16 May 2010

The Importance of Atheism

Atheism is nothing more than not believing in deities, so I often question why I devote so much time and energy to mere disbelief. The activities are mostly devoid of positive content, consisting mostly of critical thinking applied to this one very controversial topic, and therefore almost entirely reactive toward religion rather than creative. And when I try to be constructive, as when I focus on Humanism rather than just atheism, I still concentrate heavily on the atheistic aspects rather than on the purely secular aspects. I’ve come up with a few possible explanations for this phenomenon.

Atheists, especially explicit atheists, are a rather small minority worldwide, even smaller in the United States, and smaller still in the southeastern part of this country. What’s more, theists make their presence known through churches and a thousand other ways that atheists generally don’t, for vocal atheists are the smallest minority yet. Indeed, many atheists have no interest whatsoever in their atheism and even consider expressing one’s atheism, except perhaps upon direct questioning, to be inappropriate, in bad taste or simply ridiculous. Given this extreme minority status and the constant reminders of it, it’s not surprising that I sometimes feel slightly insecure in my position despite feeling such confidence whenever I actually examine the arguments on both sides. In fact, this dichotomy explains the situation almost on its own.

When I think about how as an atheist I believe the rest of the world is not only mistaken but very badly mistaken, I feel the need to remind myself why I think this and to make sure I’m not the one who’s mistaken. And although I don’t get many opportunities to have sincere, honest and good faith discussions with believers on the topic of religion, that’s why it’s something I really love to do when I can. Whenever there are two sides to a debate, which is essentially always, I don’t feel comfortable dismissing the other side unless I know exactly why they’re mistaken and can present specific errors in their thinking. I want to show them these errors, in exactly the same way I would like others to show me mine rather than simply dismissing me as an idiot. Dismissing others and disengaging from the debate is generally unconducive to the search for truth.

There’s an additional reason stemming from my past not only as a believer but as a scrupulous believer, deathly afraid of hell. Although I haven’t really felt anxious about the possibility of being wrong about Christianity in over five years, the indoctrination certainly left an indelible mark on my psyche that will probably remain until I die. I’ve never for even the briefest moment feared that Islam was true and that Allah would send me to hell, so I know the only reason I’ve ever feared Christianity was true is because it’s part of my past and part of my culture. But whenever I see a new book at bookstores claiming to justify belief in God or Jesus, I immediately feel a little bit of anxiety at the possibility that I’ve somehow overlooked something. I know this reaction isn’t rational, especially since it’s emotional and almost reflexive, and I sometimes calm myself by picking it up, thumbing through it, and seeing that it’s the same arguments theists have been making for centuries. It's notable, however, that I've never felt the urge to do this regarding other religions.

Sometimes I feel like I really should fully dismiss all belief in the supernatural, completely disengage from all discussion about atheism, and focus my energies elsewhere. But atheism is an important hobby for me and sometimes reduces anxiety, though disengaging may be more effective, for all I know. And someone needs to help fly the banner of atheism, as it were, so that religious doubters have somewhere to turn for help. I’m very happy all the people who helped me on my road to deconversion didn’t just decide to focus their attention on something “constructive” after they personally decided religion was false and instead actually took the time to express their atheism and their reasons for disbelief. Without them, I would very likely either still be a very miserable scrupulant with no life or a suicide. Atheism, not Humanism or any other positive philosophy, has been very constructive in my life and made me very happy comparatively, and I want to help offer other people that option if that’s what they need.

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8 comments:

vjack said...

I agree completely. I think there are probably many more of us who feel this way than do not. Excellent post!

Anonymous said...

I agree too. Excellent post and each day that passes, I feel the need to express my views to others more and more.

Somewhere, someone has say something. Living in Mississippi sometimes it feels SO ALONE, but we're not. More and more people are coming "out."

Great post. And thanks.

Anonymous said...

I differ on definitions and how I fight as an American Atheist. All Atheists demand proof for alleged deities. Because never in human history has an alleged deity left proof on earth of itself and because all alleged deities allow great evil, the Jehovah god, Allah god or any other god of believers is unworthy of Atheist resspect. Christian Webster falsely defines us in a self serving assuming way. We Atheists do not deny an extant deity, we demand proof of an alleged deity. Mere capitalization of a deity title, god, does not make a gibberish word a proper noun. KJbible believers are so illiterate and lack in critical thinking that they begin all these questions with the assumption their Jehovah is the only extant deity and demand proof from us Atheists that they are wrong. That is logically easy enough, but it is still their burden to prove that their creationism is in any way rational and evidentiary.
843-926-1750 Dial An Atheist Larry Carter Center. I insiste we propoer noun Atheists be capitalized, we exist and we demand respect and enforcemetn of our secular godless Constitution and declare Theocracy IS TREASON.

