Monday, January 14, 2008

My Thoughts on Militant Atheism and an Argument with a Theist

This is an issue that I am somewhat ambivalent about. I've heard it argued back and forth between various atheists: the relative merits of "militant" atheism or the "hard sell" versus a softer approach. In the end, I think it is good to have both.

I really don't think "militant" atheism, by which I mean, the sort where it is "in your face" and even openly insulting to the religious, isn't particularly useful at convincing people of anything. I think, though, it can be viscerally satisfying. Many religious people, particularly fundamentalists, are simply insufferable. And since they likely would not be convinced no matter what you said anyway, it can be fun to verbally spar with them and jab them, an experience that can be shared by writing such spars down and then sharing them. Some worry that this will alienate others who might otherwise listen. And maybe they have a point. But at some point, we all need to let off steam, and it is good to have that outlet.

Which is why it is good that there are also those giving the soft sell. In my opinion, the best way to convince others of the truth of atheism, or at least convince them that atheists are not devil-incarnates, is to simply set a good example, be a decent human being, and let it be known that you are an atheist as you do so. That alone can dispel the furor of many a religious person. You will not convince them that their god is myth, but at least you can convince them not to be so harsh against atheists.

Just recently, I had an argument with a very devoted Christian. She was young, and she was utterly convinced she was right. She admitted that she was very stubborn and never changes her mind about anything. I pointed out to her that one should always be open to changing one's mind after receiving new information. I really didn't want to get into it all with her, but as these things go (when a true-believer finds out you are an atheist) it sort of spiraled from there. She seemed to think she could just "educate" me by telling me the "whole story" - I assured her that I had heard it all before and was very familiar with the "story" - and then proceeded to point out what I thought were the most ridiculous parts of it.

For instance, the central notion, that Christianity is so great, Jesus is so great, because of this great "sacrifice" - I pointed out that, if one is the ruler of the universe, and if one knows in advance that you are going to die, but don't worry, three days later you'll be resurrected and be the immortal ruler of the universe - well, that whole dying thing suddenly doesn't sound like much of a sacrifice at all - it doesn't even really sound like dying, because what makes dying so bad is that it is permanent. So you sacrifice nothing. Instead of being a "great sacrifice" it is really a sham. Nothing is lost. It looks more like Superman pretending to die, then popping back on stage after act 3. To this, I got no answer, just more of the prepackaged verbiage that is dumped into the minds of Christians that they think is an argument or a rational reason that they never actually examine. Soon after, the conversation ended (for other reasons - it was time to go) and that was that. Do I think I convinced her? No. But I admit that it felt good to at least offer the rational argument.

Another of my favorite nonsense to point out is Heaven and evil. If Evil exists only because there is free will, then how do you explain heaven? Either everyone is a slave in heaven, without any free will, or there is just as much evil in heaven as there is here - otherwise, you'd have to say free will has nothing to do with evil. But then you'd have to conclude "god" was evil because you'd lose the "free will" dodge.

Truly, much in Christianity is simply incoherent nonsense. It is sad that so many are victim to it, but then they don't have much defense, as they are indoctrinated as children into it. I think I do agree with Dawkins that dumping such mythology as fact into defenseless little minds is child abuse. But I wouldn't outlaw it, because that way leads to totalitarianism, and I'm a freedom sort of guy. But I am saddened by it.


Stew said...

Another issue with Heaven and evil and free will, is the way Lucifer USED to be in Heaven, but then became a bad'un and "fell".
So, there is free will in heaven, although God preknows this stuff and yet is powerless to prevent it. What's to stop other heavenly inmates sometime in the infinite future doing the same thing?

The whole thing is madness. I'm embarrassed I used to believe it.

cornucrapia said...

I'm always bothered by the "sacrifice" of Jesus for another reason. We're all doomed to hell because of original sin. So God sends Jesus to save us. The thing is, wasn't God the guy who doomed us to hell in the first place? I liken the whole idea to a guy throwing you in a really deep pit and then praising him for giving you a ladder.