Friday, January 23, 2015

Why Do Atheists Talk About Religion So Much?

Whenever a conversation starts on Facebook, or some social media site, between atheists and theists, I start a mental countdown.  How many comments before someone chimes in, "Why do atheists talk about religion so much??"  This is usually stated not so much as a question, but as an ejaculation of frustration. WHY CAN'T ATHEISTS LEAVE RELIGION ALONE?

However, for all the angst ridden accusatory interrogations, I suppose at times it may be a genuine question - perplexing the religious folks who have not had much contact with unbelievers. So, for those really needing an Atheism 101 introduction, let me offer my insights - as a fairly new atheist myself.

The primary reason atheists talk about religion is social and political need. As the cartoon demonstrates, religious people make decisions based on religion that affect the non-religious. There is no way to address these ramifications in our daily lives without addressing the root from which they sprang. In a culture where almost everyone is religious, it is simply unavoidable.

Second, most atheists were once believers. As I write, scores of new atheists are leaving the religious life. They are BURSTING with questions, thoughts, and new concepts. In their churches, it was probably the case that all of those questions were stifled. The shackles have been removed, and they want to TALK.

As a believer, I struggled with the concept of Hell. In my evangelical sect, questions about Hell were either shut down, or you got the party line.... but there was no one willing to deconstruct it with me. When an atheist "comes out", they usually have a long list of things they have been dying to talk about - that were not welcome topics of conversation in the church.

Even years later, they are still unpacking.  The Atheist keeps finding thoughts, fears, and prejudices nested deep in their psyche. Moralities that were imparted by their religion now have to be re-evaluated in the light of reason. I had it drilled into me since childhood that behavior X is wrong.  Is it really? Why do I think so? I don't know, I just do. Time for some unpacking.

A third point, I think, is normalization. I want it to be normal for a perspective of "no deities" to be brought up in conversation. Religious people don't tend to notice how privileged their position is. They expect it to be normal that they may go on and on in a conversation about god and churchy things... but feel it unseemly, awkward, or even rude for a position of non-belief to be mentioned. I wish I had a dollar for every time a conversation was laden with presumptuous religious talk, but my mention of atheism was treated as an act of hostility.

Those are my thoughts that I would share with the person asking the question honestly. Honestly though, I am not sure that I have ever really heard the question asked honestly.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Religion Is Violent

Yesterday, religious extremists killed a dozen people in Paris. These zealots felt they were defending the honor of their religion from, perceived, blasphemers.

So today there is a lot of talk from religion’s defenders and critics. Defenders like Reza Aslan will try to distance what happened in his religion’s name from the “peaceful” religion in which he takes part – anyone who doesn’t see the difference, in his view, simply does not know the meaning of the word nuance.

I understand his argument, and I know the frustration of being lumped in with a group you feel does not represent your view. However, ultimately his argument rings hollow for me because he is defending the indefensible. Religion is violent.

There is no religion of peace. There are peaceful people who choose to bypass the violence dictated in their religion. I know peaceful people who belong to peaceful churches... but they do so by ignoring/sidelining/mythologizing the edicts in their holy books.

I believe Reza Aslan when he says that he is both peaceful and religious; but I also believe he maintains that position by choosing to select which aspects of his religion he will deem valuable.

The religion I grew up with commanded that women who were found not to be virgins on their wedding night were to be dragged to their father’s door step and stoned there. In fact, we had many offences listed in our holy book which required us to stone people to death. However, we never did it. In fact, most congregants were ignorant that those edicts were even in our holy text. I once spoke with a pastor who was surprised to find out that his church’s belief statements contained a line which condemned everyone not of their faith to Hell. Often, what the believer believes, and what the religion teaches, are two different things.

Holy texts are drenched with blood. They are filled with commands to kill the outsider and the infidel. They encourage rape, slavery, misogyny, and a host of terrors that can never be categorized under the heading of peace. Yet, through generations of self-talk, selective editing, and avoidance, we have made it common to equate religion with peace… and it simply isn’t true.

Humanity, with its bent toward empathy and compassion, is slowly untying the knot and shedding all that is violent and inhumane in these religious texts.

