What I learned from the atheists

It’s not a good idea to fuck with people’s beliefs. And now I realize that, for many people, atheism is a belief as dearly held and as passionately defended as those of any religious fundamentalist.

My sojourn among the atheists began innocently enough, when I left a comment on another blog. The post in question was about Richard Dawkins, and I commented that I thought he was a “self-aggrandizing blowhard” and compared him to Jimmy Swaggart. Dawkins, as many of you know, is the favorite binky of many atheists, and my offhand comment about him kicked off a debate that eventually generated 87 comments on that post.

It was fun, for awhile. As some of you know, I can be a tad argumentative, and I enjoy debate. It should be noted that I was never arguing the existence of God per se. I was merely pointing out that any statement made on this subject is based on conjecture, not fact. Therefore, both theism and atheism are based on speculation, irrespective of whether one is a theist or atheist.

And so it went back and forth. As I said, it was fun. It should be noted that everyone involved in that debate kept it polite and civil and intelligent. I even made a friend along the way, an atheist who also has a WordPress blog here. He has left comments on this blog as well, and I admire the logical and rational way he presents his arguments. I consider him an intelligent man and a worthy antagonist.

I also explored other atheist blogs and sites, and I discovered that it’s not always so civil out there. There is apparently a schism within atheism itself between the moderate “I just don’t see any evidence of God” type atheists, and the hard-core “I know for a fact there is no God and there must be something wrong with you if you believe in one” types. There seems to be some animosity between the two groups.

One thing I have learned is that a hard-core atheist can be every bit as stubborn and inflexible as any religious fundamentalist. They swear at you and call you weird names. “Theistard” was one name that was hurled at me by one very angry young woman. It makes me wonder what may have happened in her life to drive her to such a degree of rage at the very idea of God. I found this odd because I’ve always equated passion with belief. It never occurred to me that one could disbelieve in something passionately, and yet this is very much the case. Just as some people need to believe in God, there are some people who seem to need to believe that there is no God at all.

It’s not that I ever expected to change anyone’s mind, at least not right away.  I understand that human beings just aren’t hard-wired that way.  But a debate is only interesting–at least for the me–when you feel the other side is listening and considering what you’re saying.  Especially when considering an esoteric subject like God, there’s plenty of room for constructive disagreement.  But if someone stakes out a position and won’t budge an inch from it then after a while it just gets very tedious and it just stops being fun.

I certainly don’t want to give the impression that I think all atheists are like this.  In fact, it’s probably a minority, just as it’s only a minority of people who hold religious beliefs fall into the category of fundamentalist.  But in my view the two extreme groups are mirror images of each other, although both sides bristle at the suggestion.

As has been pointed out to me (several times now), I have neglected this blog. I am a bit obsessive about some things, and I have allowed this to eat up an inordinate amount of my time. A big part of the problem is that I tend to get hyper focused on something, to the exclusion of all else. Exploring the land of the atheists was fascinating, but I think it’s time to come home now. If I had more time and energy, I could do it all, but I’ve come to realize that I can either spend my limited free time debating atheists, or spend it writing on this blog. And so the blog wins.

Besides, I think everyone is sick of looking at that damned cat.


14 Responses to “What I learned from the atheists”

  1. 1 Joe
    October 4, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    Dawkins is certainly a “self-aggrandizing blowhard”. 🙂 But as you seem to realize not all atheists are.

    Absolutely. To me it’s all just different ways of looking at the universe. None of us can ever really “know”, so why not just enjoy the ride?

  2. October 4, 2007 at 10:06 pm

    Interesting and thanks for taking the time to write this post. I remember reading the ‘waste of time’ line in regards to this whole debate. Of course you’ll have to decide this but reading this post I don’t think so. You sound like a person who has an opinion and not just because the wind blew that way today. You’ve actually gone and put in your hours to gather more info and to ‘talk’ to people. And that is what opinions are all about. Anybody can have an opinion, it’s the ones that survive past 3 tough questions that interest me. And if I ever need a speaker on the subject, you seem more then qualified 🙂 .

