Article

Pastor Understands Atheist Upsurge

1023l.jpg

Here’s a shout-out to Pastor James L. Evans, who demonstrated some real understanding of why atheism is on the rise. Put simply, it is because religion is an anachronism and is fundamentally incompatible with what we know about the universe. It’s also divisive and violent. This is not news to atheists, but to hear it from a pastor–now that’s progress.

Pastor Evans begins by talking about the number of atheists in America (which he severely underestimates at 5 million), and the crop of recent god-bashing best sellers. He then recounts Sam Harris’ arguments about how Muslim and Christian fundamentalism are two sides of the same coin. Moving on to atheism’s detractors such as talk show host Dennis Prager, Evans rejects the charge that an overly “secular society” is responsible for the increase in non-belief:

Some truth may be in that statement, but that is precisely what the framers of the U.S. Constitution had in mind. They had seen the disastrous results of state-supported religion and official orthodoxies mingled with civic duty in Europe and wanted none of it for America.

The Constitution establishes a secular society but with a guarantee of religious freedom for all.

If children go through life not knowing their faith heritage, as Prager asserts, that is not a failure of the public school system. If children do not learn their faith at home and at church, we cannot be surprised if they emerge into adulthood with low expectations about the role of faith in their lives.

We must also be willing to admit that some of this turning away from religion may be a form of running away.

The aggressive attacks on science from many quarters of the faith community have left some people feeling great resentment toward faith.

It could be that certain expressions of faith have made God too small to be embraced by those who experience the universe as vast and great.

A person who looks at the universe through the Hubble telescope is going to have trouble taking the first two chapters of Genesis literally. And when told that being faithful to God requires such belief, unbelief may feel like the only option.

Bravo. Of course the concept of “God” is too small for what we now know. Especially a god who concerns himself with things like clothing styles, dietary rules, and would advocate repression of half of humanity, which–after all–is supposed to be ‘his’ creation.

If there were more pastors like James Evans, I don’t think atheists would have as much problem coexisting with and having some measure of “respect” for religion. For all the accusations of atheist intolerance we endure, I think it’s clear what we are asking for is merely for religion to stay in its own corner. We are asking it to remain a private belief rather than an arbiter of public policy. We only want to stop highly unqualified people from trying to hijack science. We only want a society that is truly “live and let live” and one person’s choice of marriage partner is not seen as a threat to another’s. Where the rainbow flag or the U.N. flag are as accepted as the American flag–because rah-rah nationalism is recognized as an affront to a larger humanity. Where people of faith see their beliefs as strong enough to be treated as deeply personal, rather than requiring public and official obeisance.

It sounds like Pastor Evans would be content with such a world–though I have some suspicion that a more relaxed attitude toward atheism may be simply a concession to the inevitable. Religions have proven to be memetically robust, and may adapt to survive, and they still promote supernaturalism. But some believers may be growing tired of standing against the tide of rationalism, and some may be starting to take an early look at how to remain relevant in a society which is becoming increasingly and inexorably less tolerant of outlandish faith-based nonsense.

Whatever the motivation, I welcome it. Religion remains a hugely powerful force in the world. And literalism is its worst attribute. We can therefore only hope for lasting change when religious leaders put ancient scriptures in their historical place, begin to treat them as literature rather than gospel, and start embracing the wonderfully rapid and profound expansion of human knowledge.


Comments (8 comments)

Infidel753 / October 4th, 2007, 9:28 am / #1

Where the rainbow flag or the U.N. flag are as accepted as the American flag–because rah-rah nationalism is recognized as an affront to a larger humanity.

What does this have to do with atheism? Atheist vs. religious and patriotic vs. internationalist are orthogonal distinctions. An atheist can be just as patriotic as a Christian — and probably has more reason to be so, valuing the separation of church and state and the relatively secular (compared with most of the non-Western world) society America has.

Some degree of conflict between atheism and religion is inevitable, but there’s no reason to create an antagonism between atheism and patriotism, especially considering how deeply valued the latter is by most of the population.

BlackSun / October 4th, 2007, 2:48 pm / #2

Infidel753,

I equate religion and patriotism because they both are based on belief. Patriotism is based on nationalism which inherently elevates one group of humans above another (or at least their interests), based on an implied superiority.

To have any kind of human equality, we cannot look out only for our own national interests, we must gauge the impact our policies have on the whole world. Otherwise, we institutionalize mistreatment of the already disadvantaged.

I realize many atheists are patriotic. But I’d say patriotism itself needs to be examined the same way we examine religion. We can’t lose sight of what it is that made our country great, which is strong adherence to humanist principles.

It’s way too easy to blur the lines between God and country.

Infidel753 / October 5th, 2007, 7:02 am / #3

Patriotism is based on nationalism which inherently elevates one group of humans above another (or at least their interests), based on an implied superiority.

This is simply false. Love of one’s country does not require one to believe that that country is superior, any more than love of one’s own family requires one to believe that that family is superior to other people.

To have any kind of human equality, we cannot look out only for our own national interests, we must gauge the impact our policies have on the whole world.

Why do you think that patriots are incapable of doing this? Putting the interests of one’s own country first does not mean that one has to be totally oblivious to global concerns.

We can’t lose sight of what it is that made our country great, which is strong adherence to humanist principles.

This is one of the reasons I believe patriotism is legitimate. America’s secular traditions are worth upholding and defending, and that means America itself is worth defending, including against any effort to subsume national sovereignty under some international order which would be dominated by societies whose traditions are far more threatening to freethinkers of all kinds.

