Bruce Sheiman recently published a book descriptively entitled "An Atheist Defends Religion: Why Humanity Is Better Off With Religion Than Without It".

A blog written by a self-professed fence-sitting agnostic gave it a
positive reivew and provided a lot of nice HL Mencken quotes.

Bruce Sheiman issued this poorly considered response:

Sir:

Given that Mencken famously made up the history of the bathtub, only to see it propagated in encyclopedias for decades thereafter, he knows a few things about making things up. And he had little use for the made-up stories of religion. Neither do I.

But as I say in my book, religion is more about meaning and purpose than facts and events. And I want to congratulate you on offering the best interpretation of my book’s reason for being compared to other reviewers.

Religion has value despite its being scientifically false. And after living more than half a lifetime, I would rather live the “inauthentic life” of a believer than in the stark, naked atheistic reality that we are all “food for worms” and that the universe cares not for my existence. That makes me an “unhappy atheist.” And I assert that most atheists are unhappy with their creedless belief system.

It is so much more fulfilling to believe in something than nothing – or, worse — to believe in an anti-belief, i.e., to base my existence on the antithesis of someone else’s belief. Atheists can try to make that into a virtue (“free-thinkers living life courageously”). But as Dr. Phil asks, Would you rather be right or happy?

Given the choice, I would choose the latter. But as I make clear in my book, it is rarely a choice. Atheism or theism is what one is; it is not what one chooses. And that is precisely why the “debate” is a useless exercise: if belief or unbelief is not a choice, then all the argumentation in the world cannot change one’s position.

Alas, I remain an atheist.

Bruce Sheiman




What do you think of that? Has anyone read Bruce's book?

My response to Bruce Sheiman is in the comments below.

Tags: atheism, book, defending, religion

Views: 629

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This is a telling statement from Bruce "And I assert that most atheists are unhappy with their creedless belief system. " Oh good. An assertion. That's easy to counter: I assert that most atheists are happy.

Bruce, have you actually looked into atheism at all? Of course there is no creed. Atheism is not a belief system. Just like there is no creed or system of beliefs for those who don't believe in the Tooth Fairy. If you want to know what an atheist's creed is, you'd need to ask because "atheist" alone only tells you one thing (try to guess what!).

Many atheists are skeptics, rationalists, and humanists. Maybe utilitarians. Maybe communists. Maybe libertarians. Now we're starting to talk creeds!

And this one is just painful: "It is so much more fulfilling to believe in something than nothing – or, worse — to believe in an anti-belief, i.e., to base my existence on the antithesis of someone else’s belief."

Should I assume here you are talking about the anti-belief in Santa, Easter Bunny, Loch Ness Monster, Alien Visitations, Leprechauns, the Greek gods, Fairies, the Cthulhu pantheon, Unicorns, Vampires, etc? Oh, you meant God, didn't you? But if we don't believe in all those other things, won't we still be leading empty, unfulfilled lives? Won't our sad little lives based on an anti-belief in those things?

Further, because every sci-fi and fantasy novel ever written is actually fiction, isn't this reality is just a bland, grey, dried-out old husk?

Atheists don't base their lives on anti-belief and more than Christians base their lives on the anti-belief in Bigfoot.

Rational atheists base their lives ON WHAT IS. That is a positive, fulfilling, and successful way to go. Basing your life on fictions not corresponding to reality will eventually lead to problems or to correcting your beliefs to match reality. If you haven't understood this, maybe you've been doing atheism wrong.

The only reason a lot of atheists talk about gods so much is that believers can't seem to stop doing stupid things because of their faith.

PS: Is this the level of analysis we can expect from the book?
Should I assume here you are talking about the anti-belief in Santa, Easter Bunny, Loch Ness Monster, Alien Visitations, Leprechauns, the Greek gods, Fairies, the Cthulhu pantheon, Unicorns, Vampires, etc? Oh, you meant God, didn't you? But if we don't believe in all those other things, won't we still be leading empty, unfulfilled lives? Won't our sad little lives based on an anti-belief in those things?
Good point Noisician; I think many don't seem to realize that most atheists lump deities in with all those other fairy tales; but them have to 'defend' their anti-belief in particular deities differently than the rest - precisely because of believers. And many would forgo the anti-belief stance for just plain non-belief, if it weren't for the way believers use their belief to assault others.
Nicely shredded, noisician. He may be a miserable atheist who desperately wishes that the wool was still pulled over his eyes and who asserts that ignorance is indeed bliss, but he does not speak for all, or even most atheists.
he's essentially cypher from the matrix. He wants to get plugged back in.
Nice!

