Take A Deep Breath

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There’s some kind of critter playing peek-a-boo with me.

I’ve taken a brief hiatus from religious writing. It’s been a struggle to find the time – and more specifically the motivation – to adequately research my projects, but I’ll get back to those and publish the rest of the series I was working on when that happens.  Sometimes it’s just good to take a break to breathe in some fresh air and recharge my batteries, and do some thinking.

What is strong atheism? From the StongAtheism website I found the following definition:

Strong Atheism is the proposition that we should not suspend judgment about the non-existence of a god or gods. More extensively, it is a positive position against theistic values, semantics and anti-materialism, a rational inquiry in the nature of religious thought, a new way of thinking about religious and spiritual issues.

This doesn’t seem to be completely where I am.  I’m…ambivalent.  Ambivalent about being hostile toward theistic values and anti-materialism because ultimately that means being hostile toward people.  Perhaps it’s because I spent so much time there. Maybe that’s not even what’s meant by having a positive position against theistic values.  It seems to be the tactic that’s taken against theists, though.  I’m not even absolutely certain that I’m a materialist, though I don’t think I have to be to make a rational inquiry into religious thought and to develop or have a new way of thinking about spiritual issues.

I do feel I have rational reasons for believing that the God of the Bible, nor any god that has been proposed to date, exists.  If there is a “creator” I don’t think it’s those gods.  At the same time other people who I would call rational come to vastly different conclusions about that.  Does that mean that they are wrong?  Or that perhaps I am?

According to many sects of Christianity, if I am wrong, I’ll have a high price to pay.  Which is one of the reasons I don’t believe that god exists.  BibleGod is invisible.  BibleGod has left little to no empirical evidence of his existence – just possible footprints(because there’s stuff we don’t have empirical evidence of) – which may or may not be his(or some other god’s or gods’).   BibleGod says that if I don’t believe in what I can’t see I will spend eternity in hell.  That doesn’t square with a just deity. With the stakes so high it would seem that justice would call for his existence to be less ambiguous, less fuzzy.  I digress…

I’ve watched, and participated in, the back and forth exchanges between atheists and Christians.  It’s been…difficult.  It’s been heartbreaking, infuriating, and frustrating.  It’s left me with a really bad taste in my mouth for what any one of us calls debate.  I thought debate was clearly presenting facts, viewpoints, and opinions drawn from those facts and viewpoints in the affirmative and the negative by opposing parties in a clear and concise manner for the consideration of an audience.  I think with the advent of opinion news shows it has become increasingly more adversarial with insults and taunting rampant.  That is disappointing.

It’s disappointing and, for me, particularly disturbing that adults cannot seem to speak to each other with respect and treat each other with dignity simply because of a belief or lack thereof.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  And if someone has researched enough that they feel firm in their position, how is that derogatory of those who hold the opposing view?  It isn’t.  Why can’t we seem to discuss these issues without vitriol, name-calling, questioning the integrity of those who hold an opposing viewpoint, or insulting their mental acuity?  And I’m not just talking about the Christians here.  Atheists:  if our evidence and reason are strong we shouldn’t need insults and derogatory rhetoric, should we?

Ridiculing people for believing things that you don’t is not persuasive.  It isn’t conducive to productive dialogue and, frankly, I’m a bit ashamed that I allowed myself to be drawn into it.

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64 thoughts on “Take A Deep Breath

  1. Good post, and I wholeheartedly agree. I’m an atheist, but I’m not a “strong” atheist, an “aggressive” atheist, or a “militant” atheist. I wrote a post a while back declaring myself to be a “defensive” atheist, I only argue about being an atheist or about atheism when people are critical about my atheism or express clearly uninformed statements about atheists and atheism.

    If people derive comfort and solace from their beliefs, who am I to be critical of them, even though I personally don’t share those beliefs? It’s only when people try to force their beliefs upon me, whether through pushing for legislation or through aggressive proselytizing, that it gets my back up and need to say or do something.

