15 ways atheists can stand up for rationality

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I’ve often wondered how the term “New Atheism” gained such currency. It is a misnomer. There is nothing new about nonbelief. All of us, without exception, are born knowing nothing of God or gods, and acquire notions of religion solely through interaction with others – or, most often, indoctrination by others, an indoctrination usually commencing well before we can reason. Our primal state is, thus, one of nonbelief. The New Atheists (most prominently Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens) have, in essence, done nothing more than try to bring us back to our senses, to return us to a pure and innate mental clarity. Yet their efforts have generated all manner of controversy. Far outnumbered, and facing a popular mindset according kneejerk respect to men (yes, mostly they are men) of faith — reverends, priests, pastors, rabbis, imams and so on – the New Atheists have by necessity explained their views with zeal, which has often irked the religious, who are accustomed to unconditional deference. Even some nonbelievers who, again thanks to custom, consider religion too touchy a subject to discuss openly have been riled.

We atheists, however, need to buck up, assert our rationality, and change the way we deal with the religious, with everyday affronts delivered (at times unknowingly) by believers, with the casual presumptions that historically have tended to favor the faithful and grant them unmerited respect. A lot is at stake. Religion is a serious matter, reaching far beyond the pale of individual conscience and sometimes translating into violence, sexism, sexual harassment and assault, and sundry legal attempts to restrict a woman’s right to abortion or outlaw it altogether, to say nothing of terrorism and war. Now is the time to act. Polls – see here and here – show the zeitgeist in the United States is turning increasingly godless, that there are more atheists now than ever before (surely thanks in part to the efforts of the New Atheists). Most of Europe entered the post-faith era decades ago. Americans need to catch up.

I propose here a credo for atheists – concrete responses to faith-based affronts, to religious presumption, to what Hitchens called “clerical bullying.” (I’ll deal below with the three monotheistic, Abrahamic religions, but what I say applies to other confessions as well.) The faithful are entitled to their beliefs, of course, but have no inherent right to air them without expecting criticism. Religion should be subject to commonsense appraisal and rational review, as openly discussible as, say, politics, art and the weather. The First Amendment, we should recall, forbids Congress both from establishing laws designating a state religion and from abridging freedom of speech. There is no reason why we should shy away from speaking freely about religion, no reason why it should be thought impolite to debate it, especially when, as so often happens, religious folk bring it up on their own and try to impose it on others.

Herewith, some common religious pronouncements and how atheists can respond to them.

Written By: Jeffrey Tayler
continue to source article at salon.com

25 COMMENTS

  1. I have had the good or bad fortune to have now faced what I thought was certain death at least twice and been in a “probably not going to make it out of this” situation a few times. In neither case was I fearful or worried about death other than its effect on my loved ones. Being an atheist means facing reality and enjoying one’s life with no fear of punishment or torment in an afterlife. It’s very liberating to realize my solid foundation in reality has the fringe benefit of allowing me to calmly face death. One of these times I will go unconscious and never wake up. I fear paralysis…I fear alzheimers and various diseases…but all my fears pertain to this life, not death. It’s a powerful personal argument from my perspective.

    • I think it was Hitchens who said he liked to reply “I will think for you”

      In reply to #5 by Mrkimbo:

      A pet hate: “I will pray for you.” My favourite reply: “Your time is your own to waste.”
      Wiped out a few smug smirks with that one!

      • In reply to #7 by Marktony:

        I think it was Hitchens who said he liked to reply “I will think for you”

        In reply to #5 by Mrkimbo:

        A pet hate: “I will pray for you.” My favourite reply: “Your time is your own to waste.”
        Wiped out a few smug smirks with that one!

        I use the “think for you” reply, but I am careful to keep the tone of voice in a serious, empathetic, range that mirrors the usual “pray for you.” The reaction I often get is a pause and then some kind of question along the lines of “What will that do?” so then I can explain about how thinking leads to actions that lead to results that prayers, statistically, don’t.

    • In reply to #5 by Mrkimbo:

      A pet hate: “I will pray for you.” My favourite reply: “Your time is your own to waste.”
      Wiped out a few smug smirks with that one!

      An alternative is, “If it works I’ll pray for you, too”. Which shows you’ve an open mind, and may encourage them to open their minds to an alternative view too.

    • In reply to #5 by Mrkimbo:

      A pet hate: “I will pray for you.” My favourite reply: “Your time is your own to waste.”
      Wiped out a few smug smirks with that one!

      I couldn’t agree more!
      Apologies if this is wrong but wasn’t it Christopher Hitchens who replied to the same comment: “and I will think for You!”

  2. I was just thinking the other day that the void left by Hitch’s death is really evident. This article provides a reminder of how all of us can help fill that void and continue to make progress. Thanks!

  3. The middle ages were AFTER the dark ages. As for the humanising effect of the Reformation. Henry VIII KILLED 70,000 vs Inquisition killing 3000 in 300 years. Look it up. People during the Enlightenment kept slaves.
    While I don’t disagree at all about your atheism, something which I share, hearing this ignorance of history lowers the tone of your presentation.

  4. Wait a second. It says 15 ways there in the title, but…

    1. “Let’s say grace!”

    2. “Religion is a personal matter. It’s not polite to bring it up.”

