Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Atheists of so many ilks

More and more I'm beginning to see and understand the types of atheists I get along with and the kinds I don't.

To begin with, I'll say that while atheists come in all brands, they do have certain shared commonalities. Some of the commonalities are standardized, that is: they share the same canon of philosophers: Dawkins, Hitchens, and the like. Other commonalities are personality traits...the most basic of which is that they simply have decided that A) those who believe in God are not as deep as they are. (The assumption here is that 1) they have walked in our shoes and managed to remain undeceived about this God silliness or B) if they had walked in our shoes, they would not have succumbed to belief in fairytales, God, and the like. In short, they are way less gullible and far wiser than the rest of the world.)
and
B) those who believe in God are simply not to be believed. (They basically have decided that believers are either liars or deluded. They wouldn't come out and say that but that's pretty much their foundational belief. So they believe that if a believer tells them about anything about prayers being answered or an encounter with the numinous that person is mistaken.)

An atheist's family's religious background also shows up in his life. Not that many will admit this.

A few examples will give you an idea of what I mean. Not making a great generalization but some stuff I've seen: :
An atheist from an orthodox Jewish religious background often loves and values text, law, and learning.  I love Orthodox Jewish atheists. There are also my Jewish atheist friends who are from reformed backgrounds. From my experience, these friends tend to love justice and social causes. .

An atheist who comes from an evangelical background will tend to aim to live a life of accepting everything that they almost go overboard in their "well, I can't judge." I mean...really overboard.

An atheist from a Mennonite background often likes community, and often attempts to bring or create a community of like-minded like-souled people. I love Mennonite atheists.

An atheist from a Roman Catholic background tends to sacramentalize stuff. Certain objects, family rituals, movies, take on a certain spirituality. They also have a keen sense of what is morally right and morally wrong. They make great ethicists, I think.And the ones I know are into women's rights.

The flipside of all this is that an atheist who comes from a particular religious background often carries the prejudices born of that religion as well. When speaking with Catholic atheists, one realizes one is dealing with someone who has a Catholic god. And an Islamic atheist's idea of God will always feel a little too fatalistic for a Christian. And an atheist who comes from a Mormon or evangelical background might still retain certain personality traits. One simply cannot get rid of one's background...no matter how deep and wise one thinks one is.

An atheist who comes from a family with only a nominal American spirituality tends to be the worst kind of atheist because they generally have only the work of pop religion to come up against. These are the type of atheists I tend to dislike. You say "God bless you when they sneeze" and they accuse you of pushing God down their throats. Of course they may have met Christians who were ready to judge and consign them to hell but they'll also have met kind easygoing Christians. Except that their minds will tell them that ALL the Christians they've met are horrible people. They just look to have us fit into the stereotype because they ahve been trained to dislike Christians in general. And they often jump from not believing in Christianity to simply not believing in anything. Being Americans -- and thus filled with American traits-- they tend to be the ones who use American tropes. They also have cultural idiocies such as:

Atheism as victimization -- "It's so scary to "out" myself as an atheist when Christians are ready to cut my throat."

Atheism as a legal right -- "We atheists have our rights too."

Atheism as holy (This is often linked to the victimization trope. Something like: Being a victim is holy, therefore I am a victim, therefore I have never victimized, therefore religion is bad, therefore no religion is good, therefore atheism is the holiest of paths.) This is often extended to

Atheism as holy war: "We must keep the world safe for atheism and protect our children from the encroachment of evil because all religion is evil.)

Atheism as clear thinking and enlightened -- "The Bible is a barbaric book written by barbaric men in barbaric times.") The general idea here is that we moderns are too enlightened to deal with book. After all, we have partial birth abortions where doctors half-deliver babies and jab the baby's neck to kill the baby, we have forced abortion in China, capital punishment in the US. (Inevitably the atheist aligns her idea of enlightenment with her own class and her own culture. So if one shows what non-religious modern gov'ts have done, they say well that was Hitler and Stalin and Mao...not "us" meaning the united states, or people in my own class of enlightened people. So modern enlightened people inevitably ends up being a praise of western civilization and mores....and the atheist's own enlightened friends.)

Atheism as affront. "Could a good God allow evil?" Atheists tend to have the kind of Sunday school mentality wherein a person believes a god God should prevent all evil. At the same time the atheist believes in her own goodness so never really thinks about the fact that if she asks God to destroy evil and if God were to remove man's free will and man's rule over man's own sphere by taking away all man's evil, this would necessarily mean that the atheist herself would have to be removed. Of course atheists don't believe themselves to be perfect but when they think of God allowing evil, they never think about God allowing them to live beside say Hitler.

