Misunderstanding Atheism . . . Again

Many Christians and religious believers have a hard time understanding what is atheism. The most common misconceptions are that it’s a belief system in and of itself, or that it is the assertion that there are no gods.
 
Despite repeated attempts of atheists to rebut these misconceptions, they still remain.
 
Case in point: Rev. Dr. Chris Surber’s opinion piece in the Suffolk News-Herald, “Modern Atheism is Not a Thing,” makes several mistakes in regard to what is atheism.
 
Surber begins by referencing the 18th-centrury philosopher David Hume and claims Hume’s lack of belief in miracles as a root cause of his atheism. Surber paints Hume’s atheism as logic-based and rooted in skepticism. I’m not too familiar with Hume’s work, but I mention this because Surber uses Hume to make a distinction between historical atheism and modern atheism, which is his first mistake.
 
Surber goes on to say, “Hume’s atheism was skepticism rooted in logic . . .but today’s atheism is something else altogether. It is above all else an active belief in the non-existence of God. It has passed from passive skepticism to active non-belief. It has become a belief itself. It is the belief that there is no God.”
 
Well, that couldn’t be more wrong. And while I’m sure there are some atheists who make the claim that no gods exist, the overwhelming majority of the atheists I read and follow make no such claim.
 
One can be reasonably certain the character Yahweh as described in the Bible doesn’t exist, but I’d be skeptical of someone who asserts with certainty that no gods exist anywhere now or ever.
 
The error — I think — Surber is making is equating outspokenness of many atheists with “active non-belief.”
 
He goes on to add — somewhat correctly — that “ . . . today’s atheism is really just a dislike, disapproval and denunciation of religious belief. It’s not atheism. It’s anti-theism, and that is a whole other thing.”
 
Well, yes and no. Many outspoken atheists like myself are indeed anti-theists. We see the harm religious belief causes and we refuse to remain silent. We stand up for separation of church and state and aggressively promote a worldview based in science, logic, reason and secularism.
 
But this isn’t a “new atheism.” It’s the same atheism, but one that’s more vocal — and possibly more aggressive — and that is what I think rubs people like Surber the wrong way.
 
Atheism in the past and in the present has always been the lack of belief in gods based on evidence provided. Full stop, end of story.

Why I admire the religious right

The religious right in America is something awesome to behold. No, really it is.

Here’s a group of people, with varying belief systems, who come together politically to get done what they want done.

They’re to be admired because, not only are they prepared for the battles taking place today, they’re prepared for the battles that are going to take place ten years from now. They remind me of the ever patient Darth Sidious who planned, manipulated and moved pieces into place for years until he achieved his goals. He planned for the long haul.

Take the matter of abortion. It’s safe to say the overwhelming number of Christians are opposed to it, and they grew more vocal and active since Roe v. Wade. They’ve never come around, and never wavered in their opposition. For decades they persisted, voted, stayed the course, and now they might just get the right people on the Supreme Court to reverse it.

That’s admirable.

When I became an atheist, the New Atheists Movement was in full swing. It was a great time. We had charismatic characters like Christopher Hitchens to rally around, and from my perspective, I thought atheists/secularists would congeal into a political force that could go toe-to-toe with the dominionists/religious right.

I was wrong.

Some argue feminists and social justice warriors co-opted and poisoned the atheist movement while others say the movement drifted into the domain of the alt-right. Others, still, argue there never was an atheist movement.

Whatever the case, we just can’t get along and band together, and it was probably Pollyanna to think that we could.

And while so many of us are fighting amongst ourselves, the religious right is poised to get the keys to the whole thing.

This, of course, is all opinion and speculation mixed in with perhaps too much drink, which leads to too much melancholy. However, my fear is we who identify as secularists are going to wake up one day in an America where prayer is mandatory in public schools; where Christianity is the state religion; where we’re still burning fossil fuels as the planet grows ever warmer and where the all the social safety nets to help the disadvantaged have been shredded.

Then again, it’s entirely likely we’re going to wake up and see mushroom clouds blooming on the horizon.

Oink

Who’s really responsible for the war on Christmas?

Tis the season when a lot of people get uptight over those who say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas.

Their thinking (I think) is that those who say Happy Holidays are doing so because they’re evil non-believers who hate Christmas, Jesus and/or Christians.

We hear every year that there’s a war on Christmas. And it’s common to hear that it’s the atheists who are perpetrating said war.

Even Donald Trump said at a rally, that we can start saying Merry Christmas again, to much applause.

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s always been safe for people to say Merry Christmas. I hear it every year and never once have I chided anyone for saying it, much in the same way I don’t get my undies in a bunch when someone says god bless you after a sneeze.

Actually, that one does bother me because I think it’s wrong to single out that sole bodily function for comment. I mean, no one bothers to acknowledge my coughs, my burps or my farts, which, if we’re being honest, could use a blessing especially after I’ve eaten cheese.

But I digress.

It’s true that Christianity has dominated the public square for a long, long time. It’s only recently that people started to wake up to the fact that America is a diverse country with many beliefs and traditions. Many people who who hold agnostic or of other beliefs celebrate Christmas. One could argue that Christmas is a Christian holiday, and that if you’re not Christian, then don’t celebrate it. One could also argue that if you’re not Jewish or Muslim, then you don’t have to participate in their holidays either.

The problem with that, as I see it, is that Christmas is – for better or worse – embedded in American culture. Just turn on the TV anytime after Thanksgiving and you’ll see commercial after commercial offering Christmas sales. And speaking of TV, how many Christmas specials run between Thanksgiving and December 25th? I mean, we literally have a channel that runs a movie called A Christmas Story for a full, god-damned 24-hours. And can you imagine the kind of shit a kid who doesn’t believe in Santa gets at school?

And because it’s so commercialized, companies want to maximize the number of people celebrating the holiday because it means more dollars into their coffers. This is why you’ll see stores saying Happy Holidays, and advertising Holiday Specials rather than Christmas specials.

It’s really not about those evil atheists hating on Jesus. It’s totally about the companies trying to get as many people shopping in their stores as they can.

True, there are plenty of secular organizations who complain when a nativity scene is on public property.  Some, such as the Satanic Temple, call for an inclusive approach. If you get your nativity scene, then they get their satanic display. That seems fair. That might be what some Christians see as the war on Christmas, but frankly, the time for keeping religious displays on private property and church property is long overdue.

Whether the Christians like it or not, Christmas is everyone’s holiday now, and that’s not the fault of the atheists. That’s the fault of the corporations and the consumer culture.

I can’t speak for all atheists, but I don’t want to destroy Christmas. I’m not on a crusade to ban Santa, nativity scenes, yule logs or any of the trappings. And I’m not opposed to anyone saying Merry Christmas.

So, this Christmas season, say whatever the hell you want. And next time someone tells you that it’s the atheists who are waging a war on Christmas, you can tell them that, no, it’s the corporations – and they won that war a long time ago.