Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Why it's easy to be an atheist

This is my response to the religious blog post "IT’S NOT EASY TO BE AN ATHEIST" by Rev. Dan Erickson.

I couldn't help but want to respond to this article because, as an atheist, I'm sick and tired of all the mistaken assumptions placed on me by condescending members of the religious theocracy. The author believes that its easier to just accept his particular religion, and gives his reasons for why he thinks it would be hard to be an atheist, showing more about his misguided understanding of secularists and general humanity than about any challenge to being a free-thinking atheist.
First, the aspiring atheist should sequester him/herself in urban settings and avoid the majesty, power and beauty of nature.The Bible says, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the skies display his craftsmanship.”One may “understand” that the “northern lights” which seem to be dancing across the sky on a clear night are the result of solar activity, but when actually viewing them, it is hard to avoid the thought that they point to something far more magnificent than our sun. Mountains, lakes, streams, trees and wild flowers all have ways of planting questions in an atheist’s mind: Is everything merely a cosmic accident? Could this all have “just happened?” Or, is there an “intelligent designer” behind the marvelous phenomena of nature? Those type of questions challenge atheistic “faith.”

The beauty and majesty of nature makes me, as an atheist, even more impressed with the complexity and raw power of the universe, without having to rely on an explanation of a creator to neatly package away the wildness into a narrow box of understanding. Just because the Reverend Dan feels terrified by the idea of not being able to explain the sunset without resorting to a magical spirit, doesn't mean everyone feels the same way. I am more than happy to bask in the magnificence of nature without having to explain it away with a designer. In fact, the sheer un-knowable power of nature is beautiful and terrible at the same time, and cannot be explained by our silly little creation stories. Science can lead us to understand some of this majesty, but to deign to think we know all and can control all is the ultimate hubris. Trees, flowers, mountains and streams do not plant questions in my mind about a deity, which leads me to believe you really don't understand atheists... as confirmed as I continue to read this ridiculous polemic. Trees and flowers may plant questions in my mind about ecology, biology, atmosphere and environment, but they don't threaten my "faith" as Erickson calls it. My love of nature isn't faith.
Second, someone who does not want to believe in God should avoid spending time with religious believers and taking their experiences seriously. Human beings have vivid imaginations. The fact someone claims to have an encounter with God, doesn’t mean it actually happened. However, when people living at many different times and in many different places all report a similar experience, intellectual honesty requires investigation of those reports. A plausible alternative explanation needs to be identified to these being genuine God encounters. If that does not seem feasible, ignoring people who claim to have had those experiences may be an atheist’s safest choice. 

Rev. Erickson does have a point that it is a great idea for atheists to avoid religious people, simply because we do not want to waste our time listening to irrelevant fiction masquerading as something important. The fact that so many people around the world throughout history have had hallucinations and daydreams about a deity, or are willing to unconditionally believe those who do, does require investigation, but that investigation leads me soundly to the realm of cultism, crowd-mentality, and lack of reliability of the senses. People see what they want to see, and follow the currents of what other people tell them to believe. Truly critical thinkers are rare, and that is why they are so important. The vast majority of humanity is more than willing to believe the latest snake-oil salesman who rolls into town with cures and proclamations. Because the major religions are old, and their authors of fiction long dead, it seems like people are willing to believe them, but to me Christianity is just like Scientology, but older. Made up for the benefit of its creator, there may be nuggets of wisdom contained within but they are simply allegories and to believe them to be true is another serious failure of logic.
 Third, one who wants to maintain his/her atheism should avoid urgent or life-threatening situations. During those times people are tempted to call upon a supernatural outside agent for help. There seem to be very few atheists in battlefield foxholes or in classrooms during final tests. Situations in which humans are vulnerable and powerless are also occasions when people tend to turn to a deity. During a drought, farmers with little religious inclination often start praying for rain. Of course, it is not easy to make sure one never encounters these type of situations, but they are fertile ground for theism to grow.
I sincerely doubt this author has done surveys of how many soldiers in foxholes and students taking exams are atheist or not, but he seems to think that everyone in a tough situation does exactly what he might do. This lack of understanding of difference among people is a little shocking considering this author is supposed to be a leader of a community. To me, it shows that he is most likely a short-sighted leader who can only give advice from his own narrow perspective.  To address the actual issue, this point really shows the reason why people feel the need to believe in religion in the first place, but doesn't prove that religion is right. This shows that when people feel powerless, it makes them feel better to feel like somebody is looking out for them because the reality is too frightening for many people to accept. The reality that when you are feeling vulnerable or helpless, there isn't a god out there controlling things and making them go your way. If there was, wouldn't both sports teams win, if they both prayed to god to ask him to make them win? Or was one sports team more deserving of god's micromanagement than the other? For an atheist to encounter a situation where they feel powerless, it can be tough, just like it's tough for any person to encounter a situation where they feel powerless. Where the atheist is different is in their response to that situation. We do not believe we are special princesses that deserve our daddy god to come fix things for us. We are all part of the same vast, uncontrollable world and that can be scary, but it makes me hold onto my logic and critical thinking with even more gratitude.
Fourth, a person wanting to avoid theism should hole up in a university-like setting, where atheists tend to congregate. They do so not because they are more intelligent than theists, but because this setting allows for greater energy devoted to explaining away God’s existence than most. When theistic thoughts start to seep into one’s mind, it is helpful to have friends around who will serve as a reminder that, even though arguments in favor of atheism are often shallow and self-refuting, “cool people” just don’t believe in God.
I do tend to agree with the author, here, that university is a great place for secularists and atheists to congregate. Because being in a community that values critical thinking, scientific investigation, and exchange of ideas is a great place to be for any atheist who feels like they are alone in a world of frightened, reactionary, shallow believers. In reality, intelligent people do tend to gather at universities. While there are many other factors involved in who gets to attend university such as socio-economic background and the unique historical and cultural context of each region's institutions of higher learning, universities do tend to assemble more rational, intelligent groups of people who are open to challenging their beliefs, and willing to take the hard road of questioning all assumptions.

I don't pretend to speak for all atheists but this post summarizes the indignant feelings I had while reading the above quoted religious tripe.

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