Atheism as being especially against a Christian Theism. Which I suppose is the point. But the annoying thing here is that the atheist is always saying things are in the Bible which decidedly are not in the Bible. "The Bible says there's original sin." or "The Bible says man cannot be good unless God decides to make man good but at the same time God puts people into hell." or "The Bible is a sexist book.")

Subsets of this are: "If God exists, why should He care about your little problems?"  -- Again, this idea of God as important CEO, probably a response to the idea of a sovereign God.

or "There is no proof for God's existence."    -- Something I always considered silly because I watch way too many criminology shows. The way I see the scene of the "crime" is the universe. And proof depends on evidence we may or may not understand. In the days before fingerprints existed, did anyone know fingerprints mattered? Before the growth of quantum physics, Christians thought "In the beginning God said, 'Light!'" or "In the beginning was Light" was poetic and doctrinal. Now quantum physicists have proven that sound made light and that light made the world. They've even proven that humans are made of sound and light and that there are other dimensions.

This leads to the basic problem with atheists: they are always faithful to old science. They accuse religious people of being backward but more and more we see how stolidly faithful atheists are to concepts and "facts" that have been changed or downright annihilated by newer science. Religion spoke of spiritual realm -- and a spiritual God within-- long before Carl Sagan spoke about the fourth dimension being  "inside" the 3rd dimension.  The Bible spoke about mountains under the sea, the earth being hung upon nothing, and the earth being one land mass long then being divided long before scientists talked about the continental shift etc. And when atheists start telling me the Bible's historical facts are wrong, it is always clear they've read some old higher critics historical document and never read up on later history or a rebuttal. How many people have lost their faith because the higher critics said there was no such thing as the Hittittes, Pontius Pilate, Ur of the Chaldees, David, Solomon! By the time archeology proved that these people -- only mentioned in the Bible-- actually existed, those folks lost who their faiths had already forgotten why they lost their faith. All they knew was the Bible was "wrong." They didn't research to see if what one book or one teacher taught them was true. For instance, if I hear one more person tell me the shroud of Turin was a hoax! Didn't they see the rebuttal and profuse apologies made by the scientists who got it all wrong.  As C S Lewis said, "A young atheist must hold onto his faith with dear life."

Let's -- to avoid an argument-- say that those of us who believe in God are deluded and not as emotionally or intellectually strong as our more enlightened western dwellers. Let's say God is my crutch? Why then should someone who has way more money (their crutch, probably) than I do, someone with no children dead or alive, someone not as often as death's door as I am, someone who probably doesn't know what it was like to actually have no food literally -- well, why should this person want to disabuse me of my crutch? And after they have taken away my crutch, what will this very enlightened person give to those of us who have so much less than they do? Sorry, life is unfair. We're rich or at least middle-class, our children are healthy, we have no dead children, and in short your valiant struggle to live -- whether you were a slave in plantation days or a falsely-accused, falsely-imprisoned prisoner is utterly meaningless to anyone but you? So, yeah, I find pushy atheists to be cold and insensitive and whiny and inconsiderate. (Although it must be stated that for weak folks who need crutches to live -- unlike our enlightened and strong atheist friend who needs no such god-crutch-- there have been religious people from many faiths (especially Christians) who have suffered through some very horrible imprisonments and suffering and maintained their strength and their faith. So, perhaps we religious people are strong in our own way.

The other thing that bothers me about pushy angry atheist is that they all hold to a basic tenet that a religious person who has seen something of God (through a miraculous healing, through a vision, etc) is (of necessity to the atheist's beliefs) lying or deluded. If one has been miraculously healed, if one died and went to hell, if one saw an angel or a demon...and is stupid enough to tell an atheist, one will see this determination to not believe their fellow man. I'm an easygoing person. Not gullible by any means. But if you're my friend and if you tell me you went to the deli, I will believe it. If you tell me you saw the President, I will believe you. If you tell me you saw a ghost, I will believe you. Not so the atheist. The atheist qualifies her friend's statements. This I will believe but in this my dear friend is deluded or is flat-out lying. So, one of the basic tenets of atheism is that they are free to consider their religious friends liars or deluded. Who wants friends who pick and choose what they will believe of what we say?

I don't mind easygoing atheists and agnostics, though. I can proudly say that I have some very good atheist acquaintances. Not really friends, perhaps...because what do we really have in common? At the core of my life is the belief that much in this world will only matter in the light of a Greater Light. So, I connect with my Jewish atheist friends in their love for justice, and my Roman Catholic atheist friends in their love of the sacramental, and my Mennonite friends in their love for beauty, and even with my Islamic atheist friends in a kind of stoical acceptance of certain things in life. But I don't connect with them as much as I do with my religious friends of whatever religion. And definitely not as much as I connect with my religious Christian friends.
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