April 20, 2014

On Atheism and belief

This week has been a good one, mostly because we just adopted a new puppy.  More on that later.  But as today is Easter, I am writing about religion and belief.  I saw a post on Hobby Lobby today where the company had a published ad about Jesus writing the "ultimate love story" or something to that effect.  All fine and good--they have the right to pay for their advertisement.  But the cynicism struck both of us.  For those in the Christian tribe, this is a strident and courageous defense of the faith.  For the rest of us, it is a way to play to the victimization of the Christian tribe and, oh, by the way, get a few of them to come buy Chinese-made crap at their stores.  Oh, and we won't mention that they are more than willing to do business with countries with forced abortion or horrible human rights violations, but they will run to the Supreme Court to deny women access to contraceptives.

Back to the title.  Recently I had a few arguments with some atheists on Facebook.  One, I know, came from a fundy background, and that might explain his stridency now.  He seems to have replaced the absolutism of Christian fundamentalism with fundamentalist atheism.  You know, it isn't just that he no longer believes that God exists, but he doesn't think you should either.

So (and I know Tony probably found this rather funny if he saw it) I became the vocal defender of the faith.  And I am ok with that.  As many questions as I have on this Easter, I have respect for those who believe (and know that is shared by my friends here on the blog).  I know there is a great tradition of believers asking important questions and working very hard to make the world a better place as they can.

Which leads to my current anger.  After defending religious belief to a couple of militant atheists, I return to look at the state of conservative religion in my country and the rage builds.  I defend faith, and read about tribal attacks on World Vision for daring to embrace their current gay employees.  I read about Billy Graham's son praising the criminal Vladimir Putin for his anti-gay stances.  I read about conservative Republicans wanting to cut $125 billion from food stamps for hungry people.  And I am still mindful that these same conservative evangelicals thought that torture was ok as long as it was done to Muslims and as long as we remembered how scared we were after 9-11.

It is wearying.  And while I am well aware that many, if not most atheists are motivated by their own understanding of the universe, I can't help but think that modern Christianity is not doing itself any favors. The days of worrying about witness seem long gone, and while they would find this vulgar, my current view of the Hobby Lobby defenders is of people with the Bible in one hand and the middle finger up on the other.  After all, Hobby Lobby has to be proud that it has annoyed liberals, and Obama supporters.  Isn't that the goal of Christianity, after all?



Noah Smith said...

For as ticked as you get about "militant" fundies, a bunch of us get ticked about "militant atheists." Unfortunately, the word "militant" is used to brand every single one of us every time we speak-up about a perceived wrong done to atheists, or perceived wrongs done in the name of religion. Bam: branded "militant" right away. Not fair. (Not saying you did so - you didn't in fact - just that word raises my hackles is all I'm saying). But it's not the use of that brand that ticks us off. It's that there exists such strident UNbelievers. Already a coupe strikes against my ilk just be *being* unbelievers and then we got the really idiot strident ones essentially proving everyone's point about what dicks the non believers are. Here's looking at your EXTRAORDINARILY-shitty tweets, Dawkins...

There have been several attempts of late to organize we heathens and do some good. Food drives, fundraisers for good organizations, etc. In every attempt has the peanut gallery chimed-in with their Ultra-Contrarian bullshit; ZOMG if we do that then we're no better than religions winge winge. Tiresome.

Anyway, all that to say: there are solid reasons that I don't - or more rightly can't - believe. But they are *my* reasons. It's the outcome of a journey I've taken. Not my wife, not my kids, not my neighbor. How *dare* I force that on people, especially people who find a great deal of comfort and community in belief. My wife is one example.

Forcing unbelief - and believing that somehow unbelief is in any way superior to belief - is the ultimate irony. Isn't...isn't...that the very criticism of fundy religion???

The two can and should coexist. They do in my household. I just get different meaning from the Homily and I look at the rituals of the service with a different eye. But that doesn't make those words and rituals any less meaningful or important, and I'll give our church this: it *is* a great and caring place where complete strangers who share merely 1 hour on a Sunday in common will bend over backwards to help parishoners in need.

leighton said...

Seems like that's the hazards of demographics: whichever group is more popular is going to have more giant douchebags (not necessarily more per capita, but more overall). And the more popular group is going to have more power and money to disseminate their message(s) of assholery.

My Koine Greek professor used to say something like - part of the reason religion is such a bloody, tragic mess at this time in history is the mismatch between major religions' origins and their current circumstances. Islam came about as a way to guide expanding empires down the path of justice and mercy, but Muslim communities in the world are consistently oppressed and marginalized - by trade policy and foreign militaries, if nothing else. Christianity started as a way for an oppressed minority community to keep its light burning so it could illuminate the world, but that darkened when they seized the reins of empire. "Count the cost [for following me]" in Luke 14.28 has become "Count the cost [for NOT joining the tribe]." "Take up your cross and follow me" in Matt 16.24 has become "Follow me, or take up your cross."

I think we need fewer Christians in the world. I think most Christians would agree, provided it's phrased as "We need fewer people who call themselves Christians, but don't behave anything like Jesus." After reading Reza Aslan, I'm not sure we need fewer Muslims in the world. Fewer extremists (of any kind), definitely.

I'm technically an atheist, but it's been years since I bothered trying to be active in any kind of nonbelief community. It does seem to me, though, that the only reason belief in absurd things is ethically problematic is that it can lead to absurd or monstrous behavior. Rather than focusing on one particular cause of monstrous behavior, why not oppose the monstrous behavior itself? There's no shortage. I agree with Christians (except 19th century Southern Baptists) that slavery is wrong and ought to be stopped - today, not just in the past. I agree with Muslims (except smugglers in parts of Malaysia) that human trafficking is wrong and ought to be stopped. I agree with Christians (except the upper echelons of the Catholic hierarchy) that child rape is not only wrong, but that opposing it is more important than the preservation of an institution. I agree with Christians (except the administration of Bob Jones University) that the sexual exploitation of women is wrong, and ought to be stopped even if it threatens leaders' power and prestige.

I do think *prescriptive* beliefs in principles that undermine human dignity (perfectionism, inherent unworthiness/sinfulness, fetishization of virginity) are wrong to hold, and wrong to transmit to children. That said, it seems like there are a lot bigger issues to address.