    Hmmm, good point. While I think continuing to debate people who have already made up their minds is indeed a waste of time, the whole experience certainly was not. The opportunity to expose myself to differing points of view, and the things that I’ve learned, certainly made it a worthwhile exercise. I can honestly say that I know more about atheism than I did a month ago, and that’s a good thing. It was worth the trip, but I’m glad to be home.

  3. 3 st
    October 5, 2007 at 3:30 am

    Opinions generate more opinions, so its no wonder you encounter some that can be so nasty. But hey, look on the bright side – at least you know there are people out there who agree with you! Me for one:)

    Glad to have you in my corner! 😉

  4. October 5, 2007 at 8:04 am

    I’m like you, I love a good debate as long as there is give and take on both sides of the conversation. I’ve had worse debates with fellow “theists” than I’ve ever had with someone who doesn’t believe. It also seems hard for many people to discuss logically and politely without attaching staunch emotion.

    It certainly would seem that way. Along the way, I met some folks who could indeed keep it civil and intelligent, but it often seemed like they were in the minority.

    Glad your back. 🙂

    Glad to be back.

  5. October 5, 2007 at 4:36 pm


    Say it again, sister! 😉

  6. 6 Bad
    October 5, 2007 at 7:27 pm

    It makes me wonder what may have happened in her life to drive her to such a degree of rage at the very idea of God.

    Ah, but see, that there is evidence that Dawkins is perhaps not all wet when he talks about how religious ideas and upbringings can sometimes be damaging psychological forms of child abuse. 🙂

    Yes, and no. There has certainly been a lot of bad stuff that’s been done in the name of religion. And yet in the case of the woman in question–I believe you know who I mean–I would guess it’s something deeper and more traumatic. Just as the former 3 pack a day smoker becomes an anti-smoking zealot, I sometimes wonder if those who oppose religion the most vehemently were once those who believed the most deeply. It might make an interesting study.

    Amongst us atheists, it’s sort of interesting to look at those who are vehemently anti-religious, those who merely are unconvinced by religious claims ourselves, or think that religious advocates push some very silly ideas that we cheer to see debunked (but it’s really the ideas and the claims that get us worked up, not so much the fact that people are religious in general).

    Religious zealots can certainly be a vexing lot. But when one sees someone getting all worked up over a concept as innocuous as Deism, one has to wonder.

    Very often, the former group are those who were raised either in fundamentalist homes or went to Catholic school and got swatted around by nuns with rulers. I don’t go in for their anger, but that annoying chip on their shoulder is rarely there unprovoked, and it’s important to understand where that anger comes from

    Agreed. cf. above

    (in many cases, they were taught that anger as a religious person: anger at non-believers… and then when they lost their belief, the anger remained, and got turned back upon religion) as part of understanding how to ease or get rid of it.

    Again, agreed, as I stated above. As I said, it would make an interesting study.

    The latter group, of which I count myself a part, generally either never believed at all and so is just not as conflicted to begin with, or like myself, once believed, had no real problems or abuses, and in fact mostly happy times and memories, but just stopped believing at some point, like someone growing out of an old hobby.

    I would be interested to learn how you got to this point. Email me, if you prefer.

    Then of course there are those non-believers who simply could not care less about the subject… but no one ever hears from them, almost by definition. 🙂

    It never occurred to me that one could disbelieve in something passionately, and yet this is very much the case.

    Well, perhaps in fairer moods you could grant that it is not anyone’s lack of belief that arouses passion, but the belief of others which, for better or worse, for wrong or for right, some atheists believe is socially or intellectually harmful (of course, many theists feel the same way about the beliefs of other theists, which THEY passionately “disbelieve” as well).

    I don’t believe I was being unfair, merely stating an observation. I’ve already stipulated that religious zealots are annoying, even dangerous at times, so there’s nothing for us to debate, or even disagree about, there. I was simply a little surprised at how even suggesting that a “God” of some sort another may exist seemed to get some people in a lather.

    As always, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. 🙂


  7. 7 Bad
    October 5, 2007 at 7:36 pm

    Oi, I have massacred a blockquote tag!

    Ah, my dear Bad, fret about nothing! On this blog, I AM God, and, faster than you can say “Deus ex machina”, through my divine intervention all has been made right. 8)

    In any case, I share the shock at realizing that I’ve greatly and foolishly neglected blogging for commenting. Somewhere, someone is trying to sell someone perfume “based on” their DNA, and no one is there to stop them!

    Sounds like a job for a certain crotchety guy in a Spider Man costume! 😉

    I’ll respond to your other comments later. But nothing gets in the way of the Red Sox. (Did I mention that God is a Red Sox fan?)

    Blogmaster’s note: this is the line to Bad’s DNA perfume post: http://badidea.wordpress.com/2007/09/09/personalized-perfume-based-on-your-dna/.

    For some reason the link in your comment doesn’t show up because of the way my template is formatted. Good post by the way!

  8. 8 Bad
    October 6, 2007 at 3:58 am

    Just so you know, that’s not me in the Spidey costume, that was just a link to a hilarious story about a guy on his way to a costume party who came across a robber robbing a store and… the rest is grand history.

    Oh, I know, and you’re right, it was a good story. But now, for better or worse, that picture has become my enduring mental image of you. In any event, he’s certainly a lot less scary looking than your avatar! 😉

    I’ll have to put up a better about section with an actual picture at some point instead. 🙂

    I’ll look forward to that. BTW, if you’re wondering what I look like, click HERE.

  9. 9 Sam
    October 10, 2007 at 8:47 pm


    It’s good to have you back in the land of posting (on your own site.)

    After hearing about the debate, I tried to follow it. And you make a very good point about it remaining mostly civil. That is a somewhat rare thing among the land of Blog. People in a blogging debate have no inter-connection with each other because of the lack of a substantial relationship. As a result it usually gets petty and rude and even childish. But that thread seemed to stay above water; for the most part.

    As always, I appreciate your brain and your wisdom. Whether I always agree or always disagree or find myself somewhere in the middle, your knowledge and understanding bridge any gaps. Thank you for remaining you.


    thank you! I try.

  10. October 12, 2007 at 9:00 am

    Ah, the rage of the convinced…Certainty is the bane of investigation…When one starts with the premise “I don’t know” so much more becomes learnable.

    What is curious about those at the extremes of the God debate is how little either is learning.

    Great post. If the above well reasoned post is any indication of your erudition, then bravo – please keep writing.


    Thank you for those kind words!

  11. October 22, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    Personally – I liked the cat… 😉

    But, welcome back. I look forward to more posts of poetry, debates, cat pics, or about going off on vacation.

    Hope you’re having a good one. I have 2 big brothers myself… and, we don’t get to spend enough time together. I hope you and your sister have a good visit.


    Thank you! It was a good vacation!

  12. November 24, 2007 at 3:56 am

    Welcome back Smith.

    Hardwired brains is not what people thing it is. Take a gander at Richard Nisbett’s research at Univ. of Michigan. If you need a link let me know. He also has a book called “The Geography of Thought.” He does cross cultural cognitive studies between Easterners and Westerners. The influence of culture has a far greater impact than many think it does.

    A bit more on topic is Karen Armstrong’s “The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions.” This book is very good at not only understanding religious history, but the cultural legacy that results from the historical.

    As for extremists, how much of that is due to current trends in America today and how much is due to cultural legacy is open for debate. The extremism isn’t related to religion per se whether theistic or atheistic. It is related to the way people process information. They can process it well or poorly, but they do it nonetheless. Nisbett’s studies would offer some insight on this.

    In short, Americans are notoriously opinionated and arrogant and tend to operate ideologically rather than realistically. It should be no wonder then that you would find rabid atheists as much as you would find rabid anti-tax folks or rabid profiteers or rabid tree-huggers. There is a virus in this country and it is quite virulent. Unless we find a cure and vaccine, this country is toast.

    Hey, NL! Good to see you again. Thanks for a very insightful comments.

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