Posts Tagged 'Atheism'

Bad News For Brazilian “Ateus”

The Brazilian flag reads “ordem e progresso” – order and progress. Yet, it looks like the land of samba and sugar cane still has plenty of progress left to make.

You may recall a study that came out awhile ago in which it was found that 48% of all Americans would vote against any candidate for any political office who was revealed to be an atheist. Many candidates are smeared to look like atheists, or in some cases, smeared for simply attending an event run by atheists. But compared to Brazil, this is the land of milk and honey for those who don’t believe. According to a similar survey conducted there that I recently uncovered, only 13% of Brazilians would vote for an atheist candidate. And to top it off, the nation’s most recognized landmark is a giant statue of Jesus. Ouch.

However, there is a glimmer of hope. Brazilian nonbelievers have been making their presence felt on the internet and elsewhere in the public sphere. One Brazilian youtube user, aside from confirming the belief that all Brazilian girls are hot, has alot to say about religion and why she is an ateu – an atheist – and she’s even taken the trouble to speak English in all her clips. The best thing atheists and secularists can do, whether in the US, Brazil, or elsewhere, is to increase our visibility. Most people have their public perceptions of atheists shaped by the least atheistic people out there, and by standing up we can show more reasonable people that we aren’t the monsters we’re made out to be. And if the situation improves in Brazil, some countries even worse for atheists than it is might learn by its example.

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Logos and Ethos: Justifying Lunacy

moon cheeseWhat if your best friend swore to you that the moon was made of cheese? You’d probably tell him politely that such a belief seemed highly unlikely. But what if he told you that his cheese belief meant alot to him, and he found your inability to share it offensive and saddening? What if he told you that if you valued him at all as a friend, you too would believe in a cheesy moon?

The Greeks referred to “the topics of rational argument or the arguments themselves” as logos. On the other hand, “the character or disposition of a person or group” was refered to as ethos. Instead of using arguments based on logos (precursor to the modern word “logic”) to convince you the moon is made of cheese, your friend is making a plea from his own ethos. This is also a technique that religions and belief systems have used for centuries to promote themselves.

Is the moon made of cheese? By any reasonable standard, we can say that it is not – but there are a few unreasonable standards kicking around too. Humans have walked on the moon and brought back rocks. And if the moon really were made of cheese, its orbit of the earth would be longer, and besides, that lunar buggy wouldn’t have had such good traction. These are logical reasons to believe the moon is made of rock-like material and not cheese.

It makes sense to use logic to decide whether or not objects have certain physical properties; your friend may want you to believe the moon is made of cheese, but his assertion has nothing to do with the physical realities of the moon, and you have no good reason to assume that his emotions relate in any way to the moon’s geological makeup. He probably was a bad friend anyway.

The assertion that a god exists is a statement of physical reality. Most people think their god is not a physical entity, but in order for him to exist he must manifest in our universe in some way. Apologists for the existence of a god often point to unusual events and offer them as evidence of the actions of a god. But these actions invariably have more plausible explanations that don’t involve a god at all. By any logical standard, a god is either immaterial and completely passive in this universe, or he doesn’t exist at all.

However, many people use an emotion-based standard to determine whether or not a god exists. “When I believe in a god, I feel happy. Other people I see are happy because they believe in a god. If I stop believing in a god, my friends and family will become unhappy. Therefore, a god exists.” Some religions, such as many forms of Christianity, claim that their God is love. Since love exists, their God must exist too.

Atheists and other secularists are generally not swayed by this reasoning. This is not to say they can’t use emotion-based reasoning where it is appropriate: in choosing friends, business partners, or lovers. They may also have strong emotional reactions to things they perceive as beautiful, such as a sunset, or ugly, such as a Jonas Brothers concert. But they recognize that using emotional reasons to justify belief in physical realities is not a good thing to do. Otherwise, we’d have all kinds of cheesy beliefs.

