability or interest in making a claim, and actively making a negative claim. The two are so unalike that it is a linguistic crime to call them by the same word. :-)

            • Soulless

              Please correct me if I’m wrong, it’s been a long day, but from everything I read above it just looks like you’ve taken “weak atheism” and relabeled it “ignosticism” with a confusing explanation thrown in. For all intents and purposes why bother? This seems like a semantical argument.

            • rodneyAnonymous

              Neither “type” believes in gods. They may be dissimilar for the purposes of arguing that “weak atheism is a misnomer”, but they are not dissimilar for the purpose in which they are generally used: to indicate someone who doesn’t believe in gods.

            • Elemenope

              For all intents and purposes why bother? This seems like a semantical argument.

              Ok, think about it this way.

              A person asks you “do you believe in the existence of cats?” You, having been strongly familiar with the concept of what a cat is have all that is sufficient to say “yes, I do believe in the existence of cats” or “no, I do not believe in the existence of cats”, perhaps buttressed by reports, descriptions, or direct experiences with entities matching the description of “cat”. You can do this because, crucially, you possess a coherent concept of what a cat might be.

              Then a person asks you “do you believe in the existence of gonagadazoinks?” Prior to having a concept of what a ‘gonagadazoink’ might be, you would hesitate to assert an answer to the question, lacking any means by which to judge such a claim. This position is “weak ignosticism”; an absolute lack of the ability to judge the truth or falsity of an existence claim due to not possessing a conception of the entity at issue. It is also “weak atheism” in that you cannot possess a belief about that of which you have not been exposed or have not conceived.

              Now, let’s say, being curious, you started asking about gonagadazoinks, what their features might be, what would qualify an entity as a gonagadazoink, and so forth. At that point, five things can happen.

              1. You can decide that gonagadazoinks could possibly exist but you lack the knowledge to induce or logical acumen to deduce the truth of the matter of its actual existence. This is Weak Agnosticism.
              2. You can decide that gonagadazoinks could possibly exist but you are doubtful that any decision procedure could possibly answer the question of its actual existence. This is Strong Agnosticism.
              3. You can decide that gonagadazoink could possibly exist and you feel confident in your possession of a decision procedure which could address the existence question, and you conclusively assert gonagadazoinks do not exist. This is Strong Atheism.
              4. You can decide that gonagadazoink could possibly exist and you feel confident in your possession of a decision procedure which could address the existence question, and you conclusively assert gonagadazoinks do not exist. This is (analogous to) Theism.
              5. You can decide that gonagadazoink is defined in such a way that due to incoherence does not imply the possibility or impossibility of the existence of anything, because of its incoherence. This is Strong Ignosticism.

              Now, 1-4 share something special in that something about taking any of those positions requires a transformation of the agent relative to ‘gonagadazoink’, such that before the question it was a meaningless term and after the question it acquires meaning. 5 is even more interesting in that it requires that the considering agent pass from “gonagadazoink” having no meaning to it having provisional meaning and then lapsing back into considered meaninglessness. ALL of the these positions are distinct from the “original” position (weak atheism/weak ignosticism) by that critical distinction: they all involve the creation of meaning for the agent about the object under discussion.

              This is why I cannot stand it being grouped in with the other five; it is a fundamentally different type of position than the others. It is not a semantic difference, but an existential one.

            • Elemenope

              minor edit. #4 should read …and confident that they do exist.

            • LRA

              “1. You can decide that gonagadazoinks could possibly exist but you lack the knowledge to induce or logical acumen to deduce the truth of the matter of its actual existence. This is Weak Agnosticism.”

              Soooooooooooo, Nope, does this logic apply to univeral/absolute morals as well???????

              ;P pbbbbbtttttthhhh!

            • rodneyAnonymous

              Good analogy. However, I maintain the opinion that the distinction is not useful to the matter at hand. The demarcations “weak” and “strong” describe why a person doesn’t believe in gods, but part of the original claim (that atheism is a human’s “default position”) was about whether a person believes in gods… the why is irrelevant.

              Soulless said that “adopting” is an inappropriate term for accepting atheism, partly because you start by not believing in gods. Do you disagree with that sentence?

              Hm, I realized while typing that out that you do have a point. You start with weak atheism, you adopt strong atheism. But I feel like this is every bit as semantic as whether the word “adopt” is appropriate. Precisely accurate: no. Meaningful: yes.

            • Elemenope

              . You start with weak atheism, you adopt strong atheism. But I feel like this is every bit as semantic as whether the word “adopt” is appropriate. Precisely accurate: no. Meaningful: yes.

              Fair enough. The point is the discussion, less so the persuasion. :-) Let me tell you why I think the distinction is more than semantic.

              I believe that meaning and meaningfulness are situated *in persons*, and that value is absolutely contingent on position *of persons* holding the thing to be valued. Intuitively, this seems to be the case; weak ignosticism/weak “atheism” about matters of concrete import are tangible examples of why humans routinely draw the distinction about matters not theological. We tend to think that the epistemological situation of the person has something to say about the relative value of their beliefs. If a person has never heard of communism or beer or France before, we attach no weight whatsoever to whatever theoretical opinion they might theoretically hold about communism or beer or France before being informed of such objects or concepts, and probably even say that to assert such an “opinion” is an opinion at all slightly weird if not completely absurd. I mean, is there a “default” belief about communism or beer or France that preexists exposure to the subject?

              So, to say that a person in the situation of never having heard of the concept “God” before possesses anything whatsoever that has anything but trivial value is I think likewise absurd. That is the position the baby/weak atheist/weak ignostic is in. It’s not just that the baby lacks a belief in God, but that the cipher thus created to refer to that lack also refers to a lack of value for that “opinion”; it is literally unconsidered. I dislike the term “weak atheist” precisely because the use of the term Atheist in the context of Strong Atheism misleads an analyst into concluding that somehow the label we assign to the baby’s cipher of an opinion is at all meaningful.

              Because beliefs are situated in persons, and a person’s situation determines the value of those opinions (at least insofar as a person prior to exposure to a concept can at best have an opinion about that concept that has zero value), I see no real normative force compelling that it be named or reified at all.

              I think it a mistake to call that position a “default opinion”, because the default is a null set. It’s creating a name for some epistemic stance *that cannot possibly exist*; that is, can have no correspondence to any actual mind or brain state in the subject. That’s philosophically naughty. :-) A good name for the existential position of “being temporally situated prior to being informed about the possibility of the existence of something” would have been “agnostic” if some jerk hadn’t kidnapped that term some time ago and put it to work the way it is used today. I think “weak ignostic” is as good as it comes right now simply on the practical terms of not many people have heard of the concept of ignosticism and thus have not formed preconceived notions about what such a label might mean.

            • rodneyAnonymous

              So, if you believe you have no beliefs you’re a nihilist, and if you literally have no beliefs you’re an agnostic? I’ll buy that.

            • rodneyAnonymous

              strike that, reverse it

    • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

      Apparently, I was missing something when I asked about ‘adopt.’ Interesting conversation.

  • http://karlylarson.com Karly

    I am never very good at deciding what to say in these posts. Especially when I pretty much just agree with what everyone else has been saying. The ironic part is that I am posting late because my grandma just died. What surprises me most is that people like Stephen would think that we deal with grief differently, as if we were a different animal than xians. I believe differently then most of the people in my family, but that doesn’t mean that makes the situation, at it’s core, any different for me. Humans are communal animals, we rely on each other for support. Yes, we tend to reach out to people with whom we share beliefs or a common bond, but we are reaching out just the same. I feel sadness that my grandma will no longer be around, that her time is at it’s end. But I also feel content in my knowledge that she lived a full life, and that she no longer has to suffer the pains of Alzheimers. It also makes me a little angry that someone would trivialize this bond based on some unknowable beings opinion of me.

    • LRA

      Oh, Karly! I am so sorry! I love my grandmother immensely and nothing can detract from that! I insist that it is the same with you. She lives in your memory, in your words, in your writings. Write about her! Tell her story! Or just remember her on a regular basis– tell your kids about her some day.

      My grandmother (who is turning 87) has told me stories about her grandparents. So they continue to live in me! ;) Memory is our legacy…

      • http://Karlylarson.com Karly

        Thank you for the sentiments LRA. I do have wonderful memories of my Grandma that I will pass on. It is funny to talk of memory when referring to her, though. In the last few years she couldn’t even tell you what they were like growing up, but she was still vibrant and happy. However the last few months of her life her Alzheimers was so bad she didn’t recognize her own children, and you could see that she had no quality of life left. At Christmas she just sat the entire time in a chair with her eyes closed, grinding her teeth. I almost wish she could have been spared that. Now has gone naturally to Peace.

        • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

          My grandmother, too, suffered from Alzheimers for several years before her death. I know the great pain it caused her while she was still coherent enough to realize she was forgetting… and I know the deep pain it caused our family when she was no longer able to relate to anyone. It’s a horrible disease. You have my sympathy.

  • Kodie

    I don’t understand the question either. I read a number of responses, but I will have to read the rest of them tomorrow. I’m an atheist, I don’t think I handle despair typically (according to many prior responses). I can’t believe in god. It’s simple can or can’t or will or won’t. I don’t think it’s so easy to adopt atheism as it is to just realize it one day. I was never brought up in religion, but my understanding is if you’re prone to believe, you’re going to find it difficult to switch just by deciding to do so.

    Sometimes, I wish that I could know there is a god and that I had something dependable to call on when feeling despair. I don’t understand faith. I feel like this guy, Mr. Rapp. I would like to adopt a religious belief in a higher power, but I keep coming up with road blocks. Such as facts, like, there is no one here but us. I can see how atheism can intrigue religious people, and what I suggest is to keep looking into it until you find it. I can’t say I handle desperate situations as cool and rational as an example atheist, but I would suggest that that little conversation you have with god is really yourself concentrating on a problem and then telling you what you need to hear, and giving you ideas of what your next step should be.

    • Aor

      I think the question is a typical bit of dishonesty. Stephen is most likely lying about having thought about ‘adopting’ atheism at all. Someone who had truly thought about ‘adopting’ it wouldn’t be likely to choose that word, which many others have picked up on. It reeks of deceptiveness. That kind of behavior is astonishingly common from the drive-by christian posters, in this case he just chose to send it as an email instead. My guess is he is some nitwit who hasn’t had a thought of his own in generations and just happened to find a ‘trick questions to ask an atheist’ website. He should have chosen the one about why trees don’t fall down without god (http://www.therefinersfire.org/challenging_atheists.htm).

      • Elemenope

        Wow. Number one, it’s not crazy to use the term “adopt” as was discussed above; you may disagree with the logic, but it’s a defensible position and one that need not have excess hay made of. And second, why is it so hard to take the question in the most charitable way and try to answer it rather than insinuate (or outright accuse) all sorts of hideous intentions to the interlocutor? Who cares that he used a term mildly offensive to your notion of how you hold or come to be an Atheist? The matter is tangential to the question, which is clearly a curiosity about how atheists deal with despair. It’s a straightforward question. One has to be awfully offensive to interpret *that* as some sort of attack.

        • Elemenope

          And by offensive I mean *defensive*.

          Because my brain doesn’t work sometimes, in the heat of typing really fast. :-)

        • Aor

          It seems like my opinion is more common here than you would like to believe. The choice of words stands out enough for several people to point it out within the first handful of comments. Are they crazy? Are we all crazy? Is it only the ones that disagree with you that are out of line?

          Face it. Anyone who reads this site regularly has seen creationist trolls pretending to be atheists. This reads the same to me. Stephen wants to pretend to have considered atheism because he feels it will be a better way of presenting himself toward atheists. By misrepresenting himself and his opinions he feels that he will be more well received. Standard creationist methods, I’m absolutely certain you have seen those used in the past. Do you take the most charitable interpretation of those trolls? I don’t think so. Nor should any of us.

          It is not my responsibility, or anyone`s responsibility, to take this question in the most charitable way. If it was, then we all would have to act pleasant when a troll speaks. That would be silly, I`m sure you will agree. There is a negative affect on the conversation as a whole when people are afraid to challenge others on whether they are speaking truthfully. This is not something to be afraid of. Honest people are safe from those questions.

          In this particular case, as an atheist who often finds theist websites listing ‘tough questions to ask an atheist’ and finding this question on some of those websites, combined with the unusual choice of words, makes me inclined to think that Stephen is not speaking truthfully.

          Criticize me for being sceptical if you wish.

          • Elemenope

            It is not my responsibility, or anyone`s responsibility, to take this question in the most charitable way.

            Most people who study communications and ethics would flatly disagree with you there. Being a student of ethics (and a dilettante in the field of communications), I can say that pretty damn confidently. The charitable default is what allows discourse at all. The default can be lost *by a particular agent* by abusing the trust, but it is always inappropriate in conversation to punish others of a class for the prior actions of an individual.

            It seems like my opinion is more common here than you would like to believe. The choice of words stands out enough for several people to point it out within the first handful of comments.

            As usual, you are not reading carefully. I said it is *not* crazy to argue that the use of the word “adopt” is appropriate. I said *nothing whatsoever* about arguing the opposite. Tellingly, though, I called nobody who did raise the issue respectfully “crazy” while it was discussed nor implied it; I only outlined in a methodical manner why I thought they might be incorrect.

            • Aor

              If you want to claim to be an student of ethics and follow those rules yourself, feel free. I doubt you actually follow them the way you wish to imply.. do you really want to take the position that even one of the creationist trolls that posts a comment such as “I’m an atheist too, but what happens when you die and god sends you to hell?” would get a perfectly charitable response from you and that everyone else in the world should give that kind of a troll charitable responses? I call bullshit. Seriously, bullshit. I doubt you would act that way, but your last response says that you should and so should everyone else. So either you are the perfectly charitable person who would never call such a person a liar, or you are simply talking out of your ass.

              A world where nobody challenged others on their truthfulness is not a world where the study of communications would flourish. Communication suffers when deception goes unchallenged. Understand that point well: a communications major who never challenged a liar because they wanted to hold to some institutional ideal of ethics would likely fail and wind up flipping burgers. So perhaps, just perhaps, you are out of line on this and have not thought it through.

              Here is an interesting question… have you taken the most charitable possible interpretation of my words? The answer is clearly no.. so what does that make you? A liar, or a hypocrite? Or just a bullshitter?

              To get back on point… the original poster, Stephen, used a phrase and word choice that is highly uncommon. How often do you see the word ‘despair’ used in conversation? Pretty damn rarely, I would say. It is not a word that enters most people’s vocabulary. When believers ask questions of that nature they tend to be phrased much more like “what do you do when tragedies happen/people die/etc.” Despair? Unusual word choice. Red flag.

              How often do you see the phrase ‘adopt atheism?’ Again, rarely.. maybe even never. It may technically not be an improper word choice, but that is not the only thing to consider. When uncommon words are combined with highly unusual choices of phrase, that sets of triggers for me. If you actually studied communications it should also set them off for you. Serious red flag.

              So, big picture time.. a poster sends an email, and we see a fraction of that and from that fraction we must form our opinions. My opinion? Unusual word choice combined with highly unusual phrasing while dealing with a hot button issue. Implications? Poster is probably trying to deceive the reader about his beliefs in order to present himself as being at least partly ‘in’ the group of atheists in order to get a more positive response. A very common approach. So on one hand we have highly unusual word choice and phrasing, on the other we have a common technique used by believers who are essentially ‘trolling the atheists.’

            • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

              The charitable default is what allows discourse at all. The default can be lost *by a particular agent* by abusing the trust, but it is always inappropriate in conversation to punish others of a class for the prior actions of an individual.

              Well said. I’m going to steal the first sentence, to be sure. In fact, tweeghting it now.

              @ Aor:

              Of course we should challenge people. We agree about that. But, your tone has been hostile and emotive from the get-go. You failed to even give Stephen the benefit of the doubt for a second.

              To your points:

              First, “Despair” is a word that’s used quite often in the philosophy I’ve read, especially the existential stuff.

              Second, and more importantly, your criticisms about his choice of language would really only apply to someone on the “inside” of atheism. Let’s be honest. Religious folks have their own “language” to describe themselves and their worldview. So do atheists — which I can say I’ve observed on blogs like this and others. You criticize him for using “adopt” because that’s not a word that gets used in your common discourse. But you’ve failed to ask why he should be using language that’s part of your common discourse. Frankly, if he’s an outsider, shouldn’t you expect him to be unfamiliar with it rather than familiar?

              That said, even if you’re right about him pretending to be in the ‘in-group,’ why respond in kind? Maybe he is genuinely interested in what you have to say, but he doesn’t know how to say it — because he’s not on the “inside”?

              Here is an interesting question… have you taken the most charitable possible interpretation of my words? The answer is clearly no.. so what does that make you? A liar, or a hypocrite? Or just a bullshitter?

              Aor, there’s only one interpretation of your words: You think Stephen is full of it, and the rest of us are ignorant for not seeing that self-evident fact.

