For those who don’t know, I’m one of the ‘answerers’ over at Ask The Atheists. It’s a nifty little site where people can anonymously ask a bunch of atheists questions about pretty much anything you can imagine. Lots of the questions are the sort of thing you’d expect a theist to ask an atheist (What if you’re wrong? Why don’t you believe in gods? Isn’t the universe proof that God exists?). Today, one popped up that I found particularly grating:
Why do Athiests [sic] HATE so much?
One of the reasons I consider myself an agnostic, rather than an atheist, is because I just can’t bring myself to be associated with all the hate and vitriol that spews forth from atheists (or, at least, from their spokespersons).
Why not live and let live? Why not let them have their prayer?
The “In God We Trust” and “Under God” complaints and lawsuits particularly rile me. These are not just prayers, they are a part of our national history and tradition, whether you like that fact or not.
I know a number of Christians, as well as a number of Atheists. And it’s always the Christians who help out, and the atheists that complain and hate.
I can never accept the title of Atheist so long as it is associated with such hate.
There are a few obvious problems with this.
First, the idea of atheist “spokespersons.” No names given, and no examples of what they say that the questioner finds so hateful. Clearly this person is so overcome with frothy-mouthed, keyboard-pounding rage that citing so much as a single example would be far too much exertion to tolerate.
Second, the only examples given are things which have nothing to do with hate. Complaints and lawsuits about violations of the US Constitution are a matter of principle, not anger. We’re a formally secular nation with a Constitutional separation of church and state. Our founding documents strictly lay out that there can be no religious test for public office. Yet we’re told that there’s something wrong with being bothered by slogans that go against the Enlightenment spirit that was so deeply ingrained in the thinking of our founding fathers. Set aside for the moment the bizarre notion of requiring people to recite a pledge of allegiance; that it contains a declaration that we are a nation under god means that anyone who disagrees is considered to be refusing to pledge allegiance to a country whose Constitution says no such declaration need be made. Not to mention that an argument from tradition is ridiculous; slavery is a part of our national history and tradition, but you’ll not find many Americans who’ve managed to pull that one off lately.
And “in God we trust?” I’m sure that the god-botherers out there do trust in their various tribal gods… but the slogan actually leaves out more than just atheists. It also leaves out polytheists, who believe in many gods. It leaves out any who believe in a goddess. It’s a silly phrase refuted by the fact that we have a military. If we really trusted in the God that so many claim as their own, we’d trust him to guard us against our enemies.
But even these two things are minor complaints. My main problem with this question is that mealy-mouthed call for ‘fairness’:
Why not let them have their prayer?
Those slogans? This isn’t about letting them have their prayer. It’s about keeping them from forcing it on us.
And asking why we can’t live at let live? I’m fine with it – as long as their beliefs don’t hurt anyone. But time and time again, we see horrific examples of people being taken advantage of, at the price of life or fortune.
Consider the followers of Harold Camping, for example. Much ado has been made in the atheist community about his kooky numerological predictions that the Rapture will occur on May 21, 2011. Most people I’ve seen are laughing about how this is just another example of people predicting the end of the world, bound to fail as all the others have. Many are aware that Camping did the same thing before, putting the Rapture in September 1994, and blamed his failed prediction on a mathematical miscalculation. But what many don’t know is just how much of a leech he is. I’ve seem claim that many of his followers donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to his ‘church’ back in 1994, and while I can’t confirm that, it would not surprise me in the least. Camping has been pimping the 2011 Rapture for at least six years at this point, and as you can tell in this video, he’s definitely convinced a small but dedicated flock that he’s right:
I strongly urge you to watch this video all the way through to the end. Harold Camping is destroying these people’s lives. They’ve abandoned everything they had to be his messengers.
Why else do I worry about ‘letting live’? Because not everyone is rational or sane, and beliefs about demons, the end of the world, and other such nonsense can contribute to people committing terrifying acts of violence. Take, for example, the California mother who, in an attempt to save her children from the Tribulation, took it upon herself to slit their throats with a knife and drive them off to an empty house to die. Perhaps religion is not directly to blame for her actions, but were it not for the Christian idea of the Tribulation, it’s conceivable that she might not have tried to kill her children.
“But Mike,” I hear you saying, “these people are all stupid or crazy. Most believers are smart, rational, good people, and these were big lies – not the sort of thing to which a majority would fall prey.” Perhaps this is fair, in a way. But then, consider the “small” lies that the majority do accept.
Most Christians accept the concept of a human sacrifice as a scapegoat for the sins of humanity. I find this idea horrifyingly immoral.
Hinduism teaches that people live and die repeatedly because of our own ignorance, and that anyone born into a bad situation deserves it because it was their actions in a past life that put them there. This supernatural victim-blaming is partly to blame for the existence of caste systems and the mistreatment of the ‘untouchables.’
Many of the seemingly insignificant beliefs of the various religions seem innocent enough at first glance. But dig a little deeper – follow the ideas to their rational conclusions – and you’ll rarely find things which affirm the value of human existence or rational inquiry.
So why do “Athiests” HATE so much?
In my case, I hate ideas that denigrate the humanity of others.
I hate the fact that people accept these self-destroying ideas and claim that those of us who don’t are somehow broken, inferior, and in need of correction.
I hate that a glib denial of the reality of death has led to so many millions of people over the centuries being fed patronizing and condescending lies about how poverty and suffering are trials that will give them eternal glory.
I hate that I live in reality and am surrounded by people who wish for nothing more than to be removed from it.
I hate that people, in believing that their gods will everything that happens, view each other as disposable means to their gods’ ends. Mother has cancer? Not to fear, her suffering is meant as a lesson to you. Lost a child? Don’t worry; your child died so you can learn to enjoy life more. Sole survivor of a plane crash? Cheer up; God has plans for you, and everyone else died so you could recognize that.
Keep your religions. Enjoy them if you must. But I’ll have no part of it. And I won’t hate you – but you can be sure that I’ll hate what these fictions do to you.