Hell is Other Atheists

Maybe it’s because we’ve lived our entire life on the Left Coast — where religion is certainly present, and just as certainly not suffocating — that we fail to see the point of something like this:

Because we represent such a small sliver of the American population and are often seen in a negative light, I believe that it is imperative that atheists make themselves known. A 2010 Gallup poll demonstrated something the LGBTQ community has recognized for some time: people are significantly more inclined to oppose gay marriage if they do not know anyone who is gay.

We weren’t aware that living La Vita Heathen was a matter of genetics, and the writer — who himself happens to be gay — should know better than to make a comparison like that. For that matter, his later comparison of atheists to Muslims, while at least categorically correct, overlooks the nasty distinction that American bigotry against Muslims is actually racist, seeing how most Muslims don’t exhibit Nordic traits.

The underlying presumption of such comparisons is that atheists are a persecuted minority, which is news to us — the only time our lack of faith even comes up is when Witnesses haunt our doorway, or when we get cranky about Atheist Self-Affirmations like this.

And never mind the persecution — even the minority is something of a stretch. Yes, you can say that atheists only comprise such-and-such percent of Americans — but at 6-2, we fall into an even smaller minority, and nobody’s talking about starting an It Gets Taller project for us.

Not that we self-identify as tall or atheist. As far as America is concerned, we’re a White Male, which trumps any quirk of height or conscience. Heck, we can even get married without issue in all fifty states.

We don’t care what’s on our money as long as it buys us coffee, we don’t care what’s in the Pledge because the Pledge itself is bullshit, we don’t care about swearing on a Bible because our word is just as trustworthy either way, and we don’t care that we could never be elected Preznit, because atheism is the least of our beliefs that would disqualify us from public office.

We do care, however, about being rounded up into a group that we have no interest joining. Because if there’s anything worse than organized religion, it’s organized atheism.

Dear religious Americans: How many atheists do you know? [WaPo, via Sully]

Sigh. Again with the persecution complex? I’m inclined to agree with you on this one nojo.

US America atheists… u r doing it wron if u r taking a page from the Fundies and their crybaby act.

On a personal level, the trivia “team” I’m part of is made up of agnostics and atheists but we do well with the odd religious question except Jainism for some stupid reason.

Another team blew a question on Judaism and started an argument with their “not as Jewish as they thought” Jewish teammate. I nearly choked on my beer from laughing (karma did get me back later when I messed up a question on Korea and I pretty much got similar crap from my teammates.)

*Heh to the twit of the day… a direct quote from one of my managers (I fought the urge to reach out and strangle him through the phone each time he said that.)

@hunkamonkiman: It’s the editorial we. I don’t get it either.

Atheistic Fundamentalism is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. It bothers me when Atheists, who ascribe to a belief system just as I do- a system which is intrinsically no more or less valid than my own in terms of actual material evidence- treat my belief system with disdain and condescension, as though somehow my interpretation of the evidence we DO have regarding first and final causes is flawed and childish because it reaches a different conclusion that they one they ultimately reach. At the end of the day (sorry JNOV), it would be nice to see Atheists respect not just my right to my belief, but also the validity of the intellectual process that I have undergone to reach those beliefs, as I respect their process even as I disagree with their conclusion.

This is not to ignore the fact that Atheists are routinely pissed on by whole communities of faith in this country. On the contrary, when I am faced with yet another Atheist treating my viewpoint as though I were worshiping the tooth fairy, I am stumped by their reaction to the often unfair criticism they receive at the hands of fundamentalists. Surely if they dish it out they should be able to take it, no?

I’d like us to be in a place in this country where our views are treated with respect even when they are at odds with each other. I know we’ll never get that from the Right, but surely here on the Left we could attempt to treat each other with equanimity and fairness, no?

Where the hell is there “Atheistic Fundamentalism?” Atheism isn’t a worldview, a belief system, or a doctrine of any kind. It’s simply the rejection of the existence of a god or gods. Where any particular atheist’s philosophy travels on from there is not bridled by atheism at all.

