Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Friendly Response To A Christian Apologist

Last week I wrote “So You Want to Misrepresent Atheism?” as a response to a Christian apologist who wrote “So You Want to Be an Atheist Apologist.” Although I rarely respond to a comment with a lengthy post, I thought my retort was too long and involved to simply reply in the comment section. Also—to be honest—I don’t mind the dialogue.

The following block quote is the response from the original author after I posted a link to my response essay on his site.

Thanks for your interest in my post. It was not meant as an attack on atheism or a misrepresentation of atheism. On one hand, it comes from my own experience as an atheism twenty years ago or so. I was that passive atheists who did not care if other people were religious. I know find myself confused as to why atheists spend so much time attacking religion.

On the other hand, some of the things found in this post come from my own recent interactions with atheists. You asked for references to some of what I said, while I do not have the books with me right now, they did come from reading Hitchens and Dawkins. Things like dismissing the Bible, come from conversations I have had. A historian will look at the Bible, not as an inspired text but as a historical document similar to other texts of the time, with strengths and weaknesses. Some of the atheists I have spoken to have dismissed this and have said the religious status the Bible has removes it from the discussion. I hope you do not take that position.

By the way, I am planning a similar post on Christian apologists as well. I believe sarcasm should be shared with everyone.

                                                                                                            Stephen Bedard

My response (posted here and on his site):

Thank you for taking the time to read my post and respond. I would like to begin by stating that if it was indeed a sarcastic piece (which in theory I could appreciate); in my opinion the sarcasm needs to come from a place of truth and not simply mocking outliers and fallacies. Of course the outliers are free game, but they should not be used to represent the whole. For example, I would never use the Westboro Baptist Church as an example of all Christians in a critique or comedic post. Not only would that be misrepresentative it would just not be funny because the reader knows it not to be true. As with any group, there is plenty of stuff to make fun of atheists for; however the examples in your post were too specific to a small minority that were used to represent the entire group, or they were simply fallacies that theists employ against atheists all the time (i.e. the “morality” dig). I honestly and truly do not care if atheists are made fun of, satirized or mocked. Such is your right and I would be a hypocrite to say otherwise. Have at it, man! I might even laugh if it’s done well. I just thought that your post fell into the trap of fallacies that theists repeatedly use against atheists instead of looking at atheism and actually teasing out something new and insightful. In short, we’ve heard it before and much of it is wrong.

If you really are writing one about Christians I would give you the same exact advice.

Secondly, I will respond to the two points in your comment: 1) atheists attacking religion, and 2) the historicity of the Bible.

“Why do atheists attack religion?” We hear this so often it becomes a cliché. “Why do atheists spend so much of their time thinking and talking about something that they do not believe exists?” Usually there is a second part to that where it is assumed that we’re just “angry at god”, we still “really believe”, etc. I too was once but a simple nonbeliever waffling between agnosticism (or what I erroneously thought what ‘agnosticism’ was) and atheism (the ‘passive’ kind). I cared not what others thought about god. I just thought they were wrong, but no big deal. It was a carefree life devoid of having to think too hard about some of the bigger questions of human existence and how the “answers” people came to influence their actions in the real world.

As I said in my response to your post; what happened was that I and many others have come to the realization that passive atheism is a liability. There are too many dangerous results of religious belief. Now, before you balk, let me say that of course not all religious belief and religious people are inherently dangerous. That is obviously untrue.

The era we live in, and I’m you see it too and can agree, is one of ideological strife. Everyone is clamoring to ensure that their views are heard and respected. That is fine. There are others, however, that do not simply want their beliefs to be heard. They want their beliefs to be obeyed. Their beliefs require them to not simply voice their opinion. Their belief requires everyone to submit to their opinion. Or else! I will not bother to list all of the religious instances of this (there are also political instances, of course) as the list is too long and would only be tedious. I am sure you can think of many examples as to what I am referring to. It is, after all, everywhere.

Here in the U.S. it is not simply a disagreement on how to run the country it has become a disagreement on how to run our lives. Again, leaving the strictly political ideologues out of this (of which I am skeptical); there is a powerful network of religious groups that want nothing more than to instill their religious worldview on the rest of us. This takes the form of institutionalized homophobia, institutionalized misogyny, institutionalized religious intolerance, institutionalized morality, etc. One may not agree with how another conducts their life but that doesn’t give anyone the right to tell others how to live their lives. Ever. These people are dangerous to the individual, society, the country and the world. In America, I am not talking about fundamentalist Muslims. I am talking about fundamentalist Christians. They work for Dominion over all and they do not care what it takes to establish it. I will fight them tooth and nail to protect not only myself, but my fellow citizens, irreligious and religious alike, from being forced to obey their laws and morality.

