Ok, I am a bit afraid to broach this subject, so please; I want to preface this very, very carefully. I have a feeling these could be rather dangerous questions I’m about to ask. Just so everyone knows, I’m not trying to be a dick, and I’m not trying for any gotcha questions, hand to god (please excuse the pun). I am genuinely curious on the subject of atheism and while I have a number of publications that have been suggested to me (and I intend to read!), I wanted to hear from people who were perhaps a bit more, well, personal on the subject. I don’t wish to offend anyone, and I’m not looking to be a bother, I just want to reach out and hear from real people.
My experience with atheism isn’t exactly pretty. Most atheists I have met tend to fall into the camp of what I imagine would be call ‘fake- atheists’; the same way you might have a ‘fake- lesbian’ or even a ‘fake-Buddhist’. What I mean to say is I don’t get the impression that they understand why they are atheists or have made the choice for a reason that might have nothing to do with religion. Most I’ve met are people who enjoy the shock value of saying “I hate/don’t believe in god”, but press them on why and what you discover is they hate/don’t believe because it gets their daddies panties in a twist, and that’s about as deep as it goes. Hey, live as you want to live, that’s great! But that kind of atheism, I’m afraid, does little to help bring any light to the subject, at least for me. I listen to the Sunday school podcast and I read through the posts here on the forum, and I feel there is more to most atheists then just a personal Freudian vendetta. I also hear stories of some of the atheist lawsuits and, to be sure, there are some that make perfect sense, but there are others that feel like they are just rabble rousing. I don’t want to make any judgments however, since I feel I have not heard from both sides on these arguments… and so here I am.
Forgive the long winded intro, but a bit of context might also be in order. Feel free to skip ahead to the questions if you so choose.
I am an artist, and in my masters studies I have become interested in the question of the functional responsibility of art (since so much of it in the recent years…well…sucks) - which, in turn, has lead me to look into questions of social structuring. This includes not jut social, political, and economic functions but recently religious functions as well. For my part I was raised catholic, but none of it stuck- if anything it left me with more questions than answers so I abandoned the whole mess at the time. I’ve been called a humanist on more than one occasion, but the word has little meaning to me at this time (take that for what it’s worth). I come to the subject of religion as an archeologist and philosopher rather than a practitioner. I am rather keen to many of the theories of religion put forward by scholars such as Joseph Campbell (my gris-gris you might say) who argue that religion is best understood as a sequence of metaphors for psychological phenomena.
I suppose what I am (unsuccessfully) trying to explain is while I understand the basic intent of Atheism, I am that ass hole who is given to asking ‘why’. I understand the rough why of ‘why have religion’, but I’m not sure I understand ‘why atheism’
Ok, enough of that, here are the questions…
Is it that atheists, on the whole, reject prospects of established religion because of its pointless dogma, or is it a rejection of the concept principle of a higher ‘cognitive power’, or is it the rejection of the systematic structural function religion seeks to provide as a whole?
Campbell describes religion in terms of four functions (wikipidia does a pretty good job outlining them if you are interested)- do atheists reject the need for such functions, or are those functions provided by alternative means?
I’ve heard many atheists say they do not believe because “what greater power would make a human suffer”- would someone be at all willing to expand on this point? I completely understand the argument in the context of a western narrative, but I wonder about system structures where a higher power is devoid of judgment (for example, many eastern cultures and tribal cultures do not make such a distinction).
I suppose I’m also a little confused on the prospect of an atheist community. I mean, if there is a rejection of a larger system structure, that would imply to me that an atheist draws on their own personal experience to create things like ‘affect images’ and life rituals and so on. That makes sense, but then I hear about atheist communities and I wonder ‘is there an established set of images and rituals, since that’s usually the reason to have a community- to share in rituals. Or is it unified by the fact that it is independent?’
I feel horrifically guilty reading out over all of this. Way to bring a fun forum down- I’m going to go look up some monkey news now. Maybe then I won’t feel so guilty.
Like I said, this is only someone asking questions who wants to understand, not someone looking to cause problems, and everyone here seems so nice and so fun I thought ‘if ever there was a time to ask, people here might be the most willing to put up with your stupid shit’ If this is too much of a downer/serious I invite the community to simply ignore.
