Wednesday, January 3, 2007

2007: To Be the Year of the Atheist?

I am not psychic at all, but I predict this year will be the year of the atheist. What prompts me to believe this? Looking at the Reddit.com website, there are many articles about atheism in the news today. And the popularity of Richard Dawkin's book The God Delusion, which reached the top ten (ironically at Christmas time), seems to confirm it.
I have no problem with people who have other beliefs than me, or no beliefs at all. But why do people find it necessary to try to remove the faith of others? Do these same people relish telling children there is no Santa Claus? Do they look forward to divulging that the Tooth Fairy is a myth? Yet, by my using these examples maybe I am putting God in the same category, which will not truly defend my beliefs. I am by no means a child believing in some magical entity. I am an adult who has given much reflection and study to define my own spirituality and determine who or what to believe. And I believe in Christianity, in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, Mary as the Blessed Mother, the Saints, the whole bit. I do believe that much of the Bible was distorted and some important texts were omitted and altered. But the fact that these texts were even found is, in itself a miracle and only proves that maybe this was God's way of having the truth come out.
What is the difference, really, between an atheist and a skeptic? An atheist is defined as a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings. Part of the definition of a skeptic is a person who doubts the truth of a religion, esp. Christianity, or of important elements of it. And for the record, an agnostic is defined as a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience. So the main difference between these three labels is that atheism is flat out saying 'no, no way' while skeptics and agnostics leave a little wiggle room for the possibility, exhibited by the words 'doubt' and 'unknown'. The only way an atheist can become a believer is if there is definitive proof of the existence of God, a skeptic would need some evidence to remove all doubt, and the only way an agnostic can believe is if the existence of God becomes known, which, like the other three would result from proof or evidence. But isn't faith believing without total proof? And wouldn't the atheists, skeptics, and agnostics still question the validity of the evidence? Look at the people who don't believe the Holocaust ever happened. There is evidence, there is proof yet they don't believe it. I think there are some people who, no matter what will choose to stubbornly deny things in order to be right or to be so narrow minded that no other opinion but their own can be the truth.
I may someday read Dawkin's book, borrowing it from the library as I don't wish to put money in the pocket of someone so aggressive in his disbelief.
All I'm asking is for tolerance towards one another, and keeping an open mind. I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the end your right to an opinion. Just don't force your opinion on me.
UPDATE: Here is an article that shows the increase in popularity of atheism:http://businesslogs.com/web_20/digg_and_youtube_powering_atheism_20.php

12 comments:

John said...

A gun to your head is force. A separate, restrictive legal system (a la Jim Crow) is intolerance. A challenge to a fistfight is aggression.

Stating one's opinion at length (i.e., writing a book) isn't an act of force, aggression, or intolerance.

Do they look forward to divulging that the Tooth Fairy is a myth?

If you knew an adult who still believed in the Tooth Fairy, wouldn't you feel morally compelled to set them straight, even if doing so was bound to be an unpleasant task?

NHBlogger said...

Thank you, John, for you post.
I do disagree with you regarding aggression. I believe agression can be verbal. Again, looking at the definition helps: 'Behavior that is intended to threaten or inflict physical injury on another person or organism; a broader definition may include such categories as verbal attack, discriminatory behavior, and economic exploitation...'
As for writing an opinion not being aggression, I was going by the Publisher's Weekly editorial review at Amazon.com:'...Dawkins has written a surprisingly intolerant book, full of scorn for religion and those who believe...'
Of course it was implied that the Tooth Fairy comment applied to children. And the difference, anyway, would be in a child being told by their parent that something exists versus an intellgent adult, investigating and soul searching, coming up with their own belief system.

vjack said...

I started a response here, but it became way too long, so I decided to dedicate a post to it at http://tinyurl.com/yfbfy9

You don't seem to have trackback enabled or I would have sent you one.

NHBlogger said...

