Posts Tagged 'Atheism'

My Mom’s History with Religion (Part 2)

The following is a guest post from my mom, I hope you enjoy it an I’m interested in hearing your thoughts!

Hi everyone, I’m back. Sorry I am taking so long to post another piece. It has been a struggle deciding what thoughts, feelings and information to share about my life. The struggle is about respecting boundaries…mine and others. Something that is helping me make decisions in this regard is this new favourite saying of mine by an unknown author; I heard it on one of the latest episodes of “Being Erica”…

“Life they say can turn on a dime. In a world that constantly shifts beneath our feet, the only thing we know for certain is how we feel. The love we have, the fear we hide from, the pain we push away…give them a voice and the rewards are peace of mind and a peaceful heart.”

During the process of composing a future post about how psychology has influenced my life, I have been finding myself constantly questioning “How relative is this to the rest of the content of Lindsay’s blog? Are people really interested in knowing about my personal struggles? What in the world is my intention for sharing this information with Lindsay, her spouse (the only people I actually know that read this blog) and the anonymous strangers that read this blog?”

So I feel a need to preface any possible future posts with this one. I need to express up front that I feel like some sort of interloper on this blog. Even though Lindsay has assured me that whatever I write is okay, I am still having trepidations. Even though I am quite motivated and feel my intentions are honourable I still need another shot of encouragement, reassurance and permission that this is the right forum to tell my story.

I can somewhat justify that my history is part of Lindsay’s and therefore has some relevance to her blog on the basis that my story has influenced her life directly and indirectly. My intentions have a great deal to do with providing her with a bigger, clearer picture of who her mother is. Also, the process of writing this is helping me focus on the parts of my life that I think are most valuable to share.

My initial interest in telling my story was sparked in my early thirties when I briefly attended a bible study group. This group began each session with someone telling “their story” with the intent of showing how God was working in their lives. I remember being in awe of those who volunteered to do so. First and foremost, I admired their ability and willingness to articulate and share their innermost struggles with others. I also envied them for being able to express their most authentic selves, something I desperately wanted to do, but felt I couldn’t without betraying the confidences I felt I owed to others. Finally, I was amazed at the creative ways they were able to see the big picture and create a story out of their lives. In essence they were speaking about the cards they had been dealt, how they coped, and how everything shaped them into who they were today. In addition, I appreciated the positive outcomes that their collective stories offered. It didn’t matter so much that they attributed their outcomes to God, what mattered to me was the inspiring messages of hope that I always took away. It was then that I first realized and had come to believe in the healing power of sharing one’s story. It was a healing that seemed to occur not only within the teller but to the listener as well.

So over the past few decades I have persistently tried to tell my own story hoping for the restorative qualities I believed it would provide me and ultimately my family. My attempts took many forms mostly involving journaling and talk therapy. My major stumbling block was always the feeling that I would be betraying another’s confidence so I mostly limited myself to letting my inner life unfold within the confines of a therapist’s office. Unfortunately, what I have finally come to realize is that in the effort to protect others I was sacrificing my own authenticity and in a sense I was betraying myself. Is this making sense to anyone?

Sharing my innermost thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and hopes with a counsellor definitely helped me find peace of mind, yet it still felt like it wasn’t quite enough. More and more I felt as though I needed to share my authentic self with my family and the community at large. When my husband left me in September of 2009, I immediately began to feel less constrained about speaking about my past. While his leaving wounded me deeply, it also opened me up to new possibilities. Suddenly I was able to be myself more with my children, friends and other family members. It has been a huge relief to be able to talk to them about some of my struggles and it is my hope that in the knowing, my children especially, will gain something…whatever that may be.

To conclude, I am unaware of a forum that provides atheists an opportunity to tell their story. So, perhaps in addition to Lindsay’s unique and creative way of telling her story, the telling of mine, will provide further inspiration for others to speak of theirs. That is one of my hopes. I think it is important to know what you don’t believe and why. Equally as important is to know what you do believe and how you came to believe that. Would you like to know more about me? More of what I believe? Is this the right place to voice my story?

My Mom’s History With Religion (Part 1)

Hi Everyone! Well I have been very terrible at this blogging thing lately, but it’s a phase I go through from time to time. Luckily my mom is here to pick up the slack for me this time! She has been getting some questions in the comments about her experience with religion in relation to my own journey with skepticism and atheism, so she has written a series of guest posts on the subject.