I can understand peoples’ consternation over what looks like some sort of organization that resembles that of religion, but, as an atheist who has lived throughout the bible belt, I much prefer to see more and more atheists coming out of the closet and organizing, if for nothing other than to have an opportunity at a decent conversation.

@Tommmcatt Be Fat, And That Be That: Atheists, who ascribe to a belief system just as I do

Well, not quite.

My belief system might include things like fairness and the rights of citizenship in a democracy, but it doesn’t include the absence of supernatural powers. Lack of faith is not a form of faith.

Then again, my belief system includes respect for faith, so this is more of a bureaucratic disagreement.

@hunkamonkiman: @mellbell: @JNOV: We have a weakness for the editorial we, because we like archaic style, and we read Spy and the New Yorker too much at an impressionable age. We also like being the Voice of God.

I understand the editorial “we” bit, but it seems like a poor choice of device for the subject. I’m sure it wasn’t your intention, but it seems contradictory to group and generalize the atheists that you identify with in the “we” while rebuking someone else who is doing the same for their version of what atheism means.

Or maybe you did it on purpose in one of the most delightfully evil implementations of sarcasm that I’ve ever seen. :)

@Tommmcatt Be Fat, And That Be That: Did you see Of Gods and Men yet? If you haven’t, do try to get it. I’ve never seen anything discuss faith with such passionate engagement. I found it to be very instructive.

Sigh. Into the belief abyss

Let’s start with this right off the bat: No, atheism is not a belief. For me, and for the overwhelming majority of atheists I know, atheism is not the a priori assumption that there is no God. Our atheism is not an article of faith, adhered to regardless of what evidence does or does not support it. Our atheism is not the absolute, 100 percent, unshakable certainty that there is no God.

For me, and for the overwhelming majority of atheists I know, our atheism is a provisional conclusion, based on careful reasoning and on the best available evidence we have. Our atheism is the conclusion that the God hypothesis is unsupported by any good evidence, and that unless we see better evidence, we’re going to assume that God does not exist. If we see better evidence, we’ll change our minds.

[some business about unicorns and a flat Earth]

Your conclusion that there are no unicorns on this round Earth of ours is based on careful reasoning and the best available evidence you have. If you saw better evidence — if there were a discovery of unicorns on a remote island of Madagascar, if you saw an article in the Times about an astonishing but well-substantiated archeological find of unicorn fossils — you’d change your mind.

And that’s the deal with atheism. If atheism is a belief, then any conclusion we can’t be 100-percent certain of is a belief. And that’s not a very useful definition of the word “belief.” With the exception of certain mathematical and logic conclusions (along the lines of “if A and B are true, then C is true”), we don’t know anything with 100-percent certainty. But we can still make reasonable conclusions about what is and is not likely to be true. We can still sift through our ideas, and test them, and make reasonable conclusions about how likely or unlikely they are. And those conclusions are not beliefs. If that’s how you’re defining belief, then just about everything we know is a belief.

Ugh. The use of “our” is annoying, but, yeah.

Funny, because I just read an interesting piece on The Awl about Christopher Hitchens and this excerpt jumped out at me:

The atheistical triumvirate of Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins has done a good deal to set back the clock on real skepticism. The smugness with which these guys take to the airwaves is repellent enough, but really, first off, they need to stop calling themselves skeptics. Because they really, really believe in something.

I concur that atheism is lack of belief as opposed to a belief. But that doesn’t mean that atheists aren’t still capable of organizing, occasionally prosthelytizing, and also occasionally being dicks to theists (see Hitchens, Christopher).

@JNOV: The use of “our” is annoying, but, yeah.

There’s Our as an adorably archaic style choice, and then there’s Our as presumptively Speaking for the Masses. So yes, I agree.

our atheism is a provisional conclusion, based on careful reasoning and on the best available evidence we have


Honestly: I lack faith. Pure and simple. It’s not a deduction based on the scientific method, it’s just a fact of my soul. And while I might change my mind if Pink Floyd speaks to me from a Flying Pig, I didn’t come to my judgment because Pink Floyd doesn’t speak to me from a Flying Pig.

