Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Post 499: A Call to Action

With post 500 just around the corner, I wanted to write a post to encourage my readers to not just read these posts and then go about life as usual, but to take action to make the world a better place for those who live on it.

The Barbarians at the Gate

Austin Cline at About: Agnositicism/Atheism in a post titled, “Atheists are Coming for Your Children, Your Liberty” discussed an article in “Answers to Genesis” that raised the alarm that atheists are after their children and that militant atheists are out to destroy Christianity.

In reading the AiG article, I noticed that it was a fundraising piece. The author begins by shouting the alarm that the barbarians (that’s us, in case you didn’t recognize us) are at the gates, and if we capture their stronghold then we will kill all the men, rape their women, and boil and eat their children. Then he rallies the troops to defend all that is good and holy by enlisting in the AiG army or contributing money so that AiG can hire mercenaries to defend the barricades, keeping the barbarian atheists away.

Of course, we are wise barbarians. We recognize the value of hitting our enemy at their most vulnerable spot – their children. If we can capture the children, then time alone will take care of the rest. We are such clever creatures, for all of our barbarianism.


This blog is not a Christian vs. Atheist blog, and I have no interest in these conflicts per se. I do not write about the existence of God or the contradictions in any religious text. I do hold that the proposition “God exists” is almost certainly false. There are an infinite number of things that one can believe without evidence, and the odds of any one of them being true are 1/infinity. This number is never zero, but it gets pretty darn close to zero. Close enough, in fact, that it is rational to say, “For all practical purposes – for all of the effect that it has on the real world – it’s zero.”

However, the world is far too complex and time is far too short for all of us to give every belief close rational scrutiny. We form our beliefs on the run, as we move from one concern to the next. We have to forego perfect rationality in favor of ‘rules of thumb’ that sometimes yields wrong answers. In spite of the higher possibility of error, we get our answers faster. In the real world, a faster possibly wrong answer is often more useful than a guaranteed true answer that comes too late. Evolution itself would favor such mental shortcuts.

The rule I argue for in determining when a person has an obligation to take the time to hold their beliefs up to the clear light of reason is when there is a threat of harm to others. The greater the potential harm, the greater the moral obligation to use reason to determine if a belief is true or false.

If by “Christian” one means a person dedicated to curing the sick and injured, feeding the hungry, and helping people find fulfillment compatible with their nature and the well-being of others, I am happy to have such people among my neighbors. I can see no reason to object to Christianity in this form – what I will call a Christian of the First Order. In fact, a Christian could be a desire utilitarian. There is no inherent conflict in the idea that God created the world in which morality exists, and that desire utilitarianism describes the moral fabric that God created. I think that one could interpret Jesus as a person who said, “Do that act that a person with good desires would do.” Indeed, this would be a reasonable interpretation of the question, “What would Jesus do?”

However, there is a second type of “Christian” – a Christian of the Second Order. This type of Christian stands in defense of death and sickness by blocking the medical research that could find a cure for these ailments. Their “beliefs without evidence” condemn hundreds of millions of people to suffering and death because they have decided to claim that a 150-cell blastocyst has a soul. They use this same superstition to claim the right to empower the state to take control of the bodies of women and treat them as government property. The teach hatred of science and reason when science and reason provide the necessary tools for curing the sick and injured, feeding the hungry, and helping people to live more fulfilling lives.

These Second Order Christians subject young homosexuals to emotional abuse severe enough to drive many of them to suicide – which these Christians have no reason to be concerned about since their Bible says that homosexuals should be put to death anyway. It is, at least, legal to drive them to suicide.

These Second Order Christians promote conflict in various parts of the world in order to fulfill biblical prophecy, and neglect the long-term well-being of Earth and humanity because they believe we have no long-term interests. The Rapture will happen any day now.

When Christianity turns into a tool for doing harm to others, then any caring person has no obligation but to take stand up for those who would be harmed.

Of course, there is no sharp dividing line between these two groups. There is a continuum, with some Christians drifting closer to the First Order conception and others closer to the Second Order account.

Preventing Harm

If a person has a genuine concern to protect innocent people from harm, then that person will have a reason for action to prevent others from becoming people who do harm. There is a genuine moral obligation to oppose Second Order Christians – precisely because they are a threat to others. They bring death, disease, hate, and ignorance, and they stand in the way of making wise decisions about the long-term future of the Earth and its inhabitants.

Atheists have children of their own. If they do not have biological children, they have nieces and nephews, and friends with children. They have reason to be concerned that as the child grows the child not suffer the pains and loss of diseases that could have otherwise been cured, groundless hate, violence in the name of God, and that the world be a place capable of sustaining them rather than having been driven into the sewers by their selfish and short-sighted ancestors.

To do that, atheists of today have reason to take steps to ensure that their children’s neighbors are people who will help rather than harm. And harm done in the name of God is still harm.

