Saturday, September 17, 2011

Are Atheists Unkind?

"Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That's what's important! Valor pleases you, Crom... so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to HELL with you!" (Conan the Barbarian)

Once again, a Christian posted something of a religious nature on their Facebook. This time about the power of prayer. I sent a link to a great article by Tim Kent talking about why religious people continue to believe prayer works even after it's been completely blown up and invalidated. 

This was enough to get me in trouble. 


 
I got a whole lecture on what I should and should not say about people's personal beliefs. I was informed that undermining a persons beliefs wasn't necessarily a kind thing to do--especially if they are ill. I don't see how the two are related. A person's illness has nothing to say of the quality of the beliefs they hold. Being sick, and believing in something, are completely unrelated. Unless, one is to imply that believing in something helps them cope with being sick?


Granted, in such a case it would be best to, perhaps, keep one's criticism to themselves. However, I found it strange that a general comment on the spuriousness of prayer suddenly became all about not criticizing people's beliefs and being kinder to cancer victims. I understand Christians always confuse independent criticisms of their beliefs with attacks on their own personalities because they define themselves by what they believe, but making an unrelated subject (in this case prayer) entirely about oneself and cancer seemed a bit much. 


I am not a mean spirited person but I don't think that I have to sit around and let some self righteous Christian lecture me on how to be a good person either. Especially from someone who doesn't even know me. Which is why posting such "considerate" advice in a public forum is probably not the smartest thing if you don't want your comments to be publicized. At any rate, she stated:

"I wonder if at any point it has crossed your mind that attempting to undermine the faith of a person who is in remission from cancer is not a particularly kind thing to do? I am somewhat flabbergasted that anyone would do such a thing. I hope that most people would not. Cancer is a huge mountain for anyone to climb. We hang onto hope in whatever way we can. And believe me, hanging on to hope can be the hardest part of the battle. Please consider kindness and consideration an option when communicating with other cancer survivors in the future. Trust me, it is the right thing to do."
 
First of all, I didn't ask for her advice. Secondly, she doesn't even know me! How can she presume to know what character flaws I have or how sympathetic I am toward others? Thirdly, I wasn't undermining her faith (which my reply will momentarily make clear). If she would stop trying to lecture me, and perhaps get to know me better, she may find that I am a fairly decent human being. 


Indeed, Christians who read my blog often compliment how cordial and friendly I am, especially being an atheist! Yeah, I know, it's hard to believe. A friendly atheist. Which is why I truly appreciate compliments from religious believers, especially when they say things like the following I received in a mail a few weeks back. 


"I am the person who stumbled upon your blog while researching for a Religious Philosophy essay a few months ago and commented. Recently, I came across your blog again and made some long rambly comments too. The reason why I want to write this email is because I feel you are one of the nicest atheists I've ever met."


Truly, I appreciate the kind words. I really do.

Yet not all Christians are as reserved, it seems. Some are downright preachy. Having to listen to this woman go on and on about how I needed to be more kind was bothersome to say the least, but I replied as honestly and maturely as I could.



I wasn't belittling anyone's beliefs, except to say, here are some valid reasons why these beliefs do not pass muster. Reasons which need to be addressed in order to ensure claims like, "God answered my prayers" or "healed my illness" amount to anything. If they aren't addressed, then the claims are unfounded and most probably false. I mean, maybe such questions do not matter so much when you are dying? I wouldn't presume to know. But that's not the point. The two issues are separate.

As such, your advice is appreciated, but in my opinion, perhaps a little misdirected. And although I empathize with people in pain, and who may be suffering, my criticism [here] is on false beliefs--not people's health. Confusing the issue seems to make it look like I'm attacking their beliefs to somehow slight them or be injurious. That's simply not the case.

Indeed, I go out of my way to be nice, and temper my language, and try to have civil adult conversations where we work on building trust by being honest with one another. I even go back and edit my posts when I re-read them and think to myself... that was a bit tactless or harsh. I am always conscious of the rhetorical situation, so I am extremely careful not to confuse a formal criticism of a philosophical concept (or an unproved concept) with a character attack on someone simply because they may or mayn't entertain absurd fancies.

Personally, I feel people can believe anything they want to. It just doesn't make what they believe necessarily true. And reminding them of this fact isn't nice or mean. In fact, it's neither. I see nothing problematic with asserting we would be better off favoring claims that demonstrate themselves. If that sentiment seems unkind to you, then I am afraid I don't know what else to say. 


I don't know about you, but I thought my response was fairly dignified considering this person hijacked a general philosophical discussion about religion and made it about themselves and then proceeded to lecture me on being tactless, insensitive, and undermining people's beliefs. 


[Just for the record, stating that prayer is false is not undermining anyone's beliefs in the validity of prayer, because prayer has already been proved patently false. It's not an issue of whether it could still prove true, because it's not. End of discussion.]


All I know is, this conversation was all over the place. Most of the time it was off topic. But I always tried to make it clear I was not singling anyone out (accept maybe for religious people in general). Mostly, however, I was merely commenting on the state of beliefs in general--whatever they may be. The conversation about the belief in prayer only came up because everyone was so keen in thanking God.

My question would be, why is it okay for the religious to state their worldview about God, but it's not okay for the atheist to do the same? If a religious person says they believe in prayer, and posts it on the Internet for all the world to see, but when an atheist does the same and states the opposite, suddenly they are accused of being disrespectful, insensitive, and undermining people's beliefs? Come now, let's not be so naive as all that. Atheists are not undermining anyone's beliefs--they are simply calling them into question. If the beliefs fail to stand up to scrutiny, that's not the atheists fault.



The entire reason I am writing about this now is because I want to further the discussion. But we can't start to have a mature, adult, conversation until religious people can start respecting other people's worldviews and not trying to dictate what people can and can't believe. At least with atheism, my assertion that God does not exist isn't demanding anyone to have to accept this proposition. It merely asks those who believe to demonstrate their claims. Simple as that.


Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist