Have you ever noticed that there has never been a massacre between atheists and agnostics. And no pantheist has ever gunned down a pandeist because of a theological dispute. That kind of behavior is reserved for people of religious passions, and especially those of the Abrahamic tradition: Christians, Muslims and Jews. Christians murder Muslims and Muslims murder Christians. Historically, just about everyone has murdered the Jews. Now, with the creation of the state of Israel, the Jews are finally returning fire. It’s not just the main branches of the Abrahamic faiths that murder each other; within the main branches there is more internecine warfare, with Catholics murdering Protestants and Protestants murdering Catholics, Sunnis murdering Shiites and Shiites murdering Sunnis. Non-believers, we don’t murder anyone. At least not for their lack of belief.1
Depending on the day or the time of year or my mood, I could alternatively be described as an atheist, an agnostic, a pantheist, a pandeist, an antitheist, an apatheist, a nontheist, a freethinker, a secular humanist, or a scientific rationalist.
I can bifurcate my belief system into questions about the God of Abraham other mythical Gods, and alternative conceptions of Gods.
- With respect to the God of Abraham, I am an atheist. I do not believe in Yahweh, the traditional war god of the Isrealites (who morphed into the one true God of the Christian tradition and Allah in the Muslim tradition) . I do not believe that God exists.
- With respect to the Gods of the Hindu religion or the Gods of Greek and Roman philosophy, or any of the many Pagan Gods, I am also an atheist. I don’t believe any of those Gods exist (other than in mythology).
- With respect to alternative conceptions of God — that God and the Universe are coterminous, for example — I am an agnostic. I have no reason to believe in any particular alternative conception of God, but there are definitions of God that I would consider. But for the most part, these definitions are not particularly useful and don’t contribute meaningfully to my spiritual life. 2
But what most people, certainly most Americans mean when they talk about God is the God of Abraham. The God of the Jews, and of Jesus, and of the Muslims, who animates their faith.
For the purposes of this essay, let’s just call me an atheist. I recognize that “believing” in the big bang is an answer that begs a question. What caused the big bang? All I know about God and the Universe is that, whatever they are, they are much too complex for my tiny brain to comprehend. That’s what I know about God and the Universe. And that’s about all.
If You Have a Personal Relationship to God.
If you have a personal relationship with God, this essay is not intended to sway you from that position. It would be silly if it were. I can’t even persuade my Republican friends that the overheated rhetoric of right-wing talk wing radio is not conducive to a national conversation on important policy issues. Not only don’t I want to dissuade you from your belief, but a part of me envies you and the comfort that it brings you. I just can’t join you there.
There are many people these days who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” I’m not one of those people. It’s not that I don’t feel things, sometimes very deeply, or that don’t I don’t occasionally have a connection to the mystery, mostly when I’m in the full flight of improvisation. Personally, I have a lot of affection for Christmas and the meaning that it has for my family. I admire the ideals that Christ represents, or is alleged to represent. I respect the tradition of charity and social activism within Christianity and especially the Catholic Church. Some good works have been done in the name of Christ. And then, some really bad things have been done in His name. We can begin with the Crusades and the Edict of Expulsion and continue from there. The list of crimes that have been conducted in Jesus’ name are too numerous to recount.
Christianity is famously a proselytizing religion. The word itself literally derives from the Greek language and the efforts of early Christians to convert Jews to their new religion. It has it’s origins in the “Great Commission,” recorded in the final verses of the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus commanded his disciples to spread his teachings to all the nations of the world. Non-Christians may not realize how much our entire Western culture is permeated not only with Christian values, but also Christian iconography. If you don’t believe me, go ask a Jew.
An Argument for Critical Thinking
This blog is an attempted argument for critical thinking, both in the arena of political and religious thought. Religion and politics — the two bête noires of dinner table conversation — are tied together whenever possible. It is also an attempt to expose propaganda, especially by agencies such as the Fox News Channel, whose “fair and balanced” tag-line would be completely laughable if there were not so many people who actually believed in it.
To reiterate, this blog is not is an attempt to unenroll people from their belief systems. While people may, on occasion, be enrollable in new belief systems, they are notoriously hard to unenroll from beliefs that they already have. If, on the other hand, you’re unsure of your own belief system or have come to question it, for whatever reason, there may be things of interest for you here. And whatever your disposition, you may find discussions or arguments on these pages that will, at least, make you think.
For the most part, this blog is likely to be an exercise in preaching to the choir. I know that. My hope is that people will find examples and arguments here that will be useful in some way, and maybe that will get a little bit of “traction.” One can always hope.
- This does not mean that atheists have never murdered anyone. Some critics have noted that Joseph Stalin was an atheist, which is true. But Stalin did not murder people in order to promote atheism, he murdered people to promote his conception of communism and to defend the Soviet state. The same is true for other communists who engaged in mass murder, including Pol Pot or Mao Zedong.
- See my separate article on Philosophical Arguments about God for a discussion of alternative conceptions of God and some of the arguments in favor of and opposed to those conceptions.