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Dec 05 2011

Why I am an atheist – Anna Yeung

I was 12. Attempting to rebel, I declared that I didn’t believe in God. My parents didn’t really care, given that we were only Buddhist at funerals. I went through a New Age-y phase where I believed in astrology, the paranormal and spirits. But as I got older, I got wiser. I was a voracious reader, and came upon the multitude of crimes against humanity committed in the name of religion – its effects on women, sexuality and science. However, my turning point came in a grade 12 biology class. A girl who I couldn’t stand, who became brainwashed when her parents accidentally sent her to Christian camp, got up to do a project on evolution. She prefaced her presentation by saying she didn’t believe in evolution because of her religion, and then proceeded to talk about Australopithecus afarensis. That kind of dichotomy astounded me. Partially because I hated her, and partially because it was the only conclusion based on reason and logic, I became non-religious. But it wasn’t until I stumbled onto Pharyngula, that I realized that there was a name for it. Atheist.

Anna Yeung
Australia

34 comments

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  1. 1
    davidwoodger

    Wow. Worst camp ever!

  2. 2
    feurio

    A question for folks here, feel free to respond. Is there any study which shows that higher education is causal to lack of belief? And can such a direct causal effect even be proven?

  3. 3
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Yay! A fellow Aussie! (Raises beer to Anna Yeung’s health.):-)

  4. 4
    Alex

    Worst parenting mistake ever, I would say… Honey, I brainwashed the kids into fundamentalism. That’s one 80s comedy I would like to see.

    @Anna

    Thanks for writing.
    I have a question though, Anna – I didn’t understand the sentence with the buddhist funeral. Is your family buddhist? If I got that correctly, would you say that “your” brand of buddhism is one that one would call theistic? I’ve heard it said that depending on the interpretation, buddhism can already be relatively atheistic by default.

    Cheers

  5. 5
    JoeBuddha

    Buddhists run the spectrum from “theist” (there tend to be differences, but they’re hardly worth mentioning) to completely “atheist”. All I’ve read about the Buddha himself (if indeed he actually existed) showed him as “agnostic”; as in, neither knew nor cared about the existence of gods.

  6. 6
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Is there any study which shows that higher education is causal to lack of belief?

    Here’s the Google Scholar results, over 14,000 hits. Have at it. Oh, and over 90% of the members of the Academy of Science of atheists/non-believers.

  7. 7
    Alex

    @feurio

    Asking for a causal relationship is always difficult. I have definitely heard of studies where a correlation is observed.

  8. 8
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    How does it happen? This is the fourth or fifth time I’ve heard of parents “accidentally” sending their kids to a religious indoctrination camp. I don’t get it. Do these camps operate through false advertising or something?

  9. 9
    Alex

    Ibis3,

    some of the stories here concerning this problem mentioned that to the parents the camps looked like more or less benign church organized summer camps from the outside. Although it is kind of crazy to send your kids to a camp of which you don’t know any details.

  10. 10
    PZ Myers

    Yes. They advertise themselves as “fun”, or providing moral instruction or socialization, and then it turns out that they substitute hardcore religious indoctrination for fun and thought.

  11. 11
    Goodbye Enemy Janine

    And this one time, at bible camp…

  12. 12
    Alex

    janine,

    I know that movie! I think it was called American Piety.

  13. 13
    Ariaflame, BSc, BF, PhD

    I know I came to Australia in my mid-teens, but I didn’t even know we had such camps. I always thought of summer camps as a very American thing. A friend of mine does have kids who go to activities during school holidays, but I’m fairly sure most of them are non-residential, and definitely not religious.

    *googles* Ewwww. I guess there are, though still I think not as ubiquitous as the USA camp concept. And at least one of them grew out of a USA basis.

  14. 14
    DLC

    Yes, they really do brainwash children with Christian Fundamentalism (well.. . Jesus-flavored Authoritarian Nuttiness)
    They sing songs with names like “God’s Army” and chant chants about how anyone who doesn’t love Jesus is The Enemy.
    Scary shit.
    I’d rather my kids went to Camp Quest.

