Preface: I wholeheartedly expect this post to be cast aside and ignored, but I want to put it out there, and if I get even one person looking inward, then it will have all been worth it.

I live in Salt Lake City, Utah and work at one of the few beacons for the non-Mormon/anti-Mormon counter-culture. A great deal of my coworkers are ex-Mormons that quickly dismiss anything LDS. They have good reason for this. Leaving the church was especially tumultuous for them, and I'm not going to say that I can even begin to understand what they went through with the mutual rejection of their parents and communities.
I'm also a new member of the Atheist Nexus. While I've only read one other blog post and the comments associated with it, it seems like there is similar distaste for religion and religious people represented on this site. Maybe there are similar stories about religious upbringing or maybe members of this site tend naturally to be vocal opponents of the status quo. Either way, I think there are more effective ways to advancing theological discourse than poking fun or bragging about debunking a theist or watching videos about how to shut a religious person down.
What I notice and bemoan is the tendency for atheists to scoff at practicing religious people as if they're wrong to believe what they do. This is not the attitude that will get people thinking about their actions, or their role in the world, and it won't change minds or even get people to listen. Having a respectful and grounded discussion will only come with mutual respect and understanding for other beliefs (I understand it's hard in the context of beliefs as diametrically opposed as theism and atheism).
It's common for people to belligerently defend what they believe in and this goes for both sides of the atheism/theism argument. I have been guilty of it. But after argument upon argument with religious people, I came to the conclusion that I'm not going to change their minds any more than they will change mine. It is a futile and ultimately fruitless endeavor to argue with someone about what they believe. Logic rarely plays into discussions of faith.
The true change will only come if people can understand one another and respectfully disagree with each other. There are a lot of people out there that desperately want life to mean something greater, and will hold on to false beliefs to find that meaning. It's a completely legitimate if not wholly fantastic desire.
Regardless of it's scientific legitimacy, belief in God(s) has the potential to help people be truly to good to one another. Imagine if everyone on the planet loved his or her neighbor and treated others the way they wanted to be treated. Aren't those lessons worth teaching; lessons you want everyone to learn, regardless of belief in the supernatural? Antagonizing someone for believing the earth is 6000 years old doesn't accomplish anything. I imagine a world where being wrong is OK and being right doesn't justify looking down your nose.
If someone asks me what I believe in, I wish in my head there was another word for atheist that wouldn't immediately lump me in with people angrily making fun of most of the country. I agree that the religious walk around with blinders on, but I think we need to start with the understanding that true belief in eternal life is a lot easier for them if they never have to open their eyes. If we meet that blindness with blindness of our own, it will eventually just be a cacophony of "God doesn't exist"'s and "you're going to hell"'s and atheists, agnostics and nontheists will be no better than bible beaters we share a planet/country/city/economy with.
We as atheists can be different. We already are. It's hard for me to imagine a conversation between two religious people regarding why they believe in God that doesn't involve canned affirmations from sermons they've heard throughout their lives. Agnostics, atheists and nontheists ask each other questions like 'why don't you believe in God?' all the time, and receive logical, legitimate answers unique to the person that gives them.
Let's open and listen to everyone, regardless of belief. We may learn something.

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Comment by Glen Rosenberg on November 4, 2010 at 7:07pm
Aaron, I agree with you. When you think about it the supression and clamming up is typically the atheist. Robots generally are not shy in sharing their opinions and imposing their morality. And again the greater the religiosity, the more pernicious the robot.
It seems likely that certain robot personalities (nice oxymoron) who have never been challenged about world view need an in your face confrontation to resonate in their robot brain. Is it treson to oppose the hands of tyranny? I made that one up myself.
Comment by Aaron S. (USA) on November 4, 2010 at 4:09pm
Keith:
I agree with the principle of reciprocity... it's just that the New Testament was hardly the first thing to encode it, and most of the other "moral truths" in the Bible are hardly moral or true. I'm willing to be open-minded - I think that Wicca, for instance, has some good moral principles - but while Jesus certainly did contradict himself every other page (according to the NT), and some of the things he said weren't completely wrong, none of it really comes off as that ingenious or anything. When Christians say that the Bible is some sort of font of moral wisdom, it's like Muslims going on and on about how the Quran is the greatest work of poetry ever - it's just really hard to take seriously once you've actually read the book.

