Is Anti-Theism A Valid Position?

mephistopheles hesitant has a pretty decent post here in which they attempt to address, as a response, a post that was derogatory of anti-theists. I don’t want to go over the all of that territory as mephistopheles hesitant makes a fair go at it. I simply want to comment on some few sentences they used at the end. Their concluding paragraphs are below, complete, emphasis is mine.

The anti-theists have made a courageous engagement with questions about the place of religion in society. This is an important discussion that we need to have, not just because of Islamist terrorism and gay marriage, but because religious modes of thinking and being are part of our society and they compete in the marketplace of ideas. Anti-theists like to talk about religion as if it is a set of shackles from which we need to free ourselves. It is an extreme point of view, but we should acknowledge that some anti-theists sincerely want to help religious people to know that human beings are not inherently guilty, that we should not fear open questioning in the pursuit of truth, that you do not owe a cosmic debt—which you cannot physically or spiritually repay—to your Creator for a transgression you did not commit. Anti-theists are “spreading the good news” that you do not bear the mark of Cain or the stain of Adam. With this comes liberation and increased personal responsibility. If you commit an action so horrible that no person will forgive you, there is no hope of ultimate redemption. There is no second chance.

While they are not anti-anti-theist I take issue with some thoughts they have:

There are many shortcomings in the anti-theist arguments. They lack nuance. Mostly, they lack an understanding of the anthropology and sociology of religion. They’re not political science or psychology or philosophy experts, either. They’re informed citizens trying to open up dialogue about questions that matter. Is there purpose in the universe? Is there an afterlife? Is there an all-loving Creator? Do such beliefs, if false, serve any good purpose in the world? All theists have to do is actually defend their beliefs against criticism. That’s not asking much.

Now, don’t take offense at the anology but this is a lot like one of the Rabbi’s sitting down to dinner with Moses and trying to convince him that these Egyptian fellows really aren’t that bad and they deserve a more nuanced and civil discussion about the matter, and how being terse, impassioned, and sometimes angry really isn’t doing the Jews any favors. All the Jews have to do is defend their belief in freedom against tyranny. Maybe a couple of good debates or something?

I’m not anti-theist. It’s a mistake to believe ridding ourselves of religion is the only option, or the best option. It’s not practical, and people are right to sound the alarm bells of bigotry and intolerance. Anti-theists have so far been careful about walking the fine line of anti-theist and anti-Christian or anti-Muslim. GA42’s points are important to consider, because we know what happens when extreme views fall into the hands of the mob. We have to correct anti-theists when they characterize all religious people as “illogical” or “irrational” or “stupid.” We have to be wary of dogmatism and ideological homogeneity in our beliefs, theistic and atheistic.

Now, when you think this paragraph through it will make sense. Read it again, several times if you have to. What is being asked for here? Who is legislating thought crimes into law? Who is legislating oppression into law? Who is legislating theological thought into law? Don’t be bigoted toward the tyrants he asks. Interesting way of putting things. In the position of theology there is no central ground save perhaps for agnostics. A parley for compatibility is nothing less than asking the enemy to put their weapons down. We know how that works out in the effluence of human affairs. Yes, I’m sort of saying that any capitulation at all is complete capitulation. Despite the violence that religion reigns down on humanity this is not a war of attrition it is a war of ideas – once side fighting for complete dominance and the other fighting for a secular world with freedom of thought for all.

We can all improve our attitude, our tone of voice on the issue of religion. We’re perfectly capable of talking about religion without resorting to hostilities. We can have strong feelings about a subject and attack peoples’ ideas without attacking the person. Theists have long had a privileged voice in society, and my hope is that nonreligious persons will no longer feel afraid to express their beliefs openly. As obnoxious as the anti-theists are, they are affording us all the ability to be more public about our opinions on religion. We should thank them for that.

