Atheism: a luxury for the wealthy?

Well, if this doesn’t beat all.  Just when I thought I’d heard every existing criticism of atheism, a new one pops up. And it’s from an atheist, of course: Chris Arnade, who recounts a varied life as a janitor at a college, a physics student who got a Ph.D., a Wall Street analyst, and then a photographer of homeless drug addicts (his website is here).

His association with the addicts and homeless left him with a lesson that he describes in a new Guardian piece: “The people who challenged my atheism most were drug addicts and prostitutes” (subtitle: “I’ve been reminded that life is not as rational as Richard Dawkins sees it. Perhaps atheism is an intellectual luxury for the wealthy.”)

Surprisingly, Arnade expected the down-and-outers to be atheists—but they weren’t!

When I first walked into the Bronx I assumed I would find the same cynicism I had towards faith. If anyone seemed the perfect candidate for atheism it was the addicts who see daily how unfair, unjust, and evil the world can be.

None of them are. Rather they are some of the strongest believers I have met, steeped in a combination of Bible, superstition, and folklore.

I could have told him that. The people who tend to be the most religious are those who are worst off, for where else can they turn? Tons of sociological research tells us that.

Arnade gives us lots of examples of the outcasts of society who hold onto God:

Sonya and Eric, heroin addicts who are homeless, have a picture of the Last Supper that moves with them. It has hung in an abandoned building, it has hung in a sewage-filled basement, and now it leans against the pole in the small space under the interstate where they live.

Sarah, 15 years on the streets, wears a cross around her neck. Always. Michael, 30 years on the streets, carries a rosary in his pocket. Always. In any crack house, in the darkest buildings empty of all other furnishings, a worn Bible can be found laying flat amongst needles, caps, lighters, and crack pipes.

His theory for the religiosity of the marginalized, however, seems off the mark:

Takeesha and the other homeless addicts are brutalized by a system driven by a predatory economic rationalism (a term used recently by J. M. Coetzee in his essay: On Nelson Mandela). They are viewed by the public and seen by almost everyone else as losers. Just “junkie prostitutes” who live in abandoned buildings. They have their faith because what they believe in doesn’t judge them.

But what else is Christianity about but being judged? No, they have their faith precisely because what they believe in does judge them—judges them as sinners who can be forgiven and sent to heaven.  They believe because in their God they find someone who, they think, cares about them and will eventually make things right. All this was known by Karl Marx.

From this Arnade concludes that he shouldn’t proselytize atheism among these people, and who could disagree? It’s the “dying grandmother scenario” on the streets:

They have their faith because what they believe in doesn’t judge them. Who am I to tell them that what they believe is irrational? Who am I to tell them the one thing that gives them hope and allows them to find some beauty in an awful world is inconsistent? I cannot tell them that there is nothing beyond this physical life. It would be cruel and pointless.

Well, this is a judgment call, for perhaps if he told them that God wasn’t going to take care of them, they’d be motivated to do something about their lives now, for it is the only life they have. If they asked me what I believed, I’d tell them, but the most important thing for these people is not being disabused of their religious delusions, but learning how and where to get help.  Sadly, Arnade then extends his view not just to the homeless, but to everyone:

Soon I saw my atheism for what it is: an intellectual belief most accessible to those who have done well.

I want to go back to that 16-year-old self and tell him to shut up with the “see how clever I am attitude”. I want to tell him to appreciate how easy he had it, with a path out. A path to riches.

And he ends his essay with about the most mean-spirited criticism of “strident” atheism that I’ve ever seen:

I also see Richard Dawkins differently. I see him as a grown up version of that 16-year-old kid, proud of being smart, unable to understand why anyone would believe or think differently from himself. I see a person so removed from humanity and so removed from the ambiguity of life that he finds himself judging those who think differently.

I see someone doing what he claims to hate in others. Preaching from a selfish vantage point.

First of all, is it a crime to judge those who think differently? What about white supremacists, misogynists or the Taliban? Should we not judge them? The fact is that some people harbor incorrect or even harmful views. Religion is both of those at once.  And while we can strive to be charitable towards religious people who aren’t malefactors, is is surely judicious to criticize bad or incorrect ideas.

And I suspect Dawkins, like all of us, is perfectly capable of understanding the motivation to be religious. Many of us were once believers! And I suspect that most of us wouldn’t preach godlessness to a homeless person whose first needs are food, shelter, and methadone.  True, some of the poor find succor in faith; but in the end all they get from that faith is some psychological uplift.  Their problems aren’t solved—in fact, their solution may be impeded—and they’re not going to get the rewards or help (material or ethereal) they expect.

Atheism is not just for the wealthy. In fact, it’s probably most useful, as Marx realized, for the downtrodden. Arnade is doing what we see so often: arguing that although religion is a delusion, and he doesn’t accept it, we must let the “little people”—in this case the poor and homeless—have their delusions.  That is an unforgivably condescending attitude, and another sad and gratuitous swipe at New Atheism, instantiated, as always, by Dawkins. There are many atheists on this planet, and not all of them have “done well.”

Arnade should realize, as lots of us do, that in many cases religion serves as a tool of oppression, telling people that suffering is good (the Catholic church is a master at this), and that they should accept their lot (viz., Mother Teresa). I’m not a Marxist, but on this I’m with old Karl: when you discard your faith, you’re throwing off your chains.

105 Comments

  1. @eightyc
    Posted December 26, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    I’m not wealthy and I don’t coddle bogus claims.

    I was raised Catholic and one thing Catholics from my homeland of the Philippines are proud of is their poverty. It’s very strange. They somehow wear it with pride that they’re poor. They somehow thing this imbues them with a some super form of integrity. Lol.

    In this case, instead of poverty it’s intelligence that’s being attacked. Are people suppose to wear their ignorance and lack of knowledge with pride now? Lol.

    Being ignorant and stupid does not imbue someone with a super-form of integrity.

  2. JoeBuddha
    Posted December 26, 2013 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    ? The heck? I’m doing pretty well, being a geek in the Age of Geeks, but there are plenty of us who aren’t. This sounds more like White Man’s Burden shit.

  3. gbjames
    Posted December 26, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    sub

    • francis
      Posted December 26, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      //

  4. Posted December 26, 2013 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    There are several typos in this piece. You might want to fix them.

    As for the conclusion, I have to agree with you.

  5. Dianne Leonard
    Posted December 26, 2013 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    I’m a poor person, disabled, and living on the edge. I’ve been an atheist since I was 9 years old, growing up in a failing Catholic blue-collar family. All of my sisters and brothers save one and all of my nieces and nephews (some of whom have done better) are atheists of one stripe or another. So my family is living proof that atheism isn’t just for the affluent. Most of my family have looked at the evidence (despite their poverty they are intelligent people) and decided that belief is not for them. The only exception is my brother the small businessman, who works hard, and is a Buddhist. He says he’s an atheist with a Buddhist tinge. Good enough.

    • Posted December 26, 2013 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

      Remarkable story — thanks for telling it.

