Dispelling Misconceptions About My Position

It’s been a while since I last posted on this blog. I wanted to take a break from blogging, reading, researching, and generally “from atheism.” I want to step back and reevaluate my positions and claims here in this blog and elsewhere. I’m certainly not changing my stance regarding materialism, God’s existence, or anything like this (unless good evidence is presented), but I want to make claims that are less totalizing to dispel rumors and misconceptions that people have about my atheism. This post will be very loosely constructed - I just want to put ideas on the table for discussion. I may repeat myself, disgress, and mention larger issues.

Here are some common ideas people have about me that are all false:

I dislike religious people.
My arguments, in almost all cases, are against ideas, not people. I certainly dislike individuals such as Pat Robertson, Mother Teresa, and Jerry Falwell, but this is not because they are religious – this is because they have bad ideas, do bad things almost certainly because of their religious ideas, and hurt humanity. I certainly am in opposition to religion, specifically Catholicism/Christianity, but am not opposed to people simply because of their religious beliefs. It's fair to say that I dislike people, but not exclusively because they are religious. It's perfectly morally acceptable to dislike individuals because of their ideas and for many other reasons. It would be ridiculous to insist that every person likes every person in the world. Again, to make the case quite clear, I dislike religion, not people who are religious. It's certainly possible to dislike religious people who act on their ideas, but this is warranted.

I say that no good comes from religion; it is all bad.
Theists often make this claim to try and combat my “religion is harmful to society” claim. Good certainly does come from religion, but time and time again, I make sure to note that all of the good can [honestly] be had without religion and we won’t have the added negative baggage. I do, though, posit that religion has a net negative impact on society for several reasons documented in previous posts. It’s very easy to understand that because of religion many bad things are happening in the world daily. Simply look at world news on any given day and see the harm and suffering. Religion also infiltrates people in “everyday life” on a personal level putting sanctions and boundaries on many decisions we make without even realizing it.

I think that all religious people think the same.
This claim is ridiculous. It’s very obvious that beliefs – both religious and non-religious – vary from person to person. Some Catholics, professed “religious moderates,” disagree with many “fundamentalist ideas” such as gay marriage, stem cell research, etc and would like to see homosexuals marry and experimentation with cells to better society. At a minimum, though, theists do share many things in common: a personal god created the universe, an element of the supernatural does exist, etc. It’s impossible and unreasonable for me to identify every person who believes subtle differences exist in religion – I try to combat general and specific claims and note that “yes, not everyone does believe this.”

I think that religion is harmful to every individual on a personal level.
I’m aware of many theists who don’t do or say bad things. Some theists are also apathetic or compartmentalize religion in their lives. It’s impossible to evaluate data from person to person and ask, “Hmm? Was THAT bad decision based on your religious ideas?” It’s certainly true, though, that beliefs do inform actions – if you’re pro-life [because of religious reasons], you may be apt to go and protest at abortion clinics or, like the Knights of Columbus, pray the rosary at abortion clinics. Of course not all religious people are pro-life. Of course some atheists are pro-life. Some people may do good things because they are religious…although I would argue that in most cases, they’d be apt to do good if they weren’t religious. A person may say, “I stopped the rapist because my religion tells me to help others,” but I’d think that with or without religion, people would stop rapists. This gets hairier in more complex cases: say, for example, someone attends a church function that specifically helps the homeless. Would the atheist do this? He/she would probably not be presented with this option and simply might not. If the religious person wasn’t presented with this option, he/she probably wouldn’t either. The waters are murky.

I think that atheists are superior to religious people.
I think that in the matter of belief in God and other related beliefs, atheists have, if of the result of good thinking, investigating the issue, and making the conscious choice to not believe in God, made the right decision. I don't think that just because a person is an atheist really means anything. I have expectations that atheists are generally good people, critical thinkers, likable, etc, but this is not the case with every individual who is an atheist. Less can be said about individuals who, dare I say it, are "nominal atheists." I don't want to tread on a No True Scotsman fallacy here at all... but some atheists exist who haven't considered the arguments for and against God, are intellectually lazy, and aren't critical thinkers. These people, of course, are still atheists, but they are very different than atheists who have deeply considered the issues, are public, etc.

All claims require extraordinary evidence!
I don’t hold this position. I strongly believe that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and perhaps with the following adage, “all beliefs of extraordinary significance that guide life require extraordinary evidence.” A recent counter-example to needing good evidence, justification, etc was posed in my philosophy class and reinforced in an earlier conversation: A person has a terminal illness and believes he/she will survive, but has no good reason to believe this based on evidence. A situation like this, when reason is properly used (I think) would call for a person to believe that he/she will survive in order to possibly extend life. There’s no harm in this, I think, and is beneficial to survival. We don’t, though, need to believe in God to live – we can live just fine without him. Many theists would object, but what really matters here is the question, “Does God actually exist?” not is the belief useful, beneficial, etc. Utility does not make a claim true!
If God doesn't exist, we can and should be fine with this honest conclusion. This differs a great deal from my terminal illness example. “Minor” claims that don’t have a significant impact on life such as “I believe that my teacher will be in his office” can be made on little or no evidence. I can go on and on, but I want you to realize this: not all ideas need significant evidence (or any), but the idea that god exists ought to because it’s based on ideas that aren’t solid and backed with evidence, reason, and argument and is often contrary to what we know about the universe.

You must provide evidence for everything!
This parallels the "do all claims need evidence" claim. Regarding the question of God, theists aren't obligated to explain to everyone who doesn't accept their ideas, but they should have good reasons for their beliefs. If pressed on the issue, theists ought to provide good reasons for their beliefs. How can and should we believe in something if we can't explain why we do? If I were to claim that the Holocaust did not happen, that Thor exists, or that thetans determine our emotions, people would press me on why I believe this before the conversation continued. Why do the rules change with God? Provide evidence for your claim of God's existance if you're discussing the matter, defend your position, and give good reasons.

The bottom line is this: I’m not painting religious people with the same brush and can’t be expected to acknowledge every person’s point of view and accommodate that. I’ll probably get much flak about this post from atheists and theists, but I welcome the discussion. I won’t fully investigate every issue in great detail in this post because I want to keep it relatively short and encourage further discussion.