Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I swear I'm not a self-loathing atheist

but it seems that way lately. It's just that I've concluded we all belong to our chosen groups for non-rational reasons. And we have strong cognitive biases that spur us to circle the wagons 'round our tribal fellows. Obvious right? More on all this later. But if it's next to impossible to change minds in the other camp through rational argument because of the tribal barrier, then the best way to improve public discourse is through cleaning up our own houses and fostering friendlier relations with those Other folks.

Via Hemant Mehta, here's a Christian example of what I'd love to see more of from nonbelievers. This Christian, Christian Piatt, troubleth his own house, enumerating the ways his coreligionists make asses of themselves.
We Christians have a remarkable talent for sticking our feet in our mouths. When searching the words most commonly associated with “Christian,” the list ain’t pretty. I think part of this can be attributed to a handful of phrases that, if stricken from our vocabulary, might make us a little more tolerable. Yes, these things may mean something to you, but trust me, non-Christians don’t share your love for these tried-and-true cliches.
“Everything happens for a reason.” 
    I’ve heard this said more times than I care to. I’m not sure where it came from either, but it’s definitely not in the Bible. The closest thing I can come up with is “To everything, there is a season,” but that’s not exactly the same. The fact is that faith, by definition, is not reasonable. If it could be empirically verified with facts or by using the scientific method, it wouldn’t be faith. It would be a theory. Also, consider how such a pithy phrase sounds to someone who was raped. Do you really mean to tell them there’s a reason that happened? Better to be quiet, listen and if appropriate, mourn alongside them. But don’t dismiss grief or tragedy with such a meaningless phrase.
    “If you died today, do you know where you’d spend the rest of eternity?” 
    No, I don’t, and neither do you. So stop asking such a presumptuous question as this that implies you have some insider knowledge that the rest of us don’t. And seriously, if your faith is entirely founded upon the notion of eternal fire insurance, you’re not sharing testimony; you’re peddling propaganda.
    “He/she is in a better place.” 
    This may or may not be true. Again, we have no real way of knowing. We may believe it, but to speak with such authority about something we don’t actually know is arrogant. Plus, focusing on the passing of a loved one minimizes the grief of the people they left behind.

I would love it if more atheists were a little more critical of the sloppy or uncharitable arguments of their fellows.

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