It seems that Christians as of late have stepped up the persecution complex. They have always had one, but ever since the government started not bending over backwards for them (as much), as well as the wider public, they have been screaming, “Persecution!” and “War on Religion!” every chance they can get.
When the Supreme Court ruled in Engel v. Vitale (1962) that public schools could not force students to pray and in Abington School District v. Schempp (1963) that students could not be forced to read the Bible, the Christian right believed that their rights were being taken away.
If forcing children to take part in their religion is a “right,” then yes, that right was taken away. And that’s a good thing. If the Court ruled that about Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Satanism, or any other religion, Christians would be jumping for joy over secularism.
But when it affects their religion and their ability to invade public schools, then they’re obviously being persecuted by the godless liberals who want to enforce Shariah Law (that’s a somewhat paraphrased sentiment that some conservative Christians have expressed in recent years, like Newt Gingrich).
A common thing we will see, or at least I have, is the shirt that says, “This Shirt is Illegal in 51 Countries,” and it has a nice little cross on the front and a giant one on the back with a Bible verse.
Yeah? Well, a shirt that says “Atheist” is illegal in probably just as many, if not more, countries. In fact, in seven countries a person can be put to death for being an atheist. You’re not special, Christians.
I think I’m going to make a shirt that says the same thing but has an atheist A on it (copyright!) and make every atheist wear them everywhere to annoy Christians and let them know that they are not special and not the victim of any kind of special persecution anywhere in the world that is not also, if not exclusively, shown towards gays and/or atheists, least of all in America.
This sort of sentiment that Christians are enduring some kind of special persecution, in American public schools no less, was embodied in a recently released video, called “The Thaw,” made by a fundamentalist Christian organisation by the name 0f Reach America. The video, which stars only children and teenagers, is all about how Christian students are apparently being persecuted in public schools.
I made a response video to this, which is the first legitimate video I’ve made in a long time, where I completely demolished the idea that Christian students are being persecuted in public schools and that Christianity is being “frozen out” of the public square. JT Eberhard also did a brilliant response to the same video over on his blog.
Nonetheless, there are even more examples that can be pointed to.
In a small town in Oklahoma, a high school student recently complained to the Freedom From Religion Foundation that all of the classrooms in his public high school were displaying the Ten Commandments. When the FFRF contacted them and said that the district could be sued if they did not comply with the request, the town of Muldrow, Oklahoma went into full persecution mode.
In response to the brave student’s actions, the student’s sister was harassed at school and the student himself has been shunned by his school and confronted by a linebacker on the school’s football team.
According to the Huffington Post:
Multiple petitions have been signed by hundredsof people, pray-ins have been held at the school, pro-Christian messages lit up Twitter with the hashtag #FightForFaith, and church officials and politicians have railed against the request to remove the religious postings.
The school said that if students wore the shirts they would be asked to turn them inside out, which probably just added fuel to the persecution fire.
Pastor John Moore of Muldrow First Baptist Church said (emphasis mine), “It’s Christianity under attack. It was promised in the scripture [that this would happen].”
They want this to happen. They want to think that they are being persecuted, even though they obviously are not, because they believe that Jesus told them that this would happen and that this would be a sign of the End Times.
The thing is though, they are not being persecuted. They are being told to respect the same laws and Constitution that everyone else is told to. Christianity does not get a special pass to be forced onto students just because they think they have the right to force it onto them.
They think equality means persecution, because they’re so used to be the favoured class in America. They’re used to having a dominance over public life, politics, and culture in America. When that preferential treatment is slowly stripped away and replaced with equality, they are dragged kicking and screaming through the Courts, crying persecution.
The students in “The Thaw” video kept saying that they are being bullied by other students for being Christian. No, they’re being bullied. Being Christian has nothing to do with it, although that may be what the bullies are targeting (statistically speaking though, those bullies are probably Christian too). Gay kids and kids who are perceived to be gay are bullied every day to the point where they commit suicide. Atheist students are bullied. Muslim students are bullied. I was bullied for being bisexual, for being an atheist, and for being effeminate. I had a fucking Bible thrown at my head in a public school!
In the cases of Jessica Ahlquist in Rhode Island, Damon Fowler in Louisiana, Matthew LaClair in New Jersey, and so many other students, including the student in Muldrow, the towns all believed that they were being persecuted and that their rights to believe in what they wanted were being taken away, because one student stood up for what was right and stood up against the majority.
In all of these cases, they believed that because they could not force religion into public schools anymore, that their right to freedom of religion was being taken away. The townspeople, students of the school, and people all across the country threatened these students with bodily harm, rape, and even death. But the Christians are the persecuted ones.
Wanting the government to treat everyone equally through a policy of neutrality is not persecution. Wanting equality is not persecution. Wanting what is right is not persecution.
If you think Christians are persecuted in America, then you should try not being one. Try being the minority. Try being the minority that is literally the most hated minority in the United States, more than gays or Muslims or anyone else. Try being us for one day. Try living in our shoes.