Atheism and Secularism

Atheism is simply a lack of belief in any gods, and the fact that atheism in it of itself is a nonbelief has its advantages and disadvantages. Unlike religious people, atheists don’t automatically have any positive beliefs in common. This is an advantage in that good atheists cannot legitimately be linked to the bad actions of bad atheists (though there have been plenty of attempts to link them illegitimately). An atheist criminal must have at some point constructed a positive belief justifying his actions, and this belief is by necessity not atheism. On the other hand, religious criminals will often justify their actions through an interpretation of their religious teachings. Others who hold those teachings to be true must answer to the fact that, at the bare minimum, some number of their positive beliefs are shared by criminals.

But identifying with a group that shares only a negative belief has its disadvantages as well. It’s very difficult to organize around what you don’t believe in, and while it would be nice not to have to organize, the disciplined spread of misinformation about atheists by religious groups leaves the atheists at a disadvantage. Faced with this, atheists must organize or continue to accept their role as social outcasts. And while the onslaught of religious oppression against atheists creates temporary cause for unity, uniting around no more than what we don’t believe will lead to disunity later on. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, I think that we the people who don’t believe in gods should aim higher to create lasting change.

One way to do that is to adjust our message. We need to build a coalition that includes not only atheists but non-atheistic agnostics and deists, and the way to do that is by focusing on a more important question than simply whether or not gods exist: are gods or supernatural forces the driving forces in our lives? Atheists can easily answer no to this question since they have no belief in gods to begin with, but agnostics and deists, who in some cases are resentful of the invasive nature of religion, may find common ground with atheists and unite to create changes which benefit us all. We need to promote the concept of secularism, that regardless of whether or not gods exist, our lives should run on the basis of input from the natural world and our interactions with other people. Although this is a positive belief and thus not necessarily associated with atheism, it is something most atheists can agree with.

I am both an atheist and a secularist. In a way, atheism resembles a “sect” of secularism, with agnostics and deists forming different sects. But if all secularists set aside their minor differences and work together, we can make the world a better place for secularists. And, if we accept that a world with less oppression and exclusion benefits us all, a better world for secularists is a better world for everyone.

A Rose Without A God Would Smell As Sweet

roseIf God didn’t exist, would roses smell as sweet? Would the music of Beethoven, Coltrane, the Beatles, or Kurt Cobain be just as moving? Would the Grand Canyon be just as grand? Would apple pies be just as tasty? Would great art be just as moving, would poetry be just as touching? Would the sound of the ocean be just as comforting? Would all that is beautiful be just as beautiful?

I think it would too.

Warm Logic

I’m starting this blog as an outlet for my thoughts on religion, or lack thereof. As an atheist and secularist, I often get accused of only believing in “cold logic”, to which I respond, “What’s so cold about it”? Just because I think critically where where religious people don’t doesn’t make me cold, immoral or unfeeling.  I’m not anti-religious per se, though I feel some religious practices do get a free ride where they shouldn’t. The main reason I’m an atheist is that I think a life lived on secular priciples is a better way to live. In reading this, you’ll probably see plenty of ideas you’ve heard before, and hopefully a few you haven’t. With any luck, you’ll understand where I’m coming from, and we’ll both be better off.


Blogical

I’m starting this blog as an outlet for my thoughts on religion, it successes, shortfalls, and how I get along without it. As an atheist and secularist, I often get accused of only believing in “cold logic”, to which I respond, “What’s so cold about it?" Just because I think critically where where religious people don’t doesn’t make me cold, immoral or unfeeling. I’m not anti-religious per se, though I feel some religious practices do get a free ride where they shouldn’t. The main reason I’m an atheist is that I think a life lived on secular priciples is a better way to live. In reading this, you’ll probably see plenty of ideas you’ve heard before, and hopefully a few you haven’t. With any luck, you’ll understand where I’m coming from, and we’ll both be better off.
The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism
(image: happy human)

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