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Curiosity and the “Shut Up, That’s Why” Argument

Silence means securityLast week, I talked about the insidious assortment of “Shut up, that’s why” arguments that get made against atheists and atheism.

Today, I want to talk about where I think the “Shut up, that’s why” arguments come from.

There was a story on “This American Life” last week that hit me really strongly. It wasn’t about atheism, but I think it cuts to the heart of the “Shut up, that’s why” argument, so I’m going to sum it up here quickly, to show you what I’m talking about.

The story was about a family with a family legend. The grandfather of the family had been lost on a camping trip when he was a child, but was recovered eight months later, from (the legend said) the itinerant tinker who had kidnapped him. One of the granddaughters became intensely curious about this legend, and started doing research to find out more about the story — a story that had been widely reported in many newspapers, and which even had a folk song written about it.

DigBut the more she dug, the more oddities and inconsistencies she found in the story, as reported by both the papers and the legend. In particular, there was another woman who had claimed that the kidnapped child was really hers. Her offspring also had a family legend: the legend of the kidnapped child, who, through a travesty of justice, wound up being given to another family. Long story short: The more the granddaughter dug, the more she realized that this other woman’s claims had merit. Every piece of solid evidence seemed to confirm it. Eventually she had DNA testing done… and found that, in fact, this other woman was right. Whether consciously, or un-, or some combination of the two, her great- grandparents had taken her grandfather from his real mother.

And the granddaughter’s family was furious.

At her. For digging this story up.

They didn’t want to know the truth. Seriously, passionately, entirely consciously — they didn’t want to know. They said as much. Many of them refused to accept it, despite an insurmountable body of evidence. And it caused a great family schism, with many members of the family barely speaking to the woman who had uncovered the difficult truth.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Question mark brainHere’s what struck me about this story. When Ingrid and I were talking about it, both of us were utterly baffled at the family members who didn’t want to know the truth. It’s not that we couldn’t grasp the “not wanting to know” concept. We’ve both had icky “I didn’t want to know that” experiences, things we’ve learned about friends or colleagues that didn’t enrich our lives and that just made things difficult. We got that. But we didn’t get how, once you knew that there was a mystery, you could just let it go. We understood how you could fool yourself unconsciously — that’s just human nature, we all do it — but we didn’t understand how you could fool yourself consciously. For both of us, knowing that there was a big unanswered question that might have a complex and difficult answer… that would eat away at us, way, way more than the complex and difficult answer itself.

Silence 3I think there are two kinds of people. (Okay, that’s a gross oversimplification. It’s more like all people have two personality traits, and some of us have more of one, and some have more of the other. But for simplicity’s sake, let’s call that “two kinds of people” for now.) There are people who are content and want to stay that way; people who don’t want conflict or upset; people who want a peaceful life in which everybody gets along… and if that means you don’t talk about certain things or ask certain questions, they consider that a fair price. People who, like Slartibartfast, would rather be happy than right.

And there are people who, once curiosity bites us, cannot shake it.

Now, although it may sound like it, I’m not actually saying that one type is inherently better than the other. Obviously, I’m more the stubbornly curious type, and I’m strongly biased in that direction. But I can see the value in both. It may well be that the human race needs both. I have a lot of the “diplomat/ reconciler/ seeing both sides/ trying to defuse conflict” personality in me too, and I think that’s important — without it, we’d all be at each other’s throats constantly.

Zodiac_movieAnd unshakeable curiosity can be a very mixed blessing. Not just because it can stir shit up and alienate people, either. It can be a mixed blessing because sometimes it’s a dead end. Ask any true crime aficionado: detectives or reporters with unsolved cases can be driven mad by them.

So I’m not trying to say, “Atheists are better than theists.”

What I’m saying is this:

I think this is one of the reasons that conversations between atheists and theists can get so difficult.

I think that, when we argue with theists, atheists tend to assume that of course theists want to know the truth. Of course they want to follow the God question to its logical conclusion. Don’t they? The question of whether God does or does not exist is a huge one, with enormous consequences in how we live our lives and how we understand the world. Who doesn’t want to understand the world as well and as clearly as they can?

And I think — this is more of a stretch, since I don’t quite grasp this mindset or what it feels like — but I think that theists tend to assume that of course atheists are looking for a worldview that they find appealing and useful, rather than one that they find consistent and plausible. I think that many theists really don’t get why atheists would rather be right than happy. (Not that we’re not happy… but you know what I mean.) Who doesn’t want a peaceful life of contentment?