    • Well, I think there might be a call for us to be strong about why we don’t believe what others do, but when that strength becomes militant, I think, is where I draw the line for myself. I don’t think I’ll ever be a proponent of lining theists up for the firing squad. Sadly, though, even though I’ve argued my position – not because I need to be right – but to defend atheism and attempt to correct clearly uninformed opinions about atheists and atheism I think it’s been to no avail. Many of the people who hold those opinions revel in them and stick their fingers in their ears and sing really, really loudly because they don’t want to hear it.

  2. Some of the strong atheists I have run into seem to be just as fundamentalist as those on the Christian right. While most of the disparaging email I get is from Christian fundamentalists, I do get an occasional email from an atheist who doesn’t like my accommodation and tolerance of some religious beliefs. One man even told me I was a secret Christian. :)

    When I first deconverted, I was quite hostile towards religion, but six years later, not so much. I still see fundamentalism, in all it forms, as THE biggest threat to our future, but I intend to be, to use your word, ambivalent to non-fundamentalist religion. And even when dealing with fundamentalists, I need to remember that behind the belief is a human being. Attack the belief but don’t attack the person. (Which is hard to do because some fundamentalists think if you attack their belief you are personally attacking them)

    I am comfortable with where I am, agnostic on the god question and atheist in my day to day life.
    Bruce

    • Meh…maybe I’m too soft. I don’t know. But I agree with you about fundamentalism in all it’s forms. I think extremism – both atheist and theist – is..well…extremely destructive.

      And even when dealing with fundamentalists, I need to remember that behind the belief is a human being. Attack the belief but don’t attack the person.

      Truthfully, that is what this entire post was about. Because some people cannot separate beliefs from the people holding them. The anonymity that the internet offers can be wonderful. It can also be used as a tool to dehumanize others and behave as if there aren’t real human beings behind these little avatars.

  3. I would identify as a strong atheist. I also share your concern over how things are said and interpreted. Often what is said isn’t taken well regardless of its intention. Something I’ve discovered a few times personally.

    I once would have called myself accommodationist but that’s no longer true. However I still struggle with some atheist language just as I struggle with much religious rhetoric.

    One thing I think happens a lot is that one side will interpret the words of the other as offensive regardless of the intent. They will also not listen to explanations to clarify the misunderstanding. This attitude makes the whole conversation much more difficult than it needs to be.

    I think the root cause is the isn’t really a meeting point between religion and atheism. They might share values and opinions on many matters but not on the subject of religion. That’ll never change so why do we expect the conversation too?

    • Well, I think there can be a meeting point between atheism and religion where we can find common ground and discuss things like grown ups. It’s just not very likely to happen between extremists in any realm, hence your attitudes making the whole conversation more difficult than it has to be. I do agree with you, though, that perhaps we shouldn’t expect the conversation to be any different. I’m just a glass-half-full kinda girl, I guess. So I think that regardless of the religious beliefs we hold we ought to be able to treat each other with respect. Maybe that’s asking too much?

  4. Ruth, so many truisms in what you say. You are a very wise woman and I take your comments to heart. I still feel that, no matter which side of the fence we’re on, we all share common ground – in fact, we all have more in common than we have in differences. That’s the part that we all need to work on if we want to figure out how to share finite resources on this wonderful earth of ours. Now, if we can just get past our personalities. . .:)

    You aren’t alone in your chagrin. . .

    • Now, if we can just get past our personalities. . .:)

      Not holdin’ my breath, ma’am. :)

      While it is true that we should probably be focused more on what we have in common as a species, I think that any discussion of religion is necessarily..contentious…when there are so many cherished beliefs out there. And no one likes to have those challenged(as we have seen). And even the mere suggestion that one or more of those beliefs might be wrong is taken as an affront to the holder’s intelligence.

  5. Hey Ruth – I can relate to practically everything you’ve written here, in a big way. Like you, the problem of Hell is probably the number one issue I have with the Christian worldview (although there are obviously several other big ones). I’m pretty ambivalent myself when it comes to most peaceful theistic or religious worldviews. I know many theists who are very smart and who even think rationally about their beliefs.

    And my blogging self has also been quite demotivated lately. Some of the exchanges I’ve seen have been very heartbreaking indeed. I know I take these things to heart way more than I should, but it’s just the way I am. Last month I was way less active on the blogs I follow, and only lurked on Nate’s blog, which was unfortunately probably the main source of my frustration. (but Nate’s a cool guy, so it’s still my #1 hangout).

