Friday, May 9, 2014

The Ex You Can't Get Over

For a long time I've been troubled about the way certain atheist bloggers I regularly read present their case. Several times I wanted to write a post of my own expressing why their expressions not only fail to move me, but in a sense seem to undercut the point they attempt to make. This is speaking especially of those who have been hurt by religion (not something I want to deal lightly with), but use that as a springboard for a desire to see religion done away with; or at the least to be dismissed as something to be pitied in a person (who obviously is less enlightened and rational than they and their cohorts).

Then I read Thomas Well's Why I am Not an Atheist: Better Apathetic Godlessness than Illiberal Scientism. How masterfully he expressed something I have been feeling. Wells does make well the point that the New Atheism is pretty much the counterpart to religious fervency. So if we believers are having trouble discussing our "passion" with nonbelievers, maybe its because of those emotional strings attached.

Then there was something he wrote which I had to borrow for my post title. He wrote:

New Atheism isn't nearly godless enough for me. These atheists seem somewhat obsessed with the quite unremarkable fact that god doesn't exist, like an ex they claim to be over but can't stop talking about.

I don't know if his example there is original, but it isn't mine so I will just point to him as my source of inspiration.

Next he adds this as his main point:

Atheism should not look like another option on a "select your religion" drop-down menu; it should be beyond religion.

But it does. That is exactly what it often looks like when presented by those who have been hurt by religious fundamentalism and/or dogmatism. I read and I appreciate their very real pain. Yet I wonder if deep down they (maybe unconsciously) are swinging from one extreme to the other. It's not for me to say. But I can't help but wonder.

Wells expresses his view of unbelief as apathetic and something that "simply follows from my materialism."

Perhaps then those of us who take seriously the God-hypothesis but are unwilling to be narrow in our thoughts about it should take a cue from Wells and make sure our belief is also somewhat apathetic; in other words, that it is something that naturally follows from our spiritual worldview, and not something grounded solely in our emotional thoughts.

Then either an apathetic believer or nonbeliever would be free to look at the opposing viewpoint without rancor. If we are really "over our ex" we should be able to discuss her somewhat dispassionately, as a fellow human to whom we could only become so attached. If we can't do this, in either case, perhaps it is fair to recall that old saying, "there is a fine line between love and hate."


  1. I think you would agree from your own perspective when you lost your faith you did, for a time, swing widely the opposite way. It happens. And then some of us come back to a middle ground.

    I'm fairly agnostic with regards to a God. I'm quite ambivalent toward the God of the Bible. I might be persuaded that their is a deity or deities but I don't think that this deity has sponsored a religion.

    While I am divorced from religion I am not unsympathetic to a deist position.

    1. there*, there is a deity. Maybe one day I'll learn to spell-check.

    2. Hiya Ruth!

      He he. I do the same thing and almost always type "their" when I really mean "there." Hardly ever the other way.

      Yes, that is exactly what I did. I think after a while - and, mind you, speaking only for myself here - I got quite melodramatic about it, even playing the "victim" card. This really put me out of sync with my still-God-fearing friends and relatives. Now I think when I REALLY noticed this was when my blog started looking like something a James Randi follower would have written - right down to incorporating almost word-for-word some of their (got it right that time!) cliches, or - as they think of them - arguments.

      Now mind you, I don't have anything complimentary to say about religious fundamentalism or extremism. Nada. But that hardly exhausts the significance of religion or spirituality. And by the way, I really liked the way you put it when you wrote you don't think God has "sponsored a religion." I absolutely agree with that.

      But at what point is it fair to encourage a person to move on beyond their hurt? Of course I don't think that necessarily means a return to religion. It could be what Wells suggests, an apathetic unbelief. Is it possible that this highly emotional argument against religion is similar to listening to a person go and on and on about a previous relationship that has ended, but supposedly said person is "over it" and has move on? Yet they can't let it go.

      It's a touchy subject and I wouldn't want to needlessly offend anyone. However, I would like to be encouraging without sounding patronizing.

    3. Actually, I think there's a way to "argue" against religion - not spirituality, but religion - that isn't argumentative. And I don't necessarily agree that apathy is a good place. Religion damages people, it causes them very real and long lasting fear and repercussions.

      I might be one of those with whom you disagree about continuing to discuss the topic. It's easy to say just "let it go". You never really get over abuse. That may not be your experience. Maybe you don't feel abused by your religious upbringing, but many do and it is not only therapeutic to talk about it, but to find others out there that make you feel less alone.

      At the same time I did realize the negative tone of some of my posts and am trying to find ways to positively encourage people who have doubts to explore them without fear.

    4. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this with me. I appreciate so much your input.

      Please notice that I was not talking about the legitimacy of expressing the negative impact one's religious beliefs have had on their lives. It can indeed be therapeutic to talk about it and to find strength in others who had similar experiences.

