Why I Don’t Respect Your Beliefs

belief
/bɪˈlif/
1. something believed; an opinion or conviction: a belief that the earth is flat.
2. confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof: a statement unworthy of belief.
3. confidence; faith; trust: a child’s belief in his parents.
4. a religious tenet or tenets; religious creed or faith: the Christian belief.

No, I will not even entertain the notion of respecting your beliefs

When I first filled out my Twitter bio, I didn’t think too much about that statement. I just wanted something that summarised some of my thoughts toward religion. Since then, a number of theists have commented on it, using words to describe me, like ‘intolerant’ ‘bigot’ & ‘handsome’. What they have all failed to realise is that there is no reason a belief should be entitled to any modicum of respect. What is a belief after all? It’s nothing more than an idea held by someone. Should ideas not be judged on their own merit and not merely accepted and respected just because a large number of people happen to hold them? I might believe that the earth is flat, but should you have to respect that belief? Obviously not, and you would more than likely challenge and ridicule that belief. If I attempt to extend my belief beyond the sphere of my own life, this belief of mine has now become your issue.

safefrombelief

Outside an Orwellian dystopia, people are free to believe whatever they choose. The freedom to hold a belief however, does not entitle that belief to any respect. While they are extreme examples, the Nazis and the KKK clearly illustrate my point: both had/have very strong beliefs (which may actually be rooted in religion, but that is a topic unto itself). While the small number of repugnant individuals who still share those beliefs might disagree, it’s safe to say that the vast majority of people today would accord those beliefs exactly zero respect. The holder of a belief should be respected if that respect is in fact earned/deserved, people’s right to hold a belief should also be respected, but the belief itself exists only in the mind of the person or people that hold it and thus is not entitled to any respect.

This is why I won’t even entertain the notion of respecting anyone’s beliefs.

“Why am I so angry? It’s called new-atheism” – my response to Toma Part II

First of all, I’d like to thank all those who read Part 1 of my reply to Toma and your kind words on Twitter.

Atheism has become about the freedom to be morally flexible.

I wish I could say I was surprised that I needed to explain that morality doesn’t come from a storybook, but sadly, that’s not the case. I’ve been mulling over in my head for the past couple of days exactly how I would address this point; it seems obvious to anyone that has given it even the most cursory examination. There are a number of ways in which this could be approached, but as the person to whom I am responding is a christian, I thought the most salient method would be to examine what the Bible tells us about how we are to act in various situations. Forgive me if this comes across awkward in any way; discussions of morality are neither my forte nor a particular area of interest for me.

“Atheism has become about the freedom to be morally flexible.” Based on that statement, I can reasonably assume that you feel theism (christianity in your case) is the only framework by which morality can be determined, so without that framework, atheists are amoral/immoral, or ‘morally flexible’ as you put it.

The previous assumption being true, it also seems logical to think that you believe the ‘word of god’ i.e. the bible, to be the source of our morality. Please correct me if either of these assumptions are incorrect. An examination of the bible should then yield a treasure trove of advice on how to live a moral life. While you might immediately be thinking ‘cherry-picking’, you should be aware that it is those who claim the bible as a source of morality who are guilty of this, and not I. Were the bible an appropriate means by which to derive morality, should we not expect it to be free from ambiguous and/or conflicting ideas? The fact that I can easily find examples to demonstrate my points should immediately call into question the notion that the bible should be the source of our morality. Christians have to either follow the bible to the letter (and some fundamentalists attempt to do this) or pick and choose which aspects of it they will follow, and which ones they will ignore.

In order to illustrate this, allow me to pose a number of questions to you Toma, and we’ll look at the bible’s answers to them. If you consider yourself to be a moral person, and one who has derived said morality from the bible, then your answers should be the same as the bible, right? Let’s see.

1] What should be done about those who do not honour their parents?

According to Matthew 15:4 the answer is quite simple: they should be put to death.

If you don’t think death is an appropriate punishment for failing to honour one’s parents, then you are cherry-picking.

2] Should women be permitted to speak in church?

