Unless you’ve stumbled upon this blog accidentally, you likely already know that I’m an atheist. It’s no big news for me, I’ve been comfortable with it my entire life, but for some, it may come as a surprise. “But you’re such a good person,” they say, as though the two are mutually exclusive. “Well what about when you die?” they ask, as though I’m worried about what comes next. “What keeps you from just murdering people?” they question, as though only the religious are able to hold back their road rage enough to make it through the day. But, it’s cool, because people often ask me questions about atheism, science, rational thought, and other related topics. I enjoy these exchanges for the most part, as I hope that both of us learn something out of it.
Recently, my friend Ed linked me to an article on Alternet entitled 5 Myths Atheists Believe About Religion, and asked for my take on it. Ok, ok, he asked me months ago. Well, feel free to read the article, here is my response:
5. Liberal and Moderate Religion Justifies Religious Extremism
The author is correct – moderate religious folks don’t justify the extremists. I feel, however, that he cherry picked the quotes from Dawkins, and possibly Harris. I’m more familiar with Dawkins’ thoughts on the subject (although I haven’t read his book, The God Delusion, from which this quote was taken). If I remember right, Dawkins doesn’t see moderate religion as justifying extremism, but rather that the moderate practice of religion sets up/allows the conditions for extremism. Chief in this concern is the idea that the vast majority of religions are top-down in their dogma, and therefore discouraging questioning. This situation opens the door for more and more extremist views over time, as the leadership is continually not questioned. Atheists, on the other hand, are generally pro-science. The scientific method and the basis of rational thought is built upon the idea of bottom-up questioning. It encourages all members to challenge assumptions, results, and methods. This is in stark contrast to the vast majority of religions in human history – direction came from God, and you are not supposed to question it. When that “direction” gets put in the hands of extremist thought, followers are apt to believe it because it supposedly came from god. Scientific and rational processes run contrary to that method – you have to prove yourself in science. In order for a theory to be accepted, it must be supported by mountains of evidence, and your methods must be so sound that others can duplicate your results. I think it was Dawkins (may have been Harris, actually), that said “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.” That is more along the lines of their thinking on this topic, methinks.
4. Religion Requires a Belief in a Supernatural God
Meh, this is arguing semantics. He’s right – you don’t have to believe in a god to be religious, but I’d wager that the majority of yours and my friends would include a belief in a god if you asked them to define “religion”.
3. Religion Causes Bad Behavior
See #5. Religion probably causes some bad behavior (if you’re Christian, you’ll probably say “But those people aren’t TRUE Christians”), but he’s right, much of it probably has to do more with human nature than religion. But again, the way religion sets up a mindset, makes it easier to believe that a. you will be absolved of your wrongdoings in some later life, or b. that what you’re doing isn’t wrong at all. As an extreme example, lets take child molesters. As we all know, the Catholic church has received a lot of flak in recent years as scandal after scandal of child molestion by clergy came to light. I’d wager that most of these clergy members fell into one of those two camps – either believing that their sins will be washed away in the afterlife, or that because of their position in the church/standing with god, they weren’t doing anything wrong. Of course, this isn’t 100% unique to religion – secularists can make those same assumptions, but it is rare, because most of them don’t believe in an afterlife, and most of them derive their morality from societal cues. With religion, though, you can be shielded from society both figuratively and literally – the church may seek to hide you, or hide your actions, to save their face. Again, this can happen outside of religion, but it is much more prominent in religion. (Disclaimer – I don’t have data to back that up, I’m talking more about mindsets and ideas, so take it with a grain of salt)
2. Atheists are Anti-Religious
Again, semantics. Again, he’s right – technically. Not ALL atheists are anti-religion, not ALL anti-religious people are atheists. Most people would equate the two, for better or worse. I’m often anti-religion, but I’m not representative of all atheists. Many “atheists” that aren’t anti-religion prefer to identify themselves as agnostic (which has a different meaning). Often times the act of identifying yourself as an atheist is seen as a hostile move – it not only says “I’m not sure if there is a god”, it says “I KNOW there isn’t a god”. That isn’t necessarily anti-religion, but it correlates often.
1. All Religions are the Same and are “Equally Crazy”
Personally, I think they are all the same and all “Equally Crazy”. Go back to #5 – religion makes a person ok with not understanding the world. To me – that’s crazy.