      How did your parents react to having all their children abandon the faith they brought them up with?

      b&

      • Dianne Leonard
        Posted December 27, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

        My mother was brought up Catholic and remained Catholic until her dying day. My dad was brought up as an atheist–his dad and he were members of the communist party–but dad converted to Catholicism when he married mum. I did notice that in his later years, he kind of gave up his pseudo-Catholicism and didn’t go to church (as mom always did), but he had a Catholic mass and burial. I think my folks just sort of gave up on us, as far as religion was concerned. I remember one time at Christmas mass in 1972, my asking all my sibs if they believed this, and the answer came back: save for my baby brother who was about 10 at the time (and, really too young to make up his own mind) none of us believed. I got a nasty look from my mum because of my asking, but otherwise, all our lives, no retaliation. Probably the best thing that could’ve happened.

        • Posted December 27, 2013 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

          That does sound like the best one could have hoped for. One might almost suggest that the gods smiled upon y’all….

          b&

  6. Diana MacPherson
    Posted December 26, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    He’s got it exactly backward. The disenfranchised are who started Christianity off in the first place: women, slaves, the poor in a society where your family, your patron or your slave master were the only people you could rely on for help because there was no or little state supplied social supports. The churches stepped in and filled that void and that’s still the cases in societies that do not supply enough social support or in societies where people slip through the cracks, despite sophisticated social programs.

    In other words, it’s not that atheism is for the rich, it’s that the fantasy of a better life after one that is pretty awful is more appealing than the truth.

    Instead of knocking New Atheists, it would be better to hit the root cause of religiosity, which perhaps he does by making the plight of the disenfranchised known through his art…just lay off of the faulty social conclusions.

  7. Posted December 26, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately, atheism IS a luxury. It doesn’t provide any hope for the future, or temporary (perceived) relief from hardship, like religion does. (neither does crack or meth – and yet people keep doing those.)
    For the people who have nothing else, and nothing to look forward to, religion is a cheap palliative. It’s a placebo, not a medicine – but even placebo helps some.

    • Posted December 26, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, but that’s like suggesting that sobriety is a luxury that homeless winos and crack whores can’t afford.

      Neither religion nor (misuse of) mind-altering substances help. Both hurt, and generally by similar methods. Indeed, the temporary pleasures afforded by both are the most pernicious pathways by which harm is perpetrated.

      Just because the solution isn’t itself warm and fuzzy doesn’t mean that continuing to wallow in filth is better. It might help spur one’s sense of compassion towards the plight of the victims, but that doesn’t make the addiction excusable — let alone praiseworthy.

      Life is not a state of perpetual orgasm. Attempts to make it so are guaranteed to failure. Attempts to prolong the failure are guaranteed to result in disaster.

      (Of course, actually helping the destitute is a complex problem, and addressing their worst problems head-on isn’t necessarily an effective strategy. Indeed, the first goal should almost always be to get clean, safe, and at least semi-permanent housing with the other basics, including food and clothing, also taken care of. Then you can start working on sobriety, job training, liberal arts education, and the rest. And even then you’re not going to succeed with everybody, but a society should at least make sure that all those who want a clean home with food on the table can have it.)

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted December 26, 2013 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

        Exactly – we have to start with shelter, food, jobs, training, education. AFTER that, people will have something to look forward to in this life and in reality, not put their hopes into the afterlife or into angels descending from heaven to give them a winning lottery ticket.

        • Posted December 26, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

          Eh, describing atheism as a luxury simply doesn’t follow from the order of treatments applied in a triage situation.

          If it did, then you might consider water a luxury for somebody who needs an oxygen mask.

          People who are down and out will do better if they don’t attempt to rely upon imaginary friends, and they are capable of dealing with the fullness of reality. And help they’re given should be atheistic — none of the Salvation Army’s bullshit of opening soup kitchen meals with Jesus posterior osculation; just put hot food in cold hands.

          But to get from “three hots and a cot” to suggesting that reality is a luxury and fantasy the necessity?

          Complete non-starter.

          Cheers,

          b&

    • Posted December 26, 2013 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      Atheism isn’t a luxury. It’s freedom from the burdens of belief in religious superstition, dogma, and revelation. (Unfortunately, it’s not always freedom from other non-religious sources of superstition, dogma, and revelation.)

      Faith is indeed a cheap palliative. And not an especially effective one. Suffering continues to be prevalent among the faithful and many of the faithful rejoice in suffering more than they give or receive palliation. I don’t see how it is palliative to have the lived experience of apparently being forsaken by an all-powerful being that is supposed to care.

      • Posted December 26, 2013 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

        Freedom is not a basic value, according to the Maslow hierarchy of needs. It’s somewhere near the top of the pyramid. Freedom is nice if you have food, shelter, and at least some semblance security in the future – but not when freedom is the only thing you have.
        And since religion is at least perceived to be a solution to some of the more basic needs in the pyramid, it will be chosen more often than freedom.

        • Sastra
          Posted December 26, 2013 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

          So truth is a luxury the poor can’t afford. They don’t need it; protect them. I wonder if “the poor” would agree that they are too simple and weak to have this value.

          Seems to me that this attitude can lead to some bad habits.

          • Posted December 26, 2013 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

            They can and should afford it. Still, it’s not a basic value, and therefore it’s perfectly understandable that it doesn’t need to be a priority.

            • Sastra
              Posted December 26, 2013 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

              Again, I wonder how many religious people — poor and troubled or not — would, if asked, agree that the truth of their religion is not a priority to them.

              Or should we not listen?

            • Posted December 26, 2013 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

              Reality is always a priority.

              A illustrative meme went thru my FB feed. I don’t have time to search for it right now, so I’ll just describe it: a painting of Daniel in the lion’s den, over which the text “in the name of Jesus, I declare victory over my problems” is printed.

              Well, that’s about as far a thing from a solution as I can imagine. Trying to show the less fortunate that burying their heads in the sand of religion certainly won’t help and probably will compound their misery is one of the most helpful things we could do. Among other very helpful things, of course.

    • Kevin
      Posted December 26, 2013 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      I have met far too many people who are poor, uneducated who simply do not care. They are not religious and they do not even consider religion as anything. They may not be religious, but they are far from being a horde of mindless morons, even if they are partially or wholly unhappy with life.

      As for atheism being a luxury. The atheists that I know who think of it as a luxury are asses and do not expand their horizons or innovate their lives in the least. They are abysmal. A ‘good’ atheist never gives up; always looks to make onself better and is always looking for answer. In short, it is hard work…anything but a luxury.

      • Posted December 26, 2013 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

        Kevin, Marella, Ben, William and Sastra,
        I don’t like to repeat myself too much, so I’ll just respond to everyone here.
        Yes, religion blinds people to the truth; yes, religion doesn’t actually help anyone with anything; and yes, religion is used to oppress people. But because the post questioned why the homeless are so commonly religious when it seems that they should be the ones most disappointed in god’s supposed mercy and love, I am trying to explain here and above why poor and desperate people tend to be more religious than those who are richer and more confident in their future. I’m not trying to justify the need in religion; an explanation is not the same as an excuse.
        So here is my point once again: food, water, air and shelter are basic necessities – a human cannot survive without them. An internet connection, a TV, a mcMansion, an iPhone are not. They may seem like absolute necessities to many of us, but they are basically luxuries. They are certainly luxuries to someone who doesn’t know when their next meal is coming from. So is atheism? Are really going to argue that atheism ranks with air, food, and clean water?
        And, while atheism clears the mind and doesn’t poison it with myths, are you, atheist to atheist, are you really going to argue that atheism gives people any kind of (true or false) hope that their lives will magically get better?

        • Posted December 26, 2013 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

          [A]re you really going to argue that atheism gives people any kind of (true or false) hope that their lives will magically get better? [Emphasis added.]