There’s also a presumption that any faith to be rigorously tested must be Christian. If I’m going there, I’m going Greek.

noun \bə-ˈlēf\
Definition of BELIEF

1: a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing
2: something believed; especially : a tenet or body of tenets held by a group
3: conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence.

By the second and third definition of the word atheism is a belief (as is, incidentally, Christianity or Judaism). If you have an argument with that, your argument is with Mirriam-Webster, not me.

..And again, it is troubling and somewhat offensive that you immediately equate my belief with something ridiculous, rather than affording it the same respect that you would any other of my beliefs that you may not agree with. It is this attitude which defines a Fundamentalist Atheist:

One, the elevation of atheism to a tenet which is superior to all others rather than considering it the correct result of intellectual inquiry that others who came to a different conclusion have followed. Atheists have exactly the same evidence for intelligent design (the Fibonacci number system, for example) that I do, and the same amount of definitive information about what existed before existence came into being (none). Our intellectual process simply brought us to different results.

Two, the condescension of the atheist as regards other beliefs, and the imputation of childish or foolish equivalencies to them. It is this that really gets my goat. I have a great deal more evidence for the existence of the divine than there is evidence for a belief in unicorns, for example- but to date certian athiests have never really asked what that evidence is because they have been too busy mocking me with Flying Spagetti Monsters and Flat Earth comparisons.

I’m not saying this is true of anyone here necessarily, but perhaps some of us should listen to ourselves when we discuss the topic. I’m not saying we should censor ourselves- Benedick and I like talking about assplay here too much to suggest that- but a touch more respect might be in order, don’t you think?

Let’s face it, there are athists that sound like Southern Baptists when they talk about issues surrounding their belief- Bill Mahr comes to mind. Is that really the camp you want to be in?

@nojo: Tiptoeing around the “atheists are like this or are like that,” people who identify as atheists (IMHO, the smartest ones don’t even bother) reach that point in many different ways. People who aren’t raised with religion might not have to “think” themselves out of belief. For others, it’s hard to let go of something that was hammered into you from childhood or to release something you clung to because it provided a measure of comfort when turning your back on it gives you the howling fantods.

For some folks who are trying to rewire their brains and have been conditioned to engage in magical thinking, thinking your way out of belief through careful reasoning and on the best available evidence we [yes, me] have is one way to address lack of belief without soiling your pants. Daily.

Another group of folks have been raised so that magical thinking is cool when identified as fantasy and not taught as eternal reality. I think there’s a huge advantage to being raised without religious belief and never having notions of heaven and hell invading your thoughts and behavior.

It’s incredibly hard to admit/realize/accept that you don’t believe in an eternal life of peace and love and hanging out with your family and buddies and heroes and having a cool ass party all the fucking time if you looked forward to that party since you could say “Amen.” Megabummer.

ADD: I want to have faith. My mind just won’t let me.

@Tommmcatt Be Fat, And That Be That: If you have an argument with that, your argument is with Mirriam-Webster, not me.

I have arguments with all appeals to dictionaries — unless they trace word roots.

Like this. Belief can be traced to Love, which in turn…

Middle English, from Old English lufu; akin to Old High German luba love, Old English lēof dear, Latin lubēre, libēre to please

If I had my American Heritage handy, I could dive even deeper, into Indo-European roots. That’s where it gets really interesting.

Bill Maher comes to mind. Is that really the camp you want to be in?

Ummm… I’m not in any camp. That’s the point. Professional Atheists disgust me.

@Tommmcatt Be Fat, And That Be That: What evidence do you have for the existence of the divine?

@JNOV: And the problem with the Everything’s a Belief argument is that I could just as reasonably say that my lack of faith in Pantheism is also an anti-Pantheism belief.

I do believe in certain things, such as “All Men Are Created Equal”. This is not sustainable by fact. It’s a matter of faith.

@JNOV: What evidence does he need?

Kierkegaard made the case for a “leap of faith”, arguing that if you need evidence, you’re doing it wrong. And he wasn’t making the case from atheism, but as a Christian finding the beliefs of his fellow Christians wanting for conviction.

