Sunday, October 16, 2011

Atheism Is Work

There are many critics of Atheists but one charge one can’t level at atheists is that they are lazy. It is believing that easy – it requires no thought, preparation or investment of time or energy. Believing carries with it a huge payoff; it is comforting, reassuring, and removes the mental discord of stress, doubt and concern. Many believers wrongly think that Atheism comes to us easily; we simply dismiss acceptance of a deity. But this is not true; Atheism is difficult and demanding, quite often lonely and occasionally even disquieting.

On any Sabbath in our small Liberal town with several dozen churches, multiple Mormon ‘wards’, a synagogue and a mosque, hundreds of faithful convene to praise their versions of god. Conversely, only once a month does our local secular society attract a dozen or so non-believers. In The USA, ‘none-of-the-abovers’ are estimated to make up perhaps 20% of the US population. This fact contradicts those who charge that Atheism is, in itself, a religion. If that were true I would ask where is the Atheist Church located, who runs it and what is its tax exempt status? Or as I like to respond to this assertion: if stamp collecting is a hobby, is not collecting stamps a hobby as well?

Many believers hold myths about Atheists: that we are angry or disappointed at god, that we are closed minded about the possibility of his existence. To try to address these myths our little organization hosted two public forums we titled “Ask and Atheist”. Instead of being in lecture format, we would instead open the floor to comments and questions from believers to try to educate them about our position. We conducted two of these public forums, handing out survey forms which attendees turned in at the end of the sessions.

What we found were only a very small number of believers actually showed up. It was obvious who they were; the two or three who quoted from the ‘holy book’. They weren’t interested in why we were Atheists; they were there in vein attempt to save us from damnation. The majority of the audience, we found, were already other non-believers. We were preaching to the choir, it seemed. We had hoped that our little public forum might at least serve as publicity and perhaps draw new member to our group. That was a disappointment as well. Unlike believers, Atheists don’t need to regularly convene to reassure one another of their non-beliefs. It is simply a non-issue.

Like many before me, my path to Atheism has been difficult. It’s work! A recent Pew Research Center poll found that among the general population, Atheists and Mormons were more knowledgeable about other religions than religious people knew even about their own particular religion. Atheists may know more about Catholicism than most Catholics, for example, because they have taken the time and effort to find out. Atheism is driven by their need to find out the Truth. We ask the hard questions and demand answers.

Still Atheists understand people finding comfort in belief. In fact, comfort is the answer most often given as the reason people cling to religious belief. Belief affords the (illusion of) hope; hope that things out of your control are under god's, hope that you will live beyond death, hope that prayer will divert the natural course of events which appear threatening.

There is a comforting social component to being a believer, particularly if one attends church. Churches are communal, convivial; here one can associate with like-minded people with whom you share a common connection and bond – here they are part of your “tribe”.

But there is news recently that religious belief is on the decline. Clearly it was much easier to attribute to god(s) back in a time when man did not understand how clouds, weather and storms were formed; that bacteria caused disease; how the earth, planets and stars were formed and move throughout the universe.

Every day science adds to the body of man’s knowledge regarding the context of our existence – religion adds nothing new. Man is driven toward knowledge... and to achieve this, one must venture away from the desire for comfort.

23 comments:

secret agent woman said...

The atheist/skeptics group here was pretty lackluster. I found that I didn't align with most of the folks in this particular one politically, and lost interest. Turns out a lack of belief isn't enough in common to want to spend time with a group.

You might enjoy the Friendly Atheist blog if you don't know it:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/

Robert the Skeptic said...

SecretAgent This can be very true. A buddy of mine gave up volunteering with with the local Democratic Party leadership because he was unable to instill moderation into a group with too extreme Liberal viewpoints.

The Atheist group in the city south of us has disbanded twice. Although a group may share the kernel of agreement, scope, methodology or other factors can create discord.

Then again look at the extremely broad range just of Christian beliefs. This extremely divergent sets of beliefs is probably our best insurance against a Theocracy ever being established in this country.

Stinkypaw said...

Good post. True how most with a beelief (no matter what it is) will try to get others to change their minds and how science is changing lots of things... Knowledge and comfort are just not for everyone... ;-)

Paul said...

I love atheists and pray for them everyday...:-)

Robert the Skeptic said...

Stinkypaw This is true. My sister once expressed to me fear that her cat might have Feline Leukemia. When I asked her why she didn't take her cat to the vet, she revealed her fear that she "didn't want to know". Fear of the "real" truth is a big motivator in religion.

Paul Thanks but there's no need to pray for us, the Mormons are baptizing us without our permission, so apparently, our bases are covered.

John Myste said...

A blogger recently quoted this:

Danish physicist Neils Bohr, a founder of much of our understanding of atomic science, was once chided by a visitor to his island home who spotted a horseshoe above a door. Did he really believe a horseshoe would bring him luck? "Of course not," he answered. "But I am told it works even if you don't believe in it."

