A Blog of Reason From a Godless Liberal

The Struggle is Against Faith, Not One Specific Doctine

In atheism, editorial, religion on April 24, 2009 at 6:29 pm

Rethinking Our Positions Can Help Our Cause


I think as atheists, we need to be careful about the language we use (me included) in attacking religion. Too often we tend to argue against a particular religion, usually Christianity here in the U.S., or in my case, Islam. Concentrating on one religion opens you up to the criticism like “you just have a grudge”, or “you must have had a bad experience”. These of course are usually false charges, but we all know the religious tend to seek out and accept the answer that requires the least thought (i.e. god did it, I just know, you have to have faith, etc).

Our fight is against the whole idea that belief without justification (faith) is a virtue. In no other aspect of our lives, or our society, do we accept a premise without evidence. If I were to tell you that I can turn my skin blue just by thinking about it, or that I could time travel, you wouldn’t be very likely to believe me without some sort of evidence. Problems will arise when I fail to demonstrate my supposed super powers. I will look even worse when I make the dubious claim “I won’t do it because you don’t have enough faith in me.” Why should anyone believe me? Truth is, they shouldn’t. Any person that would is probably pretty out of touch with reality. Yet we will do it for religion. I recently had a self described “liberal pastor” leave me some pretty hostile comments on BlogCatalog over “what part of Jesus’ teaching I had a problem with”. I tried to explain to him that my fight is against faith, not just “attacking his savor”, as he put it. Naturally he must have not read my response (or has blinders) or not understood it because he posted the question a second time. This time he demanded I tell him my real name. That was particularly creepy, as looking at his website, his church seems to be some sort of cult.

Anyway, lets return to the matter at hand. People fight, die, torture, murder, don’t speak, don’t have sex, flog themselves, handle deadly snakes, reject modern life, adhere to strict behavioral codes, and waste their whole life in service all for an idea that has absolutely no solid evidence to support it. Why do we do this? I can’t answer that question. But, I can say that faith wouldn’t serve us well in the justice system, in science, in politics, in health, in education, hence, why we don’t see it in these sectors (though in America, they have started to creep in). That said, I will probably continue to beat up on Islam, but I will try to less, and go after the idea of faith more, not just my problems with one any given religion (though, I have problems with them all).

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  1. I agree but lets not forget that pointing out the flaws in religion can be a power tool.

  2. That picture is awesome!!!!!!

  3. Thanks guys, and yes pointing out the stupidity of a particular religion can be helpful, but the key is moderation, otherwise I think you lose credibility. Thanks for reading!

  4. I was thinking exactly that too. Infact I was thinking to add a disscussion on that. Our friends from christian background look more as anti-christianity than athiest as we look like anti-Islam. We as athiest must consider faith in genral vs science instead of fighting a single religon and its hsitory.

  5. You are correct sir, thanks for reading (and commenting)!

  6. Well, I’m going to disagree here.

    Most conversations advocating for “Freethinking”, “Atheism”, etc… are going on with people who buy into a particular dogma (set of claims), it is much easier and much more effective to deal with specific claims and show them as false/misguided/etc… when you try to attack “faith” in general you’re dealing with a nebulous concept, it’s like trying to wrestle the blob. I may sound like I’m attacking Christianity, or Islam, or Judaism, but that will differ depending on who I am speaking to.

    Would you not agree that an argument is much more effective when it is tailored to ones audience? One can generally promote the value of the scientific method and at the same time target the criticism to that of the dogma of your specific audience.

    Faith is a nebulous concept, and it can indeed mean many things to many different individuals. Some people retain such faith still encompassing 99% of all the scientific, freethinking, skeptical, etc.. values that many atheists hold dear, conversely there are some “Atheists” that do not…

    Most American atheists target Christianity because that is the majority dogma (as it is in the entire English-speaking world) the most likely audience to hear ones words on a website/podcast/etc…

  7. Interesting points. I do agree that an arguement is more effective when it hits home. But the idea isn’t to beat them over the head, that will only drive them in to a defensive corner. The purpose of the deity debate (in my view) is to raise their conciousness about about the idea of faith. I disagree that faith is a nebulous concept, it can be defined pretty easily as believe without justification. Websters defines it as “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” That is not to say that I don’t often find myself debating the tenets of a specific religion, but I always say that my qualm is with faith, the religions are pretty much all the same in that regard.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  8. Faith is easily definable, but until scientific knowledge has all the answers the faithful will always have gaps to retreat into.

    others will have difficult understanding the difference between “faith” and “reasonable expectation”. I’m sure you’ve had the conversation with the evangelist who state that you have “faith” in your wife, or that the sun will come up in the morning.

    Faith can be a goalpost that is easily moved.

    I admire the idea but feel it lacks practicality.

  9. Fair enough.

  10. First one has to show to the religious the difference between faith and hope. What they have is hope not really faith. True faith deals with justifiable evidence. You have faith in someone backing you up because they have done it before. You hope that someone will back you up who has never done it before.

    That’s where the problem lies. Religion has blurred the meaning of faith and taken it for their own.

    When I explain the difference I tell them, “I have faith the sun will rise tomorrow. I hope that I will live to see it.”

  11. On a related note– along the lines of debating with believers, that is– have you ever been asked why “you can’t just keep it to yourself?”

    I’m fifteen and only recently came out to my parents about my atheism. They’re Jehovah’s Witnesses and by far one of the most irritating complaints they have is that “I can’t just not believe, but I have to be outspoken about it.”