          Atheism is not about hope nor magic. That’s religion’s domain, and part of why it’s so evil.

          What abandoning the delusions and false hopes of religion will do is force these people to accept that there’s no faery godmother who’s going to get them out of the messes they’re in, and that they ultimately have nobody but themselves to rely upon to make things better.

          As that actually is the truth, and since the only way they’re ever actually going to have better lives is if they stop relying on nonexistent faery godmothers, then, yes. Atheism is going to do more good in their lives than the alternative — namely, continued self-delusion.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • NewEnglandBob
            Posted December 26, 2013 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

            +1

          • Posted December 26, 2013 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

            I agree with what you said, and your emphasis (you could also empathize “false”). It’s possible that people who lost their faith have dropped their false hopes, realized that only they themselves, and are no longer homeless. But speaking of their situation strictly as it exists now, rather than what they should do or what we should do, I’d like to hear your answer to my question in my previous comment.

            • Sastra
              Posted December 26, 2013 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

              Are really going to argue that atheism ranks with air, food, and clean water?

              What if, instead of “atheism,” we substituted “thinking rationally?”

              In one sense — the most obvious one — rational thought doesn’t rank up there with air, food, and clean water when it comes to dealing with people without. Counseling itself takes second place to getting someone breathing, fed, and hydrated.

              But once the disaster status lets up a bit I think practical, secular solutions outrank what are often idealized, unrealistic, or double-edged solutions coming from superstition.

              Or maybe you meant this question:

              And, while atheism clears the mind and doesn’t poison it with myths, are you, atheist to atheist, are you really going to argue that atheism gives people any kind of (true or false) hope that their lives will magically get better?

              No. As Ben says, the hopes are more practical.

              For people for whom there is no realistic solution then deep piety might be a coping mechanism — but so is madness, or Alzheimer’s. I’m uneasy when atheists propose solutions for other people which they would scorn to use themselves. I suppose I could play a game where the alternatives are so horrible that I would pick self-delusion, being in a coma, or morphine drip as the best means for living the better life, but I hesitate to recommend or support them too hastily.

              • Posted December 26, 2013 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

                Sastra, it sounds like we’re in agreement that atheism is not a priority in a survival crisis, and that atheism doesn’t provide any coping mechanism. Except I wouldn’t substitute “atheism” with “thinking rationally”, because “thinking rationally” is too wide of a concept. You need rational thinking to get food, shelter, etc.. The rational thinking that tell us how the universe works – I’m ok with substituting “atheism” with that.

        • Sastra
          Posted December 26, 2013 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

          But because the post questioned why the homeless are so commonly religious when it seems that they should be the ones most disappointed in god’s supposed mercy and love, I am trying to explain here and above why poor and desperate people tend to be more religious than those who are richer and more confident in their future.

          Well, the article questioned that, yes. But Jerry’s post said

          I could have told him that. The people who tend to be the most religious are those who are worst off, for where else can they turn? Tons of sociological research tells us that.

          So we don’t disagree here.

          Our quarrel with Arnade wasn’t really over whether supernatural beliefs can comfort, but whether the fact that some people seriously depend on them as a coping mechanism entails that atheism should be seen as a luxury for the wealthy and cause us to “question our atheism(?)”

        • Posted December 26, 2013 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

          I think you’re making a category error.

          Atheism isn’t a luxury item. It’s not an item at all. It’s not an accessory that can be added to one’s life only after certain other essentials are in place. Do the less fortunate have more to worry about? Yes. Do many of the less fortunate turn to religion to help cope with the worry? Yes. But it still doesn’t necessarily follow that, therefore, atheism is a luxury available only to the well-off. The less fortunate can certainly also be atheists. The less fortunate who are grounded in reality probably have a better chance of improving their lot.

          • Posted December 26, 2013 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

            I’m not sure where you saw me calling atheism an item. I might not have said that it’s a concept or a worldview, but I did not think it was necessary.
            I only used two categories, necessities for survival and non-necessities, and these categories don’t have to contain tangible items: for example, ability to breathe is a necessity, but not an item.

            • Posted December 26, 2013 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

              The category error is that atheism is neither a luxury nor a necessity. A person could have literally nothing – no needs met – and still be an atheist. Likewise, a fat-cat could be the most gung-ho fundamentalist.

              What you’re saying would be a bit like saying “having an opinion on a political candidate is a luxury”. Does one’s very existence depend on having that opinion? No. But it’s not a luxury. There’s nothing that precludes the less fortunate from having opinions about political candidates. Food, clothing and shelter requirements do not have to be met before one can have an opinion about a political candidate.

        • Vicki
          Posted December 26, 2013 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

          Why is it only atheism that is a “luxury” that comes after air, food, and clean water? Wouldn’t religion be equally a luxury (as distinct from a necessity)? Those religious artifacts cost money, at least a little–if they were donated by a fellow believer, shouldn’t the donors have spent the money on something more useful?

          • Posted December 26, 2013 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

            Yes, religion is also a luxury. But as it provides some sort of coping mechanism (a fake, make believe, placebo coping mechanism – you don’t have to convince me of that) and atheism does not, religion can plausibly take a higher priority than atheism.

            • Posted December 27, 2013 at 11:38 am | Permalink

              In that sense, heroin addiction is a significantly higher priority than sobriety. And that’s simply not something I can at all condone or endorse or agree with.

              b&

    • Marella
      Posted December 26, 2013 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

      Religion is just one of the many ways the wealthy oppress the poor. By telling them that in heaven “The last will be first and the first will be last” they imply that this life is not worth worrying about, and sap their motivation to overthrow the system that destroys them. People are less likely to find the anger to rebel against the ruling oligarchy when they are focused on the “next life” instead of this one. It is nothing but a con. We do the poor no favours by letting them imagine that all this world’s injustices will be resolved in their favour after they die.

      • Posted December 26, 2013 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

        @ Marella. Indeed. There are complex structures and social interactions that limit access to wealth and mobility while mythology is used as a convenient form of cultural misdirection. The disempowered should be aware of how fantasy is perpetually employed as an impotent pacifier to subjugate the less fortunate.

  8. Posted December 26, 2013 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    I really hate this all-too-common theme of “Well, we’re smart enough to know better, but those poor sods can’t handle the truth.”

    Bullshit.

    It is, of course, rude and counter-productive to inappropriately insert religion as a subject in unrelated contexts, and that goes for disabusing people of religion as much as it does for proselytization.

    But to contribute to the self-destructive delusions of others because you think they’re better off being self-destructively deluded?

    That’s even less defensible than the “just following orders” excuse, which is, itself about as evil as evil gets.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Posted December 26, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      Precisely.

      Arnade looks (in surprise!) at the religiosity of those who are struggling and instead of concluding that reason and well-being might increase if we work hard to minimize hardship, he concludes that the important lesson is “STFU atheists!”. Which will do nothing other than prolong the status quo. His approach is the inhumane one.

      (And as long as I’m here: Dawkins is “uneasy with emotion”? Citation needed.)

      • Posted December 26, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        Dawkins is uneasy with emotion? Citation needed.

        Yeah — how’s that supposed to work?

        Never mind that Richard is one of the most passionate poets of the day; just read that “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones” passage if you have doubts.

        If he’s supposed to be the caricature of strident and angry and petulant and the rest…how can he both be so emotional and uneasy with emotion?