Most atheists were at one point in time religious. We’ve lived in your shoes. We used to think just like you. We know what it’s like to be you. You have no idea what it’s like to be us. Try it. I dare you.
If you would like to hear these points flushed out more, I have a talk called “Step Into the Shoes of an Atheist,” one of the many talks I can give at secular conferences or for secular groups, though I plan on making this particular one a talk that I give to churches and interfaith groups mostly instead of atheist and secular groups.
DISCLAIMER: I am not trying to insult Christians with this. I am trying to insult Ray Comfort though.
If you have been paying attention to Facebook, you might have noticed the attention given recently to Ray Comfort (a.k.a. the Banana Man) and his Facebook page for just all the hilariously stupid stuff that he says.
I decided to go through his Timeline and take screencaps of the most bizarre and stupid. Unfortunately, that seems to be pretty much everything that he says.
For the vast majority of these, I don’t think I have to say much of anything. I think they speak for themselves.
We will start with the most recent and just work our way backwards.
I’m just not going to say anything…
This actually makes me a little scared to be around you, Ray. Kind of sounds like martyrdom.
With a lot of these posts, he seems to be taking the usual atheist talking points and just adding a little Christian twist.
Then how come Europe is trying to ban porn? No seriously. They are trying to have a continent wide ban on porn.
A little homoerotic there. I think Ray has the hots for Jesus.
Coincidentally, one of my middle names is Thomas.
So you’re admitting there is a bunch of dirt in the Bible then, Ray?
Let’s see what Numbers 3-4 actually say.
Numbers 3 starts off with God telling Moses to essentially make the tribe of Levi the slaves of the Israelites (Numbers 3:5-10).
The chapter then ends by God ordering Moses to take a census of the different clans of the Levites, such as Gershonite, Kohathite, and Merarite, and then the entire tribe of Israelites. I don’t know why God would need to take a census, since He is supposedly omniscient, but whatever.
Numbers 4 is entirely about taking specific censuses of the able-bodied men of the clans of the Levites (again, why would God need to know this?) and assigning them different work to carry important religious artifacts and other things for the Israelites, just further insinuating that they are slaves.
Unnecessary censuses and slavery. Why does this make you smile, Ray?
I actually completely agree with you, Ray (except for the part about trying to sell us an “eternal life”).
This statement seems entirely contradictory. God has “everlasting love and mercy” and yet a “terrible wrath” too? Seems like an abusive husband. Loving you one moment, beating you the next.
Yes, I’m going to use the Bible to prove the Bible is correct!
As you can see, I only got to the 21st of February before I finally just gave up trying to find anymore.
I hope you all enjoyed this as much as I hated it. And Ray, I hope you keep doing what you’re doing, because you are the biggest advertisement for godless liberalism since former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum said conservatives will never have “smart people on [their] side.”
I like to read Christian blogs. Not because I’m masochistic or anything. I just like to know what Christians and theists in general are saying about atheism, evolution, etc. It provides me with a kind of inspiration.
There is a particular blog that I have been reading for some time now called Alise Write. It’s a great blog by a great and very articulate woman.
In response to the blatant stereotyping of atheists (and she is married to an atheist), she is starting a new series called The Christian Guide to Atheists. It’s about…well, I’ll let her say it (emphasis mine).
Something that I have discovered in the past three years is that Christians can have of a skewed view of what it means to be an atheist. Until Jason came out, I had almost no interaction with atheists at all, so my perceptions about what it meant to be an atheist were not always accurate. I don’t want you to have those same misunderstandings, so each week, I will be writing a short post for The Christian Guide to Atheists. Because who better to talk to you about atheists and atheism than a Christian, right?
To help her along, I sent her a PowerPoint presentation that I made a long time ago, one of the many talks I can give for the Secular Student Alliance’s Speakers Bureau, with the many misconceptions that I and many other atheists have experienced.
I think this is a great opportunity for atheists to get someone to be an emissary to the Christian community who is not an atheist. Many Christians are simply not going listen an atheist, let alone to another atheist, talking about how we’re not worshipers of Satan, which actually will be the first installment of her series that begins on Monday. They may be more willing to listen to one of their own clear up these misconceptions.
Not only that, but many atheists have a hard time communicating with theists (and vice versa), and I admit, I have a hard time in doing that too. I try to remain as calm and respectful as possible, but sometimes this can be difficult with someone who refuses to do the same or says things that are just completely absurd (*cough cough* Ray Comfort *cough cough*).
I hope that you all will read and enjoy Alise’s series. I will also be doing responses of my own to each of her installments as they go along so that there is a Christian and atheist response to all of these. I look forward to the coming months.
The question of a god is usually asked of people like this, “Do you believe in a god?” People take from this that one can only say yes or no, that it’s a black and white question with no alternatives. From there, they think that one is either an atheist or a theist. There is no middle ground on the question.
This is why many people assert that agnostics do not exist, that they are really just atheists who are afraid of using the label because of the negative connotations with it. Most of these people say that since atheism is defined as not believing in a god, that anyone who is not a theist is automatically lumped into the label of atheist, including agnostics and anyone else who does not claim belief in a god.
