Leaving out the Best Option

spark-by-insync-social-science-being-left-out-is-bad-for-your-health-post

Getting near the end of Smalley’s “Top Ten Reasons Why I’m an Atheist”, we have this:

9. It is better to find your own answers and make an educated decision, than to intentionally remain uneducated and make a fearful one.

The most striking thing about this thought is how well the second option describes the bulk of the New Atheists. This is not to say that theists are never guilty of this. I completely agree with the idea that this criticism needs to be made of many religious groups, and probably all of us individually, from time to time.

Still, the fact that theists have behaved this way is no excuse for the New Atheists to do the same. They’ve directly advocated ignorance of theism, claiming that they need not read “fairyology” and other such memes. Apparently, they know that religious teaching is false, so they don’t have to bother learning what it actually teaches. The more important thing, on this view, is that one loudly proclaim the evils and horrors of religion.

This certainly seems like intentional ignorance and fear-based decision-making.

My second issue with Smalley’s statement is this: For as saturated as modern people are in the glory of individual philosophies, this is clearly a false dichotomy.

I’m aware that Disney, and everything else we watched when we were kids, told us that finding “our own answers” is the mark of enlightenment, but I find myself more than a little skeptical of the idea. The great minds of the past, and the wise people one knows, have many good things to say. Looking to them for help is far more profitable than fumbling in the dark as a lone-wolf philosopher.

It might be argued that Smalley wasn’t ruling that out. Yes, I’ve seen little to no effort on the part of the New Atheists to actually learn from past thinkers, rather than mock them. But one needn’t be a New Atheist to be an atheist.

The only problem here is that this is a New Atheist argument. Anyone who agrees that there is good wisdom to be found in past thinkers, even if she remains an atheist, has completely abandoned the false dichotomy Smalley presents here.

And that is the end of it. This argument only works if one is willing to claim that all religious people, everywhere, remain intentionally uneducated and base their choice on fear. So long as it is even possible for someone to take a third path–looking to religion as a source of inspiration and guidance, while learning in general–then this is no reason to be an atheist.

Advertisements

26 responses to “Leaving out the Best Option

  • Amyclae

    Nine really epitomizes the best aspects of atheism, in my eyes. The sort of militant ‘New’ atheism that characterizes a lot of my generation can know “everything” about religion, philosophy and ethics without having to know anything about them much less do much thinking about it. Atheism is science is right. Religion is bad.

  • paarsurrey

    It is not necessary I think to be educated for being an Atheist or a New Atheists; one has simply to deny God for being an Atheist; that is sufficient qualification for an Atheist. An Atheist could be equally or even more ignorant than a Theist.

  • Arkenaten

    The average atheist understands far more about Christianity (yes I am aware you didn’t use the term, but YOU are Christian and therefore it is relevant) than the average Christian knows about his or her faith.
    Simply because Christians are not actively encouraged to read and study their religion in an open, independent and truly inquiring fashion.

    The foundations of inculcation are already laid before the child is able to actively pursue their own answers toward an educated decision.
    This is evidenced all too clearly by the trauma and confusion experienced by those who begin their journey out of faith, be they Christian, Muslim or any religion.
    And this applies to non- fundamentalism as well, though the trauma in such cases would be considerably less.
    And it is worth pointing this out once again. These people experience real trauma!
    Why? because of the mind warping lies they have been brought up to believe by those they trusted, often with their lives.

    ‘9. It is better to find your own answers and make an educated decision, than to intentionally remain uneducated and make a fearful one.’

    I see nothing wrong with this statement at all.
    Once religious people begin on a journey to find the truth of their belief the only outcome is deconversion.
    That is where the path to truth will always lead because there is NO truth in religious belief. You cannot find truth in lies, although clever people have attempted to reconcile such doctrine.

    I was ambivalent about religion for all of my youth and early adult life. Being brought up in a Christian household does not make one Christian.
    Only when I was writing a piece about Moses and I began to research the character did I realise it was all fiction.
    This revelation, knocked me for six, to be frank. Not that I was bothered in the least at the ridiculous nature of the story but that it is taught as truth;as fact, in one form or another.