Monkfishy said...

I think it's extremely important to express our views as atheists. Although most people view religion as having a positive influence on society, or at most, a neutral influence, I think it is actually extremely destructive. I remember a time when Christians stayed out of politics and other secular groups. These days, however, fundamentalist Christian groups have essentially declared war on secularism. They have successfully infiltrated government, education, the military, etc. Rational, secular people have got to start speaking out. Claiming that the U.S. is a Christian nation isn't merely a lie, it's a goal.

jack said...

Great post! I feel this way too a lot. Not so much doubting my atheism but the feeling alone part. I live in western Arkansas where christ is king. It dawned on me the other day that I've never even met another atheist. If it wasn't for blogs like yours and the few decent podcasts out there I wouldn't have any atheist outlet.

Keep up the good work

Anonymous said...

What’s “God” got to do with religion? Nothing.
God does not exist

Religions as institutions have two components, one imaginary and one real

1. their faith-based mythological and cultic claims — an imaginary supernatural component
2. their demands to exercise secular power — a real political component

As far as possible we should be indifferent to unprovable faith claims — we should attack secular pretensions

God is dead. But, we’re stuck with religious institutions. And they do exist, in disgusting abundance. Sincere believers do not realize that religions are Ponzi schemes perpetrated by “clerics” — priest and pastor, Pope and Supreme Ayatollah, bishop and imam are not God’s or Allah’s proxies. These fraudsters are entirely political ideologues making claims to secular power founded on utterly false supernatural claims.

Search on the word ‘Dominionism’ and you will see how many in Congress plan to overthrow the Republic. How long do think that major transnational corporations like BP (which are quasi-empires) will put up with crap from a mere POTUS? Their lobbyists can easily finance a coup at only pennies on the profit dollar. BP alone could subvert Congress completely.

Why keep up pressure against true believers? -- they are dupes through whom political power claims are made

We are obligated to convince other rational individuals that all true believers are vectors of serious mental disturbances and dangerous political ideologies based on supernaturalism. Religion’s mental and moral perversions, especially in the big-3 monster theisms sicken the entire planet

1. Taking the widow’s mite (stealing from the poor) — the wages of Ponzi schemes can be death —

Religious institutions are vampires sucking time volunteered by believers, money donated, psychological energy misdirected, and life itself destroyed (“martyrs”) — on nihilistic demands by religious authoritarians.

2. Bad mental habits learned — anti-intellectual nihilism

Illogical argumentation, denial of well verified scientific truths, mindless praise of ignorance — as part of irrational inverted snobbery of .

3. Diseased psychological predispositions fostered — sadistic nihilism

Denial of death, glorification of suffering, wallowing in “sin,” degrading this world, unhealthy misunderstandings about sex and gender, psychological projection of hatred, violent predispositions and murderous intent.

4. Arrogant morality and political absolutism demanded — political nihilism

misogyny, androcentrism, paternalism, pro-birth and anti-life, intolerance of ideological differences, theo-political drive to overthrow secular governments — as part of "mission to overcome" the world.

You need no longer wonder why the sick “folks” of Ameristan (that is, xian America) — which every day more resembles theocratic Iran — threatens its own people with totalitarian rule and the entire planet with continuing wars which divert public attention, inflame the far-right, and push the middle class into poverty.

We anti-supernaturalists have work to do! The de-deification of western culture (including science) is our task for the next 100 years.

the anti_supernaturalist

shannon said...

Excellent post. I decided to be more aggressive with my atheism (i.e., simply telling people that I am atheist), and I have received mixed results. On the one hand, it's encouraged my parents to think critically when they hear Bill O'Reilly screaming on Fox News that "atheists hate the baby Jesus," and to realize that he really has no idea what atheism even is. On the other hand, my religious relatives now feel the need to show me the error of my ways, which of course are due to my age, gender, and political party.

People seem to have the idea that atheists are either a) angsty teenagers, b) Christopher Hitchens, or c) Richard Dawkins. While Hitchens and Dawkins are great men, they are not representative of all atheists.

I feel it's almost my duty to directly convey my atheism to others, and to show them that yes, it is possible to be an ethical, fully functional member of society without believing in a supreme being. I'm glad to know that at least some of my fellow atheists feel the same way.

Once again, great post.

DaveMcRae said...

Top post

And what Shannon said in 2nd last paragraph.