Why I’m Skeptical of Atheism

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed more and more of my tweets and posts have focused on atheism and (dare I say it) the atheist “community”, as opposed to ripping on religion. I think this is because I have been doing a lot of personal reflection and musing on my own goals regarding atheism.

Assume for a second that I’m right, and there are no gods watching us, instructing us, or using us as pawns in some great galactic chess game. I would love to live in a world where religion was not an issue. No religious wars, no kids being indoctrinated into harmful beliefs, and no religious groups trying to force their beliefs into law. I sincerely hope that belief in imaginary deities is dying out, and in the future Yahweh will be lumped in with Zeus and Ra in the myths of old.

This is not going to happen in my lifetime. I have accepted this. So what now? What should my goal be?

Changing Tactics

There is room for all types of atheists, I think – firebrands, civil debaters, apathetics, and everything in between. I admit I first came to Twitter looking for a fight. When I first accepted that I was an atheist, I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. Most of us are formerly religious and feel like we’d been lied to our whole lives; can you blame us for wanting to lash out? More than even wanting to vent my anger and frustration, I wanted to deconvert people. I wanted them to feel the freedom I felt now that I was no longer chained by the shackles of religion.

But slowly, over the course of about a year, I backed off from frustrating, endless debates with Twitter theists. While I was never enthralled with the big names like Dawkins and Harris, I became much less dependent on their words and ideas to shape my own. I became much more interested in displaying atheism in a positive light as opposed to just ripping others’ beliefs to shreds. Having been on both sides of the argument, I am in a unique position to be an intermediary. This could be my goal, I thought.

Bridging the Gap

Encouraging secularism and advocating for separation of church and state is a great place to start. This is a common ground that atheists and theists should be able to come together on. Having a secular government not only protects atheists, it protects the religious from having OTHER religious views forced on them. Christians are so terrified of sharia law, yet are perfectly happy to have the government support their Christian beliefs. This is a bad move on their part, because any step toward a theocracy opens the door to some religious faith besides their own coming into power.

Some people think groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) make atheists look petty by suing over what they think are “little issues”. While working for the FFRF may not be my particular calling, I think what they do will be important for us in the long run. By squashing small instances of religion overstepping its bounds, we can make secular government the norm, as it should be. If we let people get away with violating others’ rights in the name of religion in small matters, they will have less of a battle in the big matters. Give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile, right? Call it a version of the broken windows theory, a criminological theory which states that:

Maintaining and monitoring urban environments to prevent small crimes such as vandalism, public drinking and toll-jumping helps to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes from happening.

A highly debatable topic, but it makes a lot of sense to me. I am far more likely to leave a dish in the sink if there are already dishes there to begin with. I bet people are more likely to litter in an area already full of litter, don’t you think? If religious people are used to their particular faith holding sway in their local schools and town halls, they are much more likely to, firstly, assume that most places are operated in the same manner, and secondly, to continue the push to encroach others’ freedoms in a bigger venue, like the federal government.

Question Everything

One of the difficulties many former believers face is that there really is no framework to atheism. It’s only a position on the existence of gods. From there, an atheist has to decide a lot of things with very little definitive guidance. She must explore systems of morality, develop a sense of purpose, and adopt a worldview. In contrast to most religious groups, there is no leader outlining what an atheist can and cannot be, do, or feel. It is only fair, then, that we sometimes challenge and change our own thoughts, feelings, and attitudes even when it comes to atheism. It calls to mind the preceding, less often quoted line of my favorite quote by Thomas Jefferson:

Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.

I guess what I am trying to say, is don’t be afraid of a little introspection. Skepticism doesn’t end with atheism. Continue to be a skeptic – of yourself, other atheists, and atheist “leaders”.

