If one day we somehow prove that God is real, I’ll bet you an ice cream cone that the Holy One isn’t half as crazy and dangerous as the bulk of his/her/its followers. Millions of people have been killed in the name of one deity or another, and many of them suffered horribly for no reason other than the fact that the guy with the bigger sword believed a different unprovable dogma than the guy with the smaller sword. Millions more have been persecuted, displaced, ostracized, or just made to feel inferior over similar beliefs that just cannot be proven right or wrong. It’s sad, and has greatly tainted religion for me.
It’s also pretty sad that the same people who will literally pray for a football team or for some absurd senator have no real desire, and even less conviction, to feed the hungry and protect the poor. Isn’t that the bedrock of basically every religion? I can’t imagine how amazing America would be if the anti-gay marriage and pro-life lobbies devoted even half of their fury towards eradicating poverty. Regardless, if there is a benevolent being out there, I promise you God doesn’t give a shit about sports or politics. Surely, if gods exist, they have larger issues of concern.
Here’s the catch: Atheists, if you didn’t have such great senses of humor, you’d be almost just as ridiculous. Yes, as noted already, traditionally religious people do horrible, archaic things in the name of their gods. But it’s pretty looney tunes to mock the religious for believing so adamantly in something that can’t be proven, only to turn around and preach another unprovable belief system of your own. There’s not a shred of proof that there isn’t a God, either, and there are still a myriad of natural wonders science isn’t even close to explaining. In some ways, atheism is a leap of faith in its own right… that science will one day give us all the answers and offer salvation from this cruel and mysterious life. Sounds a lot like church on Sunday.
So I know that being agnostic is this really lame, fence-sitting kind of affiliation. But c’mon, it’s the right call… you don’t know what’s going on anymore than me, and to act like you do and then impose a totally unfounded belief on someone else is pretty rude, to say the least. Admit it, stop making such a fuss about religion, and just do your best to be kind. Any God worth worshiping would be cool with that. If there’s no God, at least you won’t be an asshole.
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© 2012, Ian Mathias
“Atheism/theism is a claim of existence. Agnosticism/gnosticism is a claim of knowledge. Most theists are “gnostic theists,” in that they claim that there is a god and they know he’s there. Most atheists are “agnostic atheists.” They don’t believe in a deity, but they also don’t claim to have 100% certainty.”
Agnostic with an atheist philosophy, I call it.
The burden of proof always lies with those making a positive claim.
To quote Hermione ” But that’s – I’m sorry but that’s completely ridiculous! How can I possibly prove it doesn’t exist? …I mean, you could claim that anything’s real if the only basis for believing in it is that nobody’s proved it doesn’t exist!”
The claim that required evidence is the positive claim. Do you believe in fairies,unicorns and big foot? no one has proved they don’t exist. Bertrand Russell explained this
“Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of skeptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”
According to Russell “I ought to call myself an agnostic; but, for all practical purposes, I am an atheist. I do not think the existence of the Christian God any more probable than the existence of the Gods of Olympus or Valhalla. To take another illustration: nobody can prove that there is not between the Earth and Mars a china teapot revolving in an elliptical orbit, but nobody thinks this sufficiently likely to be taken into account in practice. I think the Christian God just as unlikely.”
And you lost me. You’re 30, you have no more context on religion than anyone else. Thanks for ruining this for me. You could have just kept your stupid opinion to /r/atheist and carried on with an otherwise semi-helpful list.
“You’re 30, you have no more context on religion than anyone else.”
That’s exactly what he is saying, we just don’t know. So we shouldn’t pretend that we do. Do you who (with 100% certainty) acknowledge the fact that there is/isn’t a God? If so, how can you do that without having more context on religion than anyone else.
“You could have just kept your stupid opinion to /r/atheist and carried on with an otherwise semi-helpful list.”
So when someone has an opinion you don’t agree with, it becomes a “stupid” opinion? The beauty of this is, is that you finding his opinion “stupid” is an opinion in itself. So do you think your opinion is more valuable than his? Maybe you should just try to analyze your own opinions as you do other people’s opinion…
I’m not trying to anger you. Just trying to say that the truth is always somewhere in the middle, and that without respecting each others opinion we will never get closer to the truth.
