Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Monday, January 14, 2008

That confusing faith.

I sometimes get asked two questions about what I believe: "Why is it important for you to be an atheist" and "Why is it important for you to talk about being an atheist".* These questions are not easy for me to answer- not so much because I don't have answers, but rather because the questions themselves make me sad. You see, people don't tend to ask devout Christians, or Muslims, or Jews, or Hindus why their faith is important to them. We have a set of cookie-cutter answers provided for us by out society: it reassures us, it makes us feel a part of something larger than ourselves, etc. So, when people ask me these questions it is more or less tantamount to an admission that, from their perspective, there's something a little wrong with me. I can't feel like I'm a part of something bigger than myself, or feel reassured by my atheism in their minds, so why would I voluntarily choose to be a nihilist?

Of course, I'm far from a nihilist (and often regard the nihilism criticism as being more applicable to certain religious perspectives than to atheism) but that doesn't seem to stop people from assuming that I am. There seems to be a widespread confusion about why someone would choose to be atheist and how we can be happy that way. There are even efforts to understand "deconversion,"** or the departure of an individual from a previous faith. Brad Wright, for example, finds this question interesting and has spent a considerable amount of time pondering such issues. For myself, I think the question shouldn't be what drives someone to become an atheist*** but, rather, what would drive someone to remain a theist. My own experience as a Christian turned atheist is that when I honestly started asking why I should remain a Christian, the answers I got were tautological at best. Put another way, shouldn't there be more compelling reasons to continue believing what you were taught from childhood than that you were taught it from childhood?

All that in mind, I have more or less come to the conclusion that I need to do something about this. So, difficult though it may be, I am going to try to express in words over the next few weeks/months why it is important to me to be an atheist, why it is important to me to talk about it, and why being an atheist makes me happy. Note that I didn't say "why I can be happy while being an atheist," but rather, "why being an atheist makes me happy." The simple truth is that I find atheism to be an immensely more satisfying faith than Christianity ever was. My being an atheist is a core part of my being, of my ability to deal with life, and of my happiness. These posts are also not to be interpreted as attempts to convert others. I am not an evangelical atheist, I have no particular interest in converting anyone. If you read what I write and decide to convert, great, if not, great. My goal is not conversion but simply understanding. I like to think that if people understand why I, at least, am atheist they might be more accepting of others who are.

Alas, however, I plan to begin this series of posts some other time. For now, allow me to begin with a pair of primers, if you will. One is a sort of Atheist FAQ from the folks over at RationalWiki that covers some of the major bases. Does it give definitive answers to common questions? No, not really, because atheists are a pretty diverse crowd. Will I give definitive answers to some of these questions? Yes, but those answers will apply solely to me. Other atheists will, of course, be different. Yet, the FAQ does a good job of covering some of the common ground for all atheists. The other primer I would like to point you to is a post by Greta Christina dealing with the issue of atheists and anger. Why do atheists sometimes come across as angry? Why are we sometimes vocal? Why don't we just shut up and feel content with our nice, cozy ghetto? She answers these questions with a thoroughness that will take your breath away:

One of the most common criticisms lobbed at the newly-vocal atheist community is, "Why do you have to be so angry?" So I want to talk about:

1. Why atheists are angry;

2. Why our anger is valid, valuable, and necessary;

And 3. Why it's completely fucked-up to try to take our anger away from us.

So let's start with why we're angry. Or rather -- because this is my blog and I don't presume to speak for all atheists -- why I'm angry.


I'm angry that according to a recent Gallup poll, only 45 percent of Americans would vote for an atheist for President.

I'm angry that atheist conventions have to have extra security, including hand-held metal detectors and bag searches, because of fatwas and death threats.

I'm angry that atheist soldiers -- in the U.S. armed forces -- have had prayer ceremonies pressured on them and atheist meetings broken up by Christian superior officers, in direct violation of the First Amendment. I'm angry that evangelical Christian groups are being given exclusive access to proselytize on military bases -- again in the U.S. armed forces, again in direct violation of the First Amendment. I'm angry that atheist soldiers who are complaining about this are being harassed and are even getting death threats from Christian soldiers and superior officers -- yet again, in the U.S. armed forces. And I'm angry that Christians still say smug, sanctimonious things like, "there are no atheists in foxholes." You know why you're not seeing atheists in foxholes? Because believers are threatening to shoot them if they come out.

I'm angry that the 41st President of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush, said of atheists, in my lifetime, "No, I don't know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God." My President. No, I didn't vote for him, but he was still my President, and he still said that my lack of religious belief meant that I shouldn't be regarded as a citizen.

Her post goes on for quite a while from there, and I encourage you to read it with an open mind. If nothing else, it's a very well-written diatribe.

So, for those who are interested, get ready: the next few months may be an interesting experience for us all. And for those who don't care... well... it's not like you get anything useful out of this blog anyway.

* Sometimes I get asked the infinitely dumber version, "Why is it important to you to talk about your lack of belief." Yeah, right, because atheists don't believe in anything. We're lost in an anomic wasteland. Sure. That's exactly the way I feel.

** Linguistically speaking I find this term problematic since "deconversion" from one faith tends to mean "conversion" to a new one. Or it would if people were more inclined to regard atheism as something other than a perverse limbo state.

*** I love how it's regarded as being equivalent to being driven to drink.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must admit, I'm one of the people who ask people why it's important for them to be an atheist. Not because it seems wrong, somehow, but because I honestly wonder. I don't ask the same of devout religious people because I like to think I know the answer (family background, socialization, etc.) The same variables don't explain atheism.

The majority of people who aren't religious or spiritual don't call themselves atheists. That's an extra step that implies a dedication and an identity. An identity based on the absence of a religious identity.

That logic doesn't work, so clearly I am missing something. Hence, I question.

BTW, I read a study (too lazy to find again) that found that most Americans placed Atheists as the least worthy of the title "American citizen." They ranked lower than non-English speakers. So it's not just Bush.

Atheists are a targeted group. Since one can hold atheist beliefs without being an atheist, the question as to why someone would seek out a discredited identity seems like a good one.

Even if it makes the questioner seem ignorant or close-minded :$ .

Monday, January 14, 2008 1:25:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

Fair points. I was, as per normal, a bit too free with my frustration. It is sadly the case that most individuals who ask me the referred-to questions are not genuinely seeking to understand as you are.

I'm not really convinced that it's all that unusual to seek out a "discredited identity" though. People do that pretty regularly- at least partly because an identity is only discredited from a particular point of view.

Thanks for the comments!

P.S: The paper I think you're referring to is: Edgell, Gerteis & Hartmann. (2006) "Atheists as Other." American Sociological Review. 71(2). 211-234. I've mentioned it before elsewhere.

Monday, January 14, 2008 1:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes! That is the paper! We had to read it for my Nations and Nationalism seminar. It was an interesting addition to the mix.

And I do agree that plenty of people willingly take on identities which are, to differing extents, stigmatizing in terms of broader society (clearly, based on the aforementioned paper, we can state that atheist is such an identity). If people weren't so willing, we wouldn't have goths, emos, nerdcore, or.. sociologists :) . But that doesn't make the question any less interesting.

Monday, January 14, 2008 1:57:00 PM  
Blogger yli said...

that is a great post. thanks for sharing.

Monday, January 14, 2008 6:09:00 PM  

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