Why do atheists care what theists believe?

Every time certain atheist spokesmen get themselves reved up for a rant they almost immediately begin by making fun of how stupid is to believe in religious ideas.

Is this a productive approach?  Doesn't this amount to shooting fish in a barrel?  How does it help the 'cause' of freedom *from* religion?

Don't we still have freedom *of* religion in this country?  Don't people have a legal right to be stupid or believe in stupid things?  How does it hurt or affect me personally that my neighbor believes Jesus Christ performed magic tricks?  Does it really matter?

I would argue it does not.  It only matters if my neighbor tries to impose his religious beliefs on me personally and, quite frankly, that isn't something I have ever really experienced. Most of my friends are Catholics.  They have never once wasted a single breath trying to convert me to their beliefs.

It seems to me if an atheist spokesmen's first line of attack it to ridicule and make fun of people for being stupid, it's no wonder they are perceived in a negative way.  It's this line of attack that makes me want to distance myself personally very far from the organized atheist movement.

I just can't bring myself to care what my friends and neighbors believe.  Everyone is entitled to their own personal beliefs about the world and, quite frankly, each of us has our own unique life experiences we draw upon.

I'll give you a concrete example.  I'm pretty sure that nearly universally every single person who is self-identified as a member of the atheist movement would state that there is no such thing as ghosts and anyone who believes in ghosts is a superstitious idiot.  It must be nice to be so certain about things but, guess what, I have never seen a ghost or had a ghost experience.  And I certainly don't presume to judge the experiences of those who have.  Some people see ghosts.  Some people see UFOs.  And some people have profound and deeply personal religious experiences and, well, I say, more power to them.  

Their personal experiences do not comprise a threat to me, or to my world view.  Their belief in ghosts, bigfoot, UFOs, or the Virgin Mary do not affect me personally in any way shape or form, other than perhaps enriching my life with interesting and entertaining stories.

I can't build up the the hate, anger, and resentment required to the point that my first desire when I discuss the religion topic is to call people fools, idiots, and liars.

Don't get me wrong.  I am militantly in favor of freedom *from* religion and I will fight to make sure that no law is passed which tries to impose a particular religious belief on another as public policy.  That said, I would fight just as hard to the contrary, that no law should be passed to restrict an individual from holding any particular religious belief of their own.

I really feel like the atheist movement is it's own worst enemy. Instead of trying to build bridges where the theist and non-theist alike can have a shared dialogue over what could lead, over time, to mutual respect and understanding, instead they begin the discussion by insulting, ridiculing, degrading, and attacking people of 'faith' in a way that I find personally very disturbing.

As my dear friend Rodney King once said, 'Can't we all just get along?'

As a personal example, I am a member of the fraternal organization the Freemasons.  We have two core rules and those are that we will never discuss religion or politics in the lodge.  The reason for that rule is that these are two topics which lead to the most disharmony and discord between men.

Instead, we focus exclusively on what we can agree on; that it is good for men to come together and support one another in brotherhood and charity for the benefit of society as a whole and to uplift the individual.

In the Freemason lodge my brothers have no idea what my personal religious beliefs are, nor do I theirs.

This policy is a pretty powerful idea that has stood the test of time and I think the atheist movement could learn a few lessons about how to build understanding instead of simply trying to piss people off with the first words that come issuing through their mouth when their kneejerk reaction is to paint the religious as ignorant and superstitious buffoons.

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Comment by Loren Miller on March 20, 2012 at 10:06am

John, you and I know that eyewitness evidence is WEAK.  I've learned that lesson the hard way from too many customers who THOUGHT they knew what was wrong with their systems when they couldn't buy a clue at K-Mart.  Add to that, memories are unreliable, too often subjective, and not up to cross-examination, never mind the far more rigorous matter of a peer review committee.  Even with two witnesses to an event, there remains nothing HARD to substantiate a claim.

My reaction would be to pull the camera-phone from my belt and start shooting as fast as I could.  I'd prefer a proper camera, of course, preferably with a fast cycling shutter and perhaps video capacity, and if I had that at access, I would use it.  What would be REALLY lovely would be an old-fashioned FILM camera (remember those?!?), as digital pixels are a touch too easy to muck with.  I'd crack off shots at the yeti for as long as I thought I had anything of quality in the frame, then shoot the footprints, doing my damnedest not to disturb them.

Do I sound a bit like Horatio Caine?  Well, I'm not a CSI, but I AM an engineer and troubleshooter, and 30 years of experience this field have taught me the difference between objective and subjective bases for knowledge.  My own history has made me at minimum suspicious of subjective knowledge.  Reports and/or experiences from second parties (fellow field engineers, knowledgeable customers, etc.) regarding failure modes and solutions might have some weight if they are consistent with my own experience and available for corroboration.  My responsibility is solving a customer's problem and making sure the customer is confident with that solution.  You don't get either with subjective appeals, nor would I expect anyone to accept merely my say-so.  You get it with diagnostic reports, a demonstrably bad PC board, running the system in production to demonstrate that a fault has been resolved or combinations of those.