You’re childish for calling his opinion stupid without offering a proper rebuttal.
Someone got butthurt.
I agree with you on this. Contrary to an earlier comment, I don’t believe you’re saying that deeply religious people have it all wrong. Instead, you’re saying that you shouldn’t impose your beliefs or judge others for their own, because they have the same chance of being correct as you do! Above all, it is important to leave a positive impression on other life while you still exist on Earth.
Great post, great list. You’re very eloquent and give great advice.
I don’t have to prove that fairies that affect the probability of minute details in my environment for the sake of poetic justice live just out of the range of my peripheral vision. In the same way that I don’t have to prove someone can’t levitate, they have to prove they can.
If you look at the history of religions, their is a very linear scale to how far you would have to go to disprove their existence. It used to be as easy as traveling to the peak of Mount Olympus, or to travel into the heavens. Now that we can do those things, the boundary of what it would take to falsify the existence of a deity gets pushed further and further out. I hear people tell me now that he exists outside the observable universe. The bar is always just high enough that no one will ever be able to disprove it, and when they do, the bar just gets raised higher in a very logical ‘dragon in the basement’ ‘Russell’s teapot’ sort of way.
How many religions have you heard of that ended because they where proved incorrect? (maybe the Maori one?) Part of the social survival value of a religion is how well it deals with attempts at falsification, and many of them have had thousands of years to develop these sophisticated social and cognitive techniques to combat it.
I just don’t find it impressive that religions spent thousands of years of trial and error to make sure the concepts of their deities are are hard to falsify as possible. I just find it’s very linear logical incrementation very telling, and evidence against the existence of their specific deities, not evidence for.
Um… Something that has no evidence to support it does not have the same chance of being correct as a stance that is supported by evidence.
There is no evidence that any God exists. There is no evidence of anything but an organic origin of the universe. To state that there is an equal chance of a supernatural origin as an organic one is ridiculous. It is not an even chance 50/50 more like a billion to one. If you walk around claiming that you won the lottery but refuse to provide evidence to support your claim, you don’t need to collect the winnings because you believe you won and your grandmother wrote a book years ago that said you would win. . I deny that you won the lottery. WE do not have an equal chance of being correct.
The irony that I had the same reaction to this number on the list but because it uses a common Christian argument that is false. There isn’t any evidence any God exists. Until any religion provides any evidence I don’t have anything to refute. Being Atheist is the most rational stance not agnosticism.
I have to agree with another commenter that unfortunately you lost me here, and you really had me for the rest of your points. This isn’t general advice, this is just a declaration of agnosticism – it’s purely a reflection of your own beliefs and not applicable to anyone who doesn’t feel the same way. If your point is that people shouldn’t use their beliefs or lack thereof as a justification for being an asshole, that falls under “don’t be an asshole”, so it doesn’t really need its own section. You also threw in another shot at science, which cuts me deep. Too bad.
Anyway, I really liked this essay thing for the most part, well done.
You’re mistaking “Belief in no gods” to “no belief in gods.” There’s a big difference. Most atheists take the latter position. Most if not all of us are agnostic in terms of the existing of god. There’s no way of knowing if god exists or not, so we’ll just take the default stance of “No belief unless I have reason to believe otherwise.”
This must have been a hard one to publish. Any conversation questioning religion is such a no-no. Bravo for speaking your mind.
I would like to point out that most atheists are actually agnostic atheists, or weak atheists. Their philosophy is more along the lines of “there’s probably no god” rather than “I am 100% certain there is no god.” You are correct that we can’t prove it either way, but please don’t lump all atheists together like that.
Ha, yes, let this serve as the blanket apology to everyone I have offended or will offend with this chapter. It’s just my opinion, like everything else on this site. I’m really enjoying and learning from all these comments… though I never thought atheists would get so bitchy!
Atheism is a belief system like bald is a hair color. Also, you capitalized the word “god,” and used the singular. There are many more religions out there than monotheistic, Abrahamic religions. Find a list of them and read up. Do you hold them as just as valid a possibility as the religion that caused you to capitalize the singular noun “God?” If not, then… add a couple more religions to that list and you’re an atheist.
