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Why I am an atheist – Icaarus

Two words, Star Trek.

I know, the perfect definition of geeky, but hear me out. I grew up on it. The Next Generation launched when I was two, and the next year without new Star Trek on TV was my second year of University so yea, it was always kinda there.

Now lets expand this with a little backstory. My mother is Jewish, and my father is a Wasp. Both of whom suffered through far too much of the bad aspects of religion during their teenage years. Because of this and previous bad blood between both and their respective churches, they left the church out of our lives. We still light a candle for Zadie (something I will probably do for my mother when the time comes) and yes I have sat through (and at various points enjoyed 7th heaven and Touched by an Angel) but with the sole exception of weddings we never went to church. This of course lead to a few “kids say the darndest things” moments, but all in all it just was something that existed outside not inside the home. So back to Star Trek. My first few years were spent in a small town with me living too far out of town to have many opportunities for “play dates” outside of school. This combined with the whole “outsider” aspect my family experienced from moving to said small town meant that I was always an outcast, even before the geekiness showed. Being an only child meant that I also never learned to stop asking questions. Well these factors pushed me towards Star Trek.

The idea that there is always an answer, and it is always different, and it is logically consistent with the universe surrounding it were interesting. This is the big point. Gene Roddenberry is better at creating a self consistent universe than any author of any religious text that has come before. The Futurama joke about the Star Trek religion may be closer to the truth then we would care to believe. So when most people were “praising jesus” I was thinking up trouble with Data. Fast forward a little; the summer that Next Generation ended, was the same summer we moved to a slightly larger town, this time living within the city limits. This meant that my pre-teen mind finally understood what neighbours were, and walking home from school was now a thing I could do. The damage was already done, I was already hooked on science. It made sense, it worked, and it was understandable. At this point I was reading at least 2-3 adult books a month, mostly those cheesy Star Trek books, but still, easily grade 10 reading level. So when the local bible thumpers started showing me the ‘bible’ I couldn’t get through it. There are only a handful of books I have seriously tried to read and failed (including Crime and Punishment, the Four Agreements, and the King James Version). Because I couldn’t talk about the bible, I was pushed to outsider status. I was already comfortable always being the outsider, so I didn’t see a need to conform. This meant that my dating life suffered, but now the more mature me has found real friends. One loyal friend is worth a thousand friendly people. I have 3 of the best friends anyone could ask for. I have a community that even with all the anonymity, is still closer than any church group. I can argue and fight and vehemently oppose someone’s opinion and still enjoy their company. I can look at myself in the mirror. If I had conformed all those years ago none of that would be true

Well that’s my story. To all of those who have posted before me, thank you. Gene Roddenberry, thank you. PZ, thank you. Freethought Blogs, thank you. I will attempt to answer all asked questions, but no guarantee on timeliness.

Icaarus

Comments

  1. Art Vandelay says

    #1

    You mean this guy?

    “I condemn false prophets, I condemn the effort to take away the power of rational decision, to drain people of their free will–and a hell of a lot of money in the bargain. Religions vary in their degree of idiocy, but I reject them all. For most people, religion is nothing more than a substitute for a malfunctioning brain.”

  2. Ysanne says

    No atheism from Star Trek? I think Picard is pretty specific about the generally accepted position on deities and other superstition in the 24th century when he learns of the Mintakans’ new-found belief in Who Watches the Watchers:

    Horrifying… Dr. Barron, your report describes how rational these people are. Millennia ago, they abandoned their belief in the supernatural. Now you are asking me to sabotage that achievement, to send them back into the dark ages of superstition and ignorance and fear? No!

  3. says

    Star Trek was kinda always there in my family too, starting with re-runs of TOS before TNG began airing (I was born in 1971, graduated highschool in 1989). I think it also had a strong influence on my eventual giving up of religion. It was the idea that the universe was out there to explore, and the way we humans do that is through science, and that the quest for knowledge is ennobling. That ethos was always present in my house growing up and always at the foundation of my thinking. I took a Romantic (and very enjoyable) detour into neo-Paganism through my 20s and early 30s*, but once I started exposing myself to the arguments of the aggressive Gnus, I had to finally put aside those things that didn’t meet the standard of scholarly, scientific integrity. I couldn’t say how much of that respect for science (in a broad sense) came from Trek, but I’m sure that it played a role.