My professional life and career have been based on EVIDENCE, hard, cold, inarguable evidence, and that has made me an utter pragmatist.  Something either works or it doesn't; you either have the goods or you don't.  A shared experience with a hiking buddy might be one thing, but pictures recorded in silver nitrate or in bits and bytes is entirely another.

I hope I've made clear where my bias lies.

Comment by John W. Ratcliff on March 20, 2012 at 9:40am

Personal experience is evidence.  In many respects it is the highest form of evidence.  Each of us, individually, forms our personal beliefs about reality almost entirely based on our own personal experiences.  The vast bulk of data which comprises our world view arises from how we sense the world.

A little thought experiment for you.  Let's say you, Loren, are out walking in the woods with a good friend.  As you walk down a path and turn the corner, you and your friend see a 7 foot 3 inch tall Bigfoot at close range; a large hairy humanoid being.  The bigfoot gives off a noxious odor and seeing you lets out a hideous yell and takes off.  He leaves behind massive footprints in the muddy soil.

Now, after this experience, you share notes with your friend who was with you and she reports seeing everything you did.

Question, is it, at this point, rational and reasonable for you to accept the evidence of your personal experience and believe that you have seen bigfoot?  The simple answer is, yes.  Maybe you will want to go see a psychologist, or find a source of a hoax, but you appear neither mentally ill and no evidence of a hoax can be found.

Do you deny your own senses? Probably not.

Now, another question, would your experience of seeing bigfoot comprise evidence to anyone other than yourself?  Probably not, or at least not very convincing evidence.  It would be easier to believe, using Occam's Razor, that you are lying or misinterpreted say an encounter with a bear or something.

The point I am trying to make here is that most of us define reality, and accept as evidence, based on our personal experiences of sensory data as filtered through our neurolinguistic grid.

It is for this reason that when someone tells me they saw bigfoot, I do not presume to know what their personal experience represents.  And, I acknowledge that to them, personally, it is reasonable and rational to believe in the sense data that they have experienced.

It may not comprise evidence for anyone else but it is most certainly evidence to the person who had the experience.

John

Comment by Loren Miller on March 20, 2012 at 6:04am

woodenwand, regarding some "higher dimensional being" of ANY stripe, my answer is simple: if you ain't got EVIDENCE, you ain't got a case!

Comment by thewoodenwand on March 20, 2012 at 1:16am

I great quote from the TV show House is "If you could reason with religious people there would be no religious people."  

I have my Grand-fathers wood case had inlaid with a beautiful Masons Symbol, Couldsomeone tell me if there is anyone who  could tell me what it was used for and if it is a good donation to a lodges museum?

Back to theists, Atheists struggle everyday with the fears taught to them by our society. Theists have made their lives simple by not excluding the possibility. I plan to post a blog on Do atheists allow for a higher dimensional being that is not a God.

Comment by Loren Miller on March 19, 2012 at 6:42pm

I care about what theists believe because, too often, they want the rest of society to agree with them.  They have their "Grand Commission" to spread the good news all over the place and too frequently with little or no consideration for an audience who has heard and rejected said news long before they arrived.  Further, many of them treat atheists as utterly anathema to American values.  They quote Psalms and call us fools.  A former president said we shouldn't even be considered citizens, asserting that this is one nation under god.  In multiple instances, such as the recent case of Jessica Ahlquist, when an atheist attempts to assert the right of freedom FROM religion, atheists are publicly castigated and threatened.  For a country which is supposed to be secular and free of religious influence in government and public life, the de jure and de facto realities of the US are two very different things.

When the believers can acknowledge my position as an atheist without treating it or me as a threat to be countered or a lost sheep to be converted, we will be a goodly portion of the way toward a cease-fire between atheists and theists.  When they can also acknowledge that (in my case as a US citizen) the United States is NOT a christian nation and it is not in the best interest of any candidate for office to superimpose christian values or biblical teachings onto federal law, we will be one hell of a lot further.  To this date, I don't see either goal particularly within reach, and in fact, considering the current crop of GOP candidates for our highest office, we could be seen to be moving backwards.

Religion, by some arguments and biblical quotes, is supposed to be a private matter between a person and his or her god.  I await the day when that truly is the case.  As things are, I continue to treat those who come to my door in the name of their lord with courtesy.  However, the beliefs they wish to promulgate get NO RHYTHM from me ... NONE.

Comment by Steph S. on March 19, 2012 at 6:03pm

As my dear friend Rodney King once said, 'Can't we all just get along?'

I enjoyed reading you blog. Thanks for the insight.

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