Until the day when we can shed them once and for all.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Facebook Faith #44: If That Isn't Relativism, I Don't Know What Is

I have been in a Facebook discussion for the past day with a religious friend. During the conversation, he put forth that religious folks have superior moral codes because they have an objective standard of right and wrong given to them in their holy texts. Atheism, he said, was relativistic - using the word in the pejorative sense.

I noted that holy texts are often pretty shoddy when it comes to morality, and in any case are not needed to develop a moral standard. Also, such outsourcing of moral engagement can lead to an atrophying of one's moral muscles.

I then addressed the concern of relativism. I am parking this here for cutting and pasting purposes since this argument comes up.... a lot:
Relativism is relative. If you are saying my moral code is still being refined... yes, guilty as charged. If you are saying I am wishy washy... no, not at all.
In fact, though I don't try to shove religionists noses in it... I submit that it is they that lack sufficient moral grounding. For them, wrong is not always wrong... go back to slavery. Is it wrong? Most religious folks would say yes. So then, the Judeo-Christian god was wrong when he sanctioned it??
Errrr... ummmm... well, ya see.....
Is rape wrong? Sure it is! So then, the Judeo-Christian god was wrong when he told the Israeli soldiers they could rape young captured girls, right??
Errrr... ummmm... well, ya see.....
How bout genocide? Stealing? Extortion? Infanticide? Killing new brides??.... we could spend all day generating the list... All wrong, right? These should all be fairly clear to even someone with an adolescent moral code.
But the believer will often get into an apologetic two-step because they have to come up with a way to keep the Deity innocent, instead of just calling wrong, wrong.
If that isn't relativism... I don't know what is. 
Actually though, I am glad when believers get uncomfortable and want to play a game of theological twister... it at least shows they have a problem with it. I talked with a believer last night who said he had NO PROBLEM with any of it... his god could do WHATEVER he wants.
Brrrrrrr.... I'll take the relativist over that dude any day.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Facebook Faith #43 Feelings and Coincidence

"I know I have relationship with God because there are too many things that I can't explain as random in my life. I will often pray and get a different answer to what I was thinking. I can go on, but the point is I feel God in my life."

This was an explanation I saw given on a friend's FB page this afternoon. There is rarely a time when discussing faith with a believer, that it does not come down to feelings and coincidences. They may start by trying to offer proofs, or rational arguments; but it soon becomes clear that those approaches only work when discussing faith with other believers. The pokes and prods of the skeptical tend to clear those away without much effort.

What the believer is left with is some variant of the above. Their faith is founded on feelings they have, or a litany of too good to be chance circumstances. I understand. As an Evangelical, I had those too.

And again, if you stay within in your faith circle, that will probably be enough. However, once you look over the fence, once you examine life outside your tribe, you discover every other faith rests on those items as well. The pagan, the Mormon, the Catholic, the JW, the Calvinist, the Universalist, the Jew, the Muslim, etc... They can all point to times when their deity met them in some transcendent moment, when circumstances were too perfect, when Heaven touched Earth.

One of the things that started my walk away from belief was a recognition that these divine moments were not unique to my faith. That which should have been exclusive to my "correct" belief, was being experienced across faith lines.

Coming to that realization was a little like finding "The Great and Powerful Oz" was really just that man behind the curtain. Booming voices and balls of fire lose their wonder after that.

However, what replaced the wonder of spiritual experience was an awe of the natural world and the wonderful souls around me. I discovered that man behind the curtain is a layered individual who is worth getting to know. It turns out that reality is much more satisfying than smoke and mirrors.

The universe is huge and old - and rare things happen all the time.
Lawrence Krauss –  A Universe From Nothing

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Keep It To Yourself

One retort I often get from believers is some version of this statement:

"Fine, I get it!  You don't believe anymore!  Why can't you just keep that to yourself?!"

And they say this with a straight face.

Could they be less self-reflective?

Could the irony be less obvious if delivered with a baseball bat?

To be told to keep your ideas to yourself by people who belong to a religious group that:
  • has a church on practically every corner in America
  • befriends people for the sole purpose of getting others to go to their church
  • floods the airwaves with religious TV and radio stations
  • makes really bad movies and then tries to drag us to them
  • creates religious versions of corporate logos and then slaps them on T-shirts
  • sends missionaries all over the globe 
  • works diligently to make sure the religious message impregnates the public square
  • designs programs to channel children and young people into religion
  • influences politics to favor their faith and force others to heed their dogmas
  • this list could go on and on...