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26 thoughts on “Why I’m Skeptical of Atheism

  1. Right now there are many theists opposing secularism as if it were atheism. So, your biggest problem will be persuading theists that secularism isn’t atheism, or that convincing those that have some idea of the distinction that having a secular government means having one that favours a non-religious agenda – i.e. favours an atheist one. So, making sure your Christian interlocutors understand that would be a good first step to persuading them to secularism.

    It’s something I’ve started to pay more attention to. I’ve not given up on being forthright in criticising religion, but if my ‘opponent’ is using secularism as atheism then I’ll often skip the explicit criticism of their religious points in order to persuade them of the meaning and value of secularism.

    Trouble is, I don’t know if it works, if the point sticks. Sometimes it doesn’t as I see them continue to use secularism as atheism.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s an excellent point, Ron. On the other side of that coin is atheists who think secularism is the banning of religion (or who claim to be secular but would love to ban religion). Definite work to be done from all sides.

      I hope to hear more from you in the future about whether your efforts have had any effect!

      Thanks for reading πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this. I’ve had struggles, too. I find a lot of the things atheists seem to focus on to be… well… goofy. I sat here for hours today trying to think of something to write. I couldn’t think of anything. How many times can I debunk Pascal’s Wager? How many ways can I poke holes in the argument from design? I tune into Youtube to get some inspiration and it’s all the same shit. Sigh. I don’t want to debate people, I really don’t, but sometimes it feels like that’s all the atheist community wants to read.

    Hemant posted a video once about the importance of stories. I very much agree with him and I try to focus most of my writing on stories now. Not as popular as my posts ripping apart hateful Christian bloggers but I enjoy it more.

    It’s funny, too, when I asked for podcast suggestions, no one suggested a single one that had nothing to do with atheism. I think a couple days later, I Follow Friday’d my fave podcasters and people were surprised only one of them had anything to do with atheism… I just can’t be immersed in atheism 24/7. Can’t do it. I love being an atheist, and I am proud of it, but there is so, so, so much more to life than answering the god question.

    I’m glad you’ve found a new direction. I’ll be following along, with my bullhorn and pom poms, cheering you on!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You know I’m on Twitter too much when I’m trying to RT you halfway thru your comment, lol! So, so true. Debating definitely plays a role, as I said but it’s just not for me right now. I totally understand why people do what they do whether it be ripping apart religion or not. I can’t begrudge them that because I was in their shoes once too!

      I’m glad we are on this journey together πŸ’–

      Like

  3. Glad that I dint miss this post. Great composure Nancy. Your opinion reflects my opinion as well, especially on the ‘leaders of atheism’, I was atheist without even knowing I was one, I never cared to know those big names, I kept my nonbelief private & personal, for years, thinking religion would outlive us, so no point criticizing it. I have no problem if some need delusion to pull through life & face the inevitability of death, but I boil with anger when such delusion pushes people to murder eachother, such is why one has to speak out. Doubts I thought, makes theists less dangerous.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. i feel that some theists do not move over to secularism because of Revelations 3:16. “So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” My parents have called me the Leodecia (Last Remnant) church. Because I don’t pick sides and question everything.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey Nancy, I really like your post and share your views towards atheism. I only came to twitter 3 weeks ago and my goal was to pose questions to the theory of evolution. For me personally, I was brought up in Christian school up until high school where I was taught the theory of evolution. I pretty much held the believe that there was no God for about 4 decades and constantly looked for an argument with any believer I knew, and I knew quite a few. Over time I discovered what I was doing was trying to deconvert Christians by discrediting the bible and I found that quite easy and it made me feel smart. It wasn’t until I had to admit I was an alcoholic about 10 years ago and while doing a 30 day stint in a recovery center I really began to question my own thoughts and motives. I even tried my best to connect with God and question the science of evolution which I believed in so faithfully. Well I never connected with God but I did find logical loopholes in the science of evolution which led me to believe it’s very likely we are a result of an incredible design. Although the likely hood of that still seems incredibly remote but then life originating from mere elements is equally unlikely so I’m left with watching debates on youtube, mostly with Christopher Hitches and I’m discovering where I fit into the overall debate and belief system.