Anti-theists well can talk about religion without resorting to violence. It’s a position we’ve been forced to endure for many centuries because anything else meant death, often a horrible death. Some modern countries still have blasphemy laws that carry very harsh penalties and death. Anyone that forgets that has forgotten the lessons of war, of history, of humanity. We are still a very long way from living in a society where expressing atheist ideas is safe. To believe otherwise is to fail to understand this society at all. When it indeed is safe to talk about our thoughts on religion perhaps then it will be time to consider that more nuanced approach. Until that time theists are not deserving of a nuanced civil discourse. They will get it, but they are not deserving of it.

  1. we are asked to treat the religious with kid gloves, to take their books as holy and their shamans as holy people. Please hit me in the head, we have had enough of this. In the market place of ideas, all ideas must stand on their own merit. If an idea needs miracles to escort it, perhaps it is a problematic idea and should be discarded

    • I completely agree. Time to let those bad ideas fail. No idea is to big to fail.

  2. I hear all the time about how confronting and challenging bad ideas seems to entrench the opposition. It may in the short term but we’re playing a long game here.

    What I do see is how nuggets from these events (chastised so regularly by the tone police and tsk tsked by faitheists who want all of us to be so very tolerant of the intolerable) eat away over time at the certainty that guards religious beliefs. But rarely if ever do I see these same police officers alter their entrenched positions on the importance of tone just because more and more people give up the Holy Ghost notion and re-enter reality for their explanatory beliefs about it. I think regulating tone to be as inoffensive as possible is a losing strategy: far too many people take criticism to be synonymous with rudeness no matter how nicely phrased it may be. So let’s stay on target and keep our eye on the prize: a population that treats all delusions as a rectifiable medical condition rather than a moral virtue.

    • Scottie
    • February 10th, 2015

    I love this , very well written and thought out. I have only one problem. I have found when talking to fanatics they get very dogmatic and entrenched. I want to be above that in any discussion, I do not want to be like them. I want to use logic and reason, thought and consideration. SO for me the trick when confronted by fanatics who can’t and wont discus religion with reason and dignity, is to be better than they are, and not as they are. I may not change anything but I don’t want to be changed into them either. hugs

    • Fanatics love their holy books. Here are some verses to memorize. They’re fun because all the Abrahamic religions are warned not to be fanatical. They are all warned not to behave in the very ways that they do. A few verses should be enough 😉

      Deuteronomy 18:20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’

      John 8:7 He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone …

      Matthew 6:6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

      Luke 6:37 Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;

      Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

      Romans 12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.

      1 John 2:6 Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

        • Scottie
        • February 11th, 2015

        These are so at odds to the way fanatics act and believe isn’t it. Hugs

    • Ben
    • February 11th, 2015

    Thank you for writing a response to my blog post! I’m new to blogging so it’s a big honor for me. We seem to hold similar views, except you think I am being too soft on religious people.

    I would like to know, what do you think is the best way to deal with religion and religious groups? Is there room for any type of religious or spiritual practice/belief in the future? What would that look like, and how would we get there? How do we prevent atheism from taking on the tribal characteristics of religion? You say that theists are not deserving of a nuanced civil discourse, but what then are you implying they deserve? Do you think that theists and atheists are on opposite sides of a war of ideas, or do you think there are a lot of people in the middle? I live in California and I personally feel safe to talk about religion and atheism with friends and acquaintances. How dangerous is it where you live?

    Again, thanks for citing my post. Regards!

    • If you keep writing, many more people will comment. Don’t be discouraged.

      I think that your view is too soft because it compromises the position of opposition to a bad idea.

      If you were to read all my posts you see that I am not against spiritual thought or belief. There is indeed some benefit to the individual to belief in some superstitions as long as they are benign to society. Monotheism is a cancer to society for it calls it’s adherents to ‘witness’ and convert others and often enough to kill those that will not convert or that de-convert. The abrahamic faiths are antithetical to civil society. They are harmful and dangerous. I’m not actively against any idea held by the individual. What people think at night when they lay their head down on the pillow is their problem. It’s when they bring it out into the public sphere that it becomes my problem, your problem, a problem for all of us.

