Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Why do I hate theists so?

Reflecting on Cornwell's attack on Dawkins I am struck by something implicit in many of these attacks on 'militant' atheists. It is the suggestion that somehow the atheists are seeking to oppress the theists and even wipe them out. I think this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the atheists are trying to achieve.

As a conflict of ideas, clearly, at some level, I (and other atheists, including Dawkins) would like to persuade theists to be atheists. But this is very much in the same way that I would like people to agree with me on every other topic. But you don't see Tories, Evolutionary Psychologists, soap watchers, Hip Hop fans, or dualists protesting that I seek to wipe them out just because I disagree with them. If theists are arguing that just by disagreeing with them atheists are seeking to oppress them they are quite fundamentally, and comically, wrong. Even when leftists argue that George Bush and his neoconservative coterie have blood on their hands - this is not taken by right-wingers in general as the prelude to some latter day Holocaust. Indeed I happily tolerate the right of theists to have their own protected space in newspapers to attack us atheists, or for the Chief Rabbi (here, 38mins in), or Archbishop of Canterbury to try and convert me to their way of thinking.

But I don't think that is the sense in which most theists feel they are being oppressed. Atheists also make some political demands that some of the privileges religious groups receive be revoked. In particular, atheists are rather unhappy about state funded and delivered religious indoctrination (such as 'Faith Schools'). They are also quite unhappy about the second chamber of the legislature being populated by Anglican bishops. Looking at the National Secular Society or British Humanist Association you can see they have also campaigned on topics such as Catholic adoption agencies seeking to discriminate on sexual orientation while still receiving government funding, or legislation seeking to outlaw religious 'hatred'*. All these topics are challenges to religious believers - but they are challenges to the special status that they are granted in society, to particular exceptions to the normal way we go about doing things just for them. To characterise this as oppression shows just how religious believers have had things their own way for too long.

*Note that I object to this particular law and the way it was drafted, I'm broadly sympathetic to attempts to oppose religious hatred as an ethnic marker (i.e. the BNP and Muslims).


potentilla said...

But, to be fair, some atheists do want to get rid of religion completely, and you can see why, to a theist, there isn't much difference between that and wanting to "wipe out theists". Sam Harris, for example, and Hitchens I think, and possibly ever PZ Myers and certainly some of his echo-chamber.

Are you anti evolutionary psychology? (I mean "anti" in the most intellectually rigorous sense). It would be interesting if you were to do a post about why, sometime. (Assuming you don't just mean, anti non-experts making up e.p. Just So stories at the drop of a hat, in which case I absolutely agree with you).

pj said...

It's difficult to know where the line is to be drawn there. Obviously in my ideal world there probably wouldn't be religious believers (or Tories) - so in that sense I'm like PZ and friends - and I think most religious believers would think ideally all people should believe what they believe (which is good - I want Christians at least making an effort to stop me spending eternity in hell, even if they annoy me sometimes).

In those areas where I have factual beliefs that I think are true, I'm pretty much inclined to say that I'd prefer everyone to believe the same as me. In fact I'd probably want people to all believe some of my moral beliefs as well. Arrogant me.

But I do think this differs in very important ways from wanting to "wipe out" theists - i.e. we want theists to think like us, and thus cease being theists, we don't want to expunge religion from the world by bodily disposing of theists.

Anti just-so-stories, which, to a not insignificant extent is what academic evolutionary psychology is (or was last time I studied any of it - which, to be fair, was quite a few years ago now). But I'm not opposed in principle.

Shawn said...

I find that atheists who dance around the issue of atheism are frequently theists in denial.

As an actual atheist, I would like to see the complete dismissal of religion on all scales in the same way that I would like to see everyone dismiss the "world is flat" theory.

There just aren't any arguments in favor of religion. I don't mean people don't make arguments for religion; they do. But each argument simply reflects a lack of knowledge.

To say: "Religion comforts the dying" is erroneous (research it for yourself, there is already statistical data... there is no need to argue it). To suppose that religion offers moral guidance is preposterous.

The sooner we abandon these fantasies the sooner we can put real meaning into our lives.

Religion was great when there were no answers; when we didn't know where we came from, or why we're here. There's just no call for it anymore. It is intellectually damaging, and stifles scientific advancement.

I don't hate theists. I feel bad for them. On the whole, I suspect that they physically cannot give up their beliefs. Such is the way of childhood indoctrination. It took me years to overcome my Christian upbringing. Even now I find myself blaming invisible people for bad things that happen. I suspect it would be easier if I hadn't had 8 years of religious schooling.

Anonymous said...

That's really really bad. The world is almost all theist, take a look. It's impossible to wipe out believers, because believers are too powerful and instead atheists would cause the war they blamed on religion and they would be killed. Only 2.0 of the world is Atheist, if you hate theists, you hate all the world.

Anonymous said...

It's not really really bad. The world is mostly theists because governments like them that way, they have since the very beginning (when it was more feasible to actually believe a religion because we were still learning how to fish).

Theists are easy to control because ignorant people are easy to manipulate. I'm smarter than most everyone I meet, and it took years to wane myself off this manipulative habit because it is just so damn easy. Ignorant people can be controlled easier than one can control the movement of, say, an ant or a bird. Rhetoric only works on minds made of clay, not iron.

Government works off this very principle. Keep folks dumb, and the powerful elites can continue doing whatever they want (and now look at where we are thanks to legions of despots in the guise of xenophobic patriots and literally billions of you idiot theists running around). Everything happening today is the direct result of this system being taken to its (il)logical conclusion. Far more bad than good, yeah? No duh. Ya numbskulls. Nothing would make me happier than to see every scrap of flesh, cloth, and paper dedicated to "god" burned to ash.

Oh, yes. Wipe them out. Not one good thing has ever been born of religion. Such things are born of man alone. It would be healthier if people recognized and embraced this fact.

You are right about one thing. I do hate all the world.