Sunday, January 9, 2011

You Want To Bet?

I was recently directed toward an article by a gentleman by the name of David Wong (author of the novel, "John Dies At the End," which has been sitting on my reading list for quite a while) entitled "10 Things Christians and Atheists Can (And Must) Agree On." Mr. Wong seems like an agreeable enough chap. His message basically boils down to "can't we all just get along," and that's a message worthy of hearing from time to time. But occasionally, no we can't, and there are some things I resent being told to agree with.

So you can follow along with what I'm on about this time, you can read the original article here.

In his introduction, Wong begins by arguing that if you celebrate someone's death, you're pretty much a prick, and makes the case that just about all of us can agree on that one. Well, okay...he then talks about atheists celebrating the death of Jerry Falwell. Well...okay...actually celebrating his demise may be a bit of a dick move, and if so then I'm guilty as charged. But the fact of the matter is, Falwell had nothing but venomous bile to spew, and the world is better off without his hateful message clogging the minds of his followers (some of whom, no doubt, could easily be moved to commit actual acts of violence against homosexuals, abortion providers, atheists, pagans, or anyone else who doesn't fit into the neat little Christian box Falwell and his ilk want to force us all into). I don't so much celebrate his death as I do his being silenced. And I'll be perfectly clear, because there are still people like him around (**cough**patrobertson**cough**), I don't advocate violence, and I certainly wouldn't celebrate his death, say, at his funeral. He did have a family who, despite their obvious faults in not disowning that goon years ago, should be respected in their grief. But for pete's sake, don't tell me I can't be glad he can't shout his message anymore.

Now, on to his ten points (the introduction was just a little freebie).

1. You can do terrible things in the name of either one.

Okay, this is the point at which he tips his hand. This man is not an atheist. He's revealed a complete lack of understanding of what atheism actually is already, and he's only just begun to make his first point. Atheism is not a belief system. It's a lack of one. You can't do terrible things in the name of a LACK of a belief.

The larger point he's trying to make, that both Christians and atheists can and have done terrible things is certainly valid. On the one hand you've got the Crusades, the troubles in Northern Ireland, Hitler, the 9/11 terrorists, those who would bomb abortion clinics, and their ilk. On the other side...well...Stalin. So yeah, both sides have some bad apples. We're agreed that both Christians and atheists are mostly good people and that there are murderous fucks in both camps. But the point is not quite that simple.

We realize that a murderer who happens to be a Christian or a murderer who happens to be an atheist does not reflect on the entire belief system or lack thereof. The only question is whether or not the belief system (or lack thereof) actually leads someone to commit these acts. In the case of, say, the Crusades or the 9/11 attacks, it was a religious belief that caused these people to act as they did. One cannot say that about atheism, because it's impossible to do anything in the name of nothing. Atheism isn't even a thing at all. It shouldn't even be an -ism. It's just a lack of a belief in a god. And while you can kill in the name of a god, you can't kill in the name of no god. Can't be done.

He also postulates that it's impossible to calculate whether the volume of violent events would go up or down if either side were to "win" (meaning one or the other side completely goes away). Of course, if we're talking about absolute certainty, he's correct. But we don't need absolute certainty. We can look at prison statistics and find that Christians overwhelmingly outnumber the atheists in the prison population (even accounting for their larger representation in the population at large). We can look at the history books. But most importantly, we can just sit down and use our heads. Let's imagine Christianity away for a minute. What changes? No more killing in the name of the Christian god. Now let's imagine atheism away. What changes? Well, we don't lose any potential motives for violence as we do in the previous case. Instead, we gain however many atheists there are as potential "murderers for Jesus." So yes, we do have a pretty damn good idea which way that turn of events would swing.

2. Both sides really do believe what they're saying.

Mostly, I'll give him this one. He seems to take the Christians to task at least as much as we atheists (for which I give him much credit), because they seem to think that we're all just lying about our lack of a belief out of some stubborn sense of rebellion. Nonsense, and he's right in calling it so. And I generally do assume that the Christians believe what they're saying to...up to a point.

I do think that many simply parrot arguments they hear from the pulpit without actually bothering to think for themselves about what they really believe. It doesn't mean they don't really believe it, but it does mean they haven't thought about it. Generally speaking, I think if you put much thought to it, the god thing just sort of collapses under the weight of its own stupidity.

3. In everyday life, you're not that different.

He had me 100% (or at least 95%) until he actually started trying to explain it. Then he goes into talking about morality and thinking we live as if there were some magical skydaddy lawmaker deciding what is or is not justice. Bullshit! Biblical morality is barbaric and obscene. It's true, Christians and atheists have mostly the same morality, but it ain't from the Bible, it ain't from a God, and it sure as hell ain't Christian. We're mostly the same in everyday life because we're a product of the same culture(s). We share evolutionary and cultural history, and our morality comes from that. Not from a god.

4. There are good people on both sides.

Agreed. Just one thing to say. Atheists don't claim our own good people as being good because they're atheists. They're good people because they're good people and they happen to not believe in a god. Christians would do well to do the same. Martin Luther King, Jr. (mentioned in the article) was a great man. One of the best. And though he painted his speeches with a Christian brush, he was good because he was good, not because he was a Christian. Religious beliefs or lack thereof are largely incidental to whether or not someone is good. They only seem to play a role when some religious people (and I hasten to add that it's and extreme minority) kill in the name of some god.

5. Your point of view is legitimately offensive to them.

Well, I'll give it to him. People shouldn't be so damned easy to offend, but it is the case. He's very careful not to let this point intrude on the area of which side is factually correct, so it's pretty agreeable. Christians and atheists do piss each other off. And in day to day life, I think we can all do a lot better to get along. But there is definitely a place for ranting debate. Like in our books and blogs. This is a debate we need to have before the bombs start falling in another holy war.

6. We tend to exaggerate about the other guy.

Absolutely true. I do think the Christians tend to exaggerate more than the atheists do, which makes sense, since all the science and data are on our side--all they're left with is exaggeration. But yes, we all do exaggerate. I do it, too, but I attempt to make it clear in my own writings when I'm exaggerating, and when I'm using the more extreme examples of Christianity in order to make my point. I do realize that most Christians aren't as stupid as the Jerry Falwell types, but I tend to write more about that type because a) I want to make a point, so I use the extreme examples to illustrate what I'm talking about and b) I fear those types more than the average Christian you meet in day to day life.

7. We tend to exaggerate about ourselves, too.

Again, I agree. I think he takes his examples too far (I would think this was intentional, to further make his point, but I don't think, based on some of his other examples, that he's doing so). And again, I think the Christians are more guilty than the atheists. But whoever does it more or less, we all do exaggerate about ourselves and the other guy.

8. Focusing on negative examples makes you stupid.

Bullshit! Granted, it is asinine to focus on negative examples as if they were representative of everyone on the other side. But we're having a debate here. We're going to call the other side on their shit. It's part of the game. So yes, I'm going to talk about Fred Phelps. No, I'm not going to say all Christians are like that (that really would be stupid), but I will talk about him as one possible negative outcome of Christianity. And that's a fair point. I'd welcome Christians to come up with a negative outcome of atheism if they can find one, but so far they've been unable to do so.

9. Both sides have brought good to the table.

It depends. PEOPLE from both sides certainly have. But Christianity itself has never really done anything for us except "bad" things. Atheism, being nothing more than a lack of a belief, hasn't done anything good or bad. But Christians and atheists have both done lots of good, and some have done bad. Talk about people, you've got me on your side. Talk about beliefs, you're going to lose me.

He does go on to lose me by talking about religion making humanity sacred and giving us morality and other nonsense. And it is nonsense. Religion hasn't done jack or shit for humanity. Just because religious people have, doesn't mean the religion gets the credit.

10. You'll never harass the other side out of existence.

I agree, as long as the point is phrased precisely this way. Being vile and harassing people isn't going to win the war. Yes, there's a place for it. Yes, it's important to point out how silly those Christians are from time to time. But the real place we need to have this war is in the debate halls. We need to have an open dialogue. When exposed to the light of reason and open debate, religion withers and dies. It can only fester under a cloud of ignorance.

Wong's point is to lead by example. I agree with that too. We should all strive to be good people, to be rational people, and to make the most of our lives. Lead by example, debate the points, and try to be respectful rather than harassing. I do think that's one point we really can all get behind.

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