Given that believers have rejected the reality of the universe in preference of their deity delusions, it isn’t really a surprise that they really have no idea what atheism is either.
It’s much easier to discount something when you characterize it in understandable and undesirable terms. So the myths and objections are believed and argued over because the myths about atheists allow believers to feel better about themselves – kind of like watching daytime TV exploitation talk shows – and makes sure that their beliefs aren’t challenged.
Myth 1 – Atheism is a religion. Atheism is legally deemed to be a religion in order for people’s right to not be discriminated against because of their beliefs, atheism is a lack of beliefs, so this legal fiction was created to prevent believers from discriminating against atheists; because their religion is an insufficient moral guide on how to work and play well with others.
To be a religion, there needs to be actual beliefs involved, there’s stories, traditions, rituals, special days of observance, special clothes or food, a hierarchy of authority, a degree of supernatural explanations for the universe, and more often than not, at least one deity. Atheism has none of these criteria.
Myth 2 – Atheists are immoral. Depends on which system of morality and what’s considered moral. If morality is determined by the quality of worshipping deities and authority, purity and groupthink, sure, atheists are proudly immoral under that system. Atheists are at least just as moral in any meaningful measure of the word as any other person. Knowing that this is the only life that we have for sure, atheists are less likely to be willing to take someone else’s life away from them or interfere in said person’s ability to live their life as they see fit. So, in some respect, more moral than others. Certainly, atheists are underrepresented in prison, insofar as prison demographics are meaningful measures of society.
Myth 3 – Atheists believe that there’s no god. Some people may assert that there is no god, however, that’s beyond the scope of atheism, which is merely a rejection of claims for any god(s), owing to the lack of evidence. The balance of probability suggests there’s such a small likelihood of there being a god as to approach zero.
Myth 4 – Atheists believe x, y, z. Atheism is not anything other than the rejection of claims for god(s) owing to the lack of evidence. It is not a worldview, belief structure or moral code. Anything a person who is an atheist believes is their individual concern and does not apply to all atheists. Atheism is really a specially area of skepticism, which is a worldview and evidence based framework for understanding the world, and while all skeptics are atheists, not all atheists are necessarily skeptics. It is very possible for an atheist to reject religion, but believe in ghosts, UFO abductions, homeopathy, telepathy or some other non-evidence based belief.
If believers could understand what atheism means and is, then they’d have to start to deal with their cognitive dissonance about their own religion and they’d be atheists or on the path to becoming one. It’s not a lack of knowledge or exposure to any given religion that makes us not believers in them, but rather it’s the knowledge and exposure to religion that has resulted in our not being believers, because no religion is evidence based and in the natural universe, there are natural explanations for everything – even if we don’t have the knowledge or technology to know right now.
Knowledge is a process of gathering, of discovery, it’s not having answers – especially easy and, well, lazy, answers that don’t really answer anything – and religion does not hold their gods accountable to provide any answers.
So, what good is a good that allows evil and who cannot demonstratively respond to prayers – because a no is the same as no answer at all – then what good is this god? The time and money spent in worship, the rivalries between the various god-gangs that exacerbate violence and hatred, worse the interference with education and stopping inquiry and the development of a body of knowledge – what good is an absentee god when that looks the same as a non-existent one?
The real concern isn’t why atheists don’t believe, but why believers do.
The afterlife ultimatum, just doesn’t cut it – if being a good person is what matters, then, when you die and there is a god, you can stand head proud and say, I was the best person I could be. King me.
If you aren’t prepared to die for what you believe in, you don’t deserve to live
In the mid 1980’s on a school field trip from Chilliwack, a rural community, to Vancouver, the comparative Big City, I saw those words were hand lettered in white on the back of a denim jacket worn by a punk rocker.
Most of the other teens – the school was primarily cliques of head bangers and goody two show kids – on the field trip, made ooo and ahhh cat calls in complete non-comprehension and likely more to do with the fact of the young man being a punk rocker than the sentiment on his back. I sat frozen, looking at the words and absorbing them very deeply. When you’re a teenager, everything feels epic, life and death, but you don’t really have a sense of what those concepts really mean. Or what if anything, you believe in, never mind what would be worth dying for. Dying was for old people; except….. my favorite movie at that time, was TAPS, starring Tim Hutton and pre-Ridgemont High Sean Penn and introducing Tom Cruise as three military students who lead a student revolt against the closure of their school – to disastrous and predictable conclusion of romanticizing the death of youths for a cause greater than oneself.
This idea of martyrdom continues to hold sway, people who die for religion are made into saints, religions demand sacrifice of supporters and promise eternal afterlife rewards for those who die in service or at least, when taking out the enemies of religion.
In American, religious zealots are less willing to die themselves but are often fairly open to taking out those who they see as betrayers or enemies – shooting abortion doctors right inside their own community church if need be. The American zealots tend to prefer to live to kill more another day, but when they do end up dying, it’s more likely suicide by cop during a shooting event than taking their own life. Suicide being a sin for which you burn in hell, and apparently this is not balanced against the good of protecting the unborn by the murder of a medical doctor.
As if forcing a police officer into killing you is somehow different than doing it yourself….. might as well take up extreme sports as the avoid hell loophole to suicide and not traumatize another person.
Whereas, Islamic zealots are more the hands on martyrs, strapping on a bomb belt and detonating in the crowd – even though sometimes, they only manage to take out themselves – we have to give them kudos for being fully committed in a way that makes North American Zealots look like they are phoning it in.
Not that there’s anything remotely admirable about being a martyr or, for that matter a criminal. The admiration in American culture for the gunslingers, mobsters, gangsters, outlaw bikers and gangstas is on the same wavelength as admiration for saints and martyrs. They are all the same spectrum of rule breaking outsider who’s become romanticized in pulp fiction, movies and video games.
They are an archetype that fulfills the fantasy of rule breaking freedom, being the law unto yourself, to be the power or to be the one fighting the power. The reality is far short of the fantasy.
Criminals are no different than businessmen, they are in it for the prestige and the cash, the power and influence, one through force and the other through cunning. Their respective criminality and anti-social behavior is only limited by the scope of their reach – and businessmen have a far greater reach than criminals – organized or otherwise – as businessmen who put stockholders above employees, customers, financial institutions and the environment do far more damage to society than the most violent of criminals can hope to.
Criminals, be they in legitimate or underground business, are related to the zealot martyrs, in that they often feel entitled by a higher call or by some quirk of birth or force of personality, to be above or beyond the rules that apply to mortal and lesser men. To be rule makers unto themselves.
Hmmm, putting it that way – the dictator/politicians, criminal/business, outlaws and zealots are really the same spectrum of anti-social disorders. Especially with the recent revelation that many if not most American Republicans believe that they are called by god to run for office and that dictators assure their populaces that they are themselves divine – but never in a fun campy way, always the creepy religious way.
To some degree, the mentality of “live fast, die young” explains the willingness of criminals to accept life as brutal and short, to live and die in service of the gang or larger community, is no different than a person who is a religious martyr, who either dies as part of an assault on their religious foes or in self-sacrifice in self-immolation as a form of protest.
Western secular zealots are less self-sacrificing than their eastern counterparts generally, again, preferring to not be caught or to be killed by police or by the state after a media saturated trial. The most horrifying fate for the western murderous zealot would be to be caught and endure life in obscurity and prison; without even a made for TV movie to explain their crusade.
Perhaps if we could understand the nuance between a zealot willing to self-sacrifice and one who is only willing to sacrifice others, we could identify the thought process that allows a person to sacrifice life in the name of ideology.
The willingness to die for causes has traditionally been thought linked to the degree of economic participation and freedoms one had in their respective society.
For bigoted reasons, the 9/11 hijackers changed this idea – suicide bombers where thought of as disaffected, disengaged young men – but the 9/11 hijackers were middle aged, married and many with children and professional career credentials. Most of them were engineers by training and trade. The increase in female suicide bombers also flies in the face of convention.
I say for bigoted reasons, because Timothy McVeigh was middle class and employed and he looked and could have been anyone. Homespun terrorists hit too close to home to analyze perhaps, much easier to hand wring and wonder about the truth when we don’t have to examine ourselves too closely.