    And I wouldn’t feel ashamed Ruth – you’ve always seemed to hold yourself quite well, and frankly it’s very easy for all of us to get sucked into the intensity of it all. It’s one of the reasons I usually cut back on my commenting when I see things escalating, but that’s not always easy to do. And either way, there’s always tomorrow to look forward to. Every once in a while I get a nod from someone that something I’ve written has helped them, and that keeps me going. What you have written here has helped me – thank you.

    • Like you, the problem of Hell is probably the number one issue I have with the Christian worldview (although there are obviously several other big ones).

      It’s never just one thing, is it?

      And I wouldn’t feel ashamed Ruth – you’ve always seemed to hold yourself quite well, and frankly it’s very easy for all of us to get sucked into the intensity of it all.

      I think the thing I feel kinda bad about is that I got caught up in returning the kind of behavior that was exhibited toward myself(and others). I was dumb enough to think that if they got some of that back they’d see it didn’t feel very good and maybe they’d tone it down. Unfortunately that just backfired and upped the ante, so to speak. It became apparent that this was exactly what they wanted. And they’ll probably walk away with a persecution complex, thinking they were treated that way because of their beliefs instead of their attitudes.

      In the future I’ll probably take your approach and just cut back on commenting. It’s not so much that I think I was all that rude but about how it makes me feel.

  6. Hey Ruth, you know so many times we get caught up in being right that we forget it often doesn’t matter. I mean as long as you’re trying to be the best person you can be and the other person is doing the same, does it really matter who’s right?
    For now I think a break would be good for you. It’s always a good time for siesta man!
    Just be sure you come back to us once your done.:)

    • Yes, Hayden, it does matter!
      Simply because there are those out there who cannot defend against the garbage the religious spew out.
      It matters because extreme fundamentalism is built upon the same foundation of lies as the more liberal religious views.
      It matters because teaching kids that a narrative construct called Jesus of Nazareth walked on water and died for ‘our’ sins is absolute sh*t
      It matters because teaching Jihaad is immoral.
      It matters because dinosaurs and humans did not coexist.
      It matters because while idiotic superstition has a hand in the day to day lives of humanity, people will die because religious ignoramuses refuse to acknowledge that what they believe has no basis in fact whatsoever.
      Think about that the next time you are whispering to your ‘god’.

      It matters. It matters big time.

        • Nope. No grand war. The religious enough of that as it is, so why take the field with the rest of the idiots?
          I too support Ruth, but for you to suggest that it doesn’t matter is as good as tipping one’s hat to god-belief and saying. “Off you go, but play nice”.
          That is bullshit, my friend.

          As an adult you are entitled to believe whatever you like.
          But when you punt it as some form of truth, even in the irreverent supposed off the cuff manner, that is your ‘trademark’, either to kids or adults, then expect to be challenged.
          Until the day arrives where you can back your claims with positive, verifiable evidence than you are simply another misguided charlatan.

          • Now, now…. Ruth and I understand each other pretty well, I think?
            And I always enjoy and respect her blogs.
            My comment was directed at your dismissive comment, which implies a brush under the carpet attitude toward region in general. ”It doesn’t matter”
            When one considers what most deconvertees went through and many still do, including the death threat that hangs over many contemplating apostasy, I find such flippant attitudes repugnant.

          • You know, Ark, I think that many moderate or progressive or liberal Christians might not realize how deep and damaging the more extreme forms of Christianity are. Thus that dismissive or flippant attitude.

            Then again I think many atheists can’t abide religion in any form. Does Hayden preach his religion as ultimate truth or the only truth? I got the impression he doesn’t go in for all of that hell business. Which is probably why he’s quick to dismiss that kind of thing.

            Though he did make a comment to Zoe, I think over at Nate’s, that sort of rubbed the wrong way. Something about her being God’s baby girl and he still loves her anyway. That seemed a little patronizing. But, again, I think it might stem from the form of God he believes in being love and light. It’s not so easy to flip that switch when the God that’s been preached and the one the Bible talks about isn’t so…sweet.

