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Jul 20 2012

Atheists who love religion

At one time there was a flurry of articles and books around the theme of why some women seemed to be loyal to husbands and partners who abused them, with titles such as Women Who Love Psychopaths, Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them, and Women Who Love Too Much, all exploring the strange attraction that some people have for those who seem to hate them.

This came to my mind as I was writing recent posts in which I discussed the curious cases of TV talking head S. E. Cupp (who seems to positively hate her fellow atheists), Jesse Bering (who prefers to have overtly religious taxi drivers take him places), and most recently Jesse Powell (who yearns for the days of what he calls Christian patriarchy).

These atheists seem to go out of their way to make extravagantly positive claims about religion while denigrating fellow atheists, saving their greatest ire at that subset of atheists who think that religion is in general a bad thing and that science and religion are incompatible. They make for interesting case studies. Maybe my next book should explore this phenomenon and be titled Atheists Who Love Religion or Atheists Who Love Those Who Think They Are Immoral Nihilists.

In his post at The Thinking Housewife Powell describes himself (twice) as an atheist but says he want to see society built around Christian patriarchy and hopes that visitors to the site will convert to Christianity or become ‘devout atheists’, whatever that means. In addition, he says:

The solution to the present cultural crisis is the reestablishment of traditional values with the resurrection of Christianity being the most obvious means by which this can be accomplished. Christianity is not a spent force, nothing superior to Christianity has been discovered or invented. As far as novelty is concerned there is nothing more exciting and new than a newly emerging fast growing conservative Christian Church that introduces God to former non-believers.

His idea that the world is facing a deep and possibly disastrous moral catastrophe and that only belief in Jesus can rescue it could have been taken from the sermon of any run-of-the-mill evangelical Bible-thumper.

I take Powell and Cupp and Bering at their word when they say they are atheists because I have no reason to suspect otherwise. But I am frankly baffled as to how any atheist could write such a passage. I just don’t understand how they can be so impressed with a belief structure that they themselves think is based on a falsehood.

Even if they think that religious people are, because of their beliefs, nicer and more moral people (a highly dubious proposition at the best of times), surely they would seek to promote secular-based moral values that achieve those same ends. After all, they presumably see themselves as nice moral people. Being atheists didn’t destroy their moral fabric. Why don’t they think that other atheists could have the same moral grounding?

At the very least, one would think that intellectual honesty would demand of them that they not seek to advance a belief structure that they know to be false. Even if the truth may seem to have negative short-term consequences, it is never a good thing to base one’s actions on a lie since it will collapse eventually. It is better to face things squarely and learn how to overcome it.

One cynical reason that could be postulated for these atheists’ puzzling affection for religion is that we are passing through a time when atheism is on the rise and religion on the defensive. Except for a few countries, mostly Islamic ones, where religious fanatics are allowed to impose their dogma by force, religion no longer has the power to silence its critics and the emptiness of its claims are being laid bare in an increasing number of forums.

One result has been a shift in strategy of religious intellectuals. Where once they asserted that they were right and atheists wrong, they now seek détente or coexistence, arguing that the two viewpoints are simply different ‘ways of knowing’ and where one ends up is a choice based on personal preference and that religion gives people some things that secular beliefs cannot. This strategy requires them to embrace atheists who are willing to say nice things about religion and nasty things about their fellow atheists.

This can be a convenient niche for an atheist to occupy in the current climate. One can retain one’s self-respect as an intellectual because one does not believe in imaginary friends and supernatural forces, while being warmly welcomed in at least sophisticated religious circles and the media. For example, any scientist who is willing to say nice things about religion, such as that there are some things that science cannot explore and is the domain of religion, is guaranteed to get a warm welcome from organizations like the Templeton Foundation and maybe even generous grants to do their work.

It is similar to members of minority groups or people of color who are willing to say nasty things about other members of their groups. If you are a black person who is willing to say that black people are lazy and shiftless living at the expense of hardworking taxpayers (Herman Cain) you will be highly sought after. If you are an immigrant or child of immigrants who is willing to take a hard anti-immigration line (Bobby Jindal, Michelle Malkin), you will have largesse showered on you.

I think that I missed the boat here. As an immigrant atheist of color, I could have gone for the triple crown, by attacking all three groups of which I am a member. How could I have been so dumb as to not seize that golden opportunity for fame and fortune?

