Thursday, July 2, 2009

Christian and Atheist Bloggers Abound

I started this site sometime last fall and, until recently, I could probably count on the fingers of one hand how many people actually read it. While the site is not devoted exclusively to Christian apologetics, my first post explicitly devoted to that subject [Apologia] seemed to provoke a modest spike in readership, as indicated by the site meter. I also received three unsolicited friendly comments from fellow Christians who are otherwise total strangers to me. One of them, who goes by the pen name of Makarios, has a very impressive blog dedicated exclusively to Christianity and apologetics. Not only is his writing more prolific than mine, but he is head and shoulders more knowledgeable. My hat is off to him.

The posts at Makarios are characterized by calm reason, logic, and some occasional mild humor aimed at making the case for theism in general and Christianity in particular, and pointing out the huge flaws in atheistic or materialistic thinking. Yet what never ceases to amaze me at this site and others like it is how it attracts responses from countless atheist bloggers of all stripes.

Before even examining what these atheists have to say, the first thing that strikes the casual reader is their colorful pen names: “Còmhradh”, “Stan the Half-Truth Teller”, “The Atheist Missionary”, “No Guy in the Sky” and “PersonalFailure”; to name a few. The next noteworthy characteristic is the vehement, vicious and vitriolic nature of their responses, which stand in stark contrast to the level headed reason and kindness of the blog’s host.

It is one thing to have a disagreement and/or a respectful debate regarding the existence of God or the origins of the universe. I am happy to engage atheists on the subject and, if at the end of the day we still don't agree, still respect them for it. They are welcome, if they like, to post comments here and I will do my best to respond. (I only ask that they show a modicum of civility. I would like to keep this site at no worse than a PG rating, so if they insist on lacing their comments with gratuitous expletives and potshots that add nothing to the debate, I will exercise my prerogative as the blog’s author and send their comments to that great recycle bin in cyberspace.)

But here is my question to the plethora of atheist bloggers out there: If God really does not exist, what is the point of the mockery and silly potshots that are typical of “The Atheist Missionary” and his friends? If there is no God, and we are in fact nothing but matter and energy and biochemical material that will eventually decompose, why is it so necessary to lash out with vehemence against those who believe in God? Time will sort all of that out, right? In the meantime, Vive la difference!

As I’ve said elsewhere, methinks the atheist doth protest too loudly. My suspicion is that our atheist friends aren't really all that sure of themselves. Atheism is not just a sober conclusion based on evidence or lack thereof that perhaps there is no God. Rather, atheism is itself a religion, and its god will allow no rivals. Neither will it consider evidence that it might be mistaken.


His Lordship The Gun-Toting Atheist said...

Atheism is not a religion. It is merely the absence of belief in a deity. I suppose you could say that aleprechaunism is the absence of belief in leprechauns. Now, even if a few old Irishmen in Co. Carlow do worship leprechauns, I fail to see how that would elevate aleprechaunism to the status of a bona fide religion.

I come from a largely secular background, where religion is far less popular a hobby than, say, Elvis impersonation or garden gnome collecting. It's not that I was indoctrinated to be hostile to religion, it is simply that I was not exposed to religion in my community. Therefore I see little difference between Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I find none of these more convincing than the others. Based on the standards of my community of origin, they all seem to be equally strange belief systems.

I am yet to see, hear or experience anything that would lead me to believe that there might be a deity. While no scientific experiment could be designed to disprove the existence of an invisible, inaudible, imperceptible supreme being, the burden of proof is on theists, not on atheists.

All babies are born atheist. Religion is something that is taught to them by their parents. No baby is ever born Christian, or Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu(except perhaps, if he is reincarnated? :), so to conclude, I have to make the statement that atheism, rather than being a religion, is merely the status quo, the clean slate.

Peace be with you.

The Maryland Crustacean said...

Again, thanks for commenting.

You are technically correct that atheism is not a religion. It would be more precise to call it a world view. But “world view” and religion have this in common: they both offer a comprehensive view of the world and human life, an orientation or framework into which everything fits and makes some kind of sense.

But I describe atheism as a religion for a number of reasons. Many atheists (not all) see humankind as the pinnacle of the multi-billion-year evolutionary process, achieving enough self awareness and intelligence (for better or for worse) to the point of having to confront the awful awareness that the universe is meaningless, that we are all going to die, and that we somehow have to make the best of our world, whatever “best” is. From this position of intelligence and self awareness and having to answer to no one, man achieves godlike status.

