A friend linked to this article from Cracked.com entitled “10 Things Christians and Atheists Can (and Must) Agree On” on her FB page the other day, and after reading through it I felt the need to respond.
Summary: No, we don’t and shouldn’t.
A lot of the arguments are actually pretty disappointing – I would have given Cracked’s authors a little more credit for researching stuff in advance, being smarter, and to be honest, funnier. It’s more of a milquetoast “Can’t we all get along” apologetic piece for the conflict between religion and atheism.
Long answer to the premise is: no, I’m afraid we can’t. Not when there are religions actively going out of their way to legislate and harass atheists and others into acquiescence. Not when bible-thumpers are trying to make discrimination against gays legal. Not when they leap to the defense of their mentally defective children who think it’s okay to bully children to the point of suicide. The author actually pegs the good reason why this is so: we’ve had enough. Over the last umpteen thousand years religion has had its chance, and burned/tortured/imprisoned those that disagreed, even when it was in the wrong. The breaking point for the current storm is correctly pegged as being the events of 9/11. A lot of us realized that religion isn’t just some benign quackery that a lot of people get into, it is outright dangerous, and something needs to be done before it gets us all killed.
Before I go into detail, I need to make sure that something here is clear: religion and the people who are religious are two different things. The organizations that interpose themselves between the believer and the subject of belief (whether I follow that belief or not) are the religion, the individual persons who are members of them are a separate quantity. I can’t help those people who identify so closely with their faith as to feel that this amounts to some sort of personal attack, so if you’re one of those, you might want to leave now before reading further.
Let’s get cracking!
#1 – “You can do terrible things in the name of either one.” Bullshit. There’s no “atheist manifesto” that instructs us to bury ourselves elbow-deep in the blood of believers (as the Koran does for infidels) or “bring those before me who believe and let me see them be slain” (as Jesus does in Luke 17). I threw this one overboard as soon as I saw the name “Stalin.” Aside from having come within millimeters of violating Godwin’s Law, it’s simply a straw-man: a fabricated position. Stalin didn’t kill people in the name of atheism, he killed people in pursuit of total power, in the name of Stalin. That’s the most fucking moronic argument there’s ever been, aside from the outright false one that the Nazis were atheists. Thirty seconds with a history book would cure this author of his nearly terminal idiocy.
We must agree on this? Fuck you.
I have never seen, in my recollection, a mass murderer claiming to be a crusader of atheism. I’m actually a little surprised that this is the lead-in for this article – the writers at Cracked are usually pretty smart, and this is a about as low-quality an argument you can find. It’s been debunked more times than I can count.
#2 – “Both sides believe what they’re saying.” For the most part, probably so. So what? BFD. Show me how that matters. I don’t care that they believe it. I could believe that my dog can do quantum physics after watching “The Elegant Universe” with me. How does this matter? (He gets to it on #5.)
#3 – “In everyday life, you’re not all that different.” True. We’re all humans. Which is why us non-believers are so grossed out when we see believers running around trying to pass laws that legislate their fairy-tale buddies commandments, discriminate against gay people, or restrict the freedoms of us non-believers. Last we checked, that’s not justice, that’s batshittery. And we on the non-believer side don’t think that belongs in our faces. That whole bit about “being good as if there was some invisible rule” or that sex somehow translates into religion? Sorry, that’s gassy horseshit. I’m good because my mother brought me up right, to police my own actions and wipe my own ass. I don’t need a god to do that for me. That others attribute their good behavior to a divine source is part of the problem – because they can find divine guidance in their books for practically any behavior, and they’re already pre-conditioned to accept the “word of god” as if it meant something more important than reality.
#4 – “There are good people on both sides.” Duh. Straw-man argument here. You won’t find a sane atheist alive claiming otherwise. Of course there are good people on both sides. On the other hand, how easy would it be to walk into any megachurch and get a battery of volunteers to make up a committee to lobby the state legislature for a law to deny some fundamental rights, or even citizenship, for atheists? Pretty damn easy, I’d say, given that:
- Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, all have law on the books denying atheists the opportunity to serve in public office in spite of such laws being deemed unconstitutional in a 1961 Supreme Court case.
- Arkansas refuses to allow atheist eyewitnesses in court.
- Massachusetts has law that punishes blasphemy (i.e., criticism of religion) with up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $300.
- Massachusetts and Pennsylvania afford special protections to believers in god
You won’t find quite so many atheists making those kind of arguments – because we just want to be left the hell alone to live our lives, and as the author of this article did point out correctly: a shit ton of us realized after 9/11/2011 that we couldn’t just sit idly by and hope for the best. Some of those nutters will eventually get hold of something really dangerous – like a biological or nuclear weapon – so it’s time to do our best to drive religion into the realm of being impolite public behavior.
#5 – “Your Point of View is Legitimately Offensive to Them.” My response to that? Bummer. Get over it. For thousands and thousands of years, believers have been murdering and torturing non-believers, instituting their happy-crappy “God of love who’ll burn you in Hell if you don’t love him back” horsecrap. Over the last couple centuries (since the aptly-named “Enlightenment,” that is), it’s been steadily shoved back. In the last decade, we’ve made enormous progress in legitimizing the position of atheists – and as a result, in a lot of ways de-legitimizing religion. Which is, in the long run, a good thing. Be happy we’re satisfied just ridiculing your religions into obscurity instead of burning the faithful at the stake as a sacrifice to some bloodthirsty deity (such as was the case with Christianity in the first ten or so centuries of the current era, and is the case in several countries today – such as Pakistan and Iran). We didn’t – and in present day in some countries, don’t – get that same consideration.
This wouldn’t be a damned problem if the religious didn’t seem to think it was their duty to pass off their fairy tales as law that the rest of us have to live under, or have their dumb-as-a-bag-of-hammers creation stories taught as if it were real science.
In fact, if they kept all that shit at home, and didn’t crowd the entire AM dial, prop up every third ugly-ass billboard on the highway, and populate every streetcorner with their churches, I suspect life would be a lot happier for everyone – believers included.
#6 – “We Tend to Exaggerate About the Other Guy.” In a general sense this is probably true, there are probably a lot of atheists who generalize and exaggerate about the religious. The religious certainly ‘exaggerate’ about atheists, if calling us “devil worshipers”, untrustworthy, amoral, etc. still qualifies as exaggeration rather than outright lies. For my part, I try to avoid such crap and stick to the facts, because one incorrect exaggeration can be grasped and used as a life-preserver in a debate. Sticking to the raw facts leaves zero room for misunderstanding, and doesn’t give any gripping area someone could use in an attempt to dismiss the entire discussion over one mistake.
#7 – “We Tend to Exaggerate About Ourselves, Too.” This might be true, except that atheists generally don’t talk about atheism or about ourselves among ourselves. It’s not something we do, it doesn’t really come up in conversation very often at all. We recognize that we are atheists, that there are many of us, but there aren’t regular Sunday gatherings of us at a house of non-worship. The fact that we atheists say we “love” our partners just means we use a common word to describe the feeling. See #3 with regard to the question of attribution of source.
#8 – “Focusing on Negative Examples Makes You Stupid.” Yes, that’s true – and I’m happy to say I don’t wander around assuming everyone’s a Fred Phelps. It’s also one of the reasons I don’t tar all religious people with the brush I slap on religion. Some people do, but they’re rare – see #4, generally atheists understand that there are good people among the bad, and atheists (myself included) generally save their ire for the actual members of the religion that are acting out, as well as for the religion that grants them the permission to do so. When I see something that makes this point, I point it out.
As a point of note, there are also some religions I don’t pound on, because of their genuinely innocuous nature. For instance, as Sam Harris pointed out best, fundamentalists come in different flavors – and it’s the fundamentals of the religion that make the fundamentalists dangerous. A fundamentalist Jaine is a wholly different animal than a fundamentalist Christian. I might have a healthy debate with a fundamentalist Unitarian, but it’s unlikely I’d find reason to fling condemnation at one. I don’t beat on the Jaines because they’re not a hazard to my health or freedom. Christians are. Muslims are. Even Jews in a distant sense are, because Zionist jews in Israel are a threat to world peace – which abstractly threatens to drag my country into a war that could kill a great many people.
It’s these aspects which are dangerous that require the most attention – I do on occasion find something nice to say about religions, but it’s rare when that happens. (I submit that it is quite possible that this is because I’m not looking for it.) The religious are another matter, quite often I find nice things to say about them, but not in the context of their religion. It’s that association that I draw a line around, because even normal people can create a hazardous environment. Moderates create an atmosphere where dangerous fundamentalists can hide, and which makes it acceptable for a fundamentalist to act out – because to challenge a fundy, in essence, challenges the moderates as well, and so you don’t see headlines like: “Neighborhood Churches Form Coalition to Rebuke Local Pentecostals for Their Crazy-Ass Beliefs” or “So-and-so Church Ejects Three Members For Advocating Violence” when the Pentecostals show up on the news yammering about how they hate The Gay or The Secular Conspiracy To Dominate America. I suspect that’s why Christians hate Mormons so much – Mormons just demonstrate the crazy inherent in both religions, but the Christians can’t outright attack their beliefs, because when you hold the two up, the credibility of the two stories are both seen as nuts. “Local Felon Starts Polygamous Cult” versus “Woman Claims Mystery Pregnancy An Act Of God, Not Adultery Punishable By Stoning.”
#9 – “Both Sides Have Brought Good to The Table.” Yeah…so we’re supposed to just overlook the evil because of this? Or pretend that both sides have brought equal good? Allow me to point out, three hundred years ago we were an iron-age population flailing about between bouts of the black plague, suffering from countless maladies ranging from measles to bad teeth. Reason got us away from that, killed polio and smallpox, took us to the moon, and brought us all the modern goodies we take for granted today. Every step of the way reason was fought by faith, passively and actively. People are generally familiar with the stories of active resistance, but the one they don’t often notice is the passive resistance – the accidental complacency that is inspired by the thought that one is already in possession of all the answers. This is usually evidenced as “I don’t know, so God did it.” Neil DeGrasse Tyson had a really good quote the other day about this: “I don’t even mind, I don’t even care, if someone wants to say, ‘You don’t understand that, god did it.’ That doesn’t even bother me. What would bother me, is if you were so content in that answer that you no longer had curiosity to learn how it happened. The day you stop looking because you’re content god did it, I don’t need you in the lab.”
#10 – “You’ll Never Harass The Other Side Out of Existence.” True. But I don’t need to. The natural process of discovery, advancing standards of morality, and education are doing that for me. It’s also not my intent to make it all evaporate – my goal is to make it well understood that their religion is not a solid foundation upon which to build government or legal frameworks. To get crazy-ass fairy stories out of science classrooms. The progressive discovery of how the world really works and is will do the job of pushing religion into the depths of obscurity just fine, it doesn’t need my assistance in that regard. That is, unless the religious people who are busy trying to take over the government succeed and end up destroying what was once a free country. Or if they wipe out proper public education as they’ve been trying to do since it was first put in place (“I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won’t have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!” – Jerry Falwell, 1979), guaranteeing generation after generation of ignorant children grow up with no source of information other than a manipulative religious caste of priests who claim some higher authority from god. If history is any indication, that’s a pretty stupid idea.
So in summary, the ten things the author of that article seems to think are needed to be agreed upon? Not so much.