25 comments

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  1. 1
    slc1

    Of course, Bobby Jindal, who graduated from Brown, Un., with a degree in biology is a creationist.

  2. 2
    Josh R

    You vain glorious fool! How could you ignore such serendipity?

    Seriously though,

    I tried to read deBotton’s “Religion for Atheists” (it was a gift) and could barely make it past the first page. Not because it is poorly written or that it is poorly executed. The problem I had was that right off the bat he states some assumptions that the whole book is based upon. Among those assumptions, and I’m paraphrasing here, is that people are cruel selfish awful creatures that would just as soon stab you on the face as say good morning to you. That human beings are things of such greed and avarice that they will act only in their own best interest. And therefore religion (or the rituals and practices of religion) is a necessary social construct to keep the human race from total obliteration by itself.

    Now, since I don’t subscribe to his premises, I cannot accept the conclusions drawn from those premises. Call me naive but I think most people are inherently good. Or at the very least don’t need to be lied to to get them to not kill each other.

    I can only assume that Cupp and Bering, and the rest share a similar pessimism regarding humanity that leaves them inclined to rely on old systems of controlling people (religion) instead of systems that seek to encourage cooperation (humanism).

    Finally, even if they are right, and it turns out that humanity as a whole is hopeless I would still prefer the truth of reality to the lies of religion.

  3. 3
    baal

    slc1, I had no idea that is his background. Ugh. I expect better from biologists.

    Thanks for the post Mano. I tend to think of the religion loving atheists as “people are born evil” type of thinkers with maybe a shade of Tolstoy’s love of the happy toiling peasant. While it’s ok for them to personally not believe and lead a self directed life, the masses must either be lead like sheep or have their inherent evil limited by religious shackles.

  4. 4
    Sunny

    Isn’t he also a convert to Roman Catholicism?

  5. 5
    Raging Bee

    I take Powell and Cupp and Bering at their word when they say they are atheists because I have no reason to suspect otherwise.

    Their obvious ignorance, insincerity, muddle-headedness, and dead-wrongness is, in my mind at least, PLENTY of reason to suspect they’re not what they claim to be. Powell and Cupp are right-wing authoritarians, and that lot aren’t known for either intelligence or honesty.

    Powell, for example, is blaming gayness and loose morals for crises that are clearly caused by reich-wing foreign, fiscal and military policies. Only an idiot would take such people at their word.

  6. 6
    chriscampbell

    “one would think that intellectual honesty would demand of them”

    There’s the thing, you see, I don’t believe for a minute that they are intellectually honest in any way.

    They see a way to get – money, notoriety, influence? – what they want; they have very little actual talent or anything of value to offer; they realize there are venues that will give them what they want if they are willing to say certain things; and they have no shame or integrity and are willing to say/write those things regardless of what they believe.

    I just realized – is this just a long-winded way of saying they’re talentless hacks?

  7. 7
    grignon

    I am an atheist who loves religion. Their bake sales are the best. If organized religion were to fail, where would I go for all that buttery, brown-sugary, chocolaty goodness? The PTO moms just can’t compete with all those church matrons striving to out do each other. Not enough free time and experience I guess.
    Religious coffee sucks, though. And the societal improvement of eliminating lutefisk dinners may warrant the outright banning of Lutheranism.

  8. 8
    grignon

    Which means I’m in full support of a state sponsored religion “The Church of Fudge”. Services will immediately follow the Pastafarian gathering.

  9. 9
    smrnda

    I think it’s closer to the phenomenon of “Orientalism” as described by Edward Said in the way that educated, sophisticated Westerners idealize the exotic oriental ‘other’ and feel that this idealized, simplistic ‘other,’ without all the intellectual baggage the Western intellectual is carrying around, are actually happier. The truth is that the ‘eastern’ archetype either doesn’t exist, or isn’t anything to idealize, but it provides the Western intellectual with a compelling fantasy. The same logic can be destructive to the people and cultures being idealized – I think Orwell wrote that if English intellectuals kept praising the way Indians were more ‘spiritual’ they would really just make the Indians easier to exploit. These religion-friendly atheists might just be self-centered political conservatives who realize that religion can be a useful tool for keeping the masses down and ignorant.