            • Aor

              @brgulker
              Wouldn’t it seem odd to you if someone said they had considered adopting the belief in blood sacrifice, or Thor or ancestor worship? If someone said that I do not believe that you would give them the benefit of the doubt. The choice of words simply stands out and I am far from the only one to note that point. People do not tend to discuss beliefs so central to their approach to the universe/supernatural as something they ‘adopt.’ I simply don’t buy it. Disagree with me if you wish, but I’m not the only one to note that the phrase seems highly out of place. Accept it.

              You think I’m hostile? Tough. Seriously, tough. Deal with it. I don’t need to live up to your expectations and you don’t need to live up to mine. Again, accept it. If you don’t like what I have to say or the way I say it…. tough.

              As for this:
              there’s only one interpretation of your words: You think Stephen is full of it, and the rest of us are ignorant for not seeing that self-evident fact.
              That is an interestingly skewed perspective, and also a self serving one. You carefully ignore every comment I make other than the initial one in order to imply that Elemenope isn’t being a little hypocritical. Again, these things get noticed. You may want try harder to deal with these kinds of discussions honestly rather than playing those kind of little word games. Or you could let him respond for himself, I suppose. Thats always safer, don’t you think?

            • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

              Aor, I didn’t ignore your points. I answered them directly. I just didn’t respond to all your comments in order.

              To your points:

              First, “Despair” is a word that’s used quite often in the philosophy I’ve read, especially the existential stuff.

              Second, and more importantly, your criticisms about his choice of language would really only apply to someone on the “inside” of atheism. Let’s be honest. Religious folks have their own “language” to describe themselves and their worldview. So do atheists — which I can say I’ve observed on blogs like this and others. You criticize him for using “adopt” because that’s not a word that gets used in your common discourse. But you’ve failed to ask why he should be using language that’s part of your common discourse. Frankly, if he’s an outsider, shouldn’t you expect him to be unfamiliar with it rather than familiar?

              That said, even if you’re right about him pretending to be in the ‘in-group,’ why respond in kind? Maybe he is genuinely interested in what you have to say, but he doesn’t know how to say it — because he’s not on the “inside”?

              To some of your other comments:

              Wouldn’t it seem odd to you if someone said they had considered adopting the belief in blood sacrifice, or Thor or ancestor worship? If someone said that I do not believe that you would give them the benefit of the doubt. The choice of words simply stands out and I am far from the only one to note that point. People do not tend to discuss beliefs so central to their approach to the universe/supernatural as something they ‘adopt.’ I simply don’t buy it. Disagree with me if you wish, but I’m not the only one to note that the phrase seems highly out of place. Accept it.

              It would seem odd, because I haven’t heard of anyone “converting” to blood sacrifices or Thor worship lately. I have, however, heard a lot about people who are deconverting from religion to atheism and agnosticism.

              Look, you may be right. Maybe he’s a troll. Maybe he used adopt because he was trying to paint himself in a better light. That’s possible, and you raised some believable points as to why. That said, you’re not even willing to consider the alternatives. There are other explanations. You’ve chucked them out the window without even giving them a second thought. I don’t say this to be inflammatory, but that doesn’t seem rational to me.

              That is an interestingly skewed perspective, and also a self serving one. You carefully ignore every comment I make other than the initial one in order to imply that Elemenope isn’t being a little hypocritical. Again, these things get noticed. You may want try harder to deal with these kinds of discussions honestly rather than playing those kind of little word games. Or you could let him respond for himself, I suppose. Thats always safer, don’t you think?,/i>

              Explain to me how that is a skewed interpretation of your comments. In sum, you have said that Stephen is full of it. A couple of us have questioned that claim. You’ve responded with 1 or 2 reasons why you think so, but mostly, we’re naive for not seeing the self-evident truth. Have I misrepresented you there?

              And again, I didn’t dodge you or your comments. I just didn’t respond to them in order. So, “these things get noticed.” I don’t what you’re talking about. What word games? I’m not playing any games whatsoever. You commented. I responded. You responded to me. I responded back. What game is being played by either of us? As far as I can tell, it’s just a normal disagreement. You’ve got your reasons and are explaining them. I’ve got mine, and I’m explaining them. What’s the game?

              As I see it, it’s fairly common around here for people to jump into a conversation even when they haven’t been directly addressed. Elemenope and I have disagreed with you, each from our own unique perspectives. I don’t see how it’s inappropriate for me to respond to your comments to Elemenope in any scenario, but even more so because Elemenope and I are both engaging you in conversation from similar perspectives (on this issue).

              You think I’m hostile? Tough. Seriously, tough. Deal with it. I don’t need to live up to your expectations and you don’t need to live up to mine. Again, accept it. If you don’t like what I have to say or the way I say it…. tough.

              I am dealing with it by engaging you in conversation. IMO, that attitude is emblematic of a bigger issue, namely, that people like me and people like you tend to let conversations turn into fights. We refuse to see past our differences for the common good. I’ve been guilty, and I probably will be again. But in this case, I was simply trying to express that going on the attack when someone asks a question doesn’t help anything. Maybe it’s cathartic for you, but that’s the most that can be accomplished. And as I said, I say the same thing to religious folks, with whom I’m involved on a more regular basis than folks who think as you do.

            • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

              I accidentally italicized some stuff I didn’t intend to. So, if you respond, beware of my oops.

            • Elemenope

              Here is an interesting question… have you taken the most charitable possible interpretation of my words? The answer is clearly no.. so what does that make you? A liar, or a hypocrite? Or just a bullshitter?

              [Sigh.] As brgulker pointed out, there is really no other way to take your words other than how they have been taken, since they seem pretty unambiguous.

              And for the larger point, no. We–you and I–have interacted in discourse many times before. It is a very different discourse position than that of a stranger-interlocutor. For example, from your past interactions with me I can infer (because the behaviors are fairly consistent) that you get hostile often and generally interpret uncharitably. I am allowed to make conclusions about your intentions and proclivities–and you are allowed to make conclusions about mine–because of that history. All I was saying was that the starting position when nothing is known about the other party should be charitable. Your starting position with most interlocutors (at least in the context of this site) is not. Hence, my criticism.

              No hypocrisy involved. Now, am I perfect an perfectly consistent in the application of the rule I just elucidated? Of course not. I’m human, and some things get under my skin, I’m not immune to the instinct of prejudgment, and occasionally interpret uncharitably. However, I *attempt* to be more charitable, and am more successful in doing so than a person who does not try, and I find that differential to be valuable to my future intellectual and moral growth. To be immediately and habitually scornful of what one either does not understand or feels threatened by is a practical guarantee of the incapacity to learn anything meaningful from the exchange.

      • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

        I think the question is a typical bit of dishonesty.

        That’s absolutely absurd.

        .And second, why is it so hard to take the question in the most charitable way and try to answer it rather than insinuate (or outright accuse) all sorts of hideous intentions to the interlocutor? Who cares that he used a term mildly offensive to your notion of how you hold or come to be an Atheist? The matter is tangential to the question, which is clearly a curiosity about how atheists deal with despair. It’s a straightforward question. One has to be awfully offensive to interpret *that* as some sort of attack..

        I agree completely. I’ve asked honest questions here before because I wanted to hear the opinion of people who think differently than I do, prefaced them as honest, and then gotten grilled by the same type of nonsense you just posted. It’s an honest question by Stephen, and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise.

        • Aor

          So if I went to a christian website, maybe even yours.. and prefaced a question with a claim to be a believer in order that my words be taken more seriously, you would not object at all and would want all of the people on your website to be completely charitable and not doubt my veracity or challenge me to speak truthfully. You would want them to treat my question as if it were honestly asked even if it were not. You would want me to be free from criticism and attacks no matter how many people thought I was lying.

          That awfully nice to hear, but I don`t believe a word of it.

          • DarkMatter

            Pitiful words of a man broken by the church…

            • Aor

              Broken by the church? I’ve never been a member of any church. I fell through the door of one once on my skateboard, does that make me a member?

            • DarkMatter

              http://brgulker.wordpress.com/
              -Pitiful words of a man broken by the church…

            • Aor

              @dark

              Ah I get you now, sorry.

            • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

              Pitiful words…

              If you’re going to insult me, you can surely do better than that.

            • DarkMatter

              Not of contempt and not insulting you. Apart from your blog, I begin to doubt your kind attribute, at least here.

            • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

              Not of contempt and not insulting you. Apart from your blog, I begin to doubt your kind attribute, at least here.

              Well, forgive me if I misunderstood, but the word ‘pitiful’ isn’t usually used positively.

              This is how I read ‘pitiful’, from an online dictionary:

              <i Arousing contemptuous pity, as through ineptitude or inadequacy. See Synonyms at pathetic.

              In short, that’s how I understood your post. If that’s not what you mean by pity, then I’ve misunderstood.

