I enjoy being a morning bird. My writing isn’t extremely well-known, but I get the occasional response and sometimes I manage to be awake as they are published. Today is one such day. My post about what I as an atheist, “wanted” was seen by Neil Godfrey of Vridar, and got a response from him. I really liked his response but there are certain things that I think deserve a response. The ending is directly addressed towards Neil, but as usual I welcome any comments and or thoughts on the post and hopefully on a greater discussion about skepticism and atheism. I want to respond to individual bits and pieces before responding to the overall post (the last few paragraphs are where I respond to the overall post). So with that little bit of context, let’s get started!
Responding to individual quotes:
“As an atheist who takes his atheism, like his right-handedness, for granted, I rarely get involved in discussions about my beliefs.” I don’t take my atheism for granted. I was an atheist who was quiet about my atheism for several months, nearly a year before I told my mom who in turn told my dad. They were surprisingly okay with it, but no one else in my family has been explicitly told that I don’t believe in God. Among Latin Americans belief in God is part of our very identity as Latinxs (this is also the case, though in my experience to a much lesser degree, to families in the United States). We are just “supposed” to believe. I know you want to be free to not believe in peace, but many of us aren’t. I think that’s part why I wrote my piece in the first place.
Most of my friends and peers, especially those that are the same age as me know about my atheism and my anti-theism, but I still haven’t told the family of my girlfriend about my atheism, despite the fact that I’ve known them longer than I’ve been an atheist. I don’t know a single Latinx person who is an atheist or skeptic of any label who takes their atheism for granted. My atheism is the result of years of doubt, but wanting to believe, which ultimately came apart. I don’t want to be a part of a world where someone has to have an identity based off of something they don’t believe in. It’s almost laughably ridiculous, but I think that there is importance in saying it outloud, you know? For me, the importance of being a vocal atheist comes from living in both Central America, and in the Bible Belt. I want people to know of my atheism, because I tend to treat people decently. And many of the people I know, don’t know a whole lot of other atheists. I think if we give them more or less positive examples of atheism, tolerant examples (which sounds weird given that I am also an anti-theist, but I am very careful about my anti-theism) of atheism, we help ensure that they are less inclined to be rude and exclusionary to atheists in the future.
I also frequently get involved in discussions about beliefs in general. Not mine, because since I don’t believe in anything supernatural I don’t really “have beliefs” in the way most believers mean when they ask me if I have beliefs or what I believe in. Misconceptions about atheism abound, both in Latin America, and in the USA (the two regions I have experience in) and doing my part to dispel those misconceptions is something I take seriously so I actively engage believers in discussion.
“I used to be something of an anti-theist.” The very reason I mention that I am an antitheist, like my previous paragraphs about atheism, has to do with that awkward intersection of being Latino and an atheist. I mention my antitheism, when I chat with believers, because I don’t want them to assume that “atheist=antitheist”. I want them to understand the two as separate identities/behaviors/positions. I think that people who automatically assume “atheist=antitheist” are common, and I don’t want to reinforce that stereotype.
I don’t view believers as stupid, or people in need of rescuing which is why I stated towards the end of my original post that I would be happy if believers in general shifted towards more personal versions of their religions. I think that’s a more realistic vision than dismantling religion in general, and if that began to happen I would happily stop being someone who considers themselves an antitheist. I don’t view believers or even religion itself as an enemy to be defeated, I am just concerned with the actions of politically inclined or politically “conscious” believers who attempt to legislate their morality, and in Latin America that is WAY more common than in the United States. I don’t pity believers or even view them as “wrong” most of the time, I just want to make sure their personal beliefs affect only themselves. I fear that when religion plays a role in an oppressive cycle or practice, it can be EXTREMELY difficult to overcome that cycle or practice. My main motivation for being an antitheist is my understanding of the difficulties of overcoming oppressive systems when they fuse with religion, given my experiences in Central America. Overcoming these systems on individual levels in my (unprofessional) experience typically involves separating them from religion and religious backing.
I guess my personal antitheism is more about preventing the fusion of religious beliefs with cultural practices where the two haven’t already been fused, and ensuring that people don’t attempt to legislate their morality and not as much about attacking religion as true or untrue, although that plays a role in my antitheism as well.
“I don’t want any of these things “as an atheist” but as a human being. They are not atheistic desires or values but human ones. There are many people who want the same sorts of things even though they are not all atheists. I also want to do whatever I can to promote social and political justice. I certainly want to do what I can to promote secularism, humanism, rationalism. I don’t want these things “as an atheist”. I want them as a fellow human being. I am very aware many others who are not necessarily atheists want the same things. In fact, some of the most enthusiastic advocates for fighting the evils of harmful religion are the religious themselves. Often they have a far better idea of how to do this than complete outsiders.”
I do want these things as an atheist. My desires relative to religion have come about due to my own personal atheism, and my experiences as an atheist. When I was a theist I never had a desire to worry about nonbelievers. I viewed religion as black and white. I wanted people to be treated with decency and respect, but I didn’t think about specific things caused by religions towards nonbelievers or even religious attitudes towards believers/members in/of other faiths. Being an atheist who regularly reads, follows, and pays attention to the religious has made me see that negative attitudes towards others isn’t just a position the religious hold towards nonbelievers, but believers in other religions as well. It’s not that I want these things because they are natural for atheists to want, but because I now have experiences as an atheist who is willing to listen too and chat with believers. I don’t think these are exclusively things desirable to atheists, they are just consequences of my own lack of beliefs and the experiences I have had due to my lack of beliefs.
“I no longer divided the world between “them” and “us” after I left religion. It was no longer a place where saints struggled in a world of wickedness. We are all humans; we are all the same species; we are all “one” and we are all in this thing together. Not all of us understand what is going on but that means that those who do understand have a weightier responsibility to help out.
To identify as atheists against religious believers means perpetuating the dividing up of the world into black and white, the sinners and the saints, which is the way to inability to truly understand one another, to antagonism, hostility, arrogance, bullying, an all-round withdrawal of compassion.
As a human being I also want to see the end of harmful beliefs and practices, and neither of those is confined to religion. (Today I learned of a horrific bombing in Baghdad once again, just as I heard last week of mass carnage in Istanbul — and it outrages me that “we” don’t pause and feel the same shock and anger as we did when we heard of Orlando and Paris.) I don’t know if a world without religion would be any better off than an environment free from every creature we consider pests. But of course I want people to be more sceptical and to ask for evidence for their beliefs, but at the same time I am not going to push that line with my octogenarian mother.”
As an atheist, if I am vocal with most (not all) of the believers I’ve met THEY would divide the world up between us and them (and most of the believers I’ve met, even divide the world into believers in specific things). I don’t do that on a personal level, even if sounds like I do based off of this post. I have no hostility towards the religious, in a sense I even admire their desires for their beliefs to be true and their willingness to talk to others to get them to believe as well. But I get frustrated when they refuse to listen to even the mildest criticisms of their beliefs or that their beliefs should solely influence them. I understand, on some level, why they don’t listen, but it is still frustrating. And at times it can be dangerous.
I also never said or thought that harmful beliefs and practices were confined to religion, which is why I explicitly stated “As an anti-theist, I want to dismantle systems of oppression which use religion as their justification.” I never said that bad ideas, and beliefs came from religion or were exclusive to religion. I was talking only about beliefs and systems that were 1: oppressive, and 2: linked to religion/used religion as their justification. This certainly isn’t something all systems or even all systems inspired by religion. It’s just some systems, which make up a percentage of systems inspired by/fused with religion. There are very good systems which are fused with religion, like some homeless shelters and some soup-kitchens, a few charities (not all though), and some scholarships which I 100% support, even if those involved are expected to listen to preachers and to participate in church services or at least agree with the pastors on some theological levels. I would like to see more secular groups getting involved in their communities so that more people can be helped and so that people who aren’t religious, or aren’t believers don’t have to feel uncomfortable, but I am grateful that so many good practices and services come from believers. My attitudes are specific towards individuals, groups, and individual practices.
In conclusion/general thoughts on Neil’s post:
I agree with a lot of what Neil said. I know it might not seem like it, because I reacted pretty thoroughly chunks to what was said, but I really do agree with a lot of what was said in his post. We have some differences, but I think if I had explained myself more in my original post a lot of those differences would have disappeared or would have been understood differently enough that the content of Neil’s post would have changed and perhaps my own would have looked more agreeable. One thing I feel the need to point out is that I don’t agree with Atheism +. I get why someone is inclined to think that I would, given my own personal language and where this blog is located, on FtB, but I am not a supporter of Atheism +. I made a video where I explained what atheism was (at least to me), and that continues to be my position on my own atheism. Not Atheism +, but just plain old atheism. If you wanna check that out, it’s pretty short (just a minute and a half long), but be warned it has some music which can be pretty loud at max volume.
Neil, I really liked what you wrote, and I enjoy your style of writing. I am happy that my post for whatever reason made you want to respond so much that you decided to write a response on your site. I think we agree on a lot, but for different reasons and those reasons (to me anyway) matter enough that they seem to change our perspectives. My atheism will always be a Latinx atheism (because it came about largely due to my experiences in Latin America, especially in the beginning), which shouldn’t have to be the case but because of my own experiences with Latin America, and with my fellow Latinxs will always be the context through which I view my skepticism both of religion and just in general.
I think your post was excellently written and contained points which I definitely agree with. I also read your other post, about atheism without the extras and I agree with it. I think atheism is not really an “identity” of sorts. And that attempts to make it one strike me as kind of silly.
I think after reading your post I realized flaws in my own way of writing, which I need to be careful of in the future. I think I can see why you wrote some of the things you wrote, such as the “them and us” parts and the section of the post talking about wanting things as a “human being” or. as an “atheist”. I greatly appreciated hearing what someone thought of my post in such detail, and I welcome the opportunity for us to engage in a greater conversation about atheism, “anti-theism”, and skepticism in general.
I can tell I still have a long way to go before I reach the narrative voice I want to reach and getting to read how others respond to my work helps because I can see flaws in my own writing style that I otherwise would have been blind too. If you ever want to respond to my work, anyone not just Neil, feel free to do so! I’ll definitely share it on my page, and probably even react to it so that we can engage in a greater conversation about whatever topic inspired you to write a response to me, even if you completely disagree with what I said.
I hope everyone who reads this has a great 4th of July!