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On Atheism and Prayer  Community

March 3, 2009

From Sarah at F-Words I got to this post at boingboing on athiesm. I have to echo her conclusion that it is both annoying and confusing. I have a few other points I would like to make as well.

I think what he’s trying to say in this post is highlighed by the two excerpted passages:

In politics, I think there are two competing motivations for voters to support a cause publicly. One is to influence the majority to agree, to make changes that you believe in, and the other is to distinguish your opinions as superior to most other peoples’…..

With religion, I think atheists have the same dissonance going on. If they really think the world would be better off without religion, they shouldn’t hate religion and call believers fools. Any successful new belief system must appreciate the beauty of what it’s replacing and strive for backwards-compatibility.

I think the fatal flaw in this post is not just what Sarah highlighted but also Mr. Spinard’s apparent assumption that atheists are either 1. Being elitist or 2. proselytizing.

What is missing from his apparent worldview is the idea of being true to ones self, ones own beliefs/ convictions etc. The idea that atheists aren’t in it to make other people feel bad about being religious, they just really aren’t religious is somehow completely lost here. Speaking for myself as an atheist I don’t care about religion or religious people except insofar as religion interferes with my life.

(And at this point in human history that is arguably, quite a bit. Every religion in the world seems to want their beliefs carved into law. But if there were a group of religious folks who wanted to practice and follow their beliefs and leave me alone I would not care if they did so. I would like to think most atheists would agree with me on this point, but I have no evidence for that, so like god, I will not believe that it is true.)

He’s basically saying that if atheists want to make more atheists they need to figure out how to make atheism more like religion. I don’t necessarily think that atheists feel compelled to make more atheists. I think we’re all pretty sure that in the right environment (one that values reason and logic perhaps) that more atheists would make themselves.

But amazingly enough atheists are already aware of the need to make atheism more appealing. (Although, y’know, without the whole prayer thing, because telling atheists they need to pray is like… well I don’t know what it is like, but it is fucking stupid.)

What Atheists do need to do, and I think are beginning to do is to build a community. Religions, especially groups that have regular church meetings, come with a set of traditions and a built in community for meeting people and social events. Beyond prayer many people who may not necessarily agree with their religion find this community, the rituals and the traditions to be comforting.

I think many atheists who are out now many be the kind that don’t actually care for this kind of community. I know that there is truly nothing I loathe more than running into people who tortured me through grade school every year on Christmas Eve. But I am sure that there are some people who have friends in their church communities and would miss sharing time with a community of people.

If I were a more community/activity minded person I would probably enjoy spending Sunday Afternoons volunteering, or having progressive dinners, or bridge club or singles events or events for kids all with other Atheists. Unfortunately there is no great venue for this. And I think that is probably one of the major reasons that some people stay in their religious community. leaving the religion means leaving bridge club, book club, fund raising groups, so on and so forth. I think what Mr. Spinrad is trying to get at very poorly is that closeted atheists continue to betray their hearts, not for religion and prayer but for community.

But don’t worry, we’re already working on that.


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  1. I imagine that you are am atheist because you think you are “naturally” fat. I doubt a religious person would think a god that made them would put them in a body that is a bloated mockery of the human form.

  2. Oh god you’re so right. I stopped believing in god because i’m fat. Or maybe I’m fat because god was angry that I stopped believing in him and turned me into a bloated mockery.

    Or maybe, you’re a fucking idiot.

  3. Interestingly, the way I feel about paganism sounds similar to your feelings about atheism – I mostly want to do my thing and not have someone else be shoving their preferences down my throat. (Or, P.S., make assumptions about what my beliefs/actions/motivations are based on the most vocal folks who call themselves pagans.)

    It is definitely consistent with my experience of pagan community, though, that it’s the community and not the actual principles that draw a lot of people in. Which, actually, kinda creeps up my ass in a spiritual context…’cause I don’t understand why people need to use alleged common beliefs as an excuse to get together in a social context.

    Also, wow…that’s the first time I’ve heard someone conflate FA and atheism. You get good troll, man.

  4. That Tara comment is hilarious! I’ve never thought about the lack of community that may result in my life from being an atheist, but even people who believe don’t always participate in church or religious groups, etc. I agree with you, I don’t care what they believe as long as they don’t insist on shoving my face in it, and make laws based on it. I’m lucky in that I know very few people who are not atheists, or even care-at least none who will admit it. I also find the people who are “in your face” atheists tend to be those who were raised very religiously, and are angry about it.