    It frustrates me that they have such little insight into what atheism is about and what atheists do. My dad’s said some hurtful things to me– that “I’ve changed,” “I’m not the same anymore” and that, because I don’t have God in my life, “I’m before everyone else on my list.”

    I’ve tried to tell him that I haven’t changed– my /conclusions/ have changed. I’m still making my choices for the same reasons and with the same passion and conviction I had for religion. I still want answers, I still want the truth and I still care about people; I’ve just found a better explanation than God.

    In fact, a naturalistic worldview has helped me to appreciate the world around me even more than if I was ignoring massive parts of it as before.

    But I digress… back to my original point.

    My dad isn’t the kind of guy who goes for deeper meaning or really cares about a lot of stuff. He likes to assert that “art doesn’t have to have meaning to be art,” among other things. My parents are weird… my mom reads frakking Kurt Vonnegut and still thinks that humanism is ridiculous, all while laughing at his jokes… oh, the irony. My dad mentioned having all of XTC’s albums today and I asked if he knew they were atheists. He said “yes, of course” and I said “awesomesauce (yes, I’m lame and use phrases like that, lol).”

    He got pissed. He asked, “so you think it’s awesome not to believe in God?”

    … O.o;; wtf?

    I’m like… “uh, yeah. I do.”

    He totally went off and asked why I couldn’t just keep my atheism to myself and that that was the reason out relationship was suffering. Yeah, it’s my atheism, not your dogma that makes you feel that way about me. Because I sure as hell don’t discriminate based on your faith– believe what you want, I respect your right to choose, but don’t expect me to tiptoe around religion like it’s any better than any other type of philosophy or belief. And fine, we don’t have to talk about it, but I’m not going to stop commenting on Pharyngula, blogging about atheism or participating on the richarddawkins.net forum. I respect you and your rights, but not necessarily your beliefs.

    Which comes to my point (finally): atheists need to speak out. That’s the whole purpose of the OUT Campaign. Religion isn’t anything special and should be treated with the same rigor as other claims. Plus, it’s pushing itself into American policy and education, where it doesn’t belong; that’s a separate issue from atheist activism, too. This is a secular government and religion has no place in the White House.

    Separation of church and state aside, atheists have the same right to freedom of speech that fundies do. And we aren’t all about hating religion for the sake of hating religion as many people think: many of us– I might even go as far to say most of us– don’t like religion, but because we see injustice, irrationality and self-denial, among other things, come from it. We don’t like religion because it hinders freedom and robs people of enjoying their short time they have.

    Atheists need to be proud and speak out. Fundies who tell us to stuff it are wrong.

  12. I agree 100% with that we do need to speak out, thats what the “new atheist” movement started by Dawkis, Harris, ect is all about.

    “Yeah, it’s my atheism, not your dogma that makes you feel that way about me. Because I sure as hell don’t discriminate based on your faith– believe what you want, I respect your right to choose, but don’t expect me to tiptoe around religion like it’s any better than any other type of philosophy or belief.”

    Thats a great line. It’s sad that a father would jeopardize his relationship with this daughter over something so meanless as faith.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  13. Sam Harris tackles this problem in his book The End of Faith. Where he states that “Religious faith represents so uncompromising a miss use of the power of our minds that it forms a kind of perverse, cultural singularity-a vanishing point beyond which rational discourse proves impossible.”

    I like the analogy of wrestling with the blob, because that is exactly what it feels like when talking to a faith based religious nut job. My favorite is when I get this response “I know it’s true because i have had my own personal Theophany”. How do you counter that with reason? You can’t unless you have some anti-psychotic medication.

  14. I think it can be useful to consider where the person is at in their deconversion process. Someone who is immersed in a particular faith, and maybe new to questioning that faith, will bring you arguments attempting to demonstrate the truth of their sacred texts or dogmas. It may be necessary then to counter those specific ideas, pointing out the many fallacies, incongruencies and even unattractive features of their sect’s traditions.

    Someone who is ready to or already has abandoned the minutiae of ‘revealed truths’ may respond more effectively to more universal questions, such as, “Do miracles happen?” — “Why does God hide from us?” – “Who created God?” or “Does design necessarily imply intent?” etc.

    I agree the logical thing would be to skip straight ahead to the struggle against all faith and all faiths, (I think that’s where the atheist’s viewpoint actually gets most convincing) but a lot of people have more trouble breaking free of the vicious circle of believing just because they just believe. Most of them were told to ever since birth by their parents, whom it makes sense in most other contexts to obey, so that’s really hard to let go of, especially when their communities share and reinforce the parents’ sect as well. They also can have some trouble letting go of all the stories and rules in their religion’s upbringing. Enforcement and memorization of details is such an important part of the indoctrination process in the first place, it can take some fairly specific analyzing sometimes of the brainwashing unique to their experience of belief.

  15. Wow, that is a very well put case. I think ultimately you are right in judging which argument to make based on where they currently stand in their beliefs. I do think that arguing against one religion can only get you so far. Are you an atheist because you think (Religion A) is full of contradiction, and hypocrisy, or because you reject faith? I went to catholic school, and I knew it was BS about the time I was in 9th grade. I felt like anyone could see the obvious absurdities in the bible, but just sort of blocked it out anyway they could. Yet, I still believed in god. I only became atheist after my introduction to science, and it was a rejection of faith. You said it was most convincing, and I think it is in the long run. But right now it seems that targeting an individuals briefs would crack the egg, but won’t make the omelet. (Wow, I’m getting old!)

  16. I just noticed this post and want to thank you for it. The problem you point out is something that has bothered me about Atheist Nexus (and others) for a very long time.

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