See no evilLook at the “Shut up, that’s why” arguments I talked about last week. “Atheists are so whiny.” “Atheists think they’re so smart.” “Atheists keep talking about atheism and expecting us to care about it, but we don’t, and other things are more important.” “This is private business, and it’s not nice to talk about it or to argue with people about it.” “This isn’t about arguments and evidence, anyway. “”We’re sick of hearing about it.” “Why do they care so much what other people believe?” “Can’t we all just get along?”

What else are these but arguments for getting along, over insatiable curiosity?

And look at how theists react when they debate atheists. I can’t be the only atheist who’s had this experience: theists start off debating us, all excited and revved up and proud of themselves for their open-minded willingness to engage with the atheists and question their own faith… and, as the debate wears on, they get increasingly unhappy, and upset, and angry. Anger that gets aimed at us. It’s always baffled me. I’m like, “But you said you wanted to debate this! Don’t you?”

The answer is no. They don’t. They want to want to debate it. They want to be the kind of person who wants to debate it. They want to be the insatiable curiosity type, the intellectually courageous type who will ask any question and follow the answers wherever they lead. But they’re not. Not when it comes to God.

FaithI’m not saying that all theists are incurious sheep. Far from it. But I do think that — when it comes to the God question, at least — theists are willing to take their investigations only so far, and no further. Some won’t take it more than a step or two, as you see with hardcore young- earth creationist fundies who won’t even consider the possibility that their 5,000 year old book might be mistaken in one or two places. Some will take it very far indeed, as you see with some modern theologians who make better arguments for atheism than a lot of atheists… but then can’t quite take that final step. (And obviously, there are theists who do take that final step, and become atheists.) But the unwillingness to follow this question to its logical conclusion seems to be a hallmark of religion. I mean, isn’t that the very definition of religious faith — believing in God, even when all the evidence and arguments are telling you not to believe?

MuleAnd I do think that atheists — at least, the ones who once had religious belief and left it behind — tend to have that stubbornness, that unwillingness to just let things slide, that dogged determination once we get our minds around a question to take it as far as it goes, wherever it goes, even if it goes somewhere that freaks us the fuck out. When it comes to the God question, at least.

So I think when atheists and theists debate, we’re often debating at cross purposes. We’re assuming that we have the same goals. And often we don’t. Often in a discussion or a debate, the atheist’s goal is in direct conflict with the believer’s goal. And I don’t just mean the obvious goal of “persuade this person that religion is right/ persuade this person that atheism is right.” The goal of relentlessly pursuing a difficult question to its logical conclusion is often in direct conflict with the goal of keeping things peaceful, content, and on an even keel.

And I think this explains the “blame the messenger” quality that defines so many theist/ atheist debates. If you think that the goal of a conversation is to pursue the truth as far as you possibly can, then blaming the messenger makes no sense. But if you think that the goal of a conversation is to resolve conflict and return society to the status quo, then relentlessly curious messengers are to blame. (It also explains the feeling I’ve sometimes had, one that other atheists have said they’ve had: the feeling of being a killjoy, the rain god on everybody’s parade.)

I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this. I’m not sure where the solution might lie; if anyone has any thoughts on that, I’d love to hear them. But two things are coming to mind.

SafetynetOne is that atheists need to be better about making atheism a safe place to land. We need to make it clear that being an atheist doesn’t mean being dissatisfied, restless, and constantly at odds with everyone around you. We need to make it clear that atheists can not only have happy lives, and meaningful lives, but calm and peaceful lives.

The other is that atheists need to keep the conversation going: not just so we can persuade more people, but so the conversation itself can become more normal.

ConversationRight now, I think one of the reasons these debates are so fraught and divisive is that, for a lot of people, the ideas in them are so new. If we keep the conversation going, in both the public sphere and our private lives, I think the flavor of it is likely to shift: from a shocking assault on people’s most fundamental values, to an ongoing family argument that everyone’s a little tired of but that everyone’s familiar with. The cat will be well and truly out of the bag. And the attempts to stop the discussion with “Shut up, that’s why” arguments will become increasingly pointless and irrelevant.

Thoughts?

Comments

  1. says

    I think that this gap in perspectives is a serious problem in the debate between atheists and theists. Something similar played out on Andrew Sullivan’s blog a few weeks ago. I did a post about it, but basically it boils down to this same problem. One of the theists even said as much, arguing that atheists see religion/faith/god as a puzzle, while theists view it as a “lived commitment”. And I think that this is one of the reasons that atheists will often get the “you’re not being respectful” response thrown at them, because we’re treating something “sacred” like any other intellectual problem. And I don’t know if it’s a gap that we can ever fully bridge, because your point of view on faith in this debate kind of determines your side. Either you see it as a puzzle, or you see it as sacred. It’s really hard to do both.

