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Why I am an atheist – Steve Beck

I had the good fortune to be born into a family of secular Jews who did not believe in god or go to temple. I never believed myself, and I am puzzled to this day why anyone would believe such nonsense. Some years ago, I began to wonder whether there was any chance religious people were on to something, so I read a lot of objective books and articles on religion and atheism, and I did not find a shred of evidence for god, and saw that religion was a pathetic tangle of lies and wishful thinking. After my initial bout of reading, I became hooked, and I love to read about atheism, and I read you and Jerry Coyne every day. I am still mystified, however, why any sane person could believe such rot.

Steve Beck
United States

Comments

  1. says

    Michael Shermer’s “The Believing Brain” is another good explanatory book of why people can and do believe what, to us, is unbelievable. I have long wondered how anyone can accept such obvious self-contradiction – although listening to our current crop of televangelists it gets clearer that few xians have read a single word of their god book.

  2. says

    a family of secular Jews

    This is probably a dumb question but I often wonder why there are people who call themselves a secular Jew or a Jewish atheist.

    I unfortunately used to be a Catholic but I don’t call myself a Catholic atheist. I understand the word Jewish means more than being a believer of Judaism, but shouldn’t normal people (atheists) be trying to eradicate religious labels? I would like to live in the world without religions and without religious words. So instead of “a family of secular Jews” how about “a family of secular people”. Or better yet “a normal family” because in my imaginary world of no religious insanity the words secular and atheist would be unnecessary.

    By the way your definition of religion, “a pathetic tangle of lies and wishful thinking“, is excellent.

    Human Ape

  3. jimmauch says

    Being brought up in a somewhat similar way as you I am also mystified at how something as ridiculous as religion endures. Whoever named our specie homo sapien, latin for wise man, must have done so as a cruel joke.

  4. lilith says

    Wow that’s my story, almost to the letter.

    And to humanape @ 3 –
    I see what you mean, but Judaism is more than just a religion. My culture is Jewish, I celebrate the Jewish holidays – in a secular way, such as an American atheist might put a tree and give presents on Christmas without buying into the whole baby Jesus stuff.
    There is also something about belonging to the Jewish people, like my parents and their parents and their parents before them… it’s not very rational, I know, but being Jewish is part of who I am – not a very big party, maybe, but a part.
    And this is why even though I’ve been an atheist all my life, I’m still (also) Jewish.

  5. doktorzoom says

    Humanape @ 3, as you note, it’s as much a cultural/ethnic identity as a religious thing, of course, and at least for the family I married into, almost completely devoid of even passing mention of a deity. Coincidentally, my kid, who’s 14, casually announced himself as “a Jewish atheist” this morning–as far as I can recall, it’s the first time he’s been quite so definite in applying the term “atheist” to himself.

    I’m reminded of the old joke about the liberal Jewish family who send their son to Trinity school for the strong academic program, and at the end of the first week, the kid starts explaining to his dad that “Trinity means God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit…” and Dad interrupts him and says, “Look, I want you to be respectful to yout teachers and everything, but you have to remember this: there’s only one God, and we don’t believe in him.”

  6. Olav says

    Kevin, why bother? The US are not leaving Iraq anyway. Your government is just swapping soldiers for mercenaries (“private contractors”) of whom many thousands will remain there.

  7. Matthew says

    I read PZ, Jerry, and also Larry Moran (Sandwalk), Eric McDonald (Choice in Dying) and Dawkins.

  8. doktorzoom says

    Postscript, maybe building on Lilith’s #6, for many (most?) American Jews, it’s probably more akin to to an ethnic identifier, too–more equivalent to “Irish” or “Italian” than “Catholic” in humanape’s example, even though today they’re as far removed from the shtetl as I am from potato farming and green Irish hills.

  9. says

    To me it isn’t so mystifying why people once believed in religious “explanations,” since there was little other than agency in the human explanatory toolbox. So why not agents in some “other realm” causing things?

    But now that we know that “blowing wind” doesn’t point to a “wind blower,” why suppose a “universe maker,” or even an “intelligent designer” that makes life like evolution predicts?

    OK,I know there’s the strong lure of a “life after death” enabler, but even there it seems that one would do a lot better looking for some agent that doesn’t go against science. But considering how little many know of the relevant science, it’s attractive to say that religion knows what those ridiculous god-hating scientists doesn’t. After all, they don’t even know that…(insert “why are there still monkeys?” “look at how complex even bacterial flagella are,” or similar mind-numbing stupidity)…and we do. That way they’re better than scientists, too, even though scientists are good at a lot of things.

    OK, that’s not all of them, but an amazing portion of America.

    Glen Davidson

  10. HaggisForBrains says

    I am puzzled to this day why anyone would believe such nonsense.