        Make up your mind, Dawkins-haters! You can’t simultaneously be an incoherently hysterical gadfly and an emotionless robot.

        b&

        • Filippo
          Posted December 26, 2013 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

          I remember from a few years ago an interviewer noting, in prefatory remarks to readers, words to the effect that Dawkins looked “stricken” (with which I empathize) upon the interviewer making mention to him of Dawkins’s dearly-loved pet which had recently died.

          So much for Dawkins’s alleged lack of emotion.

    • Kevin
      Posted December 26, 2013 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      Well said. Total bullshit to think that people simply cannot handle truth. Nearly all religious are acutely aware that faith emerges as the sole prerogative that anchors them. If they venture to think beyond the metaphors of their doctine, they feel uncomfortable, even if they do not admit it.

      People, all people, are smarter than Arnade gives them credit and I do not believe he understands humans very well, certainly not on this matter of postulating that atheism is some kind of luxury out of reach by others. Total cow chips.

  9. Marlon
    Posted December 26, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Having once worked in a transitional housing center for men coming out of prison, I saw another angle,too. Many of the men with religious jewelry, tattoos, or attire seemed mostly concerned with advertising the fact (or fiction) that ‘I am a good person’.

    They were regularly having to deal with parole officers and potential landlords and employers, so maybe not the worst strategy.

    • Marella
      Posted December 26, 2013 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      Interesting perspective, makes sense.

      • Ken Elliott
        Posted December 26, 2013 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

        And, yes, people assume being religious makes you good, when in fact being good makes you good whether you’re religious or not. I used to get asked why I wasn’t a Christian because I acted like one . . . meaning I didn’t smoke or drink or cheat. The use of swear words was profligate (still is) though. As for the prisoners – actions . . . deeds . . . those will show your parole officer, or whoever, that you are respectable. Give respect. Be honest. Get them back in triplicate. It’s simple. I want to say that’s the way the less fortunate should strive to be as well, and to do so without the lie of religion. I have no idea if that would work, or be something of merit, but in my experience it tends to be the most defining thing for how a person’s life plays out, that and effort.

  10. Rhino Petrosian-Scot
    Posted December 26, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    I wonder how often being of a religious persuasion actually leeds you into these situations of homelessness and poverty in the first place?

    • Posted December 26, 2013 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

      That’s an interesting point to ponder. I certainly have a few anecdotes about people whose lives are not going well and who are very religious. It seems in these cases that the religion is not just a coping mechanism, resorted to after things went south, but that the general dysfunction and the religiosity both come from the same place, psychologically.

    • Jeff Engel
      Posted December 27, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      Letting “Jesus Take the Wheel” does seem like a fine way to go heading off the road.

  11. darrelle
    Posted December 26, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    “And I suspect that most of us wouldn’t preach godlessness to a homeless person whose first needs are food, shelter, and methadone.”

    Very true. As usual the accommodationist has it ass backwards. It is the religious who often force their beliefs on people as a condition of providing any form of aid. And what they consider aid is often worthless or even detrimental.

    After all, if there were no destitute, in danger of damnation, miserable people in need of the generosity of the church, how could the church help them?

    • Occam
      Posted December 26, 2013 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      One might argue that a really good person, irrespective of religious or philosophical persuasion, wouldn’t preach to the needy at all in the first place.

      This Christmas, I had a long conversation with a very nice young friend from a deeply religious background. She had chosen to spend the night working at a soup kitchen for the homeless, and was quite shaken by her experience. She was also infuriated by the attempt of an evangelical fundie family to slip biblical messages with the meals they were dishing out.
      “If they did that to me,” she said, “I’d feel like I’d been taken advantage of. Abused. Misused. And basically I’m not one to mind biblical messages as such. So how would someone react who is hungry and cold and desperate, but who doesn’t share my beliefs? If you’re here to help, help. But don’t preach.”

      • Ken Elliott
        Posted December 26, 2013 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

        It’s amazing, though. In their mind, the fundies that is, they truly believe they are doing the right thing. It stems from swallowing the lies, I suppose, that and fear. The one common denominator I observe with the religious is fear . . . of death, of bad luck, of whatever, so for many the lie is set, the hook is tearing at them, but they continue to swallow that worm, fearful that if they don’t bad things will happen, when more likely it will be good things instead.

      • darrelle
        Posted December 26, 2013 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

        Yes, exactly. And it is nice to hear of your young religious friends reaction to her soup kitchen experience.

  12. Posted December 26, 2013 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Rather they are some of the strongest believers I have met, steeped in a combination of Bible, superstition, and folklore.

    A-yup. Having dealt extensively with street pros and IVDU here, that was the overwhelming sense I got. I’ve also seen extensive advertising of that fact (as #8 notes), as if to indicate: “I’m good… at least I believe in something!” The whole Jeebus hanging out with pros and the poor resonates. There’s also a high nexus with chronic mental illness and lack of education which further clouds the main issue — which in this country (and the UK beginning with Thatcher) is the lack of availability of mental health services, as well as the drying up of other harm reduction services (needle exchange, drug clinics, etc.).

    To then point fingers at so-called privileged atheists misses the mark BIG TIME… as it has been my experience that privileged theist types are invariably the bastards that shut down the adult health services in the first place. Just about all the counselors and program personnel I have known, at all levels, are atheists (incl. agnostic atheists).

    • Posted December 26, 2013 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      A NSFW documentary on Krokodil, one of the scourges of many societies now, shows how an American religious charity steps in to provide some kind of marginal help in an environment with little-to-no infrastructure for dealing with the mess. (I put the Youtube bit at the 17:25 mark, if the link doesn’t work properly)

      There’s some pretty graphic and horrible stuff in there, just so you’re forewarned.

    • Posted December 26, 2013 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

      Indeed.

      Arnade really needs to reconsider who the enemy is. Or at least who is standing in the way of improvement.

  13. Trophy
    Posted December 26, 2013 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Arande should realize, as lots of us do, that in many cases religion serves as a tool of oppression, telling people that suffering is good (the Catholic church is a master of this), and that they should accept their lot (viz., Mother Teresa). I’m not a Marxist, but on this I’m with old Karl: when you discard your faith, you’re throwing off your chains.

    I agree with most of the things you say, specially with this one. Religion can have different purposes in different times and in different societies. If religion is used as a banner to signify loyalty in a particular group, then it becomes more costly to maintain it (e.g., strict rules, elaborate rituals etc.) and it is used to say that “I’m a good person, I’m with you”. When a government is using it, it becomes a tool of oppression. In democracies such as US and for moderates living there, religion becomes most inclusive and just a comforting tool, telling those folks that their dead ones are still alive, and they’ll get noms afterlife. Chris Arande problem seems to be that he has only experienced that latter.

  14. NewEnglandBob
    Posted December 26, 2013 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    There is a correlation between education and atheist. Many of the downtrodden have a poor education and that would lead to religion.

    Providing an education for them would improve their economic situation and reduce their religiosity.

  15. Posted December 26, 2013 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t read the original yet, but based on the excerpts here, it sounds like Arande is the grown up version of that 16 year old…he’s sure he’s got it all figured out; he’s letting us all know how clever he is; he’s very proud of himself for coming so far along in his thinking; and he can’t understand how someone like Richard Dawkins might possibly disagree with him.

    • Ken Elliott
      Posted December 26, 2013 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

      YES!

