Friday, December 26, 2008

Atheist Denial

On the issue of anti-atheist bigotry among atheists, one of the issues we should look at is anti-atheist bigotry among those who are atheists in fact, but who do not identify themselves as atheists.

Often, when I hear people assert that they are not atheists but agnostics, they give reasons for this such as, “Atheists are just as dogmatic as theists. Both groups claim to have certain knowledge of something that neither has (or can possibly have) any evidence for.”

This reason hints at anti-atheist bigotry. This claim about atheists is not true of most atheists. It is not even close to being true. If we actually listen to what atheists say, most of them speak in terms of a “God Hypothesis”, and view the proposition that “God exists” to be comparable to the proposition that “A teakettle orbiting Mars exists.”

In fact, their attitude towards the existence of God is, in many cases, exactly the same as the agnostic’s attitude. The agnostic simply uses a different term.

The reason that the agnostic mis-identifies what atheists believe is because they have bought into society’s anti-atheist bigotry. They have bought into a lie that anti-atheists use to cast atheists in an unflattering light, and they spread and promote that lie. They are atheists in all but name, who have learned to view atheists unjustly.

In this, they are like the homosexual who refuses to admit that they are gay. They assert the claim that homosexuals are selfish people who seek only their own sexual gratification while caring nothing about morality. They are as likely to have sex with children and animals as with adults because sex is the only thing they care about. “I am not gay, because I do not have these qualities. Sure, I enjoy sex with people of the same gender from time to time, but I certainly do not qualify as one of them.”

These people are homosexual. However, because they have adopted society’s “values” they are, at the same time, anti-gay bigots. Accordingly, many agnostics are atheists. However, because they have adopted society’s “values” towards atheists they are, at the same time, anti-atheist bigots.

The same applies to many humanists, free-thinkers, and the like. Their hatred of atheists and fear of viewing themselves as “one of them” drives them to look elsewhere . . . anywhere . . . where they can avoid association with the dreaded term “atheist”.

The same analysis applies to many people who would call themselves Christian, Jew, Muslim, and the like. Here, I refer to members (probably in good standing) of a community that detests atheists. These members know, “My community will reject me, if they ever knew that I was not so strongly devoted to their beliefs. So, I must make sure that they do not suspect me.”

These people take on a particularly vigorous anti-atheist stance the way that some religious people become so adamantly anti-gay. “They cannot suspect me of being that which I condemn so harshly.”

When we look at the question of whether atheists are anti-religious, these are some of the types of cases that we need to consider. These are examples of some of the types of people that our current culture gives rise to, and they are examples of cases in which atheists not only lack anti-theist bigotry. They share in and promote anti-atheist bigotry.

How many people are there?


TW said...

Excellent post.

I have never been a fan of the concept of agnosticism. Agnostics claim a moral high ground by being open to the idea of the existence of God (and it nearly always is the Christian one), thinking atheists "believe" there is no god. This is very, very flawed thinking. Agnostics are not agnostic about Santa Claus, orbiting tea cups or any of the myriad other things that are "possible" but no one believes. Their agnosticism towards the Christian God is simply because they are brainwashed by the anti-atheists.

You either believe in god, or you don't. There is no middle ground. I am an atheist and I do not believe in any deities, but if Thor appeared tomorrow and threatened me with his hammer, I would be willing to change my mind. That is not agnosticism.

Naumadd said...

The thing I object to most among "agnostics" is their lazy throwing about the term "possible" as if it were equivalent to "I can imagine it". A thing isn't possible simply because you imagine it. It is possible because the very complex and dynamic characteristics of nature - many of which we are aware and can test - make it possible. Because I can imagine "Once upon a time, in a land far, far away" does not make whatever I'm about to claim a possibility. No, there must still be accurate observational and consistently logical support for there to even be remote possibility. In other words, even "possibility" must have proof just as "exists" must have proof". Unfortunately, theists present what they can only imagine as "possible" and the agnostics buy into it hook, line and sinker as among those things "possible" but unproven or the dreaded "unprovable". If a thing is "unprovable", one wonders what led you to believe it in the first place ... and so adamantly. Imagination is insufficient for "possible". What the typical "atheist" is in essence doing is saying to the theist, "I am open and continue to wait for sufficient observation and logic to suggest 'possible' with regard to an alleged deity." The agnostic grants possibility with the mere mention of it.

At any rate, I see here and in many other forums a great focus on what is or is not an appropriate label for someone who accepts or rejects theistic claims but very little focus on why one accepts those claims or why one rejects them. It is perhaps a human curse that we are swift to name a thing so we can get on with the task of stuffing the label with all sorts of unrelated or wholly irrelevant rubbish with which to brand this person or that one with whatever nastiness we've shoved into the word we've chosen. Undue focus on names and labels is a sure sign one's intellect is superficial at best. If one is NOT a theist, then what are you? Why? Whatever that is, whatever those positive beliefs about the nature of reality, of oneself, of knowledge, values, politics, aesthetics etc., it is those conclusions that lead to the view by some that you are an "atheist" or, in the least, "atheistic". It is far more relevant to speak of what you ARE and why rather than to continue referring to what you are NOT. Adequate authentic focus on the first will prove adequate explanation for the second without a great deal of extra debate, if any at all.

