My blog contains a large number of posts. A few are included in various other publications, or as attached stories and chronicles in my emails; many more are found on loose leaves, while some are written carelessly in margins and blank spaces of my notebooks. Of the last sort most are nonsense, now often unintelligible even when legible, or half-remembered fragments. Enjoy responsibly.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

My Struggle with the Term "Atheist"

An atheist is someone who does not believe in a God or Gods. This suits me just fine, but the connotations that come along with it are those of absolutism. The lack of doubt, the complete ending of questioning, is not something of which I approve. I see the existence of God as being just as probable as the Lock Ness Monster, Angels, or Gnomes. But any time I try to completely rule out the existence of anything supernatural or incredible, I hear the voice of Carl Sagan ringing in my ears. It’s a stalwart “Well, maybe,” meaning, “there is a still a probability, no matter how small.” My belief that nothing is absolute creates the core discomfort that I have with a group that lately appears to be made up of Anti-God Evangelicals.

My struggle complicates even further when I examine the needed solidarity of those who consider themselves “nonreligious,” but not necessarily “Atheist”. Nonbelievers (whatever they call themselves) are more persecuted then Jews, Gays, or any other sect of people. And all other religious people, no matter of what affiliation, label themselves as “religious”. So there is an underlying obligation for those of us with similar beliefs to stick together and label ourselves as “Atheist,” even if we don’t fit all of the necessary criteria.

This desire is driven by the knowledge that most educated people know that your mother’s Sunday potluck at church provides a base of normality and approval for Christian extremists to kill abortions doctors or gays. Keeping the Sabbath holy or kneeling on prayer rugs eventually justifies mortar attacks and century old wars. Individuals, who define themselves as taking the best beliefs from other religions and incorporating those ideas into their own spirituality, add creditability and acceptance to the things done in the original religion’s name. This last group provides a buffer and an even wider foundation for people who would pervert religions with the goal of horrific atrocities. Again, it is the organization and labeling under a banner of religion that creates fanaticism.

Sure, anything can be distorted into raving zealotry. But history has shown us that, in order to gain the support of the people, the will of a God or Gods must be employed. It is the propagation of these organized religions and structured beliefs that allow mass horrors to be fulfilled by a willing people. Without blind faith, and their validation from those who still follow the basic tenants of that faith, there would be “no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no persecution of Jews as Christ-killers’, no Northern Ireland ‘troubles, no ‘honor killings’, no shiny-suited bouffant haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money (‘God wants you to give til it hurts’). Imagine no Taliban to blow up ancient statues; no beheadings of blasphemers, no flogging of female for the crime of showing an inch of it” (The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins, 2006).

So there is obviously a clear need for a presence of a united group of people who can point to a large percentage of the world’s problems as being religious in nature. Both here in the US and abroad, religious extremists reek havoc in the name of whatever God in which they are aligned. These are problems that root cause is religion and they have no formal enemy but each other.

Now I know that not all Atheists believe in the absolute non-existence of the supernatural. I’m sure that there are a large percentage of this same group who believe that the term implies ambiguity. But because the definition of an Atheist does not leave any doubt, so we cannot infer that uncertainty does exist. All nonbelievers should see this argument as the same as their old standby of, “a lack of evidence is not evidence of existence.” If the definition does not specifically cast doubt on the existence of a God or Gods, then it is not part of the definition. To pretend otherwise is incorrect. Moreover, spending your time backpedaling from the definition, or trying to redefine it further to suit your own needs, undercuts your primary argument.

So here I stand, feeling uncomfortable that I will never fully conform to the term Atheist when I know that the need for such a group is paramount. I do not know what to call myself, or if I should ever take a label willingly, but I know that this label is the closest thing that I will ever have to a likeminded people.


Brian Hamilton said...

This is from the discussion on Myspace attached to the original post:

Brian, I normally don't comment on any blog that has anything to do with religion or politics. I have to say that this is the first time I've ever felt compelled to do so. Not all religious people are extremist and those that are really aren't following what their "faith" says. I'm a Christian and from what my belief tells me is that I should never judge, hate or hurt ANYONE. Even if you don't believe in what I do I'm still suppose to love you for you. I do believe in Christ, I just don't believe in the way that most human beings have carried out my faith to the world. The Jim Bakers and Billy Grahams of the world have made my faith seem to nothing more than a radical way of getting into people's pockets and that is not what I believe. If you come across someone that says they are a Christian and then they turn to you and cause you any harm either physically or verbally then they are not following the word of Christ. My brother is of the same belief as you that nothing is absolute and if anyone were to ever harm him because of that I would be there in a second. I would be there for you to because that is what I'm suppose to do if I'm a true "Christian". I've never really believed in organized religion and not until recently did I even go to church. I believe because faith gives me hope that there is more to this life after death and that while I'm here on earth I have a purpose. I go to church to keep me anchored and accountable for MY actions...not to sit back in judgement. Now, that I've explained how I feel I want to pose a question to you. Why do you need a label? Can't you believe what you believe and still be a good person? If you try to do your best in all that you do in life then really who cares what anyone thinks of you. I look at it like this.....if believing in Christ keeps me grounded, honest, and kind and if someone else praying to the Tooth Fairy does the same then really what does it matter?