Okay. Let’s start with the end of that.
First, atheism is indeed defined as the lack of belief in a god. That doesn’t matter, because an agnostic is defined as, “A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.” They do not have belief or a lack of a belief, making them neither atheists or theists. This makes them the middle ground between the two.
“But but but…what about the question, ‘Do you believe in a god?’ The only possible answers are yes or no!” That is true. With that question, the only answers are that. The question is a strawman and the conclusions that come from it are the same. It doesn’t accurately represent how people feel and think. The question should be, “What are your thoughts on the existence or nonexistence of a god?” People should be able to answer the question however they like, not be forced into two false dichotomous categories, because some people cannot handle gray areas.
The god question should not be a yes or no. It should be free response. Sure, it’s harder to answer, but it gives insight into individuality and personal attitudes. Some might say they believe, they do not believe, they don’t know, they don’t care, they won’t answer until that word is better defined, or anything else they want to say or not say at all.
I know many atheists on the internet and in “real life,” that are afraid to call themselves atheists, or simply refuse to and call themselves something else instead of using the word atheist. I’m not here to call them cowards for doing so, unlike some people I know. However, I have a problem when people claim that atheism is synonymous almost with skepticism, humanism, or “freethought.” People will try to replace atheism with these other labels that do not describe all people who do not believe in a god or gods.
First, “freethinker” is just a pretentious term. If we don’t want theists to think we’re arrogant, calling ourselves “freethinkers,” which makes it seem like we are superior to them somehow, is not the way to do it. Theists call themselves “freethinkers” too anyway. Calling yourself a “freethinker” is like calling yourself a non-conformist. As well, not every atheist thinks freely. There are stubborn, close-minded atheists too. It’s not something that is exclusive to the religious.
Skeptic is another one of those terms that is equated with atheism. Same with “freethinkers” (can you tell I don’t like the label “freethinker” yet?), not everyone is skeptical. Being skeptical of religion is not the same as being skeptical in general. There are many atheists who use homeopathy or believe in all kinds of crazy things that most people would laugh at. Sam Harris, one of America’s leading atheists, believed that there was evidence for psychic powers (he has since recanted this claim).
In a quick, relevant tangent, evolutionist is another label that is given to atheists. However, not all atheists believe in evolution, and there are theists who do believe in it. Some atheists believe, my brother used to, that aliens created us in a fashion similar to the creation myth of Genesis or some nonsense like that. Another reason we aren’t all freethinkers or skeptics.
Then there is humanist. This one is used a lot to replace atheist, probably the most of all of them. Humanism is the “philosophy asserting human dignity and man’s capacity for fulfillment through reason and scientific method.” Not all atheists are humanists. I would say most in Western countries are, as atheists tend to be more liberal, but it’s not something that can be used to describe all atheists. There are conservative atheists (yes, they do exist) that are far from being humanists. Was Stalin an atheist? Unfortunately, yes. Was he a humanist? Certainly not.
Atheist is the term used to describe someone who lacks belief in a god. That’s not a humanist, and that’s not a skeptic or a “freethinker.” I get why people use these terms as euphemisms in certain cases, but it just does not describe people who lack belief in a god or gods. The only thing that people who lack belief in a god can be called are atheists. People can be humanists, skeptics, and “freethinkers” (and evolutionists) and still believe in a god of some kind, and atheists can still call themselves these things, but these terms do not replace or even equate atheism, and they should not be used as such.
During the most recent episode of Dogma Debate, we had on John Christy, a Christian listener of the show, for David Smalley and the rest of us to converse with. The segment was supposed to be only about twenty minutes long, maybe forty at the most, but we ended up talking to him for over an hour and a half. A reason for that is because 1) we had a lot to talk about, and 2) he takes forever to say anything.
He was a nice guy. I am not trying to hate on John. I like him as a person. I am not a bigot against Christians, as much as Christians (and some atheists) would like to think I am. I do not like his beliefs. I do not like what he stands for. I do not like the source he claims is his moral compass. There’s a difference. If the Christian can say, “Hate the sin, love the sinner,” then we can say, “Hate the beliefs, not the believer,” which is how I felt about John.
A very big problem I did have with him during the show was how when asked very specific and direct questions, he would employ how it takes forever for him to say anything, which derails the conversation to avoid actually answering the question. While the show was going on, I got comments from listeners who were saying exactly that. When repeatedly asked the same question because he was avoiding it, he just continued to ramble on as if he did not hear a thing (which maybe he honestly didn’t because he was calling in on Skype).
Getting onto some specific points from the discussion.
John claimed that Jesus was breaking the Mosaic Laws, such as when he broke the Sabbath, and this is why we shouldn’t follow those laws anymore. The problem here is that it’s not biblically accurate, which is funny, because John kept saying that we weren’t being biblically accurate, neither was the North Carolina pastor who wanted every gay to be put into a giant concentration camp for them to die off in.
