In today’s entry I want to explain what it is that I appreciate from atheism. The characteristics and traits that I respect from it. From honesty to intellectualism, to doubt and skepticism being a gift. This is one Christian’s thoughts in expressing what he appreciates from the movement.
“I do not respect Christian beliefs. I think they are ridiculous. If we could get rid of them we could more easily get down to the serious problem of trying to find out what the world is all about.”
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing: it makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”
The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.
Proverbs 18:15 NIV
Before preceding I would like to take a minute and introduce you to one of my favorite pastors! No…it’s not John Piper! It’s none other than Pastor Deacon Fred from Landover Baptist in Freehold, Iowa. Pastor Deacon Fred is a blast and I got a chuckle out of him in my faith crisis. I want to state that many people when they think of atheism think of the Neo-Atheism movement, as that has been loud and vocal. There is a good critique of that movement in this Guardian article here. This is an older article true, but I think its still worth the read. In my case I exchanged the John Piper Kool aid for Christopher Hitchens and even while gone I do miss Hitch. I’ve written about him previously. Atheism and secularism I believe is greatly misunderstood. Atheists and secularists are most susceptible to discrimination in many ways. I learned that in my faith crisis, it actually stunned me when I walked around in those shoes. You can read about atheist discrimination at Hement Mehta’s blog as well as Neil Carter. I plan to write a post exclusively about discrimination of atheists or secularists in the future. Its an important issue and its one I care about. When I get around to it I want to write a post about my realization of how much of an issue atheism discrimination can be. Plus I also want to write this as a Christian and say I’m sorry. I firmly believe that many Christians have been the source of so much pain and suffering and I cringe in thinking about this issue; but it needs to be addressed. Many atheists and those in secularism are owed a sincere and deep apology.
The next thing I want to say is that the Reason Rally for 2016 is being scheduled. I’ve read about it on Neil Carter’s blog and I’ve checked the website and Facebook page. I went to the Reason Rally as an agnostic in 2012, and I would like to go and listen to it again. If anyone here wants to come along I’d be happy to attend with you. I still listen to Seth Andrews and read atheist material for personal knowledge. All of this leads me to the point and purpose of today’s post. I want to step back as a Christian and explain what this Christian recognizes and respects from atheism. I write this having explored the movement. I also write this because I feel it should be addressed. My approach is very different, as I welcome atheists and doubters here on this blog. There are no expectations or pressure here. If you don’t believe me feel free to hang out. After all I am probably one of the only Christians in existence who goes to church listening to Seth Andrews, Christopher Hitchens, and reading blogs like The Friendly Atheist and Godless in Dixie. In addition I also have watched a great amount of Betty Bowers on Youtube which still gives me a chuckle. There are many attributes and fine qualities among atheists or secularists that I want to highlight and say that I do admire as a Christian. Let spend some time exploring some of them.
First I know that it can be hard to lose your faith when you are in a marriage, family, or other situation. Coming out and saying you’re an atheist or you don’t believe can be hard and traumatic. People around you will react in differing ways. I went through this phase in my faith crisis before I finally told people I didn’t believe and publically declared myself to be agnostic. So I want to say that I know that there are atheists that are in the closet in many ways. I am sensitive to why they want to remain there. This part is addressing those who have come forward and declared their lack of faith or who say they don’t know what they believe. I want to state that I appreciate their honesty and bravery in doing so. It takes courage to come forward and it shows incredible honesty…that I find deeply refreshing. Plus to state that you don’t believe in a country like the United States is incredibly difficult especially as we live in a very religious country. It stands in sharp contrast to evangelicalism as you have situations where many people who fit into the system do so by putting up a façade. They have to lie to fit in. That was one of the reasons why I pushed back from it from 2009 until 2013. I cared about bring truthful and living an honest life and I couldn’t go to church and publically profess something that I did not believe at all. So I want to say that with many atheists and secularists I appreciate their honesty. Honesty is a strong trait to have.
