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Why are atheists (like me, specifically) arrogant? April 7, 2009

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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This is what I’ve been told recently. OK, it is not the first time this has been leveled against me, but nonetheless…

So, why was I called arrogant? Well, essentially I come across as being too sure about my views. Generally, this is a charge that is leveled when I talk about religion, especially about atheism and my views on religion from that perspective. So allow me to propose a theory (and I hope you will not find it arrogant). When talking about issues that pertain to personal beliefs, any tone will appear more aggressive, obnoxious, and arrogant to the listener. That is, when someone talks about things like atheism, no matter the actual tone it will seem more aggressive than it would seem if they were to talk about baseball or even politics.

But before I expand upon this, allow me to postulate something else. I know quite a bit about religion. I know quite a bit about the various positions and arguments concerning atheism, agnosticism, etc, and so when I speak about them I do so with whatever authority comes with having debated, discussed, and generally considered the opinions I have on the subject for many years.

And as I talk with various people, most of whom have not thought about these things as much as I have. Therefore when I make statements, it is the two factors above that work together to make my comments seem arrogant. People simply are not used to hearing such things, and when they do it looks like some half-baked idea from some angry and intolerant malcontent. And quite often, I’ll admit, this is the case with many people.

I think that when many of us find our views challenged our emotional reactions will flare up, causing us to become defensive. People are naturally resistant to change. To think thoughts that don’t already jibe with our world views is quite literally painful, as the ideas that we don’t agree with don’t find an easy neural pathway in hostile territory, and so they are rejected by the mind and tossed aside. This is one of the major factors in what makes cultural progress so slow. It is why liberals and conservatives talk past one-another, why atheists and theists tend to think the other is crazy for not seeing the truth, etc.

And yet there seems to be another factor here; there are some people that think that not only do these things not really matter, but that these things aren’t the kind of things that we can be certain about anyway, so to make any confident claim on the subject is simple unwarranted arrogance. This idea comes from the incorrect idea that atheism is the claim that there is no god, which I then have to correct as being the lack of belief which is actually quite common. But since they think this position is called ‘agnosticism,’ when people are asked about their views about god they say that they are ‘agnostic’. And when I explain all of this I will come across looking arrogant because how am I to speak with such certainty for all atheists?

The bottom line is I cannot speak for all atheists. But despite this, I have thought about these issues and have concluded that the only definition of the term ‘atheist’ that can apply to anyone who might call themselves an ‘atheist’ and not completely misuse the term is to say that it is the mere lack of belief in any gods. And so when I can tell someone whom is used to being referring to as an agnostic that they are actually an atheist, it looks arrogant because who am I to say what they are?

Well, I have considered what these terms mean and if they say that they are an agnostic because they are unwilling to say that a god does not exist, my clarifying the definition implies that they (assuming their agnosticism is a way of saying that they are not sure but don’t believe) are in fact an atheist just like I am. This is not arrogance, this is making sure that someone else knows what I mean when I say I’m an atheist, pointing out that it is a very similar position as compared to the one that they hold. In a way, it’s trying to have people understand that my position is not one of extremities, it’s very similar to theirs.

And that comes across as arrogant.

So what is an atheist to do?

I suppose that I could not say anything. Or I could say it with less certitude in my tone. Perhaps I could try a more subtle approach. Perhaps….

But this won’t work, and you should already know why. These are subjects that people don’t want to talk about, and so in order to be heard at all I must be more forceful. They think that either these things are not worth thinking about, that they are inappropriate to talk about in ‘polite company,’ or they already know who I am and they think that my position is extreme or intolerant, and want no part of the discussion. And yet they don’t realize what my position is, because they know I’m an atheist and atheism is an arrogant position to hold, especially if you actually challenge people. We can’t have that, now can we?

Many of my long-standing friends fall into that last description, and so most of them simply will not talk to me about these things. Much of it has to do with the fact that they went to the same Quaker school I went to, and the Quakers teach tolerance, diversity, and all of that shit. What this really amounts to is a dislike of challenging others. It boils down to a well-intended respect for the beliefs of others which only results in people not talking about these fundamental differences in world views. They say that there are more important things to think about.

From the outside it looks like people are afraid to challenge others because they are often afraid to challenge their own views. From the outside it looks like cowardice masked in tolerance and dressed in apathy.

Is that arrogant of me to say?

Probably. But no matter what I do, people like this will find people like me to be arrogant. So, I might as well play the part, right?

Perhaps I should tell them that they are arrogant when they talk with certitude about whatever they have spent years thinking about. Of course, that would be obnoxious.

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Comments»

1. Tomkinson - April 7, 2009

I don’t think you’re arrogant, maybe I’m so arrogant I don’t notice, but I would say you are naive. You may know a lot about religion but you admit you know nothing of deep religious faith. Good for you for lacking it, shame on you for thinking because you’re knowledgeable of the tenets of certain systems of belief that you have any understanding of what it means to those people or even whether its a net personal or societal ill.

I’ll never know what it means to be a sports fan no matter how many stats I memorize since I lack the emotional, cultural and nostalgic associations of a game. I just can’t relate to fans on that level or their illogical socially harmful past-time.

Though your criticisms of the logical and empirical shortcomings of religion are indeed valid, you’re own philosophical and moral conceits are highly questionable. Criticizing others when you have such gaping holes in your own system I suppose might be arrogant but its more typical of the evangelist types you exhort others atheists to follow. How silly?

2. 7 - April 7, 2009

people like to label atheists as arrogant or angry, when it is actually frustration. it’s frustrating when dealing with stupidity. using FACTS and EVIDENCE and SCIENCE and REASON and LOGIC against faith and superstition and supernatural and silly, barbaric stories is FRUSTRATING.

in reality, THEY are the arrogant ones. they think god saved them from getting in an automobile accident…yet hundreds of other people died in auto accidents that same day. they think god led their team to victory. what about the losing team? they think god saved them or their house from a tornado or flood, yet others perished from the same ‘act of god’. THEY are the arrogant ones…not us.

3. Erich Viedge - August 14, 2010

The sports-fan metaphor is useful here. I am also atheist and not a sports fan. I will never understand sports fans. But most sports fans I’ve talked to, when I’ve asked them, will admit that being a sports fan is basically a bit silly.
Our country hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup, so there was a lot of good-natured sports fannery going on. We didn’t have incidences of “don’t support Algeria if you’re not a Muslim” or any of that kind of prescriptive rubbish that religions get into.
As for “deep faith”, I think that kind of transcendent spiritual awareness is available to everybody. Lots of people don’t know this, but all Buddhists are atheists. They don’t believe in any gods. And they invented the deep spiritual experience of enlightenment.
As far as faith brings comfort to individual practitioners, I’m all for it. But I’m not all that interested in hearing about superstitious nonsense about prayers being answered or whatever. It doesn’t offend me any more than people talking about horoscopes offends me. Both are a brainless adherence to baseless superstition. I lose a bit of respect for people who actually believe it.
But if it makes their lives happy, then they should absolutely go to church on Sunday and live their little lives. Go for it!


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