Name: Frank Bailey
Former Religious Affiliation: Christian
Past the Point of Silence (originally a letter to online friends)
By now, I’ve got my tag list pretty well defined. Not all of you agree with me all the time, but all of you are pretty capable of tolerating my controversial opinions on most things. When it comes to religion, however, I am given to pause. A few of you, I often feel the need to omit from the tag list when I become particularly critical of theological matters. By no means do I always do this, and I’m basing it all off of my rather limited capacity to know when I go over the line and where exactly that line is in each of your cases. This note, however, will be about some of the impolite stuff I tend to not tag some of you in over. Recent events, and I’m going to explain them here, have demonstrated to me rather dramatically that keeping your religious friends ignorant of the true nature of atheism can have rather dramatic consequences. Just about every religious person in the world knows that atheists exist and that they don’t believe in anything supernatural, but they often also have a misguided notion that atheists also think that it would be a better world were it a supernatural one. While prominent cases, such as S.E. Cupp, exist in this category, the atheist movement, especially as defined by its prominent and growing New Atheist wing, are not just atheists, but anti-theists, as well as naturalists. While most of even the most strident and unapologetic of atheists are completely willing and inclined to respect individual religious people, they harbor no such respect for organized religion or its ideas. What humanism and moral progress appears in The Bible, for instance, has either long since been surpassed by moral philosophers or is available elsewhere. Meanwhile, the immorality present in the good book may truly have right to claim no equal in history. However, I’ll try and stay off The Bible for the most part, because I don’t need it and excessive focus will seem like Christian persecution. Rejecting to the supernatural means rejecting all of it equally.
Many religious people wonder how atheists can be good without God or some other supernatural guidance or surveillance. Well, to an atheist, this is like wondering how the schoolwork can be done in the absence of the teacher, the law can be obeyed in the absence of the police officer, and the hands can be washed without the presence of the restaurant supervisor. Human beings are capable of using their own powers of discernment to work out the difference between good and evil. We have abandoned the portions of The Bible that advocate slavery, murdering children for cheeking their parents, murdering anyone who attempts to convert you to another faith, burning alive the daughters of priests who embarrass the family, and so on. Similarly, moderate Muslims have abandoned the harsh tenants of Sharia Law, the call to Jihad against infidels, and the dream of establishing a worldwide Islamic caliphate. Enlightenment values, humanism, and their own powers of discernment have allowed them to look at the books from which so many people claim as the sole source of all valid morality and determine which parts are moral and which are not. An atheist simply uses those powers of discernment without the bothersome of exercise of focusing all effort onto a limited number of books deemed holy in an age where the average person could not read, diseases caused by microscopic organisms were believed to be of supernatural origin, and women were slaves and chattel. Anti-theism comes in at the point where it is realized that the obnoxious immorality present in religion is quite important to the serious believer and, modern moral progress and discernment aside, we are going to have a very real problem convincing much of the world that they should abandon many beliefs that are considered sacred to them and anathema to human decency to the civilized world. Abandon these notions they must though, or Irish sectarianism, female genital mutilation, a nuclear standoff between Pakistan and India, ethnic (religious) cleansing, and a whole litany of problems directly caused by religion will continue to threaten all progress. Fundamentalists of all kinds know very well that holy books divided against themselves cannot stand and the moment you use your modern perspective and powers of discernment to read, “Thou shalt not kill,” as, “Don’t kill anybody,” instead of, “Do not kill a fellow member of your tribe, but outsiders are fair game and you’ll actually be ordered to commit genocide against other tribes a bunch,” the whole damned book falls apart in your hands as an absolute moral guide.
