Oct 22, 2011

Five things you should know about atheists from one non-believer's point-of-view

Over the years I've seen a lot of statements made by the religious of society about atheism. With the advent of social networking bringing people closer together world-wide, now seems a good time to explain a few things about which there are many baseless assumptions. Admittedly, my position on this topic can only be written from my limited, human, individual perspective. Later in life, I may very well find myself to be completely wrong, but I doubt it. I'd love to hear from my readers. Comments are welcome. Attacks will be laughed at.

We atheists are individuals, just like you. We don't all agree. One of the most pervasive assumptions I see made about we non-believers is that we're all Communists or Socialists. While it may be true of some of us, it's also true that there have been a good number of Christian and/or Muslim and/or Jewish and/or Hindu Socialists and/or Communists. A person's political belief system may be tied in with their religious beliefs/non-beliefs somewhat, but it's not always the case. Adolf Hitler embraced Christianity. His Nazi army even had belt-buckles with the slogan “Gott mit uns” emblazoned on them. Would you consider him a good person, based solely upon his religious beliefs?

To expect all individuals within any demographic to be the same is just silly and ignorant. I used to assume that all believers fit into specific categories in other aspects of life too, and fell for the “no true Scotsman” argument like so many others. But fortunately, I came to learn there are good and bad people within any group in life. Assuming that all atheists want a totalitarian government is like saying all white people have blue eyes – it's obviously not true. Like the joke says: “Blanket statements never work.”

Most of us are not anti-church. I love the idea of a stronger community. It just so happens to be what keeps us alive as a species. To know that groups of people, otherwise unrelated, get together and share time with one another – well – that's just wonderful! I also like the good things people do for one another within churches. I even have a favorite church myself!

They saved my life once, and they didn't use guilt or brainwashing or threats of fire and brimstone for eternity to do it, either. I've seen – first hand - the good things people can do for one another and churches do serve a purpose of being a “central clearinghouse” for such activities. They can, anyway. Unfortunately far too many churches express a doctrine of fear, ignorance and hate. It's those things which we non-believers (and a good number of believers) can't stand. I also do not think religious people are necessarily stupid. I just believe they're mistaken.

We do good too. I've seen the accusation that atheists are not charitable. That's simply not true. Just to name a couple of charities based on something other than a hope for reward in the after-life, we have this list from a friend. Just because we don't share the same dogma doesn't mean we don't feel empathy. Love is just as biological as the need for food.

Most of us recognize there are still a lot of mysteries about the universe. Here's where I'm most likely to catch crap from my fellow non-believers. I believe in the existence of life on other planets. I also believe there are certain forms of energy which we as humans do not quite understand yet, and they warrant study. No, I don't believe there is any sort of invisible sky-pimp ready to pop people into a place of eternal torment for not sprinkling goat blood in the middle of the temple floor. But I do believe that ancient peoples would sometimes use the term "God" or “the spirit realm” as an analogy to try and answer some of the other mysteries of life within their very limited scope of knowledge.

If you doubt whether we humans have any sort of as-yet-to-be-understood qualities try this. The next time you're sitting behind a stranger (at the library or a restaurant or wherever) stare at the back of their head. Keep staring. Focus on them. Shortly, you'll see them start scratching the back of their head, they'll begin looking around and eventually, they turn to make eye-contact with you. As a control, only do this with someone sitting by themselves, as to eliminate the possibility of a companion telling them “Hey, that fat guy sitting behind you is staring at you.”

We also have yet to fully understand intuition, and then there's that ability we all have to “sense” whether someone can be trusted, after nothing more than the first handshake and eye contact. Do I think this is anything “metaphysical?” No. Do I think it's anything “spiritual,” (as in the religious use of the word)? No. I do, however believe there are many, many wonderful and amazing things about being a living creature we have yet to understand fully. That's the beautiful thing about science, though. We welcome mysteries as something to be solved. As we learn more and realize we were wrong previously, the knowledge base is updated.

Most of us know more about your religion(s) than most of you do. I'm not saying this as any sort of in-your-face type of insult. There's a study supporting my claim. Last September 28, 2010, the Pew Research Center reported that out of all categories of belief systems, atheists and agnostics got more correct answers out of the 32 questions posed in a survey about religion. It makes sense, actually. If more people would just stop listening to what folks tell them about their religion and actually read their religious texts they'd likely see the documents as the invention of primitive, Iron Age nomads that they are. Then, we can get on with the business of treating each other properly. I know it was a thorough, cover-to-cover reading of the King James bible which finally helped me to choose to not believe in anything not verifiable.

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