@Tommmcatt Be Fat, And That Be That: I saw it via Netflix. Don’t miss the feature on the real monks in special features. It’s a stunningly beautiful film and includes what is one of the very finest scenes ever put on film. Plus the head of the monastery is a total babe.

As I said, I found it very instructive as well as moving.

@nojo: Is it a matter of faith? Do you doubt that all men are created equal, and you find yourself taking a mental leap in order to support that ideal? I’m not sure it requires faith, unless you fear that all men are not created equal, and you are mentally willing it to be true.

I think you’re conflating ideals with beliefs.

@flippin eck: The smugness with which these guys take to the airwaves is repellent enough


I’m with my man Socrates on this: You don’t learn anything until you acknowledge what you don’t know.

@nojo: He said he has it (I have a great deal more evidence for the existence of the divine than there is evidence for a belief in unicorns, for example…), so I’d like to know what qualifies as evidence.

Oh jeez, religion and semantics argued on the same thread. If you need me, I’ll be looking at pictures of kittens.

@JNOV: Do you doubt that all men are created equal

It’s a provable fact. For starters, just compare weights.

“Inalienable rights” are also a matter of faith — a civic faith, in this case, which is most definitely a faith not shared by all humanity, nor even all Americans.

Am I conflating ideals with beliefs? Interesting question. An ideal might be the Aristotelian notion that we each should fully realize our souls, however that turns out. (I’m tiptoeing around “self-actualization” here.)

But I’ll go out on a limb and say that democracy rests on a belief that humans are capable of self-governance — despite all evidence to the contrary this week.

@Mistress Cynica: religion and semantics argued on the same thread

Welcome to Wittgenstein.

@JNOV: I have a great deal more evidence for the existence of the divine

“Immanence” is a wonderful word.

The problem is that, as usually practiced, what should be a delightful conversation becomes a bench-clearing argument, with either side attempting to prove a point — that’s not worth proving.

Arguments bore me. They bored me in philosophy, they bore me in politics, they bore me in religion. I have no interest in winning, nor in self-justification. I’m quite comfy in my own skin, and I’m happy to leave it at that.

But conversation fascinates me. I don’t need you to prove something. I’d rather listen to you explain it, and ask questions where I’m not following the path. I have no interest in arguing you out of your faith. But I’m deeply interested in understanding it.

Why? Beyond curiosity, faith is part of the human soul, and while I may not share your faith, I do share your nature. And that’s where we are equal. We’re all critters who have much more in common with each other than we have with anything else.

Except, of course, cats.

@nojo: Oh well, hell. Do we have to parse “equal”? Equal girth, height, or…intelligence? I don’t think the founders or you or I were/are/am talking about weight or shoe size when we talk about equality. ADD: I see you addressed equality above. Cool cool.

Inalienable rights are a recognition of me not wanting to have my rights fucked with, so I’ll go ahead and recognize your rights within reason. I don’t do this out of the goodness of my heart, mind you; I do it because I am a selfish person, and I like my stuff unmolested. It’s more of a social compact based on greed than a civic faith.

I know absolutely nothing about self-actualization except that I’ve seen the word here and there and thought, “I should look that up one day, but in this context, it sounds like hooey.” I’ll check it out, because I want to understand what you wrote.

If every person had an equal chance to govern, not the representative mishmash we’ve got going but a lottery where everyone has an equal chance to be preznit or whatever, then I’d agree that democracy does rest on a belief that humans are capable of self-governance. But we have built so many obstacles into our system that what we have is an oligarchy. Democracy is a nice idea, though.

@nojo: It wasn’t a challenge — I’d like to know. Maybe his evidence tips me back into belief. Unlikely but possible. It’s not bait or an attempt to heap abuse on Tomm (sorry to be talking about you like you’re not here, Tomm). I am interested. I like living in a world where we think differently. We’d be in a heap of trouble if people thought like I do.

@JNOV: “Self-actualization” is one of those terms I strongly resist — mucho baggage — but if you start from the idea that we each have our own genius worthy of expression, you land at Aristotle, and that’s fine by me.

