Monday, July 07, 2008

Time to get angry?

My friend SI sent an email linking this article from The Secular Coalition for America. It addresses the issue of the recent poll on religion in America, which found that a full 21% of self-defined “atheists” believe in a god or a universal spirit. In the SCA article, they bring out an interesting point that I must have missed the first time that I read about the polling data:

“Conversely, among respondents who say they are affiliated with a religious tradition (Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, etc.), a surprising number said they actually do not believe in a god or universal spirit.”

On first examination, this would just seem more Homo sapiens silliness. But I can understand why “theists” may actually be non-believers. Given this:

"Americans repeatedly tell pollsters that an atheist is the last person they'd want their children to marry, the last person they'd vote for as President. This prejudice also appears in the widespread impression that atheists lack ethics and values."

There must be millions of people who simply find it a whole lot easier to live their lives without being hated. "Me? I'm an a... a... episcopalian! Yeah. That's what I am. Episcopalian. Can I play now"?

I think this one point about American views on atheism (and I definitely trust the polling data on this point) is what I focus on much more than the fact that 21% of atheists really aren't, and many self-identified religionists are actually atheists.

Fuck, if it is true, why not be as obnoxious, loud, in-your-face as possible? Obviously we’ve gotten absolutely nowhere by playing by societal rules of nicety. We’ve politely deferred to religion for the entire 200 years that it has been relatively safe to say one simply doesn’t believe. I think our ranks have swelled somewhat during that period of time, but the respect we get from society is still all but non-existent.

I suppose we might as well be as rude and disrespectful of their precious beliefs as they already claim we are being. Hell, speaking for myself, they haven’t seen anything yet. I’m extremely understanding of the human condition; which leads many towards supernatural explanations – understanding, but vaguely contemptuous. I rarely show it to them (other than those who make the mistake of attacking atheism directly).

I’ve been pondering this very subject for the past couple of weeks and wrote about it here. All I can say about this SCA information is that it gives more credibility to the notion of being loud, proud and openly dismissive of religion.


PhillyChief said...

Well I really don't need numbers to help stoke the flames of my bravado. I'll break their balls if I'm the only one around. ;)

The Exterminator said...

Well, Evo, welcome to the world of the pissed off people. Now maybe you'll stop pretending to be so fucking nice.

Go ahead. Smash that "Kumbaya" recording.

John Evo said...

@ Philly - that goes without saying, my friend. I wasn't worried about encouraging you!

@ Ex - I'm not pretending. There's nothing inherently bad about "nice". It's as much a part of our evolution as the other parts. And it's not something I'd ever give up on.

But there are specific areas where "nice" doesn't work. When people fly jets into buildings, you can stop with any illusions of niceness. But you can still be rational and not strike out blindly.

The Exterminator said...

But you can still be rational and not strike out blindly.

Are you trying to say that not all Muslims were responsible for 9/11? What are you, a Commie?

John Evo said...

Crazy me; this is what I'm getting at

Anonymous said...

“Conversely, among respondents who say they are affiliated with a religious tradition (Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, etc.), a surprising number said they actually do not believe in a god or universal spirit.”

This doesn't surprise me in the least. I'm pleased that they were willing to admit their non-belief at all. I suspect that a lot of people go to church for professional, social or family reasons rather than religious ones. I don't go to church nearly as much as I used to, but I still have connections.

Here's another way to look at it: it's not bad to have us non-believers, and even doubters hovering on the edge of non-belief, in the pews sometimes. We can be subtle voices of reason, we can raise questions that get people thinking about things in a slightly different way than they've thought traditionally, and we can offer unexpected answers to their questions. It's a slow way to make progress, sure, but most people don't deal well with abrupt change and direct challenge - especially about religious faith. Getting people to think about things in what they view as a non-threatening way can be a way to help them make incremental changes. I'm not out to proselytize atheism, but if I have opportunities to speak against religious idiocy, I do so in what I hope is a tactful but honest manner.

Think back to my post about a lunch with my liberal Christian friend, Joanne. If the first words out of my mouth had been, "I don't believe in any gods," it's likely that her defenses would have risen sky high. Instead, I began by raising questions about the Bible. Since this is supposed to be the source of Christian belief, challenging it was a subtle, non-threatening, indirect way of challenging her god-belief.

John Evo said...

Chappy, I guess there is (despite my anger) more than one way to skin a Christian. Just do me a favor and talk shit at each and every church service you attend. Even if you have to spray a little perfume on it first. Meanwhile, some of us have to do it another way. Think of it as a multi-pronged pitchfork attack.

The Exterminator said...

The one point you fail to make in your comment is that in your case, the Christian who converses with you feels as if he or she is talking to a fellow Christian. You're not fully "out" yet and you still have many ties to your church.

On the other hand, in Evo's case (and my case, and Philly's case, and ...), we're longtime atheists with essentially no connection to our individual religious backgrounds. So for us, it may be a much more viable strategy to advertise what we think and not allow a conversation to be shanghaied by phony politeness and respect.

Anonymous said...

Ex and Evo - your points are well taken. Different approaches are appropriate for different people in different circumstances. I have no problem with people who can be more outspoken and direct about where they stand than I often can be. When I was ready to take the final steps to faithfreeism, I appreciated the directness of their writings. In your cases, it possibly would be phony to take a subtle approach. Moreover, you may not have the patience I'll have with believers who are struggling with their beliefs, doubts and confusion.

