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Friday, April 28, 2006

Angry Atheists

The good Rabbi Marc Gellman has some questions for us.

Why do nonbelievers seem to be threatened by the idea of God?

I don't know any atheists who are threatened by the "idea of God". In fact, most atheists laugh it off as a silly fantasy. But I wonder, why do you say "idea of God?" Why don't you just ask "Why do nonbelievers seem to be threatened by God?" I'm assuming that God isn't just a mere idea for you Rabbi, but rather an indisputable fact of the universe. And if it is a fact, then it doesn't really make sense to feel threatened by the "idea" of that fact. Would I ask someone if they feel threatened by the "idea" of having a nuclear waste dump in their back yard when it has been there for the past 10 years? I may be reading too much into this, but it seems to me that if God really exists (or at least you believe he exists) then you don't consider God to be an idea and you would not normally go around saying "Praise the idea of God" or "Let us pray to the idea of God". Come on Rabbi, stand up for God. Don't piss him off. I've heard his payback is hell.

So we disagree about God. I'm sometimes at odds with Yankee fans, people who like rap music and people who don't like animals, but I try to be civil. I don't know many religious folk who wake up thinking of new ways to aggravate atheists, but many people who do not believe in God seem to find the religion of their neighbors terribly offensive or oppressive, particularly if the folks next door are evangelical Christians. I just don't get it.

Rabbi, didn't you learn that you can't compare apples and oranges? Being a Yankee fan, rap music aficionado or animal hater (and I really don't think there are "animal haters", rather just people who don't necessarily want to be bothered by them) doesn't have anything to do with disagreeing about God. Religion is a fundamental philosophy of how the world works. It provides a framework and moral guideline for living. Baseball, rap music and animal preference is not a basis for morality. I can brush off a Yankee fan's obnoxious egotistical attitude because other than baseball, it doesn't really affect us anywhere else in life. Likewise, other than bad taste, it doesn't really harm us if someone listens to rap music.

On the other hand, there are numerous negative side effects resulting from religious belief. Do I really have to list them? So yeah, religious folk may not consciously "wake up thinking of new ways to aggravate atheists", but they don't have to, it is built into their religion. God says something is bad. His believers try to impose God's morality on the rest of us. They believe that they are doing God's work. Everyone else thinks it is oppressive. But you still don't get it? Really? I've never seen the movie, but I hear that the Passion of the Christ isn't exactly the feel good movie of the summer for everyone.

This must sound condescending and a large generalization, and I don't mean it that way, but I am tempted to believe that behind atheist anger there are oftentimes uncomfortable personal histories.

A generalization is "A principle, statement, or idea having general application". The word "oftentimes" means "Frequently; repeatedly". These two words seem to complement each other, yet you "don't mean it that way"? Please, stop with the wishy-washy fence-straddling already. We understand. You think the reason people are atheists is not because they used their "God-given" intellect to consider all the evidence (or lack thereof) and came to a rational conclusion, and not because they were never indoctrinated as children and thus were free from the bonds of dogma, but rather because they are mad at God. It's OK Rabbi, you can be straight up with us, we've heard this one before.

I'll let you in on a little secret though. In order to be mad at God, you have to first believe in God. You see, that's the thing, atheists don't generally tend to believe in god(s). Don't get me wrong, I'd love to be able to direct my anger at some imaginary being instead of (unfortunately) my friends and family. But it just doesn't work. It just rings so hollow.

But I think I can help you out. I think I see the error in your thinking. You see, you assume that belief in God is the natural state of the human mind. You think that if left to our own devices, we will naturally come to the conclusion that there is a God. Well, as I've explained previously, the burden of proof is on you, not me. That means the default human state of belief is no belief. The only mystery is why so many people fall for something that you can't prove?

I can humbly ask whether my atheist brothers and sisters really believe that their lives are better, richer and more hopeful by clinging to Camus's existential despair: “The purpose of life is that it ends."

Wow, I'm an existentialist and I didn't even know it. Actually, I think your close, but no cigar. It's not the fact that life ends that makes us who we are, it's the fact that we recognize we only have this life to live and thus we should live it to its fullest. You see, we aren't obsessed with death like you guys are. It seems that almost everything you do is done in preparation for the afterlife. You live your life cowering under the shadow of God's wrath, faithfully doing his bidding, hoping to win his graces. In fact, from what I've heard, Heaven is way cooler than this place. Heck, I bet you can't wait to get there.

We, on the other hand, try to make the best of what we have now because you can't take your regrets with you. And as hard as this may be for some of your fellow theists to believe, we aren't just watching out for number one. As I'm sure you know, you can experience great joy from helping others, from sacrificing something of yourself in order to benefit someone else in need. Being nice is its own reward. And yet, we don't need a God to threaten us with eternal damnation in order "to discipline our animal urges, to overcome racism and materialism, selfishness and arrogance and the sinful oppression of the most vulnerable and the most innocent among us" (but yet so many people insist on telling us that without the Bible they would do just those things). We seem to be able to figure these things out on our own. Besides, is it truly altruism if you are compelled to do it by threat of torture rather than doing it of your own free will?

I know that Jim believes way more in Darwin than in Deuteronomy, but he also believes that at Cold Spring Labs the most important thing is not whether you are a man or a woman, not whether you believe in God. The most important thing, as he says, is “to get something done.” Now there's an atheist I can believe in.

Actually, I'm a bit surprised that's the first time you've heard the phrase "get something done" from an atheist, because in fact, that happens to be our team motto (I'm wearing a baseball hat with that slogan as I type this). As I explained before, this is it, there ain't no other chance at life. Every atheist realizes that you've got to "get something done" while you've still got the chance. And thank goodness for that, because there have been a lot of great atheists who have made a lot of great contributions to this world. And just as importantly, the atheists working behind the scenes, the ones you don't really hear about, they are digging in the trenches, fighting to keep this country, and this world, from destroying itself over the pissing match you all are having about whose God is greatest.

And unfortunately, our work is never done.


Blogger Simon said...

True, although I dislike being described as an atheist. You can't have an atheist without a theist and I don't want to be merely what a theist isn't, I want to be what I am - if you see what I mean.

Atheism is being used by theists as way of making us the flip side of their coin.

I want to have my own coin, thanks, I don't want my life shaped by your belief - even if it's in opposition to it.

Sat Apr 29, 03:21:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Simon said...

I don't mean your belief, I mean theist belief.

Sat Apr 29, 03:22:00 AM 2006  

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