(On a side note, I am mildly amused by your last paragraph. Again, it is true enough that we are taught a religion by our parents, that no baby is born Christian. But the clean slate idea reminds me of the Rousseauian fallacy that all children are born innocent but become evil due to environmental factors around them. Any parent will tell you that they do not need to teach their children to be greedy, vindictive or self centered. These attributes come quite naturally.)

But I digress. While I am not convinced that children are born with a clean slate when it comes to religion, let’s grant it for the sake of argument. How then do you explain the prevalence of religious belief? I talked about this in another post ( ), positing the theory that man created religious belief as a means of dealing with the frightening world around him and particularly with the terror of his own mortality. But in keeping with your idea of being born neutral with a clean slate, it is equally plausible that man would rather not have to be subservient and accountable to a deity, because the unknowns of an afterlife might be much more terrifying than the finality of death.

Here in particular, atheism takes on more of the characteristics of a religion: not just the mere absence of a belief in God, but rather an active and vehement insistence that there is no God. This is what I have observed among many of the atheist bloggers I have read. I am curious as to why. Some might cite the supposed harm caused by the excesses of religious belief, seeing religion as something that must be stamped out for the good of humanity (whatever “good” is). No doubt that whenever organized religion has gotten into bed with the state and has achieved temporal power, that same power has predictably corrupted the church. But the problem there is not religion but rather the corrupting influence of temporal power, which is equally capable of corrupting atheists in power. Examples abound. The French Revolution, the Communist Revolutions of the 20th century, etc. etc., made the darkest moments of church history look like a boy scout jamboree.

But I think most of it comes down to a strong preference—even a desperate preference—that there be no God to whom we must give account. Huxley was honest enough to admit this was his motivation. I suspect (though I cannot know for sure) that this is the same motivation that exists among many of the atheist bloggers I see. I particularly see it among those who say that at one time they considered themselves to be Christians. They probably know enough about Christianity to realize that—if per chance Christianity is true—they are in a heap of trouble. Particularly if they had professed Christianity and have now turned their backs on it, they might think (incorrectly) that there is no returning again, that God would never accept them. This might be the reason they are so vehement in their professed atheism, because they must loudly convince themselves as well as everyone else that Christianity is false. But I am only conjecturing at this point.

His Lordship The Gun-Toting Atheist said...

Dear Crustacean, I think we are dealing here with two varieties of atheism. The 'clean-slate' brand of atheism that I hinted at, if it is in fact a world-view, it is an unconscious one. Anti-theism, on the other hand, is a conscious rejection of theism, and yes, in that case, it is definitely a world-view. Atheism is therefore a broad category, and anti-theism is merely a subset of it. Most 'clean-slate' atheists are simply secular folk who may not necessarily have the drive to argue theology online.

That said, I respect the right of people to believe as they see fit. What concerns me, and other atheist bloggers, are situations where religious belief reinforces or justifies acts of violence. Case in point, the recently uncovered Hutaree plot to murder police officers in an effort to kick-start the battle of Armageddon and hasten the second coming of Christ.

Or the 9/11 jihadists who hijacked airplanes and crashed them into the World Trade Center (although several Christian bloggers have pointed out to me that it is possible to undermine Islam without having to undermine Christianity at the same time, but that is a topic of conversation for a different day.)

Such are examples of religiously-motivated violence that bother many atheists. Atheistic rejection of religious fundamentalism is seen by many as way to achieve peace in this world.

Also of concern is the arrogant 'crusader-patriot' mentality of many in this country which results in keeping us involved in very costly middle-eastern wars, and who perpetuates the xenophobic myth of 'us versus them'. A disturbing trend is that nationalist warmongering folk often seem to be devoutly religious.

Granted, violent religious fundamentalists are the minority. And attempting to undermine all matter of theism is seen by many as a way to turn off the valve at the source; there cannot be religious fundamentalism without religion.

At the root, I am therefore a pacifist, and I sometimes see religion as a hurdle on the way to peace, specifically when people ignore the Christian message of peace and instead focus on hate and fear. Fortunately, I know that most Christians are peaceful and friendly, and I am in no way trying to antagonize them.

People aren't born 'good' or 'evil', in my opinion. People are just people. Whether someone is good or evil is in the eye of the beholder. I think people have the potential to be selfish or altruistic, and it all depends on their predisposition, their education, and ultimately, their environment.

Peace be with you.