“The rejection of belief in the existence of deities. Strong atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Most inclusively, atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists.”
The show had been on hiatus for quite awhile recently, but has come out strong again with Leighann Lord interviewing Ian Harris On Comedy, Skeptical Audiences, And Atheism. I first heard her working on Startalk when the Son and I would listen to that podcast driving to and from his high school. She’s great, and I look forward to hearing more from her and Point of Inquiry for awhile. Please?
Atheists may not believe religious teachings, but they are quite informed about religion. In Pew Research Center’s 2019 religious knowledge survey, atheists were among the best-performing groups, answering an average of about 18 out of 32 fact-based questions correctly, while U.S. adults overall got an average of roughly 14 questions right. Atheists were at least as knowledgeable as Christians on Christianity-related questions – roughly eight-in-ten in both groups, for example, know that Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus – and they were also twice as likely as Americans overall to know that the U.S. Constitution says “no religious test” shall be necessary to hold public office.
That was just one of the ten facts about atheists that Pew listed in their updated article from 2015. None of the facts were surprising to me, even back in 2015 when I first ran across the article. Especially that one. In order to form an opinion about a religion, enough of an opinion to decide that you don’t want to be religious anymore, you have to study the subject pretty thoroughly.
I’ve studied every religion that I’ve run across in my 50+ years on this planet. None of them ended up being something that I wanted to devote my life to, much less any significant amount of my time. All of them ended up failing on some measure of value and relevance to life in the here and now. My last flirtation with religion was when I read the entire Book of Mormon in order to be able to argue knowledgeably with the Mormon missionaries who used to bicycle up to the house and lend a hand with projects we had going on while trying to convert us to their religion. This was back before the turn of the century, an event that both of them thought would spell the end of the world and bring on the second coming of Christ. The last time I spoke to them I said that I’d get back to them in 2001.
Anyone who has read both the Bible and the Book of Mormon that doesn’t have unanswered plagiarism questions isn’t paying attention to what they are reading. When I found myself still here on January 1, 2001, I contemplated looking those two guys up again and asking them what they thought about there not being an armageddon as was promised. Look, we’re all still here. Now what?
That sort of playful argumentation about emotionally charged subjects like religion have gotten me in trouble many times. You’d think I’d eventually learn to stop doing that, but I haven’t. It’s what lead me to state that Atheism is not a Belief System, a subject I document in this article.
The resultant arguments from that fiasco only firmed up my lack of belief in gods or the supernatural. I still marvel at how little proof most people require to believe even the craziest of things, religion just being one of those crazy things.
I take issue with several of the facts in the Pew article though. One of them was #3, Atheists make up a larger share of the population in many European countries than they do in the U.S. This was the motivation for me starting this article on the blog. The entire basis of the Pew article, limiting the findings to just those people who checked off the box atheist, is a major flaw in their article. There are even more significant numbers of people who are irreligious than there are actual atheists, not to mention the one/fifth of people who are so poorly informed as to identify as atheist and still avow to have a belief in god or gods.
The larger, more important, group are the people who are simply irreligious. People who say that they have no religion. That number in the United States is still less than half (39%) but represents a percentage of the population that can swing issues that are basically religious in nature (subjects like abortion) in surprising directions. If you use that number instead of the number that claim atheism, you have majorities of the population of most of Europe, with Australia ranking in the top ten countries in the world for numbers of irreligiousness.
The portion of humanity who don’t think religion is important enough to even have one is very large, and it is growing. Growing by leaps and bounds as the evangelicals in the United States and across the world attempt to alter governments to suit their religious beliefs. Nothing turns people off of a subject faster than having that subject forced on them when they don’t think it is important.
Reason, Observation and Experience – the Holy Trinity of Science – have taught us that happiness is the only good; that the time to be happy is now, and the way to be happy is to make others so. This is enough for us. In this belief we are content to live and die. If by any possibility the existence of a power superior to, and independent of, nature shall be demonstrated, there will then be time enough to kneel. Until then, let us stand erect.
I found it amusing that Mr. Strong felt he had to point out that Ingersoll was not an atheist but an agnostic. As a freethinker, I understand the finer points of the difference, probably better than W.F. Strong does. There is little doubt that Ingersoll had no use for religion as an institution, as this last quote should illustrate.
While utterly discarding all creeds, and denying the truth of all religions, there is neither in my heart nor upon my lips a sneer for the hopeful, loving and tender souls who believe that from all this discord will result a perfect harmony; that every evil will in some mysterious way become a good, and that above and over all there is a being who, in some way, will reclaim and glorify every one of the children of men; but for those who heartlessly try to prove that salvation is almost impossible; that damnation is almost certain; that the highway of the universe leads to hell; who fill life with fear and death with horror; who curse the cradle and mock the tomb, it is impossible to entertain other than feelings of pity, contempt and scorn.
I found a new podcast today (h/t to Stay Tuned) Everyone seems to be getting into podcasting these days. Podcasting, perhaps the one good thing on the internet that Steve Jobs inspired. In any case, the Pew Charitable Trust has a new podcast where they discuss the wonky nature of their polling and statistics called After the Fact.
There doesn’t appear to be a way to embed the podcast in a blog post, so I’ll have to settle for a link to the episode that I chose to listen to first, What Religious Type Are You? (I’ll check around more thoroughly later for an embeddable link) Of course it’s about religion. I’m going to go straight for what I might disagree with most and see what that gets me. That’s just the kind of guy I am. There is also a quiz attached to the data set so you can test to see where you fall on the spectrum of belief-nonbelief.
Today I am solidly secular. I had my doubts where I would land, but solidly secular works for me. It works for me today. If I am accosted by Bible thumpers tomorrow, I’m likely to test out as a religious resistor. Proof that proselytizing damages religion in public perception.
Lauren McGaughey is reporting on this story for the Dallas Morning News. She says the case stems from a suit filed by parents of a student who was kicked out of school for not standing to recite the pledge. The student and her parents say the school violated her First Amendment rights with that punishment.
“Attorney General Paxton says that it’s a ‘moral good.’ He said, in a statement, that kids learn about citizenship and patriotism from saying the pledge every morning,” McGaughey says.
A First Amendment expert McGaughey talked to says he believes the Texas requirement that students recite the pledge is unconstitutional.
Ken Paxton is a Christianist. He wants to force Americans to worship his God. This is a documented fact that anyone can find out for themselves with a simple Google search. A good portion of Texas agrees with him and his fascist views concerning the Freedom of/from Religion guaranteed by the US Constitution. If evil exists, and I am agnostic on the existence of evil; but if evil exists his views and the views of his fellow Christianists are an active evil in the mind of modern America. Ken Paxton should be shunned. He should be rejected at the polls. If you vote for Paxton, you are voting for evil.
I have a distinct opinion on the subject of forcing children to pledge allegiance, as the title of this article and the above paragraph should make abundantly clear. My qualms about the wisdom of making children pledge allegiance before they are old enough to know what words like allegiance mean go back to an early reading of The Children’s Story by James Clavell. In that story the children in a generic classroom are introduced to a new teacher sent to them by their new government. That teacher explains the intent behind the words of this pledge they’ve been forced to recite all their young lives, but the explanation she offers is a lie, and the children are too young and impressionable to know that they are being lied to by an authority figure.