  2. yogurtbacteria says

    This makes me think about Cypher from The Matrix.
    If you were sure that ignorance would lead to bliss and knowledge would lead to suffering, would you still want to be an atheist? Even if you were sure knowledge would lead to long-term suffering in addition to the initial shock and redefinition of the world around you?
    Personally, part of the reason I like atheism is because, long term, I think it will make everyone happier. But I wonder if I would choose it or not if that weren’t the case (assuming, for the purposes of the argument, that I had the ability to choose whether I believed it or not). And I suspect that that may be the important question to be asking in order to understand why theists think and act the way they do.
    I wonder which came first. Did I realize that knowing the truth about the world made me happier and then begin to value truth, or have I always valued truth in and of itself? What if knowing the truth about things reliably lead to unhappiness. Would I still choose to know the truth?

  3. Lyndi says

    I’ve always valued truth above harmony… and as such, have often been the asshole who asks difficult questions about one’s god, the killjoy for explaining that this urban legend isn’t actually true; I’ve even had people get mad at me when I tell them the real lyrics to a song they’re singing incorrectly. It’s as though people find comfort in their ignorance.

  4. says

    “But you said you wanted to debate this! Don’t you?”
    The answer is no. They don’t. They want to want to debate it. They want to be the kind of person who wants to debate it. They want to be the insatiable curiosity type, the intellectually courageous type who will ask any question and follow the answers wherever they lead. But they’re not. Not when it comes to God.

    I think this is very insightful, and surely it does capture the difficulties sometimes encountered in conversations between theists and atheists. However, I think maybe you’re bending over a little too backwards in one respect: You presume a level of basic intellectual honesty motivating theists entering debates with atheists that is simply missing much of the time. There are far too many dedicated “liars for Jesus” in the world – some whose entire job is to lie, lie, and lie some more (such as anyone employed by “The Discovery Institute”) – for such an assumption to pass without comment, even in the context of outreach.
    Maybe I’m just old and cynical – scratch that, I’m definitely old and cynical, but my cynicism is informed by experience. That experience gives me good reason to believe that the vast majority of “Shut up! That’s why!” arguments come from people who only enter conversations with others about their religious beliefs to proselytize, with not the slightest hint of genuine truth-seeking motivation: They already KNOW the truth in a rigid, authoritarian way that never actually considers the possibility of learning something new on the subject. They do not in fact want to be the insatiable curiosity type. Rather, they want to show you The One True Way ™, and any technique that advances that goal – which includes pretending to want an honest intellectual discussion – is fair game.

  5. says

    Had that conversation very recently, and it’s amazing how explicit theists can be about choosing their beliefs for reasons other than having grounds to think they are true.

  6. Julia says

    Thank you! This essay just gave me a little more insight into myself.
    I starting getting truthful with myself about religion and my agnosticism turned to atheism at the same time I stopped being the peace maker in my family and stopped making excuses for my father. It seems for me that choosing truthfulness over harmony in one area of my life spurred me onto living truthfully in other areas as well. Choosing actually doesn’t feel like the right word because for me the harmony had finally cost me too much.

  7. Eclectic says

    Wow! That’s a fantastic insight!
    G Felis, I’m quite sure that there are an awful lot of people who see religion “as some kind of dodge… or hustle.” And these people tend to be the loudest ones, the ones making money off it. Ray Comfort and Ken Ham are lying, know they are lying, and are are probaby as deep in denial as the Aswan High Dam justifying it to themselves as for a greater good.
    But what about the multitudes of relatively peaceful low-key practicing christians who, as Dawkins complains, give them a safe community to take advantage of?
    I think indeed Greta has her finger on an important motivation. They’d rather be happy than right, and the theological argument “that has unpleasant implications, therefore it can’t be right”—which is currently causing so much resistance to dealing with global warming—has a lot of clout with such people.
    I really think there’s something here.

  8. says

    To me, this is one of your most important essays so far. I believe that there are indeed two kinds of people in the world: those who value truth over harmony and those who don’t. (Yes, of course it’s a continuum, but I don’t think it’s a “normal distribution” with majority of the people falling somewhere in the middle — I’m pretty sure that the majority of people lean strongly toward one of the ends of this scale).
    And this has huge implications in daily life, not just in debates about God (as follows from the story you brought, for example). I believe it is extremely important in personal relationships. I became aware of this difference after your series of essays about cheating, which had nothing to do with atheism.
    These who prefer harmony over truth tend to consciously overlook some aspects of behavior of their loved ones that they would find wrong in others — not forgive, but simply choose not to know. It comes from the same place — the “commitment” to have a certain view (in this case, love).

