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Atheism is not choosing sin over the “straight-and-narrow” March 2, 2009

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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There is a myth about atheists which I hear regularly from people, especially Christians. Basically, the idea is that people want to live a certain way, and knowing that god would not allow such things, they simply reject god in order to live a life of…well, sin. A Christian might say that our desire for sin overpowers our desire for salvation. That’s an interesting way to frame the discussion, but it is not how I would phrase it. I would say that I want to enjoy my life in ways that some would consider wrong, but which I don’t see reasons for them being wrong.

The idea that atheists turn away from god in order to not be subject to god’s laws (no matter the particular set of laws they believe) is based on the assumption that god’s truth is obvious to us, but we reject it. I understand why this line of thought makes sense to believers; the idea of god’s reality is so close to their mind that they have trouble imagining not believing in god. But the conclusion that atheists make concerning their views on gods is not a derivation of the lifestyle they choose. In fact, this conclusion is not a choice at all.

I never chose not to accept god, to reject god, or to not believe in any hods. Atheism is not a choice at all. It is what one concludes upon looking at the reasons, evidence, etc concerning god and finding that they are not convinced that one exists. Of course, one can have good or bad reasons to believe or to lack belief, and if one were to say that they didn’t believe in a god because they want to live their lives without hindrance, that is not a good reason.

So, if someone asks me if I am an atheist so that I can live my life in ways that are not acceptable according to their scripture, I tell them that it is mostly irrelevant what their scripture says because I don’t believe that it is any more than a fairy tale anyway. If a book tells me I can’t drink alcohol, I don’t reject that god and that religion because I want to drink., Rather, I have already found that I don’t believe in the god of that religion and subsequently found that this rule about not drinking to be silly in addition to my pre-existing lack of belief. And even if I think the rule silly before this lack of belief, people don’t actually reject deities solely because they don’t like the rules.

What I think is really going on here, in some cases anyway, is religious folks feel the desire to do things which their religions say they cannot do in good standing with their god. So when they see people outside of their religion doing those things, they project the sting of that desire as well as the guilt they feel at desiring it and place it on the person they see. Thus, they may conclude that the other person, in order to deal with this guilt, has convinced themselves that there is no god so that they can go about their sinning without feeling bad. The theist, for some reason, either cannot or will not understand that the lack of belief is actually derived from the so-called evidence not standing up to scrutiny.

Now, from my point of view, what religion often does is tells you that you cannot do things that are often in our nature, telling followers that these desires are either the work of Satan tempting us, our human pride in our own sinful ways, or some other mythology to explain away why we have desires that lead us towards “evil.” And some of our desires will lead us to do things we should not do, and we need to make sure that we are not controlled by these desires completely. But sometimes our desires are OK to explore, and not doing so will create resentment, guilt, and other long-term harm to ourselves for no good reason at all.

I’ve met too many people in my life who have lived a life of guilt, repression, etc based on religion-based fears to be able to give religion a pass on this. Telling people that their desires are evil is disgusting. Making people live in the closet (Ted Haggard, anyone?), creating a culture that makes cheating more acceptable than polyamory (I can’t tell you how many people will react worse to an open and honest sharing of your loved ones than to doing it behind closed doors in secret) , and to generally convincing people that they are sinners and guilty automatically for some mythological fruit-based sin….

For fuck’s sake, the Original SIn was because someone gained knowledge of good and evil? I won’t even comment…

I live my life according to an ethical view that makes primary honesty, concern for the desires of others, and doing no harm where hard is not wanted. If your scripture (or your interpretation thereof) states that something I’m doing with full consent of all involved, then I find your book silly. I find it silly because I see no reason to accept that any gods exist, let alone your particular interpretation of your particular book of your particular god.

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Comments»

1. Gerry - March 2, 2009

I think you are, may I use the word, conflating God and religion or is it God with religion.

You say that you were atheist already before you came to the acquaintance of polyamory, and perhaps also with the revelations supposedly from God for Judaists, Christians, Muslims, and also revelations if there be any of other theists like Hindus(?).

I like to ask you whether you already had a concept of God before you arrived at the conclusion that there is no God or is it, there is no sufficient evidence for the existence of God.

Please tell me what is your concept of God for which there is no sufficient evidence for you to conclude to His existence.

Gerry

2. Mark - March 2, 2009

Hi thanks for a great post. I’ll be back 🙂

3. shaunphilly - March 2, 2009

Actually, I was raised in an environment that exposed me to many religious ideologies from an early age. I was familiar with many of the world’s religions by the age of 15 or so. I had been exposed to various concepts of gods, and simply never found any of them convincing as real.

I had an early interest in the subject so I studied the anthropology of religion in college, as well as philosophy, and continued to study religion through graduate school while earning an MA in philosophy.

I do not have a sole concept of god that I claim no sufficient evidence. I simply say that all of the god-concepts I’ve heard of don’t strike me as things taht really exist external to some people’s minds.

4. Gerry - March 3, 2009

Just give me that concept of God which to you is most unsupported by evidence as regards the existence of, then we can go to other concepts of God which might be less unsupported by evidence as regards the existence of.

If you will not or cannot have any concept of any gods at all, then I have to conclude that you don’t know what gods you have no evidence for as regards the existence of.

So there is no need to write and tell people that you are an atheist because you do not or even cannot find any evidence for the existence of God — if you will not or cannot give some concepts of the gods whose existence you do not or even cannot find evidence for, or you do not care to even so much as think about looking for evidence.

Gerry

5. shaunphilly - March 3, 2009

No fundamentally misunderstand what is going on here. The burden of proof ALWAYS lies with the person making a claim. It is not for me to define god then show why it does not exist; that would be absurd. It is up to the person believing in god to define it–they, after all, have the idea of the thing which they claim is real. I’m only saying taht any time anyone has tried to explain what this thing is, I simply don’t see any reason to believe it exists.

What I can say concerning this is that the things that god is credited with, in general, don’t seem to need anything more than blind nature to happen. The existence of the universe is not explained by a god, beauty is not explained by a god, etc. That is, a god may be an explanation, but not a good one.

Example; If everything that exists needs a cause, then if the universe exists it also needs a cause, therefore there is a creator and some call it god (one version of an argument for god). I say that this is not reasonable because if everything needs a cause, then god cannot be an exception; what created god. To say that god is special and doesn’t need a creator would be special pleading because to claim that the special exemption from the rule going to god seems arbitrary. Why couldn’t the universe itself just be the thing that doesn’t need a cause. And defining god as that which does not need a cause seems to be trying to define god into existence, without demonstrating that such a being exists in the first place, just asserting it.

That was a very rough and imprecise set of reasons why this sort of argument for god does not convince me. As to the attributes of a god, that is not my place to decide. The bottom line is that one reason why I lack belief in such a being is that nobody even seems to have a consistent definition of ‘god’ anyway; that is, not even theists seem to know what the term means.


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