These qualms came to a head when Texas passed a law requiring that children pledge allegiance to the Texas flag as well as the U.S. flag. I received a flyer amongst several other pieces of documentation sent home from school with my children the year this law went into effect, a flyer informing me that Texas law required all students to mouth the words of the United States pledge of allegiance, as well as the then newly revised Texas pledge of allegiance (HB 1034) in addition to observing a moment of silence once each day (SB 83) a practice that intended to re-introduce morning prayer into Texas public schools. The sponsor of HB 1034, when queried on the subject of religion, had this to say (source, Capitol Annex: More HB 1034 Exchanges):
BURNAM: Are you aware that Governor Perry has recently said, “Freedom of religion should not be taken as freedom from religion.” And my question is, do you agree with that statement, Ms. Riddle? RIDDLE: I would say, Amen.
Which pretty much sums up the intent of the modification of the pledge, and the accompanying minute of silence. It also showed the utter contempt the governor and the majority of the legislature had for anyone who didn’t share their particular christian beliefs. Freedom of religion is a meaningless concept unless it includes freedom from religion; requiring someone to have a religion places constraints upon the person, negating any freedom that might be present.
The requirement to recite the two pledges has been on the books since 2003. When they changed the pledge in 2007 they felt they needed to inform parents, once again, of their children’s duty to stand and recite the pledges. This prompted me to fire off a letter to the school in response, telling them in no uncertain terms what I thought of their forced indoctrination into religion and what has become a transparent attempt to create an American theocracy.
Dictators and cult leaders require the slaves under their rule to swear allegiance to them, because power is jealous of rivals. In a free society, pledges of allegiance should not be required, because individuals are free of any allegiance other than to rational self interest. Additionally, pledges required of the public are contrary to the sentiments of the founders of the United States, as it reverses the role of the subservient state and places it above We The People.
Obviously, from the tone of this letter, you will be able to discern that I am hereby notifying you in writing that my children will be exempted from this practice. They will not be required to recite any pledges, nor will they be required to observe a minute of silence. This notice is given pro forma, because my children have abstained from reciting the pledges for the entire time that they have attended school; and they have done this without asking me or the omnipotent state for permission to do so. They have remained silent during pledges even in my presence, when I have recited the pledge autonomically; and I applaud them for their strength of will.
If it was possible, I would extend this exemption to any student of AISD, of any school district in Texas, or of any state in the United States, who wished to abstain from reciting the pledge, but lacks the permission that the state requires.
The Religious Right, the Christianist right, have simply become more strident over the years since 2007, not less. They do not appear to have learned anything from the many battles they have engaged in and lost when it comes to the subject of making the US a christian nation against the will of the majority who like it just the way it is.
Back when I was first arguing the concepts behind Atheism is Not a Belief System my main antagonist on the BBS cited the Big Bang as proof of god’s existence on more than one occasion. It was one of his cherished arguments, one that he was convinced there was no answer to. According to him god willed the creation of existence from nothingness, in his eyes an absolute proof of his Catholic god. The rebuttal to this particular line of argument involves understanding physics and extrapolating data to its ultimate conclusion. Essentially there was existence before there was what we know as spacetime today, and what we see as matter today existed then, perhaps in some other form. We don’t know what that form is or how the concept of before could be measured before there was time, but you can’t get something from nothing without god, ergo there was something before.
Unless you want to posit god, the continuance of existence is a fact due to the law of conservation of energy. In order for the bang to occur the matter had to be there to explode in the first place. You can’t have an explosion of nothing. An explosion of nothing is a miracle of godlike proportions, and positing god just adds the complexity of the creator of god and then his creator’s creator, in an infinite loop of creator beings that mirrors the common expression turtles all the way down. Either existence always was and always will be, or there is something else we don’t yet understand at play here, as far as the cosmos is concerned.
As a baseline, our understanding of what is occurring really is in question. What we casually refer to as dark matter and dark energy makes up most of what we refer to equally as casually as the universe. Dark matter is no more certain to be one simple thing than dark energy is. These are merely placeholders like unobtainium, a number to plug into the missing holes in our understanding of the universe. We don’t know what most of the universe is made up of, and we don’t know what kind of energy is pushing it to expand at the rates that we can measure from astronomical observations. We simply can’t see everything we need to see to understand the universe at a fundamental level.
In much the same fashion, black holes exist both in this spacetime and outside of it. The Schwarzschild boundary marks the point at which normal space ceases to exist. Inside that radius we can’t know what is occurring because spacetime breaks down beyond that point. We can, and do, theorize as to what occurs and maybe, someday, we will be able to test some of these theories. But until we can go and directly measure a black hole what we are left with is mathematical proofs that we must accept as true because the math is valid to the extent that we understand it. In the meantime we have found black holes in our observation of the universe, so their existence is an established fact, much like the matter that we can calculate is present in them even though we can’t see them directly. That is the part of them that is outside of our spacetime, the matter we can’t see because it passed the Schwarzschild radius and is invisible beyond the lensing effect of that radius.
The above is simply the prequel of this entry to the blog. The bare minimum explanation that I feel I need to include before even linking the podcast that spawned this little jaunt down hypothetical lane.
Inquiring Minds is a show that I listen to pretty regularly. There have been two or three episodes that I passed up over the run of the series, but as a rule I try to give them a listen because I find their reliance on science to be pretty solid. This episode though, this episode pushed the limits for me. I liked the conversation, but I disagree with the conclusions that Sean Carroll comes to in the episode. Conclusions that he states with far more certainty than we can possibly justify, even with my limited knowledge of the math involved. We simply don’t know how the universe will end, or even that it will end. We don’t know that it ever began, either. He said as much in the podcast, but then he went on to repeat the heat death story that most physicists fall back on these days.
If any part of string theory is real then there are other dimensions to spacetime than the four dimensions that we currently can measure. In any one of the many other possible dimensions, gravity may have effects that we can’t predict and that gravity might very well exert forces that would explain some of the measurements that we currently mask with the labels dark matter and dark energy. To phrase it the way I prefer to think about it, the universe is currently accelerating into the big bang. The universe is a nearly indescribably complex toroidal shape, in my estimation, but even that is a gross oversimplification. Hawking radiation hasn’t been demonstrated to exist, so black holes don’t necessarily evaporate away. Nor do we know that space without mass and time is really a thing that exists at all. What we can say is that the universe appears to have sprang from what we think is on the other side of a black hole.
Who is to say it isn’t the same one at both ends? I’m certainly not well-versed enough in the math required to argue this conjecture knowledgeably. What I’m attracted to is the poetry, the symmetry of the circular rhythm created by the universe expanding and contracting over eternity, spawning and collapsing the multiverse or many worlds hypothesis that seems to be the most promising explanation for observed quantum effects that we’ve come up with. Maybe, just maybe, they are occurring simultaneously on different dimensions.
May 2020. I’ve seen two articles this week on the subject of dethroning the Big Bang Theory. I tried to post this article on a group as a reply to one of those posts, but it was rejected, even as a comment. This blog entry isn’t about god or even the god of the gaps, something I was accused of by the harridan that rejected the original post. The story of my poor benighted Catholic opponent and his mistaking learning for understanding was just the hook to get the reader to the point where they might read and understand my objections to Sean Carroll’s insistence that the heat death of the universe was something that could occur.
I understand that Sean Carroll thinks the evidence points at this, but I still can’t see how there can be existence (the universe) without matter and energy to make existence possible. The moment that the last ounce of energy is expended, the last free electron compressed with the last free proton into neutronium and consumed by a black hole, there isn’t a universe left to die. It simply ceases to exist in any measurable way.
