Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The future of atheism is religion

I read this post at BoingBoing and was totally annoyed and confused. Especially this:

I think closeted atheists who participate in other religious activities are the future of atheism. They know that prayer feels good without a needing brain scientist to tell them, and they know you don't need God to want to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and provide homes for the orphaned. What if they simply stopped reciting the words that they didn't agree with during religious services, without calling attention to it? In many places I don't think they would be kicked out or turned upon and beaten just for that.

Um, what? I've spent some time with missionaries and got really hung up on the "pray to find out if you believe in God" thing. What is prayer if it's not directed anywhere? If you already have an inclination to believe in God, it's not going to seem so weird, but if the Universe feels pretty much empty where God would be, there's just no point to pretending like there's something there.

It's not a comfort to carry out the motions of empty spirituality. I get the impression that Paul Spinrad has no idea what it's like to just not believe in God. If you don't believe God is real, you don't have religious beliefs and you don't waste time in your private life pretending you do.

And he's damn right that you don't need God to tell you that human suffering is a bad thing. If you don't have any kind of afterlife to bank on, and the Universe is indifferent to the mortal lives we're all experiencing, if they go poorly, that's all we get. It is therefore paramount to care for other human beings.

It's a lot like Will Saletan's disingenuous attempts to accomodate pro-choice and pro-life views, where abortion is legal, but morally icky and to be avoided at all costs (not necessarily something believed by the pro-choice). With Spinard's vision of atheism, the atheists need to compromise and pretend they believe in God, and Saletan's vision of acceptable pro-choice thinking is that advocates for choice don't really think that women deserve the agency to make their own decisions about their health and feel however they want about it, but still have to feel guilty about it as a matter of policy.

Sure, you can tell your friends that you believe in God and go to church, and they'll probably believe you even if you don't really have the faith. What I'm stuck on is the prayer feels good even if there is no God thing. Huh?

I'm all for experimentation, and I think you can go into a religious life with the assumption that the beliefs you're adopting are true until you actually feel they're true (this is how I imagine it works for people who grow up with a faith they might not choose on their own), but if you can't muster any enthusiasm for the assumption, you're just standing in a building with a t on it with your eyes closed and hands folded. So you can see how my adventures with missionaries didn't end up with me a believer.

Atheists are a small minority of people, but that doesn't mean they kind of believe in God. In general, human beings do believe in some kind of God, but the long average view of what human beings is not useful for describing how any individual sees the world. Holding minority view is actually holding a view that others do not, and thinking that others are wrong. Not crazy or stupid - just wrong. We've all been wrong at one time or another, so it's not that big a deal.
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