My mom was the first person (besides my husband) that I talked about my atheism with. When I was first starting to question religion and explore atheism I wrote a letter to the editor about science and theology, and this led to long email exchange between her and I on the subject. She has been very supportive and influential in the way I have dealt with my loss of religion, so I think it’s fitting for her to write about her own experiences on my blog.

So…the following is the first guest post by my mom, I hope you find it as interesting as I did!

*****

I was asked how it is that I have been able to be supportive and encouraging about Lindsay’s atheism, skepticism, feminism and activism given my Catholic background. The short answer is that a couple of years ago for several months Lindsay and I emailed back and forth about the very ideas she writes about in her blog. She very eloquently explained to me her reasons for becoming an atheist, encouraged me to read certain books about atheism and suggested some podcasts to listen to. I followed up on her suggestions out of both concern and curiosity. I wanted to know more about whom and what was influencing her towards an atheistic stance. One day she invited me to check out her blog. I couldn’t believe how much thought she was putting into changing her outlook on life. It was obvious this was not a trivial decision; the time and effort she had put in to this process was remarkable. It took some time but I could see the rationale behind her views more and more clearly.  So it really hasn’t been as big of a leap to be supportive of her views as what one might guess. Perhaps even more importantly, is the fact that I have always trusted Lindsay’s judgement. She has never been one to make decisions on a whim and so there was no reason to think this one would be any different.

The long answer to the same question is much more complex and I am very excited and motivated to provide an explanation. As such, it is my intention to write a series of posts focussing on the different threads of influences that have run through my life and how they have combined to form my own somewhat unique worldview (one that strives to be inclusive, accepting and non-judgemental). I hope you will follow me on a journey of self-disclosure as I recall and document how I have arrived at my current worldview. I have always wanted to write some sort of memoir so I thought I’d take this opportunity to kick start that process. Don’t worry, I’ll try not to torture you too much!  If you do find this tedious please let me know and I’ll adjust.  Hopefully, this will simultaneously provide some insights into the ease with which I can accept and support Lindsay’s worldview.

I’ll begin with the role Catholicism played in both concretely and abstractly shaping my life. I want to share my experience of “being Catholic” for several reasons. Primarily, because until now I have never focused specifically on this aspect or thread that runs through my life, so I am interested in discovering where that thread might lead and what I might learn about myself. Second, I hope this exploration may dispel some assumptions and generalizations people make about Catholics (I think this extends to anyone of any religion). I hope it will become obvious that my particular experience and impression of what it is/was to be Catholic is likely entirely different than my siblings’, my mother’s, her parent’s, my children’s, etc. I think it is important to acknowledge that! The third reason for wanting to share my experiences and perceptions is that I believe that the more we share about ourselves in general the more likely we will find commonalities with each other and perhaps even make it easier to bridge our differences.

Many factors shaped and moulded me and there is no doubt Catholicism was one. To what degree? That shall remain unanswered because it is impossible to know. What I do know is that  I was baptized as an infant and confirmed when I was six. So the way I see it, religion chose me not the other way around. Under my mother’s influence, my family of origin (excluding my father because he was a non church going protestant), followed a number of Catholic traditions, customs and rituals. Though, considering the import and influence religion had on my mom’s life, I don’t think my home life differed that much from the non-religious families I knew. Aside from the modest adornments of Christian symbols, saying grace at dinner, observing meatless Fridays, praying before bedtime, and attending church on Sundays and holy days, not much set us apart from our neighbours. My parents drank and partied just as hard as the rest of the neighbours. Matters of a spiritual nature rarely came up in conversations at home though I did receive a couple of messages from my mom. When I was three, my infant sister died, and I was told that from then on she was my guardian angel. Another message my mom impressed upon me was that “God was a loving God”. Those two impressions seemed to be all I needed because I never felt any desire to inquire about God, the bible or any other spiritual matter until an emotional crisis sparked an interest in my early thirties.

Although I attended a public school, throughout my elementary and junior high years, Catechism classes were a part of my daily routine. I guess my mom must have signed me up for them because I don’t recall ever being asked if I’d be interested in participating in such a class. Consequently, during the last half hour of each school day, while the majority of students got free time (or an opportunity to do their homework) I, along with other Catholic students, learned about our faith (at least that was the intention of these half hour classes).  I vaguely recall learning about the Ten Commandments,  mortal and venial sins, how to pray the rosary and I’m guessing there must have been some bible story lessons too. I also remember envying my non-Catholic friends that seemed to be either getting homework done or having fun during that time slot.

