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Nov 18 2008

Progress Report: Top o’ the Mountain’s In Sight

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I’ll be hitting the halfway point in the next two days, and then from there it’s a nice, easy downhill saunter. Or so I hope. Like most writers, I get my best momentum going when the deadline looms. When I get momentum at all, that is…

We’ve gots plenty o’ momentum with this. I’m starting to have fun.

Tonight, I finished up with the quick tour of silly fallacies (for False Authority, see here and here, o’ ye of little faith. I chose the False Authority fallacy rather than the broader Argument from Authority for a reason – the damned authority’s false to begin with). Ahem. Anyway, yes, finished that bit, and what we’re going to do is bung in a print of Raphael’s The School of Athens in conclusion:


Plato points at the sky, saying we must look to the world of ideas. Aristotle points to the ground, saying we must look to the natural world. They never stopped arguing about it, either. If you take nothing else away from this section, let it be this: those who point at the sky may have beautiful logic and exquisite reasoning, but they’re always going to have a rough time of it with those who have the logic and the reasoning and the undeniable tangible stuff to point to.

And yes, my darlings, it comes right after the Courtier’s Reply (which I hope I shall get PZ’s gracious permission to filch). Happy, aren’t you?

Just in case you didn’t have enough to read, let me give you the start of Chapter Seven: How Can You Live Without God? and Other Christian Confusions:


Atheists have a hard time getting Christians to understand how we can be perfectly happy without God. It’s just not something you’re equipped to understand. For you, God is the ultimate Everything. All happiness, all moral authority, all purpose in life, all the world and its meaning come from God, and you can’t imagine things any other way. When you do try to imagine it, you get a cold, lost, empty feeling. You’re horrified. And you think that’s how we must experience life.

One of my favorite stories along the lines of Christians just not comprehending what it means to be an atheist is this one, from Dan Barker’s wonderful book Godless. Dan Barker was an evangelical preacher and songwriter who became an atheist while searching for God’s truth. He sent a letter out to friends, family and associates explaining his deconversion, which met with mixed reactions from outright horror to amiable understanding. One of the preachers he had known just couldn’t get his head wrapped around the idea. He asked a person who knew Dan, “But isn’t Dan afraid of going to Hell?”

I admit, I laughed. I couldn’t help it. I know that question arose from genuine concern, but it came from a complete lack of understanding of what being an atheist means. No atheist is afraid of going to Hell. We don’t believe in Hell. It’s very, very difficult to be afraid of something you don’t even believe exists.

To get an idea of how this question sounds to an atheist, let’s say you’ve just told me you don’t believe in Santa Claus. And I ask, “But aren’t you afraid Santa Claus won’t bring you any presents?” You’d laugh, wouldn’t you? You’d be touched that I cared enough about you to worry on your behalf, but a little annoyed by the fact that I wasn’t understanding that you couldn’t possibly worry about Santa Claus denying you toys since Santa doesn’t exist.

Now imagine a whole army of Santa believers descending on you to threaten, cajole, plead, weep, argue, explain, and engage in no little twisting of your arm to get you to change your mind, and you’ll have some idea what it’s like to be an atheist surrounded by a passel of well-meaning Christians.

In this chapter, we’re going to go through some of the more emotional pleadings, the refusal to believe an atheist is really an atheist, atheism is eeevvviiiillll, and other such irritations we deal with. If things along that line come to mind, chuck ‘em into comments and they shall find their way into the book.

And with that, I’m off for food, sleep and kitty cuddling, not necessarily in that order.

1 comment

  1. 1
    Cujo359

    see here and here, o’ ye of little faith.Moi? When I search for “false authority” at Wikipedia, I end up here. Now, how could that be? (For extra irony, click on that link and note the little orange box at the top of the article).Anyway, I sit corrected. Someone actually has turned this into a category. As if all this rhetoric stuff wasn’t complicated enough.As for the actual topic of the day, a coworker once told me, after learning that I was an atheist, that he’d feel lonely if there were no god. He was married and had three kids, and I was living alone. I had no idea how to respond politely to such an assertion. When my inner self is screaming “You gotta be frickin’ kiddin’ me!” it’s hard enough to keep that thought from escaping.

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