Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Disbelief is not a belief!

I just saw a YouTube posting about Sam Harris taking on a believer.  But the post is not so interesting to me as the comments to follow, in which both sides offer some pretty sorry dialog on the topic.  It starts off with a comment:

Like, I'm not even a believer. I'm just comfortable saying I don't know. But even this to many atheists is morally Wrong so there have been times where I've mentioned this off hand and been accused by atheists of being soft on religion or something of that sort. They can't keep their beliefs to themselves anymore than religious people can - they have to shove it down the throats of all the rest of us.

and he goes on to say:

A lot of the atheists I've met NEED to believe in atheism in the same way that some Christians NEED to believe in Christ. Its part of their psychological anatomy. Anything that diverts from atheism represents sin (or I guess "backwardness", "obscuratsm" [sic], etc.) to them. When one feels the need to prostelyze [sic] about their beliefs at EVERY available opportunity that person is DEPENDENT on their beliefs. 

 I see this sort of nonsense all the time in Internet forums.  First of all, I have to say that it's not possible for atheism to be a belief system.  Atheism is disbelief in a deity!  Disbelief - the absence of belief - cannot logically be a belief!  If this person is, as he says, not a believer, then he's an atheist whether he realizes it or not!  The argument here seems to be a common one against atheists who choose to be open and "aggressive" about their atheism.  Just what is "aggressive" atheism?

Consider the accusation in this comment that atheists are shoving their atheism down everyone's throat.  I think what's happening is the following.  If an atheist calls the logic of religious beliefs into question, this is perceived as shoving their atheism down everyone's throat.  If atheists pursue litigation against government sponsorship of religion on the basis of the Constitutionally-mandated separation of church and state, this is seen as shoving atheism down everyone's throat.  If atheists respond in any way to the open advocacy of religious beliefs that appears in every possible medium all the time, then they're shoving atheism down everyone's throat.  Believers can pour out their beliefs repeatedly in every possible way but atheists can't respond in any way, it seems.

I'm probably wasting my time with this blog, but I hope at least a few readers might grasp the utter absurdity and hypocrisy of such claims about "aggressive" atheism.

Just how is questioning the logic of something forcing anything on anyone?  Yes, of course, if someone questions someone else's religious beliefs, it's common for that to be perceived as a personal attack.  Religious believers often are so deeply attached to their belief system that any logical criticism is interpreted as a personal attack on them.  Almost always, the atheist has no such intent.  The atheist  isn't even attempting to convert the believer to a belief system (which atheism logically cannot be!), but rather is attempting to get the believer to see and acknowledge the illogic of their beliefs.  It's usually the case that the believer brought the subject up in the first place and the atheist is simply responding to this.

In such discourse, believers usually resort to comments like the one in the Sam Harris video - to the effect that they're not making a scientific, logical, or evidence-based statement, but simply accepting their religious beliefs on faith.  As an atheist, I have no problem with anyone believing whatever they want on faith or evidence or whatever but, as Sam Harris suggests in the video, some belief systems are considered generally to be completely illogical and worthy only of derisive laughter, such as his example of believing that Elvis is still alive.   For the most part, atheists see most religious beliefs as in that category.  You may be offended by that contention, but using logic to question religion is not shoving anything down your throat - unless you choose to reject logic as the basis for any argument whatsoever.  If you categorically reject logic and evidence, then of course there's no point to further discourse.  Your beliefs are logically unassailable because you reject logic!  If you accept logic in, for example, scientific arguments, isn't it being consistent to apply logic to religion, as well?

People who support such things as teaching creationism in public education or putting religious icons on government property are the ones doing the shoving!  They are the ones forcing their beliefs on everyone else.  They cry "persecution" when atheists lead campaigns to oppose state sanctioning of any particular religion.  They rewrite history to create the absurd notion that the basis for our US legal system is based on religious tradition, when it is quite clear that the very opposite is true.  The religious right-wing projects their own aggressive behavior regarding their theocratic agenda onto atheists whenever those atheists speak up and oppose the destruction of the wall of separation between church and state here in the USA.  The intrusion of religion into government is fast becoming one of the serious threats to Constitutionally-guaranteed freedom in the USA.  But many believers feel that any protest against this gathering storm is "aggressive" atheism.  Apparently, they're offended by any contrary viewpoint.

The commenter I mentioned at the top of this blog is typical of some atheists, who seem to think that atheists should keep their opinions to themselves and never question anyone's beliefs.  Of course, they're entitled to their opinion.  Perhaps they feel threatened by possible reprisals against anyone who isn't a believer wearing their belief on their sleeve.  This isn't just a paranoid fantasy, of course - it's a fear backed up by reality!  Atheists are discriminated against around the world and even in the USA - that's an undeniable fact.  So for some timid atheists, the correct reaction is to shut up and quit trying to say or do anything about it.  Most atheists aren't at all focused on shoving our disbelief down anyone's throat.  You can believe anything you want, but don't force us to do so!  For the time being, we have the Constitutionally-guaranteed right and we're free to exercise that right!