Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Why I'm an Anti-Theist and an Atheist (Clash of Ideologies)


Why I'm an Anti-Theist and an Atheist
Previously under the title: Clash of Ideologies 

I am an anti-theist as well as an atheist because I think religions are more pernicious than polite, and they place primitive ideologies above compassionate ones. The trick is, almost every religion places "love" at the top of their list of questionable and/or malevolent teachings so they can always claim (lie) about their faith being one of love. This vexes me to no end.

Let me use Islam as an example to stress my meaning, although I am sure you shall find it true of most religions that contain totalitarian views and calls to theocracy over democracy. Here we have a religion where its adherents, otherwise good people, are raised to believe they will free themselves by building a caliphate, where the supreme ruler of the global empire would not be a Nazi fuhrer or communist general secretary but a theocrat ruling with total power in accordance with the Koran and Sharia.

If such people of faith should face persecution for holding such dogmatic beliefs, or attempting to force others to adhere to such beliefs, they will be the first to cry intolerance and Islamaphobia. This is the get out of jail free card that many religious believers cling to with unrelenting grip like a cat deathly afraid of bath water. 

"Intolerance!" they cry. "Persecution!" they lament. Caterwauling in such a way they force us into the uncomfortable position of having to explain to to them that being intolerant of their intolerance isn't, in itself, intolerant -- and that this is a problem that they have created for themselves in the first place by being so intolerant of others and other ways of thinking and being that they caused civil society to retract from them and rebel against the imposition of their unjust religious ideologies. Yes, it is a rejection of their religious position, and for good reason!

But it's not just Islam that has this trouble with ideas of freedom, independence, and secular law in free countries with liberal democracies that balance the powers of government and allow for things like women's rights, gay rights, and rights for minorities.

Christian belief and breed the same mental illness as the most unegalitarian Islamic oligarchies. For example, consider the recent hubbub regarding Kim Davis. George Takei, the actor and gay rights activist, said it best when he stated: 


"This woman is no hero to be celebrated. She broke her oath to uphold the Constitution and defied a court order so she could deny government services to couples who are legally entitled to be married. She is entitled to hold her religious beliefs, but not to impose those beliefs on others. If she had denied marriage certificates to an interracial couple, would people cheer her? Would presidential candidates flock to her side? In our society, we obey civil laws, not religious ones. To suggest otherwise is, simply put, entirely un-American."

I couldn't have put it better myself.

And you see, this is the problem with modern theocratic based ideologies inherent to the core teachings of religions like Christianity and Islam.

If you wonder why I am also an anti-theist on top of my atheism, it is because I feel there is a war of ideologies going on here, and I just happen to believe, unlike the majority of Muslims and Christians, among some other we could name, that the only way we can truly free ourselves is not by adhering to any religious Holy law (which I view as entirely man-made laws, and usually poorly formulated at that), but by opening our hearts to love, loving one another. Fully. And through the act of opening our minds to understanding, and thereby omitting the ignorance induced xenophia, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and so on in like fashion, gradually improving upon our moral standards and behaviors, both as individuals and as a society overall. 

Holy laws come to us from the lips of diviners and an elect Priestcraft who seek to instill the opposite of tolerance and open minded acceptance by restricting the wide range of moral values we could find outside of religion by limited morality to a very narrow definition of what that religions provides.

They label and mark anything that doesn't fall under their umbrella of faith a vile sin and something to be ashamed of. But the shame is all theirs for their lack of compassion and their small mindedness.

Now you may think your religion isn't like that. You may even practice a benign form of a traditionally more malevolent or imposing faith. You can be complacent and choose to ignore the bad elements of your religious belief system. I cannot be so dispassionate when it comes to unfair and unjust beliefs. As a skeptic, I have a hard time taking things at face value, for what they are. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. I always need to peel back the layers and see what's going on underneath. Often times, I don't like what I see. 

I believe we must teach it is okay to love despite what any Holy writ or law might say. Even sometimes despite what it says. Then we must teach that it is okay to do away with religious teachings and maybe even entire religions that teach anything other than love and open mindedness. Trim the fat, so to speak. And we must make clear that it is perfectly fine to despise religions that fail to do away with their pernicious attitudes and prejudiced teachings when they continue to teach hate and instill ignorance bread intolerance. And whether your are a person of deep faith, or an atheist like me, I think that's something we can all agree on. 

PAX

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UPDATE:


My friend Jennelicus Buttersworth (not her real name) chimed in and left this post on my FB page):


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It would be interesting for you to look at faith traditions that are explicitly not fundamentalist literalists. One of the pastors who serves my church is an Atheist Presbyterian and we've had a lot of interesting conversations about where Calvin likely ended up in his theology around predestination and heaven/hell. 

With Christianity potentially being more about yearning and working for justice period and not actually being about the divine comedy that others think it to be. Presbyterians actually don't believe in a physical hell per say. 