Okay, you are "atheistic" - what DO you believe is true? Whether or not there is a label or name to designate your entire set of beliefs and practices is far less relevant to what they specifically are. Call yourself "atheist", or "a ham sandwich" or "George". What are your POSITIVE beliefs? How do you support them? It is those that must have accurate observation and consistent logic to support, else, they too must be rejected.

I would rescue theists and alleged agnostics from their delusions if I could, however, if they must, let them drown in their misconceptions about a great many things. Let not those who just happen to turn out "atheistic" due to their positive beliefs about nature and themselves drown in them too.

gorri said...

Let me humbly express my point of view about the so-called differences between atheism and agnosticism. I don't think this is an issue to worry about. It is much more significant in my mind to make it clear that I am an atheist, but not because I maintain that god does not exist, but rather because I have no god. (That's what the word atheist means, right?)In other words, I merely refuse to have a god of whatever kind presiding over my life. And that's quite enough for me. I don't need a philosophical discussion about the origins of the universe, which is a very interesting subject in itself, but one that has little to do with the alleged existence of a "god".

Joshua McGee said...

Excellent post. And in bizarre synchronicity, this post on MetaFilter provides a case study of some of what you talked about.

Joshua McGee

Coogan said...

I don't actually know any anti-atheist atheists. I know plenty of theists (or so they say) who have a very active hatred of atheists.

I have a friend who self-identifies as Christian, but his "belief" isn't even agreed upon by other friends. That is, they don't believe that he believes. I'd certainly agree that theist non-believers are the most common case. Approaching 100%, if my hypothesis is correct.

I keep asking: where does this violent hatred of the canonical atheist come from? The totally anti-moral atheist doesn't seem to exist, at least not in my experience. Are they skinheads? Are they the sociopaths, the serial killers? Scratch a typical atheist, and you find someone indistinguishable from a theist, except for the certainty that a supernatural god doesn't exist. This type doesn't seem to be worthy of such vilification.

vjack said...

Yes! This is a big one, and it is good to see it addressed so well. We'll never know how many of us there are until people are willing to admit their atheism. Probably the most helpful thing we can do is continue to educate people about what atheism means in the first place.

Tufty said...

Great stuff :-)

It's painful to think that there are closet atheists out there spreading all the atheophobic nonsense atheists have to put up with. It upsets me that many people call themselves agnostics because they think atheists are dogmatic and close-minded.

(see my blog against atheophobia)

Skepoet said...

I think one of the most frustrating thing about the terms "atheist" (which is a theological term) and "agnostic" (which is an epistemological term) is that ultimately they are sloppy. I know few "gnostics" in the epistemological sense, so "agnostic" is almost a non-descriptor. I use the term ignostic around people in the know, but I am an atheist in that I lack belief.

The bigotry in "atheist claim knowledge" is a deliberate confusion of theology (or its lack) with epistemology. It's a bait-and-shift tactic.

Joshua McGee said...

"atheist" (which is a theological term)

I'd contest that statement, if only because I cannot really see how theology could be considered a topic at all. "Atheist", I would contend, is properly an existential claim -- albeit (what should be) a rather obvious and banal claim.

Skepoet said...

Would "ontological" make you feel better? Or a-theological? Its definitely a claim about "being" and "belief" while agnostic is a claim about knowledge.

I definitely see your point.

Joshua McGee said...

Would "ontological" make you feel better?

Yes, it would -- and your comments are fertile enough that I would like to pen a longish response. However, I can't right now, due to prior obligations, which is frustrating.

Watch for it tomorrow, if you would.

Anonymous said...

I think most agnostics if honest would admit to being atheist at heart. I believe not doing so is because they want to avoid the shunning of friends and relatives now and into the future. Admitting the truth may be heroic but who ya gonna impress? There is a price to pay for being a contrarian in many places of work and social gatherings. Claiming to be agnostic is probably as far as you can go socially without being completly banned and shut out by leaving the window open for others who may think there is hope for you yet when in fact none exists.

Mule Breath... said...

Quite an interesting discussion. Of course its all semantics. My failure to consider the validity or theory of a creator does not require a label any more than my lack of belief in the Easter Bunny. Folks arguing the agnostic/atheist question are spinning wheels. What we need is more traction and less distraction.

Anonymous said...

I used to consider myself agnostic, now I lean a bit more towards Ignosticism. I'd be interested to read a comparison on Ingnosticism and Atheism, written by an Atheist.

Quite frankly, I think it would demonstrate the very individualistic nature of our thoughts/beliefs. And how, because each of us has our own unique definition of words and concepts (because none of us has lived the exact same life as another) it would basically show that how discussion of beliefs/thoughts may very well never lead to a destination, or overall "common ground" if you will.

Some people need to know a destination exists. I don't.

If asked my stance on religion, I usually reply that I am simply a skeptic.