    • Rhino Petrosian-Scot
      Posted December 27, 2013 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      That’s what i was thinking too, this guy hasn’t changed since 16, but worse because he doesn’t just put himself above the small religious folk but new and common atheist as well.

  16. gravityfly
    Posted December 26, 2013 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Wow! That was a brilliant rebuttal, Professor.

    I read the article this morning and had a discussion about it with a Muslim friend, who absolutely loved the article.

    I wish I had read your post before arguing with him.

    You absolutely nailed the flaws in the article.

    “If they asked me what I believed, I’d tell them, but the most important thing for these people is not being disabused of their religious delusions, but learning how and where to get help.”

    You’re a good man, Jerry.

    • Sastra
      Posted December 26, 2013 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

      The religious will love anything written by an atheist which says “We atheists need to be more sensitive and shut up.” Back down. Keep quiet. Forget the reasons for and against the existence of God and just concern ourselves with feelings and therapy and understanding and acceptance. They’ll accept atheists then and won’t think we’re so awful after all.

      As a friend of mine often says, we can’t let the fox guard the hen house.

      • gravityfly
        Posted December 27, 2013 at 7:12 am | Permalink

        “…we can’t let the fox guard the hen house.”

        Indeed, we can’t.

  17. Kevin
    Posted December 26, 2013 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    I will have to add Arnade to the list of PhDs (I assume in Physics, but is does not matter) who are clearly dumb, inexperienced, or altogether deceived or misdirected about a great deal of underlying motivations for humans.

    Who is atheist and why is not the same thing as why do electric fields transform into magnetic fields depending on one’s frame of reference. Tomorrow the demographics of atheists will be different than it is today and the dynamics of those demographics will be equally difficult to trace. I think he has got it wrong by today’s standards, which will not be the same as tomorrows standards that determine who is or is not an atheist.

  18. Occam
    Posted December 26, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    “In any crack house, in the darkest buildings empty of all other furnishings, a worn Bible can be found laying flat amongst needles, caps, lighters, and crack pipes.”

    If true — and I’d like to see the factual evidence — it raises the question: who put it there? Why a worn one?
    This telltale detail smacks of cheap sentimental sensationalism. I’ve seen this school of journalism at close quarters, and I’d like to challenge Mr. Arande to produce evidence that he has actually seen more than one copy of the bible in the exact circumstances he describes.

    Whenever someone like Mr. Arande gives me the “dying grandmother scenario”, I am reminded of Diderot’s comment on theologians, which I then quote liberally in return:
    Wandering in a vast forest at night, I have only a faint light to guide me. A stranger appears and says to me: “My friend, you should blow out your candle in order to find your way more clearly.” This stranger is a theologian †.
    (Diderot, Addition aux Pensées philosophiques (1770), No. VIII)

    † Or a reformed Wall Street ruffian, like Mr. Arande by his own admission.

  19. Posted December 26, 2013 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Religion is the caulking gun used when no one knows how or cares to fix the foundation. It’s the can of paint used in lieu of proper insulation. It’s an absentee landlord in the crumbling duplex of wishful thinking.

  20. Robert Seidel
    Posted December 26, 2013 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    > I’m not a Marxist, but on this I’m with old Karl

    Who once stated “All I know is that I’m not a Marxist”

  21. Posted December 26, 2013 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    So the judgment of those who have shown such demonstrably poor judgment in such basic [worldly] matters as personal health and well being is [magically] evidence on ‘otherworldly’ matters. All theology is mere speculative fiction and rather tedious fiction at that. No theologian ‘knows’ anything.

  22. Marella
    Posted December 26, 2013 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    “life is not as rational as Richard Dawkins sees it”

    What is this supposed to mean exactly? How can life be rational or irrational? Does he mean people’s motivations for life? Because neither Richard nor anyone else imagines that people’s motivations are all that rational. The more I think about that phrase the less sense it makes.

    • Sastra
      Posted December 26, 2013 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

      I noted that too — and also note that it’s a common trope.

      When people say that life is not as “rational” as some rationalist thinks it is they tend to mean one of two things. Either they mean that beauty and love and hope for a better tomorrow are “irrational” and therefore people who don’t believe in the supernatural wouldn’t believe in those things either — so relax your standards of evidence.

      Or they mean that sometimes we need to cheat a little bit and lie to feel better rigorous perfection isn’t very nice or human — so relax your standards of honesty.

      Richard Dawkins also writes about the wonders and joys of evolutionary science. Why the hell isn’t the writer pissing and moaning about how science is a luxury for the intellectual so Dawkins should shut up?

      Or is that the next step?

      • Marella
        Posted December 26, 2013 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

        So you think they mean that rationality as a way to live doesn’t work because hope, love, and beauty? I get this, though it’s wrong of course, but I don’t understand how rationality is at odds with dishonesty. Thx anyway.

        He’s not bitching about science being a luxury for the intellectual because that is too obviously putting the little people down as stupid, whereas explaining that they need religion to get by somehow escapes notice as patronising and condescending.

        • Sastra
          Posted December 26, 2013 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

          Placing values and virtues into the same “you can’t prove it or see it” bag as religion gives a whole lot of power and scope to religion and makes the skeptics seem churlish. Or you can make these skeptics look like hardliners who can’t give an inch and ruin lives for a petty principle.

          Yes, for some reason it is both very important to the individual believer that his religion is actually true … and at the same time it is not important at all because religion is a useful crutch.

  23. Mark Joseph
    Posted December 26, 2013 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    I see him as a grown up version of that 16-year-old kid, proud of being smart, unable to understand why anyone would believe or think differently from himself. I see a person so removed from humanity and so removed from the ambiguity of life that he finds himself judging those who think differently.

    Whoa; he sure nailed us atheists to the wall with that incisive analysis, Good thing no fundamentalists think like that!

    Look, Dr. Arnade, I’ve *been* there. 23 years as a christian, 15 of them as a foreign missionary. I’m guessing I know just a bit more than you do about what evangelicals and fundamentalists are thinking. And I can state with no hesitation at all that while some relatively small number of evangelicals and fundamentalists do some socially worthwhile things, such as feeding the hungry, or helping out the elderly, it not only does not happen, but I firmly believe that it *can not* happen that they do it from disinterested motives; the deed is *always* a means to the end of proselytization. Not only did I quite literally *never* encounter disinterested help given, but at our meetings we quite frequently talked about how we could use helping others as a stepping stone to proselytization. And more than one person in those meetings opined that if we could not proselytize, we should not help.

    Now, have you *ever*, even once, heard of an atheist helping out someone less fortunate in order that he might pass on an atheistic message to him or her? I don’t know you personally, but I’ll go out on a limb and say the answer is “no”.

    • Posted December 26, 2013 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

      Really good comment. What made you leave the faith, by the way?

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted December 26, 2013 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

        Dr. Coyne:

        Thank you for the nice comment. I haven’t shared my deconversion story on the list (I try not to intrude as much as possible); but I should have some time this weekend. I will see if I can’t put my thoughts together (I have plenty of thoughts, and if I was one of those atheists who apparently live in luxury–is that anything like the “well-funded Darwin lobby”?–I would like to write a book titled “Why I Am No Longer a Christian”) and send something to you. It will probably be a bit too long to post here.

        • Marella
          Posted December 26, 2013 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

          I love deconversion stories.