One thing I would say is that a lot of what you say is based upon your experience growing up in a patriarchal, fundamentalist community. Which, I obviously also grew up in. Looking at non-literalist faith traditions could help to create a different frame of reference. 

Now, there is that aspect of faith which isn't actually logical despite what others say and is more about a personal relationship with the divine. But considering folks think mainline Protestants who are non-literal are godless heretics, it might not be interesting to you.


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I rather thought her comments were quite good. They offered food for thought and also sort of got at something else that has bothered me about this accommodation need to deflect what I see as well placed and meaningful criticisms by whitewashing it with the claim that not all religion is bad. Naturally, any thoughtful person will recognize there is both good in bad in every ideology, and will go on to add that not all ideologies are created equal. And this goes for religions as well.


At any rate, here are my additional responses:


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Good points Jennelicus Buttersworth, and I appreciate your comments.

Without meaning to sound too much like a know-it-all, I must confess, I actually have studied Christianity rather in detail for the better part of a decade now. I am well aware of the other varieties of Christian faith. Including the more benign and even positive forms.

I applaud these friendly forms of Christian for their peaceful and more tolerant views and for breaking away from the fundamental teachings of the faith because they find certain elements of their classical theology problematic or morally troubling.

In fact, one of my favorite Christian speakers and writers is John Shelby Spong. I think every Christian should make his works required reading.

But just as you took issue with my attempt to find a more diplomatic hashtag for "blacklivesmatter" because it inadvertently whitewashed the immediate message and concerns that plague black lives / people today, and which after giving some more thought about I took down because my message --although not a bad one-- was basically running interference with a more worthy message, I would cite a similar reason for why more mundane forms of Christianity, although much more humanely improved, work to whitewash the negative effects of the more fundamentalist and legalistic forms of the faith they evolved out of.

You see, the act of citing that there are good forms of Christianity as a response to my I criticizing the bad whitewashes these bad forms and paints Christianity as a whole as more likable than it really is. It seeks to find an accommodationalist view which can tolerate Christianity as long as something positive can be found in it to counterbalance all the harm and negative effects I think it has.

I can largely agree with your message, which is a fine one, and I also agree with you that there are good forms of many religions and benevolent ways of interpreting and practicing almost any faith, but even so, I find that these are usually the minority views being expressed out of the compassion and empathy of the individual rather than expressly as an article or feature of the faith. 

The majority view does not seek to improve upon itself, even as it may inherently be in need of vast improvement, because there is usually no view greater to challenge its faults or to point out its shortcomings that would be taken seriously. 

And those within the faith face a whole litany of other challenges that go along with the exclusivity of hierarchical forms of conservative religions. Religions which uses community and like-mindedness to form loyalty and allegiance, whereby to criticize it would be viewed by the faithful as a kind of betrayal and which would likely end in the silencing of the critic either through being ostracized or blackmailed with peer pressure and, often enough, harassment. People who criticize faith, no matter how innocuous it might seem, are called out as blasphemers and are frequently labeled an infidel or heretic.

Granted, more liberal faiths, as the kind you sited, are more accommodating of liberal views. Views which, under the banner of a more conservative faith, would be deemed dangerously heretical if not entirely treacherous forms of blasphemy. But even Presbyterians and Episcopalians still have a doctrinal line they dare not cross without relinquishing the claim to, under no certain circumstances, being "Christian."


Universalism avoids this, to some extent, by being almost wholly inclusive. It allows all beliefs to be held in equal value. But it may lose something in the way of becoming too accommodating in certain circumstances. That is, it may actually overlook valid criticisms and concerns by trying to accommodate everyone's feelings regarding their cherished beliefs or overlook an hotly debated issue in the name of accomodationalism rather than sticking to its tenet to engage in the responsible pursuit of truth and meaning. 

This, I suppose, is one danger of hyper-liberalism, that it muddies the conversation of what matters by saying everything matters equally, and I don't believe this to be a valid claim. On the other hand, hyper conservativism is just as damaging because it breeds fundamentalism by deeming only one sets of values and beliefs sacred and inviolable.

Mainstream Protestants, Evangelicals, Baptists, and Catholics are still the dominant form of Christianity and comprise the basis of mainstream Christian thought in America and elsewhere. If I criticize harmful elements of the majority, I really don't think that the friendlier forms of the minority faiths have to fear the same criticisms. In fact, usually they avoid the criticism altogether by not following blindly along with the majority and breaking free of the very religious negativity and harmfulness which I am bent on exposing.

And, it goes without saying that these friendlier denominations are hardly the majority. In fact, Presbyterian, Episcopal/Anglican Communion, or even Universalist Unitarians are all the end result of a long process of weeding out the negative or problematic elements of the Christian faith as traditionally understood and practice; and taking strides together toward a more humanistic worldview, just like I call for here.

