According to the latest results from Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape survey published Monday by National Journal’s Next America project, just 46 percent of American adults are white Christians, down from 55 percent in 2007.
At the same time, according to the report, the share of white Christians identifying as Republican has remained steady, even equal with the share of the party that carried President Ronald Reagan to his 1984 reelection. Nearly seven in 10 white Christians — 69 percent — identify with or lean toward the GOP, while just 31 percent do the same with Democrats.
So if you’ve been thinking the Religious Right has been more unhinged than usual lately, this is probably why. They know they’re on the decline and they’re going to get more panicky as their numbers continue to diminish.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau as of last year whites still made up 77% of the population, but more and more of us are moving away from Christianity.
In less than a decade, the gap in Christian identification between Democrats and Republicans has increased by 50 percent. According to the data presented, in 2007, 88 percent of white Republicans and 70 percent of white Democrats identified as Christian, an 18-point disparity. By 2014, 84 percent of white Republicans identified as Christian, but the share of white Democrats identifying as Christian fell by 13 points, to 57 percent, a 27-point gap.
Not all of that change can be attributed to the rise in atheism, but we’re certainly having an effect. It’s also worth noting that Christians are still a majority religion in America at 70.6%, but more and more of them aren’t Caucasian. You can bet these trends are going to cause more than a little turmoil as they continue to grow.
I’m always amused when a believer tries to explain to me how it’s not possible for me to be something I know myself to be. Clint Decker at the Ottawa Herald is just the latest to lay claim to the idea that there are no atheists:
What is an atheist? This may sound like a simple question, but there are different answers within the expanding atheistic community.
Already we’re off to a bad start. Here he asks a question and then fails to provide an answer despite claiming there are multiple possibilities. The whole column is pretty short so perhaps he was trying to save space. No, that doesn’t really work as an explanation because there’s a very simple and concise explanation that would’ve taken less space than what he typed: “An atheist is someone who lacks a belief in God(s).” That pretty much sums it up.
You can get more granular, as some folks do, and place yourself an a gnostic/agnostic scale or limit your lack of belief to “known” Gods while accepting the idea that some form of God might exist, but that’s splitting hairs. You’ll still find we have fewer divisions of thought on the topic than the Christian religion with its 41,000 or so denominations.
Atheism is growing in the United States and for decades has had a firm hold on entire nations through communistic based governments like China and North Korea.
The first part of that sentence is true. The second part is only part of the truth. Yes, China and North Korea are communist countries that officially discourage religious belief, but both countries do have religious groups within them including some Christians. China in particular relaxed its stance on religious belief quite some time ago. In both cases the governments encourage atheism not because it thinks that’s the right stance to take so much as it eliminates a competing power over the people.
Clint conveniently decides not to mention Sweden or Denmark, where religious believers number a mere 17% and 18% respectively, probably because he wouldn’t be able to put in the negative connotation that atheism and communism run hand in hand. Norway is another highly atheistic country that is also ranked as one of the happiest. Perhaps Clint is ignorant of these non-communist, but still highly atheist countries.
I’m going to quote the next few paragraphs together because Clint uses it to make a pretty sketchy jump in logic:
As best I can tell only once in the Scriptures does God address atheism directly saying, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). Otherwise, the Scriptures do not devote much time to it, because God does not see atheism as His biggest concern. The Ten Commandments show the focus of His concern when He says, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
God assumes two things. We will either worship Him or something else. Nowhere does He assume we will worship at the altar of nothing. Since an atheist would admittedly not worship any god then let us ask “What is a god?”
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a god as “A person or thing of supreme value.” I argue this is what atheists are unto themselves. Since they have nothing to exalt outside of themselves they become their own god thinking more highly of themselves then they should. They worship the god of themselves and are their own living and breathing idol they bow down to.