Now that I’ve covered anti-theism, let’s get into the supernatural itself. When a child thinks there’s a monster in its closet or a ghost in the window, you tell him that there’s no such thing as ghosts or monsters. How do you know this? There is no evidence for such things. If there was, you’d keep equipment for dealing with them in your home, just as you might keep a gun or a baseball bat next to your bed for very real human burglars. However, if we’re talking demons, look, that’s in The Bible and no less than Jesus meets some of them. For that matter, it it’s a flying horse, that’s in The Koran. A naturalist, as opposed to a supernaturalist, can simply tell the child that we have insufficient evidence for whatever supernatural thing they think may be haunting them. Why are supernatural things not something a child should worry about? You can’t find the answer to that in any holy book, and if you tell the child God will protect them, you better get rid of your gun and your baseball bat, not to mention stop looking both ways before you cross the street. A deeper problem with supernaturalism is that it tends to revel in mystery and want it to stay mysterious, which is in direct conflict with those who have always wanted to solve mysteries. Sleep paralysis, a genuine medical problem linked to migraines and narcolepsy, was traditionally called, “Having the devil on your back.” Had skeptical medical researches failed to elbow aside credulous supernaturalists, sufferers of this ailment would continue to be terrified by it today and be denied even the possibility of effective treatment for it. Naturalism solves problems and supernaturalism never does unless its delusions have the psychosomatic effect of improving morale.
Another thing to understand about atheism is that there are various categories. Off the top of my head, you’ve got skeptics, freethinkers, brights, secular humanists, agnostics, atheists, and new atheists. Above and beyond the simple fact that there are so many divisions without the atheist community, there’s just the simple fact that organizing us is like herding cats. Independent thought and intelligence are not traditionally conducive to anything resembling cooperation. Recent years have found atheists having enough common ground with one another and sufficiently motivated to organize some, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to assume all that much about someone just because they’re under the general atheist banner. Sure, you can assume they probably believe in evolution, geology, immunology, and science in general and you can probably be equally assured they don’t have a whole lot of use for anybody’s dogma. Some want to be very respectful when dealing with religion, while others, such as the New Atheists, favor a more confrontational approach based upon polemic. Humor, often the irony-laden kind, is frequently used in satire and commentary regarding religion and this tends to be thing that often results in controversy. Christopher Hitchens is correct when he says, “The literal mind does not understand the ironic mind, and sees it always as a source of danger.” So you’ve got a movement that is equal parts trying to change hearts and minds and keeping its guard constantly up knowing full well that rejecting the supernatural puts them below pedophiles in public opinion polls.
As much as I imagine I’ve stepped on some toes because of what I’ve said in this note, I feel like believers can no longer afford ignorance of atheists. We’re not coming for you or anything. Certainly, we’d like you to have less political power, less ability to retard medical and scientific research, less tax breaks unless you earn them the same as a secular nonprofit must, less control over education, and less ties to ancient books that advocate a great many things that are morally insane, but we’re not going to stop you. Some of us would like to stop things like Christmas in some capacity, but I’m certainly not among their number. I just ordered Frosty The Snowman dog cookies for the family wire fox terrier for goodness sake. What I want is to keep you from blundering across some atheist who doesn’t know you or care about you and get all this dumped in your lap at once. People have to be pretty sheltered to be completely unaware that there are people in the United States who consider The Bible to contain morally reprehensible things, but recent events have me pretty convinced that it is still possible to be that sheltered, and I know why. We’re all being too polite, and that’s on both sides. As an apostate, I know what Christians really believe in and that it’s not that bad. Tradition, ritual, nebulous humanism, charity, family, community, and all that, yeah, I get it. Frankly, the best parts of the Methodist upbringing I had, which I thoroughly enjoyed, were just as thoroughly unbiblical. A lot of atheists weren’t ever serious believers so, so they simply read The Bible and discover all the stuff nobody ever talks about. None of us can afford ignorance anymore. Atheists can’t get away with just reading The Bible and drawing their own conclusions, and believers cannot get away with simply reading some atheist books and drawing their own conclusions. Honesty is going to become necessary at some point or we’re going to all be alternatively in a state of shock or a state of rage. I am past the point of silence regarding my atheism because I’ve seen what can happen if I just shut up about it like my believing friends might like. Eventually, they’re going to meet an atheist who won’t do that, and that’s not a good introduction to the whole enterprise of nonbelief. -FrankTagged with: 1981 • anti-theism • frank • morality