I’m not sure if the Shields Gazette’s Mike Hallowell is trying to prove his theological chops with his most recent piece, a rather feeble attack on people who dare to criticise religion and the actions of the religious. Being a fresh convert to Islam, you would hope a new approach to religious apologetics. Sadly not.
Atheists are religious
Let’s get one thing straight from the outset – despite what atheists tell you to the contrary, they are every bit as religious as we believers.
Hallowell doesn’t define what he means by religious, but by any sensible definition, atheism is the antithesis of religion, hence the noun: atheism. Atheism has no holy leaders, no sacred texts, no bizarre rituals, and most importantly, no belief in a god or gods. And that’s about as simple as atheism gets – an absence of belief in supernatural beings. There are some atheists who have tried to take atheism further, to redefine it as a set of ethical behaviours borne out of a lack of religious belief, like in the case of the Atheism + concept. But such attempts to change atheism into something more than an absence of belief have failed to gain traction.
I’m curious though – is Hallowell really suggesting that being religious is somehow a negative attribute? Or is he saying that atheists can be just as good/bad as religious people in following their beliefs?
Atheists can’t prove there is no god
They cannot prove there is no God, and so a refusal to acknowledge the existence of one requires faith
This is one of the apologist’s favourite gambits. The first response would be that the lack of evidence against a god does not count as evidence for a god. The next one would be – which god? As Hallowell should know the burden of proof for any claim falls firmly on the one making the claim – in this case burden falls upon the religious. And the claims they do make don’t stand up to scrutiny. If you took each religious text as the hypothesis for its respective religion – creation, talking donkeys, zombies, flying horses, ninja monkeys – and compared them to what we know through evidence or our understanding of the universe, you would quickly find that these hypotheses fail the test. In other words, it’s nonsense. There is no shame in refusing to acknowledge nonsense.
There are atheists who don’t even consider the existence of gods. There is nothing to prove or disprove. The Pirahã people of South America, whilst they believe that spirits inhabit their physical world, they have no gods. They can’t comprehend the concept – and they see no need for one, simply because it has no utility. The thing that many religious people like Hallowell don’t get is that many atheists think in the same way – they see no need for a supernatural entity, or any evidence of one. There is no faith at work here, only practical good sense.
Agnostics are more honest
Now agnosticism is something I can at least understand, for it doesn’t rule out the existence of God.
Every agnostic I know is functionally an atheist. They don’t pray or go to church. They don’t care about religion or live their lives according to religious dogma. When agnostics say ‘I don’t know’, they are still saying they don’t believe, they’re just not ruling out the possibility there is an amorphous ‘something’ out there. They have already ruled out the existence of every god they’ve been presented with so far, otherwise they would already be a believer.
Atheists are arrogant and nasty
Mr Wilson hit the nail bang on the head when he said that some atheists “display a form of arrogant, secular bigotry which sees itself as superior”.
Neither Hallowell or G Wilson have defined what ‘secular bigotry’ means. The claim that the religious are somehow being ‘cowed’ by ‘secular bigotry’ in the UK doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Christianity is the state religion; churches, temples and mosques sit in our communities. The religious run schools and sit in the house of Lords. Prayers are spoken before every sitting of Parliament. The BBC transmits religious radio and TV programs. The reality is that people are free to believe what they want and say what they want about their religion. Despite all these religious threads in our society, the UK is a secular state, and it’s the UK’s particular brand of secularism which gives people freedom of religion.
If you want to see religious people being cowed, they’re more often being cowed by other religious people or by cultish state doctrine. In these often theocratic countries, being ‘cowed’ means imprisonment, torture or death. In no secular state is apostasy a crime. In the 20 countries where apostasy is a crime, sentences range from fines to imprisonment to flogging to death. Every one of them is a majority Islamic nation. It seems that in many countries, where religious disagreement occurs, harm isn’t far behind. Here in the dystopian UK Hallowell and Wilson seem to think they live in, the worst that can happen to the religious speaking out is that they get mocked for saying silly things.
Atheists want to limit the free speech of the religious
You may also find that their concept of “free speech” really translates as “You can say anything you like, as long as it doesn’t contradict currently accepted scientific dogma”.
You’ll find that most atheists are happy with free speech. However, it doesn’t mean they can’t call bullshit when some religious apologist says something silly, or for throwing around silly terms like ‘scientific dogma’. Science isn’t a static dogma, it changes according to the evidence. This is the strength of the scientific method. Religion, however, remains dogmatic, and tries to hold its believers in an intellectual stasis, where everything must be measured in line with the interpretations of a holy book.
When the religious claim that their free speech is being limited, they really mean they can no longer make claims without someone disagreeing with them. That’s because ideas don’t have rights. In a civilised society every ideology – religious or political – must be open to free discussion without fear of reprisal.
On Friday, our television channels covered the commemoration of the sacrifice of young men against an ideology that sought to dominate the world. Those commemoration ceremonies featured repeated religious rituals – on TV. Remember seeing the TV reports of an army of secular bigots and aggressive atheists demanding that those religious people stop praying? No? Neither did I, because it didn’t happen. Today, as I write this, a celebration of Pentecost is being transmitted on BBC 1. There’s no atheists standing outside churches trying to “cop an attitude whenever someone mentions the G-word”.
Atheists hate religion
But why do some atheists truly hate religion and the religious?
This is an interesting take on the ‘atheists just hate god’ fallacy. So let’s take a look. Mass murder. Women stoned to death. Children mutilated. The covering up of child rape. Women dying when an abortion could have saved their life. Young girls kidnapped for the needs of their fundamentalist captors. Why would anyone not hate what religion and the religious can do to people?
The religious don’t really care what atheists say
The truth is that many believers just can’t be bothered to engage in duels with atheists who criticise them.
Those atheists who do criticise the religious tend to do so in response to what the religious have done or want to do. However, the religious are not really known for keeping their religions to themselves: knocking on doors, putting leaflets through letterboxes, shouting through megaphones on high streets, online spamming, asking for money for missionary work and trying to change laws to suit their own murky moral framework. Should the religious be surprised at being criticised for doing something worthy of criticism?
Hallowell’s article is a feeble attack on atheists, without an example to back up his claims. If you look for an ‘aggressive atheist’ or ‘secular bigot’ you’re going to struggle to find one. To find an aggressive religious adherent or a religious bigot, you need only to read the news.
This has got to be made into a film. Or a TV series. You can imagine the trailer. A deep voice-over. Based on a true story, a sassy female cop on the edge, a maverick who takes no shit and will bend the rules to catch her prey (or pray even). In one scene, she’s told by her tough police captain “You’ve got 24 hail Marys to solve this case!” And while she’s bringing down the bad guys, she’s raising a gifted but difficult child with a deadbeat dad. Cut to a another scene with a criminal in handcuffs, declaring “How did you know it was me?” The feisty female cop coolly replies…
“That’s intercession, motherfucker.”
Well, probably not the motherfucker bit. But it is based on a true story. In Spain, an icon of the Virgin Mary in Málaga was awarded the police gold medal of merit for being pretty awesome at fighting crime. Scooby Doo must be pissed off.
If that’s the case, what does that say about religions? It looks like it’s implying that religions do the opposite, and that education is required to promote ‘respect and empathy’ amongst people of different religions because religions fail to do so.
So why bother with Religious Education? Surely the study of ethics would better serve in helping students to become good citizens who can think for themselves?
This is seriously fucked up:
It is so far off the scale of wrong.
Presumably if the witchcraft fails, it’s not a god’s fault; the blame lies with the hopeless mug who just didn’t have enough faith.
Recommending that someone abandons medical treatment and replace it with prayers and magic water is ignorant, irresponsible and dangerous. That should be obvious. That religious leaders use their authority to do so and with impressionable and pliable young people whilst hiding behind the untouchable shield of faith, demonstrates how despicable religious people can be.
If you believe in fairy tales and magic and you keep it to yourself, you’re at worst eccentric and harming no-one but yourself. However, if you spread that idiocy and seek to convince other people to stop taking their medicine, it makes you a danger to your fellow human beings.
Whilst it looks like it’s ‘only’ a small number of churches where this occurs, it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You can see how it can grow in an environment and culture where people accept faith healing as a reality, like:
Pentecostal pastor Stevo Atanasio, from the East London Christian Church, said that among his congregation, blind people had recovered sight, deaf people had heard again, and what were considered terminal illnesses had been cured.
This delusional bullshit is all too common.
We live in a society where mental illness dressed in mystic robes is given a free pass and access to vulnerable and young people. If someone gives health advice based on superstition their advice could at least make someone unwell, or at worst, kill. Religious leaders have authority and power, but they also have responsibility for their actions. (I say ‘religious leaders’, but the same applies to occult ‘healers’ of all flavours of delusion.)
If someone gave financial advice based upon manufactured information, they could end up with a prison sentence. Anyone who advises someone to abandon medical treatment in favour of supernatural spells and wishful thinking deserves the fullest condemnation from our society on the way to a stint inside a prison cell, no matter how well meaning they feel they are.
Christians in the USA declare aphid excretions as miraculous. WTXF – What The Xtian Fuck?
Up and down the length of the country religious councillors are reeling at the news that religious worship at the beginning of local council meetings was to be banned after a ruling by the High Court today. Councillors from across the political spectrum were consistent in their condemnation of the changes.
Tarquin Mossweed, Twitchester council’s Vegan Party leader was mildly perturbed by the turn of events.
“Yesterday we opened the council meeting with some crystal chanting and offerings of twigs to our spirit guides to help us in our important decisions. Without spiritual guidance, we may never have come to a decision to commit to introduce chill out rooms for our traffic wardens.”
“Tomorrow, without communing with the spirit of the earth mother we will struggle to decide what will be on the council canteen’s breakfast menu, porridge or porage.”
Councillor Zoltan Hellhound from Fatty-on-Picklesfat, was more forthright.
“This is a clear abuse of our human rights. How can a council be expected to perform without sacrificing a virgin to Satan before each meeting?”
Bradyork BNP councillor Schmidt Goering was concise in his opinion.
“They would never dare say that to Muslims. Would they? Eh? You know what I’m talking about.”
Jeremy Lespotty, UKIP councillor for South Spinelesside was clear on who was responsible for the changes.
“This is an example of how Europe interferes with our British customs.”
“And immigrants. They’re up to something too.
However, the Church of England was much more pragmatic about the issue. Bishop Hugh Spoutwell-Nonsensington of Spoon said
“Really, there’s no scriptural reference to Jesus’ opinions about street lighting, road gritting, wheelie bins or community engagement forums.”
“Indeed he was quite specific that people should keep their prayers to themselves.”
If you’ve travelled by bus or Metro on Tyneside you can’t miss the posters advertising the Alpha Course, normally posing generic questions like ‘Is there more to life than this?’, or delivering bland feel-good phrases like ‘Life is worth exploring’. In the run up to Christmas, they’ll be everywhere. Despite the Alpha Course being a Christian missionary project, their posters rarely mention God, Christianity or Jesus. I’ve always wondered by their advertising was so coy.
Over at the Atheism UK website, correspondent John Hunt has produced an excellent concise review of the current state of knowledge about the New Testament and the Jesus stories, and suggests that Alpha’s reluctance to mention the bible is down to the fact that the New Testament doesn’t really stand up to serious scrutiny.
Christian apologists debating the basis of their religion often point to the ‘historicity’ of Jesus and the brutality-lite New Testament account of his life. But outside the scriptual accounts, it’s likely that Jesus is at most a construct of bolted together pre-existing myths, possible real or exaggerated accounts and even bare faced made up stories to fit in with – and expand – the legend of Jesus.
From the tales of King Arthur to Robin Hood, myth has played an important part in building cultural identity, but is ultimately an unreliable foundation for an evolving ethical framework. As myths are retold it’s through the bias of the story teller, the perception filter of the listener and reflected in the mirror of zeitgeist. They are also refined to either meet the tastes of a contemporary audience, or to provide a better story. Sometimes, myths are remoulded to satisfy the demands of propaganda for political ends.
If the foundations of a belief structure are so shaky, how can anyone build an effective ethical ideology based upon a myth?