This post is way too long, but it’s a response to an annoying commenter.

I got a few comments recently from someone claiming his experience echoed mine, but in reverse. Once explained, it was quite clear to me not only that this person over-thinks things, his experience in no way really echoes mine. His (actually, it could’ve been a woman, but in my head it’s a man so we’ll go with that) was a culturally religious upbringing leading to a teenagehood of, apparently, trying to be atheist because that’s what the “smart people” were doing, then some sort of thought-process that led him back to belief. Mine was a mildly religious upbringing in which I was taught to think for myself and eventually came to the conclusion that there was no god by myself.

His comments were full of way too many philosophical terms. What do I mean by that? Just that the average person reads the following terms as, essentially, gibberish: arch-postmodernist, ontological naturalism, atheo-materialism, celestial potentate, denizen of a metaphysical no-man’s land, philosophical materialism, dogmatic reductionist scientism.

Not that these words or terms don’t have meaning, but they make the writer appear one of a few things – pretentious, over-educated, or overly obsessed with a thesaurus. These terms and words also suggest the writer is in the wrong place. My blog has never been and will never be a place where I discuss philosophy, mostly because I’m not that into philosophy. I think philosophy often (but not always) comes down to over-thinking things.

Then, of course, was the lovely insult he threw at me. Perhaps he is one of many believers that doesn’t realize how insulting, stupid and condescending this is – he suggested that my path to disbelief started when my prayers weren’t answered.

First, I want to put one thing straight about me. My prayers were never unanswered. I didn’t get mad that I didn’t get what I wanted and give up on faith. That’s incredibly stupid. There happened to come a point when I realized I was talking to myself. Not the good kind of semi-conversation that some people have with themselves, either. It was the entirely unproductive listing of people for the non-existent divine being to protect.

Second, let me go over, again, why suggesting that someone became an atheist because god didn’t give them what they wanted is insulting. Belief in god is not a default position. Culturally speaking it may be, but scientifically or whatever you want to call it, it’s not. Do children in countries where Santa Clause is not a tradition believe in Santa as a default? No. Moving on from that problem, what you are suggesting when you say an atheist lost faith because god didn’t answer a prayer is that we are angry at a being we don’t believe in. Did you stop believing in Santa Clause because he didn’t bring you that penguin you asked for? Did you disown your parents because they didn’t let you eat cake whenever you wanted to? Let’s face it, most religions cover the whole “god doesn’t always answer prayers” thing, and most people accept it. When coming from a state of belief, it’s rarely unanswered prayers that act as a catalyst because very few people actually have a powerful unanswered prayer (and let’s face it, if you are led to the path of disbelief because your son died in a fiery car crash 5 minutes after you prayed for his safety, you’re being pretty reasonable to doubt the existence of god).

The thing is that I’ve heard a lot of deconversion or losing faith or whatnot stories from a wide range of atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, etc. I’ve read these accounts, I’ve heard them in person, I’ve heard them via video or radio. The vast majority of nonbelievers do not come from an angry place. They do not have “an axe to grind,” as the commenter arrogantly suggests:

Nevertheless, contrary to what many atheists say, it is often the case that the “free thought” part is largely sponsored by an “axe to grind” attitude.

Contrary to what we say? That suggests to me that regardless of how honest and open atheists are with this person, he will make many, many unjust and ridiculous assumptions about us. He’ll decide what really motivated us to question our beliefs. Clearly if we want the world to be more science-oriented it’s because religion didn’t make us feel good enough. It couldn’t possibly be that medicine and science is more helpful than religion for curing the sick or preventing mass infections.

The axes we do have to grind center primarily around what religions fuck up in this world. The children that die unnecessarily, the people that receive accolades they don’t deserve, the nonbelievers that suffer for thinking differently, the invasion of government by religious rules based on the beliefs of one subset of the population. These are things that usually come after our disbelief takes root. Things that our eyes are opened to upon throwing out the all-powerful idea that “religion is good.”

The commenter wants to know what led me to atheism. A lot of things. A lot of separate thought-processes. A lot of rehashing arguments in my head and trying to fit certain ideas into the frames already built as I grew up. And then throwing out the frames that were clearly wonky.

His Dark Materials made me think, what if God really were old and feeble, being kept prisoner by his angels? What if the story in this book is just as likely to be true as the Bible? Maybe the other religions of the world, the archaic and obsolete ones, are more correct than Christianity? I always thought Greek mythology was more fun than Christian mythology. The answers to these questions led me first to basically deism, then to agnosticism. It didn’t add up that there’s a god somehwere that’s all-knowing. He certainly couldn’t be omnipotent and omniscient. And why did it have to be a he?

