Giving Comfort through Public Atheism

Some months ago I blogged about the Atheist Bus-Ads and other proclamations of the faithless in public. I asserted that these efforts brought a certain kind of comfort to those among us who do not buy-in to any sort of organized religion–nor ascribe to miracle-making deities generally. This article in the New York Times seems to affirm that general assumption.

It points out that un-believers are on the rise and that those with doubts about commonly-peddled-religious-bills-of-goods are not the tiny minority of the past:

Polls show that the ranks of atheists are growing. The American Religious Identification Survey, a major study released last month, found that those who claimed “no religion” were the only demographic group that grew in all 50 states in the last 18 years.

And finally, a shout-out to my friend JW who, although not a fully-on-board-believer, plays in a church band every week. This quote made me think of him:

Loretta Haskell, a church musician [and non-believer], said: “I did struggle at one point as to whether or not I should be making music in churches, given my position on things. But at the same time I like using my music to move people, to give them comfort. 

“New Atheists’” Bad Rap

/OpenRant

The “New Atheists” are frequently disparaged as shrill, abrasive, and counter-productive — but when I read them what I see are wrters:

  • who are dumbfounded that >50% of Americans don’t “believe” in evolution,
  • who watch awestruck when Catholic and Muslim leaders tell millions of people not to use condoms (knowing full well that thousands of them will die of AIDS),
  • who see people riot in the streets because of cartoons in far-away newspapers,
  • who listen attentively to the stories of abuse of women like Ayaan Hirsi Ali,
  • who see the news of children dying from “faith” healing,
  • who realize that the election of W. Bush was funded and executed by a motivated religious community,
  • who do battle with people on education boards who would turn science into Bible-study,
  • who see decades of needless conflict that fall along religious lines (as in the former Yugoslavia),
  • who realize a person that (openly) does not “believe in god” cannot be elected to high-office in this country,
  • who fear what notions of sin, hell, judgment, and rapture are doing to the minds of our youth,
  • who see families in under-developed nations ripped apart by religious missionaries,
  • who see people mumbling to unseen gods to help them win lotteries or football games, or mumble to unseen gods to save them from their own sins and to avoid damnation,
  • who see people who have translated their god-beliefs into other areas of their lives such as astrology and numeracy or who live in fear of alien abductions,
  • who see people missing life because they are sure they are heading to another one,
  • who look at the history of the Church and realize when the Church was strong, when the Church had power—everybody but the Church suffered,
  • who look out and see the worst cases of the suppression of freedom in our modern world comes from highly religious countries…

—when I read Dawkins or Harris or Hitchens, I see people who look at all this and have said enough! Continue reading

How I Became an Atheist, by Roger

Since many of you would be wondering where I had gone by now, I thought I’d show some life signs. So let us not waste time and get down to business…

Now that Tyson has opened his heart for us by sharing his transition of thought on religion, I feel compelled to do the same. I now consider myself not only an atheist, but as regular readers know, I’m “aggressively” so.

I have never been religious, but I once thought most things the bible described were true, in that common cherry-picking way. From when I was young we went to church on Sundays. Sure, listening to the preacher was sometimes dull and boring, but I didn’t complain, I had enough patience for an hour or two.

I am the kind of person who values knowledge and reasoning and because of that I started to realize something wasn’t right. Christianity was described by this book, the bible. However, I started to understand that just because something was written down didn’t mean it was evidence, since it might not correspond how things really are. And the statements themselves seemed either very improbable or quite opposed to our modern life. My assurance of both the validity and usefulness of religion started to diminish.

Although this happened gradually there was a defining moment when, like a switch, my disbelief was affirmed. One of the members of the congregation had sustained a rare illness during the night of a hospital visit to which cause I am unaware. This illness is in normal cases fatal but he survived, but not without permanent disability. The “price” of being alive was a paralysis of most of the body and loss of speaking; he now communicates by (slowly) typing a keyboard which accompanies his mobility scooter. During the night he also had a near-death experience which strengthened his belief further. As a result he started missioning in our town.

One day, I was about 13 years old at the time, he found me in my usual neutral but slightly bored state in the church waiting for the church service to start. He asked me, with the help of his computer generated voice, “Do you believe in god?”. I actually knew he couldn’t know I wasn’t too sure of this god concept any longer, this was one of his preprogrammed questions I had seen him use in town. But the question taxed me. I remember asking myself what to answer. I could not make myself answer yes… I then knew I could not believe.