I'm not sure which atheists you're talking about that are "screaming from the pulpit". I've seen Edward Kagin or Matt Dillahunty lose their tempers before, but they're hardly famous. Like I said, I'm all for atheists trying to be polite, but I don't think it really makes any difference. A lot of religious people are just oversensitive, have a persecution complex and will be offended simply because you exist. IMO, the bad PR that atheists have isn't because we've been any more or less rude than anybody else, it's because we've been demonized as the spawn of Satan for about two millenniums. Most of those religious people that have a bad perception of atheists probably have never even talked to one before (at least, one that would admit it). The Jews have been in much the same boat (obviously in a worse position, but the same kind of boat) as atheists - it's just discrimination. The fact that we have a reputation as being immoral, angry, depressed, or whatever doesn't necessarily mean that we've done anything to deserve it.
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on November 4, 2010 at 11:10am
Social skills and intelligence can take you places. But you really oughtn't take your sense of self -worth or pride from the reaction of the robots.
Comment by Keith R Araneo on November 4, 2010 at 9:38am
I guess a simplification of my point might be something like this:
I don't care when people disagree with me. I am firm enough in my belief that them angrily telling me I won't go to heaven is like them angrily telling me that some birds migrate. I don't like being a dick to people and that gets me really far with a lot of different folks regardless of creed. None of my atheist friends nor I are really proud to call ourselves atheists because the popular perception is that we're the in-your-face demeaning atheists. I would just expect that smart people would understand that when they scream from the atheist pulpit that they are representing an entire group of people. So please, think abut our PR here and if you want to be a dick, just be a dick, but not an atheist dick. Maybe even open your mind to lessons taught in the bible. Like do unto others what you would have them do unto you (I hope none of you are melting).
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on November 4, 2010 at 8:07am
Fred,
If you say that the problem with humans is their humanness, I agree. If you say power corrupts is a universal maxim, I agree. If you say there is anything intrinsic to atheism which leads to communism or any distasteful political ideology, I disagree. I wish I could share your optimism that religious people may be here for fifty or one hundred years only.
I am dubious that we can lead by example in personal interactions. On the other hand if atheists have power and misuse that power then they are misleading by example and do nothing positive for the atheist cause.
If I understand you and you are equating agressive atheists with agressive theists then I reject that contention. That is like calling the oppressed people the racists. All that you say is occurring in Sweden is disheartening.
Comment by Aaron S. (USA) on November 3, 2010 at 9:37pm
Keith:
I've grown up on Salt Lake City as well, and my experience has differed greatly from yours. I wasn't allowed to play with half the kids in the neighborhood because my parents are polygamists and no one wanted their children to play with the "plyg kid"; the missionaries, while they had smiles on my their faces, were perfectly happy to tell me that I was incapable of experiencing true happiness because I don't have the light of Jesus in my life, nor could I be as moral; I've repeatedly had Mormons get in my face about my non-belief, even when I tried to avoid the subject, to hide the fact that I'm atheist - as well as other things that are far worse and probably not respective of the Mormon population as a whole. And I'm not even gay. My experience isn't any more valid than yours, but I'd recommend you bear in mind that many of us haven't met any of the "respectful" Mormons you seem so enamored of. Maybe the religious people you've met are actually largely secular, because the Mormons I know make many or most of their daily decisions based on what they think their prophet wants or depending on what they think their scriptures say.

I think there may be some miscommunication on both ends here - when you say we have to be "respectful" of believers, what we hear is that we have to shut up and pretend to be religious, because our mere existence is enough to cause distress and offense among most of the believers we come into contact with. Is this what you're talking about? If, on the other hand, you're saying that we have a right to our beliefs, but should use non-inflammatory language when possible when we describe our positions, then that's probably reasonable - but it's not going to do anything to make religious people less angry, in my experience. In the past, merely admitting that I wasn't Mormon was enough to start an argument, and if I dared to mention that I didn't think (for example) that pornography is evil, despite their prophet's word on the matter, it would practically guarantee a literal shouting match. How politely I disagreed has been beside the point (and this while the Mormons I've met have had no problem making inflammatory, out-of-place remarks about liberals, the ACLU, their own persecution complex, etc.).