  15. 15
    RFW

    Re Buddhists and gods: At its core, Buddhism can be described as an atheistic religion, but many variants have subsumed the local gods and demons into its service in various ways. The great guru, Padmasambhava, who legendarily introduced diamond vehicle Buddhism into Tibet, forced any number of local demons to accept the faith and become its protectors. Gods in some Buddhist systems become merely another class of sentient beings and undergo the karmic cycle of rebirth just like humans do.

    On top of this, Mahayana Buddhism has the concept of the bodhisattva, who rejects the opportunity to enter nirvana (as a result of attaining enlightenment) and stays in this world to go good. This belief has been fertile in generating an entire (and very complex) hierarchy of Buddhas past, present, and future: entities scarcely, if at all, distinguishable from common or garden variety gods.

    But what really interests me in this account is the line “she didn’t believe in evolution because of her religion”. That is a common attitude of believers, equating their evidence-free belief in fantasies to a carefully and arduously thought-out explanation of observable natural phenomena.

    When you say you believe in evolution, you are using the word “believe” in a totally different sense from someone who believes in, inter alia, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Buddhism’s protective demons, or any other supernatural entity. One’s acceptance of evolutionary theory is subject to change as new evidence emerges that requires adjustments in details of the theory. One’s belief in Baal or Astarte is, on the contrary, unconditional and not subject to change in the same way.

    Incidentally, I use the word “arduous” on purpose. Many people do not realize the extraordinary efforts it took to erect our scientific understanding of the universe. These efforts involved a great many very brainy people thinking hard over the course of centuries, even millenia. Unfortunately, elementary science texts present an integrated view that makes it seem like scientific understanding arises bingo! all at once out of some bright spark’s brain.

    Even in chemistry, my own field, the historical development is of astonishing complexity. It’s hardly over two centuries since the phlogiston theory of fire was abandoned, for example. I sometimes think that introductory science courses desperately need more history and less science!

  16. 16
    Alex

    RFW,

    I sometimes think that introductory science courses desperately need more history and less science!

    Only if by “less science” you mean less teaching of science facts. We also need more teaching of the scientific method, which I think, will complement very nicely the science history lessons to achieve the effect you desire, namely an awareness of the nature of the process.

  17. 17
    sc_9f0a84fb7c447365d00b454b0637e6cc

    To clarify – I am a Canuck studying in Melbourne, Australia. Hence, the Christian camp in northern Ontario somewhere.

    The “Buddhist at funerals” thing is that we associated with Buddhist practices and temple during funerals but I never really knew any of the religious stuff, so I assumed they were just Chinese cultural practices. My cousin referred to it as “half-assed Buddhism”.

  18. 18
    sc_9f0a84fb7c447365d00b454b0637e6cc

    ok, not sure why I’m logged in as a random sequence of alphanumeric characters but I’m Anna.

  19. 19
    vanessa

    I can understand where you’re coming from and I respect the path you have chosen, but isn’t most life questions of existence unfathomable? Even science ones? I don’t have all the answers, no one does, but I do believe there is a ‘why’ after every concept, like science might seem logical, but how was it created, what made evolution? I know God is an unfathomable subject also, but religious people deserve respect for their beliefs too, we really aren’t that different from each other. I think we’re all like little kids that constantly ask the question why? Do we always have to have our curiosity fed?

  20. 20
    myeck waters

    vanessa #19

    I don’t have all the answers, no one does, but I do believe there is a ‘why’ after every concept, like science might seem logical, but how was it created, what made evolution?

    Science seems logical for the most part it is – because when we try to use “intuition” or “common sense” or our emotional needs to figure out how the world works, we get things spectacularly wrong. It was created by people, over many many years, with much struggle.

    Evolution is a natural product of competition for survival among living things that don’t necessarily reproduce themselves with 100% accuracy.