          • Can we call a cease-fire? How long ya think it’ll last? lol

            Your initial comment did seem a bit dismissive, Hayden, but I get where it’s coming from. The God you believe in seems to be all love with no wrath or judgement. If only everyone who believes in God could believe in yours….

            The truth is, I don’t know if I’m right, and I don’t really care to prove that I am. I didn’t appreciate the honesty and integrity of those of us who have deconverted being called to question and that’s what I got riled about. In retrospect it probably wasn’t the best thing I could have done and I’m usually much more even-tempered(although as I get older the Leo in me is roaring a bit more).

    • Well, Hayden, I’m going to agree and disagree, and agree to disagree. :)

      I do think it matters(disagreement). It matters how we behave toward one another. And when people’s strongly-held beliefs(no matter what they are) cause them to condemn, ridicule, and crucify one another it matters. When those beliefs cause people to to much mental and emotional harm to others in the name of their beliefs it matters.

      It doesn’t matter who’s right or who’s wrong(agree with you there) so long as no animals or people are harmed in the process.

      And I think if you and I can agree to disagree(and I think we can) then it’s all good. It’s when that becomes an impossibility that the war is on. And it’s all so unnecessary.

  7. @ Ark and Hayden,

    Yes and no. Religious discussion is not what I’m taking a break from. Treating people with disrespect and disdain is what I’m taking a break from.

    I don’t like the personal attacks. It’s completely devoid of substance. If you have a point to make, then make it. The logic, reason, and evidence should stand on it’s own.

    Fact is, Hayden, the kind of Christianity that you hold to seems pretty benign and I take no issue with it. The fact that you don’t care what the Bible says means that, while you believe there’s a God(and that he’s also Jesus), you evidently also realize that a lot of what’s in there is pretty bogus and used to harm others to great effect(you may correct me on that if I’m wrong).

    You believe this based on an experience you’ve had and you don’t expect others to believe based on your experience. It’s cool that you share it. And it might persuade someone. But you don’t expect it.

  8. Hiya Ruth

    Hope you are well. You know I don’t blog about religion and you, Victoria and I have discussed why. Personally I find it difficult to respect people who don’t respect others rights to choose, whether that is sexual lifestyle, ie homosexuality, sex without being married, homosexual marriage, abortion, contraception, blah di etc blah, what they eat, fish on Friday, slitting animals’ throats for Halal meat, religious festivals taking precedence over other peoples’ right to peace and tranquility… I could go on.

    Extreme views, or rather, ones that don’t fall into the middle ground, are what change the world however. Where (in England) would women’s rights be without the Pankhursts and Davison? Or would we have banned fox-hunting without the active protests from Hunt Saboteurs?

    I regret to say I agree with Ark. I would just word it differently… But sometimes you need to call someone out for being a dickhead, for glorifying hunting, for example. And Ark has the guts, the temerity and the persistence to do that. Those posts inevitably end up personal, and maybe they should. So hope Ark doesn’t read this :D

    • Extreme views, or rather, ones that don’t fall into the middle ground, are what change the world however. Where (in England) would women’s rights be without the Pankhursts and Davison? Or would we have banned fox-hunting without the active protests from Hunt Saboteurs?

      Maybe I should be more clear about the extremism of which I speak. Religious extremism is specifically what I was talking about. So I see what you’re saying here. I just wouldn’t necessarily term women’s rights advocates or Hunt Saboteurs extremists(though at the time that’s probably exactly what they were called). Is it extremist to have strong opinions about a matter? I don’t think so.

      And absolutely there are times when we should just call a spade a spade, but rarely does that lead to any kind of productive conversation. Often times it leads to heels dug in with neither side listening or considering.

      I’m not condemning anyone for taking a stand for what they believe in here. It’s more or less the manner in which it’s done. Alas it is inevitable for some of these conversations to devolve into all out war, I think. Tensions just run too high because it is personal.

      • Ah. And because I don’t class religion differently, I put it on the same shelf as everything else. Is this about the Nate post? The one that had more than 1700 comments when I last glanced! No way am I reading that when I’m not interested in the topic. Nice sedate parlour discussions are my style, not loud screaming matches in a stadium.