      An individual may be deserving of a nuanced and civil discourse but religion is not. I am an anti-theist yet I have conversations with preachers and atheists alike. There is no single way to deal with all people as individuals yet there is no nuanced way to deal with dogmatism. When an individual drops their dogma to converse, they may at that time have shown reason or cause for civil discourse. While they stand behind their religion they have no individuality.

      Your concern is that atheism not take on the bad aspects of religions yet that is a silly thought in my opinion. Atheism is not a world view or philosophy. It cannot take on those bad parts. Consider the person who is concerned that not being a golfer might take on the less palatable aspects of being a NASCAR fan. That’s not different fruit, it’s apples and clouds. It’s a category mistake.

      In WWII in occupied France, do you think there were any people in the middle? If you were not for free France who did you stand with? Make no mistake, the western world is fully occupied by religious zealots. If a person seems ‘in the middle’ can they really be? The FFRF and others fight against the occupation and you live relatively free of it, so much so that you can’t even see it. German sympathizers thought that nuance and civility would save their way of life.

      Is there room for religious thought, sure. It, however, belongs at home and in private or treated much like one is treated when they say they believe their sports team is the greatest. If a person wants to worship the Norse gods but leaves them at home when they go to vote it’s none of my business. If a person wants to believe in YHWH an let their children die from lack of medical attention… it’s my business. If they want to believe in a god and deny others their rights then it is my business.

      When religion takes its rightful place, in the mind and the privacy of personal thought, and stays out of politics, public sphere and so on then it is no longer a problem that we need worry about. Such need not be eliminated because it is benign to the rest of us and to society. Just as the choice to not play golf does not affect the rest of us, so such religious ‘beliefs’ should not affect the rest of us. If all non-golfers were campaigning to prevent marriage equality or trying to legislate control of women’s bodies then non-golfers would be a problem and their cause would not deserve nuance or civil discourse.

      No matter how stupid I might think belief in the imaginary is, it is when it becomes stupid and dangerous that it loses any respectability. When religions become respectable we can talk about nuance and civility. No matter that they might claim that they don’t do certain things any more their beliefs and dogma has not changed one bit. Just because the slaver does not beat you daily any more does not mean they are not a slaver or will never beat you daily again.

      Hopefully that is enough blathering to get my point across. Where you think religion deserves respect I reserve that for the individual – only after they have earned it. Religion, especially the Abrahamic faiths have lost respectability and will never get it back. By definition they cannot because by definition they are harmful to society.

      People choose to act as part of or in support of an ideology. When they do this they lose individuality. Only the individual is deserving of respect.

    • Biblefails
    • February 24th, 2015

    I would tend to agree that religious ideas do not deserve special privilage in discourse or politics. As far as religious people asking non-theists to treat them nicely I am a bit torn. We cannot, or at least should not, attempt or desire to ban or legislate against religious belief or thought so long as these ideas do not teach or cause harm to other people. The majority of religious people, where I live at least, are RC Lite, or holiday Christians, only attending church on Christmas, Easter, etc. and believe in God generally and honestly only pick the Christian God to believe in out of societal preference. These people are certainly no threat to society. Even real believers, the ones who take their faith very seriously are not nessisarily the issue either. It is their right as a human to believe as they wish.

    The real issue is Christian and Muslim fundamentalists. These are the types that desire a theocracy and for young earth creationism to be the standard public school cariculum. These ideas are an attempt at a huge power grab and are the declaration of a intellectual hot war. When it comes to this there is no room for a nuanced and gentle discussion. This is a winner take all confrontation. This isn’t about religious freedom in this instance is a battle against an oppressive theocracy. If they win and atheism or other religions are banned from our learning institues we can fully expect another dark ages. On the other hand we cannot make our fight against theocratic ideas a fight for religious oppression. If we desire the right tho think and believe and discuss as we wish we must allow the same for them. What we should seek is an equilibrium of rights. Where all can express their thoughts and beliefs freely without fear or reprocussions save only a debate if someone is willing. Until then, the war is on.

  1. February 10th, 2015

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