Saturday, October 17, 2009
Advocatus Atheist: Why I am an Advocate for Atheism
I had an interesting conversation with my mother the other day. She asked me, "What was the one thing that convinced you that it was all fake, what made you turn your back on God?"
And I said, "Well, it wasn't just one thing. It was a combination of many things all building up, working in tandem, gaining momentum, and then one by one they had the ability to knock down the wall of dogma which had blinded me to the truth of the matter."
My mother had two objections to this. 1) She couldn't believe is was so many things, there had to be one main motivating force, and 2) she told me the historical truth is not truth in the "spiritual" sense.
I thought her points were interesting, regardless I assured her there wasn't just one thing. But she pressed me on the matter, and so I thought about the main motivator which convinced me that Christianity is "fake" (although I would change my mother’s working to say false) was none other than the Holy Bible itself. This answer she laughed at. But then I talked about the Redaction of the Bible and all the editorship that went on and mentioned specific unresolved Biblical discrepancies which put a kink in the acceptance of any Biblical claim, thus I asked if the Bible itself invalidates the claims how can you stake a faith on invalidated claims--let alone self detracting processes by which the Bible reveals that it is untrustworthy? My mom said, well that's and issue of faith, and suggested that since I had turned my back on Jesus and my spirituality that I just wouldn't understand.
This assumption bothered me, and I pointed out that it is an erroneous assumption and one she can't possibly knowingly make. Many Christians make this mistake, however, assuming that Atheists have simply fallen from grace, or either deliberately hates religion because of a new-found soulless contempt for things like Jesus, as prophesied in scripture, and so on and so forth. But this is a totally unfounded presumption on their part. How do they know that I lost my love for Jesus or grew disconnect from my spiritual identity? I can guarantee you that I have not lost these things. Why do they think so? Because I criticize the erroneous claims and have hard-won evidence to back up my arguments? Truth is truth, and if the truth reveals that the Bible is mostly myth and fantasy, then what is there to stake a firm conviction of faith in? This would require historical support. Which brings me to my mother's second implication that my knowledge relies merely on the historical and tangible things which I can see with my own two eyes and not gained by a spiritual "knowing" somewhere inside me soul.
Well, first off, this claim is just as weak as any I have heard, not to disrespect my mother, but it is a common claim made among Christians. The truth is, we live in a real material world. But no such thing as a Holy Spirit has ever been confirmed, and if I had received it when I was a born again Christian, then surely it's with me still. Unless my mother was implying that it packed up its bags and moved away, but then, where did it go—and how does she know this about my own spirit when I don't? It's not a good argument to make, but I understand what she was trying to say.
People find meaning in being connected to something greater than them. And religion plays a large part in comforting this need to feel safe, be a part of something greater than them, and have the consoling thought of perhaps existing beyond this life time--in something like an everlasting spirit. It would make sense that people would want to equate this spirit with love and happiness, because why would anyone wish for terrible suffering and misery, something we already experience too much of in our own world?
Although I bit my tongue as I wanted to say spirituality in the supernatural sense is completely unfounded, but I kept quite, because I know that spirituality in the emotional and practical sense, as an experiential part of life, living with the mysterious and unknown, is a vital part of our personal egos. Even I acknowledge the luminescent, the awe inspiring, the transcendental qualities and feelings which come over me in profound moments of reflection or in times of great revelation and awe. But modern neuroscience has shown that our spiritual self is only an extension of our psyche. Spirituality, in all intents and purposes, has material origins.
All this, however, I kept to myself, since disillusioning my mom would be cruel, but also it would serve no purpose. If she finds consonance and happiness in nurturing her "spiritual" self, then she should be free to do so (insofar as she doesn't bring harm to others or restrict other people's rights or freedoms).
This brought me to the historical aspect of my deconversion. My mom said being a Christian is about believing in Jesus, not about knowing all that other stuff. She mentioned that if I still loved Jesus, that I wouldn't be so anti-religion. And again my feelings were slighted because if you know my passion for religious history you will know that I am entirely engrossed by the figure of Jesus Christ and the formation of Christianity itself. I'm, more or less, obsessed with Jesus and his story. Partially because I was raised this way, but also, because the more real history I delve into the more mysteries unravel before my eyes, and it's an amazing heuristic adventure! So, contrary to what people may say, it's not the Christian story I object to, it's not the Christian I dislike, but it is the Christian legacy—of organized religion which vexes me. Moreover, it’s the people of profess their sincere Christians when in fact they naively practice the damaging rituals of organized religion, pretending (even believing) it’s good, and they like to call it faith—and they want you to have it to! And this I cannot stomach.
Even so, I find that Christianity and being a Christian are two separate things altogether. For my mom, being a Christian simply means believing in Jesus and living a good life. I know most Christians would agree with this definition. But Christianity is an entire history of ideological concepts, religious ideals, all being applied to one’s own life and personal beliefs.
There is good and bad entwined in any religious culture. I have come to understand most Muslims are peaceful loving people, because they don’t take everything so literally, we call them moderate Muslims. But they don’t help the situation any when they profess that it is not their beliefs which are influencing all those plane hijackers and suicide bombers to kill innocent people—when in actuality it is exactly these religious faith based propositions which they have bought into that do affect their thinking in often harmful ways. Granted, I understand not all Muslims are as misguided, only the radicals, the Islamists like the Taliban, who have visions of grandeur of heavenly paradise and wish to establish an Islamic Kingdom here on earth, much as their venerated Prophet Muhammad sought to do. But this is not healthy thinking, and simply denying that these radicals have nothing to do with your cherished faith is, to be blunt, to miss the point entirely. Faith is directly tied to faith-based practices, and this does affect how people think and behave, I just wish more religious adherents would be honest enough to admit this instead refusing culpability (of the institution they are an active part of) and entering into denial only to do nothing about it.
So to claim you’re a person of faith (Christian, Muslim, or Jew, etc.) and then deny any aspect of that religious faith which you should NOT agree with, yet continue to play an active part in maintaining it—this makes the position a hypocritical one. Also, this opens the door for a whole new can of worms. For example, Christians who tell me they are good Catholics because they support gay rights, or Protestants who tell me they would never bomb an abortion clinic because they believe in the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, I hate to say it, are merely being bigoted. It's like a member of the Klu Klux Clan stating they're in favor of equal rights for African Americans, but they're still in support of their other religious convictions as well (after all the Klu Klux Clan is an official denomination of Protestantism). You can’t profess your allegiance and pretend that the institution gets to go scot-free for crimes it enacts against humanity. If you’re a good person, great—I’m happy for you, but let’s not pretend that good people are in support of wicked organizations. Any real decent person would see the fallacy for what it was, and act accordingly.
What I am getting at, is even though your individual beliefs may be moderate, or more open minded, it doesn't mean the religion you adhere to as a whole is as kindly and open minded as you. So as other Klu Klux Clan members are lynching somebody against their will, taking away their freedoms, and upon pain of death swearing it is their God given duty—you can't say you're just a lil’ innocent and soft spoken peaceful member and that not all Klu Klux Clan followers are bad people—because that’s a crock. They wouldn’t be Klu Klux Clan members if they we’re good people, period. If the institution is bad, it doesn’t so much matter what you believe—you're part of the problem. The same goes for good Christians everywhere, who feel the love of God and the Holy Spirit working in their lives, who as a consequence of their religious induced beliefs do the hypocritical thing of voting away the "God-given" rights of others—by supporting Proposition 8 or other such laws which would seek to strip an American of their natural right to marry—simply because they are gay, and so religious bullies want to dominate and control others and force them to accept what they believe to be their religious obligation as “good” practitioners of faith.
