Evangelical Atheism

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I watched a YouTube video a while back [1]. I’ve put the link at the bottom because it’s pretty offensive. I recommend you read this article before deciding whether to watch it, you won’t need it to understand the article. This video portrays an atheist having a discussion with stereotypical representatives of a gaggle of different religions.

The video’s theme is that each of these religions has a different, conflicting understanding of God, and all-powerful being that he is, if God really had something important to say, he should be able to make it clear enough that there wouldn’t be hundreds of different interpretations of his words.

A second, more subtle point appears to be one of shared humanity. At least, that’s what I read into it the first time I watched it. The second time I wasn’t so sure. “If we can throw off the chains of theism,” it seemed to me to say, “we can realize that we are all one human family.” After the atheist’s impassioned plea and a requisite pause, all the theists return to bickering. The atheist walks away, as if to say, “of course they’ll never listen to reason, they believe in God.”

If we look at the video again without the stirring music, we see a bunch of people arguing, one person shouting at everyone else while they politely listen, and then that one person walking away. Really, the atheist is just bickering along with everyone else. Regardless of whether or not his claims make more sense, the video itself appears to admit that making the argument is fruitless.

Here is my question: for an atheist, what is the purpose of obsessing over the metaphysical? If you believe people are going to go to hell if they don’t believe in your God that’s one thing, but where’s the good deed in convincing people that heaven isn’t real? Especially if you’re extremely unlikely to succeed.

If you really want to make everyone believe what you do, good luck. That’s just the same thing many of those other religions you think are so crazy are trying to do, and they’ve been trying a lot longer than you have. If what you’re really worried about, and I think this is something we should all worry about, is the interference of religion with science and good public policy, then you may have a shot at making a difference. As others have said, a good example of championing rationalism, if not specifically atheism, is Neil Degrasse Tyson’s “Cosmos” series [2].

Instead of attacking Christianity, “Cosmos” presents the universe as it is understood today and the history of discovery behind this understanding. In discussing this history, Tyson doesn’t shy from mentioning when politics, economics, or, yes, religion, gets in the way of human advancement. He also, it is important to note, mentions when Christianity is helpful. Tyson explicitly states, for example, that Michael Faraday, the father of much of our understanding about electromagnetism, was an evangelical christian, and suggests this helped him come to contribute what he has.

So, fellow atheists, I implore you to consider what battle it is you’re fighting. Is it really religion itself that you can’t stand? Is there nothing you prefer to believe that you know really isn’t true? Is belief in the supernatural mutually exclusive to scientific advancement? Is a futile war against all of religion a good use of your time, or is there something better you can do to counter the issues you see in the world? Just something to think about.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0A_iF1B3k0

[2] http://www.cosmosontv.com/

Some other interesting links:

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/08/why-arent-more-americans-atheists-109732.html#.U_nygvldV8F
A brief discussion of the history of atheism and an argument that it is generally a reaction to oppressive religion.

http://www.atheists.org/atheistTV/live
A channel dedicated to atheism

http://www.salon.com/2014/08/09/i_spent_a_day_watching_atheisttv_and_it_was_horrifying/
A brief critique of AtheistTV’s strategy

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4 thoughts on “Evangelical Atheism”

  1. The video was about humanism. If you take away the religious differences, we’re all still human. What do we have to gain by convincing people that their god isn’t real? Well the hope is that people will stop killing each other over religion. Personally, I don’t think getting rid of religion will end violence: those determined to commit violence will commit it anyway. But I’m all for encouraging people to overlook our differences in the name of peace, and I think talking to each other is the only way we’ll accomplish this goal.

    1. My first comment from a stranger! How exciting!

      Instead of focusing on the minor detail of what the video itself was trying to say, I would like to agree with you that we need a dramatic improvement in inter-cultural communication that can hopefully mitigate the perpetual drumbeat towards war.

      Thanks for commenting!

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