    The atheists you’ve mentioned probably feel like they would be happier if they didn’t think so much and just accepted the traditional answers they would be happier, or perhaps they also want a world where the masses of people are asleep and doped up by the old opiate of the masses. I mean, the guy who commented that he would prefer a cab ride from a driver whose cab is adorned with Bible versus probably just knows that the “Christian” cab driver is more likely to be subservient. They probably also admit the world is complex, but would prefer a simpler world and less thinking, and they probably also acknowledge that life is unfair, but rather than fixing it they’d prefer to offer the masses ‘pie in the sky.’

    The notion that people are basically evil and are only restrained by religion is a claim which is totally false – the US is the most religious Western nation and how is our crime rate compared to Scandinavia? It’s a platitude they want to believe in, a myth like the idea that there were some ‘good old days’ where everyone was religious and everything was nice.

    This was a long post, but I kind of feel like these people are like kids whose parents told them Santa Claus was fake, and they think they would have been happier if they believed in it.

  10. 10
    anat

    Being atheists didn’t destroy their moral fabric. Why don’t they think that other atheists could have the same moral grounding?

    Oh, but they are so superior they don’t need religion to be moral, but they can’t trust less superior people to manage this feat.

  11. 11
    invivoMark

    So could I convert to, say, Catholicism, and then make a career out of saying how dumb Catholic beliefs are and how nefarious their moral code is?

    That would be fun!

  12. 12
    stonyground

    “The notion that people are basically evil and are only restrained by religion is a claim which is totally false – the US is the most religious Western nation and how is our crime rate compared to Scandinavia? It’s a platitude they want to believe in, a myth like the idea that there were some ‘good old days’ where everyone was religious and everything was nice.”

    Repeating this lie is how religions maintain their authority. That there are atheists who have worked out that the claim that God exists is a lie, but have failed to recognise that the claim that people would be evil if not for religion is a lie, is quite baffling. The first claim is impossible to disprove and yet they take it as having been disproved. The second claim has been disproved and yet they still believe it.

  13. 13
    'Tis Himself

    How could I have been so dumb as to not seize that golden opportunity for fame and fortune?

    Because you’re an honest, moral person.

  14. 14
    Jesse Powell

    Hello, this is Jesse Powell from The Thinking Housewife website. First of all I am an atheist who supports patriarchy, who supports the gender roles and the family structures of the past. The family worked much better in the past than it does today; this is backed up by myriad statistics. Men and women evolved to have different strengths and different characteristics and to want different things so that men and women could work together to provide the highest chances of survival for their children. The social order that is the result of these evolved differences between men and women is called patriarchy. I support patriarchy because mankind evolved to function well under patriarchy. Going against the evolutionary program that is born into us only leads to trouble. The cultural rules that are the result of the evolved inherited differences between men and women are what I refer to as the “externally imposed moral order.” This can be translated to “the natural order” which can be expressed in religious terminology as “God’s will.” I often like using religious terminology to describe things because religious terminology is such a useful way of communicating moral principles. In this way “God” translates as “that which is good” or “the organizing principle of life” while “The Devil” translates as “that which is bad” or “that which destroys.”

    I try to serve God’s will. I try to be obedient to God. The purpose of my life is to serve God. When I refer to a “devout atheist” what I mean is an atheist who strives to serve and obey God; who is “devout” to his mission and purpose to “obey God”, “God” in this case being defined as “that which is good.”

    I wrote a piece at The Thinking Housewife under the title “The Christian Divorce Rate Myth” that explains my concept of “devoutness” more thoroughly. It is devoutness that I emphasize as being the key to a moral life and a moral society; religion is just the means that most people use to achieve devoutness and to point their devoutness in a positive direction. In addition I wrote a piece at The Thinking Housewife under the title “The Mythical Class Divide” that explains my reason behind advocating for what I refer to as “the religious approach.”

    I was born into an atheist family; I have always been an atheist. I am incapable of conversion to Christianity. I am assuming my atheism is genetic, that I was “born this way.” Looking at the world around us however it is obvious that most people are religious. My assumption is that they are religious because they were “born that way”; that they were born with a proclivity towards religious belief. My thinking is that there are two sources of atheism, “cultural atheism” and “biological atheism.” Biological atheists are incapable of believing in religion while “cultural atheists” chose not to believe in religion. My thinking is that cultural atheists are atheists for the wrong reason and that it would be better for them and for society for them to convert to religion; Christianity being the most obvious religion for them to convert to (in America and the West). Biological atheists are “meant to be” atheists and so have a valuable role to play as atheists.

    My real purpose is to promote patriarchy and devoutness. I became a believer in patriarchy independent of religious influence. When I started to look around at the cultural landscape I discovered that there are far more religious supporters of patriarchy than there are secular supporters of patriarchy. The reason for this was a great mystery to me, to me patriarchy and atheism go together just fine. I didn’t see why belief in patriarchy had a religious bias. After thinking about and researching the topic I think the explanation behind the connection between patriarchy and religion is that religion has a long history of cultural development and an independent institutional basis of belief. Atheism on the other hand seems to be made up by each individual atheist on the fly and the atheist is highly susceptible to the cultural signals around them. In other words the religious person can fall back on tradition but the atheist is on his own. This gives the religious person an advantage in being able to believe in a functional moral system. Since patriarchy is the ideal moral system the religious person therefore has an advantage in his ability to believe in patriarchy. This is why there are more supporters of patriarchy among Christians than among atheists.

    I support Christian Patriarchy but I do not believe in Christian Patriarchy. I support the moral teachings of Christian Patriarchy because they match my own beliefs to a remarkable degree. However I am not a Christian because I do not believe in Jesus Christ as God. This is due to my atheism, my lack of belief in a supernatural God. I am perfectly comfortable with promoting Christian Patriarchy but I can only do so as an atheist. Hence my role at The Thinking Housewife website.

    Mano Singham writes:

    “At the very least, one would think that intellectual honesty would demand of them that they not seek to advance a belief structure that they know to be false. Even if the truth may seem to have negative short-term consequences, it is never a good thing to base one’s actions on a lie since it will collapse eventually. It is better to face things squarely and learn how to overcome it.”

    Regarding intellectual honesty I make it a point to tell people publicly that I am an atheist. When I advocate religious positions I want it to be known that I am doing so as an atheist. I feel I am being intellectually honest as long as I reveal my atheism up front. As far as “advancing a belief structure I know to be false” I am perfectly fine with this role as long as I let people know my lack of belief in the belief structure I am advocating. I am perfectly fine with advancing Christian Patriarchy even though I “know it to be false” as long as I am being honest while doing so. It is my hope that at least some of my readers will convert to Christian Patriarchy or that I will make it easier for them to convert to Christian Patriarchy as I would see such conversion as being a good thing.

    Singham says “it is never a good thing to base one’s actions on a lie since it will collapse eventually.” I don’t think this is true regarding religion. There’s an old saying that “you can’t reason someone out of a belief they were never reasoned into in the first place.” Since people do not convert to religion through reason there is no reason to believe that reason will necessarily destroy their religious beliefs at some point in the future. The “lie” we are talking about here is belief in God. Jesus is a lie. However, the fact that Jesus is a lie is irrelevant because belief in Jesus works. The whole moral structure of Christianity is anchored on the foundational belief of Jesus being God who speaks through the Bible as interpreted by Christian religious authorities. This way of structuring a belief system is brilliant! People want, perhaps need, a God of this sort. They were born that way. It is not my place to criticize them for this desire of theirs for a supernatural God. The amazing thing however is that if you simply replace Jesus Christ as God with a God that is defined as “that which is good” the entire Christian moral structure still works. In other words the reality or lack of reality of the Christian God is irrelevant to the reality of the goodness and functionality of the Christian moral structure. The falseness of Jesus Christ as God does not invalidate Christian moral teachings in the slightest.

    When speaking to atheists it is not known whether the atheist in question is a cultural atheist or a biological atheist. When I advocate my moral beliefs I try to make what I say “Christian friendly” or “conversion friendly”; I try to say things so that they can be interpreted either in a Christian way or in a secular way, I try to speak to both a Christian audience and an atheist audience at the same time. My hope is that I am encouraging cultural atheists towards conversion to Christian Patriarchy and that I am encouraging biological atheists towards what I term “devout atheism” or an atheism that mirrors a Christian way of viewing the world as closely as possible.

    Christianity is a great resource for moral teachings (as well as all other religions with a successful historical record). Atheists can learn a lot from Christianity. As an atheist I am not ashamed to admit this.

  15. 15
    syd

    “Atheists can learn a lot from Christianity”

    Like what ?

    “Thou shalt not kill”
    “Love thy neighbor”

    Surely the state of humanity isn’t so bad that we can no longer figure those out by ourselves ?

  16. 16
    'Tis Himself

    I try to serve God’s will. I try to be obedient to God. The purpose of my life is to serve God. When I refer to a “devout atheist” what I mean is an atheist who strives to serve and obey God; who is “devout” to his mission and purpose to “obey God”, “God” in this case being defined as “that which is good.”

    You may call yourself an atheist. The above paragraph puts the lie to that claim. Atheism is disbelief in gods. Since you “try to serve God’s will” you must accept the existence of a god.

    I didn’t bother to read any more of your rant when you made it obvious you are either a liar or sorely mistaken about atheism.

    There’s a saying in the National Football League: “As a player you can fool the spectators but you can’t fool the other players.” You’re trying to fool the players.

  17. 17
    Francisco Bacopa

    Cupp is an upper level TV troll, and will not respond to us. Powell is a a more clever than most online troll, who we must not respond to.

  18. 18
    lsamaknight

    Since Tis already beat me to the contradictory statements about being an atheist and ‘obeying god’ I will toss in this

    I am assuming my atheism is genetic, that I was “born this way.

    Rarely have I heard something more ridiculous than this statement said in all seriousness (and most of those are on fstdt). Religion is a choice, always has been, always will be. Social factors may influence that choice but the choice always remains. The number of people who have converted to different religions, or at least switched denominations, proves that. So do us all a favour, stop pretending and go join the godbots you so obviously want to be a part of and stop trying to dishonestly drag the rest of us down.

  19. 19
    lsamaknight

    Too late

  20. 20
    Stacy

    Wow, that was fractally stupid.

  21. 21
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    Jesse Powell is either more stupid than even the dumbest Christian, or an absolute liar. The dumbest Christian on Earth can at least fall back on “because God says so” to justify his stupid beliefs, but Powell claims to reject that excuse. So Powell just believes stupid things because he’s stupid, without the excuse of claiming that the stupid things come from a magical source. It is easier to believe that he’s just a liar telling lies to Christian idiots than to believe that he’s at all convinced of the truth of the nonsense he spews.

  22. 22
    Cello

    I suspect some percent of church attendees have views somewhat sinilar to Jesse. I think we are predisposed to appreciate order and dislike chaos and religious rules can serve that purpose. I wouldn’t choose to ascribe to the 1950s version of American Christianity however. I do think we can do better than that for a greater majority of people.

  23. 23
    Mano Singham

    I have responded to Jesse Powell’s comment in a new post.

  24. 24
    Leni

    First of all I am an atheist who supports patriarchy, who supports the gender roles and the family structures of the past. The family worked much better in the past than it does today; this is backed up by myriad statistics. Men and women evolved to have different strengths and different characteristics and to want different things so that men and women could work together to provide the highest chances of survival for their children.

    So basically you support religion because you refuse to recognize how damaging patriarchy can be to people. And not at all because you just happen to be at the top of the pecking order.

    And what works for one person should work for anyone because there is absolutely no variation among individuals. Women just naturally want to be housewives and subservient to their husbands because…evolution.

    Pardon me while I gag.

  25. 25
    Jinna

    I wish for two seconds you all could be open minded to what Jesse is trying to say!!

    He is trying to say that religion makes sense. That it is organic, that it represent culture and learning from past generations. I am also a religion loving atheist. If you use simple common sense and logic most people will come up with the very same thoughts that all major religions promote.

    Yes religion has caused harm, it has been used to promote racism and marriage and anti-homosexuality etc. But these things are in part why the major religions made it so far. They were useful to human being and the principles helped us to survive, to have a higher birthrate, to make it this far as a species.

    Jesse is saying religious beliefs are useful and do more good than harm TO THOSE WHO BELIEVE. They help those who believe to survive, encourage them to have relationships that maximize the survival rate of their kids, give them a map of how to make those relationships last.

    He is pointing out the good in religion. There is good an bad in everything: religion is no different.

    I AM AN RELIGION LOVING ATHEIST… and that does not make me stupid, or dishonest or any of the other things you all called Jesse. We are all more similar than you think. You can not group people into stupid and not stupid, we each just had different life experiences etc. that led us to different thoughts!

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