(note: This is a re-print of a blog from my own site. It is a response to a conversation that I had on Facebook with a very well-meaning Christian. You can definitely respond here but if you'd like her to see any comments then please see the link to the original blog at the bottom. The original has working links to the original sources - I didn't have time to re-format them for this blog).
You may not have known this but Panda Bears were the Bigfoots (that just sounds weird. I wanted to say "Bigfeet" there but that seemed worse) of the 19th century. There were lots of people in remote and poor parts of the world that claimed some weird animal lived in the wilderness but nobody had been able to document their existence. Of course, the difference between the Panda and Bigfoot is that the Panda exists.
As an atheist I feel like a Panda sometimes. It seems like we are few and far between but the reason for that is simple - we generally do not make noise. We're not the ones occupying the headlines trying to limit the liberties of others and we're not the ones telling others how to live their lives. But I know we are out there - I hear from people that can't be "out" all of the time. And as I've said in other blogs, the purpose of my blog is to show that it is ok to be who you are. The people that actually believe is shrinking all of the time.
But the time that I most feel like a Panda is when I come across someone that probably has never been around an atheist. It really does feel like I should be put in a zoo somewhere so that the faithful can poke and prod and marvel. It isn't a bad thing, although it shows that there are some areas of the country that are overwhelmed by superstition. It actually amuses me.
I had such an experience recently. I sometimes comment on the threads started by other friends on facebook. I try not to do this too often as I think the old saying is true - winning a debate online isn't much different from winning at the special olympics - you may have won but...... ah, never mind. On occasion, amidst all of the "Likes" of garbage tv shows, psychics and prayer requests, you may find someone that is worth talking to.
My friend Brian posted a rather simple status on his profile: I think no bigger lie has been told than "Everything happens for a reason"
Amen to that brother. Of course this phrase is used to 1) Artificially comfort people who wish to be lied to as if they were still children and 2) To explain the occurrence of bad things despite the "fact" that the Big Kahuna has plans for you. You're having a bad time of it now but he will reward you in the afterlife.
One of Brian's friends - Denise - has always been one to add something intelligent to his posts and I always thought her responses to be interesting and thought-provoking. This time was no different. I'm going to paraphrase a little bit here so that I don't have to type out the whole thread - nobody wants to spend a half hour doing that. Denise went on to say that she used to think that this was malarkey but had grown to believe it. She then went on to give a very thoughtful reason why.
I responded that I could not think of anything more horrible than if it actually were true. After all, if you can stop something bad from happening and choose not to you are then an accomplice to evil. Of course, the theists will then give the garbage answer that we are "given" freewill (cringing). We all know that this is an oranges answer to an apples question. I went on to say that I had thought about what she said during my last blog (here) as it dealt with a lot of the same questions.
Denise was kind enough to read that blog. Her reaction is what I found really interesting - she was amazed that I am an atheist: Just curious, how did you become an atheist? Did your parents teach you this way of life, or did something happen in your childhood to bring you to this?
Rather than responding to her on facebook I thought it would be a neat little blog. I'll post a link there and I hope she responds. Please feel free to leave helpful comments for her on my blog (link at the bottom).
Well, where to begin? Simply put, a-theism is the rejection of theism. I'll offer up the old quote again for Denise : you and I are both atheists. I just go one more God than you do. When you see how easy it is to dismiss the other Gods you'll see how easy it is for me to dismiss yours. Being an atheist is not the same as hating God. I can't hate something that I do not believe exists.
We all know that you can't put atheists into a group because it isn't a belief system in itself. I'm sure there are those that are atheists because something bad happened to them but I've never met such a person. The vast, vast majority of the atheists that I have met are atheists because it is clear that every single religion ever devised/copied (copied is a better word because they are all derivations of a previous religion). Better yet, atheists are almost always at the front of the fight for human rights. We were at the front of the fight to end slavery and to give equal rights to women and gays. What were we fighting against? Those that said that the Bible validated these evil actions (and it does).
Better yet, I'm not going to pretend that I love you because I am compelled to love you. I'll take responsibility for my actions rather than assuming the very immoral position that someone paid for my sins. If I mess up I will take responsibility for it. If I hate you I can't justify it by pulling out a passage in a book written long ago by unknown authors. I'll do good deeds because I am responsible to myself.
No, my parents were not atheists. We were Christmas/Easter Catholics (sometimes I think that is a redundant phrase). I had a perfectly normal childhood. I'll refer back to something Dan Barker said in his brilliant book godless: at some point you stop assuming that someone else had done the work in proving that this is all true and you go out and do the work for yourself. When you do you will see that none of it happened. If there was any proof we wouldn't need the word faith.
I try to be an atheist that leads by example. At no point would I ever try to convert a believer into a non-believer. In the thread Denise politely asked me to consider Jesus and all of the hooey that comes along with the Bible. I am always happy to read religious material - I am a firm believer that the only reference you need to see to disprove the authenticity of the Bible is the Bible itself. The only texts that come close are those that try to show you that it all happened.
So Denise, I'll make the offer to you that I have made to others that made the same claims: take The Religion Challenge with me. In a nutshell, this was a challenge laid out to me last year by some friends that did not know that I was an atheist. Like you, they had read Strobel and were fascinated by his book. We each presented materials to for consideration and them commented on them. One of the materials presented was The Case For Christ and I thoroughly reviewed the book here. Better yet, read Jesus for the Non-Religious (review here) - it is a pro-Jesus book that shows in great detail how the Bible as we know it is a complete and utter lie (that may sound like a contradiction - read the review). Or you may choose not to. I've always wondered how some can believe something without considering the truthfulness of the belief. You mentioned that you've done some reading on this topic so I would hope that you would consider reading some of these materials.
The thing that amazes me is that people have been having this same conversation for centuries. "I know that ____ is the real religion because I can feel ____ in every fiber of my soul". I mentioned Barker earlier - he is a former evangelical preacher than couldn't go on anymore without doing the research. He eventually realized that the whole thing was a lie and decided to dedicate his life to critical thought. But he said that every now and then he could put himself back into that place where he could feel the euphoria of belief. Of course, he was lying to himself. The difference between now and his old life is that he recognized this fact on a conscious level.
Link to the original here