              And if I’ve acted unkind, it’s not intentional… perhaps it’s merely because of the inefficiencies of the mode of our communication?

            • DarkMatter

              “perhaps it’s merely because of the inefficiencies of the mode of our communication?”

              -You could be right.

              pitiful – deserving or inciting pity; “a hapless victim”; “miserable victims of war”; “the shabby room struck her as extraordinarily pathetic”- Galsworthy; “piteous appeals for help”; “pitiable homeless children”; “a pitiful fate”; “Oh, you poor thing”; “his poor distorted limbs”; “a wretched life”

              My perception of your words,”broken words from a broken man waiting to be redeemed” and from what I read about you on your blog.

          • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

            You don’t have to believe me, I suppose, but sure, if you visited my blog, I would treat you kindly.

            In fact, just a few days ago an atheist named Kevin visited my blog and posted. I thanked him for his honesty and his perspective, which was the only of its kind in the comments.

            I can’t speak for others, and I’m sure there are thousands of blogs where that wouldn’t be the case.

            My point was simply that there’s nothing in this opening comment, or in other words, there’s no evidence to suggest, that it’s not an honest question. And if there’s no evidence that it’s not genuine, why not just take it at face value and answer it?

            • Aor

              My question was actually much more specific, brgulker. If I went to your website and lied about my beliefs in order to get a more positive reaction, would you or would you not object? Would you be perfectly charitable toward me despite lies, even obvious lies?

              You avoided responding to that and instead discuss a poster that behaves honestly. This is an unrelated issue, I’m sure you realize. Don’t imagine for a moment that people don’t catch that when you do it. It makes it clear that you are unwilling to answer and want to squirm out. When those kinds of situations come up in the future, remember not to squirm. Either answer truthfully and openly or not at all.

              You mentioned thanking a poster for his honesty. To me that implies that if he was dishonest you would not have been deserving of thanks. This indicates that you would have felt the need to be charitable toward him if he had lied. Maybe you agree with me more than you are willing to admit?

              As for how much evidence there is to suggest that Stephen isn’t being honest, I have dealt with that above in response to Elemenope.

            • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

              I wasn’t squirming one bit, and I’m happy to explain why.

              In the first place, I would have no idea as to whether or not someone who posted on my blog was lying — and that’s the main difference between you and I on this topic. You believe it’s self-evident that Stephen is lying. I do not. Consequently, I’m willing to give the guy the benefit of the doubt. You are not.

              If you came to my blog, I would not know whether or not you were lying or being honest. The internet is, after all, awfully anonymous. Consequently, I’d give you the benefit of the doubt.

              Would I engage you in conversation? Of course. Would I call you a liar? Nope.

              If you were telling “obvious lies” that would be different, but this gets us back to my first paragraph: I don’t agree with you that it’s self-evident that Stephen is lying.

              You mentioned thanking a poster for his honesty. To me that implies that if he was dishonest you would not have been deserving of thanks. This indicates that you would have felt the need to be charitable toward him if he had lied

              That’s an irrational conclusion. My point was only to say that I was charitable with someone who had a different perspective than anyone else who had commented on that blog post. If you want to try to tease out implications that aren’t there, be my guest, but that’s not what I’m inferring in the slightest.

              You avoided responding to that and instead discuss a poster that behaves honestly. This is an unrelated issue, I’m sure you realize. Don’t imagine for a moment that people don’t catch that when you do it. It makes it clear that you are unwilling to answer and want to squirm out. When those kinds of situations come up in the future, remember not to squirm. Either answer truthfully and openly or not at all.

              I don’t see how I’m avoiding a response at all. As I see it, the root of the issue is that you disbelieve Stephen’s sincerity, and I don’t. We’ve both made decisions on that based on the evidence we see. Unfortunately as a result, we’re talking past each other, and you’re interpreting that as “dishonesty” on my part. I assure you, that’s not the case on my part at all.

            • rodneyAnonymous

              Aor, you bring up some excellent points, but it is good manners to assume good faith until clearly demonstrated otherwise.

            • Aor

              @rodney
              When dealing with trolls, manners are overrated. Considering the issue raises a great deal of one-hit-wonder creationist pseudo-questions, I think a good deal of sceptisim and even cynicism is warranted.

              @brgulker
              You could easily know a person was lying simply by taking the common “I’m an atheist but…” troll approach and reversing it to apply to your own religion. I’m sure you understand my point. Example? “I’m a christian, but I just don’t get why people think there is a god.” Thats just how easy it is! Now you know its a lie, now you know its a troll, now you get to choose whether you live up to this lovely ideal you are so voraciously clinging to. I think you will fail.

              My point was only to say that I was charitable with someone who had a different perspective than anyone else who had commented on that blog post. If you want to try to tease out implications that aren’t there, be my guest, but that’s not what I’m inferring in the slightest.

              And that wasn’t the topic at all was it? Nobody was discussing simply tolerating difference of opinion. Carefully skewed responses seem to come naturally to you. The question was asked clearly and you repeatedly try to un-answer it by answering a modified version. To quote myself a couple times:

              So if I went to a christian website, maybe even yours.. and prefaced a question with a claim to be a believer in order that my words be taken more seriously, you would not object at all and would want all of the people on your website to be completely charitable and not doubt my veracity or challenge me to speak truthfully.

              Yes or no.

              If I went to your website and lied about my beliefs in order to get a more positive reaction, would you or would you not object?

              Yes or no.

              It is interesting how you avoid answering while still pretending to have answered. How long can you keep it up?

            • rodneyAnonymous

              Yes, but my comment was unrelated to how you treat trolls, it was about how quickly you conclude that someone is a troll.

            • http://brgulker.wordpress.com brgulker

              And that wasn’t the topic at all was it? Nobody was discussing simply tolerating difference of opinion. Carefully skewed responses seem to come naturally to you. The question was asked clearly and you repeatedly try to un-answer it by answering a modified version. To quote myself a couple times:

              So if I went to a christian website, maybe even yours.. and prefaced a question with a claim to be a believer in order that my words be taken more seriously, you would not object at all and would want all of the people on your website to be completely charitable and not doubt my veracity or challenge me to speak truthfully.

              Yes or no.

              If I went to your website and lied about my beliefs in order to get a more positive reaction, would you or would you not object?

              Yes or no.

              I feel like we’re talking in circles.

              I’m going to answer you definitively, but in a roundabout way.

              Let’s go back to the original post by Daniel, quoting Stephen.

              You are convinced that Stephen is a troll, or in other words, that Stephen is insincere. So from your perspective, he’s clearly lying.

              On the other hand, I am not convinced of Stephen’s insincerity.So from my perspective, I’m not convinced he’s lying. I’m not sure one way or the other. Maybe you’re right about him. But, maybe you’re wrong about him.

              To your question “Yes or No?” Let’s follow your lead and reverse the table.

              If someone e-mailed me and asked the question: “I’m considering joining Christianity. But, I’ve always struggled to understand how Christians face the scientific/naturalistic explanation of the universe.”

              Let’s also assume that this question is our only evidence on which to make a judgment, as Stephen’s comment is all we have to make a judgment on him. In my view, I do not have no surefire way of determining the sincerity of this person.

              On the one hand, there are a couple strange choices of language. For example, usually one would talk about “converting to Christianity” or “becoming a Christian” or “joining a church.” But “joining” Christianity? That’s odd language. Also, the “scientific/naturalistic” language he uses isn’t something that gets talked about very much in churches. So, maybe this person is a troll. Maybe he’s fronting to illegitimately gain credibility. Based on the evidence, that’s possible.

              But on the other hand, maybe this person is using the best language he or she knows how to use. Maybe this person grew up as an atheist and has been convinced of the naturalistic explanation of the world but has been recently intrigued by Christianity. Maybe the oddities can be explained that way, and thus, maybe the question is entirely sincere. And maybe I should give him the benefit of the doubt. Based on the evidence, that’s possible, too.

              So, here’s my direct response to you:

              If someone came to my blog and was clearly lying and clearly trolling, of course I would challenge that. And if it were bad enough, maybe I’d even delete the comments.

              However, and now we’re back to my original point, I don’t think that’s the with Stephen, nor would I think that is the case if the situation were reversed. You disagree. In your view, it’s an open and shut case.

              Here’s what I suspect.

              I suspect that the situation you are attributing to Stephen has happened before, here or elsewhere, and you’ve witnessed it — someone pulled a bait and switch, pretended to show interest just so they could try to convert you. I’m sorry if that has happened, because it’s disingenuous and disrespectful. Is it possible that such an experience is coloring your judgment of Stephen’s question?