As I noted earlier, Austin Cline’s remarks were made in response to a fund raising letter. It was a call to collect money to promote the author’s own cause of hatred and ignorance. Every person who answered that call and contributed money, paid to make the world worse than it would have otherwise been. They paid to promote hate and ignorance, and to raise yet another generation of children to be a threat to their neighbors and to do harm in the name of God.

No doubt, they will go to bed feeling proud of their accomplishments. There is no doubt that the witch-burners, inquisitors, and crusaders of the past felt the same pride.


This posting, too, is a fundraising letter – a call to readers to commit to taking action to defending reason and enlightenment, to defending your own children and the children of those you care about, against those who would do them harm.

I am not accepting any contributions – you will find no “donate” button on this blog. I have nothing against donations, and this might change in the future, but at this point I consider it to be too much of a hassle.

However, the forces of ignorance and hate – the Second Order Christians – are very well funded, and can only be met by organizations that have comparable resources to draw upon. This means volunteer labor and cash contributions – even to the point of sacrificing other things that you might want.

I am not a fan of promoting atheism per se. Atheism does not imply any moral code, and it is possible for an atheist to be no less a threat to others than a theist. I argue that the effort should go specifically to attacking those attitudes that can be directly linked to harm to others. In doing so, those who defend that which is right and good have had a habit of biting their tongue when they encounter those who use religious argument. That tongue-biting must come to an end. When religion is used in defense of policies that are harmful to others, then that religion (or that sect of that religion) needs to be truthfully labeled as a belief system that makes its followers a threat to others.

To the degree that fewer people have attitudes that are harmful to others, to that degree we will have fewer people being harmed by others.


So, I actually do encourage my readers to find activities that will reach children and teach them the fundamentals of reason and science, and to turn them away from the doctrines of ignorance and hate that surround them. This does not mean being anti-Christian. It means being anti-hate and anti-ignorance, and a willingness to chase down these evils even when it hides behind a curtain of faith.

It is not wrong to want our children to enjoy their adulthood in a society that is not drowning in ignorance and hate.

In all of this, it is far better to peacefully persuade a person to give up ignorance and hate than to force them to do so. For the sake of the kids, it is worth the effort.


Anonymous said...

If I may make a suggestion.
There is away to:
-Help the children
-Make the world better than it would have otherwise been
-Allie ourselves with first order believers
-Prove our morality to second order believers
-Promote sustainability, tolerance, and fight ignorance.


Sean Wright said...

I here and I'd chime and say amen brother if it weren't inappropriate ;)

I think anonymous missed the point slightly and was being an ass.

Keep up the writing

Patness said...

Alonzo, I'm in a position where I'd like to buy a book for someone that might do a good job of explaining my atheism. The first problem is that I have not been inspired to atheism by a book. I became an atheist (and computer scientist, from fundie Christian roots) through my contact with others online, and through reading blogs like Stupid Evil Bastard and Pharyngula.

Background: Last Christmas (2005) my family was pressing the idea that "they just can't see" meaning or morality without the Bible. I and my girlfriend (both atheist, and girlfriend coming from a strongly atheist family and culture in New Zealand) were present, and I said "well, I'm an atheist and I have no problem seeing meaning in life".

This Christmas, despite needing plenty little things as a student (stainless steel dishes, canisters of compressed air, small tools, extra towels, socks, etc) my mother, who is a former teacher, bought me a $70 leather-bound Bible. She got one for each of my older brothers as well. In each she left a personalized message for each of us. Mine reads "Because God loves you even more than I do, this is so you can get to know Him".

Now, I entered the church voluntarily (as voluntary as these things come when you're 9 years old and amidst a tremendous personal crisis). Did catechism, did communion, then gradually became disinterested in the whole business. I cannot think of a more insensitive and insulting "gift".

However, I understand she meant the best by it. I want to get her a book that describes reasons for atheism, to help her understand I'm not some godless heathen (though I am admittedly amoral for entirely social reasons). My mother is capable of reason (however rarely she chooses to exercise it firmly).

I really can't say much about the type of book I'm looking for, although if I can leave her with food for thought she'll be less quick to judge me and my S/O. Books that ask a lot of interesting (and serious) questions about God and the world are likely to keep her attention for some time, and at least open her to some ideas (if that's possible at all) that may not agree with her theology. Good hard reasoning is a must. The more informal the better, but it must be sound.

So... any suggestions, Alonzo?

Alonzo Fyfe said...


The only 'book' that I can recommend that can explain your atheism is one that you write.

It would, perhaps, start with the biographical information you put in your post.

I cannot even think of how another person's book about their atheism will help you - unless you think that there is another person who fits exactly your situation.

I am afraid to say that I do not. I never converted from any religion. I grew up thinking that the Bible was like the Illiad and the Oddessey. They were all just stories. It did not even occur to me that there were people today who still believed them.

So, my story is certainly not your story.

So, write your own story. (It does not have to be the size of a book.) Use that to explain your atheism to those whose opinion you care about.