Monday, June 4, 2012

Proselytizing for atheism?

Many people seem to think that as an atheist, I believe it's my duty to convert everyone to disbelief in a deity.  My believer friends assume I'm trying to convert them, and some of my atheist friends consider it an important part of a supposed campaign to stamp out religion.  But I reject this notion utterly.  I'm not proselytizing for atheism at all!

Make no mistake - especially when it concerns the abrahamic religions (christianity, judaism, and islam), I consider religion to be a pernicious influence on our society without which we'd definitely be better off.  But I also know that trying to change the strongly-held beliefs of believers is mostly a waste of my time. Believers interpret things through the lens of "confirmation bias" whereby they see everything as confirming their beliefs and disputing anything that threatens those beliefs.  If I propose rational arguments against those beliefs, they'll not only not be convinced by anything I might have to offer on behalf of my disbelief, but some might accuse me to trying to convert them, thus confirming their erroneous assertion that atheism is just another belief system, despite the logical situation that disbelief cannot be a belief!

If I thought rational arguments would be effective in converting believers to unbelief, I likely would follow that path, because in my opinion, religions are a system with more downside than upside for our modern societies.  But instead, here's where I'm coming from:  I know it's unlikely I can get you to toss aside your comforting delusions and myths, so I'm not going to try.  In fact, I support fully your right in these secular United States to believe in whatever you choose.  All I ask in return is that you do the same, and not force your beliefs on atheists and other nonchristian believers by inserting religious doctrine into public institutions.   Is that asking so much?  Apparently, it is - some believers see any opposition to putting "In god we trust" on our currency, or to affirming that our nation is "under god" in the pledge of allegiance as an infringement on their religious freedom.  This is such a monumentally illogical argument, it's hard to know even where to begin to refute it. 

Some of my believer friends tell me to just ignore the intrusions of religious doctrine, if it bothers me.  It's just so many words by which I should not be offended.  Or they say, contrary to the reality of history, that the US is founded on religious principles, which couldn't be farther from the truth, but they have bought into revisionist history by which everything is given a religious spin by those who would distort truth in order to carry out a religious agenda that seeks "dominion" - that is, to impose a christian theocracy on the US through the ballot box.  Or they say it's their right to do so because they represent the majority of Americans.  They would seek to impose the tyranny of the majority on all other believers (not of their ilk) and on nonbelievers as well.  If need be, they will toss the Bill of Rights aside in their drive to christian dominionism.

I speak out against the activities by christian dominionists that would increase the penetration of christian religion in our secular nation.  I dispute the absurd illogic that permeates the abrahamic religions because we can ill afford to sink even further into irrationality at a time when we need all the rational thinking we can muster.  We share in challenging times - believers and nonbelievers both - our economy is a mess, unemployment is rampant, the disparity between the rich and the poor is expanding even as the middle class is being pushed seemingly inexorably toward poverty, corporations are buying influence on politicians with increasing success, perpetrators of corporate crime are escaping any justice whatsoever, our civil rights are being trampled upon in the name of the illusion of security against our putative external enemies (shades of 1984), people increasingly are rejecting science in favor of religious myths, and our education system has been pushed to the brink of irrelevancy.  Freedom and liberty are being threatened on many sides and we need innovative thinking, unconstrained by irrelevant religious doctrine.  Oh yes, if I thought I could change people's minds to reject their security blanket of religious nonsense, I would certainly try.

But - it's hopeless.  Believer apologists want to portray atheism as just another belief system.  They say, without any real basis, atheism must be taken on faith because we cannot prove (in an absolute sense) that their god doesn't exist, just as their late Bronze Age religious cant must be taken on faith because it cannot prove (in an absolute sense) that their god does exist.  They say that science requires just as much faith as their religion when that is so patently counterfactual, it's hard to imagine by what twisted logic it can be asserted that science is built on faith.

I post these thoughts not in the vain hope that I will convince believers to abandon their beliefs, but to clarify that my goal is not to do so at all.  My posted thoughts are a plea for a commitment to freedom and liberty for everyone, not just the christian believers.  If there is to be any hope for a common ground upon which believers and nonbelievers can work together, it must be on this secular core represented by the principles of this secular nation as embodied in our Constitution.  If we cannot work together to achieve freedom and liberty for all, then our nation will have failed utterly to have lived up to its promising start.  We will cease to be the shining beacon of freedom we like to believe ourselves to be and will become just another fascist theocracy.


David Schultz said...

Proselytizing for atheism is a bit like screwing for abstinence. :-)

Jay said...

The "science is also a belief system" argument is one I encounter with some regularity. Science is clearly not based on faith (faith being the opposite of evidence-based analysis), and anyone who argues that is not thinking clearly about the definition of faith. But science as a belief system is perhaps more difficult to circumvent when speaking with someone who believes there is "something out there" that no evidence can ever explain. In my experience, that is the underlying "logical" context for those who wish to undermine evidence-based reasoning in an effort to level the playing field or to point out what they perceive as hypocrisy in non-believing scientists.

"See? There is an unsubstantiated assumption underlying your view of the universe too!"


I usually give up on the discussion at that point.

--Jay Charney

Chuck Doswell said...


The rational response to an assertion there is "something out there" for which no evidence can be found is disbelief. People can believe in something of the sort if they choose, of course, but it's an irrational belief - that is to say, "faith" instead of logic.