If they kept their religion a private matter, then I think atheists would have no problem living and letting live. If it made them happy, full stop, there'd be no problem. The issue is that they don't stop there - they have to have their religious practices, PLUS their bigotry against gays, PLUS their attempts to dismantle abortion rights, PLUS their child sexual abuse (yes, the Mormons have covered up sexual abuse too, not just the Catholics), and so on. If those kinds of things don't matter to you, then of course you won't have a problem with the ways Mormons (and other religious people) practice their religions, but for the rest of us, yes, it's a problem, and no, we're not going to just shut up about it.
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on November 3, 2010 at 8:57pm
Keith,
The impact of religion is a function of the power of religion. Today in the middle east where countries are theocracies or near theocracies the religious authority has ceded little to the secular authority. Therefore their culture is abhorrent. Chop off a hand for stealing a loaf of bread, father murders daughter after she has been raped, beat women, mistreat women, teach racism, complete intolerance of other religion or atheism, pursue apostates to the death etc. In past centuries when the Christian church had the power there was a handbook of torture that the inquisitor could use to extract confessions, hereitics were burned at the stake, women accused of witchcraft were executed,(the christian instruments of torture are really quite impressive) supress any expression of thought which is contrary to church doctrine, beat Jews to death during the plague years, send children off by the tens of thousands in a crusade etc. Today in Africa you could throw up eight ways to sunday watching children murdered by the religious nuts. But again the degree of power determines the extent of abuse.
So when you say every day religious folk are not a threat; sit down and talk, you could learn something, I say you are not seeing the big picture. See Thomas True's Blog which is in close proximity to your blog.
What does the tyrant do when the tyrant has the power? And I am not downplaying the significance of the harm that every day religious folk do. How many bright curious would-be scientists have been detoured? How much humiliation and second class treatment have gays withstood? How much shame and taboo with respect to mental illness is a result of church teaching? How much racism is attributable to the indoctrination? How many ignorant kids are made into compliant little robots and end up dying or killing in some war where we have no business? How many lives could have been extended by the advances in science and I am not speaking only of the last several decades and stem cells? What about the thousands of women who died in child birth because of the Catholic Church. How much of their backwards morality has made its way into our laws? How much zenophobia of the tea party and the religious in general is a result of the robot makers?
If you are a member of the cult and you reproduce you are perpetuating the cult. And yes religion threatens humanity in terms of its direct impact and because nuclear annihilation is a distinct threat. As an aside I hate it when the muslim terorrists are described as extremists. If you study history you see that the cancer metastisizes into something which is a departure from the mainstream on a regular basis. The sleep of reason and the imposition of faith produces monsters with no constraints other than secularism or rationalism.
Comment by Keith R Araneo on November 3, 2010 at 7:42pm
@Glen: I can assure you that I don't believe in anything supernatural. As for your other concerns, maybe you can enlighten me as to the extent to which the beliefs of the average every day religious person controls human civilization in an ultra negative way. Or maybe how these beliefs threaten to "destroy civilization". In my experience, I haven't really encountered much of this threat. I was raised in a mostly secular household (attending Lutheran church maybe three times/year), went to a Lutheran school, then a predominantly Mormon school in a state that is 50% Mormon. All my life, my beliefs were really a non-issue. I can think of two instances where there was even a whisper of challenge to my beliefs, and it wasn't really jarring for me. For the most part, I've seen people living their lives outside of their theologies. There has been the occasional crazy person blaring fear mongering, hateful, end of days rhetoric (your comments about "destroying civilization" reminds me a lot of that rhetoric), but people seem to be more concerned with other things. So in my experience, and I'm clearly not as vocal as you, there are very few religious people that really want to pick fights. But, do you think the brainwashers know they are washing brains? I think brainwashers had their brains also washed a long time ago and truly believe that the work they do is not really brainwashing but perpetuating a system that made them happy. Also if people are happy in pleasantville, who are we to challenge the legitimacy of that happiness? You can protect yourself from brainwashing, but other people's children are not yours to raise or convert. If a parent wants to show its child something that's legal and that they feel will help that child become a contributing caring member of society, then that's fine by me. Also, I would have tea and scones with a mass murderer in a heart beat provided there was some glass between us. What an experience that would be. Imagine what I'd learn! You could think of my very firm grounding and belief in provable things as the proverbial iron bars between me and the religious. To take this proverb even further, last Sunday I went to an LDS church and sat down in a room full of these "murderers" and they were all perfectly friendly people that didn't even pull their knives out. It was actually nice spending Sunday morning with my girlfriend playing piano which probably would have never happened if I were afraid of "mass murderers".
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on November 3, 2010 at 6:39pm
Fred,
I suspect successful tactics of deconversion will vary based on age, gender, education, degree of indoctrination and probably other factors.
In my own experience, as a kid I was berated and accosted by a 7th day adventist who kept browbeating me until finally I had enough and we had it out. At the end he was reduced to a shadow of a man and admitted it was all nonsense. In college when I was more versed in theological arguments I had some "fights", two of which resulted in deconversion. Most were not successful. In fact my girlfriend of six years is Catholic and while she admits that I have opened her eyes and she is questioning she continues to be a theist. She is totally turned off when I get visceral about religion.
In have no recollection of how the polemics played out. I certainly dont profess any special ability in this area. Fred, whether you use hard sell or polite entreaty the law of large numbers will enable you to make someone out there change.
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on November 3, 2010 at 4:18pm
Keith,
Presumably I am using the analogy to robots with other atheists. Am I? I do concede that I can get visceral when arguing religion. I get the same way after thinking about a black person who has been lynched by white racists (who are of course good christians) or a Jew who is lynched in a pogrom after being whipped up by his church or a homosexual couple who is in some manner persecuted. I am not sure you appreciate the extent to which their beliefs have controled human civilization in an ultra negative way. Religion threatens to destroy human civilization. Further, it is evident that the quality of life is inversely proportionate to the degree of religiosity.
The beliefs in and of themselves are of course laughable. The baggage is deadly. People have hundreds or even thousands of inaccurate beliefs eg causes of the common cold. I am certain I carry some as well. That is not the issue. The issue is the vicious cults which brain wash their robots before the robots natural defenses would otherwise defenstrate the offending filth. Do you feel the percolation?
I am a total live and let live person. The robots are not. I am intolerant of intolerance. So yes, it is critical that humans are deprogramed and that they recognize what their cult produces. You want a polite conversation. That is fine if that is your response to injustice. It is not mine. Will you have tea and scones with a mass murderer?

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