    *I didn’t abandon my love of learning during this period, and in fact got a Master’s studying the history of religion, but I wasn’t too concerned with applying much scientific rigour to my own activities and beliefs.

  4. 73k9ml says

    I have read that Gene Roddenberry did use Star Trek as a platform for Free-thought more than Atheism. I didn’t watch any of the original run of Star Trek or much of the newer versions. Late night reruns were the norm for me. I guess my development in the late 50’s through 60’s with the “God is Dead” paradigm and all the science and technology growth affected me in a way that made Star Trek seem less about belief and more a space western.

  5. Therrin says

    Every Saturday night the TV dinner trays would come out, and we all watched ST:TNG. Best church service ever.

  6. ikesolem says

    It only takes a small step to move from the ranks of Star Trekkie to UFO cult enthusiast, and one giant leap after that to join the Heaven’s Gate folks.

    That’s what comes of failing to distinguish between subjective reality – that created firing of your brain’s neurons, or the creative mental process, or ‘imagination’ – with objective reality, which is what science explores via theory, experiment and observation.

    I’d guess this is why Dawkins call religious indoctrination ‘a crime against children’ – because there’s a failure to teach the logical processes that allow one to distinguish between fantasy and fact.

    The problem with relying on subjective reality is that just because you can imagine flapping your wings and flying – or taking a ride on the Hale-Bopp comet – doesn’t mean that you will succeed in the effort.

  7. jakc says

    Don’t feel bad Icarus. Most Christians I know have never made it all the way through the bible either

  8. says

    ikesolem – Wow. Your life must be really odd. Do you usually have problems distinguishing between fantasy and reality to the point where you recommend someone stay away from all fiction? It must be hard to be you when you can’t distinguish which parts of a narrative are applicable to reality and which parts are, you know, made up because it is a story. Icaarus sounds pretty grounded in reality to me.

  9. says

    ikesolem #7

    That’s very strange.

    Would you then say that Douglas Adams was in danger of falling under the influence of a cult because his imaginative fiction left him vulnerable? I’d say you’re absolutely wrong.

    Of course some people believe what they write, or get lost in a fantasy world, but as a reality-based atheist who writes fantasy:

    (quick plug: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004GB0LHQ )

    …creating a world full of religion, gods, magic and mages, it’s absolutely possible to have both. Creating fantasy does not mean you have to lose your grip on reality.

  10. Moggie says

    Anyone else feel suddenly very old when they read that line?

    Sigh, yes.

    Live long and prosper, Icaarus.

  11. ikesolem says

    @gwynnyd

    Who says you should stay away from fiction? I was just pointing out that Star Trek could become the basis of a traditional religion, and that a similar process could have led to other works of fantasy – the Bible, the Koran, the Upanishads, etc. – becoming the basis of religions, when that might not have been what the original authors intended at all. Notice also that Star Trek plots often revolve around ‘the big philosophical questions’ that religion claims to address, so a ‘true believer’ syndrome could conceivably arise. Ever see Galaxy Quest?

    But that doesn’t mean avoid science fiction & fantasy! It’s okay to suspend your disbelief from time to time, most people find that to be enjoyable. The flip side is that you can then treat religious texts as works of fiction, and even have fun reading them – try Revelations, it’s really bizarre and Lovecraftian, for example.

    Probably that would be rough going for the recovering godaholic, however. Too many negative associations to get over.

  12. deeneely says

    Star Trek was one of the most powerful forces in my life as a child. I grew up in Alabama in the 1960-1970’s. I was surrounded on all sides by ignorance and racism. Star Trek showed me a universe where people worked together and where science was master. As a child with a large IQ this was a vision that I needed. It allowed me to counter the religious monolith which ruled the South even stronger then. It allowed me to counter the racism of my family.

    I will always owe Gene Roddenberry and his vision a great deal.

