15-question Atheist Challenge September 17, 2012Posted by ubi dubium in Brain Glitches, Rants.
Tags: atheism, Cognitive Biases, Questions, reason, religion, science
I found this list of questions on Everyday Infidel, and liked them much better than the usual accusatory questions coming from theists. So I’ll give these a shot.
- At what point did you know you were an atheist? Why did you become one, what were the factors leading up to the decision, if you weren’t always one?
- What religion did you grow up with? Did you have positive or negative experiences with religion?
- Are you a more outspoken or more apathetic atheist? Why?
- Do you think religion is obsolete and should be wiped completely off the face of the Earth, or does some good come out of it?
- Did you lose any friends because you decided to be an atheist? Did your family flip out?
- How do you feel about so-called “militant atheists” such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris?
- Except for God, do you believe in anything supernatural or pseudoscientific? (Ghosts, alien abductions, spirits, souls, demons, psychics, magic, Harry Potter, etc.)
- What’s your political alignment? Does your atheism influence how you vote and how you feel on issues?
- Even though you’re an atheist, have you ever experienced a moment that could be called “religious?” Like an epiphany about the world or complete peace?
- Are you spiritual, or are your feet always on the ground?
- Do you have/plan on having a career in the sciences? Alternatively: which branch of science intrigues you most?
- What happens when we die? Do you fear death?
- Would you ever date/marry somebody who follows a religion? Be honest.
- On a scale of 1-10, how happy are you with life at this moment, and why?
- Recommend a book. (Doesn’t have to be relevant to atheism, just any good book.)
1. I can’t pinpoint a specific moment, because it was more like a long slide. Tons of chuch as a kid, but also tons of Carl Sagan, Jacob Brownowski, and science fiction. In college I encountered more varieties of religious craziness than I had seen before, while also stuffing my head full of math and physics and great books. Finally it all started clicking. If the fundies and Brother Jed were believing in something ridiculous, how was the stuff I supposedly believed not ridiculous? Did I even really think any of it was true? I was religious when I started college, and mostly an atheist by the time I finished, although I would have probably said “agnostic” at the time, because that “atheist” word was scary. More reading and study solidified it from there. I didn’t really become active about atheism until my children started encountering harassment in school for not being religious. That ticked me off, and the internet was becoming a real resource for me right about then, so things just clicked.
2. Raised Presbyterian, and pretty much nothing but positive experiences. I did all the things a good church kid was supposed to do: Sunday school and church services and bible school and youth groups, and retreats, and conferences, and youth choirs (I was a soloist) and regular choir and handbells and potlucks. It was a great community full of lovely people. Some years back we had a reunion for the youth group. It was great seeing them all again. Then they sat down to have prayers and a bible study and I just wanted to scream. (I was nice and didn’t say anything. But I have not done any further events with that group, either.)
3. Online I’m outspoken, and increasingly so, but on the job that would be problematic, so IRL I’m pretty closeted, or at least tactful. My colleagues and my chorus (except for one singer) have no idea I’m an online atheist or that I blog. My RE class knows I challenge them on critical thinking, but since its a UU class I don’t try to push my own views on them, nor do I tell them about my blog. My immediate friends and family know, in my extended family a few have some idea, but they don’t know about the blog either. Spouse and Kids read the blog, but they’re used to me, and my kids are more outspoken about non-belief than I am.
4. I think that any of the good that comes “from religion” comes from good people who are doing good things, often in spite of their religion. Religion can provide an organizational structure for some good works, but I don’t think that religion is overall a net positive for humanity. “Wiped out?” Religion is a really pernicious infection, and all past attempts to “wipe it out” by force have been miserable failures, or simply were replacing a repressive religious ideology with a repressive political ideology. I’d like to see religion collapse because people, as individuals, realize they don’t need or want it anymore. When that happens, humanity will have finally grown up.
5. I have not lost any friends, because I’ve been away from religion for over 25 years, and my current friends all know me as a non-believer. There are people from my churchgoing days that I have not reconnected with, and that’s deliberate. People tell me “Facebook is great, you can catch back up with all those people you grew up with and haven’t seen in years!” One of the reasons I’m not on Facebook is that I’d rather not catch up with some of them. I do have a Fundie brother-in-law who flipped out just a few years back. I’ve talked about him elsewhere on this blog.
