Okay so my post about my religions class has ruffled a few feathers and inspired quite a bit of rage. Yes I agree that the assertion that atheism is a religion is ridiculous and that the professor should read more before making claims about us... The story I shared was not supposed to be about the professor's slip, stupidity happens, and I don't expect him to know everything. Furthermore I think calling out the big dogs to shut him down will do two things:

  1. It will create a reason for him to be actively hostile against atheists.
  2. It will shut down the communication I may have with the other students, even "Virginia."

The class is an open forum style class, people are bound to be wrong, and as long as we are the minority it will be one or two students explaining ourselves. These explanations are key to understanding, so I have no intentions of shutting things down.

Also while the professor may disagree with me on the subject of what constitutes a religion, he isn't actively ruining me because of it.

I'm going to share the first paper we had to write for the class examining our own religious beliefs. Take from it what you will, read it if you want. Know that I got an "A" on this paper.

-Carol

Introduction:

I do not believe in a god but atheism is not my religion, just the same as one who believes in Hecate, or YHWH doesn’t list their religion as “deist” or “theist”.  While some may claim that atheism or agnosticism are types of faith in their own right, I believe that the claim is my own to make.  I do not claim my disbelief as a religion or even a philosophy; it is merely something about me, a small detail in the long list of details that make up who I am.  I don’t have the evidence I need in order to place faith in any of the gods of the organized religions I have been exposed to.  Should that ever change then I will gladly adjust my worldviews and move on. 

            Still, the purpose of this assignment is to examine ourselves and our religious beliefs, and while I may not be parked in a pew on Sundays, there are certainly things I hold sacred, there are things I believe are important, and I think about the consequences of life and death.  These things are typically tenants of religion, but no one religion has a monopoly on philosophical contemplation.  I am not going to talk about why I am not a part of other religions; instead I will explain why my own approach is important to me.

 

 

Evidence or Lack There Of:

            There is certain credibility amongst atheist circles for those who can cite biological or astronomical reasoning as to the deconstruction of their faith.  I envy them at times because it seems as if the universe opens up f..., revealing answers that solidify their reasoning and arguments.  I on the other hand used to have faith. One day it was strong enough to push me to teach others, lead prayer groups and argue in defense of it, and the next it just seemed to vanish.  Not only did I not feel the presence of a god, but I did not feel a belief any more.  The world took on a different feel to me.  At first I felt heart-broken, losing my faith made me relive the feelings of loss I had felt when those I loved had passed away. Gone was the reassurance in an afterlife and in its place was the feeling that “this really is all there is.” Eventually though, that feeling evolved, I reasoned that if this is all we get, this beautiful but brief existence, then I should make it count.

            Contrary to assumptions by those who never ask a non-believer what they feel, this did not mean I felt compelled to live a debaucherous life of excess and selfishness. I actually was overcome with an intense feeling of empathy for my fellow man. Life is short, this may be all there is, I’d better do my best not to make it awful for others.

            I began to read more, and watch more and I began to feel a sense of awe again, but it wasn’t the same thing I had felt before. In learning about the vastness of the universe I felt a part of something much more significant; I was in and of the universe.  As Carl Sagan said, “The cosmos are also within us, we are made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” (Sagan)

 

Implications of Belief vs. Non-Belief:

           One of the most common arguments I have been pitted against while discussing the topic of faith with others is “If you don’t believe in God and you are wrong…” this is the opening statement to Pascal’s wager.  It presented an interesting and frightening argument when I first lost my faith, and for a while sent me scrambling back to church in an attempt to force myself to believe again.  If faith were only so simple there wouldn’t be much to study in this class.  When the attempt to rediscover belief failed I decided to hit the books to try and understand the implications of the wager better.  The major failing of Pascal’s wager is the assumption of one acceptable god.  It presumes that the non-believer exists in a binary world where there is either no god, or the god of the one posing the argument.  The reality is that if one can be swayed by the wager, then they must apply that logic not only to the deity of the one posing the wager, but that of any follower of any god who comes along.  Those posing this wager never consider that “they are in just as much danger of going to [another religion’s] hell as I, an atheist, am in danger of going to [the asker’s] hell.” (Mills 34)

