Since I haven’t posted in a while, I thought those of you still subscribed to either the RSS feed or my twitter account, might be interested in reading my reply to both articles, originally posted here.
The archived article comments on my blog, mentioned above, are a treasure trove of opinion and feedback from every kind of evangelical, most of which are on this very topic.
From the “I believe every word of it” biblical literalists to “yes, it’s written by an ancient folk but I like it anyway” progressive liberals, the one thing they all share in common is a complete lack of understanding for what atheism is and what atheists are.
We do ourselves no favours in this regard because, in reality, there is no “we” and so there are no one set of governing principals which define what an atheist is. When you set that against a range of opinions derived from a fixed ideal (or at least the suggestion of one) atheism can appear disparate or incoherent.
To the outsider looking in, we’re all paid-up members of the Richard Dawkins fan club who have confused scientific principles with ethical ones. To the religious, the blogging atheist, is a well meaning, if confused individual, who just needs to ‘open up their heart to God’.
I have made one or two in-roads with individual Christians, who take the time to read, listen and converse sensibly, on the true scale of the condescending tone this attitude pervades. I’ve also been condemned to hell for the sin of thinking clearly, presumably with the brain He mistakenly gave me. But, for the most part, the common denominator with many religious, is that they find it very hard to disassociate their beliefs from the contrary facts. In their world, evidence is an elusive word, interchangeable with opinion.
They’re particularly reluctant to concede that any one argument against the existence of God is as strong as the other. Their impression of atheism, is that it needs to use all of the arguments against each individual religious truth-claims at once, rather than compete note for note on scripture, miracles and theology as separate entities. It’s as if they’re perfectly willing to admit that, individually, the various atheistic tracts make interesting chewing gum, but don’t convince them at all when they’re bundled together into a whole; that atheism may well make an interesting philosophical pursuit, but that it is ultimately a pseudo-intellectual comfort for the lost and lonely, and offers no kind of realistic challenge to the deistic argument.
You can even test this assertion by asking incredibly basic questions. For example, questions such as “why don’t you believe in Allah?”, or “where is the archaeological evidence of The Exodus?” are brushed aside as if it is “we” who do not want to understand the true implication of such a demand—when in reality that is exactly why we posited the question.
What they will miss entirely, in the ensuing debate, is the very part of the question which relates to why they believe what they believe, or the dots which join the dots. Every other part of the conversation will sink-in as clearly as day. You can bounce back and forth ad-nauseam on the fraudulent gospels, or the missing years between the wedding feast at Cana and Hosanna in the highest. But reminding them that the point they missed from the original question was actually the most important part, isn’t so easy a topic to get into as we would like to believe.
I assert that this is for a few very understandable reasons.
Firstly, refusing to accept you’ve spent your entire life believing in things which are almost certainly not true, is a perfectly normal reaction to evidence which contradicts your existing opinion. I believe, for example, Jimi Hendrix was a space alien. I believe it with all my being. That doesn’t make it true. Nor does how much I want it to be true, make it true.
Secondly, most religious people are good people. They simply don’t equate their version of Jesus with the version used by Donald Rumsfeld, Pat Robertson, the fucking Pope or any other charlatan liar who knows less about the true history of the bible than Simon Cowell knows about Pre-Raphaelite conceptualism.
Their Jesus doesn’t bomb countries they can’t point to on a map, anymore than he holds anti-homosexual protest placards at a soldier’s funeral. Their real problem with “us” isn’t that “we don’t get it”. Their problem is that we do. Loud and clear. We fully accept that Jesus is the archetypal humanist. What we also make perfectly clear, is that this has nothing whatsoever to do with the veracity of the truth-claim, that he was therefore the creator of the universe in human form.
Indeed, the very fact that we all share the belief’s of Jesus, regardless of our religion or otherwise, is itself proof positive that he was no more a God than are any of us. We don’t share those beliefs because he was magic, we share them because he was a human animal.
99.9% of people who consider themselves Christian, have no idea what they’re subscribed to—and so conceding this fact is of no consequence to them. They think Christianity is about striving to achieve what we all want—global peace, love and understanding.
When you remind them of the fact that the Jesus story upon which their church is founded, is merely an echo of many different tales of hero warrior gods throughout history, who have also sought this ideal, they almost seem indifferent to the fact that this fact alone falsifies multiple-layers of their other religiously founded assumptions.
They simply fail, perhaps out of self-defence, to make the connection between this fact and the giant question mark which it places above everything else. Hence, arguing with them over this is ultimately pointless. I don’t mean that in a small way. I mean it in a way which intentionally makes a concession to the best of their arguments, which are simple admissions of our shared values.
The question is, do you want to live this life as a cause of turmoil and unrest, or do you want to walk the rice paper? The non-religious and religious alike would all do well from a deal, based on this question, to live and let live. Where we rub up against each other isn’t a choice placed in our hands. It is a political football purposefully crafted by those who seek to divide and conquer, for the same reasons humans have always sought such pointless an aim. How we speak up louder than them is the task at hand.
We can either strive for this or abandon it. It’s as black and white as that. Because the only other alternative, is we just wait until the 21st of this month, to see which of us shoots up into the clouds, leaving non-republicans to live their lives as they see fit—or to put it another way, for the rapture to leave behind everyone who seeks nothing more than to do unto others as they would have done to them.
Predating the sermon on the mount, as it does, by some 500 years, I see nothing wrong with this simple Confucian mantra, as a basis for moving beyond theism and other kinds of denial. The only question is how many will follow, when such a commitment would require abandoning what they mistake for received ethics, but which are in-fact intrinsic.
This speaks to the organised attack on scientific principals, in which many religious groups are active. They’re not attacking what they understand, they’re attacking what they don’t want to understand. Creationism is explained in this way. So too are the various invocations of Quantum Mechanics which take place at the “I’m not religious, but..” end of the spectrum.
The God of the gaps is praised by far more people than The Church would like to admit. Unfortunately His silence on such matters, gives an air of authority to those who shout at the top of their lungs in His stead. All we have to do is prove again and again that there are no gods. We will do this with the same tools we have always done it with—not simply to convince or cajole those who have not reasoned themselves into their religious views, but to make sure future generations know neither of us fell asleep on the really important questions. It’s just that some of us happen to be rather more interested in the answers than others.