Standing Up For Nontheists Like Nicole

The Out CampaignFor years, my deepest, most fervent and heart felt opinion on the ontological existence of deity has been a passionate conviction that the question of whether or not god exists is boring.

In fact, metaphysics is my sleeping pill of choice. It takes reading less than two paragraphs of any philosophical proof for the existence of god to conk me out.

Hell, even the memory of reading a proof will conk me out.

In college, I scored high marks in metaphysics, but that was when I was young and stupid. Now that I’m old and stupid, I simply don’t have enough energy to tread through the awful metaphysical muck of god’s alleged existence.

So far as I can see, god is an unnecessary hypothesis. That is, it seems to me the existence of god is not required to explain anything. And that fact accounts for most of my boredom — maybe all of my boredom — with the question of god’s existence.

Perhaps, I should add here that there are ways in which the notion (but not the existence) of god interests me. I am, for instance, quite interested in how our brains evolved a predisposition to see the hand of god in events. I am quite interested in what some mystics call “an experience of god”. And I am even interested to some extent in the sociology and politics of god. But — and I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this yet — the question of god’s existence bores me.

I am reluctant to call myself an atheist, agnostic, or theist because I am too bored with the question of god’s existence to study the matter. I figure if you are going to call yourself an atheist, agnostic, or theist, you should take at least a day or two to think about whether you honestly believe god exists or not. But I haven’t done anything so noble as that since I was young and stupid, and had professors breathing down my neck to read up on metaphysics.

Having said all that, it might now surprise you that I have somehow managed to work up enough energy to stick an atheist “A” on my blog.

It’s not that I’ve become an atheist. I’m still way too bored to become an atheist. What’s got me riled up enough to stick that “A” on my blog is neither metaphysics nor theology, but prejudice, discrimination, and politics. In short, I’ve become pissed at the way atheists are treated in America.

There are polls that show Americans are so prejudiced against atheists the majority of them would presumably elect George W. Bush to a third term than vote for an atheist. Atheists are now the least trusted people in America — ranking lower even than war-mongering neoconservatives. In the popular mind, they have become scapegoats for nearly every social ill Americans face. Americans think atheists are immoral, anti-social jerks who have no legitimate place in their society and deserve no respect. The President’s father, George H. Bush, at one point even declared American atheists were not citizens: “…I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.”

As if it’s not enough that a former president declares atheists are neither citizens nor patriots, several cases have come to light of atheists being grossly mistreated and harassed by their fellow Americans. Perhaps the most infamous of the recent cases is the Nicole Smalkowski Affair. Nicole Smalkowski is a small town girl who came out as an atheist while in high school and consequently unleashed a torrent of harassment against her and her family. Among myriad other cruelties, she was alternately verbally abused and ostracized by students and teachers, kicked off the school basketball team, and the harassment criminally extended to a plot by her school principal to have her father prosecuted on false charges of assault. In short, her community did everything it could except lynch a rather sweet, brave teenage girl for being an atheist.

The Nicole Smalkowski Affair and other instances of harassment and mistreatment anger me. There is no excuse for it. None. So, I am sticking the atheist “A” on my blog in solidarity with Nicole Smalkowski, her family, and all rest of this nation’s minority of atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers.

The atheist “A” is the symbol of Richard Dawkins’ Out Campaign. Dawkins eloquently introduces the Campaign here. Whether you yourself are an atheist, an agnostic, a theist, or just don’t care about the options, I urge you to support the Out Campaign. Thank you!

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41 thoughts on “Standing Up For Nontheists Like Nicole

  1. Glad to see the ‘A’ on your blog. I will likely do the same when I remember and get some free time to write and tinker with my site.

    The same issues anger me as well. It’s really just stupid too because many of the people polled that list atheists lower than war mongers would agree with political stances of atheist. In fact it’s likely that the only really issue the two would be divided on is religion.

    I look forward to the day when religion is no longer given a free ride.

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  2. The Mormons stopped by my house today. I told them that I strongly believe religion is the root of all evil.

    It didn’t go over well.

    Perhaps an A on the front door will keep them from knocking?

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  3. Great post, Paul. I really like your first few paragraphs too.

    Robin, I’ve never had anyone proselytize to me at home, but I’m considering a proactive approach as you suggest.