Got that? God only addressed atheism once because God assumes you’re going to worship something so if you’re not worshiping God you must be worshiping yourself because of a cherry-picked definition of “God” that Clint managed to find in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Clint is trying desperately to find a way to deal with the fact that the Commandment specifically says “you shall have no other gods before me” because clearly God didn’t mean “gods” because there’s only the one God. Except that there have always been other Gods in the forms of other religious beliefs. There are religions that predate Christianity and even Judaism by thousands of years. There were plenty of well-established belief systems by the time the Jews decided they were the chosen people and just as you can find some non-Jewish believers in Judaism, the reverse is also true. The founders of Judaism couldn’t have that so in goes the commandment about other Gods. While there are plenty of passages where God claims to be the only God, there are plenty more where it appears God seems to think there are other Gods that he’s worried will steal away his followers. He is, after all, self-admittedly jealous of those other Gods.
So Clint starts digging around in a dictionary to see if he can find some way to deal with that “other gods” bit and comes across that minor definition he quotes above which he uses to make the argument that atheists must think overly highly of themselves and thus end up worshiping themselves. He doesn’t say what that sort of worship would consist of or what rituals we engage in or how he knows we think too highly of ourselves, but never mind that. He’s got a dodgy argument to conclude:
Atheists build a box around themselves keeping God out with only themselves inside. Their means of living is purely self-sufficient, cutting off all the blessings and beauty of the one true God only doing, controlling and becoming what they can manage. It is like they say, “All I want. All I need is right here in this box.”
Huh. He says that like it’s a bad thing. I thought Conservatives were all about personal responsibility and being self-sufficient and not relying on others to take care of your sorry ass? You’d think he’d appreciate someone who can be content with what he has instead of longing for some greater undeserved reward.
God the Creator who made us (including all the atheists) put a natural desire within us to seek and know Him. When atheists put a box around themselves, it instinctively sets off a divine internal restlessness.
Really? I don’t feel restless. At least not with regards to spiritual matters. Does it feel different than other forms of restlessness? Like when you’re itching for a new video game, but you really can’t afford it and there’s no Steam sale going on so you just go back to playing the stuff you already have, but it’s just not hitting the spot so you go on Netflix and can’t find anything you haven’t seen a million times already? Cause that’s a pretty bad itch and I can’t remember the last time I felt that way about God.
Clint wraps up his bad argument with a challenge:
I challenge every atheist to open the box, step out and seek his or her Creator. You were made to know Him. There is no reason to fear. God loves you and seeks your best for His glory. May Jesus be your hope for today.
There’s no reason to fear? What about all that shit-talking God does in the Bible about how you should fear him?
I’ll tell you what, Clint. I’ll take up your challenge if you promise to do the reverse. Try out atheism for awhile and see how that works for you. It’s only fair. Plus, if we’re right, there really isn’t anything to fear. Well, other than possibly losing your faith.
There’s a meme about debating atheists that suggests they know the Bible better than Christians do that makes the rounds every so often on the Internet. There’s a little bit of truth in that meme. Ask any atheist and chances are they’ve had more than one discussion where it was clear the person they were talking to didn’t know much about their own religion or its history or, for that matter, other religions. It’s a never-ending source of amusement for many of us atheists.
Every now and then the folks at the Pew Research Center will conduct a poll on religious knowledge and the results always back up the idea that most American’s religious knowledge is pretty piss-poor. They just did another one consisting of 32 questions to 3,412 adults across the nation. The results of the poll do not paint Christians is a great light:
Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.
On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7. Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.
It turns out that on questions specifically about the Bible and Christianity, White Evangelicals and Mormons do slightly better than atheists/agnostics (7.3 and 7.9 versus 6.7 correct answers out of 12, respectively), but once you start asking about history or other religions you find the atheists/agnostics second only to the Jews (7.5 to 7.9 out of 11). When you ask questions on religion in public life us non-believers come out on top (2.8 out of 4 with Jews second at 2.7).
If you’re curious, you can take a mini-quiz with 15 of the questions that the subjects were asked by clicking here.
As you can see above, I took the quiz and I managed to answer 14 of the 15 questions correctly for a score of 93%. That’s better than 97% of the public. I messed up on a question about the Jewish Sabbath that I probably should have gotten right had a taken a moment longer to think about it. If you want to take the quiz you should probably do so before reading any further because this next bit will spoil some of the questions.
