Amanda Marcotte has written here regarding what she considers ‘egregious’ myths perpetuated by the ‘religious’ against atheists. When you look at the fundamentalists on both sides here, both the secular and religious variety, there are myths perpetuated by each against the other in abundance. Neither side has clean hands here. I don’t think either side ‘hears’ the other and both are blind to their own complicity in the on-going circus of misunderstanding and believing the worst of the ‘other’.
So, I thought I would take a look at these ‘myths’ and try to formulate a response to, one, if this is something I believe is true and, two, how I might respond. This is really just an off the top-of-my-head and cursory take on her essay, so I’m not doing a deep in-depth response here. These are just my initial thoughts and reflections.
1. There are no atheists in foxholes.
I have heard Christians say this, but I’m not sure it rises in their minds to saying anything much greater than ‘we all behave and think differently sometimes under great stress or when in great fear’. Regardless, should Christians say something like this? I don’t think so. It could be there are no Christians in foxholes. What might we do when confronted with our impending death or if we were in great fear for our lives? Some have renounced their faith. Some might have felt abandoned by God in such situations, perhaps even to the point of then abandoning God. Fear clouds the mind and we all, atheist and theist alike, might do and say things we never would otherwise.
2. Atheists are just angry with God.
It’s interesting- she brings up the problem of evil (and whether or not the belief she notes is a logical inconsistency is question-begging) as the impetus for the accusation but doesn’t really address the link but simply devolves into further question-begging statements. And I don’t think Christians are ‘dismissing’ the arguments because of perceived anger on the part of the atheist. Rather they are interested in why someone would get angry over the idea (evil) to begin with, when we are often told by these same atheists that the idea of ‘evil’ is a purely cultural, psychological, and emotional response to an event or action (or omission) and if there was a different culture and psychology involved, or time-frame, our emotional response toward the same action or event could be that it was ‘good’. So the question is does ‘evil’ really exist beyond our time-bound, cultural, psychological and emotional response? If it doesn’t, then why the anger over something called ‘evil’ in relation to God’s supposed goodness or even in God’s absence? Is one admitting then that there is some objective standard one is using to determine that God’s supposed goodness isn’t a ‘true’ goodness and that there is something called ‘evil’? If so, what is that standard and why is it one we should care about? But yes, if what is really going on here is that atheists are angry with Christians and their actions, then of course, we should admit that and not accuse them of being angry with God, which I’m sure I have probably done. Again though, whence the anger when ‘evil’ doesn’t really exist (according to the atheist) beyond our purely time-bound, cultural and emotional psychology? There is a great disconnect here that most atheists do not get. The writer misses all this.
3. Atheists are aggressive and rude.
I’ve interacted with some who are and some who are not. There are Christians who are aggressive and rude too. I do think the ‘new’ atheists and people like Bill Maher and Jeffrey Taylor are at the root of this current perception, since they have the largest microphones. Unfortunately people then begin to think all atheists are like them. I don’t believe that to be true.
4. Atheism is a white dude thing.
I notice that other than some anecdotal evidence, there is nothing of substance offered to refute this so-called ‘myth’. I’m not sure what it means to be a ‘white dude thing’ but the credible evidence is that the great majority of atheists are male and white. Draw whatever conclusions you might from that fact, but it is indeed a fact.
“Surveys suggest most atheists are white men. A recent survey of 4,000 members of the Freedom from Religion Foundation found that 95 percent were white, and men comprised a majority. Among U.S. nonbelievers, 72 percent are white and 60 percent are men, according to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey; the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that Hispanics make up 11 percent, and African-Americans just 8 percent, of “unaffiliated” Americans.”
5. Atheism is just a faith like any other.
Her response here just made me shake my head. First, 90% of her response is just question-begging nonsense. No argument is even offered. Then, she assumes that those who make this claim have the same low opinion (or false opinion) she does of what faith even means to begin with, and she embarrassingly mistakes this observation as some sort of rhetorical cleverness. Seriously? She clearly has no idea what people even mean when they make this claim—she is clueless. Did she miss the last 50 years of philosophy and the modern/postmodern conversation? Hello? Does Salon have editors? I believe number 5.