    Episode 4 of “The Museum of Curiosities” on BBC 4 available here if you’re in the UK http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/search?q=The%20Museum%20of%20Curiosity, has Charlotte Uhlenbroek explaining her observations of a group of chimpanzees in the wild who appear to have rituals associated with the start of the rainy season, almost like worship. Perhaps this indicates a genetic predisposition among higher primates (or perhaps it means that the average theist is little higher than a chimp on the evolutionary scale).

  11. eigenperson says

    Being a secular Jew is a complicated thing, but it basically means that you identify culturally as Jewish, just like other people identify culturally as Italian or Chinese. That means you have a Jewish wedding and eat Jewish food sometimes and eat matzot on the first evening of Pesach because it reminds you (1) that you should never ever become more religious, cause then you’d have to eat this stuff for 7 days, and (2) that your people were running around the Middle East making up shit and doing miracles long before the Christians got in on the act.

    My family history of atheist Jews goes back at least two generations. I still call myself Jewish, although the Orthodox Jews would strongly dispute that. They can go fuck themselves, though.

  12. Tyrant of Skepsis says

    @HaggisForBrains

    or perhaps it means that the average theist is little higher than a chimp on the evolutionary scale

    You may be excused because, as I’ve been told, you have haggis for brains, but I must remind you that there is no such thing as an evolutionary scale. The concept is based on a deep misunderstanding (driven by 17th century notions of an order in nature) of what evolution is. If you make evolution based insults, do them right! Let them insult and educate! :)

  13. musner says

    I read you and Jerry Coyne every day. I am still mystified, however, why any sane person could believe such rot.

    BLASPHEMER!!!!11!

  14. Wishful Thinking Rules All says

    Short and sweet. Nice testimonial. Some of the ones PZ posts are far too long for what they say.

  15. KG says

    Whoever named our specie homo sapien, latin for wise man, must have done so as a cruel joke. – jimmauch

    No-one did. If you’re going to use biological terminology to make a point, get it right. First, the only meaning of “specie” is money in the form of coins; the word you want is “species” – which is both singular and plural. Second, the scientific name for our species is Homo sapiens: the initial upper-case letter and the italics (or underlining) are mandatory, as is the final “s”. The species was named in 1758 by Carolus Linnaeus, aka Carl von Linné, who originated the binomial system of classifying organisms.

  16. HaggisForBrains says

    @ Tyrant of Skepsis #14

    I stand corrected and duly humbled. The old haggis ain’t what it used to be.

  17. DLC says

    Steve Beck : thanks for writing. I think people believe such rot because it’s poured into their heads at a young age, when they’re still innocent and relatively ignorant.

  18. knb11 says

    as an agnostic who trusts in science and evolution but won’t refute the possibility of ‘god’ or afterlife because i’ve not yet expired, i think Mr. Beck combines what i feel are two separate elements: belief in ‘god’ and organized religion. i wholeheartedly agree that religion, as it’s generally practiced, “[is] a pathetic tangle of lies”. but i admit, i find evolution, ecosystems, the human body, genetics, cosmology, astronomy, etc to be miraculous. and i even sometimes announce my hopes and wills to whatever energy could be listening, but i shudder at the thought that i should be thrown into the same camp as a Bible-thumping nutter.

  19. Tyrant of Skepsis says

    knb11

    but i admit, i find evolution, ecosystems, the human body, genetics, cosmology, astronomy, etc to be miraculous.

    What does that mean? They sure are astonishing, but you have to be more precise in this forum – do you think there is a scientific problem with them, or do you simply have a feeling of awe and surprise that you do not claim to be founded on a scientific counterargument? If it’s the former, put the cards on the table, if it’s the latter, it doesn’t say anything about evolution and cosmology, but only about you.

    and i even sometimes announce my hopes and wills to whatever energy could be listening,

    Energy, the wildcard word for nonsense. You want someone to be listening, as in personal being, because otherwise it doesn’t make much sense. If you talk to a lump of coal, energy is listening.

    but i shudder at the thought that i should be thrown into the same camp as a Bible-thumping nutter.

    Ach, it’s always the same with the self-proclaimed agnostics, you are stuck in obfuscating language and thought in order to protect your warm and fuzzy feeling. I can relate to that in a way.

  20. KG says

    but i admit, i find evolution, ecosystems, the human body, genetics, cosmology, astronomy, etc to be miraculous. and i even sometimes announce my hopes and wills to whatever energy could be listening, but i shudder at the thought that i should be thrown into the same camp as a Bible-thumping nutter. – knb11

    No-one is throwing you there but yourself.

    BTW, your shift key doesn’t appear to be working. Please get it fixed: proper use of capitalisation makes your writing easier for others to read.

  21. John Morales says

    [meta + OT]

    On a topical (if sad) note, in his memoir, Christopher Hitchens wrote how proud he was to consider himself Jewish, by virtue of his mother’s Jewishness.

    (Clearly, he did not mean it in the religious sense)

  22. HaggisForBrains says

    Christopher Hitchens – a great loss to the whole world, not just to atheists.

    We shall all miss you.