Of course being Catholic meant attending Church every Sunday too. As a child, I complied because it seemed to make my mom happy when I seemed willing to go. However, to me church didn’t seem to have any relevance to the rest of my life and I never made any attempts to connect them. Mostly attending church seemed like an obligation to be endured.  I knelt, stood, and sat with my mom and siblings practicing patience and discovering ways to bide my time in silence. Until I was eight the mass was said in Latin but even after the switch to English I still didn’t comprehend much of what was uttered. I recited the words of all the prayers and responses along with other parishioners but I rarely gave any thought to their meanings or intentions. I suppose the repetition of the same prayers week in and week out, particularly the Creed, worked their magic though. Somehow, in spite of how little I seemed to attend to things, a belief in the holy trinity, the Virgin Mary, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting became ingrained in me. In a nut shell, I would say my faith development amounted to going through the motions and absorbing precepts and ideologies through some sort of osmosis, without actively engaging in the thought process. It’s really quite amazing and I liken it to being immersed in a new language. You just pick it up without really being aware of it.

I continued to attend church until I turned 18, mainly to appease my mom. After that, my university and work schedules conflicted with church attendance and my mom didn’t say much about my interlude. However, at age 24, when I got engaged, she set the stage for my return. I was busy taking courses and working so she happily planned our wedding. It was expected that we would get married in her church and my husband (to be) and I complied. The next thing we knew we were attending an Engaged Encounter weekend—part of the church requirements of getting married. That entailed spending a weekend at a monastery with other engaged couples examining our faiths, our expectations of each other, and prioritizing the importance of different aspects of our lives under the direction of experienced married Catholic couples. It was during that weekend that we agreed our children would be baptized Catholic.

So, when I became pregnant with our first, my husband and I attended the obligatory baptism preparation classes and our daughter was baptized at a few months of age. From then on, history began to repeat itself. What you do for one of your children, generally you do for the rest. So each succeeding child of ours was baptized into the Catholic faith in infancy. We then had an obligation to follow up with a commitment to educate our children about the Catholic faith. That was mostly accomplished through their attendance in Sunday school classes and other church activities.

During the fifteen or so years that we attended our neighbourhood church a number of factors drew me/us there. As alluded to earlier, at age 31, I suffered a life altering trauma. At first, I sought help from the parish priests. That turned out to be a good move because my he wisely referred me to an excellent counsellor. I began to appreciate some aspects of my religion for the first time in my life too. Sometimes the sermons consoled me like nothing else could. I started to read the bible and I began to understand what people meant when they talked about a “personal relationship with God”. Now before you start to roll your eyes, let me say that I have a different understanding of all that now. However, at the time I was pretty convinced that God was nudging me and showing me the way…how to cope and how to recover.

Suffice it to say, my recovery was a long, slow and often very painful process. Throughout it I read many self-help books. I think I was around thirty-three when I came across a book called Jung and Christianity by Wallace Clift. It was this book that started me being conscious of what it was that I was agreeing to believe due to my religious upbringing. I think that book for me had a similar effect that the movie Religulous had on Lindsay. After reading it, I experienced an ongoing internal struggle that waxed and waned. I wanted our kids to have the benefits they seemed to be deriving from attending church and yet I became more and more conscious of the dogma of religion.

This is as far as I can go with this thread right now. Due to my struggles as I tried to recover, my thirties were fraught with a variety of influences that had significant impacts on my life. It’s driving me crazy trying to tease out Catholicism from the mix of influences during those years we attended church with our kids. In my next post I will attempt to write about the significance and influence psychology has had on my life.

Reddit /r/atheism Doing Good for Doctors Without Borders

This is awesome!

I was reading Reddit /r/atheism this morning and I saw that they were starting some friendly competition with /r/christianity over who could raise $10,000 for charity first. They collectively settled on Doctors Without Borders as their charity and set up a page to collect donations about 7 hours ago. As of now they’ve almost raised $7,000 already! (Plus another £433.32 on the UK site)

Here‘s a link to the thread on Reddit, and here‘s a direct link to where you can make your own donation to add to the total (you don’t have to be on Reddit).