In practical terms: I’m a born writer. I’m not a born artist. Nor am I a born athlete. But one form of happiness involves playing to your strengths, and I’m a very happy camper in that respect.

And yes, we do have to parse “equal” — or rather, understand it in context. Equality is not at all self-evident, in fact is easily disproved, and does us no good to pretend otherwise.

Instead, we accept on faith that equality is a fundamental requirement of a just society, and proceed accordingly. This has the very beneficial convenience of removing it from argument. An argument that “All Men Are Created Equal” is wrong, becomes irrelevant. You’re right. We aren’t. So what?

@JNOV: Self-actualization is the pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The hierarchy is incredibly useful when studying, for example, why some nations develop democratic institutions faster than others do. Really neat stuff.

@JNOV: People who aren’t raised with religion might not have to “think” themselves out of belief.

I think that gets to the heart of it.

Going wayyyyyy back to the top: I wasn’t raised Mormon. I wasn’t raised Southern Baptist. I wasn’t even raised Lutheran, even though I was shuttled off to Sunday School every week.

I was raised a nice liberal white boy in a nice liberal white college town, that tends to think highly of itself because for all its self-gratifying talk of “diversity”, it’s actually one of the most monocultural towns in America. (We’re all nice white liberals in Eugene, which we can prove because we all have the same Black Friend.)

This means, as a very pleasant consequence, there’s a lot I don’t have to struggle with. We may all have our demons, but at least I don’t have those demons.

And if I’ve learned anything from struggling with demons, it’s this: Let go. You can’t win. But you can learn to ignore it.

@nojo: You should send that whole “word origin” in to Miriam-Webster and see what they say. I bet it is news to them, for surely they just assign whatever definition seems right to them that afternoon to a word, regardless of any scholarship or expert advice. Maybe they check with an assistant to see what they think, or perhaps throw darts at a list of possible meanings, but I’m certain for the most part they just make shit up out of their head.

@Tommmcatt Be Fat, And That Be That: Nice try, but I linked to Merriam-Webster. Although my preference is my trusty American Heritage doorstop.

And the point isn’t that definitions aren’t accurate — accurate, that is, as explanations of words as used — but that they aren’t, well, definitive.

Dictionaries don’t dictate. Good dictionaries are highly useful as a starting point for understanding, but knowing how a word has evolved tells you much more than its accepted meaning today.

And in the end — especially as a native speaker — you’re more than welcome to disagree with a dictionary, to pit your judgment against the editors. They don’t make the rules. They only do their best to reflect them.

@JNOV: I’m afraid I don’t have time for a long dissertation today. Suffice it to say that most of my arguments are arguments of design (the Fibonacci number system, or the infinitesimal probability of life arising from nothingness), or the classic “first cause” argument (something does not arise from nothing, ever). We should devote a thread to the discussion sometime, I love to debate it….

@nojo: Then I declare the word “sophistic” to mean “well-thought out and following a logical course”, given that the dictionary has given me a starting point that I disagree with. So you won’t take offense when I say that your argument concerning this matter is sophistic in the extreme, will you?

@Tommmcatt Be Fat, And That Be That: So you won’t take offense when I say that your argument concerning this matter is sophistic in the extreme, will you?

You wouldn’t be the first.

@mellbell and Nojo: Ah. Okay. Thanks!

And if I’ve learned anything from struggling with demons, it’s this: Let go. You can’t win. But you can learn to ignore it.


@Tommmcatt Be Fat, And That Be That: I’d love to be around for that debate. There is such a dearth of interesting conversation on these here internets.

@Tommmcatt Be Fat, And That Be That:
..And again, it is troubling and somewhat offensive that you immediately equate my belief with something ridiculous, rather than affording it the same respect that you would any other of my beliefs

I’m not sure if this comment is directed at me, but I don’t see where anybody attacked your beliefs or equated them with something ridiculous in any way.

@Tommmcatt Be Fat, And That Be That: For the record, Merriam-Webster and Stevie Wonder disagree about the meaning of “uptight”.

@hunkamonkiman: It wasn’t directed at anyone, except perhaps at my darling JNOV (and only then obliquely). Or rather, it was levied at the world of Atheist discourse, which apparently considers my belief in the eternal to be on a par with a belief in gnomes or Santa Claus.

