Shit I Wish Atheists Would Stop Saying: a Response
“Some of my best friends are atheists” begins the column by Dr. Benjamin Corey on Patheos.com. One of my conservative friends posted this last week, knowing this person I figured that it would be at least worth a look through. I went into great detail writing a response to a similarly themed article on Cracked.com last year, and wondered if they would be retreading the same ground. The difference between the two articles, primarily, is that one was written as an Atheist and this one by a theist. While I am an atheist, I’m a rational person first, and think it my responsibility to check in with the criticisms of my side of an argument.
It’s not a good start. The “some of my best friends are X” is usually a statement that gets followed by something like “so it’s ok if I insult you because I can’t hate you right?” Luckily, (or unluckily for writing because it’s easier to rip on someone who isn’t trying to be helpful) he doesn’t go that route. That’s good, it’s also nice to see that he recognizes problems in his own camp and claims to have been regularly writing about them as well. I have not read any other of his blog posts so I can’t speak to that, I will, because I’m not a villain (well a total villain) take him at his word. As an Atheist let’s see how he does.
Right off the bat though he makes a mistake. Admitting that his side has plenty of people who make the conversation difficult he claims that my side has “rabid fundamentalists too.” I have a pedantic correction for him, because I hear this all of the time, we don’t have fundamentalists because we don’t have fundamentals. There’s no book you have to read, no person you have to worship, no practices you have to abide by. One of the highest percentages of atheists in an ethnic group are Jews that still go to synagogue, do Hanukah, and read the Torah. Yet they still deny a god that exists. What he means to say is “zealots.” To be an atheist is to admit that there is a lack of evidence to affirm the statement “god (or gods) exists.” His side has fundamentalists because they have rules, books, and people that are to be followed. It’s a distinction of definition.
1: His first point is that we should stop saying that “religious people are uneducated or unenlightened idiots.” I don’t do this for the general population of religious people. This is something I save for a specific subset of the religious that I’ll get to in a minute. The reason this gets tossed around is because of a distinction between knowledge and belief. If someone believes that there is a god, there is no way that they can explain why without either appealing to a tradition or to a social/familial reason. Thus, we, who can look at the Cosmos and say, no there needs to be no divine being for this to exist get frustrated. He’s right, calling someone an idiot for believing in something they’ve always believed in or because their family has raised them to always believe in it, isn’t helping. The people I call idiots, are the literalists. This is because the books themselves require you to accept, not only disproven statements about the world, but contradictions which have to be meaningless. Jesus, for instance, can’t have two different inerrant genealogies. You can’t just say they are both true. Even Pat Robertson criticized Ken Ham saying that he’s making Christians look bad with his blind adherence to literalism. When Pat Robertson is on my side, it’s tough to say that we’re wrong (because of the things he says about my side). Make you a deal: we’ll stop committing this crime if you stop calling us immoral by virtue of not having faith.
2: Next he wants us to stop lumping all Christians with right wing fundamentalists. Another good point and related to the point above. The biggest reason we do this is because your side tries to justify passing laws based on one cherry picked line out of the whole book. Gays can’t marry because Leviticus says it’s an abomination, but then when we point out that mixed fabric wearing is a death sentence too, we’re the ones being unreasonable? No, you can’t say the inerrant word of god says one thing is wrong but that we get to ignore the other thousand or so laws because they would be too inconvenient. The other reason we do this, is because more often than not, your people haven’t read your book, while we have. They claim it’s perfect book of knowledge and morality, and then we point out all the crazy stories or all the immoral actions by its heroes for the sake of proving them wrong ala Thomas Paine.
And look, I get it, it’s not all of you. In fact it’s not the majority of you. But it’s a significant bunch that seems to get laws passed that prevent science from being taught in science class. I’ve got to swallow the whole Nietzsche had syphilis thing (even though he doesn’t inform my atheism at all) and that means you’ve got to swallow the time God commanded his people to murder the Amalekites (1 Sam 15) until their extinction. I wasI raised Catholic, I know that they read the bible more metaphorically than anything else, and that most Catholics don’t abide by the biblical rules. That’s fine, but like how Muslims need to disavow acts of terrorism that they had nothing to do with, your camp needs to start shouting down people like Westboro Baptist and Pastor Manning.
3. Please Stop referring to our belief system as fairy tales
Tune in next week, this one gets its own post.
4. Maybe lay off the whole “religion hasn’t done any good for humanity…
I was going to stop at the second one but this point he makes I can respond quickly. He’s right. This argument is as wrong as it is futile. It comes from our history classes (everyone’s we don’t have special schools…yet) where we were taught about the Dark Ages, that middle period between Rome and the Renaissance. Like most of our history classes this was wrong, but I think that at the time I was taught them it was the best we had. The misconception is that the Medieval period was marked by little intellectual progress because the church controlled everything, and while they held a great deal of power in Europe they didn’t stall progress though they did stifle some things. Even if we accept the myth that they did, you still had the Muslim empires to the West developing medical techniques and spreading literacy, further West you have Hindu mathematicians refining abstract concepts like infinity and zero. This claim is just wrong, and while we can point to Galileo (and the usual incorrect story that it is) there has been plenty of good that has come from religious people, or people working within a religion. The Big Bang was theorized by a Catholic priest.
Part 2 next week.