All the best
I'm Agnostic, so maybe that means I'm a little more chill, but I don't see any problem whatsoever with asking serious, interesting questions that matter. You're fine.
First thing reading your post made me wonder was, "Were the Atheists you met teenagers?" I recall in adolescence that being shocking was developmentally appropriate, just something people have to do to define themselves and establish independence from their caregivers. I remember a lot of Atheists I knew back then being like that for that reason, but I don't really think that describes the cohort of Atheists I know now (I'm 26).
Some Anti-Theists I have run across kind of seem that way, but they are usually really ready to tell you about all the reasons that religion is harmful. (For some hopefully helpful definitions, please see this article: http://www.alternet.org/story/155685/no_religion_7_types_of_non-bel....)
I also think it's good to keep in mind that a lot of the Atheism-based lawsuits you see are essentially designed to prevent the further entrenchment of a social environment in which non-believers are second-class citizens. If you are not an Atheist, this can be difficult to understand, but how does that saying go? "No one has to explain institutional racism to a black man."
Pointless dogma, "higher cognitive power," and institutional structure are all good reasons to reject religion, and many atheists do so for various combinations of these reasons. One you left out seems to be more popular, though - that there's no evidence to believe in a deity, so they don't. You're not going to find a real consensus, though, because being a freethinker is about arriving at your own conclusions.
Non-believers usually think Campbell's four functions should be provided for by something else - often reason or science or benevolence toward other humans. Of course, there are also the type of anarchists who don't believe in a deity or any sort of social order. They seem to be rare, though.
Saying, "God is a sadistic monster," implies that god exists. People who say that they are Atheists because god is sadistic are not atheists. However, that argument can be used defensively to refute the supposition that Atheists are "rejecting God's love". I haven't really seen this as being too prevalent or important, though.
I guess it depends on how you define ritual, but I respectfully disagree with the idea that communities exist to share rituals. Communities principally exist for social contact and support, in my opinion. Maybe having discussions could be considered a ritual? Or humanitarian work (see "Atheism+")? I don't know. But in any case, feeling like you belong is a strong need that communities in general tend to fulfill, and the non-believer community tries not to be an exception. Sometimes. (I'm referring to the TAM sexual harassment controversy over the summer).
Hope this helps.
I started becoming an atheist at age 14 when they following happened:
1) A church youth group leader told us how alcohol was evil as were the people who drank it. My father would have a glass of wine with dinner or an occasional beer. he was never drunk and was a loving, caring person. This was when I realised that people will lie to promote their faith.
2) I saw the film Man of La Mancha. After a little research on the inquistion I realised that people will kill to promote their faith.
3) I said "I believe in God" to my (way smarter than me) brother who replied "Which God?" "The catholic god, the anglican god, the muslim god, etc?" This is when I began to understand that they all cannot be right but they can all be wrong.
Ultimately it is the fundimental illogic in all religions that led to my atheism. It boils down to a discussion I had with a friend a few years ago. They said "There has to be something more to life" to which I replied "Why?"
@Martha Anderson, re: agnosticism, I like what George Hrab says about agnosticism and atheism - they are answers to two different questions. Atheism is about belief (theism) while agnosticism is about knowledge (gnosticism). I am an atheist because I don't believe in gods and I am also agnostic as I do not know whether gods exist. By definition a believer in gods is also agnostic because they too cannot "know" that gods exist.
There is also a further question to this which is should we worship god/s? Even if someone could prove to me beyond any doubt that god/s exist, does this mean I should immediately worship them? For example if the all powerful, all knowing christian god exists (just like we should not love or respect an abusive parent) why would I want to worship someone that allows thousands of people to be killed in earthquakes and tsunamis?
Being agnostic is an epistemological position. You can't know either way. Atheists can believe there is no God but accept that they cannot be certain.
It can be an epistemological position. It's not necessarily one, though. I find the pigeonholing to be obnoxious and condescending - please don't tell me what I think and feel. At a very shallow level, I'm Agnostic in the way you're talking about. But at a deeper level, I emotionally believe in a fundamentally benevolent consciousness that pervades every subatomic particle in the universe. I just intellectually know that it makes no sense.