What’s really amazing about this survey is how many believers are ignorant about major aspects of their own religion. For example:
More than four-in-ten Catholics in the United States (45%) do not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolize but actually become the body and blood of Christ. About half of Protestants (53%) cannot correctly identify Martin Luther as the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation, which made their religion a separate branch of Christianity. Roughly four-in-ten Jews (43%) do not recognize that Maimonides, one of the most venerated rabbis in history, was Jewish.
How can you claim to be Catholic and not know about transubstantiation? They fucking drill that into you in most Catholic churches like it was the secret to the universe. I’m not as surprised about most protestants not knowing who the fuck Martin Luther is because that’s church history and most Christians don’t bother learning the history of their religion. I am surprised that so many Jews don’t know that Maimonides was Jewish.
When you start asking Americans about religions other than Christianity and Judaism, it gets much, much worse:
In addition, fewer than half of Americans (47%) know that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist. Fewer than four-in-ten (38%) correctly associate Vishnu and Shiva with Hinduism. And only about a quarter of all Americans (27%) correctly answer that most people in Indonesia – the country with the world’s largest Muslim population – are Muslims.
Then there’s the issue of religion in public schools were most folks (89%) managed to answer correctly that a teacher cannot lead a class in prayer, but…
…among the questions most often answered incorrectly is whether public school teachers are permitted to read from the Bible as an example of literature. Fully two-thirds of people surveyed (67%) also say “no” to this question, even though the Supreme Court has clearly stated that the Bible may be taught for its “literary and historic” qualities, as long as it is part of a secular curriculum.2 On a third question along these lines, just 36% of the public knows that comparative religion classes may be taught in public schools. Together, this block of questions suggests that many Americans think the constitutional restrictions on religion in public schools are tighter than they really are.
There’s a lot of folks who seem to think kids aren’t allowed to pray in school (that wasn’t a survey question). For the record, your kids can pray in school all they want so long as it’s something they decide to do themselves and they’re not disrupting class to do it.
Anyway, the whole report is worth a read and you should check it out. It should be somewhat embarrassing for believers that atheists/agnostics know as much — if not more — about not only the Christian religion, but other religions and their histories. It displays a profound lack of interest in one of the things many profess is the most important thing in their lives. It also leads to awkward conversations when you try to convert one of us to your particular belief system.
A lot of people assume that, as an atheist, I have a problem with folks believing in God and going to church. The truth is so long as you’re not hurting anyone else or passing laws based solely on what you think your God wants, I generally don’t give a shit if you spend your Sundays dressed in uncomfortable clothes at your local church taking communion or speaking in tongues or whatever other silly rituals your particular belief system engages in. I spend my Sundays doing laundry and playing video games so it’s not like I’m being all that much more productive. Do I think your beliefs are stupid and a waste of time and money? Yes, yes I do, but if it makes you happy and keeps you from climbing a clock tower with a high powered rifle then you go right ahead and keep on believin’.
That said, there’s one part of Christianity that I have a big problem with and that’s the Televangelists. Particularly those who push the concept of Prosperity Theology or, as it’s more commonly known, Prosperity Gospel. To skeptics and many other Christians it’s often referred to as Greed-Based Theology. For those not familiar with this particular variation of Christianity, prepare to have your skin crawl:
If it weren’t for the religious trappings these guys would be referred to as con-artists and would be liable for all manner of legal trouble, both civil and criminal. Yet wrap it all up in the shroud of Jesus and it becomes perfectly legal. The IRS, already hated by most people, won’t even glance in the direction of most of these “churches” for fear of bringing down the wrath of the righteous.
My cynical side tells me that if there are people so stupid that they can’t see this nonsense for the scam it is then they deserve to be fleeced by the wolves in sheep’s clothing, but my better nature gets angry that these, often desperate, people are having their faith taken advantage of. This is also why I have problems with the whole concept of spiritual faith. When you can believe something is true with no actual evidence to support that belief then you’re ripe for plucking by those who would manipulate that faith. It bothers me that those who can least afford it are often the ones who get most sucked into these scams.
