Take this as you will, that is the way of things. You have probably read this before, written by other people in a more pertinent and concise manner, but if you have a minute or two and nothing better to do…
About a month ago, someone asked if I felt i was a bit zealous with my atheism. I asked them for some evidence of my zealotry (yes, always a stickler for evidence, damn these scientists muttering in my mind) and they politely backed down as they realised that my zealotry was based on presumptions.
This may be due to my Christmas shows, Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless people, which a few people seem to imagine is some rally where a gathering of excited atheists strip naked, smear themselves in the offal of dismembered papal emissaries and scream banshee-like as the high priest Richard Dawkins rears up on a mighty robot horse made of science. As those who have attended will know, it’s really a variety show with some skewing towards experiments with giant test tubes and a little laser harp jazz. I used to pop up on discussion shows as “the atheist”, but soon gave that up due to the temple throbbing lasting for days after the underwhelming televisual event.
Late last year I wrote about my experience at Greenbelt http://robinince.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/uh-oh-a-liberal-atheist-writes-about-liberal-christians-this-cant-end-well/ and I may well repeat what I typed then, though not intentionally (the blog is free, please feel free to leave when you want).
I have always felt the term “militant atheist” is rather silly, a simple two word ad hominem attack, like “liberal intelligentsia” , “media elite” or “mule fondler”, a summing up of a character that means you can ignore what she or he has to say.
Lately, I have started to fret a little that some atheists see their position of godlessness as the defining feature of their personality and agenda. Some seem to see the mere act of believing in any form of higher, seemingly mythicaI power renders that human an intellectual elf. I was amused that when I tweeted “I don’t mind these atheists, but these militant ones who don’t believe in any god at all seem to be going a bit far”, I received some furious tweets admonishing me with a fury such that the virtual spittle seemed to spring vividly from my computer screen. This is the risk of RTs, once the context of the person tweeting has been lost, people don’t bother to stop and check before unleashing their unhappiness. I was amused, facetiously perhaps, that people who prided themselves on their rationality and ability to see through deity myths, did not take the thoughtful/sceptical approach with everything and had not thought to check the source or intention. That night I tweeted “being an atheist doesn’t mean you’re smarter. Being religious doesn’t mean you are more moral, being drunk doesn’t mean you’re Dylan Thomas”. It’s the sort of tweet that suggests I have been drinking and become loose with my fingers. Most people took it in the spirit I meant it; being an atheist alone doesn’t mean you must be smarter than your local cleric or pious bell ringer, just as their act of taking communion or pointing people to pews did not mean they were breathing the Olympian airs of a heightened morality . A few did suggest that being an atheist meant a higher chance of intellect and offered surveys that predicted as much. I read most surveys, whether they are about intelligence of the faithless or how the higher percentage of charitable works done by seventh day adventists, with my eyebrows arched.
For a while I have worried there is a rise in the superior atheist, though I hope that is not true of most I know. I believe there can be a lack of imagination and experience amongst some atheists. We can gloriously bathe in the reprehensible examples of faith inspired misogynists, homophobes, terrorists and other thugs, and ignore the religious people who amble around us, filled with doubt, questions, compassions and a non-dogmatic view of the world. There are cultures and countries, where the repugnant, muscular hand of organised religion manipulates the populace. There are people who embrace dogmas, religious or political, and will refuse to view them with a critical eye, whatever the evidence might seem to be; old Maoists or Catholic die-hards who, while eagerly criticising other persuasions, will remain energetically blind to “their own sides” shortfalls. I am sure I have and will fail to notice my own shortcomings, while criticising those I see as opponents for exactly the actions I have been guilty of. It seems that is part of the human survival mechanism, though I hope I am becoming more vivacious in my eye for personal hypocrisy.
I’ve gone off the point. I’ve been drinking.
Free thinking can exist in a mind that also believes in some form of god. The Quakers, Unitarians, Anglicans, Reform Jews and others I have spoken to are not rigorously bound to text and hellfire preacher. Ask them to define their god and you will hear many and varied descriptions of what this figure, cloud or energy might be. As unnerving as this might be to a few non-believers, I have found many religious people whose beliefs are not a stumbling block to free thinking, it’s just that on top of ideas of particle physics, cosmology and evolution, they have a further belief that is liquid but present.
The defining belief of my life is not atheism. I do not wake up and, when faced with the first quandary of the day, think “what would Sam Harris do?” (even when it comes to waiting time at airport security)
Atheism is a by-product of my other thoughts and beliefs. I attempt to be rational, hope to be reasonably freethinking despite the rapid flow of misinformation from screens and papers, and I hope to avoid dogmatism.
Discounting people because they are religious. an atheist arrogance. I belief that by dint of not believing in some form of higher power, you must be smarter than your nearest cleric.
I have reached a point of realising that the limits to my own knowledge are such that I might as well give up on the idea of being right, but that I can at least strive to be less wrong about things. This is not one of those statements that says there is truth in everything and so cultural relativism rules, there are many degrees of wrong.
I have stung my hand on a nettle.
Well, dip the sting in milk, that will sort it out.
Cut the hand off before the nettle satan transform you into furious vegetation.
Both may be wrong, well, you see what I mean.
If I am an atheist because I see myself as a freethinker, then I should take that freethinking as far as thinking freely about religious people, and the breadths of people and beliefs that entails. An air of superiority solely due to godlessness sits uncomfortably with me. I will attempt to judge people by their actions and thoughts, not a label, which at least in my experience, seems far loser than some presumptions.
new DVD – Happiness Through Science is now available – includes 90 minute commentary with Brian Cox http://www.gofasterstripe.com is place to browse.
New tour has begun – Brighton, Maidenhead, Dublin, Belfast, Wolverhampton sold out, many more to come from Glasgow to Swansea, Spalding to Falmouth http://www.robinince.com