The Irrational Atheist by Vox Day



Awhile back (a long while), someone named Chris commented on my Reading List page (which I have to update) that I should read The Irrational Atheist by Vox Day. Since it’s free to download I agreed, but so far I haven’t gotten past the first chapter. I thought I would write about the first section of the first chapter, and then maybe you can tell me if it’s even worth my time to keep reading.

 

The first chapter is called A Pride of Atheists (barf). Below is the text of the book in black, and my comments in red.

 ***

don’t care if you go to Hell. Shit! Well that’s one way to kick off your book.

 

God does, assuming He exists and assuming you know the mind of God, or He okay this is only the second “He” in this chapter and I’m already annoyed at the capitalizing of the word “he”…God cares about me but he’ll hold it against me if I don’t capitalize a pronoun? wouldn’t have bothered sending His Son to save you from it. Jesus Christ does, too, assuming he existed, if you’ll accept for the sake of argument that he went to all the trouble of incarnating as a man, dying on the cross, and being resurrected from the dead in order to hand you a Get Out of Hell Free card. Is God not omnipotent? He really had to go to all that trouble to give me a Get Out of Hell Free card? And if he went to all that trouble why is my ticket out of hell so conditional? Free my ass!

 

 

Me, not so much. I don’t know you. I don’t owe you anything. I don’t know you either, Vox Day, but if I thought you were going to hell I would care. I’d be absolutely outraged. Nobody deserves eternal torment. While as a Christian I am called to share the Good News with you, I can’t force you to accept it. Horse, water, drink, and all that. Barf.

 

So, it’s all on you. Your soul is not my responsibility.

 

I am a Christian. I’m also a libertarian. I believe in free will and in allowing you to exercise it. I believe that our free will is a gift from our Creator and that He expects us to use it. I believe in living and letting live. If you’ll leave me alone, I’ll be delighted to do you the courtesy of leaving you alone in return. I have no inherent problem with atheists or agnostics, I have no problem with Muslims or Jews or Hindus or Pastafarians, and I have no problem with the crazies who believe that humanity is the result of ancient alien breeding experiments. To be honest, I rather like the crazies—their theories are usually the most entertaining of the lot. I believe what I believe, you believe what you believe, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t both be perfectly cool with that. Sure, fine, I can go along with that.

 

Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens are not so much cool with that. Wha?? Wrong, they’re fine with letting people believe what they want too. Just because they choose to talk about atheism and criticize religion doesn’t mean that they want to force their views onto other people. Richard Dawkins was even part of an ad campaign that encouraged letting children choose for themselves what they believe, rather than labelling them from birth as Christians or Muslims or atheists, etc.

 

I’m not asking you to respect my beliefs. Good, I don’t. So far I don’t particularly respect you either. I mean, you just basically told me that you’ll be fine with it if I go to Hell. Why should you? Maybe you think I’m insane because I believe that Jesus is coming back one of these days, but does my insanity actually affect you in any material way? Not insane, but perhaps misguided. But it’s your prerogative if you think zombie Jesus is coming back. Is my religious madness really all that much more out there than my faith that the Minnesota Vikings will win the Super Bowl someday? Umm yeah the idea that some guy that’s the son of God but is also God who died 2000 years ago is going to come back to life and bring everyone up to heaven with him is kinda way more out there than the possibility that the Vikings will win the Super Bowl. Go Vikings! Talk about the substance of things hoped for . . . Vegas will give you better odds on J.C. this year. Who’s in the house? J.C.! As for your beliefs, I really don’t care if you want to question God’s existence or criticize the Pope or deny the Holocaust or declare that Jesus was an architect previous to his career as a prophet. Every member of humanity is at least a little bit crazy in his own special way, some just happen to make it a little more obvious than others. True dat, yo.

 

Vox’s First Law: Any sufficiently advanced intelligence is indistinguishable from insanity. I guess that’s supposed to be funny or cute or something, but it just doesn’t really work.

