An essay by – Heather Spoonheim

I used think there was an inherent justice in the way that I was able to simply look at the evidence for the existence of Yahweh and recognize it as nothing more than a collection of superstitious notions that, when combined, had coalesced into a misleading but compelling emotional appeal. That other people were captivated by such an emotional appeal didn’t contradict my sense of justice because they too were free to simply recognize it for what it was and liberate themselves of the fallacy; that they didn’t do so was nothing more than their own folly – or so I thought.

It should be noted, however, that calling the argument an ‘emotional appeal’ is a monumental euphemism; it is an overwhelmingly monumental euphemism because the argument is, in truth, nothing less than emotional extortion, a proverbial offer that one cannot refuse. For you see, fresh indoctrinates are repeatedly instructed or, more accurately, threatened that failure to accept the appeal will result in indescribable tortures that defy the imagination.

Upon first consideration of the threat of unimaginable torture by the devotees of a death cult it would seem that the mind of the victim should be filled exclusively by an overwhelming desire to escape. To combat this survival instinct, the doctrines of the death cult of Yahweh employ a tactic common to other sociopathic predators: a friendly introduction accompanied by an offer of candy. You see, the glossy brochures of this death cult rarely open with images of torture but, rather, dangle the most enticing piece of candy imaginable: the hypothetical possibility of conquering death itself.

Even given the superlative nature of this emotional extortion, I still managed to cling to my belief that justice was available in a philosophical market governed by the laissez faire doctrines of caveat emptor; after all, common sense (another fallacy) seemed to make it readily obvious that if an offer seemed to be too good to be true then it likely was not. Those who were foolish enough to trade their faculties of reason for a bag of magic beans, regardless of the magnitude of the promised returns, deserved exactly what they got – or so I used to believe.

You see, just like all too many people who attribute their own successes to self-proclaimed virtues, I was mislead by confirmation bias. I used circular logic to assert the power of ‘common sense’ by mistakenly citing it as the means of my escape and then citing the success of my escape as proof that ‘common sense’ was all it took. What I failed to acknowledge was the fortunate timing of my birth coupled with my aptitude for science, at least as it was presented in the grade schools of my time.

In my day, the eloquence with which Carl Sagan fueled wonder at the cosmos formed a brick wall upon which the awkward rationalizations of theists splattered instantly. Other scientific minds seemed to find increased courage from this and public discourse in scientific matters became noticeably less apologetic. As if to crown this revolution, the producers of the very popular, prime-time television series, ‘All in the Family’, went so far as to introduce a well-rounded and explicitly Atheist character, Michael Stivic.

All of these factors contributed greatly to my escape from cult indoctrination but my ability to perceive these factors was obscured by my own ego, by my faith in my own ‘common sense’ and my desire to believe there was any sort of inherent justice in life. As the years passed though, I began to learn more about the great minds that had contributed to our modern world and my ego became increasingly tempered. These days I am no longer able to maintain the delusion that my fallacious notions of ‘common sense’ in any way compare to the genius of the real heroes of modern thought who had the courage to declare that their own, original, empirical observations contradicted the highly revered Bronze Age notions of their time.

In this way I owe a huge debt to the courage of such a long list of rational thinkers that any attempt to name them couldn’t aspire to reveal anything more than an even greater list of glaring omissions. In lieu, all I can offer is my solemn acknowledgement of this debt and my embarrassingly inadequate ability to ever repay it. In doing so, I also acknowledge that there was no inherent justice in my liberation, only some very fortunate timing. More importantly, this acknowledgement allows me to realize just how the tables have been turned by modern cultists.

Unable to fabricate rationalizations elastic enough to stretch around our modern world’s ever expanding base of scientific knowledge, the strategy of the cultists has turned to outright, underhanded dishonesty. They have so saturated the very infrastructures by which information is disseminated that it is no longer possible to tune into the information stream without finding it befouled by their propaganda of doubt.

No longer able to credibly assert the certainty of their deity, they now repeatedly chant, “But you can’t prove he doesn’t exist.” No longer able to refute the credibility of scientific truths they respond, “But science doesn’t know everything.” And finally, no longer able to exert their authority to crush the very institution of science itself, they have taken to attacking the integrity of that institution.

Television networks that are supposedly devoted to the dissemination of scientific knowledge are riddled with programs that point out anecdotal transgressions of scientific fraud or bias; they do this without pointing out that such transgressions are repeatedly rooted out and expelled within decades rather than being upheld unapologetically for centuries. Newspapers fallaciously cloak themselves in anachronistic notions of journalistic integrity while adhering to nothing other than capitalist greed as they design sensational headlines of scientific folly while simultaneously ignoring profound, although usually more mundane, revelations of how genetics is solidifying the certainty of the evolutionary tree. Radio commentators repeatedly substitute editorials for news and assert that science is arrogant for not giving due consideration to ‘alternative theories’ without a single mention of the fact that these purported ‘alternative theories’ are generated by scientifically illiterate cultists.

Preschool indoctrinates are told that scientists are liars, without even an attempt to justify that claim. Biology teachers are compelled to assume a tone of apology when discussing evolution. When scientific curriculums are publicly debated the floor is left open to those who have absolutely no understanding of the subject matter and children are sent forth to make emotional appeals for cultist ‘values’ rooted in ignorance.