At that point my parents only occasionally required me to go to church, and they had me attending a public elementary school, not a religious school from the start — of both I am very grateful. This meant I had a free environment for contemplating the facts and arguments. I chose to call myself agnostic, and still do in a particular sense, because of the following: The existence or non-existence of a god have no bearing on the human situation. We would be humans, with the same conditions and possibilities, no matter what. God doesn’t matter (but would he reveal himself he is welcome to join us as our peer).

The last stop is a very resent one. The reading of Sam Harris’ The End of Faith a few years ago made me realize the cause and effect in religion was more involved than meets the eye. By reading books from the so called “New Atheists” I came to understand that I was atheistic by definition. Agnostic just didn’t suffice because when it comes to the assertions themselves –e.g. the existence of a god — there is an infinite number of unverifiable things, yet we don’t believe them. I also had to be, by the believers sense, aggressive. Of course this doesn’t mean “stop believing, or else… ” but rather “we have to talk… NOW”.

It seems to me that most people that follow a religion do it because they have been taught to do so by their parents. But in the end all societies are secular, they just doesn’t know it yet. It only takes them to understand what they gain and what they liberate themselves from in order to accept advancement.

Canadian Atheists “Attack”!

You know those bus ads in Britain that say, “There probably is no God”? Well, they are coming to Toronto and at least one evangelical leader is pretty pissed. The Globe and Mail reports the following, quite revealing, quote: 

On the surface, I’m all for free speech. … However, though, these are attack ads,” Dr. McVety, president of Canada Christian College in Toronto, said in an interview yesterday.

Well, that’s the problem with surfaces, isn’t it? They’re so… shallow, so… damn superficial

And does it strike anyone else as odd that to suggest something/someone doesn’t exist should be taken as such an afront? Let’s try replacing “God” with some other terms to highlight this curiousty:

Me: Your mother probably doesn’t exist. 
You: Dude, what are you talking about, I just talked to her on the phone like two minutes ago.
Me: Oh, nevermind.

Me: Your car probably doesn’t exist. 
You: What? I don’t even own a car.
Me: Um… yeah, that’s what I meant.

Me: Republicanism probably doesn’t exist.
You: NOOOOOOOO! You bastard! Stop attacking me!!!

My Deconversion Story

A friend recently asked me how it was I came to not believe in God (we’re talking here about a theistic/deistic conception of God), and after some reflection, I decided to share my story with you… so here it is — how I came to not believe

My parents were Catholic, and when I was a kid we went to church pretty regularly. I remember as early as CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) classes thinking to myself, “Oh there is really something wrong here.” I would repeatedly corner my teacher with questions like, “So you mean… um… people that aren’t Christian are going to hell?” Yes. “You mean all Hindus are going to hell?” Yes. “You mean all Muslims are going to hell?” Yes. “You mean Jewish people are going to hell?” Yes. (continue ad nauseam)… I think I was about 6 or 7 at this time, and I remember the teacher getting more annoyed with me than I felt she ought to.

I also remember that at my first confession I told the priest I’d cursed 3 times in the previous week and that I wasn’t sure God existed. He told me I had to have faith — it wasn’t much of an answer, I thought, and it certainly didn’t warrant the kind of confidence people seemed to have in their beliefs. I remember thinking, “Wow, how can people be so sure on so little information?” At that age, around 10-11 I guess, based on what I had learned, there seemed little reason to believe all of the magical stuff I was being told — that virgins could have babies, that people could rise from the dead — and I certainly didn’t see any reason to believe the Catholic’s magical stuff any more than the Hindu’s or the palm reader’s magical stuff…

Then, around 15, I remember telling my mom I didn’t believe in God. I remember being really really scared, and that her reaction scared me even more. She told me I was wrong, that I did believe. She said I was confused. It was the first (and only) time she completely and utterly rejected my thoughts and feelings. I tried to reassure her that, no, I really did not believe in God and that I wasn’t confused — but that it was okay, I was still a good person. I remember telling her that it was my “goodness” that made me a non-believer. I just couldn’t believe in a God that seemed to me so petty and cruel and demanding — a being who needed to be worshipped so badly that if you didn’t believe — FLUSH! — down you go to hell…

I remember a lot of people in those days trying to use Pascal’s Wager on me. I would typically respond with something like, “Well any God that is so narrow-minded that only Christians go to heaven, I don’t want to be with in the afterlife. I’ll go to hell just out of camaraderie with the Buddhists and Muslims and Native Americans and Hindus… I’ll go to hell just out of protest.” That always seemed to shut people up.