 

All I ask, all the vast majority of the billions of people of faith on the planet ask, is to be left alone to believe what we choose to believe and live how we decide to live. That’s fine by me, if only people were content just believing what they choose to believe. Unfortunately many believers want their faith to dictate what gets taught in the science classroom, or they want to decide who can legally marry or whether a woman can choose whether or not to stay pregnant. In some places peoples’ beliefs lead to terrorism and extreme violence against women. People can believe what they want to believe, but once those beliefs start affecting other peoples’ rights, we have to speak out against it. But the Unholy Trinity have no intention of leaving me alone. Richard Dawkins accuses me of child abuse because I teach my children that God loves them even more than I do. I’m not really sure if I agree with Dawkins that labelling your kid as a Christian (or whatever religion) from birth is tantamount to child abuse, but if what you want is for people to believe what they choose to believe, shouldn’t you avoid teaching your kids that there’s a god and let them discover that for themselves? Shouldn’t you let them be exposed to many different religions and to the idea that there may be no god and let them make their own informed decision without your prodding? Sam Harris declares that I should not be tolerated and suggests that it might be ethical to kill me in preemptive self-defense. Um, what? Sam Harris said that Christians should be killed? I seriously doubt that…anyone know what he’s talking about here? Christopher Hitchens asserts that I am a form of human Drāno, poisoning everything I encounter. He said religion poisons everything, not you. And I would sooner compare you to the clog in the drain, because you’re trying to stop the discourse and have everyone shut up about their beliefs, wheras Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins want to get the debate flowing. A fourth New Atheist, the philosopher Daniel Dennett, is less judgmental, but even he, bless his heart, wants to save me from myself. At least he cares enough to want to save you, you don’t even care if he goes to hell!

 

And now we have a problem.

 

That’s why I’m writing this book. I’m not trying to convince you that God exists. Why not? If you convince atheists that God exists then they won’t be out there doing all those horrible things like talking about skepticism of religion and criticizing the Bible. I’m not trying to convince you to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. I’m not even trying to convince you that religious people aren’t lunatics with low IQs who should be regarded with pity and contempt. But I am confident that I will convince you that this trio of New Atheists, this Unholy Trinity, are a collection of faux-intellectual frauds utilizing pseudo-scientific sleight of hand in order to falsely claim that religious faith is inherently dangerous and has no place in the modern world. You won’t succeed if the rest of the book is as full of crap as this first little bit has been.

 

I am saying that they are wrong, they are reliably, verifiably, and factually incorrect. Richard Dawkins is wrong. Daniel C. Dennett is wrong. Christopher Hitchens is drunk he reminds me of Julian from the Trailer Park Boys, always a drink in hand, and he’s wrong. Michel Onfray is French, and he’s wrong OMG, wrong and French?. Sam Harris is so superlatively wrong that it will require the development of esoteric mathematics operating simultaneously in multiple dimensions to fully comprehend the orders of magnitude of his wrongness. All I can do is roll my eyes here.

 

You make the call. Here’s what I think so far: the rest of this book will be a waste of my time.

 

 

***

 

Okay I’m back to black text now…so what do you think? Should I keep reading?

I’m Elated to Be an Atheist

There were a couple of threads on Reddit a little while back about how atheists should talk more about how great it is to become an atheist after being stuck in religious thought for so long. This is something that I think atheists should really advertise, because too often it seems that people who self-identify as atheists are perceived as always just living and thinking in opposition of something. Although it’s true that atheism is purely the rejection of theism, it also, at least in my experience, opens up a whole new world of discovery and possibilities.

As a theist I always had this sense that my thoughts were constantly being monitored, and that my actions were always being judged by big brother up there in the sky. It’s not fun to worry all the time about pissing god off. If I thought a bad thought about somebody I would immediately have this feeling of guilt and dread, and I would pray for forgiveness. I wasn’t actually sure if my religion taught that your thoughts are being policed, but at one point I scoured the Bible to try to find something that said that your bad thoughts don’t count against you, but just in case I made sure that I asked for forgiveness about anything that could count against me. I was scared of hell, y’all, you understand.

Aside from worrying about my own eternal damnation, I was also concerned about my friends and family going to hell. How could I guarantee that they all did the right things so that they could get into heaven with me? Did my grampa accept Jesus as his personal lord and saviour? Did my gay brother guarantee a ticket to hell just for being himself? In highschool a boy on my swim team died by suicide – I must have prayed every night for a year that he wouldn’t be punished for taking his life.

I also feel like I had less of a sense of wonder about the world as a theist. When I would see something like a photo of a beautiful nebula or a video of a coral reef, I would thing “wow, what an imagination that god has.” And the curiosity for how those things got there just didn’t exist. When I believed that god could just magic anything into existence, there just wasn’t that much mystery about the world.