  5. Tari,
    That’s interesting that you find people attracted to paganism for the community. I was attracted to paganism as a youth (okay I was attracted to anything non catholic) but part of what turned me off was the whole idea of a community being a big part of it. Clearly I am just a grump. That would creep up my ass as well.

    (Side note, when it gets warmer and I stop being a hermit I would love to get together in a social context with you!)

    I usually don’t approve Tara’s comments, but that was just ridiculous.

  6. hehehe

    I guess that makes me a grump, too, eh? I’m so there. And yes…when it is not so damn snowyblowygrayblech, we should hang.

    Re: Tara…yeah, ridiculous is the right word. Also: hilarious.

  7. Unfortunately more and more atheists are indeed becoming evangelical about it. For the record, I’m a pagan (polytheist, worship the Irish pantheon) and I’ve gone to blog after blog of people actively insulting anyone who has any religious belief, read dozens of claims that religion is inherently evil and causes suffering, etc. For an example.

    “If the label “new atheists” has been accorded to a fistful of polemicists who set out to counter in-your-face religion with in-your-face atheism, then Ronald Aronson must qualify as something different: a new new atheist perhaps.”

  8. Sarah permalink

    Tara is a troll – she has been around the FA blogs for ages, and she is hitting up every single blog in the Fatosphere feed and leaving comments where she can.

    Tara – get a life.

  9. fillyjonk permalink

    I don’t necessarily think that atheists feel compelled to make more atheists. I think we’re all pretty sure that in the right environment (one that values reason and logic perhaps) that more atheists would make themselves.

    This is so perfect!

    The most hilarious thing about tara, by the way, is that she keeps trolling even when it’s clear that her comments are being sent to spam. Occasionally I clear out the spam trap and I find a little “gift” from her (in the sense that non-housebroken dogs will leave you a “gift” on the carpet).

  10. I already commented on the other post, but…I’m an atheist and I have no desire to make more atheists. It’s not that I dislike the idea of more atheists, in fact life would probably be more comfortable for me as a woman with more atheists around, but basically I just don’t care what anyone else believes. I just don’t see why I WOULD care, honestly, unless what they believe is causing them to try to fuck up my life.

  11. Cindy permalink

    A friend of mine once told me “Hey, there are pricks in every movement.”

    She was right. Every community attracts a handful of people who are either emotionally unhealthy or disrespectful of boundaries. The larger communities are often punished because a few pricks make life hell for everyone.

    My guess is that most athiests have little interest in being evangelical about their non-belief. There are a vocal few who don’t want to rest until every shred of religious belief is excised from the public square. All atheists have to account for them — for some strange reason.

    I’m a Unitarian Universalist, and my congregation is home to quite a few avowed athiests. Most of them are like the rest of us, seeking as individuals, but working together to make a better world and hoping for salvation by character. There are a few athiests, though, who would stomp out all religious language from worship because they can’t conceive of an encounter with the holy that isn’t attached to “father god.” Irt’s been a difficult but lively journey. And we’re still doing “worship.”

  12. I identify as a Buddhist atheist, but I don’t proselytize either. Still, I have to wonder what is so very different between atheists like Dawkins and, oh, Christians who come to my door trying to sell me on Christ or Christian preachers on TV with megachurches?

    I was raised in a Christian church and left when I was about 14. When I turned 18, I thought my lack of religion was to blame for all the woes in my life (including being fat) and went back even though I was already starting to doubt the entire existence of a god. It didn’t feel fulfilling; it felt like I was being false to myself and supporting a system I felt was not only fundamentally flawed, but also politically and socially harmful (the church was active in efforts to criminalize abortion and gay marriage, upheld archaic gender roles for women, supported prayer in schools, etc…). I imagine it’s much the same way died in the wool gay people feel at pray-away-the-gay programs.

  13. Angellore permalink

    I am an athiest, but I only mention that when it is relevant, i.e. in a discussion like this or if someone asks me about my religious beliefs. Personally I couldn’t care less what someones religious beliefs are, as long as those beliefs are not hurting others, or they are not trying to convert me. I will happily listen to anyones beliefs and I find religion very interesting. I certainly don’t evangalise about my atheism, 99% of the time I don’t even consider or think about it. I do believe in Karma, although not religiously, I believe that what goes around, comes aroud because a persons actions cause it to happen. I think the fundementals of most of the major religions, i.e. love thy neighbour (apologies for wording that in the Christian way, but Christianity made up the majority of my religious education at school) makes perfect sense and is sound advice. If we could all just chill out, get along and accept that everyone has different beliefs we might take a step forward. I mean that about athiests and agnostics as well as any religious beliefs.