Which brings us back to John Oliver who it appears is attempting not so much to shut down these churches as prod the IRS into scrutinizing them more closely. I’m already of the opinion that all churches should be taxed just like the rest of us, but it’d be nice if the IRS at least looked into the ones who are flagrantly abusing their flocks to amass great amounts of wealth. If there aren’t any laws in place to regulate this sort of thing, then perhaps it’s high time we had some.
Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network and its signature show The 700 Club, has a long record of saying douchey things. So much so that I rarely comment on them anymore, but this one was particularly aggravating.
In a segment where he replies to letters from viewers he responds to one from a grandmother concerned that her grandkid is being raised as an atheist by his father so she’s seeking Pat’s advice on what to do about it. Pat’s idea? Try to get the kid away from the atheist parent and into a Christian school or a vacation Bible school.
Christians pitch a fit everytime Richard Dawkins says that he feels parents shouldn’t force their religion on their kids, but I’ve never heard Dawkins suggest that someone should actively try to get a child away from a parent intent on indoctrinating them. If he had you’d never hear the end of it.
If you’re going to argue that Christians, or members of any other faith, should have the right to raise their kids in their faith then the same should be true for atheists. Pat Robertson should’ve told that grandmother to mind her own business, but that would’ve been only fair. He’s not interested in fair, he’s only concerned with spreading Christianity as far as he can before he kicks the bucket because he thinks it’ll earn him extra whipped cream on his Sundaes in heaven or something. He also knows that if you can hook ’em when they’re young they’re more likely to stay with it as adults. To many Christians children are like Pokemon: Gotta catch ’em all.
I’ve been kicking around a couple of ideas for blog posts the past week or so because it’s been awhile since I last wrote one. In the past I would’ve blogged about the momentous Supreme Court decision making marriage equality the law of the land and how historic it is and all that, but that all seemed like an obvious thing to say so I didn’t do that.
However, while watching the various media reports on the reactions to the ruling — both joyous and apoplectic — it occurred to me that this wasn’t just a wonderful thing for the LGBT community, but for us atheists as well.
We already know that the younger generation is abandoning traditional religious beliefs in record numbers and this is driven in part by the bigotry and intolerance for homosexuals exhibited by many religious sects. In the most recent U.S. Religious Landscape Study by the Pew Research Center they reported:
One of the most important factors in the declining share of Christians and the growth of the “nones” is generational replacement. As the Millennial generation enters adulthood, its members display much lower levels of religious affiliation, including less connection with Christian churches, than older generations. Fully 36% of young Millennials (those between the ages of 18 and 24) are religiously unaffiliated, as are 34% of older Millennials (ages 25-33). And fewer than six-in-ten Millennials identify with any branch of Christianity, compared with seven-in-ten or more among older generations, including Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers. Just 16% of Millennials are Catholic, and only 11% identify with mainline Protestantism. Roughly one-in-five are evangelical Protestants.
36% of people between 18 and 24 are religiously unaffiliated. That’s huge and it spells big trouble for the religious powers that be. You can find all manner of articles on various religious websites arguing over why people in general, and young people in particular, are leaving the church and what to do to fix the problem, but studies show that it’s got a lot to do with perceived hostility to gays and lesbians. The Public Religion Research Institute released a report in early 2014 that said:
Majorities of Americans perceive three religious groups to be unfriendly to LGBT people: the Catholic Church (58%), the Mormon church (53%), and evangelical Christian churches (51%). Perceptions of non-evangelical Protestant churches, African-American churches and the Jewish religion are notably less negative.
Nearly 6-in-10 (58%) Americans agree that religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental on gay and lesbian issues. Seven-in-ten (70%) Millennials believe that religious groups are alienating young adults by being too judgmental on gay and lesbian issues. Only among members of the Silent Generation do less than a majority (43%) believe religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues.