The reason John is not biblically accurate is because Jesus was angered by the Pharisees for not following the Laws of Moses, as is clear in Mark 7:9-13.
And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)—then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother.Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
Jesus is clearly mad that people are not following the Old Testament laws, especially the hypocrites who claimed he was not. Jesus wants us to follow the Old Testament laws of Moses. Jesus wants disobedient children to be executed. It’s right there in black and white.
In response to when I pressured him about this, John claimed that Jesus was a law-breaker, that he broke the Sabbath repeatedly. This is partially true. Jesus was accused of working the Sabbath by the Pharisees, because he ate grain on the Sabbath, which required work. Also, the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath by healing the sick. However, according to an apologetics site, Jesus was not sinning when he worked on the Sabbath.
When Jesus healed on the Sabbath, He was not breaking the Sabbath, but fulfilling it, because one is not at rest when afflicted, oppressed and bound by disease or infirmity. As many scriptures show, God delights in redeeming and restoring the afflicted, and giving them the rest exemplified by His Sabbath. God “hears the cry of the afflicted. When he gives quietness [rest], who then can make trouble?” (Job 34:28–29).
I’m not saying that I agree with the either John or the apologetics site, but it’s funny to see how Christians disagree with each other so much with their interpretations of who Jesus was, what he did, what he taught, and how we should live our lives according to his teachings.
Now the reason John brought this up was because he was saying that the coming of Jesus, that his time here on Earth, was him creating a new covenant and getting rid of the Mosaic Laws, such as stoning gays, disobedient children, people of other faiths, people who work on the Sabbath, and other people for what today would be considered barbaric and for arbitrary reasons. Well, that same article on Jesus breaking the Sabbath has this to say on that.
Had Jesus Christ actually broken the Sabbath, He would have been sinning. But the Scripture says that He “committed no sin” (1 Peter 2:22). Had He sinned, He could not be our Savior. But He, being undefiled and separate from sinners, offered Himself without spot and without blemish to God for our redemption (Hebrews 7:26; 9:14; 1 Peter 1:18–19).
Breaking the Sabbath, according to these Christians, is a sin even today. John did not say that Jesus did not break the Sabbath because he was doing God’s will or because it was a matter of life or death, only that Jesus broke the Sabbath, because he was creating a new covenant for people to live by. I, if I were a Christian, would spin this to say that the new covenant had already been made, so Jesus was still perfect and had not sinned, therefore he could still be sacrificed to God (who is himself…but is also his father…but is also a part of him…who is still separate…and then there’s that Holy Ghost thing…what?) for the sins that he let happen.
Speaking of, Smalley also tried to get an answer out of John on this one. Jesus was a sacrifice to God for the sins that God was fully aware were going to happen. God knew that Adam and Eve were going to sin by eating from the Tree of Knowledge. John responded to this by going around the question and speaking for a really long time without really saying anything that had anything to do with the question.
Here is the difference between Christians and atheists. Christians, when faced with the tough questions, will make excuses and/or go around the question itself. Atheists will straight up answer that question.
Another thing he claimed was that Christianity does not command the murder of people for things such as homosexuality, fornication, adultery, working on the Sabbath, etc. This is why he thought, when we played the audio of it, that the North Carolina pastor was being biblically inaccurate for what he said. However, nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus, or anyone for that matter, say that the laws of Moses have been voided, and it is all the more clear that Jesus himself wants us to follow those laws with how he quoted them himself. If he did not want us to follow these laws, then it would be just another contradiction added to the mountain of contradictions found in the Bible.
My favourite part of the interview, the part where you just want to facepalm so badly, is when John said this.
I’m not even allowed now to have my own opinion to myself. I don’t go out and attack homosexuals. I disagree with the Westboro Baptist Church, you know. But I can’t even just think that it’s sin in my own life. Now I have to conform to what society believes, otherwise, I’m gonna be in trouble. I’m gonna lose my friends…
Bigots should be ostracised. Why is the KKK ostracised? Why is it considered a hate group? Because it is! Soon NOM and other anti-gay groups and people will be seen as the same, and they should be. Persecuting others for their sexuality or their gender or their race is not acceptable. Thinking that they are inferior, that they are going to hell, that they are going to be eternally punished because of something that they can’t control should be frowned upon for so many reasons.
However, Christians are not persecuted in America. Christians are not banned from holding public office in several states. Christians are not misrepresented in the media. Christians are not told that less than half of all Americans would vote for them. Christians are not legally allowed to be discriminated against in the workplace. Atheists are. Gays are. No Christian can say they feel persecuted in a country where 80% of the population are Christian.
The site Skeptic Money recently released a post about a study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), which is affiliated with the University of Chicago. The study is called “Belief About God Across Time and Country,” and it details people from across many different nations and if they are certain that a god exists. Skeptic Money’s post on the study is short (at about seven sentences) and not so sweet, as it presents fallacious reasoning about what an atheist is.
At the top (or bottom) of the list in the study is East Germany with a whopping 0% under the age of 28 saying that they are certain that a god exists or not. The United States is over half at 53.8% of respondents under the age of 28 saying they were certain that a god exists. This is bad news for us in the United States’ irreligious population but great news for Europe’s (fuckers).
I digress though. The author of the post had this to say:
If the person says yes [to are they certain that God exists] then they are a theist (the belief that at least one deity exists). If they say they don’t know, or are not sure etc… then they are an atheist. If you are not sure if god exists then you cannot have a belief in that deity. Therefore, you are an atheist!
This new report says that only 54% of Americans under the age of 28 are “Certain God Exists”. That means that 46% are NOT sure that god exists. If you aren’t certain that god even exists then you ARE an atheist!
This is just flat-out false.
One does not have to be certain that a god exists in order to be a theist. Being uncertain, however small of doubt there may be, does not make someone an atheist. Sure, some amount of doubt might someday years down the road turn some into atheists, but simply because they are not certain does not mean that they do not believe or are not theists.
If the same logic is applied to atheism, one could easily say that in order to be an atheist one must be certain that a god does not exist and that any kind of admittance that one is not sure means that they are a theist. We would be quick to call this ignorant and downright stupid, because it is.
This kind of definition of atheist is a strawman in order to get more numbers for the atheist demographic, and it is a terrible attempt at that. A similar tactic is also used by people who think that one is either an atheist or a theist in order to get agnostics on their side, even though agnosticism is its own separate category.
I am sure that the majority of those 46% of people still believe in a god and would resent anyone who dare call them an atheist. If anything is counterproductive to the atheist/secular movement, calling someone something that they clearly are not or do not identify with definitely is.
I recently ran across this photo.
Now as most people know, one does not simply wake up in the morning (feeling like P. Diddy) and all of their feelings for a partner are all suddenly gone. Feeling like there are no more feelings for this person is not an overnight experience or event. It is not something that happens just like that. It is something that can take weeks, months, or years. One cannot just say at a random moment, “I no longer love this person,” for no reason whatsoever and mean it.
Take your most recent relationship where you were the one who initiated the breaking up. Did you just wake up one morning (I will not make a Ke$ha joke again, I promise) and feel like you no longer loved or cared about that person? No, of course not. You started to feel doubts about the relationship months beforehand, and you may or may not have tried to ignore them, but at that moment you did not lose all feelings for this person, nor would anyone call you someone who does not love them.
Despite your doubts, however small or large, you still loved or cared about this person to some extent. As the months went on, more and more things may have led to more doubts about the relationship, such as fights or broken promises, but you still loved them, even if that love was dwindling. At some point during this time you did not go from loving to not loving this person in an instant. There is a time when you may just not know if you love them or not. Believe me, I have had many instances where this has happened to me during my past relationships.
The same can be said for and applied to deconversions. One does not wake up and say one day to themselves that they are now an atheist. It takes months or even years of uncertainty to finally become one. A person does not go from theist to atheist in an instant, with or without doubts. There is a time when you just do not know if you believe or not, a time when you are agnostic.
I have run into many people who think that agnostics do not exist, that one is either an atheist or a theist. When it is pointed out to them how deconversions work, when someone usually does not have belief and does not lack belief in a god or does not know if they believe in a god or not, people tend to say something like, “They were switching back and forth from theist to atheist.”
There just seems to be no middle-ground with these people. It is obviously a false dichotomy that they are promoting. This proposition is merely absurd. That tiny amount of doubt, that split second of asking yourself if a god exists or not, does not make you an atheist in any way. Everyone has doubts at some point or another, but they are not atheists. If I doubt if evolution is real, does that make me a Creationist, even for that split second of doubt? No. Even if I were to severely doubt evolution, that does not make me a Creationist. It makes me someone who does not know and does not know if I believe in evolution or not.
The people who say these things are also the same people who scoff at the lousy childhood actor turned fundamentalist Christian Kirk Cameron when he says that he once was an atheist. Yes, it is preposterous to think that he honestly was an atheist at any point in time, but if people can switch from atheist to theist and back again when they question things, however slightly, then Kirk Cameron was an atheist along with everyone else who has ever questioned the existence of a god, even if it were only for a split second.
In one of my other posts, I showed this picture that is actually an example for evolution and how small changes over time can become one really large change. I would like to show that picture again here.
Theist will be red, atheist blue, and agnostic purple.
So where is the first atheist word in this paragraph? Where is the first agnostic word? Did red (theist) just jump over into blue (atheist)? No. It took time. It took months or years of doubt building up inside someone’s mind.
It is hard to say when someone is an agnostic, but if they look at where they are themselves and want to call themselves an agnostic, that is up to them. Sure they may be very close to blue (atheist), but if they want to say that they are purple (agnostic), let them.
At one point, someone may be far enough in the blue to call themselves an atheist, but do not force them. Do not belittle them or call them cowards. So many atheists want to say that agnostics are just atheists without balls or that all agnostics are really atheists who just will not admit it. As has been shown numerous times over my most recent posts, agnostics do exist, and they are their own category that does not need to pushed into the false dichotomy that people set up.
What is even worse is trying to belittle atheists who are in the closet about it.
The person who might want to breakup with their partner may just not be able to. Maybe they have too much financially entwined. Maybe they have a child together. Maybe they don’t want to hurt their partner’s feelings. There are atheists who deeply care for their theist friends and family. Some are involved heavily with their church. They cannot just get up and yell to everyone and to the heavens, “I’m an atheist! I knew all along it was a myth and a scam and you know it too!” Yes, we should encourage them to come out and to not be afraid of being ostracised, even when they very well could be, but telling them that they are cowards or insulting their family is not the way to get them to come out. It is entirely counterproductive and just makes atheists look bad.
PS: I know many people are tired of this subject about agnostics and false dichotomies, not just from me but in general. I apologise, but I continue to hear people making these fallacious arguments, so I tried to make this as brief as possible.
Astrophysicist and populariser of science Neil DeGrasse Tyson recently said in a Big Think interview that he calls himself an agnostic. He said that atheists are outgoing people who want to change public policies and have debates and that the word “atheist” has so much baggage attached to it. He calls himself an agnostic, simply because that’s the word that he says describes him best and that he would prefer if there were not any categories at all over such things.
Unlike some people out there, I agree with him, at least to a certain extent. In the interview he talks about how taking on such labels makes people assume so many things about someone and that this is no way to talk to them. If someone says they are a Christian, we do not automatically assume that they are a fundamentalist Young Earth Creationist wanting to change our laws to fit with the Bible and ban evolution from the schools and burn every copy of On the Origin of Species. Of course not, we learn about what they think of the Bible and Christianity and go from there. I wish Christians would do the same for us though. Golden Rule anyone?
I too would prefer if there were no words for things like atheism, agnosticism, theism, or anything else on the god question. If it were not for foolish people inventing imaginary friends and forcing them onto everyone else, especially their children, we would have no need for such labels or to be actively opposed to them.
And here is where I differ with Tyson. Being an atheist does not mean that you are actively opposed or “proudly wear the badge” of atheism. What Tyson is describing here is an activist, not necessarily an atheist though. I may go so far as to say that he’s confusing atheists with antitheists. The atheists we see and hear about all the time are the activist ones that are “in your face” about it. This is merely a stereotype though. No different from the stereotype that all gay men are flamboyant fairies. No, those are just the ones we see at gay pride parades and in pop culture. I know plenty of very passive atheists who do not confront theists at all, in fact some of them, not all, will try to accommodate them so as not to offend and actually confront me to avoid confrontation with theists. They are still atheists though (as much as I do not like these people on a personal level).
I also disagree with his assertion that if he were an atheist then he might be biased in his work to support his preconceived notions about the world. The reason that most people became atheists was because they rejected their initial thoughts about what the Universe was and contained within it and wanted to learn the truth, no matter how upsetting it may be. Just because one is an atheist does not mean that they are going to be biased when they see something they may disagree with (but yes, that does happen much like with any other human being). Most atheists will say when you ask them what would change their mind about the existence of a god? Nine times out of ten they say, “Evidence. Independently verifiable evidence.”
However, I do agree with him and will defend his claim of being an agnostic. People are claiming that since he does not claim belief in a god then he’s automatically an atheist. That just is not the case. In one of my recent posts, I explained how agnosticism is a standalone position from either theism or atheism. Yes, he does not believe in a god, but he also does not disbelieve in a god either. He simply does not know if one exists or not. He’s neither an atheist nor a theist. He’s an agnostic, at least that is what he thinks is the label closest to how he feels. I personally would not call him anything from what he’s saying about not wanting any labels.
Even if all agnostics were really just atheists, so what? Is it up to someone else to define people? Is it up to someone else to give everyone a label just for their own convenience? If someone wants to call themselves an agnostic or simply not call themselves anything at all, let them. It is not someone else’s business what they call themselves. I call myself bisexual, but I have never been with someone of the same gender. I know plenty of people (gay and straight) who would call me straight because of that. I could go to the grave never having sex with someone of the same gender and I would still call myself bisexual no matter what someone might say about it. It’s not about how other people want to call me. It’s about how I feel and how I want to label myself.
As Neil DeGrasse Tyson points out in the interview, there is a lot of baggage that comes with the label of “atheist.” That baggage just is too much for some people, especially if they live in places such as the Bible Belt (such as myself) or the Middle East (where they can be executed under blasphemy laws). We should not blame people for being afraid to come out as atheists no matter where they are though. We should not blame them, but we should still encourage them to come out as atheists and other nonreligious people. Telling them the wonders of science and atheist solidarity is a much better approach than calling them cowards or insulting the theists they may still have close ties to.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson may actually be an atheist. He may just be purposely not using the atheist label so as to not automatically turn off the brains of theists to what he’s saying. If they think, “He’s just some atheist scientist,” then he might not be as effective as an educator. If they think, “Oh, he’s an agnostic,” they may be more receptive to what he’s saying, which is a good thing if we wish to educate people on the validity and awesomeness of science and bring science to the masses so as to prevent things such as Creationism entering our schools and climate change denialists changing public policy and deregulating corporations that destroy the environment.
As he said in the interview, he’s not an activist or wanting to be a part of some movement of atheists, and it’s his job, not ours, to label himself. He’s an educator. The only “-ist” he is and ever will be is a scientist.
- An acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists
- Something one accepts as true or real; a firmly held opinion or conviction
- A religious conviction
- Trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something
- Facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject
- What is known in a particular field or in total; facts and information
- True, justified belief; certain understanding, as opposed to opinion
- Awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation
I would like to draw attention to that second to last line there.
“True, justified belief”
It is often said that because knowledge and belief have two different definitions that they are two separate things, that belief equates theism and knowledge equates gnosticism. This is based entirely off etymology alone, not usage of modern language, vernacular, or human psychology.
Knowledge and belief are not two different scales or options that split people into four, exclusive little categories based solely on etymology. Knowledge, according to Plato, is a belief that is justified by evidence and reason. They are not separate things that go in two different directions. Belief and knowledge are simply different sections on the same sliding scale.
On one end of the spectrum, there are claims that fly in the face of evidence and reason, such as Intelligent Design/Creationism. As we go further down the spectrum, more and more evidence supports the claims that are made, making them more justified to believe; eventually, we can start saying that we know them to be true instead of simply believing that they are. At the other end of the spectrum there are claims that people accept and know to be true beyond a reasonable doubt because of a mountain of evidence supporting it, such as the theory of evolution.
Another spectrum that can be used in this discussion would be Richard Dawkins’ seven point scale of belief that he talks about in his famous book The God Delusion. On one end you have “strong theist” (1) and on the other you have “strong atheist” (7). These could be called states of mind on the existence of a god. In the book Dawkins calls himself a six. In several interviews since the book has been released he has repeatedly called himself a 6.9 instead of merely a six. I personally would call myself a 6.999999999999999…999999 (you get the point). At that point, I might as well just round up to seven, even though it is not quite fully seven.
A nice metaphor I would like to draw is one that is commonly used against Creationists to help them understand evolution and how small changes occur over time.
What is the first purple (agnostic) word? What is the first blue (atheist) word? Where does atheist switch over to theist? Where does etymology come into play here? Conversions, reconversions, and deconversions can take years. It is not something where someone is automatically now an atheist. There is a time of transition when someone just does not know or claim to believe either way or even know where they stand on the issue. Some might even stay that way.
Now I know it doesn’t seem like it, but I really hate playing “My Definition is Better Than Yours,” but I’ll keep doing it:
- A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God
That last part is what I have come to realise what an agnostic person is, “A person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.”
Agnosticism is a valid and stand-alone position, despite what some people may say that because they do not claim belief in a deity, they fall into the false dichotomous position of atheist. They also do not claim disbelief, or lack of belief, in a deity either. They are not atheists or theists. They are neither believers nor non-believers. They are agnostics. They are “I don’t know-believers.” Let’s go with “IDK-believers” for short and to appeal to the youth out there.
Do not confuse agnostics with “apatheists,” who I will call “meh-believers” just for the hell of it. Apatheism is a peculiar position that I will go into very quickly. An apatheist is someone who may or may not necessarily believe in a deity, but they just do not care one way or the other if a god exists or not, or they claim neither belief nor disbelief simply because they do not care one way or the other. The god question is not something that they care about or think is relevant to them. Personally, I think they are foolish for thinking that. The question, “Does a god exist?” and the resulting actions taken out by people on either side has profound societal consequences for everyone, as we have seen from Republicans trying to take contraception away from women based entirely off religious reasons.
A person who is agnostic may fall close to atheism or close to theism on the belief and knowledge spectrum, so I can partially understand why someone might call themselves an agnostic (a)theist if that is the case (or even an (a)theistic agnostic), but describing all atheists and theists as agnostic or gnostic is simply unnecessary at best. There is no need for any qualifier to the words atheist or theist.
If someone really wanted to, then as we go further and further on ends of the spectrum, one could call themselves a “gnostic (a)theist.” Just like with the “agnostic (a)theists,” I can partially understand it, even if I disagree with the labeling. I know from some of my most recent videos, such as I Know God Doesn’t Exist, that people have started calling me a “gnostic atheist,” and several friends and followers of mine have started saying that they are “gnostic atheists” as well because of my videos. I would like to say that I do not call myself that. I am an atheist. No extra words needed.
In my videos, I was not endorsing “gnostic atheism.” I was, if anything, explaining my views on ignosticism (not agnosticism for those of you who think I misspelled something). I have run into similar problems with ignosticism that I have had with agnosticism. People seem to think that because they do not believe in a god that they are automatically atheists. However, they also do not lack belief. They also are not “IDK-believers.” They are “what the fuck are you even talking about-believers.” Possibly “WTF-believers” for short.
Using the word “believers” at all for agnostics, apatheists, and ignostics may cause some confusion. I do not recommend using these terms to describe anyone; I’m just using it here alone and possibly within my own blog to help make sense of these stances and philosophies.
Since I have made these videos, some people have been confused with my stances, saying that I can not say I know a god does not exist if I claim ignosticism. This is from ignorance of the stances themselves. To make it as clear as possible, I am “gnostic,” for brevity’s sake, about the theistic gods. I know they do not exist. I can prove definitively with science that they do not. There is no question in my mind that Jehovah, Vishnu, Thor, etc. do not exist. This is why I call myself an atheist, but I do not say that I am a “gnostic atheist” simply because I see no point to these extra labels.
Now an ignostic is someone who does not take a position on the god question until the very term “god” itself is properly defined. Do not confuse this with agnosticism. Agnostics take a stance somewhere in the middle on the belief and knowledge spectrum. Ignostics are not even on that spectrum. They are their own little group separate from the three other categories.
I would say that I am ignostic about a deistic god. Because the term “god” itself is so poorly defined once all claims of theistic gods are destroyed, there is no reason to believe or not believe in a deistic god or gods. The theistic gods have qualities and characteristics that we can test for and see if they really do exist, such as Jehovah’s creation story in the book of Genesis.
A deistic god, which is basically a theistic god watered down by science and philosophy, is too vague to properly define, and those that have been defined, such as those touted by philosopher William Lane Craig, have also been discredited and debunked just like any theistic god out there. All claims about a god, whether theistic or deistic, have been debunked.
This is why I say that I know even a deistic god does not exist. I am not agnostic about it. I am just as agnostic about a deistic god as I am about the Celestial Teapot or the Zsadlfkjasdiagrb. For those readers who do not know what in the hell I just typed, do not be alarmed.
“God” is so poorly defined, but people, as in some atheists, say that they do not know if one exists or not. This is why I created the term “Zsadlfkjasdiagrb” (pronunciation: Zuh-sad-loofk-jaz-dee-ahh-gurb), in a discussion with a (former) friend of mine and fellow atheist (I think), in order to show the vagueness of the term “god” itself. I do not know what the Zsadlfkjasdiagrb is, what its characteristics or qualities are, but I know it is not real.
It is a made up thing. It does not require my belief or disbelief. Doing any of that gives undeserved credence to the concept of the Zsadlfkjasdiagrb. The same can be said of a god. The very concept of a god was made up by fearful, superstitious people that did not understand the natural world around them and attached “god” to the things they could not explain. These evolved into the gods of the world’s religions that we see today. Characteristics and qualities that we could recognise and partially understand were attributed to different gods for different things, and we debunked them all. We showed with science how these gods simply do not exist. Once the theistic gods are gone, what is left? Nothing.
Characteristics were given to the Zsadlfkjasdiagrb when I first made videos about it. People said they imagined a drunk, French Zoidberg from the show Futurama. Does this exist? Obviously not. Once that is gone, the Zsadlfkjasdiagrb no longer exists as anything but a word that someone made up, same with a god.
Another pretty picture to help explain this.
Is anyone agnostic towards the invisible chair? No. Is anyone a theist towards the invisible chair? I would hope not. Is anyone an atheist towards the invisible chair? There is no need to be. Calling oneself an atheist towards the invisible chair or “god” is giving unnecessary credit to the very concept of such a thing when it simply does not exist.
Another problem I have run into is when I say that I am a 6.999999999999999…999999 on the seven point Dawkins scale. People will say, “Then you aren’t 100% sure, therefore you can’t say you know a god doesn’t exist!” Again, with my stance I might as well round up to a seven or up to 100% sure. I will not though, because I cannot be 100% certain of anything by certain people’s definitions of knowledge and certainty, even my own existence, and I do not care to go down that rabbit hole, but I still know that the invisible chair and “god” do not exist.
To explain this, I wrote a quick post in response to this common objection weeks ago, which I have since slightly tweaked from its original form that I think is appropriate to be used here as a closing statement.
If I draw a square in the sand, it is not perfect, but it is still considered a square by most. If I draw a square with the aid of a ruler, even though we are getting closer it is not perfect, but it is still considered a square. If I draw a square with the aid of a computer that gets it within one-millionth of an inch in accuracy, it is still not perfect, but it is still considered a square. None of these are perfect squares. You can say a square is when all four sides are perfectly equal, but even the most advanced pieces of technology and machinery cannot make such a thing. Even if it is only one atom off, that automatically makes it not a perfect square. Closer and closer we get to a perfect square with the advancement of science and technology, but we will probably never be able to make a perfect square, but for semantic reasons we say that these are still squares and not rectangles or trapezoids. The same can be applied to disproving the existence of a god. We may not be able to definitively disprove its existence and be one-hundred percent sure, much like we cannot make a perfect square, but for semantic reasons we know that a god, even a deistic god, does not exist.