I Corinthians 14:34 makes it quite clear that no, they should not. The following verse adds: “for it is shameful/a shame/disgraceful/improper (there are so many translations!) for a woman to speak in church. Similar verses in I Timothy 2:11-14 tell us that women should always be silent and forbidden from teaching or using authority over a man.

If you have ever allowed a woman to speak in church, teach you, or exert any authority over you, then you are cherry-picking.

3] What should be done if a man is caught raping a woman who is not engaged?

Deuteronomy 22:28-29 lists 3 things: her father must be paid, the rapist must marry the victim, and a divorce is not be permitted.

If you don’t consider financial compensation paid to the father and a never-ending marriage to be an acceptable punishment for raping a woman who is not engaged, then you are cherry-picking.

4] How should homosexuals be punished?

That’s easy; according to Leviticus 20:13 they should be killed.

If you don’t think homosexuals should be killed, then you are cherry-picking.

5] Are there any other people who should be put to death?

Why yes, yes there are. Here is just a sampling: sorceresses, mediums, those who strike their parents, those who curse their parents, adulterers, a priest’s daughter who fornicates, followers of other religions, nonbelievers, false prophets, women who aren’t virgins on their wedding night, blasphemers, anyone who approaches the Tabernacle, people who work on the Sabbath, children who call a bald man ‘bald’, sons of sinners, the list goes on and on (and was taken from here)

If you don’t think that all of the above deserve death, then you are cherry picking.

With just those handful of examples, it is obvious that the average christian is not following the bible to determine their morality; they pick the parts that fit within a modern worldview. As the bible provides both moral and immoral actions, it simply can’t be trusted as a source of morality. That being the case, how do christians decide which rules to follow and which ought to be ignored?

It’s quite simple actually: empathy. Our notions of what is right and wrong are not derived from ancient texts; they come from empathy. Do you honestly think that before the holy texts were written, people had no sense of morality? I’m sure that we could agree that different periods of our history contained notions of morality that differ greatly from those we now possess. That however, is not to say that people had no concept of morality prior to the bible, quran, etc. or that people have been more moral since these books came into being.

Rats, dogs, elephants, and many other animals have been shown to display empathy; this is by no means a uniquely human trait. World-renowned primatologist Frans de Waal has done a great deal of research on primate social behaviour, showing our primate ‘cousins’ sense of empathy is very similar to our own. In ‘The Evolution of Empathy‘ he suggests our sense of empathy has been advantageous throughout our evolution and how it has led to morality.

It’s not that religion and culture don’t have a role to play, but the building blocks of morality clearly predate humanity. We recognize them in our primate relatives, with empathy being most conspicuous in the bonobo ape and reciprocity in the chimpanzee. Moral rules tell us when and how to apply our empathic tendencies, but the tendencies themselves have been in existence since time immemorial.

(Thought you might like the first part of that Tomo; de Waal seems to have drawn criticism from PZ Myers and AC Grayling over comments like that.)

Christians often ask what stops atheists from doing whatever they like, if they do not have the bible to guide them. They ask this question in all seriousness, without realising what it actually means about their own behaviour. The only reason you don’t rape and kill is because some passages in the bible tell you not to? That’s a terrifying thought; christians desire to rape and kill is only held at bay by a book. Before you became a christian, did you have a strong desire to rape and kill that was only repressed once you read the bible? If that is not true, then why would you assume that atheists are any different?

Penn Jillette summarises it nicely:

The question I get asked by religious people all the time is, without God, what’s to stop me from raping all I want? And my answer is: I do rape all I want. And the amount I want is zero. And I do murder all I want, and the amount I want is zero. The fact that these people think that if they didn’t have this person watching over them that they would go on killing, raping rampages is the most self-damning thing I can imagine.

The notion that atheists or theists (or anyone for that matter) need a book to tell them how to interact with people is laughable. Christians need to stop assuming a position of moral superiority because they’ve read a collection of stories from antiquity, especially considering the ‘morality’ in those stories is not something one should aspire to. As I’ve explained, most reasonable christians already pick and choose what parts of the bible they follow, indicating they must have another way by which they determine what actions are moral. That being the case, why bother pretending the bible is a source for morality?