  21. 21
    myeck waters

    vanessa #19

    I know God is an unfathomable subject also, but religious people deserve respect for their beliefs too, we really aren’t that different from each other.

    I respect people who aren’t idiots and act with honesty and consideration. I have seen nothing about religious beliefs that make me respect a person for having them.
    .

    I think we’re all like little kids that constantly ask the question why?

    No, I’m more likely to be asking “what?” or “how?”.
    .

    Do we always have to have our curiosity fed?

    What is that even supposed to mean?

  22. 22
    chigau (違う)

    god is not “unfathomable”.

    The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
    -Richard Dawkins

    There you go.

  23. 23
    'Tis Himself

    vanessa #19

    religious people deserve respect for their beliefs too, we really aren’t that different from each other.

    Why do your beliefs deserve respect? Am I supposed to respect your beliefs just because you have them? I think your beliefs are wrong. I cannot respect something which is wrong. It’s like asking if I respect the belief that the Sun is pushed around the sky by a giant dung beetle. I’m not going to respect that belief, so how is your belief in the sky pixie any different?

  24. 24
    Ariaflame, BSc, BF, PhD

    I know some people who I respect Iin spite of their belief in a magical sky fairy. Largely because they are kind, compassionate people who don’t try to force their beliefs on other people. I am pretty sure they know I am atheist but this is not important to them.

    I do make the distinction though. I respect them. I do not respect their beliefs.

  25. 25
    raven

    The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; etc.

    Al Mohler once said he respected Richard Dawkins because he was one of the few atheists who understood the fundie god.

    Al Mohler is the head of the largest Southern Baptist seminary in the USA. Southeastern. The SBC is the largest Protestant sect in the USA.

    Even some of the fundie theologians think their god is a Sky Monster. They just look at that as a feature, not a bug.

    Mohler isn’t a very nice guy either.

  26. 26
    Charlie Foxtrot

    but religious people deserve respect for their beliefs too

    Yeaaaahhhh-nuh.

    I’ll respect your right to maintain whatever belief system you like, within the safe confines of your own head. But don’t expect respect just because beliefs are held.
    Respect is earnt, not just handed out – and jamming ‘goddidit’ in to plaster over ignorance doesn’t earn, especially around here.

  27. 27
    Rey Fox

    but isn’t most life questions of existence unfathomable?

    I think most of the “unfathomable” questions that people come up with are poorly defined or meaningless.

  28. 28
    johnpoteet

    At least in the U.S. some “Christian” groups encourage teens to “save” other teens they know or have befriended (suckered) by inviting them to christian indoctrination summer camps. These camps are absolutely set up as brainwashing centers with love bombing, horrible food, sleep deprivation, in-group language, lack of privacy, lack of access to external communications and every other quasi-legal tactic short of drugs, ropes and rape to indoctrinate susceptible teens.

    There are usually two results of this tactic. 1) an absolute revulsion for anything christian to the point of flinching physically when somebody says “jesus.” 2) a vulnerable teen who becomes a total stranger to her former friends and family because they now “belong” to a cult.

    The only difference between these christian camps and the Hari Krishna cult or the Reverend Moon cult is the pretense of worship they plaster over some monster’s personal cult following.

  29. 29
    kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith

    I can understand where you’re coming from and I respect the path you have chosen, but isn’t most life questions of existence unfathomable?

    No, they aren’t. At least the interesting ones, the ones that actually make sense, aren’t.

    Even science ones?

    Definitely not. Hard =/= “unfathomable”. Just means you have to put more effort and creativity into them. They’re just… not for kindergarteners.

    I don’t have all the answers, no one does, but I do believe there is a ‘why’ after every concept, like science might seem logical, but how was it created, what made evolution?

    The reason this question seems “unfathomable” to you is because it doesn’t make any sense. At all.

    Your “why” appears because you are assuming purpose and conscious agent – without any other reason than a pattern searcher’s natural propensity to look for patterns where there aren’t any. Forget the purpose (that’s actually the real power of evolutionary theory if you truly understand it), and your “why” disappears in a puff of logic.

