Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A certain kind of militant

My own conversion to religious skepticism did not come after long and serious inquiry into the matter. It came while driving through Illinois farmland at dusk one summer and watching a full moon rise in a cloudless sky. For some reason I no longer felt the need for a belief in god, and stopped believing.

I had read arguments for the existence of god and their critiques. Arguments for the existence of god were unconvincing once I examined them closely. I had also been thinking about various humanist ethical systems, and convinced myself that a completely adequate humanist ethics that leads to happiness or eudaimonia was possible. I saw no need for religiously inspired ethics. The stories told by my Christian faith had no evidence to support their historical truth. This all contributed to my throwing in the towel as far as religious faith. Yet it seemed a sort of after the fact matter or reality check of sorts.

I have never been much of a militant religious skeptic. First, I have not been one from sheer timidity. Bringing up my religious skepticism is not something I feel comfortable doing in polite society. I do not know if I personally know any other religious skeptics. I also believe that religion comes naturally to people. Theories as to how this might be so interest me. The naturalness of religious belief is about the only explanation I can find for why people possess certain religious beliefs. Events such as the virgin birth and Mary’s assumption into heaven have no credible evidence. The only reason why people do believe them is that they seem to fit with a certain natural inclination people have to believe these sorts of things. This leads me to a further conclusion. A militant stance against religion will often be futile since it is a natural inclination. This not to say people cannot be argued out of religious positions, but religious belief does not lend itself to logic and argumentation we use about other matters since it rests on faith.

Even though I am not a militant religious skeptic, I am a militant believer in the separation of church and state. That is, I am a militant secularist. I am not aware of any good that has come from religious control of the state. In fact, it is a subversion and repression of liberty, equality, and justice.

Over the years, I have become more and more comfortable with secularist politics, humanist ethics, and religious skepticism. I like it much better than being a Christian. I also think that it fits better with my belief in rational inquiry and justification and my hope for progress and a better world to come.


At 2:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Lynn, for a seasoned account of your de-conversion from Christianity. You are a tolerant humanist.

I became a militant (non-armed, though) religious skeptic through Nietzsche several years ago after having been essentially irreligious. Now I view religion as a colossal defeat of intellect. I accept the fact that most of humanity is religious. But I can't respect religious people. To me it is intellectual laziness and existential fear.

You may say it is natural for human beings, but so are many other instincts and drives that we don't accept, much less respect.

I do not by any means know atheism as a result; even less as an event: it is a matter of course with me, from instinct. I am too inquisitive, too curious, too exuberant to stand for any gross answer. God is a gross answer, an indelicacy against us thinkers — at bottom merely a gross prohibition for us: Thou shall not think!

(Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, 1888)

I agree with you that religion and the state must be separated. And yet, religion is everywhere, even on your money.

The sanest American voice has always been that of Thomas Jefferson who said it like this:

"I have examined all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our superstitions of Christianity, one redeeming feature. They are all founded on fables and mythology. Christianity has made one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites."


At 4:01 PM, Blogger Lynn said...

Orla –

I appreciate your position. I had forgotten the Nietzsche statement. Thanks.

What concerns me more about what is happening in the United States is the erosion of secularist values. The framework for rational discussion about religion and its separation from the state is under assault. If people do not uphold secularist values, I wonder what the opportunities are for people to move away from irrational religious beliefs. Reciprocal tolerance is on the wane in certain quarters.

I think atheists still must come to grips with the fact that rational inquiry has not made much of a dent in religious beliefs. What are the conditions that must be in place for conversions from religious belief to religious skepticism? Whatever they might be, religious skeptics must put the conditions in place. Militant atheism is much in the news because of books by Dawkins, Harris, and others. That is a frontal assault that probably has its place, but I do not think that it alone will win the day as far as converting people to atheism. I do not have an answer, but I suspect that putting the conditions in place will take many more years before there is progress.

As I recall, putting god on US money is a recent occurrence. US currency did not start out with god on it.

At 6:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Lynn,

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. You write,

Whatever they might be, religious skeptics must put the conditions in place. Militant atheism is much in the news because of books by Dawkins, Harris, and others. That is a frontal assault that probably has its place, but I do not think that it alone will win the day as far as converting people to atheism.

You are probably right.

We are, admittedly, up against powerful forces that might even be genetically determined (although I doubt it), but what do you mean when you write,

religious skeptics must put the conditions in place

What conditions?


At 12:09 PM, Blogger Lynn said...

Orla –

I do not know. That is part of my curiosity about where religion comes from and why it has such a powerful sway over people’s beliefs. Until that question is answered, it seems difficult to devise the conditions. The better arguments and evidence are on the side of atheism, yet something about religion trumps them when trying to persuade.

In a secular society, one cannot proselytize in the public schools, so the conditions cannot arise from institutional public education. Attempts at creating institutions that proselytize atheism have been rather feeble so far.

The thing I have noticed on a personal level is that the world looks just the same to me whether god inhabits it or not. All of the big questions and spiritual crises remain along with the ordinary daily events.


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