VJack-I'm sorry you couldn't do a trackback. I am very new to blogging and not very tech inclined, but I am learning. I did read your post and it is well written. I am still sticking with Christianity, but I will read more of your posts and links because I like to hear many perspectives.
I will forever regret the Santa/Tooth Fairy comment I made, but it is there now. Not the best analogy, I guess.
I have friends and relatives who are atheists. Some of them use that term while others just state that they don't believe in religion. One atheist friend gives me Christian-related gifts. We get along great. My objection is to people using the in-you-face method, such as Richard Dawkins to get their point across, or who are angry that others don't buy atheism. I say, to each his own. I just fear that young people may turn to atheism as a form of rebellion rather than seriously studying religion (and atheism) and coming to their own, thought-out conclusion.
Thank you, Vjack for your comments.

stillwaters said...

I found your post through a link provided by vjack, and just wanted to add a comment or two.

First, I hear this quite often, that when atheists speak their opinions out loud, they are labeled as aggressive and forcing their views on others. I find it to be more assertive rather than aggressive, and we are not forcing our views on anyone. We only want to be heard. To have our opinions be considered. The U.S. is filled with religion and god, and the atheists are a minority. A minority that is not trusted nor thought well of. We have no power whatsoever in the government. Can you name a single atheist in any government office, federal, state, or local? We just want to have our right to free speech and freedom of belief like anyone else, without the stigma of prejudice.

Secondly, I have been an atheist for over 25 years now. Honestly, there is not a lot of difference, for the most part, between most atheists and most christians, except one minor god-belief between them. Otherwise, we are *very* much alike. That's something both sides should remember from time to time.

Mark UK said...

It is I believe a dangerous thing to describe anybody by just one part of their character. I am an atheist and married to a christian. No problems at all. I know intelligent christians and stupid atheists. I know kind and generous atheists and I know mean spirited selfish christians.

My problem is with the increasing efforts of religious groups to insert religion in science and to try and have god taken seriously by science. That is not possible and that is where I think the fight takes place.

Paul said...

Oddly enough, I find it far more prevalent for Christians to tell their children the truth about Santa Claus. Stop. Back up. I'm sorry, I mean to say extreme right wing fundamentalist Christians. I commited the sin of inclusion there.

My purpose here is to make the point that, as a Christian, your characterisation of atheists is that of Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris. As an atheist, my characterisation of Christians is often that of Pat Robertson, or Fred Phelps. The truth is that those are both extreme positions that describe a small minority of each group. For the most part, people are people, and we go about our daily lives without having any need to know and discuss these topics with our neighbours. I am great friends with my next door neighbours on either side of me, but I have absolutely no idea what their position on this topic is, nor do I care. We just keep on keepin' on.

Simen said...

I posted my response to this post (and also vjac's response) here: http://importreason.wordpress.com/2007/01/06/2007-the-atheist-year/.

You raise a good point about rebellion. It would be sad if lots of people would start calling themselves atheists not because it is a reasonable position to take but rather because it isn't a mainstream view, or is different from their parents' view. I live in Norway, where atheism is a lot more common than it appears to be in the US and elsewhere around the world, so I don't think that would happen here. I could see something like that happening as a demonstration against very conservative/extremist views, such as in the Middle East (not now, but some years ahead) though.

Alanna said...

I always find it strange when christians have the perception that atheists may be trying to "force" their lack of beliefs on others. How could an absence of beliefs be imposed? However, there are dozens of churchs in my town, people litter cars and the ground with religious literature, complete strangers have approached me to ask if I'm "saved". Christians aren't approached in public asking if they've been introduced to science or critical thought. Atheists don't knock on people's door and try to "convert" them to non-belief.

I think the aggression that christians wrongly percieve in atheists is more of a feeling of being fed-up. As an atheist, I do get tired of people assuming I share their beliefs. I get tired of the belief that morality is impossible without belief in invisible beings who reside in the sky.

Edward said...

Just don't force your opinion on me.