          • Posted December 26, 2013 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

            The good deconversion stories are somewhat long. I personally grew up in a very Catholic family, got married in the church, and have a family of my own now. My loss of faith was a long road (and I still haven’t revealed it to my parents, that’s part of my long story, but I digress). The main point pertaining to this post is that my deconversion happened over years as my own natural skepticism I had shown since being a young child chipped away at religious beliefs. It was precisely because I never saw God do anything as I grew up that I questioned my belief system. I stopped attending church regularly almost as soon as I moved away from my parents’ house at 19. But it was only in the past 3-4 years that I really woke up and found that I was far from the first to ask all the questions I asked growing up, and the answer to them is not, “You shall not put your Lord and your God to the test…”

        • Diane G.
          Posted December 26, 2013 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

          I’d love to read it, Mark.

          • gbjames
            Posted December 27, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

            Me, too.

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted December 27, 2013 at 4:21 am | Permalink

      I agree with your last paragraph. However, on the rare occasion that someone comments on some minor “good work” I have done, I use the opportunity to point out that I am an atheist, just to counter the perception that you need god to do good.

  24. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted December 26, 2013 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    I suspect that this is entirely an American perspective. I’ve met and spent time with some pretty roough ends of society – from living in apartments condemned as unfit for human habitation (“let’s put students in them!”) in the red light district to having a neighbour open up as a crack house.
    Nary a hint of religion in the lot of them.
    I have to think quite hard to put a name to someone who professes a faith – a couple of vague Buddhists ; a cow-orker (please ; the orking jokes came out for a breath of air last week!) who was some sect of christian, though I don’t know (or care0 if she was prod, cog, or something else. Ummmm, that’s it. I’m told that my mum has some sort of Xtian leanings in her old age, but I’ve never seen any evidence of it, and wouldn’t waste breath asking.
    I was challenged one time on a rig in the UAE by a Muslim about why my parents allowed me to be an atheist. He seemed to have a failure of understanding about religion not even being a subject that we didn’t talk about. It simply wasted no time what so ever, unless someone else brooought the subject up.
    An American perspective, not a general one. And, as with pretty much all writing on religion, a waste of ink, paper and/ or electron rearrangements.

  25. Posted December 26, 2013 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    Arande is off the mark in more ways that one. I think the most glaring aspect that isn’t being pointed out is that downtrodden meth addicts are not the ones proselytizing their views to everyone and trying to past laws based on claims not backed by evidence. For the severely downtrodden, their delusions are their only comfort, but a compassionate person should wish to point these delusions out in order to give them some possibility of actual comfort in life, not just fantasies.

    To accuse Dawkins of being dogmatic in his views is absurd first, because Dawkins did grow up in a Christian household and change his views. A lot of atheists certainly have the ability to empathize with religious people, having at one point held true religious beliefs.

    Secondly, Dawkins and others don’t go around proclaiming that everyone should agree with them on everything, only that a critical view be applied to assertions about anything. I remember seeing a video where Dawkins and Christopher Hitches were talking and Hitchens laid out a scenario something along the lines of picturing “fundamentalist” atheists bombarding Christian hospitals and going to people’s death beds, yelling, “Give up your delusions! You know it’s not too late to realize your life has been wasted on fantasy.” I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone who would condone that, but that is perfectly acceptable to do the reverse in fundamentalist religious circles.

    On a case by case basis, one does indeed have to use judgment. Arguing with people on their death bed is a pretty clear cut case-there really is nothing to be gained. But, for people with any semblance of a chance of integrating themselves into society, it is quite arrogant to assume that being delusional is their only hope.

  26. Sastra
    Posted December 26, 2013 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    Okay, I call shennanigans on this part:

    I also see Richard Dawkins differently. I see him as a grown up version of that 16-year-old kid, proud of being smart, unable to understand why anyone would believe or think differently from himself. I see a person so removed from humanity and so removed from the ambiguity of life that he finds himself judging those who think differently.

    Oh, yeah — when he was 16 he was so arrogant to a lot of poor folks. He tells us about his kneejerk, thoughtless, obnoxious inhumanity in his story — the typical know-it-all-kid who is so proud of being atheist he shoves it in people’s faces.

    Here it is:

    I was the outsider, a 16-year-old working on a summer custodial crew for a local college…Preacher Man tried to get me to join the prayer meetings, asking me almost daily. I declined, preferring to spend those small work breaks with some of the other guys on the crew. We would use the time to snatch a quick drink or maybe smoke a joint.

    Preacher Man would question me, “What do you believe in?” I would decline to engage, out of politeness. He pressed me. Finally I broke,

    “I am an atheist. I don’t believe in a God. I don’t think the world is only 5,000 years old, I don’t think Cain and Abel married their sisters!”

    Preacher Man’s eyes narrowed. He pointed at me, “You are an APE-IEST. An APE-IEST. You going to lead a life of sin and end in hell.”

    WTF?

    It’s a custodial crew for a college and it has prayer meetings? Which the kid doesn’t even protest, he just does something else with some of the other workers while they’re going on. Doesn’t talk about religion.

    But the preacher won’t take the hint. He persists in asking. And then he pesters the teenager about his beliefs continuously … and this obnoxious in-your-face smart aleck teenager declines to engage. Why? Out of politeness. Like I said, militant.

    But the preacher presses him till he “breaks.” And then he simply states the truth. You ask; I’ll answer. Fine. Here you go.

    Whereupon the preacher immediately tells this 16 year old kid that he’s sinful and going to burn in hell.

    Right. I don’t get it. In what possible way is this supposed to illustrate a rude, judgmental attitude on the young man’s part? Keep in mind that there can be no objection to his characterization of Christians believing in a “5,000 year old earth” because it seems very likely from the preacher’s reaction that it was the atheism which bothered him, not the young ‘uns failure to appreciate liberal Christianity.

    But no. Here’s the horror story which now makes him shudder — because he didn’t join the prayer meeting? Because he didn’t kowtow to the preacher with some smaltz about how faith was wonderful and he wished he had it? Or because he is now wise enough to realize that religious people are weak, crippled, simple, and broken. Atheism is a luxury and he waved it in that poor preacher’s face.

    Many things are luxuries. So is science. And education. They can’t afford respect; give them forbearance. Make allowances for ALL the believers, and treat them like children, victims, and weaklings … or else you’re “judging” them.

    Judging them as equals. The horrors.

    Another Little People Argument. The religious are Little People who can’t handle the things atheists can handle and it’s cruel to pretend they can. Life is ambiguous; sometimes Little People need lies. Not us. Them. Show some pity. This way you’ll avoid sounding condescending by actually being condescending.

    But really — if you’re going to properly vilify Dawkins as a grown-up brat you’re going to have to give us a better example of a brat.

  27. BillyJoe
    Posted December 26, 2013 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    I think the author’s attack on Richard Dawkins is disingenuous.
    RD writes books for the intelligent layman, and he debates otherwise intelligent, and rather well-to-do, theologians. And certainly he can be dismissive, and with good reason, of their illogical arguments.
    But I have never seen him “judge” the downtrodden in society.
    But if it will make the author feel superior by compare his own attitude towards the downtrodden in society to what he imagines RD’s attitude to be…

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 27, 2013 at 7:02 am | Permalink

      I’m starting to think that the reason so many attack Dawkins is partly his accent. They hear it and assume a bunch of incorrect things about him.