For these reasons and more, the moment I realized that I no longer believed in my God or any other gods was one of the most freeing feelings I had ever experienced. Seriously! For that first few months I would get choked up reading about evolution or listening to podcasts about astronomy. There was this whole world of science out there that I had never allowed myself to absorb. The universe became a giant mystery and my mind was no longer being monitored so I had the freedom to explore questions like “what is the frickin big bang anyways?” and “how did single-celled organisms turn into that beautiful coral reef?” and “what is gravity anyways?” People, gravity is amazing!

I love being able to think whatever I want now. I don’t have to worry about offending sky-daddy with my thoughts, and I can entertain any ideas without worrying about consequences. I also no longer waste time with prayers. People often say that prayer is a nice way to look back on the day and get a nice fuzzy feeling even if it doesn’t work, and that was true for some of my praying, but truthfully I had a lot of anxieties about praying. At my Bible study they would pray so formally, but I tended to just pray as if I was talking to a friend – was I doing it wrong? Was I offending God? I also worried that I would forget to pray for somebody, so my blessings would go on and on until I would just say “and anyone else I may have forgotten” – what a silly exercise! I would also be really careful about what I prayed for, because I worried that if I prayed for something and it didn’t come true that it meant that I wasn’t faithful, or wasn’t a True Christian (TM). No joke – in order to counter this worry that my prayers wouldn’t come true, I would build an out into my prayers. For example, “dear God, please let so-and-so get better, and if he/she doesn’t please be with his/her family in this difficult time, in Jesus name, amen.” I’m so happy that prayer is no longer a part of my life.

There are so many fun things about being an atheist that I just couldn’t experience as a Christian. It’s not that I lost my moral code and I’m just going to run wild now and start trampling over people who get in the way of my fun. I still know what right and wrong is, that had nothing to do with my god-belief. But now I can break all those ridiculous little rules that religion imposes on you that have no reason behind them other than “because god wouldn’t like that.” For example, swearing! Swearing is a wonderful thing. When you stub your toe, screaming “ffuuucckkkkk” is the best pain relief I can think of. Religion gives so much power to these completely harmless groupings of letters, and it’s not just the four-letter-word kind of swearing that I can enjoy now. I can also say “I swear to god” or “oh my god” now. I used to think that those were the worst things I could say, and I’m pretty sure it’s an unforgiveable sin to take the lord’s name in vain. I used to be so careful about not doing that, so it’s so fun to me now to be able to use those words without those silly worries. To give an example of how silly it got with me, my favourite band (The Tragically Hip) has this awesome song called New Orleans is Sinking, and there’s one part that goes “She says Gordie baby I know exactly what you mean She said, she said I swear to God she said” but when I sang along I used to go “She says Gordie baby I know exactly what you mean She said, she said hmm hmm hmm hmmm she said.” Come on, how ridiculous is that? As an atheist I even get to enjoy my favourite songs more!

It’s fantastic being an atheist, and no amount of badgering from a religious person is going to convince me that I’m not a hundred times happier now than I was as a god-believer. That’s why I think all atheist logos should look like this one:

The Discovery Institute Asks New Atheists What They Believe

In case you haven’t heard of them, the Discovery Institute is an organization that pushes the idea of intelligent design creationism. They have a blog and it’s pretty hilarious to read…anyways today they had an article that caught my eye called “What Do New Atheists Actually Believe?” I’m always interested to see what theists are telling us we believe, because sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised to see myself accurately represented by somebody who doesn’t agree with me.

Well in this case the author of the article (Michael Egnor), instead of telling people what New Atheists believe, decided to ask us instead! I think that’s a great approach, although I’m suspicious of its sincerity, coming from the Discovery Institute. Nonetheless I think It’ll be fun to answer the questions, so here goes! You can read the article here to get some context for why he’s asking these questions.

Egnor says:

I want to learn more about what New Atheists really believe. So I’m asking Moran a few questions, although other atheists (Myers, Coyne, Novella, Shallit, etc**) are invited to reply on their blogs, and I will answer.

