I always subscribed to a view that the world as our social norms and cultures develop do so through a series of reactions and counter reactions to what has gone before. For each such cycle though you rarely go back to things exactly as they where before and thus society change over time. So in recent years there has been a sense of growing religious activity in response to the increasingly secular nature of modern governments, as we witnessed in the form of the takeover of the US republican party by the so called evangelical Christians and by the growth of radical Islam across the middle east and to a lesser degree a more assertive Hinduism in India in the form of BJP election victories some years ago.
One response to these developments have been that atheist has suddenly started asserting themselves more strongly in the public arena. Atheism have for a long time been slumbering, opting for a live and let live attitude instead of direct confrontation with the religious world, but with the recent developments I think it became clear to a lot of leading atheists that unless they started speaking out and advocating their world view things might get out of hand. Supporters of religious faiths, even in the west, have tried to paint religion as something not to be criticized. Attempts are being made to paint religion as similar to inherent traits such as skin color or gender, instead of self chosen beliefs by it adherents (and while there is an argument about how self chosen something being brainwashed into you from a you age is, there can be no doubt that at the end of the day we all exercise free will and have the chance to break free).
So in the last few years we have seen the start of this movement with people like Richard Dawkins best selling book The God Delusion and later on Christopher Hitchens book God Is Not Great: The Case Against Religion being released. Having read both I strongly recommend Hitchens book over Dawkins. Dawkins book is a bit to theoretical and academic in his approach, while Christopher Hitches book is more willing to tackle todays major religions more head-on.
Anyway, it was with great interest that I came across this little gem by Ricky Gervais, the well known comedian from shows such as The Office and Extras. The story outlines his own path to atheism and also includes a nice little gem of statistics on the religious faith of the US prison population (funny due to the oft repeated claim by religious leaders that morality and good behavior would cease to exist if not being bolstered by religion.)
Ricky´s article made my think of my own path to atheism as it to was cemented at a young age of what I felt was a logical fallacy in the bible. That said my road to declaring my atheism was shorter as I grew up in a family where religion never played any major role and my fathers side of the family having been atheist for many a generation. Yet I remember when we where thought the ten commandments in school I started wondering about how, if those where the direct words of God, they by their wording seemed to clearly indicate that women where the property of men since it said you should not covet your neighbors wife, and putting women on the same level as oxes and donkeys in that regard. While I guess some would conclude that God is sexist and that women truly are the property of men, I instead came to the conclusion that it was probably a sign that these so called word of ‘God’ where actually the words of men of their time. And with that conclusion and further pondering I realized that if the only words in the whole bible claiming to be the direct words of God where false, then it was quite likely that if there was a God the people who had written these books and stories had most likely not the faintest idea about the will of such a being. of course only later did I also realize the Norwegian ten commandments I read was edited as they didn’t include the implicit endorsement of human slavery that I find the the English version.
Of course such conclusions only put me on a clear path to deism not atheism, but I guess I never found a compelling reason to believe in the supernatural. I love the quote ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ which I think is from Arthur C. Clarke. It reminds me that a lot of the things we understand today was perceived as magical and mystical to those who went before us.
Anyway, I guess this little blog entry is my little way of making a stand for what I think is right :)
Ah yes, Clarke’s Third Law. We have already gotten way past that point for dealing with people who are significantly less advanced. See the cargo cults for a… funny example of this.
Some might argue that the structuring of that particular commandment is from coveting things big to small, a neighbor’s house, then his wife, then his slave, then his ox, then his donkey, and finally the general underlying moral imperative “or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Now it seems wrong that the house is ranked above the wife but someone who knew Hebrew could tell us if the word referred to the physical structure, the whole sum of the neighbor’s lineage, or if the word is still ambiguous in the native tongue,
My own distaste for christianity couldn’t be clearer than the brand of a cross on my arm. Fear not, some of us have not been sleeping, I regularly phone the police when I see christians in town with loudspeakers rather than heckling which I think fuels their noise.
My daughter has recently started school and it’s her first exposure to religion. I thought about having her excluded, but I remembered how flimsy it seemed to me even as a child and I think she’s smart enough to come to her own conclusions.
Any other thoughts on schooling our children in religion?
I would like to read/write English better to precisely understand posts like this, which are very interesting for me.
Do you know this book?
The Ricky Gervais article is nice, thx for the link.
Being an atheist myself I get annoyed at religious speak creeping into daily language .. Whenever I am surprised by something I try to use a great saying from Bender of Futurama as often as possible : “OH YOUR GOD!”
Nice post, and thanks for the link to the article!
@YHVH: I’m all for religious education. It’s difficult to appreciate certain literature and other aspects of culture without understanding bible stories.
I’ve a similar opinion about Shakespeare.