      He should switch it up a bit; try a Texan accent and see what the reaction is. 😀

  28. Posted December 27, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    I am really starting to get tired of atheists saying that it is a luxury and a privilege to be an atheist. I grew up poor and agnostic atheist and I never saw that believing in god was a way out of my life. It is true that knowing that you have to help yourself is the first step to bettering your life.

    Date: Thu, 26 Dec 2013 20:23:54 +0000 To: t_aid@hotmail.com

  29. Leigh Jackson
    Posted December 27, 2013 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Not one of the homeless drug addicts Arnade has met on is an atheist. What to make of that? Has scientific research established that religion is universal amongst homeless drug addicts? A cursory google turned up some evidence to suggest that religiosity can protect against substance abuse – but not universally.

    “The paradox is that such users may be prone to heavy or problem use. Within a proscriptive religious culture, substance users may become further isolated, contributing to a downward spiral into substance abuse and addiction. The paradoxical user illustrates that substance abuse does not spare any group from its devastating impact.” National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 2001, p15.

    Arnade ought to know that the plural of anecdote is not data, but it looks like he’s turned his back critical thinking in favour of… what exactly? Apparently preaching to others on the basis of his purely personal take on life. He’s not really moved on from his smug16 year old self.

  30. Frank Stabile
    Posted December 27, 2013 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    I somewhat missed the conversation on this post, so I will try to keep my comment brief. I think the argument could be made that it is easier to reach an atheist viewpoint when the basic necessities are met. However, Dr. Arnade misses an important point: any large-scale philosophical thought process is probably easier to reach with a full stomach. I am passionate about my intellectual pursuits, but if I was living in destitution I would not care (quite) as much about Poe or Orwell, for example.

    Also, he is definitely wrong about the poor always being more inclined to religiosity. I’ve read a couple of accounts of the poor peasants in southern Italy and many of them completely distrusted religion because their situation never changed (in fact the church often manipulated them). So atheism is not a luxury of the poor. Like any other system of thought, it might be easier to reach in a lovely mansion, but by definition it is open to any person, rich or poor.

    • Leigh Jackson
      Posted December 28, 2013 at 6:38 am | Permalink

      Being destitute can lead to becoming a drug addict and vice versa. Both can lead to hopelessness; hopelessness can lead to religion. There is some evidence that highly proscriptive religiosity can lead to drug abuse. I think a destitute drug addict’s religious beliefs are likely to be marginal to resolving their problems. A sympathetic and supportive church could be helpful, a highly proscriptive church, could be unhelpful, but their faith could be the only thing that is keeping them going. In many cases, perhaps most, we are talking about broken individuals; broken in mind and body. Their wounds run horribly deep. I would leave their religious faith alone until they are healed. There’s plenty of rich and juicy pickings out there. This site is all about them.

  31. Posted December 28, 2013 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    >>Atheism is not just for the wealthy. In fact, it’s probably most useful, as Marx realized, for the downtrodden. <<<

    Dear Why-Evolution-is-True,

    Don't you think you put yourself out on a limb with that statement?

    I have to defend the Crusades and the Inquisition which is quite a challenge!
    By lauding Marxism, doesn't that put you in the position of having to defend Marxism's butcheries?

    As an atheist who intends to convince others, isn't it better to steer clear of reminding people of actual instances of how atheists behave when they 'run things'.

    • Posted December 28, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      Did you even READ what I wrote? I said I’m not a Marxist. What I said was that on the issue of what causes religiosity, I agree with Marx.

      You’ve been kneeling too much and must be dizzy when you stand up.

      • Posted December 28, 2013 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

        >>You’ve been kneeling too much and must be dizzy when you stand up.<<

        LOL 🙂

        Dear Diana and W-E-I-T,

        Thanks for printing and responding to my comment!

        I have re-read your article and do actually agree with you about Mr. Arnade's condescension: i.e. something like 'it's best for the unwashed to have their comfortable lies'.

        I think I am starting to see where you are coming from…it's just you did open the door by offering Marxism as an atheism which benefits the poor. Perhaps you have an example of where Marxists or some other type of atheists have taken over a country and poor people have not had basic human rights infringed upon?

        I don't intend the above as a rhetorical question. I really am curious! I am under the impression–you may disabuse me of it– that wherever atheism or atheistic doctrines, like do-it-yourself-Darwinism are imposed by governments, that the result is nothing you or I would want to identify with.

        k.c.

        • gbjames
          Posted December 28, 2013 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

          If you really are interested, do some searching of past posts at this site. The subject is well worn and tired.

          Here is an example.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted December 28, 2013 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

          You’re begging the question and misunderstanding the post.

          Read some Marx, in particular, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right:

          Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

          Neither Jerry’s post nor Marx’s critique of religion offer “….Marxism as an atheism which benefits the poor”. Marx feels that religion is a way to subjugate the masses.

        • Sastra
          Posted December 28, 2013 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

          I am under the impression–you may disabuse me of it– that wherever atheism or atheistic doctrines, like do-it-yourself-Darwinism are imposed by governments, that the result is nothing you or I would want to identify with.

          “Secular humanism” might in some ways be considered an “atheistic doctrine” — meaning that it is secular and doesn’t reference ‘god’ or special revelations and it involves an ethical system based on reason and human rights. Probably the most familiar political example of an attempt to implement its Enlightenment principles can be found in the ideas and ideals behind The Constitution of the United States of America.

          I don’t know where you live, but you’ve probably heard of it.

          Of course, you were talking about the government “imposing” something on people, and the secular and humanist doctrine here is derived from ‘we, the people.’ That sort of authoritarian totalitarianism is contrary to humanism.

          After all, even if God existed, any authority it had would rest on our consent. Kings, tyrants, and dictators have more of an unquestionable “god”-ness about them than they do of rational debate, checks, and balances.

        • Posted December 28, 2013 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

          First, you still seem to be missing the main point. Jerry was riffing off a well-known quote of Marx: “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” Jerry is not a Marxist and does not endorse nor support Marxism, and his use of Marx’s famous quote does not in any way constitute support nor endorsement of Marxism nor of any Marxist nor Communist governments. People can, and generally do, find at least small areas of agreement with people all over the sociopolitical spectrum, and observing that you agree with somebody on one matter does not at all mean you agree with them on anything else.

          Next, only tyrannical governments, by definition, impose religious beliefs upon the people. It matters not whether the beliefs are in favor of or opposed to one or many or all religions. Freedom of expression and of association are vital to any society; restrict or remove those rights and that’s a Very Bad Thing™.

          Last, you’ll find that national health and wealth tend to strongly track with lack of religiosity. Japan and Scandinavia top the list in terms of health and wealth and are the least religious societies in the Western world. That holds true within American states, as well; the more religious the state, the higher the poverty and abortion and crime and divorce rates and the lower the average income. Whether cause or effect is irrelevant; clearly, either religion hurts or doesn’t help societies. In either case, government certainly has no objective interest in promoting religion — never mind the anti-theocratic reasons why it shouldn’t.

          A government — or anything else — in which religion plays no role is, by definition, godless; atheistic. Ostensibly, the American government is and has been since its inception an atheistic one, though there certainly have been many inappropriate incursions, increasingly more with time, from religion. The Constitution, for what it’s worth, remains explicitly atheistic.

          Cheers,

          b&

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 28, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      You may be conflating Marxism as a socio-economic theory which comments on class relations vs. Marxism warped put into practice in forming totalitarian regimes such as the USSR.