**etc, that’s me!

And he has some rules for the answers:

1) Answers can’t be limited to the shortcomings of theism (e.g. ‘So who caused God?’). I’m looking for an exposition of New Atheist belief, not a criticism of theist belief. Mutual criticism will come once all beliefs are on the table. If New Atheist belief can only be expressed by negation of the beliefs of others, just say so.
2) Myers’ “Courtier’s Reply” gambit is fine. If you think that a question is nonsense, say so.
3) No changing the subject. New questions are welcome, once the old questions are addressed.
4) The Law of Snark Conservation applies; thoughtful courteous answers get thoughtful courteous replies.

Number 1 is just silly, Egnor must know that atheism is entirely a response to theism, it’s not a belief system. To try to stay within this rule I’ll just talk about what I believe, but I’m not going to pretend that I’m speaking for New Atheist beliefs, because there’s no such thing. Number 2, I don’t know what the Courtier’s Reply is so I’ll just ignore that one…and 3 and 4 sound fine. Now, on to the questions:

1) Why is there anything? *shrug* dunno. Does there have to be a reason? I’m just glad I’m here!

2) What caused the Universe? Good question…I’m sure it was some kind of quantum something or other.

3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature? I don’t know the answer to this one either, but I assume that if there weren’t regularity in our universe, we wouldn’t be around to ask the question.

4) Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist? I had to go on Wikipedia for this one and they all seem alright to me, but I’m not so sure about the final cause. I don’t really see the point of it, as it’s pretty subjective and there isn’t even a final cause for everything…I don’t understand what it’s supposed to imply, but I only spent 5 minutes on Wikipedia reading over the description.

5) Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence? I’m not sure I get the question, but I suppose it may be because there are so many variables that we’re faced with every day that it’s not possible to be completely objective. We have to form opinions and biases to survive otherwise we’d be paralyzed with indecision. (I have a feeling that question went right over my head, but whatever).

6) Why is the human mind intentional, in the technical philosophical sense of aboutness, which is the referral to something besides itself? How can mental states be about something? Huh? Is this asking why do humans have intentions? I guess because it makes us more likely to survive…I have no idea what this is supposed to be asking…philosophy mumbo-jumbo just does not penetrate my thick skull. Why is this relevant to atheism anyways?

7) Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.) There’s no such thing as “Moral Law”, but I think that morality is an artifact of nature – humans are social beings, and because we live in groups and cooperate it has made us a very successful species. We need our social ties, so it makes more sense for us to be good to each other. Our sense of right and wrong would have arisen through natural selection, because anti-social behaviours would lead to someone being less likely to reproduce. That’s how my simple mind sums it up, but there are some fantastic books out there about  evolution and morality. I just finished Born to be Good by Dacher Keltner, I recommend that one.

8) Why is there evil? Because there’s no benevolent god out there keeping us from harm.

None of those questions addressed the difference between the “old atheists” and the “new atheists.” All atheists don’t believe in god, but the new atheists feel like atheism is something worth sharing. The above questions have nothing to do with atheism, they just strike me as an attempt to bait atheists into answering in the wrong way so that Egnor can come back with “that’s where god fits in.”

Thinking About Religulous on the 2nd Anniversary of my Atheism

I realized today that it’s October, which means another year has passed since I gave up my faith. It’s embarrassing to think about now (because it’s really not that great of a movie), but seeing Religulous was what put me on the path to being an atheist. It was the first time that I was exposed to something that challenged my faith, and it really got me thinking.

I remember sitting in the car afterwards and talking to my husband about the movie – I have no idea what I was saying to him, but I remember getting a little choked up because I was so excited. I realized that I was alone in my head, there was no god in there monitoring my thoughts, I was free to explore ideas and to be who I wanted to be. It was a great feeling. (I talked about the scene that made a big impact on me in last year’s anniversary post).

After we got home from the movie I went on the internet because I wanted to see who else was excited about this life-changing movie, and since I had no inkling that there was such thing as an atheist forum or blog, I went to a religious forum to see what they were saying. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see negative opinions of the movie, but I was, so I decided to sign in and do some trolling (I can’t stand trolling, but I was feeling rebellious that night).

Today when I remembered that it’s been about 2 years since then, I decided that I’d try to find that forum post to see what I said…and guess what? I did! Woo! Here’s what I wrote, with my responses in red:

Hi Everyone,

I’m a former member of this forum. That’s a lie. I stopped posting here when I began to become disillusioned with Catholocism and Christianity in general. Lies, I was never a member…at least I don’t remember ever joining it… I decided to come back for a visit to see what was being said about the new movie Religulous, and after reading some of the threads about it, I thought I would offer up my perspective of the movie.