              Because the way I see it, there isn’t enough evidence to judge Stephen either way. My experience leads me to believe that it’s entirely possible that it’s a sincere question. Does your experience lead you to believe something differently?

            • Aor

              Congratulations on finally answering my question after several attempts. If you are convinced that a person is lying you will challenge him. Hooray! Now we agree on that critical point. What we don’t agree on is whether I should be convinced or not. Only that. Not whether a liar should be challenged, only whether Stephen is lying or not. You say no, I say likely yes. I fully support your right to think that Stephen is telling the truth. In exchange, and this is the key part.. an important part of being part of any conversation at all.. is that you should support my right to think he is speaking falsely. This is a simple disagreement, and it is dealt with that simply. Simply by disagreeing with an opinion, not ridiculing that opinion as absurd. Despite the fact that several other posters noticed the word choice was unusual, somehow that makes my opinion absurd. Does it make their opinions absurd too? Did you mention it to them? Why not? Are you applying the rules selectively?

              I call bullshit. You disagree, fine. Go ahead and disagree.

              I said I didn`t believe Stephen, you said “Thats absurd.“

              Suspecting the man might be deceptive and showing my reasons why were absurd. And yet, I never called your point of view absurd. I am willing to let you disagree with me because I accept that you have your point of view and just because you disagree with me does not make your point worthless or meaningless or absurd. But you don`t just disagree, you think that expressing my opinion was absurd. You are not content to merely disagree, you want me to shut up about it. You want to attack me so that I won’t express an opinion that you disagree with. Again, I call bullshit on that.

              By the way, calling my opinion absurd is a completely uncharitable way to approach this conversation, don`t you think? So from the beginning, the very first comment you direct at me.. is a complete and utter violation of the supposed ideal you want me to live up to. Hypocrisy, your order is ready. Luckily you don’t actually follow that code, you just want me to when it suits you. Selective application of the rules, favoring yourself. Proven, using your own words! There is no way out of that, brgulker. Your words are right here, and they directly contradict this charitability ideal you later espouse. Your very first comment directed at me violates the rules you want me to follow!

              As for your ‘suspicions’, as I mentioned many times now, the lying sneaky creationist troll is a common phenomenon on this site and all other atheist related sites. Of course I have seen this behavior before! I keep pointing that out, how does it take this long for it to sink in to you? That is exactly WHY I think Stephen is lying.. a great deal of personal experience in dealing with internet creationist trolls. Coloring my judgement! This is experience, it is what judgements are made of. My experience, as I mentioned above and went over several times, is that the word choice raises several red flags. All you need to do is say, “I disagree and here is why.” Avoid anything that sound at all like “I disagree and your opinion is absurd.” Unless of course you want people to call your opinions absurd whenever they disagree with you. Don’t you? Why not? That would be fair.. you get to call their opinions absurd and they get to return the favor. Again it would completely violate this charitability ideal that you pretend to care about, but hey.. at least your actions would be consistent.

              Instead, you pretend to follow some kind of charitability code that you violated before you even mention charitability. I call Bullshit. What you are doing is using rules that even you do not follow and trying to convince others to follow them simply because it serves your purpose in that moment. Selective application of the rules. Hypocrisy.

          • Kodie

            So how come he hasn’t come back to troll the discussion with counterpoints yet? I think seeing the worst in this question doesn’t help anyone. Other people may be reading this and wondering the same thing without guile. Be a good and helpful atheist!

            • Aor

              I don’t read this site every second, Kodie. In the future, you might want to be less of a prick.

            • Kodie

              I think the execution of your reaction was unreasonable, and I think this is a valid question. Whether the person asking directly was posing his question deceitfully is none of my concern and shouldn’t be yours. Religious people do try to trip atheists up, but a knee-jerk is a knee-jerk. If you can call them like you see them, so can anyone else. You know, beam in your eye and all that.

            • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

              I don’t read this site every second, Kodie. In the future, you might want to be less of a prick.

              I think that’s a pretty good example of why a couple of us have challenged your reaction. You might be right about Stephen. You might be wrong. But regardless, you don’t need to be so hostile.

            • Aor

              @brgulker

              And yet you don’t think a person who only waits a few hours for a response and then calls someone a troll is justified and shouldn’t be reproached in any way? Very nice of you. How does that fit in with your always-be-charitable philosophy from above? I sense a complete and utter contradiction there, man. Try again, you are talking out of both sides of your mouth. Or are you going to ask Kodie to be more charitable? At least that would be consistent your other position.

              @Kodie
              You think my reaction is unreasonable, fine. You think the question is valid, fine. So do I in fact. I simply choose to deal with the way the question was asked and what that implies to me. I never said it shouldn’t be asked or shouldn’t be responded to. I let others do that. I encourage you to call them as you see them.. and to deal with the results of doing so. You said I was a troll, I responded. Now deal with the results: you jumped the gun because I didn’t respond fast enough for your tastes. I happen to think that is unreasonable. Do you? Should I wait eight hours from this moment and then call you a troll if you don’t respond on time? I happen to think that makes you a bit of a prick so I said so. Perhaps you should publish your time limits on how long people have to speak before they become trolls. Please share, so we all know the rules of speaking to you.

            • Kodie

              You got all that out of my question – Where is Stephen Rapp and why hasn’t he come out to attack all the positions? And then you go and call me a prick for it? I’m finding you to be quick to pick a fight, and rather defensive, and extraordinarily unable to comprehend some innocent words. I mean mine, I can’t speak for Mr. Rapp. I can’t defend his question or the sincerity of it, but I can consider that this may be a valid question others have, who will read the answers and gain some perspective from it. Not if you’re going to be angry and suspicious and slam the doors shut.

              I also note a number of contradictions in some of your posts in this manner, such as “I don’t need to live up to your expectations and you don’t need to live up to mine,” and then trying to tell people how they ought to behave in the future, including telling me not to be a prick in the future. I won’t be a prick in the future, but that’s my own decision, ok? Furthermore, if you’re implying I had been a prick, you’ve just misread what I wrote, or like you did with Stephen Rapp’s question, you filtered it with a nasty intention, framed your reaction in no uncertain terms for the worst possible interpretation of a question instead of approaching it at face value, which is exactly how I meant it. Good day to you.

            • Aor

              @Elemenope

              My words only have one interpretation.. astonishing. Every word I have said to you in this thread, including those after the initial comment, somehow only has one possible interpretation. The sum total of several comments, only one possible interpretation at all and not one you can be charitable about. Every single word, every phrase, every sentence, every paragraph is absolutely impossible for you to see in more than one manner, and the lone way you do choose to interpret my words is not one that you can see in a charitable manner at all. Truly an interesting claim. Completely self serving bullshit, but interesting.

              What you do instead is selectively choose where to apply this charitability standard. Only when it suits you. You don’t actually care about giving everyone the most charitable possible interpretation.. you just pretend to because it serves you make those claims. Outrageously naive is a phrase that comes to mind, if you really expect people to believe that you or anyone else can live up to this standard that you selectively want me to live up to. Again, I call bullshit on that. You don’t make these points to others. You do not follow these rules yourself at all times. If not, why did you make a big deal about it? If you can’t live up to your own rules why are you preaching to me that I should? When you really break it down, I don’t think you really want anyone to believe you follow that rule.. you just want a venue to argue with me because you don’t like the fact that I challenge people when I sense potential deception. Like I said above, tough. I don’t need your approval, nobody does, you have no governing power over the actions and behavior of people on the internet. Learn it, live it, accept it. Dislike my words, speak up about them if you wish, but stop with these callow attempts to make it appear that you follow some high ideal when what you really care about is grinding a personal axe. Life is much simpler when you just state outright that you don’t like my in-your-face approach and don’t pretend to living up to an impossible ideal.

              Quoting you, Elemenope:

              Who cares that he used a term mildly offensive to your notion of how you hold or come to be an Atheist?

              To paraphrase.. who cares if he offends me. Take that further. Who cares if I offend you? Perhaps it is time for you to start learning from your own words. Stop thinking I should care if I offend you. Follow your own advice.

            • Aor

              @Kodie
              Actually Kodie, you chose to pick this fight. You picked a target, me, and chose to call me a troll because I didn’t respond fast enough for you. Don’t blame me for firing back when you shoot the first round. If you don’t want someone to get angry and call you a prick, don’t call a complete stranger a troll just because he doesn’t respond quick enough for you. You were just asking for a fight, and now that you got it you want it to be my fault that you are in a fight. If you don’t want to be called a prick, stop calling people trolls for breaking some bizarro time violation on your magic clock of who-gets-to-post-when.

