"I'm an atheist"

10000li's picture

Here is the full quote from Carol Tarvis, including the omitted last sentence:

One of the problems with the skeptical movement is that it attempts to take important beliefs away from people without replacing them. People believe that skeptics and scientists are forever telling them their ideas are wrong, stupid, and naive — “No, you can’t talk to Uncle Henry from beyond the grave; that medium is a fraud” or “No, crushed aardvark bones can’t cure your cancer.” One problem with the critical thinking movement, which came from philosophy, was that it missed the psychological and emotional reasons that people don’t think critically and don’t want to think critically. Until you understand the forces that make people want to believe something, you can’t just expect people to listen rationally to a set of arguments that will skewer their deepest, most cherished ideas.

source: http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/11-02-09/#feature

Reading the rest of the interview, we see that Ms. Tarvis is talking about the fact that beliefs don't exist in a vacuum, and someone who wishes to change another's bad beliefs needs to take into consideration the good beliefs that are attached to it.

This morning, I saw another of those "I'm a Mormon" billboards showing normal, people doing normal things.

I was thinking that atheists are in need of such advertising
- directed AT atheists.

Huh? Well, I know quite a few atheists who think that being an atheist is being an Atheist, as if it were a job description or some kind of religion or something.

It's not.

It's just an answer to one philosophical question.

The question is, "Is there a god?"

The answer is, "No."

That's all it takes to be an atheist, and that's all there is to being an atheist.

We still have to figure out how to live moral lives, what kind of rituals we will create, inherit or abandon, what our political philosophies will be, and "What's the meaning of life?"

Atheism doesn't provide guidance on any of those issues. It cannot. People have to figure it out for themselves. Just like all people have had to do since the dawn of humanity.

But there is a large group of atheists who think atheism creates obligations. They think that just because someone is an atheist, they must believe in evolution, must be a liberal and must practice situational ethics.

Nope. Not required.

You can be an atheist and believe that aliens seeded the Earth.

You can be an atheist and always vote Republican.

You can be an atheist and believe in astrology, or fairies or that the moon is made of green cheese and the landings were faked.

In other words, you can be an atheist and just be a normal person.

I wish more atheists would realize this.


Catch 22

Republibot 3.0's picture


In the novel Catch 22, Yosarian is in bed with his flight instructor's wife, and it plays out something like this:
Yosarian: I don't believe in God.
Woman: Me neither.
Yosarian: I mean, it doesn't make any sense to believe in God.
Woman: I agree.
Yosarian: Who could possibly believe in God with all the pain and suffering and misery in the world?
Woman: [Begins to cry]
Yosarian: What are you blubbering about, you idiot?
Woman: You don't believe in God!
Yosarian: Yeah? So? You just said you don't believe in God, either!
Woman: Yes, but the God I don't believe in is kind and loving. The God you don't believe in is cruel and mean.

>>That said, it's a bit simplistic to say that I leaned on other's understanding... there's still the process of determiningwhose other understanding fits. But yes, my path has been straighter, if no less rocky than R3's.<<

Not intended as an insult, and I'm not diminishing anything. If you're where you need to be, then the best way to get there was how you did it. If you're not where you need to be, then how you got here doesn't matter. My point was simply that methodologies differ. There's a lot right with libraries and tour groups, and nothing wrong with that line of inquiry. I'm just naturally predisposed to a 'cut to the chase' kind of thing, and tend to go off poking around in the wilderness by myself.

It's just the way I'm built. You're built different. 10000 Li is built differenter still.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

This isn't snark, but it sure looks like it.

10000li's picture


My humorous summary of the above arguments:

R3: God is whatever I want it to be, but there's still a God. But especially I believe in a sophisticated God, well beyond the comprehension of everyday muggles.

Mama Fisi: God is the explanation of all the things I can't explain.

R2: God is whatever I want it to be, within the context of my Christian upbringing. (and just as sophisticated as R3's version, so there)

Misquoting, here

Mama Fisi's picture


"The paths are many, but the destination is the same."

You know, the fun part about engaging in philosophical debates, is that while there may never be any "winners," if we have our minds opened up to alternative ways of seeing things, then we come away with a prize more valuable than the honor of saying "Neener, neener, neener! I won!"

As an unexamined life is not worth living, examining just what it is we need to give meaning to our lives has engaged the thoughts of humans for generations. As we have imaginations and can conceive of things which we cannot see, we come up with intricate stories to explain how we think the unseen parts of reality work. From the small child diligently telling her grandmother about the family of monsters living under her bed, to the theologians counting how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, we're very adept at making up stories to fill in the blanks of our understanding.