I understand all too well the deep-seated fears of losing friends, family and community; fears that, tragically, have been realized by some. I understand the self-loathing and anger that come with recognizing how thoroughly one was duped into accepting idiotic beliefs. It's so fucking embarrassing! So, yeah, I'll be patient and help my friends take small steps. I know what they can't foresee: the destination of is well worth the struggles endured during the journey, and the initial destination, freedom from dogma, is simply the first step in a far more interesting journey than anything they've experienced thus far.

PhillyChief said...

I don't worry about losing people. Life's too short for that, or surrounding yourself with people who waste your time.

Sarge said...

Most people really believe in BELIEVING rather than any diety, it's the rules and culture.

When I was much younger I was an atheist, but if someone asked I'd say "We're Baptist". It was true to the extent that this was the subculture I moved in whether I actually bought it or not.

Most of these people think faith is great...for other people. They regard religion is a brake that is needed. Maybe from what they see lookin back in the mirror.

PhillyChief said...

Most of these people think faith is great...for other people.

I think that's probably true.

John Evo said...

I just went through this with the wife this morning. She thinks she's alive today (and a decent person) because of religion. I tell her that when it comes to faith, I have more in her than she has in herself. I know she would be a decent human being - believing in god or not.

She also believes that it's "good for others". My argument that even if it is indeed "good for others" (whatever that really means in the long run), it says nothing about the facts (or "truth" if you will) about god/s, is an argument that just doesn't get through to her.

So there really are people who would want to believe in the supernatural even at the expense of knowledge. I think that's a hard one for many of us to wrap our heads around. I'm sorry, but I want to know what's what. If knowing makes me unhappy, on one level, it makes me happy (or at least satisfied) on another. But I just can't see purposely deceiving myself to gain happiness.

PhillyChief said...

To some degree, any time you've taken a drug or drank some alcohol you indulged in a bit of delusion and escape from reality, but of course you don't stay that way 24/7. Well I don't, at least.

I have a friend who is convinced he can't meet a girl because he's sober now, and that all his former charm used to come from the bottle. I don't know how to convince him otherwise.

Reality is hard.

John Evo said...

Good points, Zara. I guess I'd say that drugs (of which alcohol IS one) make me feel good. Lying on a dark mountainside and starring out into space brings an undeserved sense of "wellness of the universe". So the difference is, as you say, knowing what's going on with my sparkling synapses fireworks show and not living my life 24/7 as if there were some greater truth in it.

I guess I'd be marginally satisfied if my wife would say that she thinks it's good to live that way - although she knows that it's a bunch of shit. The problem for most is that you can't confront the cognitive dissonance that way.

Anonymous said...

Sarge said, "Most people really believe in BELIEVING...."

He's got a point. How often have we heard, "You've got to believe in something!" or "Everyone believes in something?"

Believing in "something," for some reason, is supposed to be good for people. Maybe believing in something, anything, as long as it's something, is supposed to be equivalent to having hope. If you don't believe in something, you don't have hope - so the thinking goes. Well, I don't have hope in an eternal future for myself, but that doesn't mean I live a hopeless, unfulfilled life.

Murder of Ravens said...

I have to admit that I'm genuinely amazed over the consternation that this alleged 21% has caused among atheists. If it makes you feel any better, it is NOT true that 21% of atheists believe in God. Check out the study at

It's full of surprises. But for the purposes of this discussion, the numbers actually break down as follows:

Of those who identified themselves as Atheist,

6% believe in a personal god
12% believe that "god" is an impersonal force
3% "don't know"

The Pew study adds up the numbers to arrive at this 21%, which is odd, since if you say you "don't know", that really can't be interpreted as a belief.

But all that said, it still is true that 6% of so-called atheists claim to believe in a personal god.

What's even more interesting is the enormous variety of thought among those who do profess belief/religious affiliation. Less than 50% of Jews, and Muslims(I was genuinely astonished at this one!)believe in a personal god. Even among Christians the numbers are all over the place.

So perhaps what's really needed here is a re-evaluation of this whole theist/atheist thing. Clearly not all atheists think alike. Clearly neither do all theists. Generalizations and stereotypes in this area, like all areas, do a disservice to all.


PhillyChief said...

Well of course theists don't think alike. If the thousands of years of religious wars don't show that, just look at the number of different sects of christianity there are. What most theists should agree on, according to their religions, is a personal god. Seeing that many don't, for an atheist, is heartening to some degree.

Now in contrast, most atheists feel that there's only one intellectually honest way to come to atheism and that's by looking at the arguments and claims of evidence for a god and finding them unsatisfactory. We as atheists can be all across the opinion map, but for this one issue we should be arriving at the same point by the same roads.

What the Pew results do is infuriate us that some who claim they're atheists are full of shit. Aside from the ignorance on display of ANY definition of atheism for those in the 6% or 12% groups, this gives credibility to the straw man atheist theists always prop up of those who are just angry at god and/or deny god so they can do whatever they want. So these clowns make us look bad and strengthen bullshit theist arguments so I'd say we're more than justified to be annoyed by the results.

Now of course there's the theory that atheists, being the humorous and sarcastic bunch that we are, fucked with the poll for a laugh. ;)