              You seem to be under the impression, no matter how clear I make it, that I don’t think his question is worthy of a response. That is just not the case. I simply find that the way he asked it and the words he chose set off the same kind of triggers as your standard garden variety of troll that we see here on a regular basis. I never claimed it was not a valid question, so there is no reason for you to repeatedly argue over that point as if I had. You find it valid, I find it valid, we all find it valid, oh happy day! But valid or not, there are several posters on this thread who find the quote itself problematic. You may disagree with me, but those red flags I see are visible to others. You can spend time if you wish answering his question, but please let others spend time discussing whether Stephen is being sneaky if we choose to. The reason I say this is because of your words here:

              Whether the person asking directly was posing his question deceitfully is none of my concern and shouldn’t be yours.

              None of us should be concerned with whether Stephen was lying? No. Simply, clearly, loudly, NO. We have the right to be concerned. We have the right to ask questions about it. We have the right to consider the possibility. You do not have the right to determine what others are allowed to be concerned about. This is may just be a way for you to say that since you disagree, nobody should be allowed to speak about it. Again, Bullshit. Stop thinking that way. I hope you didn’t mean those words that way, but I tried the whole ‘charitable interpretation’ crap that Elemenope pretends to believe in and all I got was you telling people they had no right to ever doubt the truthfulness of any person at any time. And yes, I am treating you like a prick.

              If you want me to stop treating you like a prick, here would be one way:

              1) Admit you started the fight and apologize for calling me a troll. I will respond by saying you aren’t really a prick and you were just temporarily suffering from being a prick because you thought you could get away with it and that I wouldn’t be back to call you a prick.

              2) Give others the permission to discuss what they want when they want and to suspect anyone of being a liar if they wish to. Promise not to try to deprive others of the right to speak about whether someone is being truthful or not.

              3) …

              4) Profit.

            • Jabster

              Welcome back Aor — not seen you posting for quite some time.

              p.s. I hope you’re not upsetting people by not being “charitable” again?

              :-)

            • Kodie

              Let me help your grave misinterpretation out Aor:

              What I actually said:
              “So how come he hasn’t come back to troll the discussion with counterpoints yet? I think seeing the worst in this question doesn’t help anyone. Other people may be reading this and wondering the same thing without guile. Be a good and helpful atheist!”

              What you thought was all about you was actually:
              So, (Aor, if your suspicions of Stephen Rapp are correct), how come he (Stephen Rapp) come back to troll the discussions with any counterpoints yet? (And 3 days later, still no input from Mr. Rapp – I do think that is long enough).

              (Generally) I think seeing the worst in this question doesn’t help anyone. Other people may be reading this and wondering the same thing without guile.

              (I’ts generally a good idea to) be a good and helpful atheist! (Negative reactions and accusations don’t help, inform, or educate the most people).

              Did you really think I called you a troll and became impatient because you hadn’t fed the discussion as rapidly as I wanted you to? In case you still need clarification after I have tried nicely to steer you back on track for a couple days now, I was wondering toward you, because you were set off by the wording of his question to suspect bad intentions on the part of Mr. Rapp, and I wondered why he hadn’t returned, as a troll would, as you had called Mr. Rapp a troll (essentially). I was asking you where is this troll. If his question was a troll, as you suggest, I mean, can I make this any clearer to you? Trolls come back and pick arguments with the denizens, and make debate with their responses. I’m not apologizing for the fact you are self-absorbed and maybe a little too sensitive. And angry. Anyway, since you called me a prick, I think that’s sort of a troll. I’ve engaged in the attempt to try to get you to be able to comprehend the short paragraph

              “So how come he hasn’t come back to troll the discussion with counterpoints yet? I think seeing the worst in this question doesn’t help anyone. Other people may be reading this and wondering the same thing without guile. Be a good and helpful atheist!”

              several times, in which you get angrier and angrier at me for no reason, so that, yes, now I’m calling you a troll.

            • Aor

              @kodie

              Ah, so your initial post wasn’t actually directed at me! That explains it. The position of your comment combined with the lack of any names makes it unclear exactly who you were speaking to. I hope you understand.

              I don’t think you are a prick anymore. I still think you might want to clarify whether people have the right to be concerned if a person is lying, but I think when pushed on that you will retract it because it really is obviously out of touch with reality. I’m sure if you look at it you will find that you don’t actually think that way.

              On the subject of why Stephen hasn’t commented. I don’t know, but considering that he started this with an email rather than a comment that people could respond to I would assume that he only wanted one on one responses from Daniel. If he wanted it public I think he would have started the conversation in public. It is common for believers to try to use one on one conversations, a divide and conquer approach. A common tactic is to deprive those they converse with of the advantage of making these conversations public and open. I can’t begin to count the number of times that a believer has made a post and started a discussion only to then try to get it into email exchanges when the open exchange of ideas on a public forum has put them at a disadvantage.

              On the general point of the way I approach and even confront those I suspect of being deceptive… it is a useful approach. There can be nice people who always give others the benefit of the doubt, and there can be in-your-face confrontational cynics. There are other approaches too. All work, depending on where and when and to who they are directed.

              Think of it as the way your parents would teach you something versus the way the kids on the schoolyard would teach you the same thing. Fair play, for example. Your parents might be fair, long suffering, willing to go the extra mile and nicely get you to learn something.. but the kids on the playground may use rougher methods to accomplish the same thing. Taunts, abuse, insults, humiliation. Not polite, sure… but damn effective. Some people will never be changed by the nicey-nice approach, maybe others will never be changed by a confrontational approach, but each of those methods have their uses and situations where they work better than the other methods. It may not be polite, but pointing and laughing reaches much deeper into the human psyche than rational explanations ever do. It is part of how our brains function. Primitive must-fit-in-to-the-group reactions. The group is laughing at me for believing that there is an invisible sky daddy? Wow, I better do something to make the group not laugh at me. It really is amazingly effective, in fact it is often closely related to why they believe in the first place… they didn’t want to be ridiculed for not believing. Primitive powerful reactions that reach right beyond their ability to reason.

              There are countless believers out there that are simply immune to rational thought. No appeal to reason, no carefully constructed analysis of the errors in the bible or whatever belief system can reach them. But point at them, laugh at them, laugh at their poorly constructed justifications for their beliefs, and you have skipped right past their immunity to reason and gotten down into the limbic system where emotional reactions run the show. Ridicule is a great teacher, as uncomfortable as it is it just plain works. It is at the heart of the way people form groups and works in a very primitive way.

              Always being nice won’t work for everyone at all times. Always being confrontational won’t work for everyone at all times. Refusing to ever be nice won’t work for everyone at all times, refusing to ever be confrontrational won’t work for everyone at all times. Some methods work better on certain people than others, and that is why there will always be multiple approaches.

              You go ahead and use yours, but you also have to allow others to use different methods.

            • Aor

              @Jabster

              I had a fire in my winter cabin and when I came back from repairing the smoke damage this site had switched to these embedded comments, which don’t tend to work for me. I like having longer comments and have found that this kind of comment system leads to alot of ‘yeah i agree!’ and ‘you go girl’ kinds of responses instead of being more complete and well thought out. There are more comments which makes the post counts seem more impressive, but the quality of the comments overall goes down.

              Its nice to be back, though. This place needs the odd abrasive person, because abrasives are a great way of scraping the off dirt.

            • Jabster

              @Aor

              I prefer the embedded comment style as I don’t mind more ‘banter’ and less debate. I don’t think the overall quality has changed as there are still a number of thoughtful posters which make the site well worth following; the embedded comments also help you in finding what you are looking for. It’s almost the opposite of Pharyngula where I only read the blog and not the comments.

              The abrasive part — well you and Elemenope are like some sort of married couple, admittedly a married couple whole skipped the whole honeymoon period and went straight to the irritating each other without really trying phase :-) but I do agree that all online communities need a variety of different characters. All abrasive is just as much of a disaster as all cute and cuddly.

            • Kodie

              @Aor, I hope you don’t think this is “being a prick” of me to say, but I noticed that, although I tried to clarify the object of my question as not you, but to you of Stephen Rapp, you missed it completely until I spelled it out for you while I had gotten very angry at your attempts to goad me into whatever misperception you felt was righteous to cling to. You took something as antagonistic without proof that it was, and contorted it because you just had need to slap it down.

              I can’t speak to the intentions of Mr. Rapp. I felt his word choice was odd. You make a point that sometimes, religious people will frame questions in a way as to trap atheists in an illogical mind-f&)# of semantics with which to argue against. It’s definitely something to watch out for.