In much the same way that I think scientists don’t understand what their data is telling them, I don’t think that the detractors of the Big Bang Theory understand the weight of the evidence behind the theory.
The point of the book is that the Big Bang theory has a solid track record of explaining well-established facts about the Universe, …If you want to challenge the Big Bang theory, you’d better be able to explain the basics before you have a shot at explaining mysteries like dark matter.
If you want to dethrone the Big Bang Theory, you have some heavy lifting to do. Explaining the earliest fraction of a second after the bang? Good luck. How long was that first second? How do you measure time before there was space as we know it to measure it with? Before there was energy at understandable levels?That sort of math is way beyond my pay grade.
The two authors of the book The Cosmic Revolutionary’s Handbook are so tired of answering questions from people who hate the Big Bang Theory that they wrote a primer for all those people who aspire to take the theory down. A more scholarly breakdown of the problem can be found at Astronomy: Is the Big Bang in crisis? It really isn’t a crisis concerning the cyclical nature of the universe we observe. Explain that first second. Go right ahead and try. Don’t tell me about it though. I’ll wait for the scientists to take the theory apart. That is what science is.
The ending of this article is now about the beginning, just as the beginning of the article is about the ending. Cyclical, see? Just like the universe.
Throwing off the baggage of revealed knowledge. We don’t need its dead weight any longer.
This is a story about a title, a phrase. It is the story of an an idea and about disbelief in general. It is also a story about how the best of intentions can go so horribly wrong when you promote an idea to a prejudiced group, an idea that you don’t quite understand yet yourself. It is also a story about a label and who will willingly wear it.
Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.
Once upon a time there was a forum at Dan Carlin’s podcast website. The forum has since been deleted, and the posts only sporadically appear in the Wayback Machine. It’s hit or miss to find any of the almost six thousand posts I logged there over the decade or more I haunted the forums. For a very long time I considered those forums the best place, the only place, to go to argue politics and philosophy. I was probably always wrong on that score, as I was wrong on so many other scores back then, but it felt almost like home for a period of a few years. Before it turned sour. Before it was dominated by the hateful few who had successfully driven off the thinkers there.
I discovered Dan Carlin’s podcasts, Common Sense and Hardcore History through an advertisement on Freetalk Live, back in the days when I was a hardcore Libertarian idealist. Back when I would show up to argue things I didn’t understand with people I didn’t understand and couldn’t figure out. I was lucky if I could extract a rebuttal from the cryptic lines of text they would type in reply to my (in my mind) clearly worded arguments. It took many years and lots of fumbling to realize that what I thought was clearly worded was generally the same mish-mash of disconnected and unconnectable personal anecdotes turned into text strings that I was presented with by other members of that and other forums. Groups of the blissfully unsuspecting that I would descend on like a vengeful wraith of anarchist freedom gone mad, sputtering coded gibberish that I’m sure most people couldn’t even wrap their heads around. At least, that is how it seems in hindsight.
Dan Carlin was one of the pioneers of what is now a burgeoning industry of informational and news podcasts, and I was an early listener of his starting with about the thirtieth podcast of Common Sense. I signed up for his community forum in January of 2007. I made enemies almost immediately and was driven off by old-timers there a few times. I was driven off only to return the next time Dan posted a Common Sense show that I wanted to argue about. I say driven off because that is what was happening. Dan Carlin had and still has some quaint ideas about the value of input from those uninterested in conversation, what most of the world today labels as trolls. I wasn’t above trolling in my own way, but I never understood why clear attempts to end conversation were never stopped by the many moderators present on the forum. It was years later that I realized that they were never going to do anything about these trolls. Dan Carlin’s expressed opinion on the subject of freedom of speech was that everyone had a right to speak even when that speech was specifically intended to disrupt. As my willingness to be verbally assaulted waxed and waned, and as the membership in the group altered and new people appeared to take the place of old adversaries, I would come and go infrequently.
I would come and go infrequently that is until episode 172, an episode I retitled Texas SBOE Destroys Education; an essay that I posted to this blog at the time and also posted to the forum. In that podcast Dan appears to suggest that creationism could be successfully taught alongside modern scientific theories about the history and future of the universe, a point which he quickly denied on the forums and yet remains exactly as I stated in the podcast. When I protested that the last thing that should be done was to compromise the scientific method in such a fashion, I was immediately laid upon by a large section of the forum’s membership, an overwhelming number of which were christians (like the majority of American society itself) christians who wanted their views taught in school as if their beliefs were the unassailable truth. Truth with a capital T, better than the results of scientific inquiry. (Christianists. –ed.)
After being badgered for days about how science is itself ultimately unprovable in a post-modernist sense, after being badgered for my atheism and how atheism also makes claims about reality which cannot be proven, I created a secondary thread with the title Atheism is Not a Belief System. I honestly thought I’d at least get the rest of the atheists on the forums on board with this subject line. I mean, not having a belief in a thing isn’t itself a belief, right?
Part of the problem was mine. It took years for me to distinguish between those offering friendly criticism and those who were militantly convinced that all atheists were of the devil. The last group was pretty clearly demarcated because most of them were incoherent even though they offered walls of text as explanations. It was during the attempted shepherding of this rolling orgy in a cesspool that a lot of my current attitudes towards substandard attempts to troll, incoherent if firmly believed arguments, and just plain bad attempts to be funny were formed. Since the people trolling the thread to silence conversation were never going to be punished by the administrators of the forum, I was forced to simply block the trolls who could not be reasoned with. I blocked the dangerously deranged and mildly threatening alike, attempting to force the thread onto the course that the title implied, all to no avail. The militant christians of the forum made it a religion thread, until I finally gave them what they wanted. I changed the title to That Religion Thread. This was the first of several subject lines I gave it. Every one of the new names I came up with were blatant attempts to murder the thread. I would change the title and the OP’s contents to reflect what the forum’s participants were saying at the other end of the (then 400 page) thread, and I did that several times over the course of years. The effort was largely ineffective, although I did get the thread to roll briefly off the front page of the forum once. Once.
As I became more and more disillusioned with the concept of online arguments per se, I spent less and less time on the one board that I had ever managed to get a foothold in. In the end my cutting wit would get me banned from just about every forum I joined. If I was not banned outright, I would simply submit to the pressure to leave. I’ve never been one to overstay my welcome. This eventually became true at Dan Carlin’s forum as well. The only time I came back was when someone would resurrect the zombie atheism thread specifically to get us old-timers (now I was one of them) to come back and argue about something. The orifice-plugging spectacle reached a staggering 608 pages in length before Dan pulled the plug on the forum itself, finally admitting what I had attempted to illustrate to him several times; that some form of authority is required for a productive conversation to occur. He has now moved his community to Facebook, where any user can remove anybody for any reason they please from a conversation. This also impedes productive conversations, but at least those threatening your life can be kept from seeing your activity online there.
That is the story so far, the history of the title of this piece without the meat of the argument for it. Congratulations if you’ve made it this far. I will now attempt to codify six hundred and eight pages of sporadic on-topic posts into one sound argument that I think will cover the ground intended. I’d like to hope that it turns out better than the time I told my mom I don’t want to talk about god anymore, I’d rather talk about something important, but please don’t hold your breath waiting to see if it will work. I’m not going to hold my breath so I wouldn’t expect anyone else to, either.
