In Defense of Reason

I wasn’t sure whether to post this here or not.  I really wasn’t sure what stand to take on politics or religion on this blog, as talking about either, supporting any side of the debate instantly alienates a portion of the audience.  However, since my audience currently stands at a record 11 views in one day, I feel like that isn’t much of a concern for me.  In general, I plan to stay away from those topics, but here, I feel like I should lay out my views, what makes me tick, etc., so you know what kind of person you’re dealing with.  If religious weirdness seriously offends you, I recommend not reading the below, unless you’d like to leave hateful comments.

I am not an atheist.  Within the circles I inhabit (i.e. geekish, computery, internet circles), this feels like a minority position.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t actively affiliate myself with a religion, and I believe in evolution and any other not-yet-disproven scientific principles just about as much as one can agree with them.  If I were to align my views with any specific faith it would probably be very close to Taoism, with Quakerism coming in as my nearest Western religion.  Some might say I’m almost a humanist, although I’m not going to delve into my spiritual beliefs at this point.  Rather, I feel inclined to list out some pet peeves I have about atheism.*

  • There are multiple faiths outside of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. So many times atheists will argue against the existence of God with something like “if God is a kind of loving God, why would he kill his only son?” or “if God talked to all those people in ancient times, why doesn’t he talk to us like that anymore?”  This could be considered a valid argument for a faith that holds that God is indeed kind and loving and killed his son (Jesus, I hope I don’t have to point out).  This is not, however, an argument against the existence of any sort of God.  In most Buddhist traditions, God is not personified.  In Taoism as well, there is no person God, but there is a force, the Tao, that not only surrounds people but includes people.  In other belief systems God does not have control over our lives, but he exists either outside our universe or as a creator of it.  So many times I’ve seen arguments that do a fine job of bringing down Christianity (there is an awful lot of killing in the Bible), a religion based on a book written by so many different authors, based on so many different “original copies” and subject to so much political meddling as to be somewhat questionable as a reliable source.  However, this does nothing to disprove the existence of any sort of God, just as disproving Bigfoot does not disprove the existence of primates.
  • Religion is a tool, not an opiate. Another argument I often see is “Christians killed millions of people in the Crusades, and now Muslims are killing people for their religion, there is no God.”  When I see this argument I instantly remember something Ralph Singh (a great man whom I sadly have little time to explain right now) said once: “There is no such thing as a Sikh terrorist, just as there is no such thing as a Christian terrorist or a Muslim terrorist”.  Calling oneself religious is not equatable to being true to a religion.  Historically, the Catholic church has indeed been held responsible for amazing tragedies.  People point to religion as a cause of the conflict without acknowledging the ultimate goals of these conflicts (the same as the ultimate goal for any conflict: power).  Religion, when manipulated by kings and warlords, can indeed be the “opiate of the masses,” as Karl Marx so lovingly labeled it.  Christians never attacked Jerusalem to kill godless heathens (although the illiterate masses were certainly duped into believing so), they attacked Jerusalem to plunder its wealth, and claim dominance over a holy landmark that could then be used to rally further support for the Catholic church, an institution which, at the time, was equally power-hungry as any feudal king or lord.  It is important to remember that there was not battle between Catholicism and Islam, there was a battle between people who called themselves Catholic and people who called themselves Muslim.  The driving force of the conflict is always people, greed, and powerlust.  God has never decreed anybody fit for death (unless you believe the Old Testament, but even mainstream Christians tend to shy away from all that Judges-like stuff).
  • Great things have been accomplished through religion. People focus on the negatives of religion, and it’s true that there have been a lot of deaths in the name of one God or another.  Never in those arguments is any statement made for any of the great people, truly modern heroes, who based a lot of their work on religion.  Mahatma Gandhi, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, Oscar Romero, the Dalai Lama, all believed very deeply in a God.  Every single one condemned any kind of violence, even when most people, even very rational, moral people, would have deemed it necessary.  And every one of them has found some sort of success in their mission.  It’s a shame that the work of tyrants is remembered when the work of saints (I use that term both secularly and spiritually) is forgotten or pushed aside.
  • Belief in God does demand responsibility. One of the most convincing arguments I have heard for atheism comes from Penn Jillette for the NPR segment “This I Believe” (you can read it here, I would suggest it).  He argues that the existence of God makes people less responsible.  Belief makes it so people can be cruel or unmoral and simply ask for forgiveness later.  This is a hard one to justify, but by going into personal beliefs (which I know I said I wouldn’t do), I can justify it to myself.  In my worldview, God is and there is nothing but God.  This means that every life, every object and every law of the universe, is a part of the same whole.  In essence, we are God.  In this theology, there is no forgiveness to be found above.  Everything I do, I do knowing full well that if I have to justify it, it won’t be to a peronsified God, it will be to myself, and to whoever is affected.  I believe that this is the one leap of faith I have made explicit so far, and if one digs deeper into this line of reasoning, many things become clear.  Many things remain obscure as well, but that is only the nature of life.