  9. says

    Great post, Greta. I think the implication that you missed in your conclusion is that certain atheists – the ones complaining about how horrible the “New Atheists” are – need to get over the fact that we’re upsetting people, and always will be, no matter how gentle we try to be. I suppose these people are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum – they care enough about “the truth” to be atheists, but they care enough about keeping things calm and peaceful not to want to talk about it much. And although I think it takes all kinds (things would get far too polarised if everyone were a “new atheist”), I don’t think the infighting is productive.

  10. says

    Matt Dillahunty, the host of The Atheist Experience, used to often ask callers, “Do you care whether your beliefs are true?” The gist is the same as that of your essay, but it fits on a bumper sticker.

    atheists — at least, the ones who once had religious belief and left it behind — tend to have that stubbornness, that unwillingness to just let things slide

    Most people today are theists. So to publicly identify yourself as an atheist takes a certain contrarian streak, a willingness to swim against the current.
    Sometimes, I worry (when I’ve run out of other things to worry about) that if ever a majority of people will be atheists, a lot of them will be atheists for the wrong reasons: not because they’ve thought things through and considered evidence and arguments, but because everyone around them is, and they want to get along.

  11. says

    You’re absolutely right, Greta. I had this same experience with my sister right before I deconverted. We were both highly disatisfied with the answers we were getting from our church and leaders, and we both expressed a desire to search for “the Truth,” no matter where it led us. A few months later, I was an atheist (ok, it’s a lot more complicated than that, but you get my drift) and I came to her with what I had learned, so excited that I found the truth and I could prove it! (we were Young Earthers, for one thing)
    She wasn’t interested. In fact, she thought satan was speaking through me. She had found a group of christians who met in a home and made her feel part of their family, and that was all the “Truth” she needed or wanted.
    But I think your advice in how to change things is good, too. Coming out is the number one most important thing atheists can do right now. I probably would not have become an atheist if a former christian friend didn’t reveal his atheism–it simply never occured to me that anyone other than grumpy communists with bad hygeine could be atheists!

  12. Adam G. says

    In reading this, I thought, “I wish I’d written this.” It’s an excellent set of insights into the theist mind.
    About six months ago I got into conversations with a few theist friends, and I asked one of them, in total exasperation, “You accept science in every other way – why not about this? WHY do you believe in something you can’t PROVE?”
    Her response was probably the most honest and open one I’ve ever received: “Because the thought that God might not exist terrifies me so badly I can’t function.”
    I backed off immediately. As hard-headed as I am about atheism, I still have no wish to cause people I care about further distress.
    It really is a talking at cross-purposes problem. Frankly, I don’t see it ever resolving.

  13. says

    Brilliant article. This definitely helps provide further insight toward a lot of my conversations with theists, among both my friends and my family. I will probably be thinking about the implications of this piece for awhile.

  14. absent sway says

    I think you’ve really hit on something here, albeit with “two kinds of people” being a simplified way of stating the idea. I appreciate that you made a distinction between how people approach the God question and how they might approach other questions in their lives, choosing harmony over truth or vice versa in some areas but not necessarily in others. Harmony was definitely my default choice when it came to religion until the dissonance became unbearable. It took a long time for that dissonance to build up, though; I really was interested in the truth, it just would have been more convenient if I was already right so I had to exhaust that possibility first ;)

  15. vel says

    I find that theism isn’t such a happy safe place in its ignorance. I have seen theist after theist, desperate to find any proof that they are right. It’s a life of compartmentalization and constant fear that you aren’t as “good” as those theists around you who *seem* to be much closer to deity-of-your-choice by their pious haranguing. People keep to religion out of fear, not of happiness.

  16. skepticscott says

    If you debate a semi-reasonable and semi-civilized religionist who considers themselves “Moderate”, “liberal” or “progressive” for long enough, and if you skewer them with the really tough questions, eventually their position will boil down to this:
    “Yes, I know this stuff is kind of silly and doesn’t really make sense, but it makes me feel better, so just let me have it, OK?”
    Watch for it…it’s always there.