You've been taught about god. Without the suggestion of god you wouldn't have any knowledge or interest in it. Atheism is what you're born with. There is no more evidence for any god than there is for the Flying Spaghetti Monster. People wrote stories to entertain their friends. Atheism is the real, basic, human setting. Agnostic means you've been tainted with stories and are unwilling to accept that so many people have been so badly fooled. Religious means you've bought into the fiction.
Seriously, why are so many people who are not Agnostic so focused on defining Agnosticism in a demeaning way? And then plugging their ears to what actual Agnostics have to say? Come. On.
Hitch, Dawkins and I think even Penn agree you cannot prove God does not exist. Consequently, in terms of knowledge as justified true belief, you cannot know there is no God. So, the default setting is agnostic.
Do you get to define the meaning or does the standard meaning apply? The standard means, "I don't know if there is a god." It's meaningless. It is the same as, "I don't know if my toaster doesn't fly." Do you really not know if your toaster flies? It's not epistemologically useful to have no objective reality. There is no evidence for god or your toaster flying. I'm okay with, "My toaster doesn't fly."
Knowledge in the way I am using it "is justified true belief." You cannot justify metaphysical claims, so you cant have knowledge of them. However, you can still have belief. You can test whether your toaster flies. You can justify that by throwing the toaster. Knowledge is not the same as belief.
V.C.M your message is 90% posturing and 10% substance.
If you have to ask why "atheists" don’t believe and if we have rituals and etc. etc. than you really are not getting the point. Ask yourself, what do you believe? Work your way out of your quandary of apologetic questions from there. If you decide that you want to pin your hopes and your progression through life on the hope of a deity than go to your favorite believer and get the skinny on how they reconcile it.
If you have a strong suspicion that religion and/or belief in a single higher power is a construct of our very human creative imaginations, than proceed along that line of questioning. It won’t matter to atheists or theists either way. It’s your choice, search YOUR soul because it’s personal and how you decide is all about you.
There are some very good answers to your posts here by others. I hope you get nearer a resolution.
I'm coming at this from a Christian perspective.
I understand and largely agree with Campbell's functional view of religion. Yet I don't understand how a mere intellectual understanding of these functions can actually accomplish the functions in a real society. Understanding why "Thou shalt not steal" is good for society as a whole doesn't help much when I get an opportunity to steal from my boss and blame it on a co-worker. I could likely rationalize why both my boss and co-worker deserved their fate. Whereas true belief would lead to the conclusion that God said don't steal, so I wouldn't. The point is that intellectual understanding doesn't serve as a substitute for faith on a functional level.
As you implied, someone might choose atheism out of rebellion against the social order (supporting the establishment was one of the functions Campbell listed). Yet how could any sane person prefer lawlessness leading to a hunter gatherer existence to modern medicine? A rebel making a stand to make the world a better place would seem to be better served in switching religions (or even inventing a new one) than in rejecting religion.
Nor does the fact that religion is functional imply God does not exist. Oxygen in the air is functional. Life evolved to need oxygen. The fact we need oxygen is and indication (if not a proof) that oxygen exists. Similarly the functionality of faith implies something about God (perhaps not His existence, but certainly not His non-existence).
Most atheists approach their belief from a Christian perspective (at least in the U.S.). Most value life, love, and the golden rule. Most don't even question these core values. But historically there were many (most?) cultures where these ideas where rejected (or never heard of).
The Aztecs built a functioning society on hatred and fear. Leaders can and did pick people for ritual murder on whim. If the high priest wanted your young son for a sex act ending with cutting your son's heart out, he took your son. Fear ruled and Cortez's calls for parley and fair treatment were met with aggression or fear. This was not unique. Many other such cultures existed. Love is not universally valued.
In America, we Christians share many fundamental values with atheists. This is what most of us mean by declaring the U.S. to be a Christian nation.
Well now there's a new religion in town. It declares atheists can be hunted down in the streets and beaten to death. Perhaps this is a better value (though I disagree, Darwin might not). The question is, do atheists have a strong enough sense of self preservation to realize where their attacks on Christianity will lead?