    I think we’re all like little kids that constantly ask the question why? Do we always have to have our curiosity fed?

    You are typing on an object made possible because some people have an insatiable curiosity. You will probably live to be 80 and you can fly to Paris in about 6 hours for the same reason.

    Ignorance is only a virtue for those who seek to control you. To make it more attractive and to encourage you to leave it alone, they call it “mystery”.

  30. 30
    pokealot

    Partially because I hated her … I became non-religious.

    An honest statement.

  31. 31
    raven

    Poke the troll lying some more:

    Partially because I hated her … I became non-religious.

    An honest statement.

    That isn’t what she said. You are lying some more. By quote mining her essay and taking out a key phrase. “and partially because it was the only conclusion based on reason and logic,

    Anna:

    Partially because I hated her, and partially because it was the only conclusion based on reason and logic, I became non-religious.

    Poke is a typical fundie xian, that is a pathological liar. Xians like that are destroying US xianity. The three sacraments of fundie xianity are hate, lies, and hypocrisy.

    If their religion was true, they wouldn’t have to lie all the time.

  32. 32
    raven

    Poke, what is the probability that a religion that produces hate filled liars and ignorant morons like you is true?

    About zero unless your god is evil. Are you sure your fundie god doesn’t have an “s” in its name? The fundie god is a monster who looks a lot like what satan is supposed to be.

  33. 33
    trondreitan

    @feurio: “Is there any study which shows that higher education is causal to lack of belief? And can such a direct causal effect even be proven?”

    Since my work involves statistical analysis and since I have a hobby interest in causal modelling, I can’t resist the temptation to say a bit about the topic:

    As Tyrant of Skepsis said, causal relationships are hard to infer.
    Correlation does not imply causation, as they say though that is debatable. Actually, if you’re into causality, then you do need *some* kind of causality to get a correlation. The problem is, what is affecting what? Controlled experiments can unravel this, but can’t be used for your questions. If your data suggests strongly that there is a correlation between A and B, then (if we grant that there actually is a correlation) either A affects B, B affects A or A and B are both affected by another thing, C (which may or may not be observed). In some cases, like gender vs religion, you may feel fairly secure that *if* you find a link then since gender is a genetic lottery, gender is influencing choice of religion rather than vice versa or rather than an unobserved thing influencing both. (It’s not like changing your religion will change your gender, except for religions wierder than usual.) When it comes to education vs religion, that’s not so straight forward though. Still, it’s possible to unravel causal relationsships if you feel secure about some things being causes rather than effects *and* you are able to link those things to the rest. If, as a (very) hypothetical example, you could find data linking gender and education and education and religion (and the link between gender and religion is explained by the two first links), then the most parsemoneous model would be one where education affects religion. Sometimes if you have a lot of different observations and are able to find the correlation between them, you can even get some insights into causality without such secure causes, by parsimony and the nature of the correlations.
    (My own rather naive thoughts on this can be found if you search for “YT identity survey” on youtube. It’s not a proper scientific analysis, since it’s not a properly conducted survey, but still it could provide some insights. Yeah, I’m plugging my own stuff here, but it’s relevant and it’s easier to know what you yourself has done than what everyone else has. Also note that I did not find a direct link between education and religion in this study, though that may have to do with the quality and the amount of data I had.)

    PS: It’s also very important do stress that since we are dealing with correlations rather than hard restrictions, then whatever relationships we find are statistical in nature. For that reason, I recommend the words “affects” and “influences” rather than the word “causes”, which sounds like something determining something else. People are complex and varied. (There was even a guy saying he was an atheist and a creationist in the above-mentioned survey.)

  34. 34
    pelamun, the Linguist of Doom

    I know this Funeral Buddhism from my own family.

    But to insist there can be atheistic Buddhism is a severe case of dictionary atheism, I don’t think that’s useful. Belief in the soul, reincarnation, and heaven, these concepts aren’t rational either…

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