I've heard many Christians make the argument that Marriage is akin to Holy Matrimony, that it's about a husband and a wife, and as such, about a man and a woman. They think that allowing homosexuals to wed and be happy would, in fact, taint their sacred tradition? But this is stupid. Marriage ceremonies have emerged and existed in societies even without religion. Marriage has nothing to do with religion, but the necessity of societal progress. In China, marriage served the purpose of continuing Patriarchy, so that men would have sons, so that these sons could work and inherit the land. For thousands of years before Christianity came along, marriage was about creating family so there could be societies. Agriculture took hold, and then dynasties were born. Monarchy also had use of marriage, for it served the purpose of breeding to created heirs to the throne, who would inherent the kingdom, and so on.
Furthermore, if we look at nature, many animals are monogamous. Penguins, owls, Eagles, Sea Otters, and yes most Humans. In the animal kingdom it's about procreation, the capacity to replicate ones genes, and sexual selection. But even with this complex series of traits, it is clear that even animals stay together for companionship. Why restrict the rights of those who would seek companionship, who love each other, and want to marry?
Only if you are religious would you find reasons for being prejudiced—because the Bible says sodomy and homosexuality is a sin—you may begin to believe it. So what? It's none of your damn business how someone else should live their lives. If you are the type of person who believes in sin, then leave it up to God to decide. If being a Christian means believing in the love of Jesus Christ and being a good person, then be that! But don't you dare claim to be a good Christian and then make the bigoted and hypocritical claim that gays shouldn't be allowed to marry, or that atheists will go to hell, or that you are practicing any other than the re-enactment of the Christian legacy of organized religion.
Perhaps you don’t support such things, and you may be a good Christian, but then you probably know a Christian personally who is in support of banning gay marriage, or you may even go to the same church as those who despise and fear gays, and you find that this is alright? If I were you’d I’d stop going to that church. Better yet, maybe you’re a liberal believer, and you don’t care what people think and you wish to elucidate your closed minded congregation on emancipating gays from the ideological shackles of religious treason, trespasses on their personal freedoms, and this is a good course of action to take. But how many good Christians actually are this pro-active in advocating things which blatantly contradict their “Christian” priorities? What do you intend to do about all those you know who simply sit on their thumbs and remain quite? Sometimes rocking the boat is necessary to get people to stand up—and if nobody will take a stand, how is this a good thing? If Christians won’t make the next move, then it falls upon those who are willing to do it—it may require someone from outside the faith to do it—it might take a secular minded free thinking humanitarian to get the job done. And you’re going to complain that I’m being negative when I’m criticizing religion on its faults? If Christians hadn’t ignored reason for so long, I wouldn’t have to point out the obvious.
You have faith? Good, don't let it detract from human progress, scientific advancement, and human rights. Keep your faith private. You have spirituality? Good, then don't take it for granted, and certainly don't make judgmental claims against others because you find their version or concept of spirituality different. It goes without saying an Muslims spiritual identity will be entirely different than a Buddhists. But don't peg people to generic stereotypes and stubbornly insist that yours is the best belief. You have religion? Fine, just don't sell us any of that snake medicine along with your doctrinaire claims? And if you want to be taken seriously, then stop making excuses for why your faith is so great why it is obvious that, like with the Klu Klux Clan example, other things are going on which make a mockery of such a naive proposition.
What do I expect of religious people? For starters, a little bit of honesty. Maybe then can we move beyond these basic gripes and get to something which resembles some self respect and integrity. But don't lecture me on morality, religion doesn't offer morality. It may offer a means of structure for certain types of people that will allow them to start working on their own morality and perhaps move towards moral progress, but religion is not necessary for morality to exist. And certainly, I can't say that having religion makes the world a more better place to live, because the majority of the world in one way or another is religious (to varying degrees) but this hasn't improved the condition of peoples lives on the grand scale. It takes something greater than religion to work, it takes the will power and the desire to make the world a better place. And even secular people, over the course of history, have shown this desire to improve the world, move toward human solidarity, and love and support one another just as readily as any religious person. The only difference is, the secular non-believers like myself don't have religion to trick us into misbehaving.