Maybe, I thought, there’s a god that just sort of hangs out. Maybe he/she/it/hir/their noodliness treated the universe like an ant farm or those sea monkeys you can by. A sort of disinterested science experiment. Why would that be any further off from the truth than the more fleshed-out religions of the world?

I have an inquisitive mind. These questions developed further and went on for years. I became more agnostic than anything. I started to see the harm caused by religion somewhere along the way, and that’s when my thoughts about the existence of god started to run parallel to my thoughts about the silliness of religion. I started to see the benefits from freeing my mind from the heavy frame imposed by most religious world-views, and at the same time I started to find the idea of the supernatural more and more ridiculous. I didn’t simply reject religion and throw out the possibility of the divine with it.

There was a time when I wanted to believe, but the more I thought, the less a god or a divine universal force made sense. If the world/universe/whatever was created, then the being that did so was either horribly bored or terribly cruel or both. I rejected pretty much every religion for the tremendous failure to cover the vastness of the universe or the possibility of intelligent life-forms on other planets. If there were a “word of god,” I’m pretty sure that the god giving that word would be smart enough to make it more timeless than anything offered up so far. Particularly if it were an omnipotent or omniscient god.

I read about half of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion. I didn’t finish it because I had already hashed out most of his arguments in my head a million times*.

As it currently stands, I consider myself to be an agnostic atheist. The concept of god is quite silly to me – an oddly hopeful wish that your life is secretly being controlled by a higher power. Personally, I have no desire for their to be anything controlling the universe or my life. I like to take responsibility for what happens to me. It’s funny to me that one thing many religions suggest is that god will help you if you help yourself – it’s as if the people who made it all up suddenly said, “Shit. We told all these people there’s a god watching you so be moral, and a bunch of them realized if there’s an all-powerful being then they’re not responsible for the crappy stuff that happens to them!” I don’t care if love is only a chemical reaction because I enjoy that chemical reaction. It still means something to me, even if it’s just the inner-workings of my odd, human brain, just as there is still beauty in the world even if it’s just the workings of the universe.

Freethought is associated with atheism because atheists have released the belief in the divine. We have, if you will, freed our minds to consider the numerous other possibilities and even the new possibility that there is a higher power separate from anything humans have come up with. Sure, that possibility always falls short of being acceptable, but I certainly reconsider it on occasion. Freethought, to me, is more associated with moving away from dogma than moving away from belief in god(s), anyway. You can be a believer and a freethinker; it’s when you constrain your world-view by a frame made by others (re: religion) that it becomes impossible to think freely.

I’ve had enough of this whole explaining thing. From now on, just accept my atheism as a far-foregone conclusion. It’s been so long since I’ve figured this all out that I’m not sure I could tell you exactly what thought process got me here anyway. All I can say is I’m constantly thinking, constantly considering. While it’s leading further and further away from belief in the supernatural and particularly further away from any existing explanation offered by the religions of the world, that doesn’t mean I would reject any new evidence offered to me. Good luck finding any.

*hyperbole much?

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12 thoughts on “This post is way too long, but it’s a response to an annoying commenter.

  1. Very good post. For me, it was the believers themselves that lead me to non-belief, then seeking actual truth that led me further to anti-theism. If only theist would seek actual truths and stop their unquestioning faith in what the holy man says on Sundays. It seems to me that theists try to rationalize your/mine unbelief in ways that make them superior. All of their ‘reasons’ that they think atheists don’t believe in god leave them in a morally superior position. So lets look at what they provide for us all to see:

    – we can be angry at god and not be killed on the spot
    – a god who supposedly interacts daily with all manner of life on this planet does not punish in this life, but in the next. God only punishes through natural disaster and personal disasters with high statistical probability.
    – as poorly defined as what good prayer is, obviously there are bad prayers and no rules
    – all our actions are or must be based on a god
    – not believing is some kind of crime, and believing is the morally superior position regardless of evidence.
    – their god answers prayer but only in ways that are statistically probable events.
    – it’s only wrong when you/I/or someone other than the theist doubts or questions god

    read that last one carefully.

    • Chris says:

      MAL,

      It seems to me that your post above confirms a previous comment I had made to Amanda. You said, “…it was the believers themselves that lead me to non-belief, then seeking actual truth that led me further to anti-theism.”

      Amanda claims that her unbelief came first, and then she took note of all the many objectionable behaviors and beliefs of theists. I’m not sure if I buy that, but who am I to say? The prior charge that I made was that of an “axe to grind” attitude. To me, your essential position, as well as Amanda’s , appears to be one of anti-dogmatism. I can appeciate that point of view. I recoil myself when I encounter fundamentalism of any kind. Nevertheless, I think that many people do not grasp the fact that dogma and fanaticism are not necessarily the same thing. Certainly, all people, whatever their belief, hold on to their fundamental idenity concepts with both hands.

