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Friday, February 24, 2006

An atheist on the loose!

I can hardly believe it: there's a story about a real-life atheist in the mass media! I honestly can't remember ever seeing one before. Of course, it's not an article that is solely about an atheist: it's an article about an atheist who talks to a bunch of Christians at a religious college. But the very acknowledgment of atheism is pretty amazing.

Right-wing Christians like to talk about the godless liberal media, but only a fool could argue that this is the case. Just in the past year, how many times has Newsweek put on its cover a story about Christianity, Islam, or some other religion? A few time, if I remember correctly. I am sure about the number of times a story about atheists has been on the cover: zero. Same for last year, and all the years I can remember. I can't remember the last time I have seen an article about atheists anywhere.

It's just a crazy topic for a lot of people to tackle. Ronn Johnson, the Christian professor at Northwestern, says about his atheist foil, "But I was curious, too -- I'd never really rubbed shoulders with an atheist." As if atheists are Martians or something. In reality, anywhere from ten to fifteen percent of Americans do not consider themselves to belong to any particular religion. We are not insignificant. To make not so subtle a point of it, it's like the media ignoring all African-American people in this country, treating them as if they don't exist.

I am one. Like August Berkshire, the atheist professor, I guess I would be a "positive" atheist, somebody who don't believe in a deity because we see no evidence. I don't know about Berkshire, but I go a bit further: as a strong agnostic, I believe that we poor humans simply can't fathom any knowledge about the existence or non-existence of any deity. It will always be unknowable. And since there are an infinite number of ways that a deity can exist, the chance that any one interpretation is the correct one is zero, so believing Christianity as opposed to Islam or Judaism or Jainism or anything else is ridiculous, totally unsupported by evidence.

I'm not a "negative" atheist who goes around telling people that they need to drop their beliefs because there is no god, though. As long as the result of faith isn't harmful, then I don't care what people believe. Whatever gets you through the night, and all that jazz.

Unfortunately, too often it is harmful. The Inquisition. Fred Phelps and his supporters protesting funerals. People killing doctors who provide abortions. People killing others because their prophet has been drawn in a cartoon. And on and on. This simply disgusts me, and renders any positive effects of religion immediately moot. If people act this way when they are "religious", then those particular people shouldn't be religious.

The majority of religious people, though, don't kill or hurt in the name of Jesus or God or Muhammad or anybody else, so I frankly don't spend all that much time thinking about them. It's not worth it, unless I am in a philosophical mood and looking for a spirited debate.

In that case, bring it on. I'll never ridicule a person's beliefs unprovoked, but like Berkshire, I'm not afraid to say why I don't believe.


At 11:54 PM, February 26, 2006, Blogger Andrew said...

Article was a little short, but still a good article considering the local strib. The number of atheist out there is growing. I'm one too, yay for not being baptized. Anyway, I thought you had a great post, and if you don't know already there is a Atheist and Secular Humanism Student Group at the University of Minnesota: http://www.cashumn.org/
Look forward to reading your other posts

At 12:17 AM, February 27, 2006, Blogger Annamarie said...

You post some very interesting, intelligent commentary. I like reading your blog. Good stuff!

Regards from Canada!



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