    When I got on twitter I found some very smart people out there willing to take on my questions and I must admit I got schooled big time. Occasionally I would wander over to the other side and look for an argument with theists as that was my real comfort zone. But I’ve watch believers get bashed by groups of atheists and found I don’t want to be a part of that, although if someone starts using words like stupid or retarded I tend to call them out on the tweets.

    But enough about me, I think what you said is spot on and sums up my feelings almost perfectly. It’s articles like yours that I find that give me comfort in my own skin as I’ve only been around theists my whole life and never had the opportunity to question things and share my thoughts. So for this post I am very, VERY appreciative that you took the time and effort to put it out there.

    Keep it up!

    I don’t have time to proof read so forgive me for any errors in my grammar.

    Kind Regards,
    Erik

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, Erik! And please don’t apologize, I absolutely love reading about people’s faith journeys! (If you ever want to type yours up, send it to @Playdoughpoem on Twitter and she will host it on her “Deconversion Stories” page on her blog!

      I tend to stay away from debates on creationism as I am not a scientist! I’ll try to direct you to some kind, civil atheists & even theists who discuss evolution on Twitter.

      It is huge that you are willing to evaluate your beliefs! Keep it up!!

      Like

  6. Thanks so much for this article. Reminds me of the book “The Skeptical Feminist” that has the same bent, and focuses on storytelling. Stories are universal and woven into our genetic tapestry, I believe. Just like God/Goddess myths. Humans need stories. I think we need to make our own stories as a framework for atheism, to pass along to young minds (three year olds live stories told to them, as Godless Mom knows!) that the truth of a moral compass, which is empathy, resides in us all. Thanks again for a very centered article.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. As long as there’s an irrational fear of death there’ll be no end to people organizing toward wishing and dealing it away to the imaginary. …there’ll always be irrational people.

    I started on twitter with simpler ‘beat an ex-friend’s follower numbers’ intention and gradually veered into arguing with theists. I sought out people to be outraged with on nearly every check-in and it grew to my own detriment, I never concluded a session without feeling extreme anxiety. Eventually I came to the realization that the outrage ‘boosters’ were turning me into a reflexively overly defensive person that wasn’t a whole lot of fun to banter with regardless of comparative outlining ideologies. I keep a distance from most forms of ‘twitter shaming’ now intentionally to avoid reverting to that state and today very much enjoy this medium for the idea sharing and the very reason I’m leaving this reply.

    Regarding the ‘Broken Windows Theory’, ‘The Hunger Games’ extreme could easily be brought up to throw a monkey wrench into it; the more effort you put into maintaining one region, the more it detracts from another (It works as an air pressure analogy anyway). One of the big debates as of current events is whether or not increased funding alone could have prevented the Baltimore Riots. There are people pointing to Baltimore having spent 15 times more money per public school student than most major cities and claiming since the past few days still occurred “more than fundining is needed” is a vast understatement and deep seeded governmental policies need to be changed (throwing back to your secular reform argument). Granted funding in schools alone can’t fully correlate to a current social and economic climate.

    Dawkins: Twitter hound dog sexist.
    Hitchens: Iraq war supporter; proudly proclaimed women with children belong in the home.
    Harris: Along with Hitchens and Dawkins, very questionably Islamophobic.

    You can root out major faults just about anyone. There’s a great Larry King interview with Neil DeGrasse Tyson (Fame Whore) where he talks about compartmentalizing ‘idol’ figures like building a ship not to sink. When someone does or says something disagreeable to you that has nothing to do with why you idolized them in the first place it’s OK to be upset, but that should be stacked against why you followed them the first place. If they have nothing to do with each other then just lose respect for that one aspect of them. I won’t be reading Dawkins for ‘gender relations’ tips any time soon, but he’s still an Evolutionary Biologist and one of the keenest intellects of his generation, a wealth of knowledge. If it ever turns out he fabricated all of his findings and he’s actually three ducks in a man suit then yeah, I’ll be a tad peeved.

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment! Many people have told me similar stories, and that they enjoy twitter much more now.

      One of the reasons debating is so depressing for me personally is I can see my family making the same arguments. I would love to just rescue them all from religion but I know it won’t happen 😦

      I’m glad that we can relax and enjoy each other’s ideas, like you said! We just have to be careful it doesn’t become an echo chamber. Thanks for sharing your experience πŸ™‚

      ‘The Hunger Games’ analogy? I like you already! 😆 The way I interpreted Broken Windows wasn’t so much region-based, like ‘THG’, but like I said in my analogy about dishes and littering, that if an area looks nice it will instinctively make it harder to trash it & crimes to escalate. Whereas an area that is already litter, trash and graffiti-ridden will make it easier for people to treat it like a trashy area. I could be way off, though.

      It’s a debated topic, especially since NY used it improperly with Stop and Frisk to target disadvantaged people.

      Re: Baltimore, have you ever watched ‘The Wire’? It’s by a Baltimore cop and journalist and goes really into the relationships between police, gov, & even the lives of those in the inner city, & how difficult & intricate the way things are done especially regarding funding. It’s a fascinating look into the ‘system’, which I agree needs reform.

      Totally agree about the atheist ‘idols’; we don’t have to give any stock to their opinions outside their fields of expertise. It makes me laugh when theists try to point out shitty things Dawkins et al may have said – they are not our popes or pastors. In contrast, figureheads of religion are supposed to be held up as moral examples, so when a staunchly anti-gay pastor gets caught paying for gay sex, it is absolutely a blow to their moral arguments.

      Thank you for reading, sharing & following!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! I look forward to reading yours as well. What a tough situation… Twitter is my outlet; there are lots of great compassionate atheists on there. Please feel free to reach out any time!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You ain’t joking about compassionate atheists. I was used to having 5 supportive people reading my blog, then I get featured by the Friendly Atheist, then like 1,800 people visit my blog…and not 1 hater. It was the best day every.

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  8. Having been an atheist for two decades, I never joined any community. But when the US Supreme Court announced its decision in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby that this corporation did not need to provide birth control because of its religious views, I became more active. I think there can be a big change in the number of “nones” in the next two decades if more people, especially women, speak out. That doesn’t mean you have to engage with theists. For many theists, there is nothing that will change their minds. Imagine William Lane Craig changing his mind? However, there are people to reach. What is important to me is that young people have a chance to be exposed to other points of view. The Internet creates such great opportunities. I’m writing a book of essays of women’s personal journeys away from religion. I hope it gives women models that they can follow. But I do agree with you about some of the tensions in the atheist community. I listened to a video of Thunderfoot’s last night about the atheism+ movement. But that’s just how humans are. If you are interested, I have a blog at http://www.faithlessfeminist.com. I’ll subscribe to yours. It looks interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Reblogged this on godlessaspie.wordpress.com

    Love this piece. I agree on the Broken Windows analogy. There’s a similar idea in business and finance, where you persuade people to sign up to something small, which then makes it harder for them to say no to a bigger proposal.

    I don’t debate theists very often anymore – I end up writing the same stuff over and over again. I eventually decided to start writing this blog to express myself instead of constantly refuting ID or Pascal’s Wager. I still primarily write about religion but I can also write about other things if I want to with all the time I now have freed up that I no longer spend playing chess with pigeons. πŸ™‚

    Love the full Jefferson quote. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad someone commented on the Broken Windows theory part! I was kind of excited about that πŸ˜€

      I wrote in another piece (How to Make Teens Think Indoctrination is Cool) that sometimes I’m okay with the echo chamber now. Sometimes we need a space to retreat and reflect on our own ideas and that’s okay.

      Thanks so much for reading and sharing!

      Like

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