      But I think a statement like "Religion damages people" is too broad to be true in the main. Many receive strength and comfort from their religion.. And the pain religion causes to some does not seem a sufficient argument against religion anymore than, say, eating disorders are an argument against food, or the hurt from a romantic relationship ended badly is an argument against romance.

      I think obsession isn't a healthy state of mind whether it involves a person, concept, substance or whatever.

      That is why I see value in Wells' apathy. I don't think we can be totally apathetic to anything we find significant, of course. But I think the approach would buffer us from extremism. And that seems to me to be the real problem.

    5. You have a point, to a point. I know that many people do find comfort and value in their religion. I don't and have never advocated doing away with religion as I see that as a matter of freedom. It is those insidious doctrines, such as eternal damnation, that I find damaging - no matter who says otherwise.

      These types of fear mongering are tantamount to abuse, IMHO. And, even if you do believe in a God prohibits even the freedom to fully love and serve that God. To the degree that any organized religion discourages freedom of thought and doubt, but demands loyalty and agreement without question, is the degree to which I find it damaging. There are many more progressive forms of religion which I don't find distasteful at all, even if I disagree with it's conclusions.

    6. I appreciate all you have to say here, but I think there is more to it than that.

      You are quite right to state these things as your humble opinion, for, like my blog, that is exactly the case: they represent our humble (hopefully) opinions.

      For example, the "insidious" doctrine of eternal damnation that you find "damaging" is only so if your basic assumption that it is indisputably false is in fact true.

      If, on the other hand, it were true then it would be neither insidious nor damaging but prudent to warn others about it - not unlike warning people about the dangers of smoking, having unprotected sex, living on a mostly junk-food diet, etc.

      So I think that it is bit too presumptive and easy for nonbelievers to cry "abuse." Obviously the difficulty lies in the fact that people don't agree on whether God has revealed certain truths to humans in a certain way or if we have only our gray matter as our guide.

      But mind you, I'm not arguing here in favor of special divine revelation or eternal damnation. That's not my point. Rather, it is that if start with a certain bias we will end there as well.

      You say that to "the degree that any organized religion discourages freedom of thought and doubt, but demands loyalty and agreement without question, is the degree to which I find it damaging." Perhaps I can agree with that - to a point.

      But also I think of the New Atheism and Randian skepticism as closed-minded belief systems that stifle freedom of thought. The purely naturalistic worldview must first be unquestionably embraced before any reasoning supposedly starts. And if they dislike the comparison of that with religious fundamentalism, I would just point to how many times they encourage their opponents to "get a good book on critical thinking" or to learn "the rules" of critical thought or express the all importance of the "scientific method."

      Well, to me, that seems to inhibit free thinking. Despite that reservation I couldn't bring myself to say that atheists who hold philosophical scientism are mental abusers for negating hope that the universe in meaningful; nor would I suggest that their view is harmful for human consumption. That is because I think they might be very well be correct (although I think they probably aren't). Obviously many atheists have lived noble lives and died with dignity apart from entertaining hope of an "afterlife."

      I think certain people - for purely psychological reasons - can be greatly abused by religion even as others are tormented by thoughts and fears of nihilism. In between there are lots of the rest of us, more agonistical by temperament.

      It's just so easy for all of us to become rhetorical in the discussion. I think if we can hold our worldviews humbly, more apathetically than passionately, and with an open mind, we could avoid some the nastiness to which the modern debate has descended.

      Anyway, that's how I think about the matter.

  2. From the other side of the fence, I think I generally agree with you. But I think many atheists see it differently for several reasons:

    1. They have been hurt, as you say, and they want to either express their hurt and/or help others who are still escaping and still hurting.

    2. Every movement or club seems to have people who play all sorts of roles - unofficial leaders, thinkers, early adopters who've been in it for a while, new converts, unthinking enthusiasts, etc, etc. Modern atheism in the west, especially in the US I think, has all of these. Many internet atheists fall into some of the less thoughtful and secure categories, just as do many internet christians. They make a lot of noise and get upset, just like british football followers, but they aren't necessarily representative.

    3. Some of the more outspoken atheist leaders proclaim the terrible evils of religion, without following their own creed and actually checking the evidence. Studies show that, socially and personally, religious belief and/or practice can do a lot of good, but they refuse to accept this and proclaim like evangelists the harm done by religion. So because they really believe religion is the next big evil that needs to be eliminated, they get really passionate about it.

    I think many christians can do exactly the same, but that isn't so new. So I try to take a bit of a sociological and psychological view and see all this as part of what happens during social change.

  3. BTW, I really liked the linked article by Wells, though obviously I didn't agree with his metaphysics.

    1. Thanks for your comment, unkleE. The pain religious belief can cause is but one part of the picture, in my opinion. As you point out, there is some evidence of a positive influence of religion. I think the more extreme one's beliefs are, the more likely they are to do harm.