People are something in between herd and pack animals – we like just enough structure to provide a consistent and stable framework, but we also like our individuality and some freedom from restrictive social roles (gender or socio-economic). Collectively, anyway, some people reveal in anarchy and others rejoice in rigidity. To each their own comfort level, but most of us in the middle spectrum like these two extremes in some balance or variability – it maintains our illusion of not only freedom, but free will.
Aside: Here’s a terrible thought, what if the only true expression of free will is choosing to die?
It all comes down to what do you value, or, as the punk rocker wrote, what you believe in.
Do you believe in yourself or do you only credit you with value when you are in service or attached to something bigger?
I think that if you are not enough to assign value to, you have no option but to glom onto something bigger, be it religion, politics, sub-culture, anti-culture or social movement. But, by casting yourself in a supporting role, you become vulnerable to exploitation by people who have no problem with their own self worth and often will fall prey to people with the opposite problem – those who value themselves as better than everyone else.
Leaders of movements have dupes, pawns, toadies, hangers on, minions and disaffected fanatics to do the sacrificing.
It’s never the leaders of any movement who self-immolate or strap on a bomb belt – when the leaders of a movement die, it’s usually a result of either their own over-indulgence with drugs/alcohol or in a doomsday cult mass murder/suicide when the legal authorities come knocking and blaring music and blazing gunfire.
It doesn’t matter how much education or professional accreditation or career accomplishments or families one has, without self-worth, there can be no value or worth inherent in these accomplishments and connections. Without valuing yourself, you have no value to transfer or put into accomplishments or connections; and instead, seek external validation to convey worth and value to your person.
It seems to me, that in addition to fluoride to compensate for the state of dental hygiene, that the government may wish to add anti-depressants to the water. Except that governments of any kind prefer a compliant and only marginally disaffected population who feels bad enough to console themselves through shopping therapy, but not bad enough to get out and vote or revolt.
We find meaning and purpose when we are connected to other people, to the community and we can economically participate and contribute to the world. But this cannot be our only source of value – we have to value ourselves in order for other people to value our contributions and to value ourselves.
Individuals are the basic part that make up the larger blocks of family, friends, colleagues (packs), demographic groups (herds), and segments of society (hives). We are the parts that form the sum, and must in turn, be enhanced as a part by the resultant sum. It is not enough that we contribute, but our contribution must be honored and recognized uniquely.
By us being a part and merely feeding the machine without recognition and enhancement, without that feedback balance, it is little wonder then, that maladaptive and anti-social behaviours emerge, and eventually, bites the hand that has stopped feeding them.
I have started to see little meaningful difference between a religious believer and a battered woman.
Both have given away their personal sovereignty and subjugated themselves, both believe they do not deserve better treatment and that they may have brought out their lesser than state upon themselves or have done something to deserve the treatment.
Neither think that they deserve better treatment and are afraid to leave said relationship for either fear of eternal hell for the former and being stalked and murdered for the latter. Of course, with some religious sects, being hunted down and killed or sued for leaving, or being shunned by the community and being cast out by family and friends is not that different to the social attitudes towards divorced women only a few decades ago.
The attitude that a woman should be with a man, so that any man, no matter how violent, is better than none – is not at all different from the social attitude that believing in any god is superior to not believing in one.
The only substantive difference is that with the battered woman – or let’s be really honest – battered man because sometimes the woman is the batterer coupled with that battering also occurs in gay and lesbian relationships – we are all people, no better or worse than each other – at least there is an actual person responsible for beating and abusing the battered person. Whereas, for believers, they have to do the beating upon themselves and often the family, and that has lead to a lot of religious psychological kinkiness, self torture and sadly, horrors visited upon children, teens, vulnerable adults and non-believers. Often for non-family, this takes the form of bigotry and discrimination at best and religiously motivate violence at worst.
The battered person can have some private solace that perhaps the abuse isn’t really their fault, it’s down to their abuser – but they remain for a variety of reasons – social pressure, financial, for the children; without any thought to what they are really teaching said children – but perhaps the biggest reason people stay in battering relationships is because as bad as it is, it may well still be better than their previous experiences, there is some comfort in familiarity (as horrifying as that was to write) and the fear that if their partners have all been abusers, the fear that maybe it is them that brings it out in the other person.
