Atheist Tirades

I got a question in one of the comments the other day:

“I’m still curious to know what atheist tirades are accomplishing except to convince everyone that atheists are the new brand of fundamentalists. enlighten me, O seer of atheism. are evangelical atheists just trying to carve out their own little niche? somewhere they can live comfortably without having to hear about religion? or is atheism only meaningful if they have theism to bash on?”

Well, no arguments against any of my positions here, just questioning my motives and my tone, I guess. Alright.

What do I hope to accomplish with my “atheist tirades?”

A few things:

  • This is my blog. Let me say that again. This is my blog. It’s where I write what I really think. You would prefer that I write what I do not really think? If so, too fucking bad. I’m writing what I think. Nobody’s forcing you to read it.
  • I hope to help make the world a place where people are not afraid to admit that they do not believe the idiotic nonsense that is pretty much all of theism. If you’ve spent some time on the internet reading deconversion stories, you might notice something. You can divide the stories into two categories: Pre-Internet, and Post-Internet. The Pre-Internet stories more often describe extreme isolation, loneliness, people thinking they are the only ones on the planet that think religion is a load of crap, etc., and are more likely to describe a deconversion process which spanned decades rather than months or a year or two. The Post-Internet stories tend to contain things like this (from here):

    So one day, with a long break between classes and nothing else to do, I decided to use the Yahoo search engine to see what I could find with the phrase “ex-Christian”. Suffice it to say that I had *no* idea of the wealth of information I would find simply by entering “ex-Christian” into Yahoo’s search toolbar and hitting Enter.

    Articles. Webrings. Collections of deconversion stories. Support sites. Sites with links to a bunch of other sites. I was amazed and a bit overwhelmed, not having the slightest clue where to begin since I hadn’t expected such a high number of results to sift through.

    You can’t tell who is an atheist just by looking at them. So out in the real world, being an atheist can be a bit lonely.

    When some eight or ten your old kid gets home from church on a Sunday morning thinking to himself, “Hmm, you know, that stuff they were talking about doesn’t really make very much sense,” what happens next? In the bad old days, he might think about it some more on his own, but would be unlikely to talk about it much with others, and would probably just keep these thoughts to himself, and likely think there was something wrong with himself for having such doubts in the first place. Today, he’s apt at some point to type a few choice words into Google. I’m here partly to make sure there’s some fresh things turning up now and then. That’s right, I’m after your kids minds. I really am. I want them to know that they are not the only ones doubting, that there is nothing wrong with them doubting, that millions and millions of people think religion is obvious bullshit, and that faith — being asked to be more certain about things than the evidence warrants, for no reason at all — is dishonest because it involves lying to yourself about how certain you should be. With faith, who are you fooling, except yourself? Who told you that faith was a virtue, and why did you believe them? Faith is no virtue. Faith is a con man’s trick to get you to feel good about yourself for believing his con.

  • Religion has had its way for so long and has managed to exempt itself from criticism for so long that the slightest questioning of another person’s faith is viewed as impolite. This allows people to be pretty damned cavalier about spouting off the most idiotic sort of nonsense framed in pious, religious language (which is itself also idiotic, but people have been brainwashed to think it isn’t) without much or any criticism. Well this license to spout idiocy, immune from criticism, is, when within my earshot, permanently revoked. If I read some pseudo-intellectual dork writing what is ostensibly a serious column full of theistic bullshit under some big name masthead and the mood strikes me, I won’t hesitate to kick the living shit out whatever arguments can be filtered out of the noise on offer. In short, I aim to make the world a place where theists are less sure that everyone will bend over (backwards or forwards) to allow them to spout nonsense without criticism. They should be prepared for fierce criticism. They can whine and question the motives of those who criticize, but that won’t stop the criticism.

How am I different from the religious fundamentalists I so vociferously criticize? Aren’t I being just as intolerant as the very ones I criticize? Doesn’t that make me a hypocrite?