Basically, I told my mother all this. And after a moment of silent contemplation, she said, "Well, I see your point. But that's not what I believe."
And I said, that's fine! Great, in fact. I'm not trying to convince anybody my beliefs are the only true beliefs. In fact, I'm always open to evidence. If something new should present itself which confirms a claim, or disproves a claim, I'll adjust my conclusions appropriately. What I don't agree with are those who pretend to know everything about everything, that they are inevitably right, even when the evidence should disagree with them. I do not like the arrogance of religious people who pretend to know more than they possibly can, and then suggest that my beliefs aren't correct. Last I checked, I have considered the evidence, and the evidence says God's not real. When the evidence comes along which shows God is real, then hey, I will gladly change my mind. I've never said otherwise. But let's not pretend I don't know anything because I'm no longer a "Christian"--that's just idiotic.
To sum up, I have come to realize that being a Christian has nothing to do with Christianity. Most Christians don't know the first thing about what the Bible teaches, what it says, or more specifically what it doesn't say. They don't know about the history of their faith they profess in. They don't know how it came to be or why? They only know that it is. They believe in certain tenets of Christianity but not others. Their selection, and cherry-picking, often makes sense in the light of human secularism, but according to religious standards it's a hypocritical practice of trying to have your cake and eat it too. Christianity is tied to real history, there are things we can truthfully know about it. Facts we can garner from real historical research, things which do impact the capacity to have faith in the claims of Christianity because many of the claims are disproved by the facts. But this doesn't have any impact on you if, being a Christian means whatever you want it to mean. If being a Christian means being a good person and loving others, then wonderful. I guess that would make me a "Christian Atheist" because even I am a good person fully capable of loving others.
But if being a Christian means staking a claim on the tenets of Christianity--then these claims must be backed up, and verified, and met with the burden of proof if you want me to accept that definition of being a Christian. As such, I don't see how any of the claims of Christianity are founded, or trustworthy, and so being a Christian to me is a silly confession. I equate it with either 1) a lack of understanding about what Christianity is and means, 2) a lack of understanding about science and how the real world functions, or 3) a sort of delusion of people who believe in unicorns and fairies share, because these things are also imaginary--just like God and what most of Christianity teaches. So, if you mix the one definition of Christianity with the other, and combine that with ignorance, then what you have is a mess and a well spring for incredulity. You have people believing in unbelievable things and thinking they are good because they somehow have a spiritual connection to a two-thousand year old dead Jew, who they know nothing about, but they love and venerate him for all kinds of reasons, many of which are incoherent. And that's just weird.
Does this mean I hate Christians and Christianity? No, I know that most Christians are just like me--trying to be a good person, trying to raise their families the best they can, working hard, and being the best people they can be. Do I dislike Christianity? As a subject matter, I find it entirely fascinating, and I am continually trying to learn more about it. However, as an active belief system, I find it compels more evil than good, and so the scales being unbalanced, I must say that organized religion in general is detrimental to our well being. There is no reason to promote or sponsor the spread of xenophobia, or diseases like aids, or intolerance and hate for homosexuals, or people of different beliefs, indeed, there is no reason to deny a woman to the right to her own body, or tell anyone who they can and cannot marry--and all this religion tries to dictate to us, and this I find to be totalitarian and dangerous and antithetical to any form of egalitarianism which would enhance our lives.
I support people's equal rights, and the basic human rights we are all entitled to (without the interruption by religious dogmas confusing the matter). So I will advocate that religion is bad as long as it continues to influence people to behave badly. As for the rest of the superfluous conjecture of religious devotionalism and all the theological claims which accompany it, I believe extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And claims that are without evidence can just as easily be dismissed without evidence.
Peace to all, and I wish you all good health and happiness.
Tristan D. Vick