    • Sastra
      Posted December 28, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      kneeling catholic, here’s a question because I am curious, and it’s not meant to be rhetorical:

      Consider the political atheists like Stalin and Pol Pot, who committed atrocities: if instead of being atheists they had been devout theists who insisted that their policies were mandated by God … do you think that would have made it all better? Killing for politics AND religion, combined?

      Personally, I think Communism would have kept its power much longer than it did — and done a great deal more harm — if in addition to everything else it had ADDED religious justification, its leaders claiming to speak for God and insisting that those who were not Communists were not only enemies of man, but His enemies, too. A supernatural mandate doesn’t exactly make anything easier to reason and fight against, does it?

      • Posted December 28, 2013 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

        <<>>>

        Hello Sastra!

        No, it would not. You clearly have someone in mind…who is your Pol Pot/Religious hybrid? George W Bush? 🙂

        Speaking of Pol Pot and Stalin, I can’t think of any religious despot who can quite match those two’s capacity for treating people like livestock. Maybe Hitler if you want to label his cynical use of the G word as theistic? Although I think Nazi propaganda leading up to their genocides, e.g. Opfer der Vergangenheit, used Darwin and not even a Norse God to justify annihilating the weak.

        Your atheistic system which has not been beastly is the good o’l USofA? I admire your patriotism, truly. And I even agree with you that there have been various atheistic- even Darwinistic- practices some of our closet- atheist-politicians have pushed…

        but really!! How do you feel about America being the world’s eugenics vanguard in the early 20th century? I see that as a black-eye, you don’t? Is there some way someone in this forum can blame that on religion?

        • Posted December 28, 2013 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

          Since I see by your website that your are a devout theist, it’s time I ask you, as is customary with new theists on this website, what is the EVIDENCE that makes you believe not just in God, but in the tenets of the Catholic church? Why is that the true faith rather than, say, Judaism or Islam? I am talking evidence now, not just the assertions of scripture because, after all, many faiths (including Islam) have scripture that is contrary to the scripture that supports Catholicism.

          You have been attacking atheists. Now it is time for you to defend your faith. You won’t be allowed to comment further until you do so. How do you know the religious “truths” that, you claim, are real?

          • Posted December 29, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

            Dear W-E-I-T,

            Thanks for the opportunity to explain my Faith. (and thank you for visiting my site and boosting my starving hit-meter!) Could you give me a couple of guidelines for my response, i.e. the word-limit for a comment?

            If the word limit is too small, I guess I could just respond on my blog. You can email me your guidelines since you have my address. I may be a little slower in my response, as you well know, it is easier to throw-stones than it is to build with them.

            I apologize for throwing stones.

            k.c.

            • Posted December 29, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

              Just do it on your website and post the link here. Remember, you’re to furnish evidence of why you’re sure your religion is the right one and others (e.g. Islam, Hinduism, etc.) are wrong.

            • Kenneth Elliott
              Posted December 29, 2013 at 11:46 am | Permalink

              This is quite exciting for me. I recently have begun a conversation with my sister in law who attempts to be a devout Catholic. I’m not Catholic so have a very limited understanding of the entirety of the Catholic approach or of the total mindset. I grew up in a Baptist / Church of Christ kind of environment, an approach that is quite dissimilar to Catholicism, obviously. So, to see a give and take within the WEIT comments on the thorough and logical views of Dr. Coyne and many of his erudite followers and the views from a Catholic theist, who so far has demonstrated controlled and thoughtful responses, is quite fortuitous and a bit exciting.

        • Posted December 29, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

          You would appear to be under some quite serious misconceptions.

          Hitler was most emphatically Christian, as much as any modern head of state. You can play the “No True Scotsman” card if you like, but, if you do, you’d have to declare the overwhelming majority of Christians to not be Christians — and that would include most Popes and priests of all denominations.

          Hitler was also vehemently opposed to Darwin and evolution. Indeed, Hitler was a proponent of Theistic Intelligent Design Creationism:

          Whoever would dare to raise a profane hand against that highest image of God among His creatures would sin against the bountiful Creator of this marvel and would collaborate in the expulsion from Paradise.

          and

          [I]t was by the Will of God that men were made of a certain bodily shape, were given their natures and their faculties. Whoever destroys His work wages war against God’s Creation and God’s Will.

          and

          The most marvelous proof of the superiority of Man, which puts man ahead of the animals, is the fact that he understands that there must be a Creator.

          And, lastly, you are conflating Social Darwinism — a sociopolitical movement that had nothing whatsoever to do with Charles Darwin — with evolutionary biology. The one is a particularly perverted form of anti-social right-wing bigotry that uses pseudoscientific trappings to justify oppression of outgroups; the other is the modern understanding of the origins and functioning of life on Earth.

          Don’t be confused by the use of Darwin’s name by Social Darwinists. They have no more to do with evolutionary biology than Christian Scientists do with science, or the German Democratic Republic had to do with either democracy or the American GOP.

          Cheers,

          b&

        • Sastra
          Posted December 29, 2013 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

          Thanks for the response, kneeling catholic.

          No, it would not. You clearly have someone in mind…who is your Pol Pot/Religious hybrid? George W Bush?

          No, I don’t have anyone particular in mind. I’m simply making the point (one which even a religious person can agree with) that it is first very easy to pin ‘God’s approval’ on to any system, regime, or agenda — and second, that once this is done it is much, much harder to undermine it through reason, argument, or other peaceful ways. When the enemies of the State are also enemies of God, you can quite literally demonize the enemy.

          That’s why it puzzles me when people assume that a particular despot would have been kinder, gentler, and more reasonable if in addition to thinking he was right, he also thought of himself as righteous. It is one thing to believe that God is on your side; it is even more dangerous to believe that you are on God’s side — and God is using you as a “humble” tool for His ultimate glory.

          Watch out. Disagreement with the leader is now translated into disagreement with God. As a Catholic aware of your Church’s history, you are probably concerned with the problems here.

          Your atheistic system which has not been beastly is the good o’l USofA? I admire your patriotism, truly.

          Keep in mind that I referred to secular humanism, as opposed to atheism itself. Secularism. And humanism.

          When a government grounds itself on the idea that human beings can be reasonable in working out a system of checks and balances (as opposed to a divine mandate as to who shall and shall not rule), then it is both secular (concerned with the world) and humanist (founded on human concerns and respect for others.) Religion is neither advanced nor repressed: it doesn’t play a part.

          How do you feel about America being the world’s eugenics vanguard in the early 20th century? I see that as a black-eye, you don’t? Is there some way someone in this forum can blame that on religion?

          Sure. Eugenics is a pseudoscience which is based on the Naturalist Fallacy: that there is good and bad, right and wrong, higher and lower structured into Nature and we are morally obligated to follow this wise hierarchy. This not only works very well along with religion — if you examine the idea itself you’ll note that it is Spiritual. It appeals to supernatural beliefs about a moral cosmos and progressive transformation towards innate goals of perfection — the Great Chain of Being, with God at the top.

          It is not found in the Theory of Evolution, which has no direction. The “science” behind eugenics is demonstrably wrong.

          Now scientifically demonstrate that God/Spirit did not create some races higher than others. You’re mired in theology, and there’s no means to gain a consensus between them. Competing revelations, competing texts, competing interpretations.


%d bloggers like this: