I spend a fair amount of time writing about religion, atheism, and related matters. Why do I care so much? Why do I bother? Why not just spend time doing something more constructive than writing articles?
Is it because, deep down, I know the truth about god (and monogamy) but I have to rebel publicly in order to convince myself that I’m doing the right thing or living the right way? Or is it because I’m so twisted up and confused inside, fearful and insecure that I am projecting all of my issues onto concepts of god and rejecting them? Or is it because I just have to be heard, that I have to be right, and I want as many people to know it as possible?
Now, I cannot speak for other atheists, at least not with authority. I can only say that my motivation is genuine and considered. I am of the opinion that a cultural discussion and sharing of ideas is crucial if we are to continue to grow and mature as not only a society but as individuals. All too often the things we disagree with are left unsaid or said in the echo chambers of like-minded groups. All too rare is the communication between those groups with differing worldviews.
Now, I’ve been accused of being unaware or uninterested in the perspective of those with faith. Because I treat their views harshly and use strong language, I must, say some, have no interest in an honest evaluation of their arguments. If I say, for example, that there is no good argument for Christianity, it implies a certain close-mindedness rather than an openness, right?
But what am I faced with? Virgin births, resurrection of a god-man, and little to no historical evidence that any of it happened and I am supposed to orient my life towards the teachings of this person, this god, that the “evidence” presented is chock full of bad arguments, logical fallacies, and outright lies. If anyone were to present that type of evidence for anything outside of religion, the statement that there is no good reason to think it is true would not be found to be obnoxious, arrogant or unwarranted.
The simple fact is that the claims of much of contemporary theism are obnoxious and arrogant in themselves. I am not arrogant for not believing them and saying so proudly, am I? Something like 45% of people in the United States believe in some form of creationism. In other words, they deny evolution as some sort of mass conspiracy or lie; now that’s irony. We are supposed to lie down for this and be respectful of these views?
I’ve said it before, but there is an important difference between respect for persons and respect for ideas. There is no room for respect for certain ideas, creationism is perhaps prime among them in today’s world, but the respect for a person is still important. This is the distinction between an ad hominem and an argument against an idea. It is sort of like the idea of hating the sin and not the sinner.
I don’t hate religion and I don’t hate religious people. In fact, I like quite a few religious people, even if they don’t think they are actually religious and call themselves ‘spiritual’ or something like that. I think that many religious ideas are harmful, absurd, and can be shown to be so. Some people, including atheists, think that efforts by myself and the big names in the so-called new atheist movement are making them look bad and are hurting their efforts. With all due respect, atheist appeasers, what efforts?
Recently a bunch of people from the Secular Student Alliance visited the creation “museum” in Kentucky. They did this for many reasons, one of which was because they wanted to get an up-close look at what people are being shown. The bottom line is that Ken Ham and his AiG crew are using bad science and misleading hundreds of thousands of people with either poor science or bold-faced lying for Jesus. What response should be taken besides what people like PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne are doing? Should we be more polite like Michael Ruse or Mooney and Kirshenbaum?
I get that people get defensive when they are challenged. I get that there is room in the discussion for calm and measured responses. But there is a point when the only reasonable reaction is laughter and mockery. There comes a point when calm and respectful interlocution is only acting to legitimize a view that is not legitimate. Thus, those that argue to “teach the controversy” have it all wrong; if we were to teach the real controversy we would be doing precisely what the new atheists are doing. We would be showing precisely what is wrong with the arguments used by those who want to be part of the debate when, in fact, they are not. They are trying to reorient the debate to include themselves. They are trying to squirm their way in and we will mock them to where they belong, which is not even on the fringes.
We are not afraid of criticism. We don’t avoid conflict with our worldview, we are just tired of people who are so obviously incorrect trying to pretend that they have a legitimate claim to make. There is no longer room to tolerate absurdities in the discussion. If you have a good criticism or question, present it to the discussion and if it is a valid concern it will be addressed. And if it is dismissed because it has already been answered many times and refuted sufficiently, don’t whine about how you are being expelled.
There is a sort of cult of martyrdom and persecution complex within much of the conservative religious world. When cartoons depicting Mohammed as violent surface, Moslems react violently. When Christianity is legitimately criticized in the public discussion, they cry about being persecuted and that God is being kicked out of society. This is silly. If their god exists, there would be nothing one could ever do to kick it out. Nobody is taking your private worship away, only preventing it from becoming public by mixing politics and religion.
The new atheists are here to challenge theism, whether it be Christianity, Islam, new age silliness, etc because religion (both organized and cult-like anarcho-personal religion) has held sway in ways that are damaging to our world. They are propping up anti-science and anti-criticism that only seeks to defend itself from looking at itself honestly.
What about the liberal religionists?
I want to say a few words about those who are not part of the conservative movement in religion. Those who accept evolution, science, support progressive ideas like same-sex marriage and who generally don’t have an issue with atheists and other skeptics. How do you reconcile the fact that the books you base your beliefs about god also contain ideas that you reject? Why do you only accept part of the scripture? Is this not hypocritical?
We appreciate you not being Dark Ages backward. But why do you compartmentalize your views such that you accept one thing on faith? Why is faith good? Why isn’t faith considered backward?
And why aren’t you challenging your conservative cousins?
We don’t hate you, we hate that you are making us do your dirty work because you are too cowardly to do it yourself. Cowardly, perhaps, because you realize deep-down that a challenge to them is also a challenge to yourself. You cannot undercut their faith without undercutting your own.
There is a genuine conflict between tendencies in religious thinking and the scientific method. One must compartmentalize one’s mind to believe in science and virgin births. Recognize this conflict and deal with it. Until you do that, many of us will continue to lack respect for your worldviews, but we will continue to respect your ethical and legal right to believe and express what you believe.
I just hope you respect my belief that your beliefs may be worthy of mockery.