Part of the problem of outlining this argument is that, for me, the argument has always been transparently easy to understand. Ever since first discovering that belief in god wasn’t universal, way, way back when, back in the days of Sunday school religious indoctrination, grade school prayers and mandatory church attendance for the children while the parents stayed home and slept in. Back in the olden days before the internet and cable television, the days when you had to read books to learn anything, and you had to know which books told you what thing you needed to know to even be able to pull off that herculean task. But it was bound to happen eventually. As a voracious reader who wouldn’t have minded living at the library, I was going to run across the fact that some people didn’t believe in god in some book somewhere.
Reading Bertrand Russell and Winston Churchill as a teenager was my introduction to disbelief. Black Velvet is the name Winston Churchill gave to the afterlife. A featureless non-consciousness with no experience of time. Eternal dreamless sleep. Rather than instantly converting me to atheism, the idea that there was an ending to existence scared the crap out of me. I doubled down and became a born-again christian, crawling to the front of the church in my desperation to believe the way everyone around me seemed to believe. The way my grandparents believed and were so happy with. I wanted to be like them.
But it was useless. I was never going to believe the way they did because I wasn’t them. I also wasn’t my parents who cheerfully packed us up and sent us to church with the grandparents while they went back to sleep. I had questions and I wanted answers to those questions, even if the answers to those questions scared the crap out of me. It wasn’t until I found a kindred spirit in the form of the Wife that I knew that it would be OK to simply admit that I didn’t believe the fairy tales written in the holy books that everyone took so seriously. Our children have never set foot in a church unless we went with them; which means they’ve been to several weddings and several funerals at churches and not much else. So I proved I was not like my parents or my grandparents to my children and to myself.
But what does it mean, Atheism? Is it different than Agnosticism? What about Freethought? The answer to those questions is that every single person who takes on one of those labels has some different conceptualization of what the label means to them, exactly like any other descriptive term applied to any individual whether that term applies to sex, gender, race, religion, job function or area of study and thousands of other quantifying parameters that I can’t be bothered to mention. So if I tell you atheism means “X” I’ll get a majority of atheists who will probably disagree with me the moment I state it that concretely.
What my years of shepherding that thread proved to me is that the devil is in the details of the phrase Atheism is not a Belief System. Depending on how you define atheism, you will or won’t agree with it being a belief, let alone a belief system, which itself has a definition that most people will argue with you about.
A belief is an attitude that something is the case, or that some proposition about the world is true. (Wikipedia) A belief system comprises a set of mutually supportive beliefs. The beliefs of any such system can be religious, philosophical, political, ideological, or a combination of these. (Wikipedia) There are things which are beyond the level of mere belief. The kind of things that go unquestioned and so are never even things you consciously believe in. The spiritually minded call that faith. Faith or trust can be used almost interchangeably by the average person. There is no fundamental difference between the two words.
There are things which are not faiths or beliefs or trusts. There are things which simply are. Things that simply are can be questioned and their nature will be revealed by the interrogation. Gravity exists, even though science cannot currently explain it. The Earth rotates around the sun and also rotates on its axis. This gravitational relationship causes the sun to appear to rise every single day, and this arrangement has persisted for the entire length of recorded time. None of us need to believe the sun will rise, it simply does the thing it does just like dropped objects will fall to the ground. If they don’t fall then you aren’t on Earth. What is the weather like in space? Believing the sun will rise is a waste of brain energy, just as believing in gravity is a waste of brain energy. Things that can be demonstrated don’t have to be believed to be true, they simply are true.
Christianity is a belief system. The system parameters involve accepting some basic tenets of the faith. Jesus Christ is the savior. He was born of a virgin. He is part of a triumvirate made up of the father, son and holy ghost. These rules were worked out in deep lines of blood over the course of centuries, and still there are those who want to be called christian and yet not believe in these three basic things.
Islam is a belief system. I don’t know it as well, having been raised a protestant christian in the middle of the bible belt, but Islam’s basic tenets are that Muhammad is the last prophet of god and that the Qu’ran is the word of god set down by him. What is in the book and the associated writings of historical mullahs makes up the system that constrains Islamic faith.
Every single religion has a book or philosophy associated with it that constrains it. Very few people before the enlightenment era in Europe (1800’s) knew what was written in the books that Catholics and Protestants venerated, and even today reading the Qu’ran in any language aside from Arabic is considered problematic by many islamic sects. So if you don’t speak and read Arabic, you won’t know what is in that book even now. That’s not to say that the books are not available, even to disbelievers, but that very few people actually read the books that contain the rules defining the religion they ascribe to. This leads to its own set of problems, but in the end even the hucksters who misuse tradition are constrained by the rules they invent to describe their variation of the religion they promote.
This is not true of atheism. I didn’t always think this way. When I was first liberated from the need to feign belief in the father/son/holy ghost I wanted to proclaim my atheism to the world. I wanted to evangelize like the christians that I was surrounded by did. I wanted to be able to check atheist off on the religion list and say “see, I don’t believe in your god.” That thread on Dan Carlin’s BBS was an outgrowth of my desire to tell everyone that their god was bullshit. I was an anti-theist.
Then I discovered that not all atheists were attempting to understand what it was they believed and why; they were not dreaming of themselves as amateur philosophers. They weren’t even people who were interested in knowing how they knew things. They simply believed like religious people believe, never questioning the fundamentals of what it was they believed. Some of them were not anti-theist. My experiences there changed my attitudes and thus changed me from an anti-theist to an atheist to a freethinker. But now I’m getting ahead of myself.
Even if I venture to define the word atheism there is no set of rules that an atheist can be punished with that constrains what an atheist believes or doesn’t believe about the universe. Other atheists will tell you that’s not atheism but they have no ability whatsoever to make you stop claiming you are an atheist. There is no rules committee that will kick you out, no authority that will seek to force you to conform, no structure of any kind aside from simply being willing to refer to yourself as an atheist and suffer the consequences. Consequences inflicted by believers everywhere.
Now I will move on to hazard a definition of atheism. I’m going to cite a source rather than walk out on that limb all by myself:
Atheism, in a broad sense, is the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. Strong atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Most inclusively, atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists.
Atheism, theism being the root word and a- being added to denote the lack of. A lack of belief in gods. Even that broadest of definitions will get some atheists’ panties in a wad, and they will definitely squall at my insistence that a lack of belief is not itself a system of belief. There are many, many atheists out there which share nothing in common with me aside from the fact that neither of us believe in gods. There are even some who believe in things which aren’t gods and also aren’t demonstrable by science, but that is another discussion and an entirely different article.
Atheism, as a mode of critical thinking, is loosely congruent with skepticism. Skeptics and atheists both question things that the vast majority of humanity agrees to, but that is about as far as their agreement goes. There is far more agreement between humanists and atheists in general than there is between atheism and skepticism, the latter being quite capable of disbelieving things which are actually demonstrable. Skeptics can simply dispute the findings of science. Like atheists, you can argue with those people about what it is they believe and why, but they will still call themselves skeptics anyway. Groups like The Skeptics Guide to the Universe combat that kind of silliness, but it’s a never ending game of whack-a-mole trying to keep the disbelievers from using skepticism as a cover. This is why I don’t identify as a skeptic even though I am skeptical of just about everything I hear, read or see.