@Tommmcatt Be Fat, And That Be That: the world of Atheist Asshole discourse

Corrected, but understood. See post title.

@Tommmcatt Be Fat, And That Be That: I see. It’s my personal belief that it’s up to each individual to find his or her way, and each way is deserving of respect. But when two belief systems approach each other for debate over which one holds more water, respect has to sit on the sideline in order to get anywhere. I’m afraid your particular beliefs have been marginalized in the past by atheists because that is the highest tenet of atheism: no gods or myths exist unless there is proof for them. Now, you may see this as disrespect, but it is simply your opponent’s position, which, by claiming incivility by said opponent, you may be failing to respect your opponent’s position.

I think nojo or jnov wrote above that not all atheists arrive at atheism the same way. Some think it through while others simply are never exposed to religion enough to influence their lives. So it depends on who you talk to, but I guarantee that you have my respect from the start. I know my position very well — I’ve thought it through — and I’d love for somebody to show me I’m incorrect. That’s the only way to improve in life, methinks.

TJ/ Do you guys have your Barbecue sauce ready? Because Bohener just broke off debt talks and Cannibal Anarchy will descend in 3,2,1…

Ethical question: Would I burn in hell for taking a sledgehammer to a car whose alarm has been going off for ten minutes?

@hunkamonkiman: It’s not the idea that Atheists come to a different conclusion than I do…it’s that they don’t recognize my argument as having validity at all, and deride it as though it were a belief in trickle-down economics or something equally specious (like a belief in fairies).

Marvelous press conference by a furious Obama.

I think it’s about time for Stan to tell us what we’ve learned today.

@Tommmcatt Be Fat, And That Be That: I understand. I’m sorry to say, however, that the main tenet of atheism stands. People that don’t believe in anything supernatural are never going to recognize other people’s beliefs in the supernatural.

I don’t like smug people of any bent or belief, but I’m sorry to say that demand for evidence is simply the position of atheists, so they’re all going to seem smug.

But one big additional note, are you sure you’re talking about atheism or science? You mentioned in an earlier comment atheism and intelligent design, but atheism really has nothing to do with evolution, biology, or abiogenesis or cosmology.

I’m curious: what tenets of your beliefs would you like an atheist to consider? You don’t have to get into a long discussion with me if you don’t want to. I won’t think less of you, I’m just really bored.

@Tommmcatt Be Fat, And That Be That: 20-30 yards, but it’s quiet now. Some other sledgehammer beat me to it.

@Benedick HRH KFC: Political Wire:

It’s important to note that Obama and Boehner waited until the financial markets had closed for the weekend before making a public statement.

That may freak me out more than anything I’ve heard yet. Do not ask for whom Monday’s opening bell tolls.

@nojo: My last therapist was concerned by our use of the editorial “we” and told us to cut it out.

@Tommmcatt Be Fat, And That Be That: Belief in God is not based on hard evidence, it’s based on “faith.” One believes in God because one chooses to, not because God has been proved to exist.

Atheists get all up in the faces of Christianists because Christianists are up in the faces of everyone who holds a contrary opinion, insisting that their belief is The Truth and everyone else must acknowledge and adopt it.

You call off your attack dogs, we’ll call off ours. Deal?

@karen marie has her eyes tight shut: I don’t think they are “our” attack dogs on either side, really. Though again, your position on Faith assumes that I took no intellectual path to arrive at my conclusion. It wasn’t whimsical, and it took a great deal of investigation and introspection.

@nojo: Boehner didn’t return his calls. Obama called the conf for 30 mins after he heard from B. Obama sounded a note of real warning saying the leaders of congress needed to have a plan in place to give to Wall street Monday morn. In his reply, Boehner led off by saying he was confident that there would be no default. I don’t know why he thinks this when most of the Republican house seem to actively want the US to default on her debt so they can trample on the shards of our broken government.

Oh and plus, Boehner shared with us his fondness for wood.

@karen marie has her eyes tight shut: It’s OK if it’s ironic.

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