As I stated earlier, discussions of morality are neither my forte nor an area of strong interest; I have likely spent too much time on certain points, while glossing over others that should have been expanded upon. Regardless, I hope I’ve gotten across the gist of what I wanted to say. Stay tuned for Part III.

“Why am I so angry? It’s called new-atheism” – my response to Toma Part I

I generally prefer to dispense my thoughts in person or in 140 character chunks, but after having just been informed today by @MrOzAtheist of a mention in a blog posting (dated June 9, 2013), I felt compelled to respond. I even set up this fancy new domain because that’s just how I roll (do people still say that?).

The aforementioned post by @TomaHaiku can be found here. I thought for the sake of ease (mine, not the reader’s), I would dissect statements in Toma’s article and respond to some of the ones I took umbrage with. Actually, umbrage may be a poor choice of words; I’m not in the least bit offended by anything he wrote, I just feel the need to point out the numerous erroneous and fallacious statements he made. There are so many in fact, that I will have to split this into a number of parts; here’s the first installment.

There was a time that atheism simply meant you didn’t believe in God. Putting five atheists in a room together meant the only thing they were certain to have in common was their non-belief in a deity.

1] I think I’ll defer to the dictionary on this one:

atheism
[noun]
disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.
Origin:
late 16th century: from French athéisme, from Greek atheos, from a- ‘without’ + theos ‘god’

Your choice of words ‘there was a time’ would seem to indicate that you think this definition has changed; however the dictionary would indicate otherwise. The etymology of the word should be a clue, and you can clearly see that it translates to without god.

The second part of that statement is actually correct, though you have chosen the past simple, when you should have used the present simple (meant vs. means). If you put 5 atheists in a room, the only thing you can guarantee they will have in common is their lack of belief in any deities. It seems as though you might be creating your own meaning for ‘atheism’ and perhaps amalgamating notions of humanism and secularism…perhaps you could clarify this? I made a handy little pie chart for people who didn’t seem to be able to grasp exactly what atheism encompasses:

relatedtoatheism

With the rise of new-atheists and new-atheist leaders such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late and great Christopher Hitchens,  atheism has come to take on a more universal, cult-like existence.

2] New-atheists? I’m afraid I might have to request clarification from you on this one as well Toma. If you refer back to the previous point, I explained that the definition of atheism hasn’t changed, ergo there is no such thing as ‘new-atheists’. Let me give you an example: when I was a child, I didn’t believe in vampires (I suppose that made me an avampirist). As an adult, my non-belief in vampires continues. There really is no way in which my non-belief has changed, i.e. there is no new way in which I don’t believe in vampires now. Make sense? The same is of course true for my lack of belief in gods.

I’ve been an atheist for the better part of 20 years now; it started well before I had even heard of Dawkins, Harris, or Hitchens. It was something I came to on my own, and by comparing atheism to a cult you demonstrate once again that you like to assign your own meanings to words. Allow me to refer to the dictionary once again:

cult
[noun]
a system of religious veneration and devotion directed towards a particular figure or object.

The fact that a great many people have read the works of these fine authors speaks to the quality of the works they have produced, it hardly qualifies them as ‘cult-leaders’. This is merely a case you playing fast and loose with the definition of words and molding them to suit your points. I find this particular form of intellectual dishonesty to be especially distasteful. As for an actual example of a cult leader as per the dictionary definition, perhaps you remember David Koresh? Personally, I think the only difference between a religion and a cult is tax-free status.

New-atheists today share an extreme dislike of all religion.

3] Allow me to introduce you to possibly a new word: anti-theism. You have thus far been using the word atheist or ‘new-atheist’, when anti-theist would have been more accurate. Again, it is the prefix that defines the word. One of meanings of ‘anti-‘ is against, or hostile to. Do you see how that is far more accurate than ‘a-‘ meaning without? This isn’t a petty case of arguing semantics; your use of the words is either incorrect by choice or through ignorance.

