I have had several streams which have brought me back to this subject/idea which I have written about before.
The idea is simple, as a person who studies psychology, I am pretty sure that there is no way to actually know what is going on inside a person’s brain. If I can’t know if we both see the same color red, there is certainly no way I can know how you actually feel about something. Specifically, there is no way I know whether or not someone really believes in god.
Recently on Reddit, someone asked whether Hitler was a “Christian.” The answer at some level was “yes,” as he was born and raised in the Catholic church. But throughout his life he expressed all kinds of opinions about the church. What did he really believe? I contend we will really never know.
It is also clear to me that the same question can be asked today of people like Joel Osteen and Newt Gingrich. Do they really believe? It is easy for the cynic to say that they are simply using religion to further their political and financial goals (which is also probably true), but they might really believe what they say as well, I don’t think we can ever know.
The other stream that lead me to think along these lines again is the last few episodes of the Thinking Atheist podcast, Seth is sounding a bit like I have been feeling over the last six months — burned out and losing a bit of hope. Seth’s recent episodes have got me thinking about atheism and our movement.
Oddly, the atheism movement has its ideologues, people who think that agnosticism is wishy-washy atheism, and that, in fact, accepting atheism means accepting an entire skeptical worldview. As an atheist (to hear some say it) I am also supposed to not believe in ghosts, UFOs and Bigfoot as well. That somehow atheism relates to the acceptance of the effectiveness of vaccines as well.
For myself, I am moving away from an “anti-theism” position to much more of a “anti-coercive-religion” position. This might take a bit of explaining, I suppose, so I will use my children as an example.
After my divorce, my ex plunged deeply back into her Catholicism. During the divorce she accused me of “browbeating” her to join me in my lack of religion (by letting her go to church while I stayed home and made breakfast, apparently) so she doubled down after we split. She continues to raise the kids in the church, which I can’t do much about.
Now that they are entering adulthood, I find myself not really caring what my kids “believe.” If they want to believe in god, UFOs or Bigfoot, that is OK. I just don’t want them going off the deep end. It is one thing to think you just might see Bigfoot someday, it is quite another to move to Saskatchewan into a remote cabin to dedicate your life to getting a picture.
I hope very fervently they will leave the corrupt and evil Catholic church. Do I care if they say “Thank god” when something good happens. Not really. Do I care whether they meditate or pray? Not really. Whether they offer “thoughts” or “prayers” in tough times? Not really.
Of course I would prefer if they used critical thinking skills and made decisions based on evidence. But I understand that no one does that all the time and a few irrational beliefs are a part of our humanity.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that beliefs and attitudes affect our eventual behavior. I know there has to be a middle ground between the slippery slope argument that any belief in god eventually leads to the Inquisition and the very real idea that allowing for a belief in god also allows for the belief that the Bible is really the word of god which allows for the belief that homosexuals must be killed.
It is my opinion that we don’t necessarily need to go back to the belief to prevent the slippery slope. If my kids tell me they think Bigfoot is real, OK, maybe he is out there somewhere. If they tell me that Bigfoot is emptying their birdfeeder, then I am going to need some kind of evidence.
Which brings me back to agnosticism, which actually I find to be a viable philosophical position. Is there a god? Maybe. I see no evidence there is, but there is also no evidence to alien civilizations, but they might exist.
Philosophically, I can concede the existence of god without really changing anything. For example William Lane Craig likes to use the Kalam Argument to “prove” god exists. I think it does no such thing, but even if I concede that it does, I see no way to get from “Something supernatural created the universe” to “Everything in the bible is true and Jesus died for our sins.” And apparently Craig doesn’t either as he just leaps over the gap with no further explanation.
I see it as perfectly possible to be against any and all religions — whether or not a god exists. In fact sometimes I find the logic of “Do you really think that I god who created all this would say the silly things people have put in his mouth?” to be a fairly persuasive argument. Really? The creator of the infinite universe is offended and upset how some people have sex? Makes no sense.
I also find that this position is helpful from a political standpoint. Many religionists are actually in agreement with us that secular government is the way to go. We need all the allies we can get in these times.
For me, anti-theism is not an immediate or even long term goal. Being against religious people and organizations that want to impose the “will of god” on other people is now my goal. I don’t think for a minute that atheism is necessary to want “freedom from religion.”