FreeThought Fort Wayne

        Be Reasonable

We want our Utopia now

Posted by Skeptigator on July 21, 2008

theodorsing recently posted Evangelist = Evil’s Agent?, in which he asks a number of compelling questions. So my post this week has been discarded in favor of my thoughts on the same topic.

The main theme from the post was that atheism, by definition, and often in practice is a negative assertion. It provides no foundation for a positive* belief system, it offers no method, process or framework with which to create a positive* worldview. Perhaps the most you could say is that it provides a framework within which I don’t believe in your (or all) god(s). There is simply nothing there to grab a hold of.

“Suppose we’ve chosen the wrong god. Every time we go to church we’re just making him madder and madder.” – Homer Simpson

theo and I spoke at a local church about a month ago that was exploring other worldviews by actually inviting people who espouse those worldviews to explain for themselves what they believe. This is an excellent idea that should be explored by other organizations as well.

What we were specifically asked to address was Atheism. However in the course of working up materials and notes on the topic I realized that Atheism as a basis of a talk would be pretty bare. The person at the church offered a standard list of topics to address and after going through the list it looked a little like this:

  1. If any, what is the goal/meaning/purpose of life? (n/a)
  2. If so, how is that goal/meaning/purpose obtained?  (n/a)
  3. If any, what is the divine/supernatural? (n/a)
  4. If any, what is evil/bad/wrong? (n/a)
  5. If any, what is the afterlife? (n/a)
  6. If any, what texts are important? (n/a)

Clearly a talk on Atheism will go nowhere, because there is essentially nowhere to go, by definition. In fact, if you give a talk on Atheism and you make positive assertions of truth, a specific worldview or any kind of “we believe” or “you should” list, you are not talking about Atheism anymore. You can’t even make an assertion that Atheism is based on reason, rational thought, critical thinking or evidence.

“The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.” – Edmund Burke

To illustrate the point, are Raelians (wiki) atheists? Yes, they do not believe in a God or gods. They believe that extraterrestrials are the origin of most of our god/myths, etc. but they explain these as extraterrestrial(and purely natural) phenomenon. Are their explanations rooted in a natural/materialistic universe, basically yes**. Do they espouse supernatural (meaning outside of nature) beliefs? No. Are they completely bat-shit crazy? Probably.

If Raelians are, by definition, atheists they almost certainly don’t have beliefs that are based on reason, rational thought, critical thinking or evidence. You can see the philosophical problems with giving a talk to high school kids about atheism. When all is said and done and some of them decide to pursue this “atheism” thing further, where do you send them? Clearly this created a conundrum for us to talk about Atheism. But I went back and re-read the request and realized that what was being asked was a positive assertion of belief from an atheist. I chose Secular Humanism. This is a belief system that makes very clear assertions of belief and how to discover objective truths. I won’t go into it here but if you are interested follow mightymjolnir’s post on Affirmations of Secular Humanism or get info from the horse’s mouth, the Council for Secular Humanism.

“It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring” – Carl Sagan

So I’ve basically spent 5 paragraphs to say, “yep theo, yer right, pushing atheism is kind of a dead-end”. Where do we go from here? Should we, as theo puts it, “spend more time extolling the wonders and virtues of the natural world and science.” If it’s meant as a question and not rhetorically, of course, we should. We should be a little careful not to come off as Science-Zombies but the point is salient.

Or perhaps, I can answer the rhetorical question with another question. What of beauty? What of art? What of love, emotions and other subjective states? How can the wonders and virtues of the natural world and science answer these questions? The following quote from R. Hall (whoever that is) may illustrate the very sentiment that must be changed,

Atheism is a ferocious system, that leaves nothing above us to excite awe, nor around us to awaken tenderness.

The universe, nature and our common humanity can inspire the most profound feelings of awe and tenderness. We need no gods or masters to arouse those sentiments. Only knowledge and truth unclouded by prejudice. Easier said than done, I agree.

theo wrote,

“I also grow tired of religion bashing. It is not that it isn’t easy or fun. It is. But I question the effectiveness of convincing people of the error of their ways. You don’t even have to actively insult believers to turn them away. Simply point out fallacies and contradictions and you will still lose your audience.”

Don’t forget that your very existence is an affront to many believers and further proof of the devil’s work. However I want to address this comment more directly below.

To theo when you say,

“There is still the problem of being unable to reach those who don’t desire real truths or answers or even knowledge, but then those people are unreachable anyway.”