              On word choice: I think “adopt” and “cultural movement” are odd words to use about atheism, but I think theists are people who are likely as not to “shop” for the message including god that feels closest to the way they already think. In that way, they are looking for a cultural movement, and they are attempting to adopt it. People convert to other religions than their family, maybe for marriage – i.e., a Jewish husband won’t marry until his bride converts, and it may be a sticking point, or she may willingly do so as if her former faith means very little to her. A Catholic may take a look around themselves and seek something more comfortable and compatible with their life views, and rationalize this must be closer to the real god’s message. It’s not like trying on a new pair of shoes, a person will likely have questions about certain philosophical points that are added or not correspondent.

              In that way that some people still try to imagine atheism belongs in the category of religions and look into it. “Does this feel right? I’m still having doubts, what’s it like, what do you do? How do you do this and that without god?” On word choice, again: atheism isn’t something you adopt. It’s not exactly a cultural movement – there’s no set of customs, there’s no church, I don’t know if there are “members”; I know you don’t have to join anything or anyone to do it, you just realize god doesn’t exist. You don’t have to acknowledge it on a regular basis. People will still have a lot of questions about it when they do, and they may want to join groups about it.

              As for “despair,” I have felt it. If you are relying on god for that, unfortunately god isn’t doing anything about it, even if you believe he is. Try out this experiment: 1) be in despair; 2) alert god to the matter; 3) go about your business overcoming despair. Did you really need god’s help? Did he actually do anything? You reasoned it out in your head, you waited and ate some ice cream in front of the tv, you called a friend, you got the momentum to look for a new job or a new girlfriend or whatever your big problem was. Time is your friend here. Not god. See?

              I think these are honest questions from seekers using language they understand, or at least they can be answered as though they are. Your response was directed to Mr. Rapp only, called him a nitwit and accused him of not having any original thoughts, and cribbing questions from a deceptive source. I don’t necessarily think that’s always the wrong thing to do, but the critical part here is how quick you were to do it. How quick you were to misread my sentiment and react as though it were directed at you encourages my thinking here – you’re too eager to bust balls in favor of being constructive. And I still think that is almost always the wrong way to administer atheistic perspective to people who may be reading but not posting to this forum with the same question in earnest.

              I don’t think it’s that easy to stop believing in god and “adopt” a non-god approach to most problems as it is to just hire another god, but honest people exist – read all the accounts of people who formerly believed in god. They are looking on the internet for some sort of resource. There’s no bible and no preacher, what we have is a group of people who approached atheism from every kind of thought, and if someone asks us what we think, I still think it’s right to answer the question.

            • Aor

              It is true that honest people exist. But check out the questions sent in to Daniel, or the ones anonymous or single-topic posters make on this site. Lets see.. how many lying pastors have we had drop by here in the last few months? Remember the guy that came here pretending to be an atheist just a few weeks about and turned out to be a religious leader? Only after he was caught in a blatant lie and had no other way out did he apologize and even then the apology was self serving. This happens often around here.

              Given the hot button issues and obvious and recent attempts to use deception in order to defame atheists, I think a healthy dose of cynicism is entirely justified.

            • http://brgulker.wordpress.com brgulker

              Aor,

              I used ‘absurd’ intending the following meaning:

              absurd – illogical and inconsistent with reason

              Hear me out before you react. When I made my post and used the word “absurd” it was before you had explained your suspicious of Stephen. Based on the comments you had made at the time, your reaction seemed like nothing more than knee-jerk, baseless suspicion. Your initial posts seemed to be based on little more than emotion, and they did not contain any explanation. Hence, my comment.

              After challenging you, you responded with a detailed explanation that showed you had some good reasons for your suspicion. So, the use of absurd seemed appropriate when I used it, but you’ve since demonstrated that there’s more to the story.

              To your comment:

              I fully support your right to think that Stephen is telling the truth. In exchange, and this is the key part.. an important part of being part of any conversation at all.. is that you should support my right to think he is speaking falsely. This is a simple disagreement, and it is dealt with that simply. Simply by disagreeing with an opinion, not ridiculing that opinion as absurd

              I did not intend ridicule by choosing the word ‘absurd,’ as I tried to show above. If it felt as if I were doing so, I apologize for choosing a word that could be understood that way.

              I agree with you. Of course you have the right to your opinion, as we all do. I respect that.

              Suspecting the man might be deceptive and showing my reasons why were absurd. And yet, I never called your point of view absurd. I am willing to let you disagree with me because I accept that you have your point of view and just because you disagree with me does not make your point worthless or meaningless or absurd. But you don`t just disagree, you think that expressing my opinion was absurd. You are not content to merely disagree, you want me to shut up about it. You want to attack me so that I won’t express an opinion that you disagree with. Again, I call bullshit on that.

              You are entitled to an opinion, and I don’t expect you to shut up about it. However, I do think you could have handled things differently in two ways specifically.

              First, you could have explained your the basis for your suspicion sooner, because initially, it simply seemed as if you were reacting out of pure emotion. As I said, I used the word ‘absurd’ because your initial reaction seemed to be based purely on emotion. It was not meant to be condescending but was meant to be challenging. Your initial comment, as I read it seemed to be a purely emotional response, not a rational one. Absurd, as I meant it, says nothing more than that. I’m sorry it came across differently.

              Second, there’s no question that you’re posting style is a bit abrasive. A lot of people don’t respond well to that. That’s all I’m saying. And to give the benefit of the doubt, perhaps my perception is simply skewed because of the nature of blogs and discussion boards.

              By the way, calling my opinion absurd is a completely uncharitable way to approach this conversation, don`t you think? So from the beginning, the very first comment you direct at me.. is a complete and utter violation of the supposed ideal you want me to live up to. Hypocrisy, your order is ready. Luckily you don’t actually follow that code, you just want me to when it suits you. Selective application of the rules, favoring yourself. Proven, using your own words! There is no way out of that, brgulker. Your words are right here, and they directly contradict this charitability ideal you later espouse. Your very first comment directed at me violates the rules you want me to follow!

              Again, I apologize for using a word that communicated something other than I intended. All I meant to say was that your initial reaction seemed baseless and purely emotive rather than rational. I’ll avoid that word in the future, as it’s obviously too easily understood as a put down. That was not my intent.

            • Aor

              Generally there is no need to justify a position before it gets challenged. People express their opinion. Someone else expresses doubt, then the justifications and explanations come out. Otherwise I would have the right to expect you to have all your justifications for every comment you make included from the start, in case I or someone else eventually object… and naturally that is not realistic.

              I’m hoping your last paragraph is an admission that this ‘charitable at all costs’ concept isn’t something you truly believe in.

  • ColonelFazackerley

    The idea of God may make you feel better, but this does not make it any more likely to be true. I felt much happier when I stopped trying to force myself to believe something so obviously untrue.

    As for despair: friends, family, the usual.

  • http://www.zeekeekee.wordpress.com nessie

    In the short time I’ve been an atheist, I’ve learned to react to despair with determination and hope, mostly because I know this is the only life I have, and if I don’t try my hardest to change my own life and be responsible for myself, I’m never going to get another chance to discover the beauty and joy in life again. I’m generally a joyful person, but I have had moments of deep despair, partly due to life circumstances, and partly due to having bipolar disorder. The way I see it (this may sound bleak) suicide is a waste because things have the capacity for change, and so does a person, and ending the movie before the story’s done is bringing the inevitable far sooner (possibly) than you need to. I’m also aware of my capacity as a free person, who isn’t confined by their circumstances but able to make significant change. When faced with despair, in short, I have hope for change, and a curiousity to find out what’s possible.

  • batty007

    I’ve been an atheist since my early teens. Whenever I’m faced with despair, I look at my situation clinically and do what needs to be done. Every bad situation I have ever been in could be solved one of three ways…
    1) Ascertain what action you can take to improve the situation, and take that action.
    2) Bury your head in the sand until it blows over.
    3) Switch Gears and drive right on by.
    Despair seems to be the domain of the faithful. Why else do people pray?

  • Viridid

    I’ve had a lot of dealings with despair over the last couple of years. University, my Grandmother (who was more like a second mother to me) suddenly and unexpectedly dying of bowel cancer last year, my boyfriend of four years cheating on me with my best friend (who then decided they were going to have a wonderful perfect relationship if she could just split us up, and started sending abusive messages about me to him….the irony being that this had exactly the opposite effect she’d intended!) failing the first year of Uni (whoops!) and then, to top it all off, my Grandfather, who’d had dementia for sometime, dying exactly, to the DAY, a year after my Grandmother. Oh, and the suicide of a friend on New Years Eve, can’t forget that one.

