Quite a lot of atheist material lately. There is this review of Nicholas Everitt’s The Non-Existence of God in The New Humanist

…some theists maintain that asking for reasons to believe in God’s existence is beside the point. The demand for reasons in this context is, they say, either blasphemous or vacuous. As Kierkegaard put it, echoing Luther, belief in God is a matter of faith; it’s not like our ordinary belief in the existence of things like tables and chairs, which can be justified or shown to be false. Everitt is impatient with such manoeuvres, and dispatches them rather effectively.

Good. I wonder if he also dispatches the maneuver we’ve noticed a lot in these arguments – what one might call the having it both ways maneuver. Claim that God is ineffable, transcendent, beyond our understanding or anything we can say about it, etc etc, but nevertheless be more than willing to say all sorts of things on the matter. What it seems to mean in practice is: God is ineffable therefore atheists can’t say anything on the matter, but theists on the other hand can and should say whatever it occurs to them to say.

Two sets of rules, one might say. The author of this article on discrimination against atheists might say, for example. Apparently there is a general belief that there is really no such thing as discrimination against or ill-treatment of atheists, but Margaret Downey has researched the question and found otherwise. She has also found a likely reason the problem is not recognized:

One would think that any atheist who had experienced discrimination would be eager to submit an affidavit. Instead, the fear of suffering further discrimination as a “whistleblower” was widespread. Some victims told me that they did not want to go public lest still more hatred come their way. This is the trauma of discrimination, just the sort of intimidation that discourages discrimination reports and makes it difficult to find plaintiffs for needed litigation.

Downey presents a few examples of small-town persecution – harassment, threats, firings, pictures of Jesus left on one’s desk, organized shunning, stalking with a butcher’s knife. I read somewhere recently – I forget where, but I think it was in something I linked to – about the nice old tradition of the much-loved atheist in every US village. That’s bullshit. In most of the US, atheists are greeted with venom and hostility unless they maintain complete silence on the matter (and sometimes even then).

And finally there’s this article on Bush’s superstition by Edmund Cohen, who seems to have taken a surprisingly long time to notice.

Until recently, I had not seriously thought that supernaturalism or superstition could be an issue of concern as regards the second Bush presidency…Surely that establishment must have vetted its candidate well enough to rule out nominating an unstable religious eccentric. When he speaks in churchly terms, surely he is only employing regional idiom and one cannot take him literally.

Er – no. The Republican establishment does a staggeringly bad job of ‘vetting’ its candidates. The Democratic establishment doesn’t do any better, mind you – because it’s not about vetting, especially now that the primary system is so much more important than it once was.

According to [Bush confidant] Robison, there are but two worldviews: Biblical Christianity and Relativism. Biblical Christianity represents the “Absolutes.” By “Relativism,” he means complete lack of criteria for distinguishing right from wrong or truth from falsity. All those who are not Bible-believers are ipso facto Relativists. For Robison, liberal Democrats, Islamist terrorists, and all others who are not Christian Bible-believers count as Relativists and are therefore all interchangeable with one another.

Yep, I know the type, I’ve even (to my sorrow) had conversations with one or two. I’ve been informed that people who ‘acknowledge’ no higher authority have no ability to feel remorse – which is quite an interesting idea. No wonder the believers go in for shunning and threats.

2 Responses to “Belief”