Doubt and Skepticism
I believe that doubt and skepticism is a gift and a good trait to have. If you are a doubting or skeptical person I think it will reveal itself in many ways, and not just in rejecting Christian faith. A skeptic can be more shrewd in analyzing life. They can detect false marketing schemes, ask hard questions when buying a car, and think broadly about questions in life. They are not a Kool Aid drinker, instead they naturally doubt. Some people I believe are like this…they doubt because its who they are as a person. Doubting and skepticism I also believe reveals critical thinking skills as well. People think through things and they do not accept something on blind faith. Questioning is good, questioning is healthy, doubt is good and doubt is healthy. I am grateful for my faith crisis years later because I realize how much of a gift it was in the end. Much of life I would argue needs to be looked at through the lens of skepticism. Skepticism prevents people from getting hurt, being wounded and it gives people more options. Instead of thinking in black and white or dualism by thinking or camping out in a land of gray it helps in the end. I enjoy reading and listening to skeptical thought, heck that is how I functioned for several years. So I just want to state that from the atheist camp I appreciate the skeptical mindset that often comes along. Its a gift and something that should be treasured. I wish Christians could be more skeptical, if they were many problems that exist (i.e. Mark Driscoll and CJ Mahaney) would not be problems at all. I wish more people could be skeptical in that regard.
Science & Technology
Again I have the feeling that many are going to disagree with what I am going to say next. This is said for the following reasons, I am a son of a physician and I grew up in a medical family. Medicine has been important to the career of my father and I am a firm believer in science. One of the attributes of atheism I would suggest is that it bettered science and contributed to science in the long run. That doesn’t mean there are not a few Christians here and there who do nothing, I wish there could be more Francis Collins and less Ken Hams, I think the evangelical Christian faith would be much healthier if there were more Collins in the faith. But let’s stop and look at a few atheists who contributed greatly to science and technology.
Physics has greatly benefited by the work of James Chadwick whose work led to the discovery of the neutron. Then there is physicist Samuel Cohen whose work is credited to being the father of the neutron bomb. In the field of medicine you have molecular biologist Francis Crick whose most known for being the co-discover of the DNA molecule in 1953. Jared Diamond is someone who I read in a grad school class. Diamond wrote Pulitizer Prize winning book “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.” Diamond who is a Geographer at UCLA has written many well known books as a scientist and is quite talented. In the field of mathematics there are a couple of individuals who are atheists who are well known for their work. Paul Erdos from Hungary is one of the most well known mathematicians in the twentieth century. Erdos pursued work in combinatorics, graph theory, number theory, classical analysis, approximation theory, set theory, and probability theory. Then there is John Forbes Nash whose work in game theory and differential equations influenced the fields of economics, military theory, politics, artificial intelligence and computer science. Did you ever see the movie A Beautiful Mind? I inserted the trailer above this section. Its about Nash’s life, one spoiler I will say is that the movie takes liberty with some information. Another well known individual who contributed to the field of psychology is Leon Festinger. Festinger pioneered work in cognitive dissonance and he was a topic that I wrote about here. I could go on and on, as there have been many notable atheist contributions to science. If you would like to spend time looking into this area further I would recommend this link here.
The next field I want to discuss briefly is that of intellectualism. Before I proceed let me say that here are opposing thoughts to what I am going to say and to be fair I want to state those here. Some people don’t believe that atheism is as intellectual as claimed. I read this article that was given to me a while back in the Atlantic magazine. Today’s post is one I have been wanting to do for a while. One of the reasons why I also wanted to write it is due to a book that came out not long ago called “Imagine There’s No Heaven. How Atheism Helped Create the Modern World” by Mitchell Stephens. This book explains and chronicles the plight of those who had no belief and how they contributed to society and civilization. Its an area that is long overdue and I am grateful that such a book is released. I looked at a couple of differing reviews and I like what was said in The Humanist and I will quote that here:
The history of disbelief is much more prevalent and rich than traditional history has portrayed, as atheism’s role has usually been downplayed or outright denied by conventional histories. Stephens brings out the role of many often overlooked personages, such as Denis Diderot, Jean Meslier and Charles Bradlaugh—the first open atheist elected to Parliament in 1880 but who was denied his seat until he was re-elected several times.
While primarily a history, as the subtitle of his book suggests, Stephens’ also argues that disbelief and the progress of knowledge have gone hand in hand throughout history. Whenever knowledge took great leaps forward, religious doubters were right there, stoking the intellectual fires. Stephens argument is not that it was only doubters that pushed knowledge, but rather that the questions raised by doubt were what drove people to seek answers, and those answers often drove further doubt. Mitchell begins by categorizing and describing five basic types of disbelief. The first is a basic skepticism – a simple questioning by someone of why would one believe that there is a god. The second Stephens calls the “anacreontic” named after a Greek poet who urged people to “live joyously” and can be roughly said to be a practical minded, “I’m living my life now, and I’m concentrating on this life” philosophy. These two types are probably present throughout history, but are rarely expanded on beyond when society frowns upon them, which society has throughout most of history/
The third type of disbelief is the more important to Stephens’ argument—disbelief brought on by knowledge of a better explanation. The fact that the earth revolves around the sun denies many of the stories of the Bible, as does human’s evolution over time. Knowledge brings about disbelief, and that brings about the thirst for more knowledge.
The fourth and fifth categories for disbelief are a little more nuanced. The fourth is the realization that religion is often a tool of repression and thought control—therefore, disbelief in religion translates into political opposition to the established order. Within this understanding, Stephens explores the troubling areas of state atheism propounded by Russia and China in the 20th century. Without shying away from painful historical truth, his insights are lucid and well presented, as uncomfortable as they may sometimes be to more modern non-believers.
The fifth category is a variation of the anacreontic second—a realization of the “open sea” of ideas that can be considered when belief in one certain, set religious system is set aside. It extols the beauty of possibilities—and the challenge in shaping our own future.
That summary above of the five categories in “Imagine There is No Heave,” I see intellectualism weaving its way through the categories of doubt, disbelief, knowledge, and the “open sea” of ideas I’m not trying to brown nose when I say this but I think Christians owe atheists a lot of respect and in accord need to treat them as such. I discovered that many atheists and secularists I interacted with during my faith crisis to be engaging and stimulating. Today I still do and I look forward and enjoy the correspondence I have with a few secularists. What drives me nuts is that time is limited and I wish I could stop the clock and pour more time into it. But while many parts of evangelical Christianity are lacking in intellectualism, I don’t see atheism having that problem. Now I also view atheism to be a religious system and I would like to explain that at a later date. But the intellectualism that many atheists have has been a benefit to mankind, and society. Atheism in many ways I think also helped give Christians religious freedom, those who clamored and didn’t believe in God are those who understand deeply why the freedom to practice or not practice a faith system is vitol to society. After all whether it be John Calvin’s Geneva, or the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran the examples of totalitarian religious regimes and how they harm people and society are plentiful and the history books are littered with instances. So I would also suggest that many Christians owe a debt of gratitude to atheists who believe in religious freedom.
Well Known Atheists
Atheists and secularists are more plentiful than people imagine. They exist in many areas of life, from sports, to academia to government. I just want to identify and state who some of these atheists are. Up above I spent some time discussing and writing about well known atheists who contributed to science, well in this section I would like to focus on others
In government there are many world leaders who are atheist or agnostic. That includes Francois Hollande or France, Elio Di Rupo of Belgium, Milos Zeman of the Czech Republic. Others include Michelle Bachelet of Chile, Jose Mujica or Uruguay, Park Geun-hye of South Korea, John Key of New Zealand, and the former Prime Minster of Australia Julie Gillard.
In the fields or art and entertainment there are plenty of individuals who are atheist of agnostic. This is but a partial list in doing some research. Those who have identified as atheist includes Penn Jillette, the late Andy Rooney, the late Katherine Hepburn, the late Ayn Rand and the late Isaac Asimov. Others include James Cameron, Billy Joel, Jodie Foster, Kathy Griffin, Daniel Radcliff, Julianne Moore, Javier Bardem, Ian McKellen, and Isaac Asimov.
I write all this to get down in cyber space what I appreciate and admire about atheism. From honesty to intellectualism, to the health of doubt, I think there is much to appreciate from it. As I wind this down I want to explain why I selected that quote from Francis Crick. That’s pretty bold and I just want to say that I have a deep respect for science and I appreciate what Francis Crick has done. We can be on differing sides of the fence and still talk. I wish there could be more discussion. I’ve been around the fundagelcial side of things for years and I understand why they are afraid. I just wish we could sit down, have a good conversation and hear each other out and get to know each other better. So while some people may say I’m a fool, I just want them to know that I still appreciate their movement and what they have contributed to society and civilization. There are so many positive characteristics that I hoe comes across in this post.
When I was in my faith crisis I remember one atheist speaking to me who said, “Eagle…you have to be careful about religion because it will screw with your mind.” He explained to me that he was free as an atheist in knowing that he had one chance to live life and that when life is over, its over. But he felt free in knowing that he didn’t have to live for anything or under some pressure. As he explained to me not believing in God can be one of the most freeing things in the world. I could understand what he was saying at the time, and though I consider myself a Christian I can still respect what he is saying. Its with that frame of mind that I will close two videos, the first one is an atheist video with quotes set to John Lennon’s Imagine. The second one is some Bon Jovi that crosses my mind when I think of what that atheist explained to me about how we only have one life and how we are not going to live forever. As always I welcome your feedback. Thanks guys, I love you!