6. Atheists don’t have a moral code.
Here is where both sides do not ‘hear’ the other. I know number 6 is what many atheists ‘hear’ in discussions regarding morality with Christians, but I don’t think this is what most Christians mean. I certainly don’t agree with number 6. What I argue is that anyone who believes the material is all there is doesn’t have a rational basis for asserting or living by a moral code that doesn’t reduce to subjective power or survival alone. Now, that is certainly a moral code of sorts, but it is one of power only. Might makes right—and I decide what is right. But this has nothing to do with how most atheists actually live their lives, which is the same way that most of us live ours, which is ‘do unto others…’ I just think most atheists live with the cognitive dissonance this requires. Further, since most atheists live in countries with deep Judeo-Christian historical influences, they live following most of the same cultural moral codes we all do. Regardless, as a Christian, I think all people are made in the image of God and reflect the fact we are autonomous moral beings. An atheist is still, in my view (contrary to his own opinion), an autonomous moral being capable of living a free moral life consisting of true free moral choices. The dispute here is the basis and grounding of a moral code, not whether an atheist has one or not—of course they do.
7. Atheist lives are bleak and lack meaning.
Again, I think this comes from not ‘hearing’ each other. I don’t know about ‘bleak’ but what I mean by ‘meaning’ is meaning besides what one makes up for himself. Hitler’s life had ‘meaning’ to him and so did Mother Teresa’s. The question is what was that meaning and what was it based upon? If the universe and existence is without meaning, then so is the life within it. Obviously we could make up meaning, but that is sort of like whistling pass the grave yard. So I would say that the question here, like with morality, is what is the basis and grounding to one’s meaning? We all attribute some meaning to our lives; and all lives, I believe, are meaningful, but I say such from a Christian perspective. I’m not sure one can from a naturalist perspective, beyond saying something like, ‘well, we imagine or create meaning’ but to me that is doing the same thing they accuse believers of doing, which is imagining or creating god. Why is one good and not the other if both are imaginary? Simply because the atheist knows it’s imaginary? How does that help? It means you need to let go of your meaning then too. It is nothing finally. See the problem? And are you willing to work, build, defend perhaps, and strive for this meaning you know is imaginary and no more real than the fellow doing the very same thing, working, building, and perhaps defending his imaginary meaning—and one that is perhaps very different from your ‘meaning’? I just don’t believe people operate that way. They live and strive for what they really believe is true, not for what they know is imaginary. No culture, no civilization, no state, indeed nothing has ever been built out of a meaning people knew to be imaginary and of no more real traction in this life than the next person’s. Further, if there is no meaning inherent in existence, why do we need to create or imagine such to begin with? So the question is not does the life of the atheist lack meaning. Clearly it does not lack meaning. The question is this: Is that meaning real or imagined/created? If it is imagined or created—then the admonition to ‘grow up’, often given to theists, comes back now to haunt.
8. Atheists are hedonists who don’t understand the true meaning of love.
Again, I think these sorts of statements are based upon what we think ‘love’ really means and its basis or grounding in something beyond our emotional or physical indicators. Atheists go home each night and kiss their significant others, hug their kids, pet their dogs and cats, and love just like the rest of us. If they were to then tell us that this ‘love’ they display is ‘just’ (reduction) an emotional physical indicator for mate selection, sexual reproduction, and clan or herd survival, we would disagree, but the atheist would still then go home, kiss their significant other, hug their children, sacrifice for them, work hard, and so on. And they would continue to be kind and loving to complete strangers in unselfish ways. They love and understand love, I believe, in spite of their materialism/naturalism.
9. Atheists have no way to cope after losing loved ones without the belief in an afterlife.
I have no idea regarding number 9. I would certainly never say this to an atheist who had just lost a loved one—or in general for that matter. In a purely academic/philosophical sense, there is a place for discussions regarding souls and an afterlife, but I have no idea what the emotional or coping aspect to this might be if one is an atheist. Christians mourn and grieve the loss of loved ones and it hurts like it hurts anyone, but Christians take great comfort in believing they will see each other again one day and that this life is not the end. If one does not have that comfort or belief, I don’t know what they do, but I suppose there are other ways to cope.
10. Atheists are out to destroy Christmas.
Fox News aside, nonsense.