04 December 2008

Who is afraid of not believing in a god?

Why believe in a god?
ad in a Metro subway car.

The American Humanist Association is running a Why believe in a god? ad campaign in the Washington, DC area. I first started seeing their ads on the sides of Metro buses a few weeks ago. Today I noticed the first one inside a Metro subway car.

Yesterday, the free daily newspaper The Washington Examiner ran a front page article about the "hundreds of complaints" concerning the ads Metro had received. One complainer wrote that Metro had "a responsibility to not offend a group of people in this country." It's interesting that religionists get offended so easily by anything and everything anti-religious, but they never care if their own religious displays may be offending others. I have seen ads for local churches in the subway cars almost every December for the last 15 years or so. Has it ever dawned on any of those complainers that those religious ads may be offensive to certain other citizens of this country?

Cartoon by Don Addis from FFRF.

Most religionists have almost no tolerance for criticisms of their religion and, if they had an opportunity, would gladly support the suppression of all opposing beliefs.

But why is that so? Generally speaking, one would be afraid of criticism of one's ideas or beliefs, whether they were religious or secular, only if one were unsure of them. A person will tolerate opposing ideas only if he has complete confidence in his ideas or is not afraid to abandon them when necessary. It follows that the historical and present collective efforts of all monotheistic religions to oppress and censor opposition must stem from the insecure and doubtful feelings not only the religious authorities but also their followers must have towards their own beliefs. They are afraid to lose their religious beliefs, because, many of them must know deep inside that too much rational questioning will undermine the shaky ground religions sit on. And once an avalanche starts, there is no stopping it.

What are these people, who are objecting to Metro's displays of the American Humanist Association's ads, afraid of? That they will lose their religion if they hear too many arguments contrary to their beliefs? If it is that easy for them to change their minds about their "cherished" beliefs, well, let it be so. Beliefs founded on sand are not worth clinging onto.

Let's have a little respect here, folks.


m.e. said...

great post!! thanks!!

Anonymous said...

...do you think that it is a sign of tolerance to isert that comics in your post?
It is very curious that pepole who criticizes untolerance by religions tend to be very untolerant of them by taking every possible occasion to ridiculize them..
That's very typical of nihilism ("I am tolerant because I claim to be tolerant" not because there is an objective definition of tolerance to which to refer, which, of course would include not to ridiculize people who do not share your ideas).

Anonymous said...

The primary reason atheists are growing increasingly critical of religion is because it preaches and teaches ignorance and intolerance. If being intolerant to intolerance is hypocritical, then so be it. But it is much more dangerous to start tolerating intolerance.

qraal said...

One problem with trying to define "good" without a trascendental moral source (God) is who gets to decide what is good? How do you think that problem should be tackled? Are moral Truths like mathematical Truths - true without having to poll human beings about their truth status? Can moral Truths be rationally argued and thus made binding for rational people?

Anonymous said...

"They are afraid to lose their religious beliefs, because, many of them must know deep inside that too much rational questioning will undermine the shaky ground religions sit on."
But have you ever acutally *talked* with anyone who believes in God, etc. who *didn't* react with fear and cowering? Someone who was actually willing to calmly and rationally discuss their belief with you and wasn't offeneded or annoyed by your questions?


I am writing from personal experience.

Andy said...

One problem with trying to define "good" without a trascendental moral source (God) is who gets to decide what is good? How do you think that problem should be tackled?

Good question. I don't know the answer, but what if I don't believe that there is a transcendental moral source (i.e., God)? What if I believe that definitions of "good" that are attributed to this transcendental source are actually distillations of the moral code of some ancient society generated collectively by real, once-living people and written down by a handful of members of that society? What if there is no cosmic granter or enforcer of morality? Does morality disappear?

No. I really don't think it would be hard for us to agree on a number of basic precepts that humans should try to follow, and it also wouldn't be hard for us to come up with exceptions to those precepts. Can we make these precepts binding for rational people? Of course not. Are they currently binding for the religious? Of course not. The only tools we (or God, should she exist) have are security measures to prevent violations of the precepts, threats of punishment (either in the here-and-now or in a supposed afterlife) if the precepts are violated, and appeals to our "better nature" (whatever that is). Well, an omnipotent God could also take over our brains and force us to be good, but that clearly isn't happening.

I've certainly seen no evidence that God favors the just or punishes the wicked in the here-and now, and until I do, I don't see how bringing a transcendent moral source (real or not) into the discussion changes anything I've written here.

O. B. Sirius said...

"One problem with trying to define "good" without a trascendental moral source (God) is who gets to decide what is good?"

The gods that civilizations have embraced throughout time have, largely, been mean, spiteful, vengeful, and petty. Not the best role model for goodness! People, on the other hand, have settled on traits of goodness that have survived ages. That is what society does -- it provides a framework for us to successfully live in groupings. We don't need a god to tell us -- we can figure it out for ourselves.

The problem using the Christian God as a source of "good" is that you have to pick and choose -- the old testament God was not a "good guy" by our standards. Stoning children for disobedience? Killing children to punish their parents? Killing everyone but a guy in an ark who, by the time all those animals started pooping probably wished he could go, too?

Anyone who feels they can ignore all that bad when saying that morality derives from a god is also denying that god's, well, godliness. If you sign up with a god, you should accept the whole package. With gods, it should be all or nothing.

qraal said...

Hi Andy & OBSirius

Nice replies. God, at least the Xian one, doesn't seem to punish or reward in the here-and-now, which was a puzzle even back when they were writing the New Testament. Those writers took it as a sign of God's goodness that he treated all impartially now, reserving judgement for the Last Day. The saying of Jesus "Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect" is a mistranslation. The Greek word 'perfect' means 'impartial', so even Jesus noticed the apparent absence of God doling out instant Justice.

I can't say I disagree with either of your answers, because the issues you both raise with God don't have decent answers. Perhaps God makes do with the materials he finds - evolved, fractious social apes - to make a better world.

Unlike some who believe that the Bible doesn't conflict itself, I'm well aware of its internal disputes. Acknowledging that the Bible HAS a history, as well as records it, makes things much clearer. For example, the prophet Jeremiah accuses the scribes of his day thus... "you say 'We have the Torah', but the lying pen of scribes has handled it falsely." It's pretty clear that a whole bunch of sacrificial requirements in the text were added along the way. And probably a whole lot else.

With that I mind I think questioning what people say about the Bible is a big part of finding out the Truth, wherever it leads. If people used their reason instead of yelling and screaming pre-packaged screeds, more light might be shed, and we Xians might not look like idiots.

vjack said...

Excellent point. I'm glad you left a link to this on my blog. I've long maintained that some Christians find the mere existence of atheists to be a threat. Simply because we remind people that there is an alternative to religious delusion, we are somehow offensive.

qraal said...

I think an honest critic of religion is closer to the Truth than a Believer who tries to cover-up the doubtful aspects. But I stopped being an agnostic/atheist because the Universe has open-ended aspects that something as simplistic as atheism doesn't touch. Yet I find a lot of the "Just Believe-ism" and deliberate ignorance of many Believers to be a source of continual frustration - so many of them just give me the shits! I can understand people like PZ Myers doing things to provoke them because of the petty judgementalism that seems to pass for religion in the minds of many.

The Mollusk Man said...

I just saw this page, and I feel both angry and sheepish. I am a Christian, and seeing these ads and comments has shown me just how hypocritical many of us really are. On behalf of myself and my fellow believers in Christ, I would like to apologize to you all:
I have not loved my neighbor as myself, as the Bible commands; I have not shown respect for those with alternative faiths; and I have used my religion as a way to hurt other people. Jesus commanded us to share the good news of salvation with everyone through kindness and love. Instead, we have done just the opposite, putting down and disgracing others because they are not perfect. What Pharisees we have been! We were not called to judge our fellow man, but to offer him salvation through Jesus Christ. We have failed to do this, and I am very sorry. We have completely misrepresented the love and message of Christ. Please forgive me for my hypocrisy.
Jesus is my savior and friend, and my ever-present help in time of trouble. I want to share Him with you, to offer you the way to eternal life by believing in Him. I only hope that those of us who are spreading a doctrine of bash and not of grace have not completely hardened you toward the true message of Christ.
Thank you.


OK, Mollusk Man, I don't normally allow any attempts at proselytizing on my blog, but I am gonna let your pathetic comments stay just for this time. Don't push your luck, though.