Against that backdrop, they state that my occasional declaration that life is good without gods, that one can be happier without religion, and that religious dogmas and practices are rife with harm - is something that I should keep to myself so they do not have to hear it... this is the epitome of irony and dark comedy.

To expect silence of others, while your message is trumpeted through every possible venue, just shows the extent of your religion's self absorption.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

What Harry Said To Voldermort

I have been watching the Harry Potter movies with my son over the past few weeks while he has been finishing up the book series.  As he read through Book 7, there were times he would just set down the book, stare blankly at it, and sigh heavily.

I knew what he was feeling.

The last time he did that, as he neared the end of book, I asked him, "Fred?"

He looked up at the ceiling, ".......yeah......"

We watched the final movie tonight. I had forgotten what a good job they had done with it.  I commented to Jake that I thought they got everything right but the final fight with Voldermort.

Jake agreed, "They should have kept in what Harry said to Voldermort.... that was important..."

It is probably self centered of me, but I love that Jake loved those books.

I recall that, in a previous post, I had thanked Ms. Rowling for all that her books had given me over the years.  Let me also add a thank you as a father, for what you have given my son.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Life: Predator or Companion?

Star Trek: Generations is generally regarded as one of Star Trek's weaker offerings.  There was a planet wide geek sigh of relief with its next sibling, First Contact.

However, Generations has grown on me over the years.  Malcolm McDowell plays an excellent antagonist.... and if you pay attention, he delivers some excellent lines.
Picard: What you're about to do, Soran, is no different from when the Borg destroyed your world. They killed millions too. Including your wife, your children.
Dr. Soran: [smiles, sighs] Nice try. You know there was a time that I wouldn't hurt a fly. Then the Borg came, and they showed me that if there is one constant in this whole universe, it's death. Afterwards, I began to realize that it didn't really matter. We're all going to die sometime. It's just a question of how and when. You will too, Captain. Aren't you beginning to feel time gaining on you?  It's like a predator; it's stalking you. Oh, you can try and outrun it with doctors, medicines, new technologies. But in the end, time is going to hunt you down... and make the kill.
Picard: It's our mortality that defines us, Soran. It's part of the truth of our existence.
Dr. Soran: What if I told you I found a new truth?
Picard: The Nexus?
Dr. Soran: Time has no meaning there. The predator has no teeth.
Dr. Soran is a wounded man and he views life with a wounded eye. In his view, time and death are an enemy.

Picard faces a similar wound in this movie with the loss of his nephew and the realization that this is the end of his family line. He struggles for a short time with a depressed outlook, but then comes to a realization contrary to Soran.
Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. But I rather believe than time is a companion who goes with us on the journey, and reminds us to cherish every moment because they'll never come again.
I have a friend whom I only see every few years contact me recently.  We haven't had a chance to talk much about my de-conversion from Faith, and he wanted to know how I was doing. His tone was one of concern. My attempts to tell him that I have not been happier in my life were met with skepticism. Since he believes that without God life has no meaning, he struggles to understand how I could be happy.

I realize that, under religion, I had a view of life very similar to Soran's. I felt the "World" was out to get me. I saw most of the pleasures of this life as problematic in some way.  I presented an outward show of joy... but I was always plagued by guilt and fear.  I believed the scripture when it said, "Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God."  This life meant nothing, it was only eternity that mattered.

However, since leaving the Faith, my view has shifted.  I no longer view the world as an enemy. My time in this life is no longer a test and a trial put to me by some deity. It is, as Picard said, a journey- where our moments are to be cherished.

What my friend cannot understand is the freedom that comes from creating your own meaning and walking your own path.  It was nice to be taken care of as a child and it suited me for a time, but I much prefer life as an adult.

I used to hate Kirk's dying words in Generations. I thought, given the history of the character, he deserved more. Perhaps, but I see some wisdom in it now. I hope on my dying day, I am in a room full of loved ones and I am able to contentedly say:
"It was... fun..."
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