    And the more one studies, the more one educates oneself the more one realizes that people like yourself are pushing an ideology; a worldview that is insidious and built upon lies. Nothing more.
    There are no stats identifying the numbers of adults actively entering religion/god belief based on independent decisions stemming from logical irrefutable arguments/evidence.
    Whereas the number leaving religion is on the increase.
    If what you state is truth then in an age if enlightenment such as ours one would expect that with all the facilities available to research an discover this truth then people would be flocking toward it.
    This of course is not happening at all. Quite the reverse, in fact.

    While it could be argued there are ‘valid’ texts within the bible such ‘wisdom’ teachings can be found in many non-biblical texts that are even more valuable and valid without the need to acknowledge any deity.

    Smalley’s observation is quite astute and the educate decision always leads away from religion.

    Enjoy the god delusion while it lasts. (Apologies to RD)

    • Logan Rees

      Commented instead of replied, but wanted to make sure you got notified 🙂

    • Debilis

      Personally, I’m all for studying Christianity in an open way, and that challenges should be welcome. I also agree that Christians should be more educated on the subject of what they believe.

      You then move on to the idea that all Christians are traumatized due to their faith. I don’t doubt that this happens to some, and I hate it. But to say that this is true of all, or even most, is simply false. I’ve never seen any genuine evidence to support that.

      But, if you’re simply saying that this should be assumed to be abuse because these are false beliefs, then you first have to show that these beliefs are false. You can’t simply assume that.

      As to Smalley’s comment, I don’t have a problem with it, either. I only objected to two things:

      1. The idea that these were the only two options, and
      2. The idea that this was remotely a reason to be an atheist.

      Really, this simply assumes that the only way to be a Christian is to blindly trust one’s parents. While many do believe for this exact reason, to say that this is true of all is simply false.

      Rather, I’ve never seen any evidence at all that these things are lies, or otherwise false. You’ve claimed this several times, but what is your defense of that very bold claim?

      • Arkenaten

        ”You then move on to the idea that all Christians are traumatized due to their faith. I don’t doubt that this happens to some, and I hate it. But to say that this is true of all, or even most, is simply false. I’ve never seen any genuine evidence to support that.”

        I state that when they begin to question they experience trauma and this increases as they move toward the decision to deconvert. I did not use the term ALL, but i will state that this has been evident with every deconvertee i have read about.
        Maybe there an equal number that once they realise what they have been inculcated with is nonsense they simply say “Eff it” and walk away laughing. Though this seems unlikely.

        ”But, if you’re simply saying that this should be assumed to be abuse because these are false beliefs, then you first have to show that these beliefs are false. You can’t simply assume that.”

        They ARE false beliefs. There is NOTHING in the doctrine of Christianity or Islam that can withstand serious scrutiny.
        This is why people walk away form them.

        ”Rather, I’ve never seen any evidence at all that these things are lies, or otherwise false. You’ve claimed this several times, but what is your defense of that very bold claim?”

        No problem. I accept your tacit challenge to supply evidence of my claim.
        How many examples of lies/falsehood would you demand I show you before you accepted the fact?
        You may specify in more detail as to the nature if you wish.
        I will endeavor to meet any(reasonable) number you propose.

    • Debilis

      “I state that when they begin to question they experience trauma and this increases as they move toward the decision to deconvert.”

      I agree that changing one’s worldview is traumatic. It is one of the reasons I’ve given for why materialists are often unwilling to change their view in spite of their inability to answer the arguments against.

      But you seem not to challenge the idea that religion isn’t generally traumatic to those who don’t leave it. In that case, it seems we basically agree on this point.

      “They ARE false beliefs. There is NOTHING in the doctrine of Christianity or Islam that can withstand serious scrutiny.”
      This is a claim. Claims require support.

      But you seem to agree:

      “No problem. I accept your tacit challenge to supply evidence of my claim.”

      And, yes, I’ll try to keep the list short.
      In fact, I’ll ask for just one. What is your support for the claim that mentions of the resurrection in the New Testament are lies?

  • Logan Rees

    “the educate(d) decision always leads away from religion.”

    C’mon Ark, we all know this isn’t true. There are plenty of people who are both educated and religious (Deb being one of them), and there’s no stats that correlate education and rejection of religion. Sure, an educated mind would and should reject a literal interpretation of religious texts, the infallibility of religious institutions, and even a vast amount of religious dogma, but these are not the only aspects of religion. Religion itself, to an enlightened and educated mind, preaches against falling prey to these false idols.