    I guess there are no fat people in church, eh Tara?

  14. I really enjoyed reading this because I would identify myself as a “questioning” Christian at this point in my life and it’s really tough to get a discussion going on atheism (although the faiths of my friends range from A–Z) and quite frankly; I think it should be discussed MORE in religious circles.

    Anyhoo, the only thing I really had a problem with was when you said I don’t necessarily think that atheists feel compelled to make more atheists. I think we’re all pretty sure that in the right environment (one that values reason and logic perhaps)… because it kinda gives the implication that belief in a god or gods does not have it’s own sort of logic or reason or that those who do choose to believe in a diety somehow lack “enough” logic and reason. Also, atheism is basically just as old as religion itself; I’m pretty sure there have been thousands of atheists who believed the world was flat along with everyone else and that there are many atheists today who might not fit the bill of being “logical” or “reasonable”. I guess my confusion comes from you not defining what exactly you meant by or believe to be logic and reason which, I’m beginning to discover; means something different to everybody.

    My religious upbringing was very different–I never had any adults around to tell me what to think or do in that sense nor did I ever attend Sunday school. I was expected to sit and listen to sermons and make my own meaning so any faith I have is purely my own construct based on what I believe is realistically and as I’ve read more and more on thermodynamics and other stuff; scientifically logical…sounds a lil’ like atheism dunnit? I’ve always wondered about it…

    Thanks for writing this.

  15. I’m glad you liked it. I’m not trying to imply that the people who follow a religion lack logic and reason or the capability to use it. But I think religion itself is structured in such a way to discourage the application of logic and reason. (And by logic and reason I mean an understanding based on evidence and logical conclusions from that evidence) Many religions flat out encourage their followers to take things on “Faith” and explicitly value belief in something without evidence.

    This is, in my opinion, not particularly logical or reasonable. That is not to say that individuals who follow the faith lack the ability to apply logic or reason to religious concepts, it is just that they chose not to for whatever reason. They choose to take things on “Faith.” (I don’t begrudge them that, I think faith is important to a lot of people, and I don’t want to take that away from them if they find it valuable, I just want it to not try to run my life.)

    That is also not to say that all atheists are logical. I”m sure many aren’t. But I do not think that most religious beliefs stand up to the test of logic and reason, so I think that if more people applied these things to religion, atheists would make themselves.

  16. if there were a group of religious folks who wanted to practice and follow their beliefs and leave me alone I would not care if they did so.

    Pagans mostly do. The problem I have is kind of a converse one, and why I tend to avoid dating atheists or Christians. My religious faith is one of orthopraxy, not orthodoxy. HOW I do things is for me profoundly important to achieve the goals I want in terms of inner balance and all that stuff. I don’t ask someone else to do it, but if I happen to walk out the door with you and mutter my usual “first sight of the day’s sun” mantra (a ten second thing), it’s painful to me and to whatever relationship we have if you need to tell me that I’m wrong. I do my part by keeping the orthopraxy largely something I can run out of the public view and notice. I would appreciate other theists and non theists doing their part by ignoring the momentary head bowing over my food, etc. A lot of them don’t seem to be able to.

  17. I think the fundementals of most of the major religions, i.e. love thy neighbour (apologies for wording that in the Christian way, but Christianity made up the majority of my religious education at school) makes perfect sense and is sound advice.

    So do I. The difference, I think, between atheists (and Buddhists) who believe in these same tenets of peace and good will to their fellow man and Christians is that, to continue the Christmas adaptation, we’re good for goodness’ sake and not out of fear of divine retribution.

  18. I think faith is important to a lot of people, and I don’t want to take that away from them if they find it valuable

    I think this is the key point that evangelists of any stripe miss: individual choice. I mean, my faith or lack thereof ought to have fuck all to do with anybody else’s faith or lack thereof.

    I recognize, as a practicing crazy pagan, that much (most? all?) of my spirituality is pretty irrational – and I acknowledge it as a conscious choice to set aside logic (even when I’m dressing up science as parable, which I often do). There are lots of other things I get out of my spiritual experience that offset that lack of logic for me….but I recognize the inherent lack of reason in what I choose to believe, and that I am willfully disregarding the scientific reality. Which probably, on some level, actually makes me an atheist in some circles. ;o)

    Gods, I love dishing religion!!

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