By changing your statement to the more accurate ‘anti-theists today share an extreme dislike of all religions’ I’d agree with you. Correct my assumption if necessary, but I expect that you are against religions apart from your own. How would you feel if your children were led in a prayer to Allah at the beginning of each school day? Would this foster any feelings of hostility in you Toma? I doubt I’d be wrong in assuming it would. In my interactions with various theists over the years, it has become quite apparent to me that they share no love for those who follow the ‘wrong religion and worship the wrong god(s). Perhaps you don’t fit into this category, please tell me if that is indeed the case.

It’s no longer enough to simply argue that God does not exist; it is now essential to argue that religion is evil, and that the religious are fools and hypocrites.

I’m impressed that you managed to fit so much ‘wrong’ into one well-articulated sentence. My fingers ache just thinking about how much I am going to have to type to correct it. Sigh.

If you recall the definition I have already given for atheism, it states a lack of belief in a god/gods. That is of course not the same as saying ‘gods do not exist’. The difference is subtle, but very important. As an atheist, due to a complete and total lack of credible evidence, I do not believe in any god. For me to state that god does not exist includes a claim of knowledge; making me a gnostic atheist. I am in fact, an agnostic atheist, in that I realise it is impossible to truly know whether a supernatural deity exists somewhere in the cosmos. That being said, just because I can’t categorically disprove the existence of said deity, is no reason to believe and thus, I don’t. I can only speak for myself, I would never want to be accused of speaking for all atheists (though you seem to lump us all together as one), but I personally don’t argue that god doesn’t exist. I’ll happily state my opinion or belief on the topic, but that is not the same as saying I know that your god does not exist.

As one who claims to have knowledge that a god (God as you xians so creatively call him) exists, you are a gnostic theist. It is not just that you claim to know a god exists, you claim to know which one it is; a bold claim indeed! The burden of proof is on you, the claim is yours.

BRjQmjICcAAv8HU.png large

As for ‘it is now essential to argue that religion is evil’, how can anything else be essential to my not believing in a god. The only thing essential to atheism is a continued lack of belief in gods. Do you see how your misuse of the terminology adversely affects practically everything you’ve written? Let’s again attribute this statement to anti-theism. As far religion being evil, I could provide thousands of examples, but I’m being 100% honest when I say I really can’t be bothered. One could easily fill entire Ikea wall units with books detailing the evils of religion, but that sounds like a ridiculous amount of effort doesn’t it? Instead, here are 8 examples of the atrocities of religions that someone else has compiled (full article here)

1] Buddhist Burma
2] Thuggee Murders
3] Mountain Meadows Massacre
4] The Inquisition
5] The Witch Hunts
6] Roman Persecution of Christians
7] Aztec Human Sacrifice
8] Islamic Jihads

And let’s not forget the truly abhorrent, disgusting cover-up of child rape that the Catholic church has carried out over the past half-century. How truly evil it is to steal the innocence of children in such a monstrous way.

While some people (myself included) do say that theists are fools, what we should be saying is that your beliefs are foolish. That being said, it can be hard to separate the belief from the believer when one hears stories of talking animals, Noah’s Ark, saints rising from their graves, the ridiculous story of creation…I could go on and on and on. What am I to make of a person who truly believes that Noah and his family not only built a boat large enough to accommodate a breeding pair of each species of animal, but also managed to collect them all (even the marsupials in Australia….an island), keep them alive for 40 days and nights, then somehow return them each to the habitat from whence they came? How did the animals manage to eat after they left the ark? The carnivores wouldn’t have been able to eat any of the animals from the ark, lest they disappear forever, while the herbivores would have had no vegetation to eat. That’s completely ignoring the aquatic life that would have perished when the flood-waters changed the salinity levels of the oceans and bodies of freshwater. This is another topic in which I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. An adult believing this fairytale in 2014 may well be called a fool, and deservedly so.

Oh my. This was just 3 tiny paragraphs from your posting; there are still 5 more :/ Stay tuned for parts 2 & 3.

Kevin (aka @perth_atheist)