6. I think applying the term “militant” to anyone in the current atheist movement is a huge misunderstanding of what the word “militant” means. Terrorists who blow up people are militant. Rebels who form militias and overthrow governments are militant. The most agressive thing any of the current famous atheists have done is write a book, and disagree with people in public. That’s not militant.
As to the contributions of those mentioned, they have been very valuable in helping to “break the spell” (as discussed by the fourth of the four horsemen, Dan Dennett). Up until recently, there has been a taboo against criticizing religion at all, it had this special and undeserved protected status. How can we even suggest to somebody that they should discard faith, when the value of “having faith” is a subject that we cannot even discuss? The books that have come out in recent years have gone a long way towards opening up this conversation. While I don’t agree with their positions on every issue, they have helped many many people discard superstition, and I thank the authors heartily for their contributions.
7. The only non-scientific belief that I hold that I can think of is a general feeling that things are generally going to work out OK for me. And maybe that I have too much confidence in the ability of human beings to work together to fix their own problems. But woo-woo thinking drives me up a wall. For instance, I was at the UU where I teach RE, and they were kicking off the year by having the kids start in the service. One of the pastors told the kids that love is a literal “force field” surrounding them. I tried not to show my frustration too much, because I want to continue to be welcome as a teacher, but UDK#2, who was standing next to me, just facepalmed.
8. My political alignment is somewhat to the left of most current Democrats, but I’m not an extremist. I also happen to think that the conservatives often have some good tools, but which could be put to much better use. Financial incentives are a very powerful way to get people and corporations to do what you want. But the right wing appears to be completely ignorant of the idea of “the tragedy of the commons”, or how interdependent our world has become, and most of the time are just behaving selfishly and irresponsibly. I vote in favor of science, reason, compassion and integrity, and against theocrats, whenever possible. Since, with our current structure, voting for a third-party candidate is effectively not voting, sometimes I wind up voting for who will do the least damage, rather than who I think is really great. I always vote, though.
9. Sure, like everybody else, I sometimes have feelings of overwhelming awe, or connectedness with the universe, or a huge emotional response to someone or something. I would not call these “religious” or get them confused with anything “supernatural”. They are just something really cool that brains do.
10. What does “spiritual” even mean? I hate that word, because everybody throws it around like it’s a great thing to be, but nobody can adequately explain it. Some people boast “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual!” Well I’m not spiritual, thank you very much.
11. Well, I majored in physics, but did not wind up managing to make a career in the field. So since then, I’ve simply been intensely interested in everything happening in science, and in recent years I’ve had a special interest in cognitive biases. And I guess it’s all paying off a little now, since I’m teaching RE to 6th graders, and I can bring large dollops of science and critical thinking into the curriculum.
12. When we die, we decompose and our consciousness does not exist anymore. The only part of us that remains behind is the effect we had on other people, and our descendants . If there’s some sort of afterlife or reincarnation, I suppose that would be cool, but I don’t have any real evidence to think that this is the case. If it were true, I am very confident that it would not resemble any afterlife as imagined by any human religion. (As an aside, if reincarnation worked, it would not be following known physical laws, so I don’t see any reason why it would be restrained by linear time either. So you might reincarnate as someone in the past. Or as someone you know right now. Better be nicer to everybody then, just in case!) I don’t find not existing scary, I did it for a long time before I was born. Now dying, that part’s scary, because it’s often painful and prolonged. Not looking forward to that.
13. Would I ever date or marry somebody who follows a religion? I’ve been married to my spouse for over 25 years, and we’re both non-believers, so that really has not been a question that I’ve thought about. So let me phrase it as ‘How would I feel if my daughters wanted to date or marry somebody who follows a religion?” I think I’d be upset if either of them fell for a religious fanatic. I’d also be highly surprised if a religious fanatic were interested in dating them, because both of them tend to be very blunt about what they think of religion. The only way I could see it working is if they were dating someone who was technically religious, but mostly an apatheist.
14. Scale of 1-10? Hmmm. 7?
15. I can’t keep it to just one book. There are a couple that were the “Wow, that changes everything!” kind of books for me: The Selfish Gene (Dawkins) and Godel Escher Bach (Hofstadter). I also just read Don’t Believe Everything you Think by Thomas Kida. I resent this one a little because I had been thinking I should write a book, and now he’s gone and written pretty much exactly the book I was planning to write. But go read it, it’s got good summaries of a lot of the stuff I tend to talk about.