  • I’m not the least bit intolerant. Mere criticism on a blog, even the sort of name-calling, profanity riddled polemics I produce here do not amount to intolerance. I am not suggesting anyone should not have the right to believe whatever it is that they believe, or that anyone ought to be coerced in any way, except by the compelling reasoning of their own mind as they see things, to believe anything.Compare this with the attitude of the adherents of faith, many of whom proclaim with pride that their adherents are willing to die for their unevidenced beliefs held only by faith. Some demonstrate this willingness by flying planes into the buildings of the infidels, or blowing themselves to bits in a crowded marketplace. Atheism in many Islamic countries is punishable by death. Death! The difference between me and the religious fundamentalists is that the fundamentalists generally think I deserve some sort of punishment. I don’t mind if the religious fundamentalists, (e.g. like this guy) think I’m a “goddamned stupid moronic motherfucking jackass” who’s “too much of a goddamned retarded asshole … to know what the fuck is up, when it comes to Jesus Christ.” That doesn’t bother me at all. (In fact, it’s hilarious.) In that sense, I am like the fundamentalists. Right back atcha, ya goddamned retarded asshole. 🙂
  • I’m different in that I don’t think the religious deserve some sort of punishment just because they don’t agree with me. I simply think they are badly mistaken. Religious fundamentalists think I am, and anyone who disagrees with them are, variously, deceived by the devil, evil, wicked, deserving of eternal punishment in the burning flames of hell, etc.
  • The religious fundamentalist typically wants his particular view of religion to be entangled with the government, and wants the government to grant his particular religion special status, to recognize that his view is the “one true” view, and for this government to be “based on Biblical principles”, (or Koranic principles), and so on. It is not often articulated what he supposes should be done by this government with people who do not adhere to this “one true” religious view, but I’m betting it’s not something good. I on the other hand, think government should simply stay completely out of religion, neither promoting it nor impeding it. I think failing to tax churches amounts to promoting religion — why aren’t churches considered to be just like everybody else? Why are they given special, tax-exempt status? The answers of the courts I find unsatisfactory. Likewise the “faith based initiatives” of the Bush administration are a blatant promotion of religion by government. Not promoting religion does not amount to impeding it, so this ridiculous fuss people raise when the ten commandments monuments get kicked off the courthouse lawns, etc., is pure bullshit.
  • The religious fundamentalist holds most typically as his “fundamental beliefs” that some particular writings of tribes of bronze age nomads who knew very little about the world they lived in are in fact the inspired word of the creator of the universe, and often, he believes that the contents of these writings are infallible. This despite that very often the fundamentalist has not actually read these writings. (In fact, the best, most effective way to get a Christian to become an ex-Christian is to get them to read the entire Bible — not that it’s all that effective.) And this conclusion he has arrived at not by reasoning, or by evidence, but most typically by childhood indoctrination (or, as I’d call it, brainwashing), and by faith — which is to say he has no reasons at all for believing what he believes about the origins and imputed meaning which he thinks these writings possess. I will try to sum up what might be considered the analogous “fundamental beliefs” which I hold:
  • If you’re interested in what’s really true, it’s a bad idea to be more certain that the evidence warrants.
  • There is no such thing as absolute certainty. The question is never “is this true?”, it is rather, “How certain is it that this is true?”
  • Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
  • Evidence is what can be sensed by one of the five senses directly, or indirectly via instruments (e.g. telescopes, microscopes, mass spectrometers, thermometers, etc.). Evidence should be reproducible by others.Anecdotes don’t count as evidence, though it’s ok to provisionally believe to some level of certainty trivial claims on anecdotes alone, barring the presence of contradictory evidence. (If someone tells you they have a pet golden retriever, well, lots of people have golden retrievers, this is a very ordinary claim. Without any reason to doubt him, the most likely reason for him to say that he has a golden retriever is that he does in fact have a golden retriever. On the other hand, if he claims his golden retriever can walk on water, this is not a very ordinary claim, and cannot be accepted without considerably more evidence.)
  • That’s about it. So I think my “fundamentaL” beliefs are quite different and extremely reasonable compared to the “fundamental” beliefs of the “religious fundamentalist.”

Why do I spend so much effort to “bash theism?”

I get the feeling the person who posted the comment which prompted this blog entry may be wondering why an atheist, someone who “merely” thinks theism is false, would spend so much effort “bashing theism.”

I’ll try to answer that, even though it wasn’t explicitly asked. It’s a question I get often enough.

So, if, according to me, religion is just so much bullshit, why do I care? Why do I bother to argue? Why not just go about my life and ignore it?

For more than 30 years, I did just that. I figured it was pretty harmless, and didn’t seem to affect me too much, so, eh, who cares? Well, I began to care when I realized that religion does affect me, and not in a good way.

If atheists are sometimes angry, there’s a good reason for it. Faith — believing things to a degree of certainty which exceeds (sometimes greatly) what is warranted by the available evidence — is exactly what drove those planes into those towers on 9/11. So yeah, that kind of idiotic, unquestioning belief, and the actions which follow from it make me angry. But that is an extreme, rather atypical example. Yet the beliefs held by millions who do not fly planes into buildings are no less absurd. Religion allows sane people to believe by the millions what one person alone would have to be insane to believe.

Let me try to give you some idea about what it feels like to be an atheist in this country, the United States of America. This is going to be difficult for you to take seriously, but to get my meaning you’re going to have to suspend disbelief and take this seriously for a moment. Imagine that 90% of the people around you seriously believe that leprechauns exist.

You might think, so what? What do I care what they believe? What effect would that have on me? I wouldn’t be bothered in the least. Well, let’s continue. Not only do they believe in leprechauns, they have special leprechaun hunting stores which stock all manner of contraptions and books about leprechauns, and special schools which teach children about leprechauns, and all of this is exempt from taxation, while the non-leprechaun-believers like yourself get nothing from it. Moreover, the leprechaun believers are constantly bitching and moaning about the non-leprechaun believers, sometimes going so far as to actually shun them, or refuse to communicate with them except anonymously through an intermediary. (Both of these have actually happened to me.) From time to time you meet some nice girl, but each time you let slip that you happen to think this leprechaun stuff is a load of nonsense, they break off communication and disappear, having been apparently brainwashed to believe non-leprechaun-believers are not suitable company. If you want to pursue an elected office, you had better believe in the leprechauns, and express your belief loudly and publicly, or you can forget it (Unless your a pro-wrestler in Minnesota, perhaps.) Surveys show that non-leprechaun believers are the least trusted of all minorities.

