Posts Tagged ‘ask an atheist day’

When I get around to it, anyway. And after I’ve done enough housework and drunk all the tea that needs drinking. So, these questions you asked ages ago before I got lazy – or busy, let’s go with busy – again:

Internally, I self identify as agnostic, although socially, I tend to self identify as atheist in those settings in which I think someone would be more pissed off by atheism than by agnosticism. Are you of the view that agnostics are simply atheists in denial, or do you see us as a distinct flavor of unbelief?

I like your style in going for whatever will agitate people more. Outside of the capacity to be annoying, though, I think a lot of the debate over whether someone is “really” an atheist or an agnostic is pretty fruitless.

It’s not that there can’t be meaningfully different positions, or that there’s nothing worth debating and disagreeing on here. But when your language is starting to obscure the subjects it should be elucidating, or when your discussion is getting sidetracked into an argument about what words mean, or what they should mean, or what you mean by them never mind what anyone else means by them, then it may be time to change tack.

Let’s taboo the words “atheist”, “agnostic”, and any obvious derivatives for a couple of paragraphs. Now I can’t fixate on my own interpretation of those words and assume everyone else is just using them wrong. So, what do I actually believe?

Well, I believe it’s very unlikely that any god actually exists. It’s possible that some such being, by some reasonable standard of “god”, is actually real and part of the world, just like it’s possible that an elephant wandered into the garden a minute ago and is about to trample over our guinea pigs. I can’t offer an absolutely cast-iron guarantee that’s not the case, but for all practical purposes I can get so close that it’s not a situation I spare even a moment seriously considering.

Any particular named deity – Yahweh, Zeus, all the rest – I give about the same probability of being non-fictional as I do to Spiderman, to within a negligible degree. Does that make me a “strong atheist”? Could my position be summed up by positively asserting “I believe that God does not exist”? I think so.

You might argue that, unless I think God’s non-existence can be proven to 100% certainty, then that remaining shred of doubt makes me an agnostic, not an atheist – but if that’s the way you’re using words, I’d be amazed if the word “atheist” is ever remotely useful to you. It seems linguistically unhelpful to set the bar that high.

If I’m actually engaging in a discussion with someone, and they care to hear an explanation of my views longer than a single word, then I’ll explain something like the above, without simply relying on the tabooed words. They can decide whether they think I’m an atheist, or an agnostic, or something else – it doesn’t really matter how they use language, or what ideas they associate with those words, so long as they understand what I actually think.

But if I’m just looking for a succinct, approximate label – something to identify myself with as a shorthand, which doesn’t need to be nuanced or precise – then “atheist” is probably my best shot at giving the largest number of people the most accurate impression of what’s going on in my head. Many of them will still be way off, but that’ll always be the case in a conversation about something complicated where you rely on individual words with no single uncontroversial definition to carry a large amount of information.

Does that help? I sort of forgot the question for the last couple of hundred words and just kept typing.

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Why do atheists spend so much time attacking a god who they say doesn’t exist?

I wasn’t asked this one in the comments of my blog post soliciting questions a few days ago, but it came up in a Twitter discussion, and it is something a lot of theists seem to have trouble getting their head around. Just why do atheists care? If God’s not real, why do they get so angry with him, and go out of their way trying to prove he’s not there? If God isn’t real, how does he manage to bother them so much?

This is a very easy one. So easy that I’m baffled as to how any theist can keep asking it after hearing even the most cursory explanation, and yet they do seem to persist. I don’t imagine it’ll sink in for many of them with yet another iteration, but here goes anyway.

God doesn’t exist. Religion sure as hell does.

What many atheists oppose, and are angered by, isn’t God, but religion. It’s the massively popular worldwide belief systems, which require uncritical acceptance of implausible and unsupported claims, exacerbate and encourage failures of critical thinking, and relegate compassion and morality as secondary to obedience and monomaniacal worship.

The God of Islam doesn’t have to exist for the 9/11 hijackers to be motivated by thoughts of him, and to bring immense grief and suffering into the world as a direct result of their irrational beliefs. Whatever god you believe in probably has his fair share of crazy shit done in his name too, which has done real damage to real people in the world I live in.

I don’t hate God. I’m not angry with him. He’s just not there. But religion, I object to. The things that do exist and cause harm to people are worth fighting against, and the notion of God is often tied up in that.

I will admit that, if he existed, any god guilty of such dereliction of duty as to allow the kind of suffering evident in the world to continue unabated for millennia, without stepping in to help or offering any reason or excuse – let alone one that would permit such an infinite, unjustifiable evil as Hell – would unquestionably be my enemy. I would defy and despise such a being with all my strength, right up until the point where I started cowering in terror and doing every pitiful and obsequious thing I could not to piss the Supreme Fascist off and suffer the consequences. Which would probably be instantaneous, if I’m honest – I don’t imagine I’d have the courage of my convictions to actually stand up against an omnipotent tyrant of such casual malice.

In principle, though, I maintain my conviction that such a god would be an unimaginable bastard. But it’s much simpler, and hugely reassuring, to assume there’s no such bastard there. I’m no more angry with Yahweh than I am with Sauron.

And I think most people understand this, even those who keep asking the question, if they’d stop having fun scoring what feels like an easy point against atheists for long enough to actually think about it. Some of them have also decried terrorists acts by extremist Muslims, casting aspersions on the whole of the Islamic faith, even while the non-existence of Allah is just as obvious to them as it is to me.

I suspect, too, that there’s a non-trivial crossover between people who profess bemusement as to why atheists spend so much time attacking a god they don’t believe in, and people who are unconvinced by the argument of “If you don’t like abortions, don’t have one”. When it’s something you care about, it becomes obvious why your concern should stretch beyond your own immediate experience.

So, another brief and unhelpful rant accomplished. I’ve got a couple more brewing, at least one of which may be presented in an interestingly different format… Stay tuned.

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So, as even my new followers in this exciting post-Bieber era have probably noticed by now, I’m an atheist.

And there’s this thing called Ask An Atheist Day. It’s more of an occasion on certain campuses and stuff in the States, but it’s noted across the blogosphere too, so here I am.

I’m an atheist. Feel free to ask me stuff. About atheism. Or something else.

It doesn’t really need a special day for it, in my case. The comments section here and my Twitter are pretty much an open invitation to ask me stuff about anything, at any time, with no grammatical or common-sensical obligations. But it’s a handy excuse to not write anything substantial today. Which is good, because I don’t have time. I’ve got to go eat chicken kievs and watch some torture porn. My fiancée’s making me. It’s a hard life.

Have fun.

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