Atheism: Lamp or Blowtorch?

There is a pervasive stereotype in our society that all atheists are “angry” and “unreasonable.” There are certainly easy enough examples to which we can point: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris…the list goes on. And while I admire these men and the work they’ve done…they seem to create a backlash that sometimes makes open debate and its original intent (finding common ground through argument and discussion) more difficult.

There are those who would say that the animosity is fostered by the constant type of insult and refusal to acknowledge one’s beliefs to which theists so often lay claim, as well as an insistence that we should not have to show respect for anyone’s claims if they can’t offer a shred of verifiable evidence. Those people have a point, but I think mine trumps it.

Facts are not enough to persuade a person from firmly held beliefs. “Well, they should be!” you exclaim, wrinkling your nose at the thought of how people could be so silly.  But we don’t live in a world of shoulds our oughts. We live in a world of humans, and human beings are arbitrary emotional animals (yep, said animals. We are, whether we want to acknowledge that or not). And as such, we adhere to our beliefs with…well, no other way to say it…religious zeal. Like many subjects, we have invested a great deal of emotion in our beliefs, and to be told that belief, that emotion is baseless is a very deep and personal insult.

Nor do I believe it is possible to truly “convert” anyone, either to atheism or theism. It is a thing one must come to on one’s own. My mother has been trying to instill Christianity in my skull and my heart since I was able to open my eyes. It never really took. The questions I had when I was 5 became louder, more insistent, and more complex as (in my eyes) the self contradictions in the bible became more and more evident. Likewise, someone so steeped in belief that faith is “knowing” will dig their heels in deeper when we attempt to dissuade.

So, then….where next? There are those who say we must stamp out religion. I don’t think that will ever come to pass, given Dr. Dawkins’ and Dr. Hamer’s work which now shows that we are genetically “hardwired” toward spirituality. On the other hand, I do think it’s possible to point out the inconsistencies in any religion and question them. Someone recently said to me that questions go further than assertions. One is a request for information, the other a line in the sand.

Do I think it’s ridiculous to take on faith the words of a Bronze-age cow worshiping nomadic tribe barely capable of finding their way out of a desert over that of respected 21st c. geneticists and scientists? Well of course, but I’m already an atheist. I don’t need convincing.

It’s easy to reduce people to things. Just attach a label to them, and they cease being people, merely other causes against which we rail. I think we’d reach more people with reason. Which is not to say we should endure insult or derision, so much as maybe we (collectively, atheists AND theists) shouldn’t try so hard to find it.