I had a little chat yesterday about the perception of atheists in the United States and a particular friend’s family’s reaction to her announcing her lack of faith. Apparently they didn’t take it so well. This is a reaction I suppose I half understand because there is always the implicit statement that when you tell people you don’t believe that you are really saying, “I don’t believe because its absurd.” You question their world view and their faith and people don’t like having their faith questioned because most have trouble (rightfully so) backing it up. I think that this is something that we(atheists) should be careful about. I know that I am all too willing to argue and fight about it and in reality I should be more careful to not be a “militant atheist.” The idea of faith is that you believe without evidence and thus there is no amount of evidence that could be presented that will not seemingly strengthen that faith. We have made it a virtue to believe things that are likely not true in the face of immense scrutiny and evidence to the contrary. This shouldn’t be a virtue but to many it just is. There is no point in trying to convert people…rather the goal should be to win acceptance in society. When acceptance comes then converts will come too because right now…it’s coming out as an atheist that is a tough thing to do. Families might not accept it, friends may feel threatened by it, employers may look differently at you, etc etc. I know that there are a lot of very prominent individuals who are advocating a more confrontational approach to atheism and a less accommodating tone with religion. I think that this approach is often just counter-productive…at least in the interactions person to person. Interactions with governments is really a different story. I think that all atheists, and free thinkers, and agnostics should do their very best to keep religion out of schools and government but beyond that should probably keep their mouths shut. Its not my responsibility to save the religious masses from themselves or their delusions. To do so would be to commit the same sins (can I use that word?) as the evangelicals. Live and let live and it will all come out in the wash. It may take decades but its not something we can rush. I think that the comparisons between the campaigns for atheism acceptance and the gay rights movements are many. In general I think that the gay rights movement was a frank and honest declaration of the need for acceptance by society. A statement of non-conformity that was strong and proud but never demanded a sacrifice of any magnitude from society at large. This is how atheists in America should model their own revolution. A proud statement of existence and an insistence on acceptance with every attempt to pull on the reasonable side of every human. Saying that yes, these people can be good moral individuals who just want to live their lives like everyone else and there is nothing to fear. At all costs we need to avoid the “bible burning” and “faith destroying” imagery that too many in my community seem to live by. I think it all comes down to a consistency of world view in which, in my case, means that you are opposed to any social construct that tries to instruct you on how to live your life by some subjective standard. This of course, implies that I believe in objective morality…which I do. The consequence of all this is that clearly religion is out both based on that previous statement and also by an appeal to my prefrontal cortex. But along the same lines, fascism is out too, racism/sexism is out too, socialism and communism are out with them as well as all of them don’t serve a purpose but control of the individual. What am I left with? Well I suppose a mix of desire utilitarianism and objectivism…these serve me well in most instances and seem to be the only way I can reconcile a desire for any social structure at all. But we come back again to the idea of live and let live. If public perception changes then eventually a reasoned world view may win out and if it doesn’t well than who am I to argue. I can’t force a point or an opinion which I cannot prove. Despite my best efforts…I can’t prove that there isn’t a god or that his son wasn't able to walk on water or that Mohammed didn't ride on a winged horse, or that burning bushes never speak…I just can’t do it. I can say I don’t believe it and I can be consistent in my skepticism and not reserve it only for religious things but I cannot and should not force it on others. Don’t get me wrong…I will continue to point out when religions do crazy things but I will also always defend the individual’s right to pursue those crazy things. Uh…I feel better now. Patrick OUT!!!
p.s. If you’re an atheist or think you might be one…click on the big red A on the right side of the page to join the Dawkins “Out” campaign.