Tolerance is something as an open atheist I rarely get. I have been assaulted, had my car vandalized, this weekend I was sitting in a laundry mat waiting for my close to dry reading Richard Dawkins new book when one of the women in there saw what I was reading she began to heckle me. "I am going to hell", "I need to accept Jesus"; I did nothing to this women yet she felt the need to push her beliefs on me. I have never seen an atheist on a street corner telling people God isn't real, maybe that he is a flying spaghetti monster in retaliation to the evangelical on the other side of the street. I will close with a statistic I have heard a few places, a study done at the University of Michigan showed that atheist were the least trusted group in America, below gays, and Muslims.
Yet we are the ones people say need to be tolerant of there beliefs

UrbanReason said...

Thank you Ruth, for your post. I'd like to take an opportunity to address a few of the things you commented on. I apologize in advance for the length of this post, it is a complicated issue.

First, follow me for a second, I'm always somewhat baffled by the theistic question "Why do people find it necessary to try to remove the faith of others." For nearly 2000 years Christians, Muslims and a number of lesser discussed religions have felt compelled to FORCE (literally) others to abandon their current system of of belief and BELIEVE or at least pretend to BELIEVE in their God or view of reality.

Only until recent years, people across the globe have been virtually powerless to refuse "faith" imposed on them by the powers that be for fear of being shut off by their friends and community, or worse of being exiled, jailed, or even killed.

To this day, Atheists are painted by much of society as having questionable morals (or NO morals), of being cold, irrational, spiteful and unjust. In many cases propagandists would have them painted as being ANTI-morality, anti-decency, etc.

The reality is that many (i'd venture to say MOST) atheists choose not to accept religion for moral reasons and out of the love they feel for their fellow person. This is, of course, in addition to the fact that their is no testable, verifiable evidence to prove the existence of a deity.

So, the reason why I state these things is to say that I believe the reason why atheists may seem "aggressive" is because they're tired of reason being pushed to the side in favor of unverifiable "faith". We have several hundred years since the enlightenment of philosophers, scientists, and theologians attempting to test the existence of God. So far it is no more provable (much less so, in fact) than it was in the time of St. Augustine.

What you're seeing in 2007, I believe, is people who are saying ENOUGH. We're not going to be pushed into the corner, exiled, jailed, killed or ridiculed ANY longer. We're not going to sit quietly and be told that we are immoral, cold, or unjust because we refuse to accept that for which their is no proof. Aside from the lack of evidence, the God of "Abraham" of "Moses" of "Muhammad" etc is a cruel vindictive tyrant in almost any book of the Bible and we should not be forced to accept "morality" as dictated by a the fiction of a genocidal maniac.

I don't believe that the goal of atheists is to disapoint or irradicate a persons "beleif" in anything, the goal is to - first - clarify the reality of what it is to be an atheist (reasonable, intelligent, moral, ethical, honest, open, honorable, sincere, etc) and unfortunately we have to do that by telling religious people that they are WRONG about US.

I take no joy in watching someone lose their faith. It' can sometimes be very painful to watch. But when you see the sense of empowerment someone gains from losing their faith, when they realize they have to make THIS LIFE the best it can be for themselves and for others, when you see the things they can suddenly accomplish, when you see that they no longer live in FEAR that every thing they do could potentially cause them to spend the rest of eternity with the millions of others in eternal holacaust, when they start behaving morally not for fear of eternal damnation but for love of their fellow person... that is something in which I take great joy.

DJ Drummond said...

Good afternoon.

To begin, I am a fundamentalist Christian, but also a devout individualist. As a result, I am both amused and annoyed by the many people who think millions upon millions of people can (and should) be categorized by a few buzz-words. 'Atheist', 'Christian', 'Extreme', 'Aggression', and such words weighted with connotative bias, when used to color someone without a serious examination of the personal belief and perspective, tend to be divisive and chaotic. It's the sort of thing which makes someone feel good for 'defending their turf', but it's pretty much useless in advancing respect or appreciation of the person's experience and ideals.

All I see now, is more polarization - only where at times before it was hip to be religious, now it's the fad to sneer at faith in some places. Where some Atheists have valid reasons and sound logic for their position, some only join the crowd, and the same for believers.

If one wants to truly do more than play a puppet for someone else, first you have to respect the people you meet and speak with. Learn from them, and exchange your perspective calmly and with goodwill.

Sadly, now as ever, this sort of thing is rare and often mocked.