I really think you are caricaturing patriotism in a way very similar to how the fundamentalists caricature atheism. There are some extreme nationalists, but most patriots don’t display anything like the weird limited thinking you seem to attribute to them.

I don’t want to over-emphasize this point because in general I really like your site, but I think this is an important issue. It’s bad enough that we atheists constantly have to confront the fact that atheism is associated with Communism in the popular mind. The last thing we need is to get people thinking that atheism is intrinsically linked with an anti-patriotic stance too.

BlackSun / October 6th, 2007, 11:41 am / #4

Infidel753

Love of one’s country does not require one to believe that that country is superior, any more than love of one’s own family requires one to believe that that family is superior to other people.

I agree, it is not required. But in practice, we tend to engage in us vs. them type of thinking. For example: the U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population and uses around 25-30 percent of the world’s resources. Much of what is expressed as patriotism is a justification of and reveling in this resource-hungry way of life. If we truly cared about people other than ourselves, we would put in place policies moving us in the direction of “one-planet living.”

There are some extreme nationalists, but most patriots don’t display anything like the weird limited thinking you seem to attribute to them.

I agree most patriots don’t think this way. Many of them don’t think about resource use at all. They simply have always lived that way, and they see it as some sort of entitlement. Some use a divine justification, while others say that we deserve to live better because we also contribute scientifically and economically disproportionate to our population. This will get harder and harder to argue as more scientific development shifts to place like China and India who live approximately at a “one-planet” lifestyle even as they churn out products and services for the wealthy nations. Something’s got to give.

I don’t want to over-emphasize this point because in general I really like your site, but I think this is an important issue.

Thank you. If you look back at the mission statement for the site, it talks about focusing on difficult topics that may be unpopular. This is one of them. I think we Americans need to wake up to the fact that our wasteful habits and blundering around the world are not without consequence. They discredit our proud humanistic heritage and make a mockery of our stated principles of equality.

I want a better world, and that begins with a look at what we are doing wrong. Unfortunately, I do think that while patriotism and nationalism may have some positive attributes, their effect on world peace and sustainability are decidedly negative.

Irrefutable Proof that God exists............... - Page 10 - Christian Forums - inthepursuitofgod.com / October 6th, 2007, 6:10 pm / #5

[…] I found this interesting Anyone who is interested in knowing why atheists are like they are might be interested in the following. I’m not sure if I can post links here or not. Black Sun Journal » Archives » Pastor Understands Atheist Upsurge […]

banjo / October 16th, 2007, 8:28 pm / #6

Infidel753 has it right. One can be a patriotic atheist (I am). I am surprised that so many people at secular/atheist sites are eager to bash the United States–a nation that was key in establishing the worldwide pattern of separating the state from religion (even most religious people int he US feel this has been a good thing for both institutions.)

I’ve also noticed that many secularists have a great deal of venom for conservatives, and use these sites to convey it. That’s too bad–to the degree the secular argument gets conflated with the left/right morass, there will be little progress toward encouraging rationality in public thought. There are many conservatives of a libertarian bent who disagree vehemently with the religious right. These nonreligious conservatives would like to contribute to keeping religion out govt business, but they are pretty much shouted down by the atheist collectivists. It’s a crazy way to build a movement (which is why we’ve been spinning our wheels).

Aaron / October 19th, 2007, 7:12 am / #7

It’s certainly true that most people who are patriotic have moderate views about their patriotism and are distinct from ultra-nationalists, or patriotic extremists. However, this is the same argument that religious folks use when trying to explain why religions aren’t bad and that moderate believers hold religious extremists in check. But there is a problem with that thinking. In order for there to be extremists, moderates are required. Someone from a tribe in the Amazon doesn’t wake up one day and say, “I’m going to be a Muslim extremist.” Someone from the outback of Uganda doesn’t wake up one day and say, “I’m going to be a German ultra-nationalist.”

The journey from being someone who is not part of any particular group to one that is an extreme believer in that group necessarily goes through being a moderate in some fashion. You have to learn what it means to be a part of that group before you can take the group’s attributes to extremes.

An example of how a whole nation can go from being mostly moderates to mostly extremists can be seen in Germany during the 1930s and ’40s. The Germans didn’t just wake up one day and start mass-murdering Jews. It was a road of incremental steps. They started by talking bad about the Jews — blaming them for their problems. Then they started not doing business with Jewish-owned stores, then made them stay in certain parts of a town, then moved them to camps. Then, after all that, they started killing them. People like to think that they’re better than that, that they would never do anything like that. The reality is, though, that ANY society is capable of that. Slavery throughout history is rooted in nationalism (you have to think about slavery in ancient times to see that, not just 19th Century slavery).

I’m an American and am proud to be one. But I’m married to a German and so I realize that aspects of civic life that American’s like aren’t necessarly shared by people in other parts of the world. America doesn’t have a monopoly on or even all the answers about what’s “best” for a society.

Of course, the real problem is that humans inherently want to divide themselves into groups. That had survival advantages when we were hunter/gatherers, but now we have nuclear weapons. We, as a species, should have developed to the point where we can fight those urges to seperate ourselves into groups and learn to accept that we’re all human and deserve the same amount of respect. The reality is that that is not likely ever to occur, but it’s something we should strive for.

Lucius de populo / November 5th, 2012, 10:10 am / #8

The United States is a disease to the world

Post a comment

Comments are closed for this post.