Tuesday, March 11, 2008

My question to atheists

Read through a little pharyngula, a little from Greg Laden, a little from the angry astronomer, and you'll notice a trend. Everyone here is vying for the questionable position of top irate-religion-basher. Why so angry? I have read many books for and against religion (specifically Christianity), and have found, to my dismay, that (though no human, infallible as we may believe ourselves to be, has pure motives) those people who argue for Christianity do so mainly for your sake - "there is a God and He loves you, and it's important that you know" - whereas people who argue against God do so for their own sakes - "I'm probably more intelligent than you, and it's important that you know." I recognize, of course, that there are exceptions to this "rule," but (as long as everyone else is content to make broad, sweeping generalizations) the difference is there. I'd like to believe that there are rational, reasonable people out there, who constitute the majority, but it is the most vocal and most dogmatic (from either side) that we ever hear. So, you atheists, what are you trying to prove? What is it you hope to achieve? Do you intend to save me from myself? I'm immensely content (and, from the looks of it, substantially happier than any of you), and it is not ignorance which allows my bliss. I would not go so far as to say it is envy that drives your anger, of course, but perhaps there is something, some little voice in the back of your mind, that keeps questioning whether or not we Christians know something you do not? I, too, was once angry. God knows.


  1. As a former Christian and an agnostic, I think I'm close enough to both positions to take a crack at this one:

    Generally speaking, most proselytizing Christians I've taken note of have been of one of two types: (1) "the I'm superior, look what's wrong with you, you're going to Hell" type, (2) the "you're missing out on something great (that you don't understand)" type. In both cases, there's an underlying stain of "There is something you don't know about that I do." That is, ego is motivating the speaker. And that's the same thing which drives most loud advocate of any personal view, including many aggressive atheists.

    I appreciate, of the deeply religious friends I have, those that have given me the God talk, they've done so because they honestly think it's a favor. And I can accept that in most cases, it was probably motivated in their heads as something of a gift. A "hey, I like you, and don't want you burning in Hell forever, so maybe I can save you?" sort of thing. That's cool.

    But it still comes with the presumption that they're right. And that sense of rightness ultimately comes based on a kernel of faith. It's not that they know something, but that they accept something without knowing it. Yes, they then feel all bubbly and glowy, and that's why they stick with it. But it's not because of the necessary truth of it, but because of their faith and how it makes them feel.

    And that's where you get the raging atheists going. Atheists, generally, don't have the faith, and they explicitly don't want it. They view the sticking to the faith not as "knowing God" but as "deluding yourself with good feelings and then trying to spread that as if it were facts".

    Many atheists, having been exposed to type (1) proselytizers earlier in their lives, especially type (1) parents, react with the same fervor but the opposite direction.

    You could be correct that most of the pro-conversion-to-Christianity speech you've seen is indeed as you described. But a non-affiliated (or anti-minded) person may see it more as intrusive or demeaning.

    Similarly, I know a lot of people who revel in their distaste for organized religion. Their rejection of such things is part of what binds them together with their friends and family. And as such, they may find pro-atheism rhetoric friendly, stimulating, and empowering where you find it aggressive.

    And none of this says anything about the validity of either side or happiness thereof. Myself, I'm generally happier now than when I regularly went to church and all. But I'm also dramatically older and a largely different person than I was then. Religion doesn't have that much to do with it.


  2. I agree with your assessment that either side can be driven by ego (I don't consider, for example, John Hagee to be someone of authority), and so either side is capable of creating a sense of intrusiveness. As these things go, I'm rather level-headed: I don't feel it's necessary to stand on street corners handing out pamphlets, nor do I feel like Christians have any right to just sit around and do nothing. Human beings, in general, "owe" something to one another, which is a fact agreed upon by both sides (at least in this country).
    It's true, as well, that in the end it comes down to faith, and that is what makes the issue so confoundingly difficult. I can't explain my faith to an atheist. I wouldn't even have been able to explain my faith now to the person I was, say, two years ago. I take issue, however, with such vocal atheists as Victor Stenger attributing my belief to delusion. It's easy to take personal offense, I realize, but I would be (and often was) disappointed with the reckless animosity that atheists regularly employ against "religious people" regardless of my beliefs, just as I am disappointed with the "hellfire and damnation" tactics used by many religious proselytizers. You've made some very insightful statements (which I greatly appreciate!); I think we can both agree that the outspoken advocates of either side could use a large dose of humility.


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