Humanism arose in the enlightenment era, along with the re-emergence of atheism from the hiding that a millennium of persecution by Catholic Europe had forced it into. Humanism quickly split into two factions; Religious Humanism and Rationalist Humanism. Religious Humanism became loosely affiliated with Deism, both of which have almost vanished into history. Rationalist Humanism rebranded itself as Secular Humanism, and if you were going to point to an atheist belief system, Secular Humanism is its standard bearer. But not all atheists are comfortable with the Humanist moniker, making humanism its own belief system, functionally different than the looser term atheist:
When people talk about “isms,” they are referring to some “distinctive doctrine, theory, system, or practice” like liberalism, communism, conservatism, or pacifism. Atheism has the suffix “ism,” so it belongs in this group, right? Wrong: the suffix “ism” also means a “state, condition, attribute, or quality” like pauperism, astigmatism, heroism, anachronism, or metabolism. Is astigmatism a theory? Is metabolism a doctrine? Is anachronism a practice? Not every word that ends in “ism” is a system of beliefs or an “ism” in the way people usually mean it. Failure to realize this can be behind other errors here.
When pressed by believers to explain what atheists believe, I am frequently forced to reference other sources as a bulwark for the concepts I’m trying to relate. Believers rely on the sureness of the majority to justify the things they believe. The empirical nature of human experience justifies doing this right up to the point where we start talking about things we believe but cannot prove directly. A freethinker cannot rely on the comfort of the majority because a freethinker has none to fall back on. A freethinker must be able to tie what they think to concretes that are demonstrable so that the believer will be unable to disbelieve the thing being demonstrated. An agnostic will simply claim no knowledge on subjects they cannot demonstrate. Agnosticism is useful when conducting experiments, I’ve used it several times myself when running experiments that I really want to understand the outcomes of. But I am not agnostic about the subject of the existence of god. I have found no proof for the existence of god.
Test it yourself. The next time you are asked to pray, don’t close your eyes and bow your head. Notice anything? No sense of otherness? No sense of being in the presence of some greater power? Look around. Do you see those other unbowed heads? They too question the existence of god, but not enough to stop going to church. To synagogue. To the mosque. Why do we do this? Jesus said that we should do our praying in private. Why do we insist we must pray in public? Force others to pray in public? Enforced compliance? Discipline that forces the next generation to tread the exact same path we were forced to tread? Break that mold and see what is outside of it, you might like it.
When you observe the beauty of nature, realize that the beauty is anchored in naturally evolved healthy forms. That is why fungus and disease repulse us. Not because they are supernaturally evil, but because they are evolved systems just like the human form; co-evolutionary systems that our evolved brains recognizes on some subliminal level as harmful.
The observation by Jonathan Ross in the video above (within the first ten minutes) that he was reluctant to refer to himself as an atheist because he didn’t see the need to define himself by what he didn’t believe in or scarcely thought about is offered as the same reason that I prefer to be tagged with the label freethinker these days. Freethinker describes my process for coming to accept facts that I encounter. Atheist merely relates my lack of belief in gods. We as humans do not all agree on the importance of faith, of having faith or of belief of any kind, and it becomes imperative that those of us who question the rampant religiosity of today’s political climate to stand up and object to it. If we want to be successful in our objections, we have to not alienate the people we hope to persuade. Not adopting monikers that come pre-loaded with hatred is one of the basic things we can do to achieve this goal. Freethinker is more subtle. Freethinker is so subtle that I have encountered christians in Facebook Freethinking groups who are unaware that freethinkers in general are atheists. Are atheists because there is little rational reason to profess a belief in gods beyond a nod to the concerns raised by deists.
What is the purpose in life? Why are we alive? Here? Now? None of these questions are the kinds of things that atheism can offer answers for. Belief in a universal god, a natural god, does lend some quietude to those kinds of epistemological questions. Deism or Spinozism can be bedrock to anchor the unquiet mind upon, but most believers remain unsatisfied with a deity that they cannot ask favors of. A maker who doesn’t hate the same things the believer hates, love the same thing the believer loves. Spinoza was himself ejected from Jewish society for atheism. There wasn’t enough of god left for the believers to believe in, apparently.
The United States was founded by people escaping religious persecution. Religious people who turned right around and persecuted their own people for not adhering to the doctrines that had been imported with them. The few who have stopped to question traditional beliefs, people like Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Paine, have been ridiculed down through history for their disbelief (in the case of Paine) or qualified belief (in the case of Jefferson) at the same time they are celebrated for the things that lead to the creation of the United States. A godless country founded on a godless constitution. Godless for good reason; because persecution of the people through authority not founded on demonstrable principles of justice is what lead them to leave the places they came from. The rich heritage of disbelief that is this country’s birthright is being forgotten, buried under mountains of false piety, demagoguery and self-righteousness.
The judicious application of Occam’s Razor to the mountains of bullshit we are confronted with on an hourly basis in this information age is a life-saving necessity. If we don’t learn how to find air in this ocean of data, we will drown for lack of sense. These observations bring me to the core of the argument. The argument that Atheism is not a Belief System.
There is a specific piece of baggage that believers want to saddle all non-believers with. That is the baggage of revealed knowledge. Atheists are equally in the dark because they cannot know the things they claim to know. There is an intellectually rigorous approach to knowledge which questions the basis of that knowledge. This is commonly referred to in professional circles as performing your due diligence; researching your precepts to make certain they are valid. Insofar as atheism resembles agnosticism (no knowledge of) on the subject of the existence or nonexistence of a generic god, a Deist or Spinozan god, one can say with a respectable level of certainty I know this. Consequently non-believers are not in the same boat as believers. Even the average religious believing person can escape that boat, the boat of claiming certainty for things they don’t actually know, if they simply adopt this intellectual rigor for themselves. As a recent news article summarized, be willing to adopt and use the phrase I don’t know.
This argument about atheism is at its root a legal argument. Can you prove the things you believe? Can you demonstrate the existence of god beyond a shadow of a doubt? Believe whatever crazy thing you want to believe, just don’t tell me I have to believe like you, or believe anything at all without providing some kind of proof to back up the claims that are made. Why would I take a different stand? I pick my battles carefully. I created that thread on Dan Carlin’s BBS forum all those years ago with this specific argument in mind. Never mind that the SNAFU (Situation Normal: All Fucked Up) continued around me beyond my ability to control it for year after year. It was the attempt to place the onus of revealed knowledge as a shared burden on the shoulders of all humanity that I initially rebelled against. You, dear reader may disagree with me, but I think I can finally say I’m happy with the argument I’ve laid out here. The defense rests, your honor.
It is a testament to how many times I’ve rehearsed this argument in my head that this post comes pre-equipped with an addendum. Many of the arguments thrown at me in the past have been incorporated in the longer post that appears today on my blog. Much longer and much better thought out than my stumbling attempts to communicate what I thought were simple ideas all those years ago.
Still, I know what kinds of arguments I didn’t incorporate, and what kinds of objections I’ve seen in the past and already have rebuttals for. Hitler was not an atheist and atheists don’t kill people for having a religion. That argument figured highly in numbers of mindless repetitions, but it was a stupid argument so I won’t write about it here. Austin Cline who wrote for About.com at the dawn of the internet age has written much more about this subject than I ever will. Go read his work if you just have to have that argument addressed right here and now. I will, however, take a few extra paragraphs to deflate a few of the better thought out counters that I’ve run across in the past. I will be saving everyone some time and frustration this way. No one needs more frustration, and everyone wants more time these days.