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  4. @ Robin: LOL! I’m shocked it didn’t go over well. You’d think those missionaries would want to hear your opinion — since they so value offering you theirs. 😀

    @ Ordinary Girl: Thanks! I was a tad worried that confessing how boring the ontology of god is to me would bore everyone.

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  5. I would suggest that the best term for you to describe yourself is “apatheist”, and the “A” fits just as well…

    Thanks for standing up for us godless heathens.

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  6. Bored? Boring? I guess so.

    Go on a google trip and look at China…where religious people are being harassed, arrested, tortured and killed by non-theists.

    Or check out 20th century history when non-theists in Russian, China, Germany, and Cambodia managed to kill over 50 million people…

    Still bored?

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  7. Hi Stushie! Welcome to the blog!

    Yes, indeed, I’m still bored. Nothing you’ve said strikes me as capable of making a discussion of whether or not god exists any more fascinating than a turnip.

    Regarding your first point (about China), I must simply refuse to believe you are seriously suggesting that harassing nontheists in America is morally justified on the grounds that religious people are being harassed in China. You must instead be making a joke of some sort.

    Regarding your second point: I believe when you think about it, there is nothing intrinsic to nontheism which would prompt a nontheist to become a mass murderer. Have you ever heard a nontheist argue that because he or she was a nontheist, they were morally obligated to kill people?

    Put differently, just because both Hitler and Stalin had mustaches does not mean all people with mustaches believe in genocide. And just because Hitler was Catholic does not mean all Catholics believe in genocide. Nor just because Stalin was an atheist must all atheists believe in genocide.

    You see, Stushie, unless you can demonstrate some causal relationship between nontheism and mass murder, your argument has every appearance of being fallacious. So, I have no choice at this point but to reject it.

    Thank you though for your time.

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  8. Paul,

    Interesting article. Thanks for that.

    Stushie,

    Even counting the examples you’ve raised of attrocties commited by athiests I still believe there have been more commited by religious groups: there’s the Crusades, the attempted genocide and ‘civilisation’ (read ‘Christianisation’) of the various native peoples encountered throughout the world during the colonial expansion of the European nations, the Spanish Inquisition . . . I could go on, but you get the picture.

    I heard an interesting statistic the other day that seems relevant, although I can’t think of the source offhand:

    75% of Americans consider themselves God-fearing Christians

    75% of the American prison population consider themselves God-fearing Christians

    10% of Americans consider themselves athiests

    0.2% of the American prison population consider themselves athiests

    My own position, if you’re interested, is that as neither the existance or nature of god (however you define it) can ever be proven or disproven, it doesn’t matter in anything other than a personal way.

    The only thing that matters is what we *do* and whether or not we harm others, or the world, around us.

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  9. I am a Christian. But I stand with you against any type of discrimination against atheists, or muslims, or Jews etc…And I assure you that I speak in the name of very very many Christians.

    In fact – I doubt the Christianity of any person who persecutes atheists…it is certainly against the principles of the ‘founder’ Jesus Christ!

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  10. @ Uncertainhope: Welcome to the blog! I tried removing the smiley for you, but for some reason the edit screen won’t let me see it to remove it.

    @ Evedyahu: Your decision to stand with nontheists against their discrimination is heartening to me. I can indeed believe you are one of many Christians in America who take such a stand. It is a pity though that the polls show all of us — theists and nontheists alike — who stand up together against these outrages are still a minority. Oh well, it’s better to be in the right than in the wrong on this issue. Welcome to the blog!

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  11. Techically, you’re what has been referred to (in the online atheist community) as a “negative atheist.” A “negative atheist,” also known as a “weak atheist,” is a person who does not believe in a god, whereas a “positive atheist,” also known as a “weak atheist,” is one who defniitively believes there is no god. Most atheist philosophers are negative atheists, because negative atheism is easier to defend, philosophically, than positive atheism.

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  12. I’ve yet to find any religion that doesn’t contain instructions against harming others – of course that doesn’t stop people from finding ways of justifying their actions. The usual being, of course, that rules against harming others don’t apply to those who are ‘different’ or ‘other’.

    The other thing is, and this is as true of athiests and agnostics as Christians, Muslims or of adherents of any of the other religions out there, that the voices we hear the most from in any group are the loudest and most extreme. And that, coupled with the tendency of news media the world over to focus on the most sensational stories, tends to mean that more moderate voices get drowned out and skews our view of the world.

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  13. @ Diane: Hi! Welcome to the blog! I’m not sure I fit the bill of either a strong or weak atheist, though. I’m more apathetic than atheist. 🙂

    @ Uncertainhope: I agree with you on both counts! Good points!

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  14. I’d join Paul, as these are the things worth fighting against. Al least: that’s what I thought when I read your post. But then I read Dawkins:

    “Moreover, even if the religious have the numbers, we have the arguments, we have history on our side, and we are walking with a new spring in our step – you can hear the gentle patter of our feet on every side.”

    Now if Dawkins is the atheist I think he is, where did that ayatollah come from? Seriously: that guy preaches like a mullah (I’ve heard them) and is probably just as obnoxious as Nicole’s nemeses (is that the correct plural of ‘nemesis’?)

    If it weren’t for Dawkins, I’d join…

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  15. Hi Shirhashirim! It’s great to see you again! 🙂

    I can respect your decision not to join Dawkin’s Out Campaign because of Dawkin’s himself. I happen to like him, but I recognize that he rubs a lot of people the wrong way.

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  16. After reading this post, I am now proudly displaying a Scarlett A as my blog background. Thank you for sharing this, and may others learn from me, as I have from you.

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  17. Hi Andrea! Welcome to the blog! Thank you for standing up against the shabby treatment of non-theists. I like the point you made on your blog of how unAmerican it is to treat people the way non-theists have been treated in this country.

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  18. Paul –

    I found this post from the Carnival of the Godless, and I want you to know that I appreciate your support.

    As an atheist political activist, one step that I have taken is to become an Affirmative Action officer for my local Democratic party organization; and part of the reason I wanted to do so was because of the cases of atheists who were recruited to run for office, only to have the offers withdrawn when the party officials discovered that they were atheists.

    Your apatheism is a sensible position, and I would be there, too, if not for the civil rights issues.

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  19. Hi Tuibguy! I certainly hope you succeed in your efforts to get atheists accepted by the Democratic Party! That would be a significant blow to the demonization of atheists. Welcome to the blog!

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  20. I think atheism as a political stance isn’t a great idea. Theism isn’t either.
    Religion and politics should be seperate at all times in my opinion.

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  21. Stephen, I’ve grown weary of the extent to which so many religious issues here in the States have been politicalized over the past few decades by groups like Focus on the Family. There are now people in this country who are working to bring about a theocracy — and I see that as a dangerous thing for liberty and democracy.

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  22. I agree with you that metaphysics is boring as is the question of God’s existance. I am more interested in why people want to either believe or disbelieve about God. How do they _feel_ when they think of the question of God.

    All the arguments for and against God have all ready been made so a “debate” about God will be retreading the same old arguments on a good day, and trading insults on a bad one. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

    It’s sad because young people who discuss these things seem to think that they are being original, but all the answers are all ready included in a book or two.

    As for being harassed for one’s beliefs, I would like to ask someone who is violent against an atheist, “if there is a just God, why worry?” It seems to be an extreme lack of faith to feel the need to be violent. Perhaps they didn’t have anything else going on in their lives, and they needed a hobby. I hear flower arranging is easy to get into, hard to master, and takes up a lot one’s spare time. 🙂

    I’d reckon that if one is violent, there is something emotionally warped going on behind the scenes that has nothing to do with a diety let alone a loving God who condemns murder to the point of threatening eternal torment for it.

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  23. “I’d reckon that if one is violent, there is something emotionally warped going on behind the scenes that has nothing to do with a diety…”

    I’m pretty much of the same opinion, Leroy.

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  24. It looks like this thread may have gone to sleep long ago, but, eh, I’ll comment anyway.

    Back when I was young and stupid, I gave the following spiel, in response to questions about my beliefs:

    “I’m an ultra-orthodox apathetic agnostic. I don’t know, I don’t care, and I’m fanatical about keeping it that way.”

    However, when I became slightly less-young, I realized that, by operating on a sort of default, day-to-day mode that ignored any possibility of the existence of a deity, even if not outright denying it, I fit the linguistic, if not popular, definition of atheism. I was simply without theism.

    That realization, coupled with a strong desire to support that “side” of the culture war and combat the warped, negative view of the “godless” in this country, has led me to publicly identify as an atheist.

    Not that I have any problems with your stance, just adding my own anecdote.

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  25. Thanks, Fox! I’m glad you’ve revived the thread. Yours is an interesting story. Since writing this article, I’ve discovered myself thinking on and off about deity. I’m not sure precisely where I stand nowadays. Seems I’m in the process of mulling it over, though.

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  26. I am an atheist myself. Living deep within the Bible Belt, I tend to keep it to myself.

    I too have wondered where the idea of ‘God’ comes from. My own theory is that it is a glitch in our pattern recognition ‘software’ that sees a pattern where there is none and calls it God. I think that is the same place that conspiracy theories come from-we seem to have an innate desire for ‘meaning’-whatever meaning means. 😀

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  27. Btw-I don’t actually deny the possibility of a deity. I just think it is incredibly unlikely-the more laws of logic and science that a being breaks, the less likely it is to exist, and nothing breaks more than the common conception of God.

    If a deity does exist, I rather doubt that any of the world’s religions got it right.

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  28. Hello from Sweden!
    I’m all with you in condemning harassment and discrimination against people because of their religious beliefs. However, I feel uneasy about fighting one kind of extremism by joining another – pace you who like him, I’m with Shirhashirim in finding Dawkins a bit too fundamentalist for comfort.

    I’d like to recommend two books I happen to be reading right now, which are related to the topic:

    * In “The Dawkins Delusion?” Alister and Joana McGrath, a British theologian couple, defend their Christian belief against Dawkins’ latest attacks, pointing out a number of fallacies and instances of questionable rudeness in his argumentation — without failing to concede some weaknesses in typical apologetics of Christianity.

    * @ Autonomous: You might find this book interesting: A Conceiled God by Stefan Einhorn. His idea in a nutshell: What all the world’s religions have to say of the divine is so disparate that they can’t all be true. Can we “extrapolate” from their stories to get an idea of a possible “higher”, hidden truth?

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  29. Sebastian-I personally fing Dawkins a bit rude myself. We don’t know where belief comes from, so it isn’t very polite to simply classify it as a delusion. It might be, of course, but it doesn’t really matter. I think that it isn’t clear whether or not religion as a whole is harmful. It can be, but then so can love and I certainly don’t want to get rid of that.

    Personally I simply find religion unnecessary. If it was really a conduit to a deity, then shouldn’t the religious show some concrete, measurable difference? They do not, therefore I see no reason to view religion as any different from any other social grouping.

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  30. Though a Christian and theologian, I also find metaphysical consideration of the existence of God utterly boring.

    I simply experience God’s existence and go from there.

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  31. OMGod, the first part (on metaphysics) is so hilarious, I almost ROFL’d. S**t, did I take the Lord’s name in vain already? And cursed??
    Oops, forgive me.

    But I will quote Gaping Void:
    “I’m trying to get closer to God without actually believing in him”.

    Apathetics of the world, unite! You have to lose, but…. umm, what was that? 😉

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  32. I didn’t know about this intolerance against non religious people in the USA. Now I better understand some reactions by some commenters in my blog. In Italy such intolerance doesn’t exist, even though the Catholic Church has a great (mainly political) influence over our society. Weird how countries can differ.
    And yes, arguments over the existence or non existence of God are pretty boring (and pointless.)

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  33. No, it doesn’t, we are very toleant as far as religion, for geographical and historical reasons, maybe.

    1) Russia is close, and the Bolshevik revolution had a great impact here (until recently the Italian left was Marxist).
    2) Our roots are ancient (= ancient Rome) and although Italy has captained the switch from Paganism to Christianity, our Christian religious feelings are superficial, beyond doubt. When Italians, Polish and Irish met in the New world in the same catholic churches, the last two were sooo puzzled by the weird (pagan and superstitious) religiosity of my fellow countrymen. I think US anthropologists have studied this amazing phenomenon.

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  34. “In short, I’ve become pissed at the way atheists are treated in America.”

    Not only in America, in South Africa people would rather have their children be satanists than atheists. The generation ahead of me grew up in the Apartheid regime which was intrinsically tied to the Dutch reformed church (or “die NG kerk” as we call it). So most kids of my generation rebelled against the church, and the older generation reacted with fear I guess. Being an atheist here means you are an anarchist with no morals or ethical convictions. And you are treated almost like a terrorist. The argument I am confronted most with is how can I be moral when I don’t believe in god. This frustrates me to no end, that is how uneducated my countrymen are.

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