Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"God has no place within these walls!"

USA Today publishes a condescending Easter editorial about how Christianity is awesome and atheists suck.

LabRat at Atomic Nerds thoroughly unpacks its faulty assumptions and misconceptions.

In short, Mr. DeStefano's editorial is nothing but another tiresome retreading of the same fatuous criticism we've heard a thousand times before: "Atheism is wrong because it leads to conclusions I find emotionally unsatisfying."

There's also a heck of a lot of strawmanning about who atheists are and what they believe. I've been religious; I know what the ineffable presence of God feels like. No-true-Scotsman me if you please, but I have felt the warming light of faith, as have most Hindus, neopagans, Hellenists, Asatru, and for that matter most atheists. I don't "have faith" that Yahweh, Shiva, Apollo, Ninhursag, Osiris, Al-Uzza, and Ba'al Hadad definitely don't exist; it's just that when all their worshipers claim that their faith leads them to certainty, and many of their certainties are incompatible, it's hard not to start thinking that maybe the feeling you're feeling is something other than the Assurance of Eternal Truth you've assumed it was.

The inherent problem with the "debate" between Christianity and atheism in America is that each side has a tendency to caricature the other into a monodimensional cartoon version of what it actually is. Within the atheist community you have the thoughtful minority that's done its best to unpack and analyze the basis and implications of its assumptions, the raving evangelist minority out to belittle and convert anybody who doesn't share their certainty, and a large majority that doesn't spend much time thinking about their belief structure and would much rather get on with more interesting parts of their lives than argue about it. Exactly like the Christians community.

Is it fair to attack Christians for being a bunch of irrational busybodies who are incapable of dealing with the world without magical thinking and who spend all their time snooping into other people's bedrooms to feed their unaddressed daddy issues? If you think so, then go right ahead and assume that all atheists are humorless, bitter robots unable to appreciate curiosity and wonder. The rest of us have grown out of this kind of stereotyping, and know how wildy wrong this one is.


  1. You want to know something kind of funny? I've never felt the warming light of faith.

    So I'll take up your offer to discuss it.

    I would say that the inherent problem with the "debate" is that it's even a debate. This falsely presumes that one or the other side can "win" and leads to a mode of discussion that is combative and nit-pickingly hostile. I hate nothing more in internet discussion than point-counterpoint. It's too easy, and it always (always) misses the target.

    So how about an exchange of mutual understanding? I harbor no hope, design, or desire to persuade you, and I assure you that nothing you say can change my mind. Shall we begin? And how, sir, would you like to proceed?

  2. Heh. An atheist who's wired for the "faith sensation" and a theist who isn't sounds like exactly the right match for a discussion about complicated, individual worldviews.

    And how, sir, would you like to proceed?

    Let me just clarify two things in advance:

    First, I have exactly zero interest in making you an atheist. A better mutual understanding s all either of us is after.

    Second, I'm pretty certain there isn't a single human being on this planet who can be explained in a sentence. A human is a dizzyingly complex thing, and when you see me hypothesizing and speculating about categories and models, please understand I'm not trying to pigeonhole you into a particular box. I just find that drawing analogies helps me understand the elements of a philosophy, and seeing how the different elements overlap illuminates the philosophy itself. Saying those analogies out loud isn't my way of telling you who you are; it's my way of giving you an opportunity to tell me why I'm wrong. (For example, on the way to work this morning, it occurred to me that a person who's very interested in the indefinable complexity of the individual could find Christianity compelling because of the Biblical principles that God is so unlimitable that attempting to define him in an image is taboo, and that humans are made in the image of that imageless god. That's a tenuous potential connection thrown out for falsifying, not an assumption about your theology or what brought you to it.)

    That out of the way, simply, please tell me about your theology. I know that's a huge question, but frankly it's a huge subject. I assume you can find a better starting point for describing your own belief system than I can.

  3. Now that I've found this, I'll be following with interest. I can't promise to have anything to contribute, though.

  4. So, um, GAH!

    Every time I try to actually conduct some kind of exchange, I'm reminded of why I'm not actually a blogger of any sort (though I do have a blogspace, with one sad, lonely post). Last year's back-and-forth with LabRat was the most successful I've ever been at anything approaching meaningful dialog across the tubez.

    My apologies. I did attempt a couple of odd starts, but the lack of specific focus doesn't lend itself to speedy composition.

    I think the best way for me to proceed is to simply toss my hat in the blogger ring. That may mean less directed response and more generalized content, and even that will be painfully slow in appearing. I'll invite you to my first post if I'm ever able to construct it.

    Between being a dedicated husband, father of four, home-school dad, federal architect (my actual profession), deacon, musician, coach, VP of my HOA, and home-improvement addict, I just can't find the time to be consistent on these here webz.