I’m an atheist, so there’s no one to whom I can pray to save me from the smugness of some of my fellow atheists.
Apparently, some atheists held a rally over the weekend. You know, for atheists’ rights. Or something. I’m afraid I don’t fully understand what I can’t do as an atheist that I could otherwise, except maybe get voted for public office. Granted, I have a workplace where a declaration that you believe in God is greeted with the same slightly hostile curiosity as if you said you get all your news from Fox. But still, I grew up in a reasonably religious environment. I know what it’s like among the religious. With obvious exceptions in fundamentalist communities, I don’t think we are actually being denied anything.
I understand a lot of people don’t want to admit their atheism because atheism bothers some people. Reasonable pluralism is lovely, isn’t it? Maybe the protestors are just trying to win people over to their cause. Of course, what believer wouldn’t be won over by someone wearing a T-shirt saying “Free drinks to the person who can prove God exists”? Or who sees this billboard? Or who hears that some atheists who have taken to calling themselves “brights“? (Which makes believers….Not Brights? Something tells me that St. Augustine, Descartes, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis are all perhaps a wee bit brighter than the stupidest atheist.)
Also irritating is that they call it the “Reason Rally.” Reason is not the opposite of God. Reason is not a being, it is a method. It’s not a method that always invariably yields truth (neither, for that matter, does science). Reason does not demand belief in anything. Plenty of people have made valid (if not sound) arguments that use reason to prove the existence of God. (Bertrand Russell, no stranger to logic or atheist activism, was almost swayed by the ontological argument.)
What they are arguing for is not so much reason as evidentialism. This view states, in essence, absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence – and moreover, that belief in anything without evidence is unwarranted, even immoral. So since we have no evidence that God exists, we shouldn’t believe in Him. Fine – of course, we want to have some sort of normative constraints on belief. But, even if you hold yourself to that standard, do we really want to demand disbelief from others on all topics until there’s actual evidence? Evidence of what kind? I mean, we don’t have empirical or knock-down evidence of the existence of moral realism, but I sure as hell don’t want people to behave as if they disbelieve in moral realism until we prove it to everyone’s complete satisfaction.
I understand that people have some false beliefs that are derived from their religion that are actively harmful. But there are plenty of religious people who do not want to bomb anyone and have no interest in what goes on anyone else’s bedroom. Start with the beliefs that are actually harmful, if you want to protest something.
I do happen to believe that, all things considered, the evidence counts against the existence of God, at least an omnipotent and omnibenevolent one. Lots of people I know have views that I believe, all things considered, to be false. That their kids are the most adorable ever. That their spouses are making them happier than anyone else in the world ever could. Unless those false beliefs are actually hurting anyone (someone whose spouse is making him truly unhappy, someone who is withholding medical treatment from a child because of religious beliefs), do we have an obligation to point anything out to them? Seriously, how annoying would that be?
Just be an atheist. Life is not that difficult for us. If you get into a respectful discussion with someone and you want to defend it, fine. But please let’s not be so damned superior about it.