Among Americans who left their childhood religion and are now religiously unaffiliated, about one-quarter say negative teachings about or treatment of gay and lesbian people was a somewhat important (14%) or very important (10%) factor in their decision to disaffiliate. Among Millennials who no longer identify with their childhood religion, nearly one-third say that negative teachings about, or treatment of, gay and lesbian people was either a somewhat important (17%) or very important (14%) factor in their disaffiliation from religion.
Religious hostility towards the gay community is not the only driving factor in people leaving their religion behind, but it is a significant one. Given that fact the reaction many on the Religious Right have had to the Supreme Court ruling can only encourage that trend to continue. A small sampling:
Bryan Fischer of the far right American Family Association took to Twitter after the decision to compare it to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attacks. I shit you not:
“Righteous Christians are truly beyond grieved,” she continued. “They can’t believe that this has happened, not just in the lifetime, but within a relatively short period of time, within a five to seven year period of time, it just seems like not just the world has been turned over to evil, but it seems like the greatest nation that certainly in the last many hundreds of years has been turned over to a reprobate mind.”
“We may be totally silenced,” Markell warned. “Who knows? American Family Radio, Olive Tree Ministries, maybe we’ll be shut down. It would not surprise me at all … They talk like this in North Korea, in China but now we’re talking like this in America and I can only consider that it’s probably judgment on us because too much of America has gone astray spiritually.”
Presidential Candidate (!) Rick Santorum has been having an absolute fit since the decision making all manner of hysterical predictions and promising the folks at NOM that he would work to reverse the decision if elected President:
Sen. Rick Santorum gave the keynote address to NOM’s Second Annual Marriage Gala in Washington, DC on July 2nd. Sen. Santorum ripped the US Supreme Court for their illegitimate ruling and pledged as president to work to reverse it, saying “this will not stand,” bringing the crowd of nearly 400 people to their feet.
[…] It was announced at the Gala that Sen. Santorum has become the first 2016 presidential candidate to sign NOM’s Presidential Marriage Pledge, promising to take specific actions as president to restore traditional marriage and protect supporters of marriage against attempts to marginalize and punish them.
Wing nut Janet Porter put out a video comparing the SCOTUS ruling to slavery:
Then there’s your average common everyday nutcase like Becky Wegner Rommel who absolutely lost her shit over the decision. You gotta watch this one. It’s full of awesome:
I could go on and on and on, but all you really need to do is pay a modicum of attention to the news and you’ll see plenty of examples. Personally, I’m really enjoying it and hoping the Right keeps freaking out for months to come because it only exposes their bigotry and hatefullness and makes their religion that less attractive.
Given that a majority of Americans support marriage equality these days, these folks are doing nothing to help their image on this issue. If anything they’ll push more people away from Christianity and that can only be a good thing. So keep it up! Let your true colors show! We really appreciate you putting your hate on full display.
The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men.
Specifically speaking, since the last time they came out with this report in 2007 the percentage of Americans identifying as Christian has dropped nearly 8 percentage points from 78.4% to 70.6% in 2014. That’s still a majority of Americans, but if this trend continues it won’t be that long before that’s no longer the case. Meanwhile, the Unaffiliated — a combination of atheist, agnostic, and “nothing in particular” — has jumped from 16.1% to 22.8% making it the fastest growing group. That works out to around 56 million people.
… this group — sometimes called religious “nones” — is more numerous than either Catholics or mainline Protestants, according to the new survey. Indeed, the unaffiliated are now second in size only to evangelical Protestants among major religious groups in the U.S.
The number of people self-identifying as Atheists has doubled from 1.6% to 3.1% and Agnostics are another 4%. That may not sound like much, but there are now more atheists in America than there are Hindus, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists, or Jews.
While it’s true that the “nothing in particular” folks make up a majority of the Unaffiliated and many of them still consider themselves spiritual in some way, they’re on the decline as more and more of them come to accept the designation of Atheist or Agnostic.
As the unaffiliated have grown, the internal composition of the religious “nones” has changed. Most unaffiliated people continue to describe themselves as having no particular religion (rather than as being atheists or agnostics), but the “nones” appear to be growing more secular. Atheists and agnostics now account for 31% of all religious “nones,” up from 25% in 2007.
The main driving force in the increase of the Unaffiliated is generational replacement. Older religious folks are dying off while the younger generations just aren’t taking up religion like their parents did, but it’s not the only factor in play.
In addition, people in older generations are increasingly disavowing association with organized religion. About a third of older Millennials (adults currently in their late 20s and early 30s) now say they have no religion, up nine percentage points among this cohort since 2007, when the same group was between ages 18 and 26. Nearly a quarter of Generation Xers now say they have no particular religion or describe themselves as atheists or agnostics, up four points in seven years. Baby Boomers also have become slightly but noticeably more likely to identify as religious “nones” in recent years.
As the shifting religious profiles of these generational cohorts suggest, switching religion is a common occurrence in the United States. If all Protestants were treated as a single religious group, then fully 34% of American adults currently have a religious identity different from the one in which they were raised. This is up six points since 2007, when 28% of adults identified with a religion different from their childhood faith. If switching among the three Protestant traditions (e.g., from mainline Protestantism to the evangelical tradition, or from evangelicalism to a historically black Protestant denomination) is added to the total, then the share of Americans who currently have a different religion than they did in childhood rises to 42%.
By a wide margin, religious “nones” have experienced larger gains through religious switching than any other group. Nearly one-in-five U.S. adults (18%) were raised in a religious faith and now identify with no religion. Some switching also has occurred in the other direction: 9% of American adults say they were raised with no religious affiliation, and almost half of them (4.3% of all U.S. adults) now identify with some religion. But for every person who has joined a religion after having been raised unaffiliated, there are more than four people who have become religious “nones” after having been raised in some religion. This 1:4 ratio is an important factor in the growth of the unaffiliated population.
The study goes on to mention that interfaith marriages are more common now than they ever have been before and a large part of that is because there’s plenty of Christians out there who are marrying people in the Unaffiliated group.
There’s a lot more detail in the full report which is worth reading, but the upshot of it is that this is an ongoing trend for the better part of a decade that shows no signs of slowing. Given the huge number of Christians out there making an ass of themselves over things such as gay marriage — or making wedding cakes for gays — I fully expect the trend to continue.
Here’s a few more highlights that made me smile:
Although it is low relative to other religious groups, the retention rate of the unaffiliated has increased. In the current survey, 53% of those raised as religiously unaffiliated still identify as “nones” in adulthood, up seven points since 2007. And among Millennials, “nones” actually have one of the highest retention rates of all the religious categories that are large enough to analyze in the survey.
The percentage of college graduates who identify with Christianity has declined by nine percentage points since 2007 (from 73% to 64%). The Christian share of the population has declined by a similar amount among those with less than a college education (from 81% to 73%). Religious “nones” now constitute 24% of all college graduates (up from 17%) and 22% of those with less than a college degree (up from 16%).
The Christian share of the population is declining and the religiously unaffiliated share is growing in all four major geographic regions of the country. Religious “nones” now constitute 19% of the adult population in the South (up from 13% in 2007), 22% of the population in the Midwest (up from 16%), 25% of the population in the Northeast (up from 16%) and 28% of the population in the West (up from 21%). In the West, the religiously unaffiliated are more numerous than Catholics (23%), evangelicals (22%) and every other religious group.
More than a quarter of men (27%) now describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated, up from 20% in 2007. Fewer women are religious “nones,” but the religiously unaffiliated are growing among women at about the same rate as among men. Nearly one-in-five women (19%) now describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated, up from 13% in 2007.
One thing that’s clear is that the increase in the number of atheists and agnostics who are speaking up about their lack of belief is having an impact in changing minds. I suspect that our numbers are actually higher than this study says as a lot of the “no particulars” are probably atheists or agnostics who are “in the closet” for whatever reason. Hell, I’m willing to bet there’s more than a few self-identifying Christians/Muslims/Jews/etc. who are really closeted atheists and agnostics. That makes standing up all the more important.
So keep up the good work,everyone. We’re making a difference!
Over at the Pembroke Daily Observer there’s an article by one Reverend Eric Strachan in which he ponders how it’s possible that an atheist doesn’t believe in God. He starts his column by naming a number of prominent atheists such as billionaire Warren Buffet, Mick Jagger, Mark Zuckerburg, Bruce Lee, Gloria Steinem, and “Jim Gibson, the mayor of Head, Clara and Maria who sits on the Renfrew County council” who is apparently the person that started Strachan’s pondering in the first place.
It seems Strachan hasn’t bothered to find any atheists to answer his burning question, but he doesn’t let that stop him from telling us what he thinks are the reasons we don’t believe:
I’ve discovered throughout the years that there are many reasons why many men and women today align themselves with people like Mark Zuckerburg and Ron Reagan Jr. I think there are many people who are atheists today because they’ve experienced human tragedy, painful traumatic events in their lives, wars, rapes, a dysfunctional childhood, abuse, the tragic loss of a loved one and they’ve simply not been able to come to a satisfactory answer to the perennial perplexing question, “If there is a loving, all-powerful God, then why would He allow this to happen to me?”
Outside of their own personal traumas, many embrace atheism today because they read of the Jewish Holocaust, see and witness human tragedies on a widespread scale, famines, genocides, ethnic cleansings and they ask themselves despairingly, “If there is a God, why would He allow such atrocities?” Together with that, there are many who fly under the banner of atheism today because at some memorable junction in their lives they have been desperately hurt, wounded and scarred by someone who professed to be a believer. Tragically the messenger has discredited the message by his/her inappropriate behaviour and the wounded one has committed the classic error that all of us are inclined to do, of throwing out the baby with the bathwater!
If I had a dime for every time someone told me I’m only an atheist because something bad happened to me I’d be able to retire. Obviously I can’t speak for all atheists and it’s entirely possible that there are some out there for whom one or more of the reasons cited above is indeed why they are atheists, but for a lot of us the reason is simple: There’s no substantial evidence that any kind of God exists.
I’ve had my fair share of trauma and loss in my life. Moments of great despair when I felt hopeless and shattered, but none of that had any bearing on my beliefs in God. Back when I was a believer I attributed all sorts of things to God, but as I grew and learned I realized I had no real reasons for doing so. Near as I can tell God has never spoken to me even at the height of my belief and certainly not as I started to develop doubts.
In his article, Strachan talks of newborn twins as proof of God using the following argument:
I don’t know about you, but a few weeks ago I stood in the Maternity Ward of our local hospital and looked at a pair of newborn twins, and then the other day I held them. It was an awesome moment for me, I was in absolute awe, strangely and mutely silenced as I touched tiny fingers, beheld tiny eyes, felt skin as soft as velvet and pondered to think that what I now held in my arms, these beautiful babies, had their mysterious beginnings in a microscopic cell. Who, I ask you, but a Supreme Omnipotent Creator could engineer such a marvel? You simply cannot look into the face of a newborn and declare “There is no God!”
Sure I can. I’ve held plenty of babies in my time, not the least of which was my own daughter, and as amazing as they can be I don’t see in them any proof of God. In part because I understand how biological reproduction works and that there is no engineering involved in the process. Perhaps the Reverend would do better to study a few biology books from time to time.
I can recall someone once asking me how I could look at trees and not believe in God. I still don’t understand why they thought trees were a convincing proof. If it’s not trees then it’s rainbows or sunsets or the night sky or some other aspect of reality that they clearly don’t have a strong understanding of and thus have to resort to ‘Goddidit’ to explain the awe they feel about whatever random thing they’re awed by. The fact that you don’t understand something doesn’t mean the only answer to how it could exist is God.
If you really want to know why any particular atheist is an atheist, try asking them. Most will probably be happy to tell you and most won’t say it’s because something bad happened to them.
Baptist Pastor Steven Anderson wonders why we’re wasting so much money on research to find a cure for AIDS when he already knows how we can have an AIDS-free world by Christmas. It’s really quite simple and he found it right there in the Bible. Kill all the gays. No gays, no AIDS.
No, he really said that:
And Christians sometimes wonder why so many folks think they’re the bad guys.
This isn’t the first time Anderson has said something like this — I’m sure I’ve blogged about him before — so this isn’t really news, but it’s important to remind folks that there are people like him out there saying things like this. His brain is so damaged he thinks this simplistic (if horrible) approach would work. Apparently ignorant of the fact that you don’t have to be gay, or even sexually active, to contract AIDS.
I have no doubt that should Anderson’s dreams of a Christian Theocracy in America ever come to pass that he would have no trouble sleeping at night after following through on his suggested solution. Too much religion will make you crazy and Anderson’s a good example of that fact.
Phil Robertson, for those of you who don’t watch Duck Dynasty, is one of the darlings of the Religious Right for his very conservatives views on everything from gays to atheists. You might of heard about him back when he got kicked off his own show for some bigoted comments about homosexuals he made in an interview with GQ magazine only for A&E to turn around and reinstate him before the show resumed filming. It had everyone on the Right in an uproar and A&E decided the show’s ratings were more important than having principles.
Anyway, he’s still giving interviews where he says awesomely stupid things. His most recent was on Friday over at “Trunews”, a Conservative Christian website run by Rick Wiles. While discussing healthcare insurance Robertson veers off into a tale of an atheist whose daughters are raped in front of him, his wife is decapitated, and his dick is cut off to make a point about right and wrong:
“I’ll make a bet with you,” Robertson said. “Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them and they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him. And then they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?’”
Robertson kept going: “Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if this [sic] was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun. We’re sick in the head, have a nice day.’”
“If it happened to them,” Robertson continued, “they probably would say, ‘something about this just ain’t right.”
The problem with this — other than it’s somewhat disturbing the sort of things Robertson fantasizes about — is it’s a straw man depiction of what atheists think. About the only thing Robertson gets right is the fact that atheists don’t think there’s a God or Gods that’ll judge the killers for their actions. To suggest that that means we don’t think there’s such a thing as right and wrong is simply not true. I’ve yet to meet an atheist who has espoused the sincerely held belief that there is no right or wrong.
It’s not difficult to come up with a moral system that doesn’t rely on edicts from God(s) to establish right and wrong. There are several different systems of Secular Morality already. Ranging from Secular Humanism to Freethinking to Consequentialism. Personally, I tend to fall in the Freethinking category, but there are aspects of Secular Humanism I adhere to as well.
On top of that, the morality depicted in the Bible is not only questionable at best, but God himself has a hard time adhering to it. At various times he’s commanded his followers to break any number of the Ten Commandments he supposedly considered so important he wrote them down for us. Apparently it’s OK to break the rules when God commands you to. In fact, if the fictional killers in Robertson’s twisted tale were acting under the orders of God I’m willing to bet that Robertson, had he some reason to believe that were indeed the case, would consider them perfectly justified in following through on them. It wouldn’t be the first time God had ordered his followers to wipe out people He considered bad (see the tale of Vengeance on the Midianites in Numbers 31: 1-47 for a great example).
People like Robertson who believe that without God to tell them right from wrong there’s no reason for them not to go around killing and raping worry me. One would hope that there’s more than just a book of fairy tales keeping these people from being monsters. Considering the truly heinous things a large number of Christians are capable of in spite of their belief that God has defined an objective morality and the threat of eternity in Hell, it would be a nightmare if they could be convinced that those things don’t exist.
Every so often on Facebook I’ll see an image macro come up that says: “I am a Christian. You can ridicule me. You can torture me. You can kill me. But you cannot change my mind.” All I can think when I see it is: Given what some of you think is OK if God doesn’t exist, it’s probably for the best you’re so closed minded.