    Again, you seem to pit your argument solely against religious fundamentalism and literalism, which is only a fringe sect of religious believers. The majority of religious people do not believe in the literal interpretation of the bible, or even its historical legitimacy. Furthermore, some studies have shown that the majority of people who claim no religious affiliation, or claim affiliation with atheism and agnosticism, actually believe in some concept of God. We are all on the same side against fundamentalism, and especially against rejection of education; it’s the deeper aspects of theism that are under debate here.

    • paarsurrey

      @ Logan Rees

      “Religion itself, to an enlightened and educated mind, preaches against falling prey to these false idols.”

      I agree with you.

    • Arkenaten

      @Logan.
      My choice of words could have been better, thanks for the heads up, bt at present without resorting to such terms as lack of intelligence I’ll stick with education for now.

      ”There are plenty of people who are both educated and religious (Deb being one of them), and there’s no stats that correlate education and rejection of religion. ”

      Maybe there’s a difference between lots of education with being educated?

      To understand the acceptance of theism one has to find out where the notion of a god derived?
      I would venture that many theists were once religious, hence their initial exposure to god belief was through inculcation.

      ”We are all on the same side against fundamentalism, and especially against rejection of education; it’s the deeper aspects of theism that are under debate here.”

      Fundamentalism is merely the extreme of liberalism. In this context,the core, especially for Christianity, still remains. Is Yashua god?

      It is impossible to read religious text and accept it as having any sort of basis in fact. It simply does not.

      I would ask, are you a theist? It would lend context to how I view your arguments.

      • Logan Rees

        I don’t see how fundamentalism is the extreme of liberalism. Reza Aslan recently talked about how fundamentalism came about as a reaction to liberalism, an extreme in the other direction. Again, an educated mind would reject literalism of religious texts. Even an uneducated mind could see that religious texts are meant to be allegorical. Acceptance of theism does not necessitate the acceptance of biblical factuality. In fact, biblical literalism is a very modern phenomenon, which Aslan also talks about.

        If I had to say, I would call myself an omnist. I believe all spiritual standpoints, even atheism, hold some spiritual truth. Well…. except fundamentalism. That’s just nonsense.

      • Logan Rees

        But I would prefer you view my arguments from an objective standpoint, to avoid bias and preconceptions. Ex. I hope I’m not judged as an omnist now, since I really don’t know much about omnism, it was just the best term I could find.

    • Arkenaten

      @Logan

      ”Furthermore, some studies have shown that the majority of people who claim no religious affiliation, or claim affiliation with atheism and agnosticism, actually

      Sorry, I really must pick you up on this point.

      An atheist does not believe in gods.
      Just so’s you are perfectly clear on this. If I were you I would, at the very least ,raise an eyebrow of suspicion at ANY study that suggested atheists ”…. believe in some concept of God.”

  • violetwisp

    I think you’re right that not all Christians remain ‘intentionally uneducated’ but I’m interested you haven’t tackled the ‘fearful’ aspect. I think once people follow a religion – often, but not always, due to cultural indoctrination – it’s extremely difficult for them to leave because of the fear factor. Fear of losing social ties, fear of offending family, fear of vengeful raging deity, fear of living life without the comfort of a religious security blanket, fear of making their own decisions not guided by an invisible friend, fear of ‘sin’, fear of facing the world alone, fear of no afterlife, fear of eternal torment, fear that they are only doubting because they are being tested or the dark angel Satan is playing tricks on them. I mean, the list is endless. And the fact that successful religions come packed full of horrible reasons to make people fear leaving isn’t a coincidence. Perhaps from this angle, the idea that most religious people prefer not to delve too deeply into the arguments for atheism does indeed make sense.

    • Debilis

      Perhaps I was unclear, at that.

      I completely agree that many people follow religious views for this (terrible) reason. I think this is awful, and I’m opposed to using fear of these things to promote religion. Certainly, it doesn’t make the religion true.

      I have two reasons, however, why this is not a reason to be an atheist:

      1. If it doesn’t refer to all religious people, then it’s only a reason to not be religious out of fear, it isn’t a reason to not be religious, full stop.

      2. Most of these same things could be said of any approach to life. Many people would resist believing in a particular religion because they’d be afraid of being mocked by their atheist friends, or are afraid it will require taking views that their parents won’t like, or worry that they’ll not get to choose right and wrong based on preference. Etc. etc. etc.