So, I guess you could say the doctrine of hell played a large part in my early atheist years, a close second was “the problem of evil.” People were always going on about God’s plan and whatnot. I would respond with something like, “Well if God has a plan and if He knows everything, He knew that Adam would eat the apple, God knew man would Fall, He knew we would have rape and murder and incest — and He knew all of this would happen even before he created the world! What an asshole!” That would shut people up too.

Sometimes folks would try to sell me on Jesus and how special and loving he was. I told them if I believed I was the Son of God and that all the world’s current and future population’s eternal salvation was dependant on me being killed, then no problemo — bring it on. I would gladly die to save everyone (including myself) and give them eternal life and happiness… I mean, who wouldn’t? What’s so special about Jesus?

Eventually, as I learned more about human psychology and compared what I learned to what I read in the Bible (and other “holy” texts) I realized all of this god-stuff was really just man-stuff made supernatural. It was a response to our fears and hopes and desires and all the many questions that are unanswered in our lives. So my atheism was initially just a reaction to the “popular” image of God, but now it goes a bit deeper (if atheism is even the right word). It seems to me that all the “other worldly” stuff that so many folks leap to believing in — ghosts, talking to the dead, new-age healing — they are just so many expressions of the same psychological impulses that make people cling to the “mainstream” image of God. The more I learn about neuroscience and anthropology and evolutionary psychology — the more i see so clearly where all these beliefs come from, how the whole puzzle of our supernatural present is the result of our natural past.

In the last stages of my atheism, I’ve become quite comfortable with not having answers, in being able to leave things unexplained. I don’t grant my assent easily; I reserve judgement; I wait for more information. And in the comfort of not needing answers to every question, in my awareness of  the wonderful complexity of our minds — notions such as gods and demons and angels are so far down on the probability scale that, for me, they all seem a bit silly…

And finally, in a somewhat ironic twist, I have found in the explanatory framework  of science what one might call “spiritual” comfort. Like any lost and wandering religious seeker, I have felt human loneliness and alienation… I have suffered yearnings for connection in a disconnected world, the abyss of consumerism in a materially-motivated society, the inability of cash and new clothes to create real happiness… but I have also come to understand why I feel those things. I understand why I seek to transcend the boundaries of my body and to connect with the profound oneness of the universe. And that understanding has not come from holy books or religious hocus pocus, it has come from astronomy and from physics,  from biology and sociology, from anthropology and evolutionary psychology. My “soul” has been nourished by my understanding of our greatest scientific achievements, by getting “dirty” with scientific facts, by digging into the complexity and history of our evolving consciousness — and I have come to understand I am not a being seeking to be connected, I am already a connected being…

Advertising Board to Rule on the Existence of God

Ooooo… this is getting good!

It seems that some folks have launched complaints about the Atheist “Ads” on British buses. At least one complainant is objecting to the ads on “factual” grounds:

Stephen Green, the Christian campaigner who led the protests against the BBC’s broadcast of Jerry Springer – The Opera, is claiming they should be taken down because the statement in the adverts cannot be substantiated. 

He said: “If you’re going to put out what appears to be a factual statement then you have to be able to back it up. They’ve got to substantiate this proposition that in all probability, God doesn’t exist.” 

The ASA is now considering whether to investigate his complaint, which could lead to it reaching a deep ontological conclusion about a supreme being. 

If it ruled that the wording in the posters was unsubstantiated, it would be interpreted as effectively saying that in all probability God does exist. 

Ruling that the words were justified could be taken as an agreement that God probably does not exist. 

How interesting would that be, if the ASA rules (either way), and then it’s appealed to the courts?! I would seriously have to consider quitting my job, moving to England, and live-blogging the entire spectacle!

This Will “Probably” Cause a Stir

A few weeks ago, I did a post on various atheist “campaigns.” Many of you who commented seemed to think the ads were purchased to drum up support/membership for the organizations that sponsored them. I felt that the efforts were aimed at a somewhat larger goal: to let others with religious doubts know that they’re not alone and/or to spur people to think about the possibility that god(s) do not exist.

Well I’m curious to know what you all think about this one. A new atheist bus campaign has just started all over England on 800 buses funded completely by donations. Clearly the donors are not looking to be repaid… so what’s behind it?

bus

I also find it curious, if you read through some of the comments at Dawkins’ site (linked above), that the Christian commenters really seem to take issue with the “probably”. I guess they see it as a weakness in the atheist argument, a fatal flaw that shows how empty the atheist view is. To me it is exactly what any scientifically-minded atheist/agnostic/realist/humanist should say. It is not a weakness of one’s position to be open to being wrong, openness is not a weakness… why would a Christian think that it is?

Oh, and do watch this video. Ariane Sherine is… well… er, you can see plainly what she is!