I’m an atheist. Just like some people who are Christians but weren’t always tell me that they “always believed in Christ,” myself, I’ve never believed in God. Before the age of 7 I did avow a belief in God, but in hindsight I see only the most minimal of deisms in my conception of the world aside from the times when I was at the mosque with my family. Religion wasn’t talked about in my family much aside from major festivals, and it wasn’t something I ever really thought about. When I was 7 I was in the library, reading some books on astronomy, and it struck me that there was no reason for God to exist (aside from people telling me that he did exist, or assume that he did). In that moment my implicit atheism crystalized into my conscious explicit mind.
I offer this to preface a note about something that really irritates me about some atheists, and that is a combination of distinterest in, and, rejection of the worldly importance of, religion. This does not mean that I am annoyed by those who contend that religion is not important for personal happiness, or morality, or any other such thing. I think that people like Richard Dawkins have a role to play as a force for skepticism in a demon haunted world. No, what I mean is that people who wish to dismiss the importance of understanding, knowing and engaging religion and religious ideas. This is why this asinine comment rubbed me the wrong way, it seemed the only reason that the individual commented was to state that religion is obviously ridiculous, and there’s no point in discussing it in a serious fashion.
Well, personally I tend to think most religions are ridiculous. I think there are philosophical (a priori) and empirical (anthropology, history, etc.) reasons to be an unbeliever. I don’t think that religions really describe anything in the real world that isn’t plainly obvious. But, as someone who is part of a trivial minority in the United States I think it is important to acknowledge that despite our lack of belief we who do not believe need to take religion seriously, at least as a natural phenomenon about the social universe around us. This was Daniel Dennett’s point in Breaking the Spell. Whether we like it or not, even if we don’t live in a demon haunted universe, most of humanity behaves as if we do, and those of us who are unbelievers in such things better take that into account.
That doesn’t mean that I treat religion respectfully in some ontological sense, in that I think religious ideas should be respected even though I don’t believe in them. I don’t at all, and I don’t think I hide my dismissal of the truth value of religion. To me, the monotheisms possess as much reality as invisible pink unicornisms, but, while the philosophical comparison between the two is warranted in my opinion, the anthropological or social correspondence is totally false. Religion shapes the world around us in a fundamental way, otherwise many atheists wouldn’t be so hostile toward it.
I have stated multiple times on this weblog that I do not believe that on a deep cognitive level religionists really differ. I strongly suspect they all believe in the same god…but, I also take into account that they think they believe in different gods, because this perception of difference makes all the difference in the way religionists interact. Though to some extent unbelievers might be bystanders in interreligious cross-talk and violence, we are involved by the fact of being humans who are citizens of nation-states.
The reaction of some on this weblog to my comments about religion reminds of the reactions to this post over at my other weblog. It dealt with examining Islamic barbarisms in a detached fashion. Though there might have been problems with the presentation of the post, the reaction of many readers was basically animalistic. I seriously considered closing my other weblog because of the reaction to that post because I don’t run weblogs to engage with frothing animals. Humanity is not something we’re born with, it is something we express in day to day life. I have posted before why I blog, and it isn’t to enable someone else’s temper tantrums or emotional outbursts. Both have their places, and feeling is an essential part of being human, but, it has its place. In many ways I think one of the major problems with public discourse in this nation is that people do not properly compartmentalize feeling and analysis. In 2000 many criticized George W. Bush for naming Jesus as his most influential philosopher, and the reason he gave was that Jesus “changed his life.” For myself this wasn’t an appropriate response, it was an emotional/personal one. But, I also know that the fact that Bush got a pass on this issue from much of the public is important, not all irrationalities are created equal. This is a reality of the world around us.
Now, I’m someone who has read Summa Theologia and Atheism: a philosophical justification. When it comes to the logic, the philosophy of it, I know where I lean. That being said, most humans do not live & breath through philosophy, and most humans includes our fellow citizens. As a matter of public policy and understanding of society and human history the way religion is lived and believed on the ground matters a lot. The picayune details that separate the terms homoousios and homoiousios might be boring and trivial details to you, and as a matter of substance I think the distinctions between the two terms basically amounts to word play, but between 300 and 600 the camps which solidified around these two words (Arian and Nicene Christians) moved diplomacy, played important roles wars and entered into major public disturbances, all based on a difference in false belief (in that the nature of God is irrelevant if God does not exist). Sometimes life and death can hang on the whims of human imagination!
Is this a dumb, shocking and inexcusable fact? Yes. But, that doesn’t mean that explanation and description be abandoned, because sometimes the perpetual facts of life are dumb, shocking and inexcusable.
In any case, this is my last word on this topic. There are many weblogs where readers can make witty remarks to show how smart and unsuperstitious they are. In a tone of humor I don’t really mind. But, I really get tired of the attitude that we should pretend as if religion wasn’t a serious factual matter when the reality is that it is.
So, unfortunately I won’t get to posting anything on kinship theory today because I’ve taken up my allotted “blog time” with this. Hopefully follow ups will be unneeded.
Addendum: As a matter of fact, I believe both fundamentalist and mainline Christians adhere to false beliefs. As a matter of reality I understand that there is a large difference between the two groups.