I can only point out that at one point at least in my own life (and I’ve heard others echo the sentiment) that I was unreachable and sought neither real truth nor knowledge, only God. Stay the course, keep your stick on the ice or whatever other cliche you wish to use, the message can get through… slowly. The response you desire may not happen today or tomorrow but if the information and support exists for those looking for a change then we have done our part.

“We want our Utopia now” – Sinclair Lewis, Main Street

To conclude, I can only offer my thoughts on how to stop fighting a war while always on defense. And let’s be honest, if you spend your days pointing out the reams of immoral behavior, inconsistencies and errors in the Jewish and Christians bibles or try to even have a sane conversation with a Muslim (or Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness or…) without having spent any time offering a positive assertion as to how we should live our lives without God we will never get ahead. theo mentions the need for basic science literacy and critical thinking skills and he points out that even if we started today it would take a long time to see the benefits and I agree.

But the question in my mind of late (and I daresay a number of other FreeThought Fort Wayners) is how do we see benefits today? What can we as individuals do to begin to break down those barriers of misunderstanding between the believer and the unbeliever? How do we get to a point in our society where the believer can look at the unbeliever and say, “He lives a moral life without God, I simply choose not to do it that way” not “How can he live a moral life?”. What can we do to remove the question of morality from the picture? I’m not saying we should ban religion or religious belief but if the religious believer can at least get to the point that the question of morality doesn’t exist imagine the strides that could be made.

For me the answer to, “What can we do today?”, is “You are looking at it!”.

  • Start a group. Start an atheist, non-theist, agnostic or my personal favorite, FreeThought group.
  • Participate in a group. I didn’t start this one but I actively sought it out and found one.
  • If you are already have a group and participate in a group, look at actively promoting your group. You don’t have to take out ads in the local paper but posting your group’s information online where it’s easy to find for those looking is a start.
  • The best way to draw members, promote your group and actively engage your members is to begin the process of generating value from the organization. Obviously the fact that a group exists and that you can grab a pint with a new found friend is benefit enough. But imagine if you could give local authors, like John Loftus, a venue to share their stories or be able to bring a national author like Robert Price to speak.
  • Tired of watching movies by yourself and would rather watch, The Root of All Evil? or Flock of Dodos or The God Who Wasn’t There with a group of like-minded people. It’d sure be nice to have a group to do that with wouldn’t it?
  • Fort Wayne, Indiana (nicknamed The City of Churches) is a religious town in a religious state in a religious part of the country. If we have a group there isn’t any reason why you can’t have a group. Meet at your local library (we do) or at a local pub (we do that too).

I’m not saying having a local secular or freethought group is the be all and end all but it’s a start and it’s a benefit to you and I believe society as whole that you can enjoy today.


* I don’t mean positive in the good or wholesome sense of the word but as a statement of whether or not there are tenets/beliefs and values that can be examined and therefore accepted or rejected.

** Raelians allude to a lot of technology that is not known, may not even be possible and have hold theories that have demonstrable problems due to a lack of evidence, but there explanations are devoid of supernatural claims (and perhaps devoid of sanity, as well)

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2 Responses to “We want our Utopia now”

  1. Theo Doersing said

    It’s nice to know someone read my rant. I admit I asked more questions than I answered. Such is the nature as something as subjective as religion.

    One conclusion that I’ve come to is that if no one talked about atheism, science, freethought, philosophy and the like, then we would get nowhere. The only way to make any difference whatsoever is to continue thinking and talking about these topics. It’s easier for someone like me who is predisposed to constantly thinking about these things simply because my life is completely intertwined with them. But I’ve taken for granted the massive amount of people who have no tangible interaction with life without god.

    It is an ongoing effort, but I’m trying to consciously commit all of the positives of living god-free to my notes for future use. And not just the fun stuff like sleeping in on Sundays and picking up sticks on the sabbath ;P

    I’m talking about the ability learn to see through lies and deciet; how to become a human bullshit detector, if you will.
    Also the freedom of conscience and confidence you build as you learn how to think and live for your own purposes instead of the constant dread I imagine some must feel when believing God is watching their everymove. Kind of like the nuns who would bath with their robes on to be pious in the eyes of God. Like He could see through walls from outerspace, but not through the robes. I read somewhere he did have problems with chariots of iron though.

    Anyways, thanks for the feedback, and the food for thought. The input gives me more motivation to keep doing what I find important.

  2. […] it for the kids Posted on July 29, 2008 by Skeptigator Last week I gave my response to theo’s post on Atheist Evangelism. In it I made specific recommendations for what we as […]

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