  17. yogurtbacteria says

    Re: Adam G:
    “Because the thought that God might not exist terrifies me so badly I can’t function.”
    Yes! I think that a lot of it is that fear. I’d bet that a lot of the resistance to atheist arguments is that fear acting itself out in an unconscious way.

  18. Valhar2000 says

    Because the thought that God might not exist terrifies me so badly I can’t function.

    In the remake of the movie “Bedazzled” there is a scene in which Brendan Fraser is playing the part of a suave and highly soffisticated author and intelectual, and he tells a girl he is trying to bone the following:
    “Every time I re-read Camus and Chartre I ask myself why does the Existential Dilemma have to be so damn bleak? OKay, so life is meaningless, we’re alone in the universe, yeah… is that necessarily so depressing?”.
    I think that it was supposed to be a joke, allowing the audience to laugh at a character that is in many ways ridiculous, but I myself simply cannot help but agree with his question: why is all that so depressing to some people? It doesn’t sadden me in the least, and it is blindingly obvious as well.

  19. Nate says

    I kept reading this article waiting for a reference to Lisa Simpson researching the history of Jebediah Springfield, perhaps the most well-known pop-culture reference to “Shut-up, that’s why” arguments.
    I think where you really hit the proverbial nail on the head was when you talk about “making atheism a safe place to land.”
    My extended family is largely made up of the “non-curious” type of people you mentioned. I’ve found any argument with them to be futile. Instead, I’ve just tried to show them that I am living a perfectly happy life as an athiest.
    There is, however, one major catch to this strategy. From time to time I get depressed–severely, clinically depressed. And I feel tremendous pressure to hide this from my family, because I know their reaction would be, “See? He has no god to turn to, and is miserable because of it.”
    Even if I didn’t get clinically depressed, there are just times when we all have bad days. And when you’re trying to show your theist family and friends that you can lead a happy life as an atheist, I think there will always be pressure to act happy, even when you’re not. And that’s not really healthy.
    Solution: ???

  20. Donna Gore says

    Michael Shermer wrote an entire book called “Why People Believe Weird Things.” He reached the simple conclusion that it’s because they WANT to.

  21. jerry says

    A while back I came across a story on the internet about two American college classmates who were independently touring Europe happening upon each other at a railway station. They were headed for the same place and of course sat together on the train. And, being college students, they promptly began an argument. The young woman was an atheist and the young man a committed Christian. They argued about religion. By the time they reached their destination, the yw had completely destroyed the ym’s arguments and he was reduced to admitting she was right. But he seemed to be reduced to such total dejection that the yw didn’t feel triumph, she felt guilt over having destroyed a fellow human being’s belief system.
    A year later they came across each other again and the ym said he had been compelled to do serious soul-searching, which had restored his faith stronger than ever. He was happy again. The yw was greatly relieved.
    Some research suggests that might be a gene for responding to what seems to be awesome or splendorous events, which could account for religion.
    If it’s genetic, maybe some of us are born without that gene. Some of us are left-handed, some of us are gay, some of us have straight hair and others curly. Maybe some of us are born without the “splendor” gene and turn out to be atheists. I don’t think it is possible to convert true believers. They have the gene. And even if we can convince one of them that we’re right, it won’t stick. And some of us will be glad. Because, strange as it may seem, lots of us have the milk of human kindness that is so often lacking in the truly religious.

  22. Carnita says

    Greta The Great!
    I just came across your site and have to tell you that I find your analysis of the theist/atheist discussion on-point and well-said. I gave up arguing with believers a long time ago. I found them to be either too slippery or too confused, and maddeningly obtuse. Sam Singleton Atheist Evangelist has a couple of funny posts about arguing/debating with believers. He is not as polite-or timid-as I.

  23. says

    In addition to the other points discussed in the post and comments, it might be worth thinking about the goal of conversion.
    Most of the time, when I’m discussing matters of religion with the enfaithened, those that want to engage most aggressively are actively trying to recruit me to their ranks.
    So it’s not really an attempt, on their part, to discuss ideas or try to find a reasoned middle ground; it’s more an overt attempt to browbeat me into submission.
    I really don’t bother with those types any more, for much the same reason that I avoid high-pressure salespeople.

  24. says

    I think there’s a corollary to this that figures into some of the projection we commonly see in arguments with theists. One of the very common things one hears–particularly from a certain flavor of Christian–is that atheists only disbelieve because they want to be hedonists without the threat of Hell. In other words, we’ve chosen the belief that makes us most comfortable and allows us to do the things that make us happy.
    I know of no atheist who has done this, but it seems to fall in line with what you’re talking about with regard to this type of theist mindset–they’d rather be comfortable than right, and so they assume that atheists are the same.
    Great post, by the way, Greta Christina!