Conversely, while I think religions are false and foolish I have no right to enforce what anyone should believe (or should not believe) or how to believe or whether or not one can even worship. I have every right to say it is false and foolish. I have every right to scream that from the roof tops. You can scream until you’re blue in the face about the saving power of Christ. It will sure as hell annoy me but I think you have the right to do it unless you use the power of the state or state agents to do so. The government should be secular from the bottom up so this power never gets confused or abused by anyone. Religious or not. Pray in school! I don’t care. Just don’t enforce prayer in school or somehow make it exclusionary. Similarly, one can teach Creationism all they want at home or in church (yes, I cringed typing that). It is just not appropriate in a publically-funded school/agency.

Pardon my assumption, but this is where I usually get a response about how atheism wants to push itself on everyone else. No. No it does not. Atheists have every right to voice their opinion and attempt to “de-convert” the faithful if that is someone’s wish. To object would be the height of hypocrisy for an evangelical religion such as Christianity. Atheists, generally, want to remove religion from an entanglement with the government for the good of all. A secular state protects everyone by not being involved in the discussion. All the energy and money spent on fighting these battles should be put to better use by not introducing them via the state that represents all different types of ideologies and religions.

“He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.” --Thomas Paine

As to the historicity of the Bible; I am no expert. Aside from having read it in it’s entirely a few times and then looking up various passages more times than I can remember, I would not say that I “study” it. However, the point I was making in my response to your post is that it is deeply flawed book, not the least of which is its historicity. I have never claimed the Bible to be useless either philosophically or historically. It’s certainly not a great book for philosophy (downright heinous at times), but it has its moments. Historically, there is some value to it, but by and large there are too many holes, inconsistencies and inaccuracies for it to be truly useful. There are a plethora of historical claims that are provably false within the Bible. If I am going to study history I am better off with another book. Again, I’m not going to hash that all out here, because I would suspect you know that to be true or can use the computer to find out for yourself. While the two men are not fond of each other you should check out Bart Erhman and Richard Carrier for non-theistic takes on the Bible. Erhman is a little more forgiving, fyi.

Finally, the last point I would like to make revisits the “passive atheism” discussion. For me personally, once I came to the realization that faith is an inadequate mode of operation and that theistic and religious claims are false, whether harmful or not, it becomes a lost cause on respecting it. The mechanism of belief (faith) is dangerous because it can allow any claim or belief to be believed. It is a useless method to determine what is true or not. It is, however, a fantastic method to believe what one wants to believe. The difference being that a properly skeptical person that arrives at atheism is not operating via faith. It is completely rational to reject theistic and religious claims. The onus is on the claims of the believer.

If you are interested in understanding this point more please read two of my recent posts entitled “The Premise of Atheism: Rejecting the Positive Assertion” and “Above All…Faith.” I think those two essays sum up my reasoning rather well.


@blamer said...

Nice one, Steve.

Poe's Law suggests religious parody is indistinguishable from sincere religiosity.

On why atheists are so angry; yes just ask. Religio-politics. Defending secularism. New Atheism is counter-movement to the religious leaders who're poking holes in Jefferson's "wall of separation between church and state". The devout may be factually mistaken about Yahweh, but they are wrong to hijack our liberal democracy. Secular ethics isn't inferior to religious morality. They oughtn't dehumanise us infidels, even if we're mistaken about their religion and god.

On biblical scholarship; just ask Ivy League Universities. Modern theologians are useless because they've schismed into sects. They can't agree what Yahweh's words mean. Meanwhile institutions that have secularised are approaching the facts of the matter. Just as have for other texts purported to be "inspired by god".

Anonymous said...

I liked the beggining of your post, but your ending and middle is inconsistent with the start. You quoted Thomas Paine, but then sat there trying to debacle Christianity. You make yourslef a hypocrite when you say everyone should have freedom of religion, then you call religon dangerous and promote atheist to suppress it. Lastly, if your going to call out the Bible, please give examples for someone to refute, no one is going to take your accusations seriously if you don't. On top of that, if the Bible did have "too many holes, inconsistencies and inaccuracies for it to be truly useful", then every serious Christain and I must have been left in the dark somewhere. I do find it funny that no one can find any inconsistencies in the Bible when they read and take everything in context, I also find it funny that many people thought Pilot was a fake character made up by the Bible and then in 1961 his existence was proven. Man talk about historically inaccurate and unuseful.