I struggled with my faith for a long time, but it was a religious program that ultimately shattered it. It was a Sunday in the early afternoon, and these guys were talking about the story of Samson, and how he was God’s avenging fist against the Philistines. The story never sat well with me, because Samson really comes off like a prick to me. Sure, he’s killing the enemies of God, but they weren’t his enemies until he gave them his ridiculous and impossible riddle to solve. He then, to continue his tantrum, burns the crops of the innocent people who didn’t actually have anything to do with threats to his wife, then murders 3000 more people, and that’s just the start of the story. He didn’t seem to me to be motivated by God so much as an incurable and disgusting rage that just happened to work out good for the Jews.
That got me thinking about all of the stories, and none of them really makes any sense. I don’t mean in the “it seems nonsensical to have a talking snake tempting Adam and Eve” sort of logistical sense, I mean that almost all of the stories can be explained easiliy away as the stories of an uneducated people who were largely living in slavery and dreaming of the time when their God was going to fix everything for them. And I get that. They are the stories you tell at the end of the day when your life feels like crap, and you just want to have something to believe in that keeps you going and offers some hope. The Lovely Lady and I talk at night about our future, how we’re going to take over the world and make everything better. Some of it is legitimate planning (not to take over the world, but how to get to where we want to be) and some of it is pipe dreaming.
That afternoon, watching that show, I recognized the Bible for what it is. It’s a collection of pipe dreams from a broken people wishing for something better. In a sense, that’s very beautiful, so long as you avoid the angel rapists, the instructions on slavery, the murder of homosexuals, the wrath of God, the ridiculous fables of floods, the horrifying letters to early Christians admonishing them for every last mistake they made, the brutality of the crucifiction, and pricks like Samson. Oh, and you need a pretty big stomach for swallowing all the suspension of disbelief you need to employ to accept a resurrection, miraculous healings, manna from heaven, talking snakes, guys murdering armies with no better weapon than a donkey’s face bits, repopulating the entire world from a small stock of animals and people, people surviving a lion’s den, and a loving God murdering the first born of Egypt.
Suddenly, I felt very, very foolish. I accepted my atheism that day, and I became a loudmouthed atheist at the same moment. I wanted the people I loved to see how foolish they were being, buying into all of this rubbish. I couldn’t help it, and still can’t. I’m proud to be an atheist and I want to unshackle the minds of everyone I know. It’s just who I am.
“Big Ugly” Jim Martin
Jim, this was great and you’re a fantastic writer. Let us know when you publish more stuff.
This is great, and I can identify with it all, right up until the end, and that’s where I have a question (because it’s one I’m struggling with.)
You say you want to unshackle the minds of everyone you know. I can understand this when it comes to people whose beliefs lead to dangerous activity (like murder, or not letting their kids receive important vaccines, etc.), but what about those whose beliefs lead them only to having a feeling of peace? For those whose religion is simply an opiate and nothing more? I know plenty of believers who are good citizens, dismiss the weird commands in scripture, and are great friends.
Why should their minds be unshackled if a) they aren’t dangerous and b) they actually PREFER to remain in ignorance, because of the peace, purpose, and community it affords them?
If you’ve ever read The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis, these are the people like Puddleglum, who, even if the sun didn’t exist, would prefer to believe in it because it’s better than believing in only a lamp.
I totally agree with your analysis,Ugly, but I, too would be careful with the missionary zeal. The best way you can help to unshackle the minds of people who are still trapped in the dungeon of irrational belief is to be out and proud in your atheism. Never back away from your rationality, and never hesitate to point out that you an atheist when you are asked. Be a shining example of a happy, sane, whole person who has no need of the false comforts of preliterate superstition to live a meaningful, moral and upstanding life. People will be more likely to follow your by example, than to respond to what they perceive as a hostile attack on their cherished beliefs.
From a previous comment: “People will be more likely to follow your by example, than to respond to what they perceive as a hostile attack on their cherished beliefs.”
Christians are not likely to respond to anything. Their disease is incurable.
In my opinion it’s best to be honest with Christians. Tell the truth about their disease. Tell them they’re insane. Tell them they’re uneducated morons. Tell them they’re cowards. Of course they will never grow up, but perhaps their children will notice the ridicule and maybe those victims of religious brainwashing will wonder if their parents really are idiots.
I say declare war against the Christian Death Cult. Zero tolerance for anyone who is stupid enough to worship the dead Jeebus.
Look at what sucking up to Christian theocrats has accomplished so far. For example there are members of the Kentucky public school system who are attacking science education in that state to accommodate their god fantasies.
Enough is enough. Never ending ridicule is the only morally correct thing to do.
— Human Ape
Jim, and many others who post on this site I imagine, are proof that their ‘disease’ is curable.
Which is why I agree with your sentiments that we should be vocal with the religious and point out their inconsistencies, and completely disagree with michaelwilliams – tiptoeing around religious belief for fear of upsetting someone doesn’t achieve a damn thing.
When did I say he should “tiptoe around religious belief”? I believe what I said was “… be out and proud in your atheism. Never back away from your rationality, and never hesitate to point out that you an atheist when you are asked.” You interperet that as “tiptoeing around” fine, but for speakers of English it has a different meaning. My overall point was “don’t be an obnoxious missionary”, but again, if that’s what you believe will convert people, best of luck with that.
Big Ugly Jim says
First off, thanks PZ for posting this!
To hillaryrettig, I have a blog of my own (http://www.meddlingkids.org) where you can find all kinds of my writings.