Now, there something to be said on that last part – in many workshops that I have attuned about dealing with difficult workplace relationships and conflict management – the so called golden rule of doing unto others is something that falls far short of the mark, because there are people who are okay with being treated badly and this then gives them permission to treat others in the same way.
With believers, they do not have that private solace of maybe there’s a kinder, gentler god out there for them – humans are inferior to a deity by definition and design – human definition and design.
Even though religion is the opiate of the masses and the social mechanism to prevent the poor from slaughtering the rich to take their stuff – it seems that the more awareness we have socially about how to treat and interact with each other – as equal and as equally deserving of compassion, consideration and equality – so too are believers beginning to re-think their relationship with god.
If society says that ever citizen gets to vote and have the expectation of security of person, home, jobs, that discrimination is not acceptable, that hate crimes are not acceptable, that everyone is equal under the law and the law is specifically inclusive of this – gay marriage being the current legal equality battle in many secular countries which proclaim human rights but have not equally extended the same rights to all citizens or would-be citizens; then believers who are told by their religion that they are special and better than everyone else and that others do not deserve the same rights and legal protect – it has to start to seep in that there’s something wrong with the religion and with god.
After all, you don’t keep chasing after a person who makes big promises, and then never calls on your birthday and generally takes your worship and adoration for granted, worse, actually demands said worship or else. A person who demands that you limit your family and friends to a narrow segment of society, which is better than the rest; when in fact and under law, no people are any better than any other. In a global economy, we are all inter-dependent nations and no nation is self-sufficient.
The people in another country who are providing resources and services are not less deserving of livable wages, workplace safety, environmental protections and dignity of their person. If we learn anything from Chernobyl, it is that it doesn’t matter where a disaster event occurs, the wind and water carry the contaminates around the world for all to enjoy and get cancer from.
As social attitudes change, our expectation of how we want to be treated and how we treat others changes. We do not have to put up with abusive treatment – there are options, there are recourse’s, there are equalizers. People in western secular democratic societies don’t want to feel bad about themselves, don’t want to feel unworthy and wretched. What do we want? Happiness! When do we want it? Now!
So in non-fundamental circles, god turns to a quasi Santa Claus and the apologists come out and offer up the deathbed loopholes, you don’t have to be good or do good, you just have to accept the savior, you can do bad, as long as you repent and are really sorry. They whitewash over the bible texts, softening the edges and that Old Time Religion becomes a kinder, gentler – not quite Mr. Rodgers because he accepted everyone exactly as they were and religion isn’t ready to do that, they still like their bigotries because it just won’t be heaven if anyone could get in.
Mega-churches become as malls with chapels, complete with coffee shops, ATMs, bookstores, gym classes – a whole family community centre were religious meetings seem incidental or the value added part rather than the focal point.
Many religions who have been watching their coffers and attendance numbers dropping are embracing the big tent and polishing off the more strident of the religious beliefs, softening the religion to be more inclusive and less damnation, less religious, really.
This will help to prop up the tents for a while, but eventually, people will migrate away, to return only on special days or maybe nostalgia, because it’s okay to feel good about yourself and you don’t need religion to do it, when the purpose of religion, no matter how softened, is to say that you aren’t good enough for god, you’re unworthy which is why you have to give the money, attend the meetings, obey and worship and not use the free will that so many people are talking about.
But you are, you are good enough on your own, good enough to be treated well by everyone in your life, without exception.
I am uncertain what believers are referring to when they refer to winning and losing in religion vs atheism – for lack of a better word – debates; recognizing that online forum discussions between non-professional debaters, are more accurately, pissing contests and name calling fests.
I wonder how much is really owing to the anonymity vs the animosity of the participants. Not that I want to assert that atheists are blameless in rudeness, name calling and even malicious behaviors – but the percentage of atheists who thusly engage is anecdotally lower than the percentage of religious believers who often start out the gate with threats of hell and eternal damnation.
I’ve tends towards a live and let live attitude, but that become difficult when dealing with people who are not content to let you live in kind. The idea that beliefs are private and should be respected falls apart on many fronts; not the least of which is many beliefs require the believers to spread them by the word or the sword:
An Inuit hunter asked the local missionary priest: “If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?”