Indeed, it seems that atheist have to raise their voice.
I’m personnaly the kind of atheist who put god with astrology and the belief that 13 is “unlucky”. I’ve no respect for god or religion (but I’ve respect for people, I’m a strong humanist. I will get of my hat in a church and be silent by respect to the people there).
Lately, I felt the need to join those atheist groups on Facebook, to post a bit more about atheism on my blog (in french). I never asked myself why, it seemed natural. But indeed, it is my little response, my little fight for my liberty. Just like you say.
For your reading pleasure:
Tack, there’s a huge difference between learning about religions – their history, beliefs, relations to each other, their impact on history and society and so on – and teaching religion, describing it as something factual or true. The former we should absolutely do; the latter absolutely not.
That’s what the evolution-related fighting is really about – it’s not teaching about religions, but teaching about religions as a science, which it manifestly is not.
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Also see french philosopher and atheist Michel Onfray, especially his “Traité d’athélogie. Physique de la métaphysique”, not sure about the English title.
Milton: Yes, I heard about it. Haven’t read it though, but from the reviews I read it seems more focused on attacking Dawkins than trying to refute his arguments. That said I might try to pick it up at some point.
Christian, take a look at this.
I don’t think McGrath seems focused on attacking Dawkins, Father John Flynn (the author of the article linked above) says some interesting things about. I would like to read your opinion about it.
I’m not sure I would call religion “self-chosen”. A belief is something that you are convinced is true, not something you choose to be true. Did you choose to become an atheist or were you convinced by evidence or logic or whatever that that is the right way to see the world? The same goes for any metaphysical view of the world (if it’s atheism or theism or anything else).
I don’t understand why you say the ten commandments put women at the same level as donkeys. It doesn’t say that at all. There is only one common thing between a wife and a donkey and that is that you should not covet them if they belong to someone else. And I think every christian that reads that would apply it just the same to husbands.
I don’t see any endorsement of slavery either. It’s just the way the world worked at that time. Given the way the world was, this was a good way to put it. Which is probably also the reason for addressing the men and not the women.
@Milton: If you read Dawkins book there is actually a long section discussing exactly the argument brought forth by Flynn. The argument that there are areas which lies beyond or outside science. Dawkins even comments specifically on the appeasement of the religious done by people such as Stephen Jay Gould mentioned in Flynn’s article.
@Walther: Of course its a choice. Religion is not like gravity where you are ‘forced’ by the fact of things falling down when dropped to accept its existence.
And you display in your comment one of the things that amaze me the most about the religious, an incredible willingness to look away from the wording of the bible and instead claim its obvious that it means something else than what it says. If these books are written on the behest of an omnipotent being one would think they would be more coherent, textually unambiguous, more forward looking and without stories advocating morally detestable behavior. If the Bible and the Quran are meant to be the way an omnipotent being communicates to humanity then its obvious that its omnipotence do not cover communication skills.
uraeus: Regarding the Bible, we believe it was written by men and inspired by God. That is to say: it has human and divine elements. It’s important to understand this.
Bible was not a “great idea” of their authors. It wasn’t even planned. For example, the New Testament is, most of it, a set of letters written by Jesus’s disciples to the new communities, trying to resolve problems there, teaching something… they were trying to preach what they learned from Jesus. This set of letters was gathered by the Church later. Well, I think it’s coherent… I read it and then read the explanation (I am catholic), and a simple text is connected with lots of other parts. Protestant’s Bible has no explanation (they think one can interpret Bible alone, instead of the Church’s interpretation).
With your opinion about God’s communication skills, you are saying you know how God’s write/think/communicate.
@ureas: I’d like to think that you are forced by logic. I agree it’s different kind of force than gravity. But even if you would like to call it a choice, it’s not different from choosing to be an atheist. And the fact that people choose it, doesn’t say anything about the truth in it.
I think a better way to put it is that people become convinced (in stead of choose) that something is the truth (whether it’s atheism or theism).
About the ten commandments: I didn’t say it means something else than it says. No matter how literal you read it, it just doesn’t say that slavery is ok or that a woman equals a donkey.
About addressing only the men: just remember that we’re talking about a book that is ages old and the ten commandments were written for a people that lived at that time. Of course you should take into account the circumstances and the culture of that time. You would do that when you are reading Beowulf or Pride and Prejudice too, wouldn’t you?
O, sorry, didn’t mean to post under a different name. Wahez == Walther
And a few more:
Faith means not wanting to know what is true. — Friedrich Nietzsche
The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. — George Bernard Shaw
I like this one: “A witty saying proves nothing” – Voltaire
Very thoughtful. Thanks!
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” – atributed to Epicurus
And this is hilarious: http://www.atheistempire.com/entertainment/images/imaginary_friend.gif