            For me, the question of whether the supernatural exists is just not one that weighs heavily on my mind.  We live in a world with very real suffering.  People live in real fear of losing everything to disease, natural disasters, war, poverty, bigotry, and numerous other things that just seem out of our control.  On a personal scale they are probably right, but imagine for a moment if we worked together as the human race to achieve a peaceful end to those problems.  Imagine if instead of silently hoping that a disease would go away, if we all concentrated our efforts.  Raising funds to discover cures so those who have the knowhow could eradicate it, educating all the minds of tomorrow to bring a new edge and fresh eyes to long-standing seemingly hopeless problems.  I feel that this ideal is no loftier than the hope of eternal paradise, in fact I’m not asking for eternal paradise, just one that lasts as long as we do on Earth.  I think that science could help make that a reality, but for too long those who adhere to one side of religion or another presume that science and religion are opposite ends of an argument.  Since many non-believers try to use science as their explanation for their disbelief I cannot say I am surprised, but I do not accept that there is a dividing line between scientific learning and religious adherence, if someone believes that a god created this world, then they should ultimately accept the same god created all of the mechanical truths of the world.  Understanding these mechanics help us live better lives with everything from artificial indoor lighting to understanding the cellular malfunctions that cause cancer and other debilitating illnesses.  (Shermer 116)

            Lack of deity does not automatically mean lack of hope, or lack of convictions. The adamant nature of some atheists may certainly rub many religious adherents the wrong way, and I understand that. There is a lack of understanding between the two groups fostered by some of the more outspoken voices seeking to create a movement of secularism. Many atheists may agree with some of the statements, but disagree with the attitude of contempt mixed with open hostility.  I don’t seek to make others believe the same as I do, but I do seek to have civil conversation or respectful debate that leads to understanding.

            If I am correct, this life is all we have and we should seek harmony, if I am wrong, then this is all there is for me, and I still believe we should seek harmony.

Views: 242

Comment by Nawin Fong on September 29, 2013 at 5:01am
Nice. :-)
Comment by Belle Rose on September 29, 2013 at 6:42am
I love the way you write Carol!
Comment by SteveInCO on September 29, 2013 at 1:00pm

I've sometimes tried to express to people who are religious that there are as many ways to be an atheist as there are religions--probably more, actually--since the word "atheist" describes a specific answer to ONE question about reality and doesn't address anything else.  Or to flip it around backwards so that maybe they can see the point I am trying to make to them... once one decides god does exist, there are a zillion more questions to ask about both god and everything else, and peoples' answers to them will differ, which is why there are so doggone many different religions, even ones that base themselves on the same book.

One nit before you turn it in:  "thereof" is one word.

Comment by Gallup's Mirror on September 29, 2013 at 1:57pm

The story I shared was not supposed to be about the professor's slip, stupidity happens, and I don't expect him to know everything. Furthermore I think calling out the big dogs to shut him down will do two things: 1. It will create a reason for him to be actively hostile against atheists. 2. It will shut down the communication I may have with the other students, even "Virginia"

You are there to be educated, not educate your ignorant professor. He doesn't have to know "everything", but he must be an expert in the subject matter he teaches. He is there to inform you, not favor the faithful, not discriminate against non-believers, and not spread misinformation like "atheism is a religion".

Your religious classmates are going to listen to your religious professor, not you. He has established your status in his classroom: on the defensive and inferior to believers. He took a shortcut through the facts to do it. Your religious professor is hostile to atheists already.

Acquiescence gives him just as much cause to continue mistreating atheists in his classroom. If we back down from lies, discrimination, and insults directed at us in a scholarly environment, then where else are we to stand up for ourselves?

Call out the big dogs, Carol.

Comment by Gallup's Mirror on September 29, 2013 at 2:02pm

Ignore the second link in my post above. It's a mistake.

Comment by Belle Rose on September 29, 2013 at 2:21pm
RE: cquiescence gives him just as much cause to continue mistreating atheists in his classroom. If we back down from lies, discrimination, and insults directed at us in a scholarly environment, then where else are we to stand up for ourselves?
Call out the big dogs, Carol.

I agree with Gallup Carol. It is easy to take the road less traveled, and condone this sort of behavior for the sake of getting along with others. It is especially difficult as a woman. I say this only because while Gallup's mirror is absolutely correct in that you should not tolerate this sort of treatment in an academic (public) environment of higher learning, what I understand also is that in order to have the courgage to act you need to be beyond retina-tearin eye-rolling....you need to be fucking angry. We are angry for you right now because we see what is going on and we know that your own personal rights ar being violated. We do not want this for you or for other atheists in the future who study under this professor. I understand that as women we are taught to appease the feelings or foul attitudes of others to avoid conflict. It is not something that comes as naturally as would be good for us. But your rights are being violated. Think about calling out the big guns Carol. It is the more difficult thing to do, but it is the right thing to do when you are being subjected to a hostile learning environment.
Comment by Strega on September 29, 2013 at 2:21pm

It might be interesting to suggest an exercise where the students define their religion in 20 words or less, as if to someone who has never heard of religion, like a visiting alien. (e.g. they can't refer to 'Jesus', expecting understanding) It would be fascinating to watch the struggle, whereas for an atheist it would simply be "nothing to report".

Comment by Carol Foley on September 29, 2013 at 3:04pm

I appreciate the support, and the anger on my behalf. I'm not dismissing what it is we are fighting for in terms of equality here. The truth is that while the opening statements were hostile I honestly don't feel I will change anyone's opinions on atheism by bringing in the "big dogs."

If I were being held up personally as an example of human folly I would certainly turn the hose on this guy. I really have no shortage of anger on my behalf and I'm not one to back down quietly from an argument. The only people in the world I reign it in for are related to me, and even those people get an earful if they push too many of my buttons.

Understand that every situation is different, the college I go to is very small, and students do come up to me after class to talk. I have a different viewpoint then what they were indoctrinated with, but I'm nothing like what their preachers told them to expect of atheists. I'm a mom, I'm an artist, I'm involved with charity and seen doing so, I'm also fairly well spoken.In a nutshell I'm the person they are trying to become, save the lack of faith.

I have a bit of an entourage at the school, I've written and directed shows and I put myself out there, I have people who run from across buildings and plazas to meet me. Most of them are not atheists, but they listen to me. I've changed a few minds, I was asked to come talk at a Sunday school to show the students that atheists aren't the monster under the bed.

I'm not listing this to toot my own horn, I'm just letting you know that I'm not a victim. My approach is to turn the prejudice against us on its ear. Instead of a bull at the gate I am their friend, confidant, and when it comes to atheism I don't shut up about it, but I explain it. I don't condescend to them. Most of these students are a decade younger than I am. I am often the first adult they have met who doesn't have a bible in hand.

Show them that we are all just people and suddenly they can't find the excuse to hate you.

Comment by Gallup's Mirror on September 30, 2013 at 1:09pm

I don't suggest you're not in a position of strength. You are. You also have social power, which only adds to your strength. This is a question of how to respond.

The truth is that while the opening statements were hostile I honestly don't feel I will change anyone's opinions on atheism by bringing in the "big dogs."

A college professor is openly discriminating against atheists in his classroom.

What if he discriminated against Blacks, or Mexicans, or Jews, or homosexuals in his classroom? What if one or more other students joined him?

What is the appropriate response to a professor who openly discriminates against a minority group in his professional capacity? Keep it from his superiors and hope to change his mind? The truth is, there's little difference between doing that and doing nothing.

If I were being held up personally as an example of human folly I would certainly turn the hose on this guy.

The 'atheism is religion' claim is a claim of human folly: yours. It is a (false) claim of your hypocrisy.

Atheist: I don't believe in God. I am without religious faith.
Crackpot: Your disbelief is belief. Your lack of religious faith is a religious faith. How could atheists even attempt to argue that this isn't true? Nyah, nyah!

Imagine he had made a similarly disparaging remark in the classroom that applied to you, but without directing it at you personally. 'Women are stupid and should submit to men. That they argue with this only proves they are fools.' He persists. Would you let him off the hook?

Most of these students are a decade younger than I am. I am often the first adult they have met who doesn't have a bible in hand.

They are not the ones you would be calling out for professional misconduct. Your standing is all the more reason for you to take action as it seems nobody else will.

In the end, it's your life, and your call to make. If it were me, I'd take a flamethrower to that professor. If it means torching my reputation with some people along with it, so be it. I'd rather leave a legacy at that college consisting of professors who treat atheists as equals in the classroom. I really don't care how they treat atheists in the privacy of their own thoughts.

Comment by Barry Adamson on October 2, 2013 at 12:55pm

It might be interesting to suggest an exercise where the students define their religion in 20 words or less, as if to someone who has never heard of religion, like a visiting alien. (e.g. they can't refer to 'Jesus', expecting understanding) It would be fascinating to watch the struggle, whereas for an atheist it would simply be "nothing to report".

How about: "Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you."  Or, "Love your neighbor as yourself."  Come to think of it, maybe that's why religion can get all f'd up: too many people treating others as they treat themselves, and a lot of people hate who they are!

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