Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why don't atheists hate trees?

You don't often find someone even crazier than Pat Robertson, but Kristi Watts, his co-host on the 700 Club, seems to be the exception.

Of course, Robertson doesn't leave the crazy all to her. "Atheists don't believe in anything"? He forgot to finish that statement: "Atheists don't believe in anything unless it's backed up by evidence."

I believe in lots of things, including trees. But I've got pretty good evidence that trees exist. I don't believe that trees are gods, and I rather doubt that Wiccans do, either. But I disagree with Wiccans just as much as I disagree with Christians, and for the same reason.

And I don't understand how we atheists are "restricting the freedom" of anyone, Christian or Wiccan. We differ, but we tend to be fierce supporters of freedom of religion and the strict separation of church and state. Heck, we're such a small minority in America, we'd have a hard time restricting the freedom of believers even if we wanted to.

But Kristi Watts, at the end of this, takes the crazy to a whole new level. I'd say she's completely off her rocker. "Just a thought!"


Jim Harris said...

Bill, you are focusing on semantics here and missing Robertson's emotional point. If he accepts what atheism says it will take everything he cares about away. Now, you and I don't believe, so we don't think there's anything to take away, Nor do you feel it's denying him freedom because we all have equal access to the truth - but to believers we're harshly oppressing them. And that's true. You can't get around that.

Even if what they believe is make believe, it is something they've built their life around, and its very substantial. These people feel threatened.

And I don't know how to solve the problem. These people need their fantasy to survive, but we'd like to think everyone wants to know the truth. Well they don't. Unfortunately, these people also feel the need to justify their fantasy by spreading it to other people. Now it becomes a threat to us, and religion oppresses free thinkers. It's a Catch-22.

WCG said...

No, Jim, I vehemently disagree. It is not true. We are not oppressing them. Disagreement is not oppression.

You may consider that just "semantics," but how can you dismiss communication so easily? We human beings communicate by "semantics," and without communication, what do we have left?

I frequently have missionaries come to my door, proselytizing. Does that "oppress" me? Of course not! We atheists don't go door to door, but even if we did, that wouldn't be "oppression."

Furthermore, I disagree that these people need fantasy to survive. They may want fantasy - indeed, it's pretty clear that they do - but they could survive without it. Still, no one is forcing them to do so (unless it's their own brains causing them to have doubts).

I'm sorry, but I think you're completely wrong here - in two respects. First, because the whole point of freedom of religion and the strict separation of church and state is that it allows us all to believe whatever we wish without oppressing anyone else.

And second, because words do matter. We are social animals. Communication is absolutely critical for human beings. Think of what a tragedy it was for Helen Keller, before she had any means of communication.

You can't dismiss it as just semantics. "Oppression" means something. So does "true." Your comment that we atheists are "harshly oppressing" believers is false. It's as simple as that.

Jim Harris said...

All of what you are saying is true intellectually - but not emotionally. The faithful aren't intellectuals. They can't understand your points. All they know is what they believe is under attack. Essentially what they are being told is they will die and not be reborn. They will never meet their loved ones again that have died. That everything they learned in church is a fantasy. That a powerful father figure isn't protecting them.

When we say they can't do something because of separation of church and state they see it as an attack on their beliefs. It's just an emotional response.

They can't comprehend the political or intellectual reasons why society is changing and their way of life is being discredited.

You can't expect emotional people to understand logic.

WCG said...

Well, Jim, I don't disagree with that as vehemently as I disagreed with your first comment. :) But actually, I don't think you're giving people enough credit.

People do change their mind - not all of us, not even most of us, but it happens. And although it seems to be less likely the older we get, as our habits of thought settle into well-worn grooves, it can happen at any age.

If you watch the Atheist Experience, you'll learn that much, from the hosts and the callers, both. My two favorite hosts, Matt Dillahunty and Tracy Harris, were both devout believers into adulthood (Matt, at least, into his 30's).

They became atheists because they started studying their own beliefs. They wanted to learn more about their religion in order to defend it from non-believers. Of course, they were confident they could defend it, because they believed that it was true.

It wasn't easy for them, and it wasn't quick. It took years, in both cases. But neither of them expresses any regret for anything they've lost - just the reverse, in fact. Matt Dillahunty is particularly eloquent about that.

