Why I am not an atheist …

| September 22, 2008 | 164 Replies

But, before we get to that, a brief introduction:

My name is Hank & I run a blog called Ethics Gradient (which, it should be noted, may – does – contain some coarse language. In my mind, it’s all perfectly justified but I realise not everyone digs the sailor-talk). I also go by “Mandrellian” on various threads on various blogs, youtube videos and forums. After a few comments on a recent DI thread, Erich Vieth did me the honour of inviting me to be a contributor here at Dangerous Intersection. For my first post I’ve shared one of my previous works from my personal blog and edited it very, very slightly to improve the flow and readability [permalink]. Hopefully it will give people an idea where I’m coming from (besides Melbourne, Australia).

Many thanks to Erich for his faith in me. I shall attempt to justify it with my future posts. OK, let’s get on with it.

Why I am not an atheist …

… and why I am.

I am not an atheist because:

  • I hate God
  • I prayed to God and my prayers weren’t answered
  • Militant/fundamentalist atheists converted me away from God
  • I worship science and the works of man instead of God
  • I’m rebelling against God like I rebelled against my parents & teachers in high school
  • I think I’m better than God
  • I had a bad experience with a priest or church or religious person
  • I can’t decide which religion to subscribe to
  • atheism is my religion
  • I think religious people are idiots
  • I worship Batman
  • I worship Satan
  • I’m immoral/amoral and would rather do what I want
  • I want to destroy religion

I distrust and criticise (sometimes strongly) certain organised religions because:

  • they are human inventions and many seem to be preoccupied with obsessively controlling aspects of peoples’ private lives instead of improving them
  • many Christian churches seem primarily concerned with attracting money and then keeping it rather than using it charitably
  • many holy books get descriptions of the world & nature completely wrong, which you would not expect had they been dictated by the omnipotent creator of the universe
  • many holy books contain descriptions of human events that cannot be historically verified and in all likelihood never happened (eg. Exodus)
  • many holy books contain numerous laws, acts & stories of a morality that modern, free societies find repugnant; these societies have passed many of their own laws contradicting such biblical “morality” 
  • as well as innumerable separate religions; there are so many separate & often violently opposed sects of each religion that it is more likely that none of them are correct than just one of them being so
  • many religious groups demand special treatment such as the right not to be offended by statements, artworks, songs or anything else that may criticise or disagree with their dogma; their protests quite often run contrary to ideas such as free speech, beloved by most modern democratic societies
  • religious groups frequently try to have laws passed which unfairly impose their narrow standards of behaviour, based on interpretations of specific holy commands, onto the rest of society
  • religious people often tend to pick & choose from, or “interpret” their holy texts, discarding what does not conform to modern standards of morality, law & political freedom; they then bizarrely imply that modern morality, law and political freedom rests on the foundations of their particular religion
  • there is such a wide spectrum of religious belief & adherence to dogma, ranging from light, barely-existent deism to the kind of rigid fundamentalism that oppresses and kills many, many people in its name, that it leads me to conclude that either their God wasn’t clear enough with his message, didn’t spread it to enough people or that humans have basically made their religions and associated rules up as they went along and have been in conflict with each other about them ever since
  • many religious people & groups wilfully mis-characterise atheists as immoral, empty beings with no appreciation for beauty or mystery simply because we prefer natural explanations for the universe’s phenomena rather than defaulting to “God did it”; they believe that any explanation, even a wrong one, is better than “we just don’t know yet”
  • many religious groups continue to deny long-accepted scientific facts such as the divergence of species through evolution and the verified age of the Earth; some wish their particular mythology taught as fact in science classes and go to extraordinary lengths to accomplish it; some even insist there’s a huge, dark Scientist Conspiracy quashing “academic freedom”
  • many religious people & groups attempt to cherry-pick science (as they do their scriptures) for those parts which conform to their belief system while actively denying others, e.g. creationists agreeing with “microevolution” while denying “macroevolution” (which is like believing that matches cannot start bushfires) or attempting to use the Second Law of Thermodynamics to debunk the theory of evolution (which is like ajudicating a baseball game with a cricket rulebook) 
  • some religious groups deny the efficacy of modern medicine in favour of treating an ill person with prayer, a practice which has led to many preventable deaths, often of children
  • they all make extraordinary claims based on their scriptures, provide no evidence beyond referring to their (unsurprisingly) self-confirming scriptures and then insist that the onus is on non-believers to disprove their claims
  • many religions have become inextricably intertwined with the laws of the patriarchal or tribal cultures which spawned or adopted them, leading to divine justifications for such horrors as female circumcision and “honour killings”, which more often than not punish women, already under the thumbs of domineering males, for seemingly minute transgressions of law
  • when it comes to the hot-button issue of sexual abuse by priests, many religions seem more concerned with good public relations, shielding themselves from culpability and keeping numbers in churches than with compensating victims and being active about either punishing perpetrators or preventing further abuse