(Incidentally, angels have better things to be doing than dancing on pins.)

We can perhaps view religion as storytelling codified into ritual and raised to the sacred. And just as some people don't like reading science fiction, or romances, or philosophical dissertations on cheesemaking in fiftheenth-century France, so too there are bound to be people who feel that religious stories are just simplistic fairytales that have no beraring on their own lives. And they are perfectly correct.

But for the vast majority of people, those fairy stories give shape and meaning to their lives; they inform them of how to live as moral and responsible beings in a complex and morally ambiguous world.

Are they any more right than the people who decide to reject the myths and rituals? It's impossible to say, because any sort of yardstick we could choose to utilize is going to be flawed. If we point out that "religion teaches morality" we must also point out that "millions of people have been tortured and killed in the name of religion." If we say "religion provides a sense of unity and community" we counter with "religion can promote exclusionism and xenophobia resulting in warfare between sects." For every happy marriage that begins at an altar, is a wrecked marriage that died even before the bills from the wedding were paid off.

Priests abuse the power of their office, and spread hatred and dissent. Priests also give great comfort and cousel to people at critical crossroads in their lives. (I use "priest" to mean all religious leaders.) Many have saved lives with timrely interventions.

All of these, though, are human failings. The interpretations of "what God means" are all filtered through human perspectives. And just as humans are individuals, so are their viewpoints.

As a result of this discussion, I've been thinking a lot about this issue, and I'd like to posit the following points:

1) Not all humans require a belief in a Supreme Being, but a belief in some sort of Supreme Being is common to human beings throughout history.

2) The methodology of considering a Supreme Being is unique to every human, within the parameters of the culture to which the human belongs.

3) Promoting a religion is useful to a culture because it promotes solidarity among the members.

4) Promoting a religion is also useful to the ruling class of a culture because it provides a means of disseminating rules and keeping the "lower orders" in line, as well as protecting the interests of the ruling class.

5) The predisposition toward "religious thought" can also be turned toward the "worship" of non-Godly ideas, like sports, science, celebrities, or anything that can attain a "fandom." The word "fan" comes from "fanatic." People who may not consider themselves very religious can go completely nuts over, say, the Baltimore Ravens. Or the Grateful Dead. Or Elvis. Or Star Trek. Or climate change.

6) Human beings, being different than all the rest of the animals on Earth, try to explain this difference by imagining the concept of God. Humans can act in God-like ways, creating and destroying and altering nature. They observe causality and coincidence and think that there might be something or someone controlling their actions the way they control the actions of plants and animals. They do not have a concrete answer, so they make up a theory that accounts for the holes in their knowledge.

7) Human beings can be capable of great things, for both good or evil. Good and evil can be subjective concepts, however, depending upon one's point of view. (I saw a hawk miss a pigeon. Which was good and which was evil?) (One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.) The "problem of evil" is that humans have a choice about how they are going to conduct themselves. They can obey the culture's laws and be "good" or they can defy them and be "bad." But if the laws themselves are corrupt, then what is "good" and what is "bad?" "Evil" then can be considered to be whatever is against the comfort and well-being of the greatest number of people. It doesn't even have to be intentional--a tornado or an earthquake can be "evil" because they destroy homes and lives, but neither is inherently bad or intentionally evil. They're just natural forces, same as disease and death. Humans who choose to put themselves in harm's way tend to bring "evil" down upon themselves.

@ 10000li: I hope you have enjoyed this discussion. I know I have, even if I've gotten a little upset by it at times. I'm well aware that no positions were changed, because as Ben Franklin observed, "A man convinced against his will remains a doubter still."

But by discussing his doubts, he may have his eyes opened a little.

Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.
Magpie House Comics



"R2: God is whatever I want it to be, within the context of my Christian upbringing. (and just as sophisticated as R3's version, so there)"

Actually, it's "God is; He's chosen to reveal Himself through Christ, Reason be damned". :)

And there's a huu-u-u-u-u-ge difference between an unknowable God and His 'being what I want Him to be'. I'd like ponys and rainbows as much as the next person, but that isn't God- and therefore God is not what I want Him to be.

In fact, He is frequently very, very inconvenient. I had a lesson in loving my enemies and humility last year about this time, and it tore me to shreds. But I saw some things, and I learned some things and as a result the way I live my life is far better. Without belief and faith, over a dozen lives would've been very adversely affected, probably more.