Likewise, Pharyngula has been running a series of essays from his readers on "Why I'm an Atheist." The diversity of experience is quite interesting. A few were raised without religion, many others began doubting in childhood, but some were fully adult before they stopped believing.

Then there's Dr. William Morgan, who actually taught at Oral Roberts University before becoming an atheist.

For most of these people, the biggest problem was not in accepting their newfound disbelief, but in admitting it to others. They often risked losing their family, as well as their friends, and even their livelihood. Many American atheists are still in the closet, for that reason.

None of these people suddenly became smarter than they were. Their IQ didn't miraculously increase. And they didn't become more or less emotional (admittedly, those with a rational frame of mind were probably more likely to really think about their beliefs).

So, no, I still disagree with you. Oddly enough, I guess I respect these people enough to think that they're not necessarily hopeless cases. True believers - in religion and in politics - do change their mind sometimes. I don't know how often it happens, but these people aren't children, who need protection from having their feelings hurt.

I do respect them more than that.

Jim Harris said...

Bill, sure there are plenty of people that can become atheists, but they've got what it takes to think things through. But there are lots of people that just aren't intellectual. To them God is as obvious as sunlight and will never be persuaded by intellectual arguments. They see the world with emotional logic.

We see those people all the time trying to be intellectual, producing pathetic feats of logic that just baffles us, like the woman on the show making the comments about atheists and trees. You saw that woman as just saying something stupid. I saw her as someone pathetically trying to defend herself.

It's not that I don't give people enough credit, but I can empathize with what they feel. They aren't seeing reality the same way we do. And I'm not saying they are defective, but different. Some people just can't fathom abstract ideas, like some people aren't musical or don't have spatial sense.

Bill, I get the feeling you don't spend much time hanging out with the faithful. Expecting some faithful to change is like expecting dogs to start talking.

WCG said...

Maybe, Jim. Undoubtedly, some people are like that. But how many?

And if I'm wrong, what's the worst that can happen? I'll try to convince them and fail. Well, I'm going to fail anyway, in most cases. And if we don't try, we'll be guaranteed to fail.

Besides, I did teach my dog to talk. He could say, "Roof!" Hey, it's a start, right?

Jim Harris said...

Don't you think you should let some people alone and let them have their delusions? To tell them they are wrong only upsets them, or creates doubts. Does it hurt to let old people think they will go to heaven and meet their parents again?

Many people solve their psychological problems with religion. Do you want to undo their self-medication?

The religious people that I feel are truly dangerous are the ones in politics who are trying to change the laws. It doesn't bother me if atheists go after those folks.

WCG said...

Leave them alone? Leave them alone? In what way am I not leaving them alone? I don't picket their churches. I don't accost them in the hospital. I don't go door to door as an atheist missionary. In fact, they come to my door.

Does leaving them alone mean that I have to hide my non-belief? Does it mean I can't say what I think, that only Christians are free to speak about these things? Do we atheists have to hide in the closet, then, to avoid offending believers? Is that what you're suggesting, Jim?

That I exist at all seems to upset many of these people. Do we atheists have to pretend we don't exist? How far do we have to go to disguise ourselves? Do we need to go to church every week?

I don't understand you, Jim. What are you asking? Do you expect me to give up my rights because I might make other people uncomfortable? Note that these are the people voting for those dangerous theocratic politicians. If they let us alone, none of this would be so important.

Finally, do you really think those people are solving their psychological problems with religion? Or just masking them? If they actually do have psychological problems, maybe we should encourage them to get help. How does giving up our civil rights seem like a better solution than that?

The fact is, I really do have more respect for believers than you do. I don't think they're too dumb to understand the concept of religious freedom. I don't think it's impossible for them to understand how the separation of church and state benefits believers and non-believers alike.

I don't even think that it's impossible for them to understand the whole point of the scientific method, though that may indeed be an advanced topic. These are human beings, not chimpanzees. And not livestock, much as they like to compare themselves to sheep.

So I'm going to treat them like human beings. I'm going to have that much respect for them, at least. And I'm going to have enough respect for myself that I'm going to demand my own rights, too.

Do I upset them? Gee, that's a shame, though it's probably better in the long run. Do I create doubts? GOOD!