Atheists. The "other" danger of god belief. By Jake
3 years ago I wrote a small post trying to explain what I saw as a very real danger in god belief. In the small post I equate god belief to similar irrational beliefs, like trolls, fairies, and 6 foot invisible rabbits. I claim that a person who says that god talks to them is accepted where as a person who says that elves are talking to him, is not, and that there is a danger in that allowance.
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ” other ” danger of god belief. A danger that I mentioned briefly in the article 3 years ago, but never took the time to actually put a hammer to it’s head.
We live in a culture that accepts god belief. So the average person wont necessarily say “was that real ?” when experiencing the delusion of a god. “God” is acceptable. Everyone else around you believes in a god, maybe your experience could be true.
The part that’s bolded is what lately, has been bothering me. I understand why we live in a culture of god belief. Like I said, most people say they believe in a god. So the allowance is no different then when people once believed in elves and fairies and other superstitious things. It’s there because people haven’t learned, like they did with elves and fairies such, that they are all equally as unreasonable, and an embarrassment to any rational thought.
Got a job interview ? Mention to your prospective employer that you are an active church member. Is he/she cool with that ? Of course he/she is. Then tell your future boss that the church you go to is ” The Everlasting Heart of Dwindela, queen of the fairies ” , and I doubt you’ll be employed. Believing in Dwindela a few hundred years ago would have seemed almost normal. Yet today many of us have discounted the idea of fairies because we understand rationally, that they simply don’t exist, and anyone who insists that they do, should be embarrassed by themselves.
However, this is not what I really want to address in this post. Instead, I’d like to turn your attention to what gives this danger it’s road to drive on. How is it that this one irrational thought continues ? Who is it being spread by, how is it being spread, and more importantly, how do we stop it ?
Did you know that kids are still taught in school that George Washington had wooden teeth ? Despite truth to the contrary ? Hell, he didn’t even chop down a cherry tree ! Yet people still, even to this day, continue to tell these tall tells about our countries founding father. Why is that ? Why do teachers, who more the likely know that these stories are false, still continue to tell them ? Why do they pass on a lie ?
Humans tend to want to believe in easy, comfortable answers, rather then the hard knock facts of life. It’s easy for us to accept the cherry tree story as true because it’s a simple story that teaches a lesson. It’s in the acceptance of the story where most people make the mistake of thinking it really happened. They make an assumption of the validity of the story based on how it made them feel. The better it makes them feel, the more they accept it. As humans, we tend to do this a lot. Be it the TV or drugs or sex or whatever, if something makes us feel good inside, we tend to want to give it validation.
Some of you reading this right now, are probably a little shocked to learn about Washington and his wooden teeth and the cherry tree. You probably grew up believing these stories were true. Now though, if you’ve read the articles I linked to, you understand that they were just morality stories created by a man who wanted people to think that Washington was better then he actually was. If this is the first time you’ve ever heard of this, then your mind is right now making the necessary adjustment that it needs to input the new information. This way, the next time someone mentions Washington and the cherry tree, your reaction wont be one of surprise, but of recognition. An ” I knew that ” thought. You also may be so inclined as to correct the person who is telling the story. You may want to let them know the truth, so that they can give out the right information.
However when it comes to ” god ” we throw this type of thinking out. We’ve been trained as a society and as a culture to give room for the irrational thinking of god belief. What’s worse, ( and the point of this post ) is that there are so few of us who stand up and correct this irrational thinking. We allow it to go un accosted because we fear retribution from the believers, or simply because we don’t want to stand out as different. Correcting someone about Washington is easy. Correct someone about the irrational belief of god, and you may suffer serious consequences.
The tendency for atheists is to blame theists for the persecution that we sometimes receive from them. To a large extent, this is true, but just as an abused spouse must take on responsibility for not speaking out, and staying in the abused relationship, so to must we as atheists take on the responsibility for not speaking out against god belief. Despite the fear we sometimes have, despite the cultural and sociological conditioning, despite that and more, we are now at a point where we must stand up, and speak out against the abuse of god belief. We must be willing to face the fear, to face the consequences, and to stand up, just as civil rights activists have done before us, and fight for the truth.
But how do we do this ? Do we have to be as evangelical as our theistic counterparts ? Do we need to see atheists ridding around town on bicycles stopping people to harass them about there being no gods ? Should we go door to door ? Hand out tracts ? Have stadium events ? Many atheists would be opposed to these type of things. Some of us resent having religion shoved down our throats. We realize that we have a choice, we can either perpetuate abuse by using the same tactics as our abusers, or we can rise above, and discover different methods of education.
I think Sam Harris is right. I believe that the only real way we can stop the abuse is through conversation. Through daily examples. I’ve said for a long time now that an atheists greatest weapon against theists, is to be a good person. To stand up and be honest. To live by example that a persons responsibility is born within themselves, and not some external god. I am never ashamed of my atheism, but I also don’t go out and tract houses talking about accepting the non belief in gods. What I do however is give my opinion when asked. And I don’t sugar coat it. I tell them exactly what my opinion is. ” No, I do not have a belief in your god. Why not ? Great question, do you mind if I ask you a few ? ” I have honest discussions with people. I can tell them where to get information. I can give them rational explanations.
So how is it that this one irrational thought continues ? Because there’s not enough of us who are willing to converse about our lack of belief.
Who is it being spread by ? By theists and atheists alike. My grandfather used to tell me ” Remember when you are pointing your finger at someone, that you always have three pointing back at yourself. “.
How is it being spread ? By a theistic majority unobstructed by the atheistic minority.
How do we stop it ? By speaking up. By letting people know, when it’s appropriate, that you are an atheist. By being ready to educate, and give answers. By giving everyone our best. Just like the belief in elves were stopped, so to will god belief. We simply must stop putting our heads in the sand and hope that more people will figure it out for themselves. We need to take responsibility. We need to be more pro active. We need to be unashamed.
It’s gotten to the point, where we have to step away and be accountable for remaining in an abused relationship. We can no longer just sit there and keep taking the abuse. We need to stand up, and point out the abuse to everyone until it becomes as clear to everyone that people are suffering. It’s our responsibility. It’s born within each of us.
About the author: Jake is the founder of www.atheistnetwork.com and blogs at his website www.afterfaith.com. He is a mentor for the RRS and the originator of atheist podcasting on the net. He also works in collaboration with the RRS on www.asktheatheist.com.