        There will never be productive conversation on some issues. That’s probably why I broadened it out. Are you going to convince me it is morally right to eat meat? Or buy a pedigree pup when Miss Sara was days away from death? Of course not. Nor are you going to convince me that homosexuals should be denied the right to marry, and I chose that one because the nasty bigot in Seattle who loves homosexuals will never change her stance either. Etc etc.

        I see no point in debate, of any sort when we are all entrenched. I accept V’s point that there are lurkers who may be influenced. But they won’t be influenced by me, nor I by them or anyone else. I don’t think criticisms should descend to the personal by default, but when you have tried a rational and reasoned discussion and are still faced with ignorance, what else to say? Incidentally I don’t, tempted though I often am.

        • Is this about the Nate post? The one that had more than 1700 comments when I last glanced!

          Yes! And I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t read all that now either. Not only that, Nate turned into a new post that generated just as many. Saying to same damn things. Over and over. Ad nauseam. I wouldn’t have had I not been reading all a long. It’s far too much.

          And what you say about having nice sedate exchanges is exactly what I’m saying here. There’s no need for either side to be so…rabid.

          I don’t think criticisms should descend to the personal by default, but when you have tried a rational and reasoned discussion and are still faced with ignorance, what else to say? Incidentally I don’t, tempted though I often am.

          Nothing is left to say. Which is what I should have done. And what I shall now. There is nothing left to say that hasn’t already been said.

  9. http://triangulations.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/eid-said-to-the-good-side-of-islam/#comment-133971

    I am having a ding dong with this bloke about the issue of ”benign” religion.
    There is NO benign religion as it is all based on false premise and is taught to kids as (varying degrees of) truth.

    Hayden’s chat with his god is his business – providing he doesn’t export that belief as the ultimate truth.
    But to try and divorce the bible from his god, the biblical character, Jesus of Nazareth is, quite frankly, just plain bloody stupid.

    One might as well say I believe in Noddy – because I talk to him every day – but not the books that Enid Blyton wrote that feature him.

    • Yes, I questioned Hayden about this. That he says he doesn’t care what the Bible says is..well..different. That’s for sure.

      How would he know anything about Jesus apart from the Bible? I just don’t think I get that.

      • Maybe Jesus of Nazareth talks to him? Truly I have no idea how this works either, Ruth.
        It sounds similar to the claims made by Mohammed or every other ‘prophet –

        Yeah, like I was just sitting there eating locusts, right, and suddenly there was this light and a voice in my head. Yeah, man, it went straight into my brain. It said…”Hey, cloth ears – help the missus with the damn dishes, get a job and then convert the world, okay?”

        Hello? …..Is that you,God?

    • I’m replying to this upper comment because the following two are your opinions, which is fine, I just don’t have a reply for them right this second.
      [But to try and divorce the bible from his god, the biblical character, Jesus of Nazareth is, quite frankly, just plain bloody stupid.]
      You’ve said this in the past and it has always struck as, “Well yeah Ark thinks it’s stupid. I just took his best tool for deconverting Christians and chucked it out the door.” Is there more to it than that?
      Note: Just to be clear my tone in this is not meant to be sarcastic, funny, demeaning or snarky in any way. I have been told that sometimes it is hard to tell with me.

      • As the character Jesus of Nazareth makes his first and, aside from the Koran which doesn’t really count, only appearance in the bible why do you consider it stupid to divorce the character from the book he appears in?

        Without the bible – and the indoctrination you were subject to as a child, even if it were minor – you would be completely unaware of who Jesus of Nazareth is, as much as you are probably ignorant who Samuel Vimes is now, unless you are a reader of Terry Pratchett.

        If the character Jesus of Nazareth was the universal panacea you claim, then those folk living in South American jungles would never of had to been subject to those screwed in the head missionary types that wandered far and wide bending people to the ‘Will of the Lord’, many of whom stayed in this position.

        If Yeshua was the ‘real deal’ then he could of sorted out the problem of ignorant jungle folk in the blink of an eye.

        Of course, it takes a special kind of ‘mental’ to justify the actions of Jesus’ minions.
        Victoria is probably the one to explain this to you.

        Meantime, if you can offer a level, coherent explanation, devoid of your usual flippancy, of your god chats and how you became aware of Abraham’s god and his ‘You can’t kill me, honest’, son without sounding like an extra on the cast of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest then I am all ears.
        The floor is yours, Hayden.

  10. @Arkenaten, Sure. {Flippancy on} “…unless you are a reader of Terry Pratchett.” – No. I have not read his work and never trust a man named Terry. {Flippancy off}
    Your statement makes perfect sense if you believe God does not exist. If he is not real then, No Bible = No Christianity.
    If however you believe as I do that God is very much real, then it is easy to follow the logic that Bible or No Bible, he will be just fine.
    Whereas you of course disagree with me about the existence of God, I still do not see where my explanation becomes “stupid.”

    • That rather illustrates the point nicely – sarcastic you may be trying to be.
      Do you realise how many people actually believe that Moses was a real person?

      I am an atheist and it never crossed my mind that he was a work of fiction ( his magical exploits, yes) until I went in search of background material for the book I was writing. And hey presto!

      That was one heck of a Pandora’s Box.
      Time to wake up and take a BIG sniff of the coffee, Hayden. It is ALL a crock of es aitch one T.

      Once upon a time …

  11. Ruth mentioned: “Though he did make a comment to Zoe, I think over at Nate’s, that sort of rubbed the wrong way. Something about her being God’s baby girl and he still loves her anyway. That seemed a little patronizing. But, again, I think it might stem from the form of God he believes in being love and light. It’s not so easy to flip that switch when the God that’s been preached and the one the Bible talks about isn’t so…sweet. ”

    Zoe: Yes. It reminded me of the rather dismissive way my serious questions or conversations were handled by those I went to church with, especially leaders.

    Haydendlinder clarified that wasn’t his intent, to be dismissive.

    For me it does matter. This -> “It’s not so easy to flip that switch when the God that’s been preached and the one the Bible talks about isn’t so…sweet.” as Ruth put it is why.

  12. I remember Ruth when I first started the blogging transition away from Christianity towards the secular/former Christian world not liking the vocabulary used towards believers. I didn’t like them being called idiots. I reserved the right to refer to myself as such but as a Christian I did not consider myself an idiot and every time I’d read about “those idiots” I’d think, but I wasn’t an idiot. Now after years online reading a whole lot of rhetoric thrown around I realize there are believers that think atheists are idiots too.

    • Well, perhaps after writing this article and the continued exchange with a believer I might be forced to recant. I’ve had my integrity questioned a time or two more than I care for.

      Then, when I walk off from it for a minute, I think, “Why do I care what this idiot thinks about me?” LOL

      • I know you remember the Mulberry Bush with a certain reader of mine. I thought I could make a difference, that it was possible to explain in such a way to be understood. You know the outcome of my efforts. And when one questions not only your integrity but your sanity . . . watch out. o_O :-)

        More often than not, the more you give them the tighter they tighten the rope. It often gets worse when you give them more personal information. You think it helps, to share your humanity, to show your thought process, to bare your struggle . . . only to find that it is used against you. And it can and does work both ways I realize.

      • Ruth – I think there is something seriously wrong with Kathy. And frankly she doesn’t know how to be respectful so doesn’t deserve it back. To be honest I haven’t figured out the best way to deal with people like that. Ignoring is an option, but I also see the need for response in case some might be persuaded by her rhetoric. But every time I’ve started to write a comment response to her stuff I’ve closed the browser tab realizing that my time is probably better spent elsewhere. Maybe some “kill them with kindness” works too but so hard to do when someone is being so offensive like her. No matter what I think it’s best to just focus on exactly what your main goal is out here in the blogosphere, and that should get you in the right direction. Sorry ’bout my rambling.

  13. Ruth, I agree with Howie. I only followed the discussion ’til the readers had to have a password (I can guess what that was about). You were doing a great job trying to talk reason – you were respectful, considerate and thoroughly sensible, but I suspect that poor woman cannot recognize it. To me, her whole speeches shouted, “Indoctrinated!” loudly and clearly. I’m glad, now, that I didn’t ask for the password – it would have made me furious to hear you being offended.

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