I hope I haven’t bored anyone, and I apologise if anyone is offended (I know I was kind of hard on the Bible, but I really do not object to Christianity, and all the Christians I know are truly spiritual, moral people, and I wish more of them could be seen in the media as opposed to, oh, Jack Chick).  I didn’t really have anything else to write about, and I only meant this to go for maybe one or two paragraphs, but I see it’s kind of gotten away from me.  In the future, I’ll get back to more geekery and fun fun fun, so don’t worry about it.  Probably not too close in the future though, since I’m going out of town for practically 24 days, and I have no idea what the internet situation will be.  So fare thee well.

Also, Michael Jackson died, and the Mets are only a half a game behind the Phillies.  Maybe the Mets’ll actually make the playoffs this year, then we’ll definitely know there’s a God.

*NOTE: I am not anti-atheism.  I respect anybody’s personal belief.  This list is about the arguments for atheism that I hear so often in almost every single forum there is, arguments which always receive fanfare and ironic “amens.”  This is really the evangelcal atheism I have a problem with, the same way I have a problem with people of any ridiculous extreme not-necessarily-well-thought-out opinion.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “In Defense of Reason

  1. Velthur

    Being, myself, an atheist, I would like to state for the record that I agree with all of the points above, and wish other atheists would stop using these arguments.

  2. Gob

    I think the only reason you see that in chatrooms is because people find solace in discovering commonalities. In the case of atheism in America, though the statistics would have you believe otherwise, being an atheist is still a fairly hush-hush aspect of oneself for most people. Many people are still “in-the-closet” Atheists, and to see someone else openly expressing views similar to their own instantly evokes that kind of pride and confidence that makes one want to shout huzzah (or, as you said, “ironic ‘amens.'”)

    However, after this first discovery period in which the newly-outed Atheist finds others that he/she identifies with, I would hope that he/she can then return to his/her life in peace and scarcely think on the subject again. The reason I say this is in protest to your phrase “Evangelical atheism.” (or, perhaps, in protest to the very concept itself, though I pray (sic) that it doesn’t actually exist). Atheism is not, itself, an ism. It is an aversion to a pre-expressed philosophy that is believed in by a great majority of the world. The very fact that the word exists is a testament (sic) to the largely theistic world we life in. For example, there is no word to describe someone who isn’t a pornstar. If you’re a pornstar, then you’re pornstar. If you aren’t, then you are simply “not a pornstar.” They haven’t invented a word that refers to a group of people who *don’t* make a living off of public fornication, because no such word is necessary. However if the issue of being a pornstar was as prevalent as religion is, and, more importantly, if the majority of people in the world WERE pornstars, then such a word would suddenly fall into usage, and, along with it, there would likely be numerous stereotypes and negative stigmas associated with it.

    To clarify, my point is that, unfortunately, people must identify themselves as an atheist, or as…something else. But this concept of “being an atheist,” should really exist, just as the idea of a god doesn’t to them (read: us). Once you start to see an actual congregation of people who celebrate their *lack* of belief, then you realize how fucking lonely people really are, and how meaningless all these views are. If all people really want is to find commonalities with one another, then I can assure you you’ll be fine, and contrary to what you learned in pre-kindergarten, people aren’t like snowflakes. You’ll find a lot of simpleminded people out there that do and think all the same stupid shit you do. But I draw the line at surrounding yourself with those that DON’T do and DON’T think…I mean seriously, at a certain point, you really shouldn’t give a fuck what anyone else does or thinks, because the only person you have to answer to is yourself.

    Get owned, bitch.

  3. Gob

    Whoops. I meant to say:

    But this concept of “being an atheist,” SHOULDN’T really exist. Should not. As in, don’t. Honestly, why are we celebrating things we don’t believe in? That almost sounds like a belief itself.

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