  25. Hortensio says

    I am impressed. Given the title of “Shut Up, That’s Why”, I expected these articles to be rants about theists being mean in wanting us to shut up. Instead you carefully deconstructed their arguments and offered insight as to how we might re-engage them. There seemed very little rant at all (despite not being able to resist a jab at ‘free market freaks’ like me =P).
    Greta, thank you for taking the time to analyse this for us and sharing your conclusions.
    You. are. brilliant.
    I think some well-meaning theists are also too caught up in the “your life must be horrible” idea and try to ‘save’ you to discuss things openly. I even had one Christian try to convert me to Buddhism because he was certain my life was horrible without religion and wanted me to have *something*!

  26. says

    This is such a fantastic post, Greta.

    …theists tend to assume that of course atheists are looking for a worldview that they find appealing and useful, rather than one that they find consistent and plausible.

    I hope you don’t mind if I link to something on my own blog, but I think it is really consistent with what you are saying about atheist and theists having different goals (perhaps we might even call them values) while debating.
    In my post, I mention this in terms of choices that the characters must make in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. This is the choice between comfort and happiness and freedom and truth. I think this choice is very similar to what you’ve outlined here. Here’s the post. Thanks again for a terrific article!

  27. SD says

    As a theist, I find your article fascinating! I believe you are correct about theists and atheists having cross purposes. I’m not sure they are always under those particular blanket statements. For example, some atheist are desperately trying to convert, not just discuss. And then, Christians may be honestly curious, but within Christianity we feel some answers cannot be found scientifically, such as, “why do I exist.”
    I for one, truly love good debate! I am not always excellent at debate and so do not always have ready answers. But I do go and study as a result of debate. And I do seriously consider the opposite side and their arguments.
    Many Christians, believe it or not, understand why people leave “the faith,” which is a rather relative term, by the way. There are so many different faiths folks hold on to! But really, I think Organized religion, staunchly religious people and their stiff and often cruel attitudes are the main turn off. I love George MacDonald, an old scottish author, and he says that it is better to not believe in the God many churches represent, as he is false, and makes it harder for the sould to believe in the truth, which is Love.
    Also, I think it takes as much faith to believe there is not a God as to believe there is one. For even science can only go back so far as the big bang… and what caused that? All effects must have a cause…
    jmho
    :)

  28. Maria says

    Also, I think it takes as much faith to believe there is not a God as to believe there is one. For even science can only go back so far as the big bang… and what caused that? All effects must have a cause…
    So? There are a lot of things we don’t know. Do you really think it’s a good idea to put a magical sky being behind all things that are so far unknown to us? I’m sure you can see how doing that does not actually explain anything. This is a mistaken piece of thinking called things like ‘goddidit’ and ‘god of the gaps’ and also ‘that’s not very smart’.

  29. Brian Dunn says

    I think many readers who are seriously engaged with the theist/atheist question might find the thought system articulated in “A Course In Miracles” (aka ACIM) to be very stimulating reading. The theist/atheist question seems to me to be imperfectly framed – what if the universe and our role in it is so vastly different from either polarity of this argument as to render them BOTH intellectually unsatisfying?
    By way of example, ACIM makes the statement “God did not create the world, you did.” In terms of this debate, is this a theistic or atheistic statement?
    ACIM also asks the question, “would you rather be right, or happy?” and of course leaves it to the reader to choose – but it them makes lengthy predictions about the life experience you can expect depending on your choice, and the rigor with which you follow the implications and consequences of your choice. Because it is so relentless, it may appeal to those who seek a clarified perspective on their perspective, or seek to examine more closely the consequences of the thoughts they think they think ;)

  30. Nathanael says

    I think when dealing with people with the mentality described here — where truth is simply not a priority — the *other* values of atheism should be emphasized.
    There is no superbeing in charge of the world who will “fix things” for you — but there is *ALSO* nobody in charge who will punish you. There’s no hell. There’s no obligation to proselytize. You’re allowed to get lucky. You don’t have to figure out what God’s “plan” for you is. You can just enjoy life as it comes.
    The specific arguments above are specific to particularly popular monotheistic religions.
    I have to say, universalists have a faith which is arguably quite comforting, at least if you’re not very intellectual — but other Christians *don’t*, they have fundamentally nasty, scary, and unpleasant beliefs, so atheism is a hell of a lot more attractive than *their* religions.

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