Pray for me Paul. I would like some dry-roasted cashews while you have His ear.

Robert the Skeptic said...

John Indeed believers will swear that prayer works! They just rationalize that sometimes the answer to their prayers is "no"... which, to my thinking, is pretty much the way one could expect things would turn out were there no god.

Antares Cryptos said...

I was going to post John's anecdote, instead:

Believers or not, death awaits us all.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Cryptos Well for one group, death is the end, but for another it is the beginning. For me I have a hard time accepting that my consciousness, what makes me ME, would enjoy everlasting existence. I think not.

Anonymous said...

Atheists have no monopoly on the truth...

Robert the Skeptic said...

Anonymous ... where did I make such a claim? Atheists 'seek' the truth rather than blindly accept that which is fed to them. Big difference!

alwaysinthebackrow said...

Ah, and thus the outright disdain and undermining of science we see by the ultra-conservative, evangelicals.
Not only do they not "want to know", they don't want anyone else to know, either.

Robert the Skeptic said...

BackRow Well why should they? They have all the answers anyway. Pray for the Market. [sighs]

Murr Brewster said...

I love what Paula Poundstone said. That atheists can't exactly knock on people's doors like the Witlesses. Someone would answer, and they'd have to shrug and say "I got nuthin'."

Anonymous said...

Hogwash...I know many believers of various religions who did not blindly accept what they believe in. Atheists do not have a monopoly on truth or wisdom or reason for that matter and your denigrating statements only serve to prove the point...

Robert the Skeptic said...

Murr Paula nailed it.

Anonymous You appear to have a bit of a problem with reading comprehension, I'll state for the SECOND time; I never claimed Athiests have a 'monopoly' nor any similar contention, regarding the truth. Those are YOUR words.

I am sure you do know people who put effort into studying their belief, I do as well. But I contend they are the exception, not the rule and the Pew Center survey essentially confirms that assertion. There is an inherent danger for believers who study their religion too deeply; like scholar Bart Erhman, they can end up losing their belief. Questioning is risky business.

Like Murr points out, Atheists don't go to people's door and try to convert them. When the missionaries come to my home and hand me a pamphlet someone else has prepared for them, I hand them MY pamphlet asking them to read it and come back and talk with me. Not one ever has! What are they afraid of? What would be the risk if you applied reason to your beliefs?

Athiests never claim they know the truth, but they do seek it through reason. Our minds are open if you or anyone has any new information. As far as we can tell, ya got nothin'.

As the wife of a Christian friend told me once: "The more you think about it, the harder it is to believe." It is my opinion that my friend's wife represents the majority position, believers don't want to risk thinking about it least they fear losing their belief.

Tommykey said...

It is believing that easy – it requires no thought, preparation or investment of time or energy.

Though I'm an atheist, I would have to disagree with this part.

Going to church on Sundays, especially if one has children, does require preparation and investment of time and energy.

As a parent of two children, I have overheard a number of conversations by theist parents lamenting how hard it is to squeeze church, religious classes, communion parties etc. into their schedules.

Just the daily routine of orthodox Jews is an investment in time, energy and thought. They even have to say a prayer after taking a dump to thank god for giving them an ass.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Tommykey I'm going to grant you the point; though people may indeed schedule a lot of their personal time around their religious life, I should have been more clear about my questioning of how much time/effort they put into "questioning", vetting or otherwise critically fact-checking their beliefs. You are right, many believers spend more time than just Sunday at their houses of worship. But my point is; how many stop and ask why they are doing this and/or is it worth it? I don't believe the majority of them do.

Jayne said...

You know, no matter what you believe or non-believe, truth is elusive, as is what happens beyond life here on earth, if anything at all...

Robert the Skeptic said...

Jayne I guess there is ultimately only one way to find out.

Nance said...

Been away and catching up. Almost missed this and that would have been a pity.

"...only once a month does our local secular society attract a dozen or so non-believers." I'm green with envy! in SC, if a few of us dared to gather in one room, somebody would torch it.

I would add that atheism spurs one to social activism. When we can no longer shrug and "give it up to God," we realize we need to get very busy ourselves. There's a work ethic for you!

History Doc said...

(formerly "the Mother")

I wouldn't call your "ask an atheist" meetings a bust if you found new non-believers and told them they weren't alone.

My teenagers assure me that, among their friends raised in religious households, religion is a lost cause.

I have to believe that. On faith. Probably the only thing I force myself to believe without proof.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Dr.Mom Heyyy, welcome back. I've missed you! Yes, belief among the younger people in general is rapidly fading. One of the things driving them away that they are more sensitive to, and accepting of, gender preference issues, pro-choice and other stances of organized religion which contradict their values.