These days few things make me cringe harder on Twitter than seeing a response from someone that has the word “atheist” in his or her username. Strike that, there is something that makes me cringe harder, and it’s atheists who have YouTube shows.
Just to get it out there I am neither an atheist nor religious. I am completely unaffiliated. I long ago decided that everything from atheism to Zoroastrianism was equally valid and likely to be the One True Way, so they all deserve a place at the table. I end up getting 90 percent of my moral lessons from Doctor Who anyway, so in general I let everyone else go on about their business as long as it doesn’t affect me and mine.
Emotionally, though, some paths tend to get to me more than others and lately that’s a rather specific kind of atheism usually espoused by young white men. The reason is because many of these people have apparently decided that not believing in God (which I am using as shorthand for all higher powers, apologies for the mostly Christian examples but it’s what I know best) has somehow automatically made them more rational than those who do. It doesn’t.
Let’s attack the obvious first: there is nothing inherently more logical or reasonable in not believing in God. It’s tempting to think that you as a person have examined all the evidence of God’s existence and found it wanting, but great thinkers from the depths of history have examined the question as well and come to both the same and the opposite conclusion. I’ve met a lot of brilliant people in my life, but none I would put on the level of Thomas Aquinas. Gods are not actually supposed to be proven; they are supposed to be receptacles of faith for the betterment of human behavior (hopefully). The only true evidence against God is that you haven’t seen Him, but you haven’t seen love or justice either and they are real.
When most people say that they have seen no evidence of God what they really mean is that they have poked holes in various scriptures. It’s silly to think a snake could talk, or that all the animals got on a single boat to escape a flood, or that the first woman was born from a rib. All of this flies completely in the face of logic and science.
Leaving aside the lack of understanding of the concept of allegory this viewpoint shares with fundamentalist religious people, it’s again not a whole lot of impressive thinking. When you criticize the science of scripture you’re pretty much just patting yourself on the back for a greater understanding of the world than a bunch of Bronze Age peoples with a life expectancy of died in childbirth. This understanding has been gifted to you over eons of human progress, so you’re not really enlightened so much as the logical product of previous enlightenments. Most of us would totally believe in talking snakes if we found ourselves born in the Garden of Eden and thinking otherwise is self-delusion about how smart you are.
I’m not saying that religions have not used bogeymen and promises of paradise to dupe, control, and kill people over thousands of years. They totally have. On the other hand, religions also built hospitals, drove the advancement of architecture and music, and in many cases have been responsible for preserving written history, albeit often in a skewed manner. The science of genetics was born in Christian monasteries and nearly every science available at the time of the Islamic Golden Age saw massive gains. Assuming that religion as an institution is any more illogical or corrupting than other powerful institutions flies in the face of thousands of years of advancement those institutions helped enable.
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It’s not like any non-religious states have a monopoly on not screwing people over. Many of the people who sneered at religion as dangerous formed governments that have had as brutal a human rights record as any inquisition. The modern atheism that was born in the 18th century saw just as many illogical atrocities when wielded by those in power as any newly-empowered force has done throughout our history. Disbelief in God did not make them more logical, assuming that you consider kindness and treating people with dignity as logical.
Even here today in America and the rest of the West we have a terrible, terrible problem with misogyny and bigotry among prominent atheists. Having just rattled the cage of Gamergate recently I will decline to name any names in order to hopefully avoid a thundering mob at my digital door but here’s a favorite article of mine that sums it up nicely. Many of the atheist authors and more famous YouTubers seems to lose their supposed logic when discussing things such as “should women be able to be online without being harassed” and “are all Muslims terrorists?” There’s also the fun fact that a lot of atheists freakin’ love UFOs, which is often just one-step removed from religious belief, honestly.
Most atheists are wonderful people and I count many solid ones among my friends and the people I admire. You want an example of everything an atheist should be? Steve Shives is that example. He’s a person who doesn’t just take the label of atheist and assume that makes him smarter or more moral than the 70-something percent of America that isn’t. He recognizes flaws with how atheism is often delivered to the world from the foaming mouths of rape culture-deniers and bullies that want to make the devout feel stupid because they find personal meaning in a religious text. That’s true reason and logic in my personal testament.