I am an atheist because:

  • any & all claims of and explanations for the existence of God or any other gods have thus far fallen far short of my standards of evidence
  • my understanding of the natural universe is that it functions in such a way that doesn’t require (or indicate) the presence of any supernatural entity intervening in either the laws of nature or selected peoples’ lives

That’s it. They are the only two things that I can say I absolutely have in common with any other atheist. In matters of sex, politics, architecture, gaming, interior design, pets, music, clothing, hobbies, language, philosophy, education, sports, typing speed, preferred drugs, affinity with beagles & frogs and any number of other categories I may be diametrically opposite to any (or every) other atheist in the world. To label one atheist with the same attributes you label another atheist is ignorant at best, flat-out dishonest at worst. As such, I try not to do the same thing with religious people.

But what could steer me in the opposite direction? Probably the same things that could steer any atheist …

I could be converted to theism if:

  • God, or a god, showed himself or performed an act that unambiguously proved his existence as an immortal, omnipotent being. As to what that proof would constitute: that god himself would be the perfect arbiter of what would conclusively prove to six billion people that he existed.

Such things as tortillas depicting blurred, apparently Mary-shaped silhouettes do not count. If you’re there, God, you’re on notice! Any time is fine. But no tricks – and come alone (if indeed there’s only one of you, otherwise, bring the whole parthenon).

In hindsight, there are quite a few things I left off both of those two longer lists, but I haven’t added them here. To add a large amount of new content to a re-post in the hope that a “special edition” would make it heaps, heaps better might (a) make me feel a total hypocrite, like I’m pulling a George Lucas (may he drown in his money-bin) and (b) turn people off, TL;DR style. I also believe that excessive after-the-fact editing takes a bit of the “blogginess” away from what I write. I like the sort-of “stream of consciousness” aspect of blogging, in that it provides a snapshot of my mindset at the precise time I was writing a post, warts & all, as opposed to being a considered, well thought-out post that took a very long time to compile. I don’t do many drafts. If I can’t finish something the day I start, it simply never gets published. Suffice it to say that philosophy didn’t serve me well at school!

OK, that’s enough of that. Keep enjoying the DI experience, readers. I hope to get into some serious/thoughtful/entertaining dialogue with some of you soon.

Hank

 

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Category: Culture, Good and Evil, Religion

About the Author ()

Hank was born of bird-watching bushwalking music-loving parents from whom he gained his love of nature, the universe & bicycles. Today he's a musician, non-profit aid worker, beagle keeper and fair & balanced internet commentator - but that just means he has a chip on each shoulder.

Comments (164)

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  1. Hank says:

    Erich – I find cargo cults fascinating. They're a brilliant, still-living example both of precisely how religions are artificial human constructs and how such constructs, once they take root, can permeate (& in many cases go on to define) a society. The religions that tend to get discussed around blogs like ours have their roots in ancient, long-gone societies and, as a result, often have unclear origins/instigators (Jesus doesn't count, Christian readers, as he's the subject of Christianity and not its author). Cargo cults are living, breathing, evolving examples of how irrational beliefs can spring from one actual isolated event, mutate and go on to dominate.