I attended Church with my family since I was small, and up until fairly recently I went to a Bible study once a week. True. But gradually as I grew up I began to look at the world through a more critical eye. Nope, I was only just beginning to use my critical eye. I was always very naive and quick to accept what was told to me, but I now know to question things and research things. By now, I meant literally that night, when I realized that if I researched my religion it wouldn’t be so convincing anymore. I don’t want to be a sheep that’s shepherded through life. You go girl!

So with my new outlook on life, I began to question everything, so naturally I began to question my religious beliefs and my faith. I began to see that the circles I was in were full of judgment and shame, and I began to realize that I didn’t believe what I said I believed anymore. I guess I made up this crap about my long history of questioning my faith because I thought it would be more credible than saying that I had just watched a silly movie that convinced me that I had been mistaken about god for my whole life. At that point I realized that a movie was a poor reason to stop believing, but I didn’t let my learning stop there and I’m confident now that I have solid reasons for not believing in any gods.

However it’s not easy to drop religion out of your life. I have dropped it out of my heart, still using the religious lingo and I’m much happier for it, but since a lot of my friends and family have these beliefs, I have felt like I need to hide the fact that I’m now Atheist it makes me cringe to see myself capitalizing “atheist” from them. Sadly it’s still true that I hide my atheism from certain friends and family members. People make you feel ashamed. I don’t think anyone could make me feel ashamed for my atheism now – I’m proud to have put my faith behind me.
 
So the reason I named this thread “Thanks to Bill Maher” is that he has created a movie that is telling people like me that it’s okay not to believe. Hearing that it’s okay to not believe really was novel to me then.

If you have not seen the movie, it is about Maher’s personal rejection of religion. The theme of the movie is to show people that it is responsible to have doubt and to question things. One of my favourite quotes from the movie is the lady that says “I don’t know anything about politics, but I’ll vote for George Bush because of his faith”…well look where that’s gotten us.

Maher questions the doctrine and the beliefs of all religions. This is something that’s a major faux-pas pretty much anywhere you go, but it’s really sad that people should be made to feel like they can’t question these things.

This movie has given me confidence in myself so that I can come out of the closet as an ex-Catholic, and I don’t see anything wrong with it…not to mention it was very funny and entertaining! Damn, I still haven’t come out of the closet…well I guess people realize I’m not a Catholic anymore, but many must think I’m still a Christian.

I hope that came out cohesively…but I welcome questions. Thanks for reading 

I was super excited to see how people would respond to that, and I was hoping to engage in my first debate with religious people as a newly minted atheist (actually I don’t think I really considered myself an atheist at that point, it wasn’t until after I had read some Hitchens that I really embracedthe term).

The first response to my post was this:

personally maher has never come across as funny to me, but everyones idea of humor is different.

from the previews and interviews ive seen him do on the movie it seems more like an attempt to evangelize people to the religion of athesim.

finally, i’m sorry that you doubt the faith. i’ll throw some extra prayers your way.

Here’s how I responded:

I’ve never seen Maher in anything else, this was true, I guess Americans must be more familiar with him than I was…I vaguely recognized him but wasn’t aware of his anti-religious comedy or his show on HBO so I don’t know how he is in other contexts, but in this movie he was funny.

How is evangelizing people to atheism any worse than evangelizing people to the Christian faith? I didn’t know enough about atheism at this point to think to point out that it’s not a religion, but I still think that I had an okay point here.

I don’t need your prayers…I appreciate your intentions, but they’re wasted on me. I think it must have felt really good to write this – prayer no longer meant anything to me.

The next bunch of responses were so stupid, and someone caught that I was trolling, so I never responded again. Someone thought I might work PR for Bill Maher HA! and another didn’t believe me that I didn’t know who Maher was…I thought that was a really odd accusation. Another responded that it’s not okay to not believe, which struck me as so closed-minded. I’m sure that’s when I started seeking out atheist communities on the internet, and I’m so glad I did!

This is long so I’ll wrap it up, but if you’re curious here’s the thread that I quoted from above, on the Catholic Answers forum. I jumped in on Page 7 and my user name was “MyUserName”…so creative! Here are screen caps of my posts (click to expand):


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