Sometimes you argue with the leprechaun-believers, and you find that after hundreds of such arguments, not a single solitary leprechaun believer has any arguments worth a crap. Not a one.

If you’re unlucky enough to be from a family who takes their leprechaun belief very seriously, you may find yourself excommunicated, divorced, and generally reviled by your own family.

Dealing with that sort of thing day after day, year after year, after awhile, and a few really bad experiences, you’re going to a be a tad touchy when the leprechaun believers come around with their same old tired “arguments” consisting mainly of holes that you’ve seen defeated a thousand times before.

And all of that whilst not a single person has ever captured, killed, or photographed a leprechaun, nor has anyone showed up with a big pot of gold, despite centuries of ritualized leprechaun hunting.

You may think the leprechaun story is not a good analogy for various reasons. From my point of view it’s a fine analogy, but, even if it weren’t a good analogy, the point is to demonstrate what it feels like to be an atheist in this country and give you some clue about why some atheists might be a bit touchy on the topic of religion, that is my intent with this story. The analogy is secondary. I’m not the only one who’s made such analogies, for example, Brent Rasmussen has written about it in his article, What It Feels Like to be an Atheist.

So, I’m one of the touchy atheists. I happen to know a few other atheists and I don’t see them arguing, or being touchy the way that I am. Probably nobody’s pissed them off quite like I’ve been pissed off yet, or they’re just the sort of person who shies away from rocking the boat.

You may wonder why I may sometimes present my arguments in a confrontational, belligerent way. Wouldn’t it be more effective to argue in a calm, considered manner, perhaps while smoking a pipe, sipping a brandy, while Bach plays on the stereo in the background? Maybe for some people it would. There are plenty of such atheists around, and if that is more to your liking, head on over to or the associated blog, Daylight Atheism. There is room for many styles of discussion. Some people need a slap in the face, a kick in the teeth. They may get pissed off at me, they may vow to prove me wrong, or prove to themselves that I’m wrong. More power to them. The more they learn, the more they’ll find out just how wrong I am.

~ by scaryreasoner on February 9, 2008.

7 Responses to “Atheist Tirades”

  1. Well said. I find myself getting less and less tolerant of the theistic apologists each time they spew the same tired, failed arguments. As near as I can tell; I have heard every possible argument FOR theism because I haven’t heard a new one for … well … about a month after I started debating the topic. I even force myself to read the highly reference apologist tomes (i.e. Lee Strobel) just to have it under my belt. It is so painful to read these things because they invariably start with one gross, invalid presuposition and then build and entire book on top of it…and their entire premise is already failed in the first chapter.

  2. Yeah, communication is the best thing the interent has given us, beating out porn, computer games, information and “personal expression”.

    Still it is funny you keep on getting this question- many people have answered it repeatedly a getting it can be rather… repetative. I suggest you do a “list of questions” next to the email button to answer such generic queries.

  3. I appreciate the clear thinking which goes onto your commentaries and replies. I also appreciate the rage that you express at the stupidity involved in some of the thinking you are working to straighten out. I wonder if you could write about the positive aspects of being free of the superstitions of religion? Really good blog you have here, thanks for doing it.

  4. John, sure, I’ll give it a try. You’ve got to realize though, I’ve never been religious. So, it’s harder for me to talk about the positive aspects of breaking free of the shackles of religion, since I’ve never been in precisely those shackles. There are plenty of people writing about that though.

    If you didn’t read the (very long) story I linked to above, about the girl who searched on yahoo for “ex-christian”, I *highly* recommend it. At the time, when she wrote that over the course of some days, there were quite a lot of people sort of on the edge of their seats, waiting for the next post. If I remember right, she ended up on NPR radio, or maybe it was BBC radio, because of that, and got an offer for a book deal — not sure anything came of that. Anyway, that link is a good read.

    Also, for *some* people, shedding religion can be a traumatic, unbearable experience, despite the obvious untruth of it. I remember one guy who was *terrified* of, not death, but the non-existence following it. No amount of telling him “it’s like before you were born” would console him, strange as that seems, and he went back to some kind of theist (not the kind he left though, more of a deistic thing.)

    Anyway, interesting stuff. I’m pretty sure this blog has made me a better writer, if nothing else.

  5. Amen to that!

  6. A comedic rant by George Carlin, !0 minutes, funny, as in the truest things are said in jest.

  7. Right on. This is some awesome writing and reasoning here and I definitely applaud you for that. I threw off religion between fourth and sixth grade and I’m the son of a former Catholic priest and former Catholic nun.

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