Hmm… Now, how is that different from the Zen master story? Aren’t you just saying “we’ll see”?
I think the point of the tip wasn’t about whih religion or lack thereof is correct, but more in the lines of “both atheism and theism are very much pointless”. In the long run, being an atheist or a theist is kind of backwards. Why spend time trying to convince others that your belief system is right? Believe or disbelieve, and be done. The agnostic point of view usually includes a slant towards one side or the other, (although I see the logical fallacy in an agnostic theist, and the “burden of proof” problem with agnostic atheism.) but what its intent is is that you’re admitting, in all your glorious humanity, that you don’t really know the entirity of what is going on in the universe. You might believe that there’s a very organic explanation for all the things we uncover, or you might believe that there’s a supernatural explanation, but you really don’t know yet. If proof of a god were to be shown, would you accept that there is one? Then you are an agnostic atheist. If you are a theist, who would give up belief in a god of there was evidence strong enough to challenge your faith? Then you are an agnostic theist. And regardless of which you fall under, keep it to yourself, and understand that it should be a non-factor in your life, given the idea that you could always be proven wrong.
I have to agree with the other commenters regarding atheism as a belief system. I have no belief in any god, and place no degree of faith in that conviction. There simply isn’t any evidence that a god exists and to pose this supposition as a 50/50 “take your side or straddle in the middle” matter isn’t very rational.
I really enjoyed your prior posts as they were very thoughtful and reasoned, however this is just spewing your belief (and its supposed inherent superiority). I can respect that, but don’t tout it as the “right position” when reason doesn’t back that; saying one “belief” is right also somewhat contradicts the point of this post.
I don’t agree. If you will change your mid when evidence becomes available that supports the other position. Then you are rational, not agnostic. If you will not change your mind about your position even evidence is presented that show you are wrong. Then your belief is irrational. A rational person will accept and use logic to make a decision about a position. If a belief is not falsifiable (if the is no way to show it is wrong) Then it is not a rational belief based on logic.
You lost me at this one too. Everything else has been sound advice thus far. I feel like you are advising people to give up their faith. You should give the advice of “Religion or no religion, don’t push your beliefs on others, like an asshole.”
As a high school student reading this collective of advice, I found I must take pause at this particular piece. Religion is an interesting topic for me precisely because my age and my stage in life are so bankrupt of consideration of this very notion.
I admire your rationale very much, and I am inclined to agree that religion is an entity that has evolved into chaos, brutality, and general misinformation. It can be a scary thing to be so passionate about the wrong notions.
I do think however that there are good things that have come of my experiences at church, and a lot of times, people don’t truly understand what it means to have hope and faith in what beauty there is. That being said, your conclusion of agnosticism is a bit of a downer for me.
People exposed to the very roots of Christianity in its purest and simplest form realize that it all boils down to love and kindness. Being a Christian has given me a static reason as to why I should be a good person, why I should strive to empathize and help with people.
I think it’s better than the stark doubt that comes of constantly wanting to disprove the existence of God. Although, to be fair, there are plenty of kind, well-meaning atheists and agnostics.
Ultimately, it really is a personal decision, so I don’t think that means suggesting everyone become agnostic is sound advice. I think puzzling over religion and finding something to believe in is actually a good thing; it’s helped me become more introspective and enjoy the details of life.
And, you’re very right. No one knows everything there is to know; on the same token, no one knows everything there is to know about religion, so suggesting that one stray away from it as a whole has too much of an air of finality, in my opinion.
That was just my two cents as a person this advice is directed to. But I really am appreciating your approach to life. Besides that, your writing is highly admirable, and I’m thankful you’ve taken the time to do this.
Cheers to not being an asshole!
thank you for your thoughts to which I can relate to.
I live in Germany and want to ask you, and perhaps others too, how you see yourself in relation to other beliefs (e.g. Judaism, Islam, Buddhism…) or believers of different faith? As our societies become more and more diverse, speaking of religion and non-religion too, what role can and should we take as believers?
Thanks and hope to start a little conversation about this…
I actually agree with everything you said and am happy that you put it out there for others to consider!