I’m going to start at the beginning. There is a segment of the human population who are simply afraid of atheists. Atheophobia is a thing. I’ve met quite a few of them over the years. When I run into new ones these days I can almost be bored while hitting the block button. Almost. Fear of atheists is very real and predominates a lot of political rhetoric in the world today. There is no group more targeted than the disbeliever other than the sects of the majority’s own religion, sects that are considered threatening to those in power. Once those troublemakers are out of the way, the atheists are the main targets of hostility. We dare to say the emperor wears no clothes, and believers cannot produce the emperor’s garments or even the emperor himself in order to disprove the assertion. Fear of atheists is the basis for most of the arguments that follow.
The more determined philosophy majors decided early on to make a career out of repeating specific arguments, relying on the casual reader’s ignorance of a specific subject, philosophy and its arcane word usage and definitions, to allow their falsities to go unchallenged. If you really want to know something about fallacies and what constitutes one, here’s a list. Specifically, the Argument from Ignorance was oft-cited, so I feel that it warrants specific mention:
Argument from ignorance, also known as argumentum ad ignorantiam or “appeal to ignorance” (where “ignorance” stands for: “lack of evidence to the contrary”), is a fallacy in informal logic. It asserts that a proposition is true because it has not yet been proven false, it is “generally accepted” (or vice versa). This represents a type of false dichotomy in that it excludes a third option, which is that there is insufficient investigation and therefore insufficient information to prove the proposition satisfactorily to be either true or false.
Argument from Ignorance is an informal fallacy; which means, the argument could also be true and still be fallacious. Life is a series of imperfect decisions based on partial knowledge, and that’s when things are most certain. The least certain involves a coin flip and deciding whether you want to believe the coin’s conclusion or doubt it. One can possess good reasons for thinking that something doesn’t exist, an idea captured by Bertrand Russell’s teapot, the analogy I started this article with. However, the existence of a creator god, or much more, a specific religious conception of the creator god, would fall under the arena of pragmatism (Occam’s Razor, the law of parsimony) wherein a position must be demonstrated or proven in order to be upheld, and therefore the burden of proof is on the argument’s proponent. That is, the person who wants you to believe in a thing has to prove that thing is true or real. In this case, a god.
Believers will frequently fall back to Pascal’s wager next. “Ah,” they’ll say, “but if you believe in god you get to go to heaven. So it’s safer to believe in god and not go to hell.” In a side note about my personal journey to freethought, Hell was one of the first concepts that I discarded, and I did this for my own sanity. Which version of god is the god I need to believe in? This is important because if you postulate that avoidance of hell is the goal, you need to be sure to observe the right rules and not the wrong ones. Since religious texts are generally self-contradictory given enough time and permutation of belief, you really can’t know from them which laws to follow and which ones not to. How can you possibly know how not to end up in hell?
As for that, I deemed that if god was love then hell had to be of our own creation; literally, if you are living in hell you had a hand in making it, in its continuance. I can understand why suffering people don’t just kill themselves. I’ve been disabled and stricken with vertigo and migraines on a regular basis for ten years and more. But if you experience hell, you are the one that can change that experience. No one else will be as capable as you are of correcting your personal dilemma. You don’t go to hell when you die. That would not be the actions of a loving god. You would find perfection hellish if what you value is not the values of the inhabitants of the afterlife.
It was a close place. I took . . . up [the letter I’d written to Miss Watson], and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up. It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming.
After discarding the human-made construct of hell, I could breath a lot easier and it made the rest of the argument that much easier to deal with. A believer might well object “you can’t just get rid of hell,” but the truth is that you can. In the christian religion everyone has a personal god. You take god into your heart and if you listen to him he tells you the truth. Listen to your heart. You’ll hear it say “there is no hell” unless you need to punish others so much that you cannot let the concept go. If you can’t then I really do feel sorry for you.
The next target in the argument for god varies radically based on the personal experience of the believer. A favorite argument of my past tormentors was the concept that evidence proves something. They would call evidentialism into question, as if the requiring of evidence before ascribing to a certain belief is somehow suspect or disqualifying. Contrary to the hand waving excuses I’ve heard repeatedly, requiring evidence before believing something is a generally accepted practice for anything not involving high-browed philosophy and religion.
While no sensible epistemologists generally urge people to disregard their evidence when forming beliefs…
An oft-retyped summation of my willingness to accept evidence as proof runs as follows; while gravity may only be a theory, I wouldn’t suggest jumping off a tall building and expecting to float. Evidence dictates you will fall to the earth at a pretty predictable rate and cease to exist in a living state pretty shortly after contact with a hard surface. Please note that not only are all the concepts in this summation open to question if you start questioning evidentialism, but I could just as easily be describing how to bake a cake as I am trying to communicate a crucial fundamental understanding of the universe. Gravity exists whether you believe in it or not.
“Correlation is not causation but it sure is a hint.”
I think this came up in relation to an argument about the Big Bang origin of the universe and whether or not all the stuff in the bang existed before the bang. Physics will tell you it had to exist before time/space existed or else there wouldn’t be a universe to exist now. So there was a before before space/time. What that might be is a matter of the highest speculation, but then we are talking about the suggested existence or non-existence of a creator god here. Hard to beat the infinite regress of creator gods to explain the previous creator god, much more likely is the infinite string of universes coalescing and dispersing in their own little space/time bubbles. Turtles all the way down as the saying goes.
Finally, the last argument worth mentioning is “Granted you can’t prove god exists; but then how do you prove love exists?” I always assumed the believer was wanting me to capitulate in a sobbing mess and swear my everlasting love for god almighty in light of this observation. I mean, you have to grant that love exists without proof, right? Except that you really don’t. This is one of the oldest problems in human existence, the foundation of what is responsible for more killing than every war in history. Does she love me? Does he love me?Luckily, science has an answer for that:
The researchers said that their study, entitled Love-related changes in the brain: a resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging study, had successfully obtained the “first empirical evidence of love-related alterations in brain functional architecture”.
There you have it, proof that love really exists. Yes, I know, I’ve just destroyed all of romanticism.
As an atheist or freethinker or agnostic or skeptic or whatever disbelieving label I choose to adopt later, I don’t have to prove the infinite nature of the universe, or the non-existence of an intelligent hand in it’s creation. I don’t have to prove these things any more than any believer is capable of proving that the opposite is true. That is the nature of a belief, as opposed to a fact or knowledge. I can freely believe in the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) I can even refer to you that group’s website, venganza.org. I don’t have to provide one shred of evidence for the FSM’s existence to have a belief in him; or for that matter, to have him represented at any event in which participation by varying beliefs is encouraged. That was the purpose for which the FSM was created. A religion based on eating pasta, drinking beer and love for everyone. In the FSM, disbelievers finally came up with a god worth believing in.
The FSM is just the latest in a series of fanciful creations presented in an attempt to prove to believers that they were pretending that they could know things that can’t be known. A host of previous creatures that include the original satanism church, pink unicorns and the floating teapot mentioned previously all leading up to the FSM and Pastafarianism. May the blessings of his noodly appendages be upon you. All of these creations purposefully misunderstood by the believers who encounter them and refuse to understand. Believers who protest “you’re just being silly.” Yes. We aren’t the only ones that observation can be applied to.
The demand for certainty is one which is natural to man, but is nevertheless an intellectual vice. So long as men are not trained to withhold judgment in the absence of evidence, they will be led astray by cocksure prophets, and it is likely that their leaders will be either ignorant fanatics or dishonest charlatans. To endure uncertainty is difficult, but so are most of the other virtues.
General wordsmithing throughout and the addition of the atheophobia section – 03/24/2018. Added a sentence declaring why I was better acquainted with christianity to the Islam paragraph, and added a link to my origin of the universe postulation in the addendum 10/15/2018. Migration to WordPress – 1/7/2019. Added Pastafarianism doesn’t kill image – 2/23/2019. Added the TAM2012 youtube link, updated links to current blog location – 4/22/2019. Redirected some links from archive.org to blog posts created on the blog from the archives records. Other minor wordsmithing. Recreated the quote from About.com for “is atheism an ism?” after finding it in the Wayback Machine again. Added the war in the name of atheism link and descriptive sentences to the first paragraph of the addendum. Added seven states image and associated links – 7/28/2019. Added Bertrand Russell end quote and the featured image with a link to the author of the image – 2/6/2020. Redirected the who kills more question to the article Atheism Kills that just went live on the blog as a recovered archive piece, wrote an intro paragraph to explain the wandering nature of the narrative, fixed the Mo teapot image link. – 02/29/2021. Added a definitional paragraph for beliefs. I almost can’t believe I had to do that. Added a paragraph for my abandonment of anti-theism. – 07/19/21
Does anyone else miss church Sunday after Sunday and feel guilty about it? My sleep cycle is so messed up; my days and nights are mixed up. Therefore, I can’t seem to wake up or get up for church on just three or four hours sleep. It’s been four Sundays now.
That was her question. An open question to a private group. Do I miss church and feel guilty about it? No. No, I’ve never felt guilty about missing church. I was never a church goer and not much of a believer either. What little belief I harbored flew away with chronic illness. Not having a fellowship to attend to is a problem with sufferers like me, though. Work was always my fellowship. For awhile I played MMOs and that gave me people to talk to but the last few years have left me mostly alone again. It’s not a healthy way to live.
This was her response to my comment,
I’ll pray that you’ll come to know God, and that you won’t blame him for your illness. He loves you. I hope you will find a Godly fellowship that can and will comfort you.
No offense, but I don’t hate god. I don’t hate nature either, and nature is why this affliction exists. Not gods or demons. Nature created it and we creatures of nature will have to figure out how to cure it, and we creatures of nature will have to learn how to cope with it in the meantime. I have been an atheist and a freethinker for most of my adult life. Gods and demons represent nothing more than the chimera of wishful thinking in the reality that I occupy.
Fellowship does not require god or church. Fellowship is to be found anywhere like-minded people are found. The Facebook group I posted this in felt like a place of fellowship, and I was thankful for it while it lasted.
Her question reminded me of just how hopeless and alone I felt back in 2006, back before Facebook was the monolith it is now, a place where any fractional group of like-minded people can find fellowship if they only go looking. It reminded me of the day a friend of mine convinced me to play World of Warcraft and probably saved my life in the process.
Fellowship is where you find it.
The belief that “flew away” when I lost my faith was a belief in the justness of life. That sickness could be avoided by clean living. That miracle cures were possible. That success came to those who worked hard and saved for the future. All of these things are lies we tell ourselves in order to feel better about why we are doing better than the people around us. Why we are doing better, until the day that we aren’t.
We need each other in ways that most Americans are uncomfortable admitting. This is another thing that makes me sad. The resolute self-sufficiency, the dream of the average American, is a chimera of prideful loneliness. That was one hard lesson to learn for me.
Editor’s note. I left that Meniere’s group years ago now (5/10/2020) The predominance of woo in the group and the blind faith of its promoters finally made me feel sick to even be there anymore. I’ve since gone back to playing MMOs for the feeling of fellowship it brings. It is about the only reason I’m still playing World of Warcraft.
What’s a common misconception about history that you wish more people didn’t state as fact? Obviously, the myth that is being told by religious apologists, that the Third Reich and Stalinist SU were supposedly atheist dictatorships.
Hardcore History Group
Of course, the first response he got to this assertion was that the Soviet Union was atheist and that Hitler was an atheist. I’m not going to talk about Hitler here. His religious views are well documented. Here is the wiki article devoted just to that topic. Hitler was not an atheist. But Stalin did toe the Marxist line and adopt a pretense of atheism. There is room for argument on this subject.
It turns out to have come from the Hitchens vs. Hitchens: Faith, Politics & War debate. This video is queued up to the beginning of the question that Christopher Hitchens is in the middle of answering in the video offered by the OP:
I love Christopher Hitchens. I would love to be Christopher Hitchens, if it didn’t mean I had to give up being me in order to be him. Therein lies the problem with that personal dream of mine. I soldier on trying to live up to my ideal of the man anyway, knowing I will fail at my goal with every literary outing that I attempt. Failure is how you learn.
The OP’s detractor continued to insist that the Soviet Union practiced religious repression and so couldn’t possibly be considered to be religious in its goals, in much the same vein that the other Hitchens also tries to do if you listen on in the debate. In answering his brother I see Christopher Hitchens come as close to being nervous in his arguments as I have ever seen. I know now watching the whole debate why these debates between the two of them were popular. Sibling rivalry begins in the womb and doesn’t end until the grave. It is visible on Christopher’s face, and it is what gives his overmatched brother the verve to continue the fight for as long as the two of them held breath. It is quite the dance they engage in. Watch the whole thing if you have the time.
Religious repression is not in same ballpark as what Christopher Hitchens is pointing out in his answer. You take a nation of millions of penniless serfs who had been the property of various leaders prior to the time of the Russian revolution in 1917, serfs who believed the king of Russia, whom they call czar, which is literally caesar, the leader in Rome, head of the catholic church, except in Moscow or St. Petersburg, where he is head of the Russian Orthodox church, and the king of that country is anointed by god to lead their religion. Their king is the direct representative of their god and their king, their leader, is their only hope of ever seeing a day that isn’t filled with unrelenting misery. You expect those people to turn on a dime and stop believing because you suddenly declare atheism is the law of the land? That is a knee-slapper right there. A good joke, in Southern parlance.
They believed alright. They weren’t atheists and neither was Stalin an atheist. He thought he was god, just like so many dictators before and after him did, and his followers thought he was god, too. They may have called what they were atheist, but it wasn’t. What they believed was a religion in everything but name, including a bizarre personality cult around its leader and a communist sect trying to push their very own sense of ideological purity. The similarity to religion is uncanny.
This observation also applies to Mussolini, to Robespierre in France, etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseum. Cults of personality are by definitions a flavor of religion. That people who have a religion think theirs is the only thing that can be called a religion is a part of the basic misunderstanding present here.
Mussolini was famously an athiest and anti-clerical while Franco fought the Republcans, in part, because of their anti clerical acrivities. Hilter used a eviscerated state christianity as a political tool. It was non christian on most of the important stuff. So Fascists came in all stripes independent of religion. The Soviets also revived some orthodox practices as a morale builder during the war….. many regimes of all politcal stripe have used religion just as they have used many social insitutions for control. Nothing new, not religion’s fault
It is religion’s fault that these fascists were successful to exactly the extent that religion represents false belief that originates within authority that is then hijacked by populists and con artists bent on their own pursuits. The pulpit. The presidency. False belief that can be manipulated by authority, like the Prosperity Gospel is a manipulation by the wealthy to control the ignorant who think they work for the dollars the wealthy give them. They don’t work for dollars, they trade their time and effort for dollars. If you love your work you do it for free, it is just hard to feed your family with love and devotion. It takes dollars to do that, ergo trading time for dollars. Dollars that the government makes and could give to anyone. Or take away from anyone.
Attempting to suggest that belief can be separated from human action is where these arguments leave the rails. People kill for belief, do evil for belief. They don’t do these things if they don’t believe, and not believing in god (being an atheist) is not a reason to kill, QED.
So you’re assuming it is false and you have difficulty with authority. Wouldn’t someone who had no belief, and thus assume that moral decisions have no repercussions beyond the here and now also (as any human) be capable of evil? If authority uses food as a weapon (as Stalin did) or the police or the courts o the army (as they all do) does that mean there is something inherantly wrong with food or cops? People do evil things. Whether they have stone knives or nuclear bombs, churches or sewing circles, doesn’t matter. (How to define evil without moral absolutes or authority is another discussion)
Belief does not equal religion. Belief can be many things and take many forms. Belief that originates in authority and cannot be questioned is automatically suspect no matter the origin. As an atheist I believe many things, it just so happens none of those things relate to gods or their commandments as related by authority. Ergo atheism is not the cause of the problem as the people who make these kinds of arguments are attempting to suggest, because atheism doesn’t mean lack of belief but a lack of belief in gods. It is a specific kind of belief. Can atheists kill? Yes. Do they kill because they are atheists? No. They kill because they are human and are fallible. Or they kill because they are human and they feel threatened. Or any of a myriad of reasons, none of which are likely to be because they don’t believe in gods.
This is the much broader point Christopher Hitchens is actually making in the video clip. Blind obedience encouraged by religion and harnessed by leaders intent on doing evil leads to the kinds of outcomes that religious apologists then turn on their ear and blame on an unrelated part of Marxist dogma (and something entirely missing from fascism) atheism. Because it suits their broader argument of apologizing for religion. I’ll have none of that, thank you.
It is worth noting, as I add this article to the blog some four years after I wrote most of the text in this piece, that I actually agree with the first point that Peter Hitchens advances in the debate. I always have. Invading Iraq was always a bad idea and it was executed under bad intentions and it was Christopher Hitchens’ belief in the threat that he saw in Iraqi muslims and the person of the dictator Saddam Hussein that lead him to support the invasion in the first place.
The proof of the stupidity of invading Iraq only becomes clearer as we get further down this road in history. We have no idea what Saddam Hussein could have been had he been allowed to continue in power. What we do know is that he would never have had access to nuclear weapons of his own construction because we had destroyed his ability to make those weapons with the first war lead by George H. W. Bush. We figured out the lie that lead us into Iraq long after the deed had been done, too late to fix the error (it is still not too late to punish the criminals) Not invading Iraq would have made the emergence of ISIS from out of the disaffected former military leadership of Iraq an improbability. They might have emerged as the next leadership from within Iraq, but there is no way to know that now. We can’t know that, because that road through history isn’t the road we took.
On the road we took we ended up with another President trying to disengage us from the longest war in United States history, dealing with the revolutions that emerged across the region that our invasion had destabilized. The destruction of blood and treasure engaged in by George W. Bush in invading Iraq and Afghanistan lead to a collapse in the global economy and resulted in the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States some 15 years later on a mandate to do to America and the world what Stalin and Mao and Hitler and Mussolini etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseum, did to their countries previously. To make the United States Christian and to then make the rest of the world a direct possession of the United States through economic terrorism, wielding the common world currency, the dollar, as a weapon.
That is what the Evangelicals that backed Donald Trump demanded, and I have little doubt that Christopher Hitchens would have seen through that charlatan in a heartbeat. He would have reneged on his original stance as to the greatness of invading Iraq in much the same way that he changed his position on the subject of waterboarding as torture once he understood what waterboarding was and underwent the torture in order to understand it.
He died of cancer on December 15, 2011, and so we will never know what he would have thought of the rise of Donald Trump from the vestiges of the Moral Majority and Reaganism, and Donald Trump’s further attempts to prosecute wars against the Muslim threat that Evangelical America is still certain is out there waiting for them. Of course they are convinced of this. They have the same designs on those people’s hearth and home as they accuse the other of having. The standard playbook, something Hitch would have also recognized.
In writing out Atheism is Not a Belief System, I purposefully sidestepped the issue of “who kills more, atheists or christians?” because the exercise is a senseless mirror act of finger pointing. Humans kill, and they kill because they believe things. Some of those things that lead them to kill are orders from a higher power that those humans believe is their god. You can then say “ah, so you are engaging in a no true Scotsman fallacy by saying atheists are not mass murders.” and you would be right if I was saying that atheists don’t kill at all. Which is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that if you kill because someone told you to kill, and you think that person is your god, then you are killing for your religion and that is a reason to kill. I’ve said it several times now. Christopher Hitchens said the same thing with more words, and he said it repeatedly in just that one answer to that one question, and none of the people who disagreed with him would accept his answer as valid. If you still disagree then all I can suggest is that you become an atheist and try to kill in the name of the thing you don’t believe in and see if you can do it. Otherwise you will just have to take my word for it.
This popped up on Facebook as part of that sometimes annoying sometimes revealing On This Day function they’ve incorporated.
I had forgotten about this song having run across it so long ago. Not to argue with the joke involved in the song and title, but atheists have lots of songs if you mean an atheist wrote them. In actuality it is religion that has no songs; or at least no music,
I want to quote one humorous example that puts this idea to rest. I have had the good fortune of knowing a magnificent musician named Michael May, who was a virtuoso pianist, harpsichordist and organist. He did I don’t know how many “Messiahs” with me in Carnegie Hall with The Masterwork Chorus and Orchestra. To make a living he became a church organist. At one point during the communion, there were a lot of parishioners and he needed a lot of music. He ran out of music, so what he did was to take the score of “Carmina Burana”—how many of you are familiar with that? It’s a piece of music whose text has to do with lovemaking, debauchery, gambling and drinking. He played it slowly and softly, without the chorus, and nobody knew the difference. So without the words, you cannot tell whether or not a piece of music is intended to be religious.
There are thousands of atheists writing music and singing songs, even songs about atheists and atheism. I’ve talked about Tim Minchin in the past. Nearly every episode of Freethought Radio that I posted about back when I discovered podcasting features songs by atheists about atheists or at least music written by atheist composers.
If there ever is an atheist hymnal, it won’t be complete without a few songs from Shelley Segal. Dan Barker introduced me to her music on yet another episode of Freethought Radio, one that occurred after I had given up trying to illustrate the kinds of good information that was available in the podcast arena.
I wonder when you will start questioning all the bullshit everyone around you buys.
Words to live by. Turn to page 265 in the hymnals you can find on the backs of the pews in front of you and please sing along with me,
Thoughts are free, who can guess them? They fly by like nocturnal shadows. No person can know them, no hunter can shoot them with powder and lead: Thoughts are free!
I think what I want, and what delights me, still always reticent, and as it is suitable. My wish and desire, no one can deny me and so it will always be: Thoughts are free!
And if I am thrown into the darkest dungeon, all these are futile works, because my thoughts tear all gates and walls apart: Thoughts are free!
So I will renounce my sorrows forever, and never again will torture myself with whimsies. In one’s heart, one can always laugh and joke and think at the same time: Thoughts are free!
I love wine, and my girl even more, Only her I like best of all. I’m not alone with my glass of wine, my girl is with me: Thoughts are free!