    Mark, that almost uniquely right-wing Christian view of the poor smells a lot like how the early American Puritan settlers viewed poor people – "it is so, therefore God must want it so." Judging by the hysterical reaction to Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction (and just about anything else to do with the human body that enters the public sphere), such a view of the poor isn't the only Puritan idea still thriving in the US…

    Great point about Libertarianism too. That's one political flavour that's always interested me precisely because of the mix of strong left and strong right you describe.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    I wonder how hard it would be to consciously create a religion? To the extent that the cargo cults were perceived to have simply "happened," it might give them legitimacy–they were not recognized to have been concocted out of whole cloth by conniving humans. I'm wondering whether the religions that seem legitimate are unconsciously assembled. Something like a huge ouiji board (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ouija) , with everyone pushing and tugging, but no one (presumably) orchestrating. That might give the aura of legitimacy. I can't imagine consciously convincing any of my friends or acquaintances that I have discovered a new version of sacred truth and that they need to come follow me as their new religious leader. I'm not denying that some people successfully and consciously concoct religions (Joseph Smith comes to mind); I'm only suggesting that it would seem to be more effective to have it look like a spirit-guided mass movement rather than having the religion get off the ground driven along by some smart guy who tells everyone about his or her new-found Truth.

  3. Dan Klarmann says:

    Create a religion? L. Ron Hubbard built a religion from scratch around a core of fringe pop-psychology ideas that had already been disproved by real scientists and other related practitioners.

    Just create your own definitions for existing common words, create new in-group words for ideas that already have technical terms in the fields you plan to denounce, and mix in some woo for seasoning.

    Then apply for not-for-profit status and buy a fleet of ships with the donations to have a safe haven beyond shore law. Don't forget to build a small covert army to intimidate heretics, block investigators, and to twiddle with inconvenient records.

  4. Hank says:

    Of course! I forgot about Elrond Hubbard's Saucer Cult, as well as Joe Smith And His Amazing Monochrome Dream-Hat. Fortunately, Ron's B-grade scifi is seen for what it is in many places, e.g Germany – a nation understandably cautious about cultish ideologies and lofty promises of a new salvation (I'm equally sure that Germans non-Germans alike are aware of the acute irony [nerve, even] of Tom Cruise playing Claus von Stauffenberg – a man intent on destroying exactly such a dangerous cult from the top down).

    Now that I think of it, people are creating their own religions all the time, be they ground-up with relatively harmless modern woo ("The Secret" – sexed-up fairy-wishing, whatever Deepak Chopra thinks he's an expert in these days – it aint "quantum" ANYTHING btw) or small but dangerous cults splintering off from a mainstream faith e.g. the Branch Davidians or Phelpses or Manson's Family or Jim Jones' tragic escapade. Even those megachurch money-whores like Benny Hinn (lord how I loatheth him) are inventing their own new sects of Christianity with nonsense like the ridiculous Prosperity Gospel ("give lots to US and God will reward YOU … whilst I ride to my next revival in a 30-million dollar jet and haven't paid tax in 20 years"). None of those have quite the power or influence of Islam, Judaism or normal, everyday, non-insane Christianity (though the evangelists seem to have a bit too much power in the US right now), but those old faiths are a great starting ground for people who want to tap into peoples' needs to feel "saved" or superior to others and be promised the Moon. Wahabbist comes to mind as the most recent re-invention of Islam (19th C if I recall correctly) – who could resist the promise of 72 virgins for slaughtering the innocent? Oh, right – most people who aren't complete nutf*cks.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    OK you laughing hyenas. Perhaps I didn't express myself clearly enough.

    I could go sew some vestments and burn some incense. I could write some religious tunes, and I could carefully craft my own religious book (which I will claim was revealed specially to me in an heretofore unknown tongue that I miraculously understood). I'd concoct a menagerie of invisible overseers of my Otherworld. And as Dan suggests, I could create my own jargon. All of that would be relatively easy.

    I'm wondering about how to do a successful roll-out. If I got my closest 10 friends together in my living room and announced that I would now share with them a new religion that would bring them peace, life eternal or whatever, I would quickly lose my closest 10 friends, and then they would talk to my other friends and I would lose all of them too. I would be a laughing stock. No one would invite me to anything anymore. My wife would probably leave me. My kids wouldn't talk to me. My dog would bite my leg.

    How do you do a successful roll-out without becoming a laughing stock?

    Laugh if you must at Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard. You must admit, though, that they had a certain "genius" for getting masses of people to actually buy into the new scheme (or at least believe that they believed the new scheme, to quote Daniel Dennett).