      These, too, are non-rational reasons that should be dismissed.

      That isn’t to say that we should, therefore, be religious. It is merely to say that the sword cuts both ways, and that none of this is relevant to whether or not theism is actually true.

      As such, it isn’t a substantial point on the subject–for or against theism.

      • violetwisp

        You seriously think the threat of a vengeful deity could equate with friends laughing at you? I guess I don’t know what branch of Christianity you’re arguing from, but the possibility of eternal punishment and fear of disappointing an all-powerful protector deity is relevant for most Christians in terms of how much they would explore arguments against theism. Atheists have no such concerns.

    • Debilis

      No, I don’t think that.
      Rather, I think that such a concept is an abstraction, and people care far more about what is in front of them, and what gives them a sense of meaning in life.

      This is a major reason why so many theists react so strongly when their views are criticized. That is no reason to refrain from criticism, of course, but the same could be said for many atheists. Much of their sense of value as people comes from “helping to advance secularism”, “being in the rational crowd”, “choosing one’s path for one’s self”, or simply “breaking from superstition”.

      And I definitely think that the (often very warranted) anger many feel at judgmental members of the church is a non-rational reason to be an atheist.

      I completely agree that many Christians (wrongly) believe for that reason. I disagree, however, with the implication that atheists are unbiased on this subject. Yes, there are very biased Christians, but unless you are saying that all religious people, everywhere have a greater fear of Hell than atheists have non-rational motivators, then I’d say that this isn’t a strong argument.

      And I don’t know how anyone could know that. If you’ll believe me, I can tell you that I wasn’t remotely afraid of hell before I became Christian. And, from my experience, I suspect that this is true of a great many people.

      • Arkenaten

        @Debilis
        ”If you’ll believe me, I can tell you that I wasn’t remotely afraid of hell before I became Christian. And, from my experience, I suspect that this is true of a great many people.”

        1.Are you saying that now you are a Christian you do believe in Hell?
        2. It sounds as if you became a Christian later in life; that perhaps you weren’t one from the off. May I ask what caused you to become a christian?

        • Debilis

          1. No, I am saying that fear of Hell had no noticeable effect on my decision to become a Christian.

          2. Yes, that’s certainly a fair question. I became a Christian when two things lined up. I became convinced that Christianity was a better explanation of reality than any alternative I knew. At the same time, I realized that very important questions about the meaning of life hung on the issue (which is why I cared, rather than simply dismissing the matter).

      • violetwisp

        “Much of their sense of value as people comes from “helping to advance secularism”, “being in the rational crowd”, “choosing one’s path for one’s self”, or simply “breaking from superstition”.”
        I know a few other people in the flesh who don’t follow a religion and would say they don’t think it’s likely any deities exist, but not one of them would fit these descriptions. Maybe you’re confusing vocal internet atheists with the majority. I can assure that most don’t give their beliefs as second thought thought. They don’t hang is atheist church-like groups, and they’re just living their lives.

        ” unless you are saying that all religious people, everywhere have a greater fear of Hell than atheists have non-rational motivators, then I’d say that this isn’t a strong argument.”
        Well if ‘all’ is your criteria, I don’t think there’s a strong argument for anything, except that all religious people follow a religion. What a curious way to approach it! Surely you have to look in terms of general trends.

    • Debilis

      I think its very likely that the things I mention are far more true of vocal internet atheists than of the majority. Still, I don’t think this addresses the underlying point. All people get their sense of value from somewhere, and religions tend to ask that people subordinate this to the religion.

      This is definitely a non-rational reason to remain non-religious.

      That isn’t to say that these people are any less rational than theists. It is simply to say that we’re all personally committed to our answers to life’s big questions–whether our answer is religious or secular.

      Looking at the matter in terms of general trends, I’ve not seen any reason to think that fear of hell is a major motivator for most religious people. I’ve never seen a study to support that, nor have I met anyone for whom that seems a major consideration.

      I’ll admit that I could be wrong, but do you know of a reason to think that religious people have stronger emotional ties to their answers to life’s big questions than the non-religious?

      That definitely seems counter-intuitive.

  • the sword cuts both ways | violetwisp

    […] a recent discussion with a Christian about fear-loaded religion, I was informed that there are as many reasons to be afraid of giving up atheism as there are for […]

What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: