Friday, December 01, 2006

Why Are Atheists So Angry?

Sam Harris on the Huffington Post:
While the religious divisions in our world are self-evident, many people still imagine that religious conflict is always caused by a lack of education, by poverty, or by politics. Yet the September 11th hijackers were college-educated, middle-class, and had no discernible experience of political oppression. They did, however, spend a remarkable amount of time at their local mosques talking about the depravity of infidels and about the pleasures that await martyrs in Paradise.

How many more architects and mechanical engineers must hit the wall at 400 miles an hour before we admit to ourselves that jihadist violence is not merely a matter of education, poverty, or politics? The truth, astonishingly enough, is that in the year 2006 a person can have sufficient intellectual and material resources to build a nuclear bomb and still believe that he will get 72 virgins in Paradise. Western secularists, liberals, and moderates have been very slow to understand this. The cause of their confusion is simple: They don't know what it is like to really believe in God.

The United States now stands alone in the developed world as a country that conducts its national discourse under the shadow of religious literalism. Eighty-three percent of the U.S. population believes that Jesus literally rose from the dead; 53% believe that the universe is 6,000 years old. This is embarrassing. Add to this comedy of false certainties the fact that 44% of Americans are confident that Jesus will return to Earth sometime in the next 50 years and you will glimpse the terrible liability of this sort of thinking.

Nearly half of the American population is eagerly anticipating the end of the world. This dewy-eyed nihilism provides absolutely no incentive to build a sustainable civilization. Many of these people are lunatics, but they are not the lunatic fringe. Some of them can actually get Karl Rove on the phone whenever they want.

While Muslim extremists now fly planes into our buildings, saw the heads off journalists and aid-workers, and riot by the tens of thousands over cartoons, several recent polls reveal that atheists are now the most reviled minority in the United States. A majority of Americans say they would refuse to vote for an atheist even if he were a "well-qualified candidate" from their own political party. Atheism, therefore, is a perfect impediment to holding elected office in this country (while being a woman, black, Muslim, Jewish, or gay is not). Most Americans also say that of all the unsavory alternatives on offer, they would be least likely to allow their child to marry an atheist. These declarations of prejudice might be enough to make some atheists angry. But they are not what makes me angry.

As an atheist, I am angry that we live in a society in which the plain truth cannot be spoken without offending 90% of the population. The plain truth is this: There is no good reason to believe in a personal God; there is no good reason to believe that the Bible, the Koran, or any other book was dictated by an omniscient being; we do not, in any important sense, get our morality from religion; the Bible and the Koran are not, even remotely, the best sources of guidance we have for living in the 21st century; and the belief in God and in the divine provenance of scripture is getting a lot of people killed unnecessarily.

I'm not sure where Harris got all his numbers, but they are basically in the ballpark. The "Jesus rose from the dead" number that I could find was closer to 75%. In any event ... scary stuff. If you said that 75% of Americans believe there are aliens, most people would think that the country was obviously delusional and that this country should not have control of a nuclear weapon. So, why is Jesus rising from the dead any different? The amount of proof for either is nonexistent. Some might even argue that there is more compelling evidence for aliens than for the Resurrection.

As Harris puts it, we are now "... a country that conducts its national discourse under the shadow of religious literalism". And this is "unique among wealthy democracies". This is while Japan and the U.K. are among the least religious societies on Earth. Allowing faith to govern you personally is fine. Everyone needs to come to their own truth through whatever path they choose. It's when that "dewy-eyed nihilism" by our leaders allows them to ignore global warming and to provide quaint solutions to the transmission of AIDS (abstinence-only) that we have a problem. Your personal beliefs are now jeopardizing my children and grandchildren. If you don't cash in the bet that you are making, you probably won't be around anyway. But your children and mine will be. And what kind of world will we be leaving them?

"I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours." -- Stephen Roberts

15 comments:

CyberKitten said...

As an atheist, I am angry that we live in a society in which the plain truth cannot be spoken without offending 90% of the population.

Amazing! I *really* couldn't live in such a place. I am SO grateful that a live in one of the most Secular countries in the world. Now I know why American Atheists are so.... strident. Do you have to sit at the back of the bus & drink from different water fountains?

Harris doesn't pull any punches does he. I read his book some time ago (The End of Faith) and I agreed with most of what he said. Scary stuff and I can only hope that he was wrong. I had hoped that religion was fading away in other parts of the world too & that wars over religion were a thing of the past. Unfortunately not.

dbackdad said...

I haven't read any of Harris' books but have read quite a few of his essays/comments. I used to get Free Inquiry and he'd write in there quite a bit.

He's definitely not afraid to give his point of view. I haven't always agreed with him. But I didn't really have any qualms with this particular article of his. It really describes the point we are at right now in America.

vern said...

Western secularists, liberals, and moderates have been very slow to understand this.

I think this is patently false. I think, if anything, secularists have been pushing the notion that religion is the largest cause of grief.

As an atheist, I am angry that we live in a society in which the plain truth cannot be spoken without offending 90% of the population

Contrarily, I, as an atheist, am offended that we ever concern ourselves with that 90% before speaking the plain truth.

Truth should not be limited by the limitations of those hearing the truth.


And I love that quote. I use that in my emails...

dbackdad said...

Welcome back Vern! It's been awhile since I've seen your posts. Glad to have you back.

Looks like you've been fairly prolific lately on your own blog. I like the You Are Damned site. lol

vern said...

Faerily prophetic? What?!?


Hey! I never really left so much as just shut the hell up...

I been reading regularly though. Love your site.

Me and a couple other local guys are gonna try to get together this week for a beer or two. Be nice to finally put a face to the blog. (blace?)

Anyway, let me know if you're interested in joining us. We're gonna get together most likely at Gallagher's (http://local.live.com/details.aspx?dt=yp.YN63x478869&style=r&c=33.661353277955044&d=-112.01947689056396&e=33.636989027949426&f=-112.07977294921876) on Wednesday night around 7ish...

dbackdad said...

I've been to that Gallagher's. Good pub grub. I will endeavor to make it there. Once you see my face, you may wish you never "put a face to the blog". Some things are better left unsaid and some people are better left unseen. lol

That Uncle Sam's on the north side of Union Hills is also pretty good. They have something like 50 different beers on tap.

Laura said...

"So, why is Jesus rising from the dead any different? The amount of proof for either is nonexistent. Some might even argue that there is more compelling evidence for aliens than for the Resurrection."

I read this really compelling book once about Alien abductions. I also saw an alien face appear on my grilled cheese sandwich. That *PROVES* that it must be true! ;)

vern said...

laura has made me consider something I think I have been consciously avoiding thinking about; I am possessed of an alien!

Every morning I swear there's an alien staring back at me in the mirror!

That PROVES it! Not only do they exist but they are taking people over!

CyberKitten said...

I'll be posting the latest survey of Religious attitudes over here shortly. I'm sure you'll find it interesting.

Sadie Lou said...

Ok. The existance of aliens is slightly less significant than Jesus rising from the dead.
I couldn't care less if aliens exist or not.
If they do exist, they don't really impact my life at all. My whole 30 years of life, I've never seen one or had my life change in a significant way because of one. If aliens don't exist--my life remains exactly the same as it is now.
I can't say that about Jesus and niether can any of the Athiests.
*wink*

CyberKitten said...

Personally I think the existence (or otherwise) of aliens is VERY significant.... [grin].

If we ever stumble across any it'll have a HUGE impact on our lives.

dbackdad said...

Sadie said, "... The existance of aliens is slightly less significant than Jesus rising from the dead." -- I'm not trying to argue that aliens are more important or "significant" than Christianity or Jesus ... at least not in the context of how prevalent Christianity is in our world. I'm just saying that there is no more tangible evidence for God than there is for aliens. Granted, I understand that Christianity is largely a matter of faith and that is fine if you are a Christian. But it leaves a bit to be desired for anyone else.

And if aliens do exist, I believe that discovery would dwarf Christianity or any earth-bound religions.

CyberKitten said...

dbackdad said: I'm just saying that there is no more tangible evidence for God than there is for aliens.

At least there is circumstantial evidence for the probability of alien life..... [grin].

vern said...

I wanted to drop by and let you know that we're not getting together tonight as most of the people are either sick or have work committments.

We are going to try to get together next Wed. night instead.

If you're still interested we'd love to have you!

dbackdad said...

Vern -- That's cool. Just keep me posted.