If you’ve got several spare hours, I’d recommend watching Steve Shives’ series “An Atheist Reads The Case for Christ” and “An Atheist Reads I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist”. They’re great deconstructions of a couple of books that I and many other atheists often have thrown in our faces as ‘good’ arguments for Christianity.
While browsing Reddit today, I came across a person claiming to have an unbiased source in the ‘fracking’ debate – a YouTube video with a rather hyperbolic description about how fracking was going to poison everyone and that companies that did it have blood on their hands. I pointed out this comment to the person linking to the video, saying it was hardly unbiased, and linking to the Skeptoid episode on fracking. This is the response I got (copied in case he deletes it later):
Clever Holmes. I didn’t even read that comment as I was interested in the vid – not in the up-loader. I only found the vid after searching for an alternate account of Fracking history. The comment’s full vitriolic content (perhaps deserved now that you shine a light for me to reflect on) is not immediately available unless you click to fully view it. Nice way to distract from the actual accounts in the vid and deflect any real accountability for facts by instead fanning opinions. I mean you can do that – but don’t fool yourself into thinking that it isn’t obvious.
Yeah – I can see you better now…how internal fears motivate to excuse you from owning up to a deadly game…which is my principle compliant here – the desire to promote a questionable practice by hyping status indulgent virtues at the expense of an honest interest in clarifying the cost of safety history or any dialog of compassionate accountability to human beings.
Are you the sham…or at least as complacent as you seem to be?
But let’s pause and take a step back for a moment and explore…if you are game…what is happening as I write and as you read this through the bridge of time’s arrow. Let’s do a thought experiment. I will type two letters below:
Which one represents you and which one represents me? Since I will refrain from choosing it could be either. You might choose b because it comes first? However a comes before b in the alpha-bet so you might choose that one. a could also represent “Alpha” – as in “Alpha Male” or perhaps the significance of “Acropolis”. Still – b appears first in this case so it could represent “Better” or “”Brave” or “Baring Sea” for that matter – a multitude of possibilities!
All that can be said is that at this moment as you read this both letters are pairing to represent you and I as a suggestion in both of our minds.
So what is the significance of that? It is a suggestion that for these moments as your eyes transfer electrical signals from your computer to your brain and then form potential meaning in your psyche we share a tentative point of sameness. A swirling uncertainly perhaps akin to a psychic (classical definition – not necessarily “clairvoyance”) zero-point.
Now here is where it gets really interesting – as these two letters tell a peculiar story:
One of these letters has seen astonishing beauty – the kind that that reaches into your soul and could make you nearly weep for love and gratitude in the dead of a hollow night or even in the light of a warm sun. However so has the other letter – just not quite in the same way…a different assortment of contexts, elements and people create a different yet comparable story.
One of these letters has seen tragedy…horror in fact. Human beings lain waist due to greed, lies and ignorance. So has the other though – just not in the same way – different players and different faces in a haunting gallery of sorrowful remembrance. They both deal with these things as best as they can in ways that they can only hope are reliable.
Both letters are survivors…sitting there bold in a quantum state of electronic and human interface. They share similarities…coming from a common origin – yet also in truth are distinctly different and given to quite different accomplishments in potential and realized meaning. Is one better than the other? What an absurd notion – yet truly at times one is in fact distinctly better than the other to perform a specific task and accomplish a specific meaning.
One of these letters harbors…fear. Fear of going down the wrong road and making the wrong turn at the wrong time – the potential for catastrophic disaster as events and issues compound in a would of uncertainty and the possibility of new or revisited horror. And the other letter? Does it have greater or less fear? Hard to say as fear comes and goes sometimes unbidden following natural laws that echo the poetry of an indifferent cruel Fukushima tide.
It is an unsettling world these letters occupy – but not without hope or wonder. Which letter has the greater responsibility in affecting the other? Well that certainly seems like a very odd mystery of uncertain depth.
One of the letters hopes that the beauty of humanity will shine through and illuminate the other (well in this little play anyway) and that some truth will bring both letters to a better world. How does the other letter feel? Is fear too dominant in the other? The memory of delusion, pain and ungodly hubris too powerful?
I don’t choose a letter. I am content to let you ponder this – assuming you have read this far. If it makes us to briefly occupy common ground for a few moments I find it interesting – as an improvised thought experiment.
Choose your letter dear Infidel. Choose wisely – whether fueled by the forces of economically beneficial fact or whimsy drunk fiction…might it be the most pivotal choice of your life?
Reader Alex recently asked a question in a comment on an older post:
Hi Mike, I’m sorry for my hard words, but there is no other way to tell it. I just read what you say in “About Me”. The very important question that you should pose to yourself some day, when you feel strong, is the following: Considering that just very recently I was stupid enough to be fundamentalist Christian, how can I be now so sure that being an Atheist is very intelligent?
In other words, if I was so wrong before, how can I know I’m right now? It’s a perfectly fair question, and it’s one I’ve asked myself several times. And there are several reasons I think I’m smarter now.
According to the latest post on Hemant’s blog,
a study published by Baylor University researchers finds that “Priming Christian Religious Concepts Increases Racial Prejudice” (PDF).
Basically, the researchers presented subjects with subliminal flashes of words, purportedly to test their ability to detect and differentiate between words versus non-word letter groups seen for only a brief period of time (less than 100ms). Some subjects saw neutral words, like butter or house, while others saw words associated with Christianity, such as Christ, faith, Bible and gospel. They then ran the subjects through a battery of situational questions designed to determine their degree of hostility towards the African Americans in the situations.
Kate Shellnutt summarized the conclusions quite nicely on HoustonBelief:
Researchers offer some possible explanations for why these Christian terms have such negative effects. They can cue fundamentalism or political conservatism, which can isolate “out-groups,” or echo the notion of the Protestant work ethic, which has been connected with anti-Black attitudes, the study said.
The researchers didn’t draw any larger conclusions from this (i.e., that most Christians are racist or anything quite so extreme), though they did insist it was causal rather than correlational.
Something I’ve noticed about myself since getting involved with atheist social groups is that I have an insistent desire to “spread the word.” The dilemma I find myself facing is simple on its face, but leads to much bigger questions: what word should I be spreading?
The more I look around, the more I see pseudoscience and anti-science attitudes flooding our popular culture. Whether it’s a new fad diet (just drink this mega-fruit juice and the pounds will melt away!), a TV show that uncritically swallows supernatural claims (ghosts make the room get cold, so that’s how we know they’re around!), or a news report that encourages people to make up their own minds on an issue that isn’t a matter of opinion (some say that the mercury in the MMR vaccine causes autism, while doctors say the MMR vaccine doesn’t contain mercury at all – you decide!), there’s always some new bit of woo-woo cropping up that can set your teeth on edge.
A few days ago at Starbucks I had a friendly discussion about atheism and skepticism with a barista. She noticed that I was reading Dan Barker’s Godless, which tells the story about how Barker, a former fundamentalist/evangelical Christian preacher, gradually lost his faith and became an atheist (and is now co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation). The book’s subject prompted her to ask if I was an atheist, and when I told her that I was, her reaction was reassuringly nonchalant.