When it comes to unshackling minds, I approach this through educating people, engaging in discussions, and knowing my stuff. There are times when I’m a jerk about it, though most times I calmly engage in conversations.
Let me give you an example. My sister, who is a smart woman raised in the same home as I, recently left her faith. She no longer believed, but felt those pangs of wanting to maintain that sense of something greater largely because she didn’t believe humans could come from monkeys. I recognized that, despite her being a very smart person, she had never properly understood evolutionary theory, at least in the layman’s sense. I’m no evolutionary biologist (ah, to dream!) but I was able to walk her through what that meant and hopefully open her eyes to what I see as one of the most beautiful and simple processes that makes this an incredible world of wonder.
I don’t tiptoe, but I don’t (generally) pick fights. I try to lead by example. :)
RW Ahrens says
I think the idea is that atheism is a big umbrella. There’s lots of room for different ways of doing things. Because the general public consists of a lot of different people with different ways of doing things because of different cultural backgrounds, our audience is widely diverse, and there are lots of opportunities for differing ways of reaching that widely diverse audience.
Yes, there is a segment that will be reached by your suggested methods, just like there are those who will be convinced by ridicule.
Just because we have different ideas doesn’t mean we have to act like christians and attack each other!
Don’t get me wrong, your approach is a good one. But your last paragraph indicated that you don’t think being confrontational is a good idea as you’re likely to be met with hostility.
I disagree, I think that all the methods humanape espouses are viable and necessary. We’re talking about deeply held, irrational beliefs. They aren’t going to drop them because they see a happy atheist.
P.S. Jim, great post.
Dhorvath, OM says
Jim, A nice succinct reminder that the bible reads like fiction to anyone who reads it naively. It’s only when charisma and authority attempts to sway that anyone could mistake it for history.
Just wanted to say this is one of the best of these I’ve read so far. Direct and entertaining. Give ’em hell, BUJ!
I know he’s not, but I got a giggle out of thinking that perhaps it’s Faith No More’s (original guitarist) Jim Martin on why he’s an Atheist.
It just made me smile. :)
Thanks for writing, Jim.
I loved this from Jim’s essay:
“I recognized the Bible for what it is. It’s a collection of pipe dreams from a broken people wishing for something better.”
Whether they were broken or not they indeed were pipedreams. The people writing the words that went in the bible knew less about the world then today’s 6 year old.
How anyone can believe in anything written in the bible is beyond me. The whole thing is simply ludicrous. A 4.5 billion year old Earth god finally decides to let his presence be know to goat /sheep herders a couple of thousand years ago, never to be heard from again. How can anyone believe this fantasy Only by being brainwashed by the religious power elite who brainwashed their parents to bring them to be brainwashed. The priests promise everyone the world, just build monuments to our idols and tax free buildings and pay the salaries to employ all of us,and when your dead you will have your reward. Yeah right. Suckers born and brainwashed every minute.
I am so pissed at the waste of human resources throughout history, building monuments to bullshit that it makes me want to cry. What a fucking waste. I don’t care how beautiful these buildings are as works of art. People wasted their whole lives doing it for a non-existent fantasy, mislead into believing that they were doing it for something real. And never mind the numbers of people that were slaughtered by religion for being on the wrong side.
Today we need an antibiotic to cure the disease of religion (look how the fundamentalist evangelicals have spread like a cancer over the body of the GOP over the last 15 years). What exactly it will be isn’t clear but I think it will be a vaccine based on new atheism and the internet and all forms of global communications. The truth is out there and the world will eventually find out.
Obviously god has ADHD and struggles to maintain concentration. He creates a universe, wanders off for a few billion years, notices that some stuff has changed, makes an appearance on Earth and then gets distracted by something happening in another galaxy.
Great story, all these are so interesting, there is such an amazing diversity it’s astonishing how many ways there are to reality.
Big Ugly Jim says
matthewhowery : Nope, not that Jim Martin, although I know he has the same nickname. The people started calling me that, though, and who am I to argue the facts? ;)
As far as the arguments about God wandering off for a few billion years, I think we all know why that’s foolish. God painted the firmament and invented the earth 6000 years ago. I can’t remember the name of the book I read that in, but it was definitely a big book, which is way harder to make than an internets.
markkopp @ #2: what about those whose beliefs lead them only to having a feeling of peace? For those whose religion is simply an opiate and nothing more?
Well you’ve kind of answered that one yourself with the word “opiate”. Opiates are addictive drugs that can be very dangerous, especially in the hands of people who are self-medicating. And they tend to lead to all sorts of destructive behaviours in the user.
You may argue that I’m stretching the analogy, but I think it still holds.
Well it’s different when you’re Jewish and they’re telling these stories in synagogue about your direct ancestors. But if you’re xtian, and they keep preaching to you out of the HEBREW bible, which was written for a different system of beliefs, in a different time, and for a differing set of reasons; and without explaining that Jesus was neither a christian nor did he ever espouse starting a new religion for gentiles; while at the same time implicitly pushing an anti-semitic agenda, then, yes, the whole thing just collapses from sheer fucking IRONY.
Good on you bro and welcome to the bright side.
Because religion tends towards indoctrination at a young age and causes mindset-reality-compartmentalization and magical thinking. Hand in hand come a tendency toward OCD (because magical thinking allows aberrant behaviors), guilt complexes, and bizarre voting decisions. It affects us all. Many of our friends may seem perfectly calm but have raging fears on the inside. Case in point, a friend of mine who, on embracing atheism, admitted she had secretly been punishing herself for decades because of a teenhood abortion.