Where they can’t elicit doubt in scientific observation they try to insert reinforcement of any superstitious predilection they can identify. The recent barrage of ‘investigative’ television programs dealing with ‘scientific observation’ of paranormal phenomenon is almost overwhelming. Otherwise perfectly rational people are left to wonder if there might not be some validity to the concept that ‘life energy’ can leave a ‘metaphysical fingerprint’ in certain geographic locations. Failure to acknowledge at least a modicum of authenticity to these ‘investigations’ is maliciously labeled ‘close-minded’ prejudice.

It has become nearly impossible to evaluate the integrity of ‘educational programming’ without taking the time to google the credentials of the ‘experts’ that are paraded forth. For any single rational individual this tidal wave of misinformation presents an insurmountable battle of debunking. For those not yet liberated from superstitious indoctrination, however, the odds of recognizing this volcanic spew of fallacies for what it really is are infinitesimal.

In this challenge, I think I may have finally found the means by which to make a payment towards the debt I owe for my own intellectual liberation. Looking back, it wasn’t one voice of reason that guided me out of intellectual subservience, but a veritable chorus of rational voices. Every voice was important, even the droning, boring tones of my grade eight science teacher, and I know I can carry the tune a little better than he ever did.

The internet has given me a platform for self publication coupled with the resources to easily debunk inane cultist ‘documentaries’. It may seem like a chore to sit through a painfully ignorant program that asserts some holy book to be an archeological treasure trove, and even more of a chore to cite its obvious shortcomings in a well thought out blog entry, but I owe at least that much, even if I can only carry the tune of reason for just a few more bars.

Furthermore, I don’t have to debunk everything myself because there are plenty of Atheist and skeptic bloggers who are much better at it than I will ever be. By simply keeping tabs on some of their blogs, I am slowly gathering a nice collection of links that provide quick rebuttals to online friends infected with various superstitions and cultist misinformation.

Even in daily my daily encounters with the superstitious, nothing seems to shut some of them up faster than pointing out that there is one million dollars awaiting them if they can prove their claims to be true. Before informal exchanges head south of the boarder of rationality I can often infuse some rational thought by talking about the latest news of satellites orbiting distant planets – satellites that were put there by profoundly accurate scientific knowledge.

Finally, through the various online Atheist communities I can try to encourage other Atheists to continue the chorus of reason as well. I think I’ll start right now by posting a blog that might inspire others to consider ways of paying off some of the Atheist debt.

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Comment by Heather Spoonheim on April 7, 2011 at 7:34pm
I think it would be exactly the sort of project for which wiki was designed.  I'm certain it wouldn't take long for interest to spread to potential contributors.  The real challenge would be finding the right people to chair a committee and file the paperwork to get things underway - and I'm definitely not one of those people.  I will keep the idea in mind though and toss it out there when chatting with other atheists.  It might not be a bad idea to send a tweet to some influential atheists like Penn Jillette.
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on April 7, 2011 at 6:53pm

Heather,

It would be a major undertaking. Imagine the author(s) who agree to tackle impact on women's lives. It is more of a dream than an ambition. I just think it is needed and would make a difference especially since religious people tend to be so ignorant of history and have purchased hook, line and sinker the great lie equating religion and morality.

Comment by Heather Spoonheim on April 7, 2011 at 6:35pm
That could turn into one unwieldy project, Glen, but I sure respect your ambition.  We weren't even able to fully document each incident of torture and murder committed by the Nazis, even with available living eyewitnesses, just because of the sheer volume.  I can't imagine how a full accounting of the atrocities committed by the religious could even be approached.  It would definitely require in incredibly well organized collaborative effort of people from a wide range disciplines, cultures, and languages.  If we can find somebody to host a wiki template then I'll be glad to contribute what I can.
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on April 7, 2011 at 6:19pm

Heather,

I think atheists would be well served in examining the church as a political institution. There is less room for wiggling when we look at the history of the church. Ideally, I would like to see an encyclopedia researched and written by atheists examining each facet of harm.

I support your stance and your efforts.

 

Comment by Heather Spoonheim on April 7, 2011 at 5:38pm
I agree, Glen, although it will take a long time before we can have them convicted for the abusive tactics they use for indoctrinating children. Unfortunately they actually seem to be gaining a few inches in getting their 'alternative theories' into the classrooms, but there are some level heads fighting that battle with legal skills that I don't have.

In the meantime I'm just looking for a way to contribute to the cause. Keeping some links of rock solid sources on hand seems to shut a lot of them up for a bit - at least the ones I'm dealing with. Pointing out the flimsy credentials of their favorite sources for 'scientific support of the bible' also gets at least some of them thinking. I've found that when I debate them online, inline citations of every single fact I present usually results in them not responding at all - which I happen to believe is a good sign that they have at least checked those links and are stumped for a response.

I think we all need to find our own voice in this chorus and I'm just hoping to inspire a few more people to do so.
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on April 7, 2011 at 5:28pm

Heather,

For the majority of the indoctrinated the emotional extortion will convert a sweet chorus to a stertorous chorus.

Why not criminilize early exposure to extortion? If that is too quixotic, why not counter their influence(invite both sides into the classroom) with our own?

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