      As I mentioned to Amanda, the reason why I decided to comment here was because my worldview moved away from scientism. This process started, not because I was antagonized by atheists, but as a result of a slow and carefeul reflection on the implications of atheism. So, the everyday life/thoughts of an atheist (Amanda) caught my attention.

      “- it’s only wrong when someone other than the theist doubts or questions God.”
      Again, dogma can be a problem (and not just the Christian variety). Nevertheless, thinking and conviction is basic to humanity.

      ” There are two kinds of people in the world. Those are who are dogmatic and know it and those who are dogmatic and don’t know it.” – Chesterton

      • I’m not sure why I’m even approving your comment, but I am. Mostly I want to say please remember that myatheistlife didn’t get to read your actual comments.

      • Chris,
        It’s awesome that you can suppose you know what is or was my thought process, and condemn it in the same breath.

        For your edification it was not objectionable behavior or dogma that got my attention… it was the failure of pretty much every pious Christian I could find to be … well, Christ like. I was right there with them for wanting control of the government; I was right there with them for feeling persecuted; I was right there with them on the dogma… it was their failure to live the very words they claimed. The rain falls on the just and the unjust and no amount of prayer or faith seems to stop bad things from happening. I was taught that speaking in tongues is true – yet every interpretation I ever heard was about some petty squabbling going on in the church. Never any thing important, never a sound message from a god to mankind, just petty bickering in the local church community.

        I didn’t lose my religion over night. It took decades. Even disappointment (not anger) in my original church did not turn me from my faith… I went looking for god elsewhere. I had no axe to grind. I don’t have an axe to grind now. What I do have is an undeniably strong objection to the harm that religion is doing to the world and humanity.

        You mistake objection to harm with axe to grind because you see the harm we see as something that is not harm to society, humanity, and the world. You are essentially blind to the pain and suffering caused by religion, even the fluffy white love and hugs kind of religion. Every lie is a harm. Any ‘truth’ without evidence is a lie. Lies hurt people. God is a lie in that the Christian god is a ‘truth’ without evidence. Your god tells us to kill those who break his law, but then ‘thou shall not kill’ among the many things that the holy text is inconsistent about.

        I haven’t even gotten started about Christians and their dogma and I could go on for days without mentioning it. The Christian holy text is enough to keep me busy. When we get around to actual Christians, well now, there is some harm because they use the lies to their own advantage and call it divine will. Divine will that same sex marriage should be illegal; divine will that children should be taught about god and not science; divine will that ignorance is better than education where sex and women’s bodies are concerned; that the religion needs of a parent are more important than the rights of a defenceless child to grow up with a whole body; that child abuse and rape is ok, but nuns shouldn’t speak out where they might be heard; that god wants you to be rich, send us money to get your wealth growth started; god loves you but he needs you to send us money; moderate Christians who ignore the OT as not relevant yet their savior came to fulfil the law, not deprecate it; divine will that most should go to hell and only the select few go to heaven; divine will that bigotry is better than love.

        Go ahead and call it an axe to grind thinking if you like, it’s not. Severe reaction to harm and lies is not grinding an axe any more than self defence from a bully is axe grinding.

        I don’t know how you came to drift away from evidence based belief, and I don’t really care. That you accuse others of having an axe to grind because of how they came to understand the world is being petty and falsely pious. I believe that it might well be mentioned in your good book that such thinking is not quite what you’re supposed to be doing. You might want to see my post titled Talk The Talk.

        Good luck

        • Chris says:

          MAL,

          I appreciate your thorough and forthright response. I presently do not have the time to respond in like manner. Your personal story is interesting to me. But also rather sad- to me that is. You are right, of course; I do not know you and therfore I took the risk of making generalizations. Nevertheless, now that you have elaborated a bit on your thought process, I do think some of my charges are not entirely off base. I’ll try to get back to this soon.

          Best Regards

          • Chris says:

            MAL,

            This is from freedictionary.com. “Having an axe to grin” means to have a strong opinion about something that influences your actions. It would seem that your “religion is oh so horrible” rant qualifies you as someone with a strong opinion that influences your actions and/or beliefs. You see, you got offended by the “axe to grind” comment because you interpreted that as meaning your views are unsound and or arbitrary. Whether or not it is reasonable to be angry with religion and its raison d’etre, God, is irrelevant. All I implied was that your atheism may be driven or fueled in some way by your negative personal experiences with religion. I think, based on your post, that is not a wild accusation. Now, take it easy Amanda. I realize that you claim that that is not the case with you. Fine.

            MAL, you said that I am “blind to the pain and suffering caused by religion…..” How do you know that? I guess presumption is common to the religious and the irreligious alike,
            eh? Look, I have no qualm with the notion that religion has, and does, lend itself to mischief. But there is such a thing as throwing the baby out with the bath water.

            You also said that “….any truth without evidence is a lie.” hmm. Could you please provide material evidence for your assertion please?

            Cheers

            • ==This is from freedictionary.com. “Having an axe to grin” means to have a strong opinion about something that influences your actions. It would seem that your “religion is oh so horrible” rant qualifies you as someone with a strong opinion that influences your actions and/or beliefs. ==

              Defending oneself is NOT having an axe to grind. Ever. Read some new dictionaries.

              ==You see, you got offended by the “axe to grind” comment because you interpreted that as meaning your views are unsound and or arbitrary.==
              Do not confuse correction of other’s mistaken ideas and defending oneself as offense. If you think my defense is me being offended, just wait till I’m actually offended.

              == Whether or not it is reasonable to be angry with religion and its raison d’etre, God, is irrelevant. All I implied was that your atheism may be driven or fueled in some way by your negative personal experiences with religion.==

              My negative personal experiences were not with religion, they were with adherents and their failure to be anything like what they claim to be. You are failing to understand the picture. Religion did not fail me, it’s adherents did. Through their hubris I learned that religion is a lie.

              ==MAL, you said that I am “blind to the pain and suffering caused by religion…..” How do you know that? I guess presumption is common to the religious and the irreligious alike,==

              From your statements, I can only assume that you are, it is how you are perceived from your words.

              ==eh? Look, I have no qualm with the notion that religion has, and does, lend itself to mischief. But there is such a thing as throwing the baby out with the bath water.==

              That is a failed analogy. In the case of religion the baby is the bath water. They are not seperable and this is what you are failing to understand. Religion is the problem.

              ==You also said that “….any truth without evidence is a lie.” hmm. Could you please provide material evidence for your assertion please?==
              Show me a truth that has no evidence and then prove it is truth…. there is the answer to your question.

              • Chris says:

                MAL,

                Please tell me that you realize that you’re digging a deeper and deeper hole for yourself. You told me to read to some other dictionaries. I did. Some more “axe to grind” meanings…..

                From wiktionary.org, ” to have a dispute, resentment or grudge; to have a bias; to take issue with something.”

                From usingenglish.com. ” If you have an axe to grind with someone or about something, you have a grievance, a resentment… and you want to sort it out…”

                You said, ” Defending oneself is NOT having an axe to grind..” I really don’t see “defending oneself” and having a “resentment, grudge, or bias” as being mutually exclusive. In fact, I think it would be totally reasonable that these would often go together. When an individual is inwardly compelled to leave a social group for moral reasons, I would expect that individual to, at the very least, depart with a “bad taste” in his/her mouth. If the objectionable behaviour of the people of that social group included being “petty” and having “hubris”, I think these words alone betoken a certain degree of resentment and an “axe to grind” orientation. Let me remind you, the “axe to grind” atttiude may be entirely justified, but that doesnt change the fact that it is likely that there is an “axe to grind” sentiment present.

                Your follow up comments are rather muddled. You said, “Through their (religious people) hubris, I learned that religion is a lie.” How and why do you make that conclusion. After all, you make it a point to say that your beef is with religious people, not with religion. So then how do you conclude,” religion is a lie”?

                At this point, you change your tune entirely. It’s because, “In the case of religion, the baby is the bath water….Religion is the problem.” So, it turns out that “religious people” and “religion” are the same thing. Why do you distinguish the two and then claim that there is no difference? This is precisely why I’m inclined to think that you do, indeed, have an axe to grind. It seems pretty clear that your re-appraisal of the truth of religion came on the crest of a fair amount of antagonism at the hands of religious people. One more time, not that your antagonism was not justified, I’m simply suggesting that it was there.

                And finally, you said , “Show me a truth that has no evidence and then prove it is truth….there is the answer to your question.” I presume that when you say “evidence”, you meam material evidence, right? So can you provide replicable, experimental, material evidence for the assertion that “any truth without evidence is a lie”? The notion that “only that which is provable is true” cannot pass its own test of truth. Empiricism is a voluntarily accepted method to provide knowledge of the natural world. That is its function. Making metaphyiscal pronouncements with the tool of science is a misuse of science.

                Cheers

                • I’ve got an idea! Why don’t you exchange e-mail addresses or phone numbers or screen names or heck, even your actual addresses and continue this exchange just between the two of you. Don’t get me wrong, I do love comments, but you guys have moved beyond my post…

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