    3. “You’re an atheist? I feel sorry for you.”

    4. “If you’re an atheist, life has no purpose.”

    5. “If you abolish religion, nothing will stop people from killing, raping and looting.”

    6. “Nothing can equal the majesty of God and His creation.”

    7. “It is irrational to believe that the world came about without a creator.”

    8. “I will pray for you to see the light.”

    9. “If you’re wrong about God, you go to hell. It’s safer to believe.”

    10. “Religion is of great comfort to me, especially in times of loss. Too bad it isn’t for you.”

    11. “As you age and face death, you will come to need religion.”

    12. “You have no right to criticize my religious beliefs.”

    13. “Jesus was merciful.”

    14. ”You can’t prove there’s no God.”

    15. “My religion is true for me.”

    16. “Don’t take everything in the Bible literally.”

    In the original article, there are two 10s. Were we supposed to get 15 or 16?

  5. Re 1: I prefer it to abide by the rules of my hosts (not praying but waiting until they have finished). So if you have a table-praying family, be the one to host family dinners one in a while and when you sit down, just say “enjoy” and start to eat, without leaving time for prayer.

    Re 5: “Aha, so if you woke up tomorrow morning realising you don’t believe in god, you’d go around killing and raping? And YOU think you are morally better??”

    Re 10: “Ah, so you believe statements made under pressure to be more sincere than those made by a free person?” (copyright Hitchens)

    Re 13: “Prove that there is no invisible teapot / yellow-pink striped unicorn / whatever”. (Russel)

  6. About saying or not saying grace: I agree with the original article on handling the situation when it is one’s own family, and I agree with LI (comment 12) about hosting a dinner yourself once in a while and handling things your way. But when it isn’t family and it isn’t your own home–when a friend or even a minor acquaintance has you to dinner in his or her home and is about to put their good food in front of you, and then wants you to join in bowing your head while grace is being said, or even worse, inviting you to say grace yourself, that it becomes really socially awkward. Suggestions?

    • In reply to #13 by 78rpm:

      and then wants you to join in bowing your head while grace is being said, or even worse, inviting you to say grace yourself, that it becomes really socially awkward..

      If you were invited to say grace, then I would smile and say “I’d rather not, thank you”. I wouldn’t bow my head but follow what jraines has said; smile, keep eyes open and leave head unbowed. Surely people would be used to non-partakers in saying grace? Perhaps not in USA.

      I haven’t seen anyone say grace since around 1958, when my grandmother used to say it and that was in U.K. In Australia I’ve never seen anyone say grace and I’ve lived here since 1964.

  7. All good points, but let’s keep the last one in mind: there’s no need to breach civility. When among a group of believers and asked to pray, “No thanks, I’m an atheist!” is a disruptive challenge. You can send that message by keeping a smile on your face with open eyes and unbowed head.

    • In reply to #14 by jraines:

      All good points, but let’s keep the last one in mind: there’s no need to breach civility. When among a group of believers and asked to pray, “No thanks, I’m an atheist!” is a disruptive challenge. You can send that message by keeping a smile on your face with open eyes and unbowed head.

      I haven’t had any friends or acquaintances who say grace since I was a child, but I always keep my eyes open and head up at funerals; apart from anything else I like to watch the expression on the vicar’s face as she/he struts their stuff.

      Having done so on more occasions than I care to recall, I’d say that at least fifty percent of the time it’s clear that they don’t believe in what they’re saying, especially when making the obligatory personal references about someone they probably never met, because it’s the first time the deceased has been in a church for many decades, if at all.

  8. If you are invited to say grace at a friends house, then simply thank the hosts for inviting you and cooking a lovely meal. No need to bow heads or invoke a god. Give praise to where it really belongs.

    • In reply to #16 by The Truth, the light:

      If you are invited to say grace at a friends house, then simply thank the hosts for inviting you and cooking a lovely meal. No need to bow heads or invoke a god. Give praise to where it really belongs.

      Bart Simpson prayer: “Dear God we paid for this food ourselves so thanks for nothing”.

  9. I have a simple rule in my house – observing norms of decency and civility, guests may speak their minds. If someone wants to hold forth on their pet belief fine, but they cannot claim immunity from the points of view of others.

    Among acquintances and relatives there are 1 or 2 catholic and baptist doG pesterers. I’ve not yet seen any of them say grace or suggest it either in my house or theirs. If it cropped up, in their house I’d remain silent for entente cordiale, in my house they’d be told to carry on and hope my eating doesn’t put them off their incantation.

  10. 7 “It is irrational to believe that the world came about without a creator.”

    Does science make that claim? AIUI, science does not require, nor does any of its theories, the universe to have come into existence, only that it exists. On the other hand, most religions claim the universe did not exist at some time (whatever that means) and was created by their god. Thus, it’s up to religion to present evidence in support of that claim, without which it remains just an opinion. Best bet so far is the Big Bang, I suppose, but as always with science, the wheel’s still in spin.

  11. @OP link: – 7. “It is irrational to believe that the world came about without a creator.”

    Of course it is! Gravity is a powerful force for creating planets so no magic fairies are required. Nuclear physics also does a great job of creating heavy elements for building planets.

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