I think instead of apologizing for the intolerance of the majority and then citing that there is a friendlier minority, we should condemn the majority for their intolerance and ask them directly why they cannot be more like the minority groups which are, by most accounts, far superior.

Of course, such a pressure can only come from the outside of religion, because as you know the majority view does not see itself as being in the wrong and so has no reason to check or improve itself. 

At the same time, most mainstream Christian denominations, as you pointed out, view the smaller groups as heretical and will often seek to disenfranchise popular speakers or voices from the minority group by labeling them heretics, or more recently, quacks and crackpots who are not true to the faith all the while giving everyone else a bad name for not being religious enough. That kind of mentality bothers me greatly. The thinking that your religion will actually improve others because you find benefit in it and it may have caused you improvement and thereby want to force it on everyone I find highly offensive. If it works for you, great. But leave it at that. I don't want to hear how it ought to work for me as well. I know what does and doesn't work for me, and if your religion was really that good, I'd be religious too -- at least, that's my thinking. The fact that I am highly irreligious speaks for itself.

What I supply here in my criticism is a place upon the scale where we raise the bar to a higher standard.

I am glad there are peaceful Christian groups. My understanding their historical progress or the reasons for their theological deviations will not improve the intolerance of the majority element. Which is why such criticisms are necessary, I find.

I hope this all makes sense. I really do see your point, but I just don't think it applies to what I am attempting whenever I choose to write an exacting polemical against the general forms of majority religion.


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My next comment isn't directly related to my criticism of organized religion, but attempts to contrast two competing forms of organized religion, thereby stressing my point that not all religions are created equal.


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On another note, I think we could springboard off of what you said and say that not all religions are created equal. I have lived in a largely secular Buddhist country for years and have studied Buddhism and Buddhist teachings to an extent, and even within Buddhism we find there are various competing denominations and beliefs. But the religion itself is hardly ever aggressive or damaging. At least, not where the majority elements are concerned. It promotes a peaceful ideology and stresses harmony and friendly co-existence with all living things. It seeks meditation and self reflection, and leads to a deeper understanding of the world around us and, perhaps more importantly, a deeper understanding of our very selves.

Granted, there are harmful extremist offshoots of Buddhism even, such as the Myanmar monks and their strange attempt to blend social and political agendas and messages into the lining of Buddhist faith, but aside from this small fringe group, Buddhism is a peaceful ideology and one of the best religions you could practice if you cared more about open mindedness and love than following any corrective guidelines to ensuring a particular brand of salvation.

One might say I have myself been influenced by such teachings, because I would rather have enlightenment than salvation.

Although, under the banner of Buddhist faith, it could be said they are one and the same. But under Christianity, enlightenment would mean we would, by the very nature of enlightenment, know everything God does. It is to become God, and this is a heresy under the Christian view and thus almost universally condemned within Christianity.

Personally, I just don't get such a backward notion -- the belief that we should never under any circumstances challenge God's supremacy by stepping up to his plane and being equals alongside him. It is a slave like mentality that wishes to be subservient and which finds the desire for true enlightenment an evil deserving punishment and the expulsion from Eden. Which is why I inherently rebel against it.

Now, Christianity could have all the good teachings in the world, but I would still despise it for putting a Lord over me and telling me I could only think in this way while denying me the right to become enlightened because it would be a threat to God's supremacy over me.

Not that I entertain delusions of wanting to be God or anything, but to deny the very right to my own autonomy and put limits on the terms of my own enlightenment, or imply that we could only achieve some small semblance of this grace through his help and that without it I am forever lost, seems rather primitive in comparison to Buddhism which calls us to expand our minds (which is everyone's right) and does not seek to limit them to the offerings placed before the feet of a king to lord over us.

No, I'm afraid Christianity looks too much like a small little peevish kingdom run by impish people with overly big heads and monstrous egos all caught up in a bidding war to gain the favor of a tyrant in the sky -- a God of their own sick imagining, meanwhile being too feeble minded or deluded, if not both, to realize it is merely a reflection of themselves they are attempting to crown and worship.

Anything that comes out of this way of thinking can never be wholly good in my estimation. Even if it does incorporate the better teachings to love one another. The best form of Christianity, in my opinion, is one which isn't particularly Christian.

The more one can break away from the Christian orthodox worldview, the freer it becomes and the more free they will be both mentally and spiritually. The less of a core ideology predicated on salvation theology it adheres to the less people have to jump through hoops to gain favors or rewards and the less one fears punishment for their failure to abide by such an ideological straitjacket.

The less Christian any particular Christian practice is the more humane it looks. The more like secular humanism it becomes. And then there comes a point where we must ask ourselves, why even require the need to expressly identify as a Christian anymore?

As you know, after shedding the innately Christian elements of my religious faith, including my belief in God, I didn't stop being a good person. I didn't lose my moral values or my ability to be compassionate and have empathy for others. Rather, I found that all the good things contained in Christianity exist outside of it as well.

And, well, I find that is enough for me.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist