One of the charges leveled against the so-called “new atheists” is that of arrogance. This comes in more than one form, however. The first can be exemplified by the recent book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, which makes the attempt to argue not only to the strength of the Christian message but that it actually requires faith to be an atheist. Similarly, some apologists have tried to argue that to say that there is no god would require knowledge of everything in the universe; without absolute knowledge such a claim would be absurd and arrogant. This seeks to pin the burden of proof on the atheist for their claim that god does not exist rather than on the theist for the opposite claim.
Except this is not the atheist position; atheism is the lack of belief in any gods. Period. The subtle distinction between lacking belief in any gods and claiming that no gods exist–lacking belief rather than believing lack–is essential to understand here. I do not claim that no gods exist. I claim that I don’t see sufficient reason to believe that one does.
But this is not the only way that our arrogance is pointed out by critics of atheism. In other cases, our arrogance is in the criticism itself; of our obnoxious tendency to actually criticize people’s beliefs. Where do we get off thinking that we know more than they do? What gives us the right?
Well, quite frankly, the first amendment gives us the right (at least in the United States). But more generally, the freedom of thought, opinion, and of criticism is a human right that should be upheld everywhere. Religion should get no free pass in the marketplace of ideas. Supernatural and superstitious beliefs are, like any belief, open for criticism. If you don’t want your beliefs open for such criticism, well then that’s too bad.
Further, concerning why atheists think we know more than others; we may not. But in my experience, atheists, especially those that are active in the community, tend to be much more educated and knowledgeable about religion in general and various holy books (especially the Bible in the case of those that I know) specifically in comparison with those that claim them as their holy books. It’s not that we all know more than believers, its that many of us tend to know more than most believers.
It has been said that the Bible is the best book to read if you want to become an atheist. In a sense this is true. I have read the Bible, annotated versions as well, and have read about its formation, history, and backgrounds for the various books it contains. I cannot comprehend how anyone can view it as the word of a god. I cannot comprehend how it isn’t seen as no different than fairy tales mixed with poetry, philosophy, and bits of history.
Is this arrogant of me to say? It may be irreverent, but there is no special reverence to be had there in my opinion. I do like Ecclesiastes and Job, among a few others. But I also like The Bhagavad Gita and The Odyssey. It is no more arrogant of me to say than it would be for a Christian to say that the Koran or the Vedas are not the word of a god.
But let us step back again for a second and look at the general issue at hand. Atheists are being called arrogant for criticism of belief in god. There is a sort of irony here. Atheists being called arrogant because we don’t believe in silly stories about Mohammad being taken up to heaven, Jesus resurrecting, or in the various incarnations of Vishnu. And yet it is theists of various religious traditions, with no mental capabilities that I don’t have, claiming that they are certain that not only does god exist, but they know its name, knows what it wants, and that they have a relationship with that deity.
They just know that their religious experiences are real. I don’t doubt they have teh experiences, I doubt their interpretation of them. From the point of view of a believer, all of the other people who believe in other gods are, I suppose, delusional or incorrect, but not them. This is arrogance.
Theists thinking of atheists as arrogant because they don’t believe in their god is real; that is arrogance. My irony meter has been broken too many times by this charge, and so I am not sure how much this is supposed to bother me any more. Theists, please examine the log in your eye before trying to point out the splinter in the eyes of atheists. You are the ones claiming knowledge about the proposed creator of the universe. I’m just saying that I don’t believe you actually have such knowledge. You believe, and I believe that you belief is unjustified.
That’s why theists have faith. Because if you had evidence or knowledge, you would not need faith anymore. I do not have faith in any gods. If this is arrogance then the definition of arrogance has been stretched to the point of language breaking down to mean whatever we want it to mean.
I want arrogance to mean what it is supposed to mean; an overbearing sense of self-importance or self-worth. Thinking you know what the creator of the universe’s name and access to its truths is would put someone in such a position.
The further irony is that many theologies seek to diminish this arrogant position by telling people they are sinners, insignificant, and that the height of piety is humility. This is why they think atheists are the arrogant ones, because the arrogance of their own position is cleverly hidden behind subjugation to that which they arrogantly believe exists.
What a mind-fuck!