And I can say with a high degree of certainty that atheism would've failed in the same circumstance. (So would a host of other '-isms')

Good work, Mama Fisi

10000li's picture


You've done an excellent job summing up all the ideas regarding the concepts of religion and believing in God.

I'll refer to the ideas in your post whenever I feel the desire to get into another discussion about religion.



Thus far, bad stuff

Republibot 3.0's picture


>>If we take religious belief out of the mix, what do we get?<<

The easy answer is: bad stuff. The Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China. The Killing Fields of Cambodia.

Does it *have* to be that way? *PROBABLY* not (But not definitively not), but the large-scale attempts at purely atheist societies have been unmitigated disasters. One could argue that this is because they chose to associate themselves with ruthless wholesale social engineering projects, and that's probably fair, but at the same time it undersells the idea that ruthless social engineers are the only group with whom the idea had any real traction. Guilt by association, but not one that can be handwaved away: In both cases you're attempting to replace a social organ that evolved over a VERY long time (Capitalism, Religion, Traditional society) with an arcane theory that has little or no basis in the way people actually work or live.

So: Bad stuff.

Conversely, the 18th and 19th attempts to create secular (But not atheist) societies have been, on the whole, far more successful and far more "Up with people."

The obvious question is "Why stop there? Keep going, get rid of it all!" It may not be a scale, though. "Secular" may be as far as you can reasonably go and still remain with due respect for the rights of man (Including our right to base our lives round nonsense). Going further might be a little too close to the Thought Police.

That's just my hunch, not an answer, of course.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

Not exactly

Republibot 3.0's picture


>>R3: God is whatever I want it to be, but there's still a God. But especially I believe in a sophisticated God, well beyond the comprehension of everyday muggles.<<

I can't speak for the others - and I disagree with both of them here and there - but that's not my point at all, and if it comes across like that, I've done a poor job explaining myself.

My point was, is, and evermore shall be that the actual real existence of God is irrelevant to whether or not Faith (And by extension religion) are hard-wired into humanity. I've not actually gone into religious arguments (Though I've stated my own opinions on occasion) but I'm basically giving a scientific argument here, so my own personal beliefs in and about God don't really enter into it.

Whether or not God is doesn't matter in the context of this discussion: *WE* are. The question you keep asking is "Why do we need an imaginary friend" and my answer is that neurologically and psychologically and emotionally, we're programmed for it. Why? Because it is an evolutionary advantage and a survival advantage. Perhaps a modest one, but a .00001% advantage will eventually win out when all else is equal, yes?

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

On the conflict between Rationalism and Irrationalism

Republibot 3.0's picture


From one of my reviews:

>>The original intent of Bokononism was to provide a religion that would give honest, rational answers and thereby free the people of San Lorenzo from their unhappiness, backbreaking poverty, and priest-enslaved minds. This worked not at all well, and the self-proclaimed prophet Bokonnon realized that rational answers can’t really give meaning to life. Thereafter he preaches open lies, with his only real concession to rationalism being that he openly admits he’s a liar. The sloppy conflict between Bokonnon’s followers (Pretty much the entire island) and the official state-sponsored Christianity (Itself rather vague and cultic on this island) is, itself, basically a deliberate fraud to add a little drama to the cult. “Every good religion is a form of treason,“ as Bokonnon says. Alas, this has gotten a bit out of hand of late, with both sides of the faux conflict going a bit unhinged.<<

Full review and context here

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0


Mama Fisi's picture


It's a shame the majority of atheists aren't as nice and friendly as 10000li. The billboards they chose to put up were not only inflamatory and insulting, but placed in neighborhoods guaranteed to get a huge and angry counter-reaction. I guess they never heard the saying about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar.

And does it strike anybody else as amusingly ironic that it poured down rain all night and all day on the Atheism Rally in DC on Saturday?


I'm about three hours west of DC, and it rained so hard overnight that we had three inches of standing water in our driveway at 5 AM, and I had to get my sheep out of the lambing shed next to the house because it was flooded.

I'd forgotten that the atheists were staging a rally today. Coincidence?

Kinda reminds me of that old video camera commercial where the couple is getting married in an outdoor ceremony. The priest says "If anyone has any reason why this marriage should not take place..." and it starts to rain, so they go indoors. The question comes up again, and the power goes out. So they light a candle. And the candle blows out.

Of course, the atheists would not see any irony whatsoever in the rain. It's just rain and in the springtime it rains.

Of course, it's been dry for *weeks* here...


(Note to Atheists: Stage Another Rally--We Could Use The Rain!)

Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.
Magpie House Comics