    I’ve never been religious, it wasn’t part of my upbringing (my family being on one side Holocaust survivors, and on the other people whose lives had been blighted by the Catholic opinion of children born out of wedlock,) so I can’t make any comparisons to how I would have dealt with the ‘years from hell’ in a religious light, but I can explain how I coped – or rather, how I am coping, seeing as my Granddad’s funeral was two days ago. Family, friends, a big dollop of grief counselling and CBT (for a social anxiety disorder, but it actually helped with the depression and despair side of things,) plenty of philosophising about lives well lived, and ultimately, time.

    With time, the pain of these things will fade, it’s just a matter of getting through till that point where it doesn’t hurt as much, and finding the things in life that make it worthwhile. I can’t imagine the process is much different for religious people – maybe the structures one uses to find solace are different, but surely the process of grief, depression and recovery is much the same for one human being as for another? Ultimately, what’s got me through is the support of other people, and I think that’s probably the most valuable thing to have, regardless of how that social group was formed or the common interests that hold it together.

    • Viridid

      Also, I would argue that despair is what you feel in the darkest moments, not a state you exist in all the time. Some people have argued that despair is something for religious people only, or that there’s no need to despair, it’s better to ‘man up’ and do something about it. While I would agree that the best cure for depression and despair is to get up and face the world, rather than allowing it to drag you down; it’s not always that simple. When it’s 3AM and all your personal failings are crowding in around the edges, what can you do? When despair sits on your shoulders and whispers to you that things would be so much easier if you just gave in to the inevitable oblivion of death, and would you really be such a loss to the world…again, what can you do?

      That’s what other people are for, I guess. Slapping you out of it – because sometimes things go too far, and you can’t do it yourself. It’s a testament to my family and friends, and also to the wonderful people at the Samaritans 24hour phone line, that I didn’t do anything stupid and fuck up my chances at having a full, enjoyable life. Sometimes the hardest, but most helpful, thing to do is to admit you need help, and get it. Where you get the help from – a priest, a therapist, a friend, an anonymous person on the other end of a phone, talking to your invisible friend, or the inside of your own head – is immaterial. What’s important is the social structure that will buoy you up when you can’t do it yourself.

  • lotsinspace

    I am currently facing a bit of despair. And in so, I’m discovering the fatalistic attitude in which my mind had been melded with christian belief regarding dark times in ones life. The habit of believing that we are powerless to make any necessary choices that can positivley affect the outcome of our lives or that the forces governing life circumstances are beyond our control leaves people debilitated and desperate in their despair. Instead of turning to god I say turn to Shakespears ” Hamlet” “There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

  • http://lotetrees.wordpress.com Gerald

    Why would atheists face despair any differently than theists? I have never faced anything I would quite call despair, at most really strong anxiety. I think the way I deal with anxiety is about the same now as a theist as it was as an atheist: family. When I am stressed I immerse myself in other people, get stronger off of the emotional bonds with them and the assistance loved ones are happy to give. I might engage in solitary thinking, and maybe a cathartic activity like ice cream, Russian literature, or a bit of prayer. I can’t say much about despair though, I have never had a loved one die, a relationship end, experienced genocide or starvation, doubted my own existence, etc. For all that I haven’t experienced it I just don’t see how dealing with despair has anything substantative to do with my theological views.

    The idea that God enters into suffering, and has knowledge of why suffering exists is reassuring. It helps, knowing there is a compassion behind existence, but it doesn’t have a big effect on action (emotional or physical).

    God Bless,
    Gerald

  • Kyle

    I find it interesting that theists wonder what an atheist does in times of despair. When I was younger and attended church regularly, I often blamed god for hardships in my life. I constantly asked “Why?” and never received a good answer. It made times of despair particularly difficult because I felt like there was a god that didn’t care that I was suffering and chose to do nothing about it, which worsened the situation. Now, being an atheist, times of despair are much easier to handle. I can accept that they are beyond the control of any one or any thing and I accept them for what they are and move on with my life. I feel that I alone am accountable for everything in my life and am now incapable of blaming others (including God) for any situation I may be in. To me, atheism is the ultimate responsibility. I do not imagine place where all the bad I have done washes away, instead I know that what I do now matters more than anything because right now is the only time I have. I am accountable for my actions and responsible for the consequences of them. There are no second chances that theists believe to exist through prayer and forgiveness. I feel that atheism has lead me to be a better person than I was in my previous theist life.

    • http://lotetrees.wordpress.com Gerald

      Why is still a useful question for an atheist. We can ask “Why?” and look at events in our life and those around us, actions of ourself and the people around us, aspects of our environment, etc that may have caused or influenced the despair-causing event. This serves two purposes:

      (1) Understanding can help us experience catharsis, which is useful when dealing with emotional issues.
      (2) Understanding the reasons for an event can help (as in: not guarantee) us avoid such an event occurring in the future, and help us in dealing more effectively with the emotional issues involved if it does happen again.

      Plus, all this thinking will distract us a bit :). Even all this thinking can’t guarantee we will be able to understand why an event happened, or avoid it, but it is still an emotionally effective and responsible course of action. Could be done as an individual or as a group (maybe even a religious community), and is unrelated to our theological views. I am a theist, but it seems like this would be just as useful fro any atheist. Why is a natural question for beings blessed with the gift of reason, and emotionally important.

      (Seeing things as gifts or blessings isn’t something only theists can do either! Just an expression of how wonderful something feels.) :)

      God Bless,
      Gerald

  • Ty

    This has been an interesting discussion.

    I do think that one reason many atheists react poorly to the word “belief”, or in this case adopting a belief, is that it’s the point of a particularly annoying argument wedge. Once you allow the word, very often the next accusation is “see? atheism is just a religion!!!11!!1!”

    But the discussion above misses my particular version of that belief. My study of science and history led me to naturalism. That in turn removed god from the equation, but it also removed ghosts and goblins and fairies and unicorns.

    The ‘belief’ I adopted was that our examination of the universe so far has shown no hint of the supernatural, and in fact there is no compelling need for the supernatural as an explanation for anything.

    Yes, god went away, but so did a lot of other nonsense. The problem with these discussions is that inevitably, god is a special case requiring a specific belief/unbelief. That’s not always true.

    Also, to answer the initial question, if I was so unhappy that only the thought of some eternal reward made life tolerable, I would seek counseling.

    To paraphrase Twain, you weren’t upset about the eternity before you existed, why worry about the eternity that will happen after you exist? I mean, it’s not like you’ll know.

    Also, add one more mark in the column of people whose lives became much better AFTER religion.

  • Philip Laureano

    I take comfort in the fact that I am in full control of my life since there is no invisible being out there pulling all the strings.

    For me, there’s no need for a metaphysical explanation on why things happen the way they do. Whenever I am in despair, being an atheist helps me focus on the two things that really matter: the problem at hand, and its corresponding solution, and for me, that’s all that really matters.

  • Neil

    Actually, I dealt with despair much more poorly when I was a christian than I do now that I’m an atheist. When I was a christian and things went bad, I felt powerless because I thought my circumstances were being controlled by a god who might or might not help me. Now that I’m an atheist, I know that there is always hope because there is not some being out there controlling my destiny, and that my destiny is up to me. I can work hard to change things and they will likely change! That was an awesome realization!

  • Dan L.

    I always remind myself that it’s only temporary. Of course, it can last a while — but only if I dwell on whatever it is weighing on me. In that state I can’t think rationally about the problem and I get deeper and deeper. But so far, every depression has passed, and they pass more quickly when I distract myself.

    I find the best way to do so is to spend time with friends and family, either asking for advice or simply spending time with them. Focusing your attention on the accomplishments and problems of the people close to you can help you put your own problems in perspective. In the past, I’ve also jolted myself out of funks by taking road trips, rearranging the furniture in my room, listening to suitably inspiring music, and reading things that either put my problems in perspective or inspired me with the promises of the future.

    @Dan:

    <blockquote But in the end, it seems that I would be faced with that same destination, and I don’t think there would be any meaning in my life besides subjective (I would say “pretend”) meaning. Reading a good book and eating a good meal is nice, but it seems like you’re distracting yourself rather than solving the problem.

    I’m not sure what to tell you about that. There is no meaning. Maybe the problem you have to solve is why subjective meaning is good enough, even if it is “pretend.” I’m a bit of a dreamer. The possibilities of what I can do with the rest of my life give me all the meaning I need.

    Might I point out, though, that it is logically possible that there is an afterlife and no God? In my opinion, believing in an afterlife without a God is no more irrational than believing in an afterlife with a God. If that’s what it takes for you to enjoy life, maybe it’s a viable option.

  • Darwin

    I don’t believe in an afterlife. I kinda wish there was one though. It’s not leaving my friends or family that scares me, actually. It’s just that, no matter how long I live, I’ll never have enough education.