Brian, all I'm saying is who cares what the label is. Just be you and don't worry about what anyone else thinks. You are such an intelligent person and probably have so much more to offer in this life than a label. Just be YOU!

Posted by SHAN on Wednesday, April 02, 2008 at 8:13 AM

Thank you for the very kind words.

I don't want a label, but feel I should take one in the face of the actions of most organized religions. Besides, I still need to have something to say to people who ask me if I’m religious or what my beliefs are. The “Well, I kinda… you know.. ..the thing is…” just doesn’t fly.

As for the rest, well that is what disturbs me. A “Good Christian” would follow the Bible, I don’t know if you’ve ever sat down and read the thing, but the book has some incredibly horrible things in it. The Bible sanctions human sacrifice (1 Kings 13:1-2 NLT), rape (Judges 21:10-24 NLT), and murder (Deuteronomy 13:7-12 NAB). The story of Christ is, for the most part wonderful, but even he sanctioned slavery (Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ - Ephesians 6:5 NLT). The Jim Bakers and Billy Grahams use the same book as you, they just ignore few parts. And someone who wants to do incredibly horrible things follows the whole thing. It is the bases for great evil in this world. But all that you hear about on Sunday is love and compassion. I don’t understand how organization that wants to be taken seriously can have a book that is the cornerstone of their belief system and ignore all of these things.

I lived in a church for most of my youth listening to my father preach and spent more hours then I could ever recall studying the Bible. It wasn’t until years later that I realized the incredibly bad things that it sanctioned. When I asked my father about it he brushed it off much in the same way that you did as people trying to be good and live a good life. Several years later when I was able to follow up my original question asking why those same people, since they choose to follow a religion in the first place, couldn’t just be good on their own. His response to that was that belief gave people purpose. It was then that I lost all faith because I realized that the same freewill that allows someone to believe in a faith is the exact same freewill that governs whether you are good or bad. That is why there are so many people, religious or not, who do both good and bad things.

My problem with organized religions is that they are built on things like the Bible, which justify wholeheartedly some of the vilest and disgusting things imaginable. By attending church you validate the organizations and the book that it is founded on. All of it, the good, the bad, and the reprehensible are made to be the absolute truth - no matter what.

So when someone reads the story of how pleased God was when Lot gave over his daughters to be raped and killed by a group of men so that they wouldn’t bother his house guests (Genesis 19:8), know that someone out there believes that rape is sanctioned by God and believes that that word is more powerful then our laws or social morals. Your religion, no matter how peaceful it is to you, allows other people to do the worst things possible to other humans with divine blessing.

Posted by Brian on Wednesday, April 02, 2008 at 8:55 AM

Brian Hamilton said...

Another addition:

As I read your blogs regarding religion, I have noticed that your struggle seems to be with a very specific type of "God" and as well as a literalist interpretaion of scripture.

At times, you remind me of the husband of a former coworker who, whenever he and I would meet face-to-face, would tell me all about why he didn't believe in God. It ended up being a one-sided rant against the religion of his childhood as if that's all there is. You are a bit more gentle in your approach than he was.

There are alternative viewpoints.

For me, the Bible is a collection of stories of the faith journey of a particular people during a particular period of history and how that faith evolved from the earliest writings through Y'shua's (Jesus') teachings and Paul's interpretations of those teachings. They are the limited attempts of many writers over many hundreds of years to explain that which is beyond explanation. I agree with you about literalism and fundamentalism. I believe they are among the most flawed and dangerous movements on the planet.

"God" is a loaded term. I try not to use it. I speak of Source, Higher Mind, Higher Self, Universal Consciousness, and other similar terms. It is not a being, but the ground of being- Being Itself. It is Principle or Metaphysical Law (not the law of "thou shalt not's). More importantly, It is Love.

I invite you to read Ernest Holmes' "The Science of Mind" for a glimpse into a different take on the bible. Holmes studied world religions, philosphy, and the sciences to look for the common threads that ran through each. He was one of the founders of the modern New Thought movement of which I am part.

I think you might gain a new perspective.

Posted by Rev. Rebecca on Wednesday, April 02, 2008 at 4:50 PM

Chimera said...

"But history has shown us that, in order to gain the support of the people, the will of a God or Gods must be employed."

That point made me think. A lot. It's a wonderful point -- so simply stated, but so eloquent in its clarity.

It coincides with my own theory that organized religion is simply a tool that is used by those who want to have power over others, that can make the others serve the wants of the powerful by either cajolery or threat -- carrot or stick.

And I like what SHAN said -- who really cares about labels? Only those who want to use them for some outside purpose, right?