13 November, 2008

Progress Report


And might I say there would have been a lot more if the cat hadn't had a deliberate accident in my bed, necessitating a long clean-up. If it ain't one damned thing, it's another.

This is why many writers wish they could live in a vault, alone, with pre-prepared meals and a plentiful supply of their favorite beverage when it comes time to do something ridiculous like NaNo.

Anyway. Did get some writing done tonight, and put today's news to good use:

There are entire books written that deconstruct religion from an atheist's point of view, so if you want more than this brief sketch, I encourage you to pick up Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens's God is Not Great, or Sam Harris's Letter to a Christian Nation. That last book mentioned is very short, but it's brutally honest, and it's written directly to you. It might be the best place to start.

I'm afraid we don't have a very flattering view of religion to offer. In fact, it can seem very much like we hate it, and in some respects, we do. Religion is used to justify a lot of evil.

Consider the news I saw just today. Children in a Mormon enclave of Idaho chanting "assassinate Obama!" on the bus ride home. The Catholic and Mormon churches spending over a decade and tens of millions of dollars to battle same-sex marriage. A soldier discharged from the Army for assaulting a Jewish soldier who complained of religious harassment. This kind of news is depressingly common.

Religion has been used to justify slavery, torture, and wholesale slaughter. Good Christians have spent centuries killing each other over theological disagreements. Religious strife tears communities and nations apart. Religious intolerance condones and encourages bigotry, prejudice, and racism.

"But that's not Christianity," you'd say to me if we were sitting here together. "That's not what God wants."

The problem with that statement is, you're wrong. Hatred, violence and repression might not be part of your particular flavor of Christianity, but it's enshrined in the Bible right alongside Jesus's admonitions to minister to the poor and do unto others as you would have done to yourself. There's really no way to separate the good parts from the bad, because the entire book is supposed to be the divine word of God.

Religion encourages its followers to shut down their critical thought and just believe. You're taught to have faith. That may seem like a good thing to you, but to us, it's terribly dangerous. When people are taught that questioning divine revelation is wrong, they lose their capacity to question their leaders when they're told that God doesn't want gays to marry, or Obama is the antichrist, or the end of the world is coming within a few years. All of these things have been said by respected Christian leaders. All of these things have been taken seriously by their followers. Christians have been led to believe some truly awful things. They believe those awful things are God's word.

Religious fanaticism sends young men and women out into crowded plazas with bombs strapped to their bodies. It sends otherwise decent people to the polls to deny their fellow citizens the right to marry. It justifies bombing abortion clinics and causes believers to celebrate the murders of doctors. It causes parents to fight against the science standards our schools need if they are to educate a future generation of cutting-edge American scientists.

The good that religion does is a paltry thing indeed compared to the bad.

And what is most horrible to us is that religious people claim that these terrible things are moral. They truly believe that they are doing God's will when they put a stop to stem cell research, or forbid birth control, or cause their children to suffer unbearable guilt over their awakening sexual urges.

Atheists do hate religion. We have excellent reasons for doing so.

We view religion as a dangerous threat to humanity. Even the mild, caring, loving forms of it contain seeds that can grow into fanaticism. We believe this is because religion teaches you to rely on faith, not evidence or reason. Some churches like to pride themselves on their rationality, but it's a sham rationality. There's nothing rational about believing that God has ordered you to follow moral laws that do nothing but create misery and conflict.

You say that religious people have done a lot of good because of their religion. We say that some religious people have done good in spite of it.

You say that a person must believe in God to be moral. We say that believing in God makes you less moral.

And so on. We fundamentally disagree on these points. We always will. Atheists just can't see religion the way that you do.

It's one of the reasons we're atheists.
This little bit will need some severe buffing and polishing later on, with perhaps more concrete examples, and of course footnotes since paper pages don't have hyperlinks, but as far as a skeleton on which to hang a brief explanation as to why we dislike religion so, it's a start.

Apropos of nothing, and going back to the categories, how do you all like the term "fire-breathing atheists" rather than "militant atheists"? Myself, I like it. It seems like something to aspire to.


Andre Vienne said...

I like 'fire-breathing atheists' too, actually. It does sound like something to aspire to, and avoids using the 'militant' loaded word.

Though, it does bring up a bad mental connection in me with the 'Kids on Fire!' spiritual warfare camp shown in the Jesus Camp documentary.

... Great. Now I have a mental image of PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins running around and herding children with flame.

I'm a terrible person.

Napalm sticks to kids.

Lirone said...

I think you might have to qualify the bit about atheists hating religion.

Speaking personally I'd say my attitude to religion is similar to my attitude to drugs - deadly (for self and others) when abused, inappropriate when thrust on other people, possibly not too harmful (or even beneficial) if used moderately and in private. Also addictive and influenced by peer pressure!

So I'd say something along the lines of:

"So yes, many atheists do hate religion because they see how often it is responsible for this kind of intolerance and bigotry. And even those who don't hate it generally view it with a deep suspicion."

You might also want to address the "atheists hate religion because it stops them doing what they want" argument at some point.

Lirone said...

Sorry... managed to miss out the cheerleading for your NaNoWriMo progress! Good stuff...

Mechalith said...

I generally describe myself as an anti-theist. Not only do I not believe in a god, I think the patterns and flavors of thought nurtured by magical thinking are actively harmful to oneself and to society as a whole because of the viral nature of monotheistic beliefs. I don't see it as the kind of thing we can quietly tolerate specifically because they have a built in imperative to try to infect everything around them.

Good work so far. =)

Blake Stacey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blake Stacey said...

What Lirone said, more or less.

Also, I like "fire-breathing atheists". Makes me feel like I have a superpower! Well, besides synaesthesia. :-)

Cujo359 said...

I'm not so much anti-religion, per se, as I am anti-stupidity. Religions certainly contribute quite a bit to the level of stupidity in the world, but they're not the only things that do. There are plenty of examples of secular delusion as well - conspiracy theorists and holocaust deniers being two of the more noticeable these days. People seem to have a need to believe that powerful forces are running their world. I suppose that's because the truth is that most of us are powerless to have much influence on it. Might as well blame it on somebody.

Religions do a great deal of harm, but they also do good. Many have organizations that help the poor and unfortunate. The Salvation Army and Catholic Relief Service come to mind. Some of the people I work with help out at a soup kitchen a couple of times a month as part of their church activity.

Quite a few travesties that have occurred in the name of religion were at least partly due to secular concerns. What would Joshua have done if he didn't have Moses and his god to blame for his sadistic impulses? He probably would have continued on anyway, and blamed his victims.

How people choose to use the teachings of their religion has a great deal more to say about them than it does about the religions themselves. If you accept that notion, then you start to view religion as another way of understanding people.