“No,” said the priest, “not if you did not know.”
“Then why,” asked the Inuit earnestly, “did you tell me?”
~Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
The simple answer is that the priest aka believer is unwilling to share heaven with those whom they deem have not earned it by believing and the idea that people who hadn’t heard the word would be forgiven by the omnipotent god who was unable to effectively market and promote the word on his own is just illogical apologetics to make the religion seem less harsh than it actually is and to make their alleged omnipotent god forgiving, when it categorically is not at all forgiving given that the punishment for minor offences and major offences is the same being cast into eternal damnation without parole or time off for good behaviour.
Worse, that the believer cannot even imagine enjoying heaven unless there’s people who are cast into hell. Which also explains the insistence that only their god is preventing people from being serial murderer and rapists, rather than that these are self evidently anti-social behaviours that no person able to make moral distinctions could justify engaging in, without need to resort to punishment disincentives. The act of murder or rape, in and of themselves, are not enticing to a person capable of moral conduct. So punishment as a disincentive is only a deterrent to those people who are not moral to begin with and who need these matters clearly spelled out for them, in which case, by refraining, they are merely avoiding punishment in their own self interest rather than acting morally and for any social good.
Religious Belief is then a guideline for behaviour that the believer is not capable of working out on their own or spelling out that which should be self-evident. Except that the number of religious leaders and hierarchy members who have engaged in a variety of criminal, anti-social and immoral behaviors and conduct – from actually immoral or illegal actions such as molesting children, adultery, embezzlement, fraud, bigamy and bigotry to actions that are violations of the rules of the given religion such as non-marital sex, gay sex, sex generally, lying, stealing, coveting – it is clear that religious belief is not a sufficient system of behavioral codes and punishments to force believers to act within the apparent rules of the religion or within secular law or social moral norms.
But when you consider that religion isn’t that keen on humans being good are actually predicated on the idea that humans are unworthy and crapulent to start with and must repent, worship and sacrifice in order to redeem themselves to their chosen god’s good graces and esteem – you have to kind of wonder, why, when we have an understanding about battered wives standing by their abusive partners, can we not recognize this same malfunctioning relationship pattern exists between humans and their deities?
Humans abase and genuflect, but the deities never call, never respond positivity or clearly to prayers or need for assistance. This absence of impact is excused by apologists with “Sometimes the answer is no”, “god’s will or purpose is unknowable, but we have to believe that there’s a plan or grand design.”
If god’s answer to prayers is no and no is indistinguishable with no god to hear the prayers, then what good is the god or the effort of worship?
Worse, some unknowable grand design is cold comfort to those who are suffering without apparent purpose – and if this grand design is so unknowable, then why do so many people claim to know what their god thinks about anything, while cherry picking their sacred texts to support their pet bigotry and causing much suffering in the world?
The plethora of religions in terms of both unique versions and the high number of sects within each version shows that religion isn’t winning by any meaningful measure- as it only splinters and not unites people; driving so much intolerance and violence, that religions are a death march towards our extinction in which everyone actually loses; but which religionists can claim victory by calling it the rapture – self fulfilling prophesy as it will be. In terms of the destruction of humans with few if anyone left to say or hear the inevitable “I told you so.”
There is something in the religious conservative mindset that makes self-destruction preferable to compromise or social change. Or maybe it’s something that makes them wanting so badly to be right, that they are willing to self-destruct in order to achieve it – which, I think we can put down to the belief in the afterlife. Maybe it’s just delusional self-righteousness and outright denial of consequences – after all, the rapture is supposed to restore the earth to the factory garden of Eden original settings. So, what need do we have of environmental protection laws with a god-backed warrantee?
For non-Abrahamic religions, what need is there for the same environmental protections or human rights when we are clearly working out our own bad karma and are deserving of all the badness and suffering – so should not interfere with this suffering so we can move onto to the next experience or cycle of learning.
If a person considers this life a dress rehearsal for the eternal or repeated cycles of experience, then it becomes easy to understand the willingness to die for ideas. There’s a certain romance of dying in a cause, strong enough to override our individual and even collective survival instincts. It’s not really dying if you expect an eternal afterlife, it’s just…. exit, stage right.