“I Go Weeks Without Thinking About Religion Or God. And Why Would I?”

Freddie at L’Hote:

An atheist convention! A bunch of people sitting around not being religious! People brought together by their absence of belief in something! Spending money to hear speakers talk to them about how they can better be not-something and not-believe in the not-deity! Several fun-filled days thinking about God because you don’t believe in him and think he’s a jerk! What could it possibly matter to me if my neighbors go to church? What could I possibly feel towards them because of what I don’t feel? How could a genuine atheism compel one towards anger or bitterness? No, what anger exists is anger at the God you say you don’t believe in.

No. Atheism is not a project.It has no purpose. It proceeds towards no end. It has no meaning beyond the simplicity of absence. It has as little negative presence as positive and demands no philosophy. Sam Harris’s life is dominated by religion. It’s what he thinks about; it’s what he writes about; it’s how he pays the bills. He speaks all over the country about religion, he opines on it constantly, denying it is his constant endeavor. His intellectual and philosophical life could hardly be more centered around religion if he were a monk.

Me? I go weeks without thinking about religion or God. And why would I?

Andrew Stuttaford at Secular Right:

With the important qualification that I do spend quite a bit of time pondering the implications of religious belief (to start with, there’s that whole rise of militant Islam business to think about), I have some sympathy for what Freddie is saying, even if I suspect that many of those who have taken the trouble to define themselves as atheists have already spent far more time on this topic than it deserves.

Dan Hallock at A Geek, Observed:

Freddie at L’Hote thinks atheists, despite being right, should sit down and shut up:

[...]

My first response is simply to observe that if you go weeks without thinking about religion or God, I’m curious where you live and who your associates are. Religion interjects itself into my life quite frequently.

Patrick Appel posts a reader e-mail:

Regarding your recent post of one atheist claiming bemusement (and, if I’m reading him right, some annoyance) at the apparent contradiction between being an atheist and spending much of your time involved in religion, I must say that I find it a little surprising to see this classic accusation of dishonesty coming from an atheist.

The post is startling in how well written it is as compared to how childishly bad his reasoning is. Apparently, once you don’t believe in a deity, any and all earthly concerns about the real, observable effects of religion in the world we all share become irrelevant.

Since Harris does not believe in a god he should not concern himself over the trifling matter of jihadists flying planes into buildings. Since Hitchens is an atheist the murder of teenage girls at the hands of their fundamentalist fathers, brothers and uncles should be of no concern to him. How indifference towards religion should follow from non-belief in religion is not explained, probably because you can’t get there from here.

Later in the post he makes the almost as ridiculous claim that though of course there are people who would like to force their religious views on the rest of us and this must be fought against (gee, I forget, who are the strongest voices against this sort of thing….Sam something, Christopher someone else) the underlying truth of the religious claims on which policies are formed is irrelevant to the discussion. How someone is supposed to make the argument that a religiously mandated death penalty for homosexuality can be argued against without touching the underlying theology and rationality he does not say.

Freddie doesn’t care and that’s his right, but if he wants to make the argument that none of the rest of us should care either, he’s going to have to come up with a better argument than that.

Freddie responds:

Let’s talk tactics, shall we? This emailer with the terrible reading comprehension and I have as a first goal the same thing, which is keeping religious conviction out of politics, science and medicine. The history of the world teaches us that this is best accomplished not through atheism but through religious moderation. This is something many atheists must come to grips with if they are ever going to grow up: religious moderates do a far better job of opposing extremists than atheists do. Look, aside from all of the “American theocracy” hysterics, this country does quite a good job of keeping the secular and the religious separate. There is much work to be done, but this is not Saudia Arabia, it is not Yemen. And why? Not because of atheism, but because of moderate religious people who have worked to divide theology from governance for centuries. When people express incredulity at the idea that people can both be practicing and religious and yet function in a secular society, I wonder what world they live in. Here on Planet Earth, in America, you interact with such people every day. They seem to have no trouble with it whatsoever.

Look to the Muslim world. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. It has a significant Muslim minority. And yet it also has significant Christian, Hindu and Buddhist minorities that live quite unmolested. Women wear pants, work in public, vote, hold office. Why? Not because some tide of atheism swept through Indonesia, but because of religious moderates embracing Enlightenment values and liberal democracy. I assure you, the large majority of these people are devout. They simply see no conflict between their religious devotion and their participation in civic life. If denying terrorism or other kinds of religious extremism can come only through the enforcement of atheism– if I am compelled, as this emailer insists, to wish to convert the unfaithful– then the prospects of liberal democracy and Enlightenment values are threatened indeed. Those values defend the religious as well as the areligious.

There is a lot of nonsense in the competing claims of the public face of atheism, but none is more obvious than what claims it is credulous to and what it is overly skeptical about. Many atheists, presumably like this emailer, have overly skeptical opinions about the ability of most religious believers to balance religious and civic life. Again, you probably know many people who believe, go to church, and yet never think to inject their religion into politics. Balanced against that is a frankly absurd naivete about the power of argument to convince people to abandon God or religion altogether. Which do you think is easier? To convince someone who has religious faith to totally abandon that identity? Or to convince them of the righteousness of dividing it from political life? Elementary human psychology teaches me that the more you attack the fundamental basis for someone’s worldview, the more likely you are to earn violent pushback as a result. If you are a liberal, you don’t try to bring a conservative around on a particular issue by asking him to abandon conservatism altogether. You ask him to reconsider the issue at hand, and you do so in a way that demonstrates respect to that larger overarching belief.

This is not fun. You can’t post a vlog about it on Youtube and get people applauding you for it. You can’t posit that you are one of the few brilliant geniuses in a sea of idiocy by doing it. You can’t come up with all sorts of self-aggrandizing narratives with it. But it is the basic task of liberal democracy and it is the path of adulthood.

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