  13. raymoscow says

    A great line from one of the less memorable Trek films (The Final Frontier): ‘What does god need with a starship?’

    Its corollary: What would ‘god’ need with a crappy, badly flawed and largely incoherent book like the Bible (or Koran)? The fact that these books are still put forward as the supposed ‘Word of God’ shows that there is no such thing, and probably no god either.

  14. Emrysmyrddin says

    I, too, absorbed the Tao of Picard as a very young child (my Da used to borrow my Trekkie uncle’s VHS collection), and TNG helped contribute greatly to my humanistic development. Don’t underestimate the power of non-religious story to instill positive values, nor the effectiveness of Frere Jacques in round-robin verse at calming the troops while travelling through broken turbolift shafts.

  15. robinjohnson says

    Last year my wife and I managed to watch the whole Star Trek canon over several months. There are good and bad bits, but it was certainly easier and more pleasant than my occasional efforts to get through the whole Bible. And, like the Bible, it is long enough and written by enough different people to provide a quote on any subject that matches whatever opinion you want.

    That said, there are plenty of episodes of TNG showing religious states as nasty places, and even one Original Series episode with a grossly overpopulated planet resulting from a ban on contraception (I don’t remember if it’s explicitly said that this ban stems from religion.)
    Deep Space Nine introduces a bit of clappy-happy spiritual stuff with the Bajoran religion but has anti-science fundamentalists too, and one of the main villains is the Space Pope.

  16. Tualha says

    In the Babylon 5 universe, OTOH, religion is alive and well; but not treated with undue respect. Classic line: “He’s not the Pope! He doesn’t look anything like her!”

  17. greame says

    I was just pointing out that Star Trek could become the basis of a traditional religion

    And Scotty beamed them up the ship, where there would be no Tribble at all!

    All power to the engines!

    Couldn’t find the clip online, sorry.

  18. tgriehl says

    Two things: First, I’m so glad I’m not the only one who had trouble reading the Bible (I admit, I’ve not read all of it). There are many problems with it of course, but one of them, to me at least, is that it is so nauseatingly boring. If God was so good as to inspire men to write, couldn’t He have had them write something mildly interesting?

    Second, Hear-Hears for the moral superiority of Picard. My personal favorite is “The Drumhead.” Some of the best writing on TV, IMHO. Although seeing Wesley get stabbed, that was fun too…

  19. David Marjanović says

    A great line from one of the less memorable Trek films (The Final Frontier): ‘What does god need with a starship?’

    And then Spock, from aboard a Klingon ship, simply shoots the “god” to smithereens without lifting an eyebrow.

    There’s a good episode with antiscientific religious fundamentalists in Enterprise. They kill people – it actually pains them, but they believe they must.

  20. Icaarus says

    @Tualha

    Not a bad thing, just pointing out that I fit a far too overused stereotype.

    @mikecallahan

    I will probably try it again after I finish school. I was 15 the first time and I don’t think mature enough as a literary reader.

  21. says

    I’ve been using Star Trek to soften the ground for my children’s eventual rejection of their mother’s religious beliefs. At least I hope that will happen. Star Trek, combined with the observation that there are tonnes of religions and they all think they’re right, was enough to convince me. I hope it will do the same for them.

  22. says

    While I love DS9, I don’t like the blatant spirituality in it.

    I mean that the gods are actually aliens, fine, and mostly, the Bajoran religion is portrayed as negative, but there’s too much of this providence-woo stuff going on at times, whenever it’s about Benjamin Sisko…

  23. says

    @ikesolem – Religions are making factual claims, as in; “This really happened and this is how things are”. Star Trek was never presented as fact, only as literature which often conveys philosophical insights. And every episode concludes with a disclaimer that it is fiction, and any resemblance to actual persons is coincidence. You don’t find that in religious literature.

    It only takes a small step to move from the ranks of Star Trekkie to UFO cult enthusiast, and one giant leap after that to join the Heaven’s Gate folks.

    Give me a minute to get my golf shoes on so I don’t slide down this slippery slope…