"Ignorance is bliss."
A very apt analogy, Andrew.
Indeed!
I concur completely.

I'm sure that, with the beating religious beliefs have been taking lately, that there is a large market for a book like this. Perhaps someone is just seeing an opportunity to push some paper?
Great response.
I would rather live the “inauthentic life” of a believer than in the stark, naked atheistic reality that we are all “food for worms” and that the universe cares not for my existence. That makes me an “unhappy atheist.” And I assert that most atheists are unhappy with their creedless belief system.
I'm a little flabbergasted at this. Oddly enough, I met a guy this last weekend with the same kind of contradictory thinking; a conundrum that nearly blew my mind. This guy was an atheist in-that he said he did not believe in any deities or any of the magic in the bible; but yet considered himself Christian in-that he thought the bible had excellent moral allegory and understanding of human nature, that Christian morals and way-of-life were the best line to follow, and the teachings of Christ were too insightful to ignore. He also felt that most atheists are far too loose with their 'moral compass' by not drawing them from a knowledged, experienced, ancient source. It was one of the most alien viewpoints I've ever encountered; and it sounds somewhat similar to some of Sheiman's views.
Dear Mr. "Stardust" and Galen:

It's atheists like yourself who make me ashamed to be an atheist. I mean, when I say that religion provides life satisfaction (an experience I admit I can only surmise from the experience of others who do believe in God) in no way do I assume a correlation with people who derive satisfaction from child molestation. And you, Mr. Stardust, are no more "bright" than all the people you so contemptuously call "stupid." I am amazed by all the atheists who so blithely assume that they are courageous free-thinkers and that everyone else is a feeble-minded follower. You (and me too) are every bit the follower as all those religious automatons out there. It's just that being a courageous free-thinker is something you so desperately want to believe about yourself. (Read "Positive Illusions" by Shelly Taylor.)

For additional trenchant analysis of the New Atheism, please see my new website, "AnAtheistDefendsReligion.com" and the accompanying blog, Atheism 3.0 A Kinder, Gentler Atheism "AnAtheistDefendsReligion.com/blog"

I do not mean to offend anyone in particular. But like you guys, I get upset when I encounter thinking that is in opposition to what I consider common sense and decency.

Bruce Sheiman
So Mr Sheiman, are you going to respond to any of the criticisms leveled at your comments, such as noisician's countering of your bare assertion that most atheists are unhappy or that they share a creedless anti-belief system? Or about how you seem to assume that being right is incompatible with being happy?

It is perfectly possible to have a happy, fulfilling, enjoyable life without having to believe in something fictional to supply that satisfaction. It is also possible to have a happy, fulfilling, enjoyable life while believing in something fictional. And it's possible to be miserable and unhappy both ways, too.

So, given your (and Dr Phil's) choice of being right or happy? I'll try to achieve both, thank you, and see no need to try and make happiness dependent upon religion.

Incidentally, I took a look at your website. The very first sentence is a false dichotomy, which does not bode well for the rest of your arguments.

For centuries, “The God Debate” has been dominated by two positions: devout believers fervently committed to their faith in a living God; and adamant atheists vehemently driven to repudiate the Divine.

You neglected, among others, the people who wished for religion to be a private affair and that everyone would just keep it to themselves. Or those who believed in a Deistic god (particularly during the Enlightenment period). Or, for that matter, those who do not believe in a god but do not claim 100% certainty. (This would include Dr Dawkins, by the way.)

And your Atheism 3.0 is something I've seen before. Focused heavily on 'They are so mean!' and decrying the lack of a kinder, gentler atheism while touting the good works of religious belief and steadfastly insisting that the bad done by and in the name of religion is just not important enough to worry about.

Personally, I recognize that religion can do good. Two of the biggest benefits of religion are a sense of community and acting as a source of inspiration. However, I do not believe that these benefits are exclusive to religious belief, nor do I believe that the damage done by religious belief is inconsequential. I would much prefer to have the sense of community and inspiration without the negative influences of religion, starting with the us-versus-them mentality that lies at the core of most religions that you ascribe to atheism.

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