    That's my question: How do you bring your new scheme to life? How do you get recognized on the "Religion" section of the daily paper? How do you convince your followers to support you with their material wealth? How do you convince your female followers that making love to you is making love to God himself? Or have I digressed?

  6. Hank says:

    You make some good points! That we completely missed, hyenas that we are.

    Rolling out a new product is always the hardest step. It's sort of like being in a band – you can't get noticed until you get noticed, and until you get noticed, noone's going to take any notice.

    Might I suggest a snappy logo to start with? Something simple which can be identified straight away and from a long distance. Something geometric like a cross, star, crescent moon. Catchy slogans (verbal logos, really) like "I am the way, the truth and the life" also stick in peoples' minds. You could try "Got soul? Need Erich!" or "I CAN HAS HEAVEN?" (although I think people already worship the LOLcats and you might have some sectarian trouble on your paws). Once your "instant identity" factors are established, the actual articles of faith can be released later – trickled out periodically, like features in open license software. Hook a few diehards in with harmless vague appeals to brotherly love & some cool stories (with, like, magic and shit) before you cement the doctrine – then tell everyone they're doomed if they de-convert!

  7. I think the formula might go like this:

    Charisma + new twist + mumbo jumbo + people in need + lots of LUCK = New Religion.

    Am I missing anything?

  8. Vicki Baker says:

    Erich asks:

    How do you convince your female followers that making love to you is making love to God himself?

    Show, don't tell!

    Also:

    How do you do a successful roll-out without becoming a laughing stock?

    Hmm, this makes me wonder if you really have what it takes to be a religious entrepreneur. I don't think successful messiahs and prophets worry about this. You might be better off opening a franchise of one of the established firms. Perhaps evangelical Protestantism – the training requirements are light and there is a lot of scope for individual variations. Also, most of the logos and other brand collateral is in the public domain, so you don't have to worry about copyright infringement.

  9. Hank says:

    Vicki:

    "Show, don't tell!" Best answer ever!

    Great second point as well – maybe Erich's best bet is to indeed go with a proven franchise instead of trying to muscle in on a crowded marketplace. You'd get a guaranteed customer base and very rapid returns if you opened a McJesus instead of taking a risk and starting your own jihad bar.

  10. I think you must be able to lie to yourself and see yourself as a victim whenever someone calls you out on your shit. If you are too honest with yourself and everybody else it won't work.

  11. Hank says:

    Very true! Healthy self-deception and a malignant persecution complex are essential – if not for you then definitely for your followers. It would serve any potential New Messiah well to ensure that his believers' self-worth and self-esteem are completely bound to their adherence to dogma. This will transform (in their minds at least) any sober, rational criticism of their religion into a white-hot personal attack, an attempt to destroy the religion itself or a pseudo-fascist restriction of their freedom that must be responded to with threats of eternal damnation as well as comparisons with Hitler.

  12. Tim Hogan says:

    I agree with many (actually most) of the points Hank makes about organized religion.

    But I wish some would get that others believe and others don't. I don't give a pile of my cats' holy poops whether you believe or do not believe. Be good for goodness sake!

    Oh, mighty Gravatar, grant me the boon of eternal existence in the internet and the ether with the twin boons of my images and likenesses being forever cast in bits and pieces. Grant that my spoken words forever flail those which disparage cats, and cats' sentient natures. Amen.

    Oh, and I'd like to see Hawaii and Australia but, not get stung by any sea wasps.

  13. Alison says:

    Don't forget – you need to promise that there are wonderful secrets and rewards waiting for those who show total devotion and abandonment of everything outside the cult (including their cash and worldly possessions, if you play your cards right!)

    Oh, and if you want cats, I have some to spare. In fact, 9 black ones, all bearing a credible resemblance to Basement Cat. 7 of them are fosters, so they could be adopted out without the kids making a fuss. Heh.

  14. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Actually, I think religion needs more humor, like Robin William's "Disco Temple of Comedy" headed by the Right Reverend Earnest Angry ("Those of you watchin' at home GRAB HOLD of the wires from the back of yore TV sets and FEEL the power!!")

    The sad thing is that there would probably be some followers. Kinda like the part in "Life of Brian" where the crowd follows Brian into the desert while he's trying to get away from them.

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