Skip navigation

I got this from a link by a commenter at Pharynguyla. It’s Thanksgiving Day here in The Great White North (not so white yet, however) and the believers are atheist bashing by expressing fake sympathy for atheists with no one to thank on this day come out of the woodwork. They’ll be back again for American Thanksgiving and Christmas, where for the latter they will change their spots, point to us and say “Look! Those atheists are celebrating the birth of baby Jesus!”, conveniently forgetting that Christmas (like Thanksgiving) has been utterly secularized and attaching religious meaning to a holiday (two in Canada, since we celebrate Boxing Day as the Brits do….) is a personal matter that one may or may not do. Not to mention that pagans can point to Christians and claim “Look! They’re celebrating the birth of Mithras!”, since Christmas itself was a co-option of already existing pagan celebrations.

And believers wonder why we atheists can get a bit cynical at times.

Well, in the long tradition of religious misapprehension of what it means to be an atheist, we have yet another one that openly exposes his ignorance to the world and proudly proclaims that he is a twit. The Vancouver Sun printed a story by Douglas Todd which begins with the question-

How do the almost two out five British Columbians who say they have no religion, and especially the 16 per cent who are atheists, approach a festive day that encourages humans to express a sense of thankfulness, particularly for life itself being a gift?

It’s surprising just how much balderdash, misunderstanding and prejudice can be condensed into a single sentence. First, there is the last little bit which implies that there is a “gift giver”, a bit presumptuous. It smacks of the “Oh, atheists really know that there is a god.” thing. No. I DON’T know that. Neither does Todd. He believes that the “gift giver” exists, and there’s a big difference between belief – no matter how strongly held – and knowledge. Knowledge is something demonstrable, and the existence of any deity hardly qualifies. That feeling he gets when he holds his god-concept in his mind goes no more to the truth that his god exists than mashed potatoes do.

Second, related to the first, is that I am in awe of a universe that spawned us in a series of incredible accidents. This universe is amazing! If anything, religion detracts from this. It certainly doesn’t enhance it. It wasn’t till intrepid individuals – yes, they were religious, but who wasn’t in those days had a tendency to be killed… – started asking questions about their environment, questions not sanctioned by religious authority because they went right to the heart of religious doctrine. I am thankful those people had the temerity to put aside what religoius authority asserted as true and began seeking answers that could be shown to be true. I am thankful to the philosophers of the Enlightenment – and every American should be, too! – who, like Locke (and yes, I recognize he was religious too), set aside dogma to search for ways to improve the human condition. If they hadn’t blazed the trail we would still be a theocratic society where freedom and liberty would be for none. To suggest that Todd’s god, or that these values we take for granted now can be arrived at through the dogma of Christianity, Judaism or Islam, is absurd. The philosophers of The Enlightment arrived at their ideas despite their religion, not because of it. I am thankful I live in a society where atheists such as myself are no longer killed for their non-belief, and that I can criticize religion, the religious and, yes, my fellow atheists without fear of reprisal. In many countries this is not the case, including western nations where blasphemy laws have been enacted. Such laws violate fundamental freedoms, and as such are themselves criminal. I’m sure there are atheists that would do the same to religion, but I’ve never met or even heard of them. Atheists are staunch supporters of freedom of belief and speech, values I revere myself. The existence of such laws clearly demonstrates that believers don’t always feel the same….

Then there is an implication that we atheists aren’t thankful. Really? I am VERY thankful for people who see in me reason to have faith (the good kind, not the blind faith Todd has) in me. My wife, whom I cherish and love who sees value in me enough to want to be with me for the rest of our lives. My current and previous employers, who actively sought me out seeing in me the ability to do good science and that I would be an asset. I am thankful to my mother, who did her best to raise a son through a failed first marriage as best she could. I am thankful to my school teachers (most of them…) and professors at university who taught me to think and imparted their knowledge to me, something I hold almost as dear as our basic freedoms. Hell, I am thankful for our economic system which provides the environment for so much that we take for granted. It’s far better than living in the tribal sheepherding environment where Christianity originated. Not to mention, it – and the farmers working within that economic framework – helped supply the turkey that’s in the oven and the potatoes that will go with it. I am very thankful for the hard work my wife is putting into the dinner as I write this. Believe me, her stuffing and sour cream/cream cheese potatoes are incredible.

There is so much to be thankful for, and so many to be thankful to. Yet Todd and others like him thank only one source that he only beleives exists and completely ignores so many to whom they directly benefit from. And Todd has the gall to claim atheists are not thankful? The photo caption says it all-

People who regularly express gratitude are generally healthier, but Thanksgiving is a little more complicated for those who do not believe in a transcendent reality.

The caption implies that we atheists should be religious because only religious people show gratitude.

I have one thing to say to Todd and his ilk: Fuck you.

Yes, that was vulgar. And totally called for. If you are more offended at that than the prejudice displayed by this asshat, you should re-examine your own values because they are self-evidently screwed up. I can hear the cries now, “Oh, what an angry atheist!” If that’s what you are thinking, dear reader, I agree. I am angry when I hear prejudiced notions like this. But my question to you is “And why aren’t you?” The answer to this question says a lot about you.

It gets even more stupid. For instance, he mischaracterizes Dawkins’ selfish gene concept (this is an understatement)-

Many of the so-called new atheists, such as the famously feisty British biologist Richard Dawkins, have widely promoted the concept of the “selfish gene,” which maintains all biological and human behaviour can be reduced to self-interest.

Ummmm…. No, Todd. Dawkins selfish gene concept is an analogy through anthropomorphization of how gene frequencies increase. He was describing how we would view genes if they had minds of their own and could form intent. He was certainly not saying that genes make us only selfish. In fact, he wasn’t even talking about human behavior at all in his landmark book, The Selfish Gene. A book Todd has obviously never read.

But isn’t that the crux of the problem? Todd has these opinions of atheists, and in expressing them shows in bright neon lights how much he is in total ignorance of them. He doesn’t even demonstrate any willingness to understand us. The reverse is certainly not true, particularly when so many atheists – the majority of them, I would hazard to guess – were once fervent believers themselves. We don’t have horns. We don’t eat babies (as once Christians were accused of in Roman times. Irony!!!!).

But wait! There’s more! He goes on-

In a universe constructed upon the selfish gene, there is no room for pure empathy or authentic human altruism, say such atheists. Why, then, offer thanks to anything or anyone, since nobody ever “gives” without attaching selfish strings?

I would agree that pure altruism does not exist at all – we feel good when we do something for someone else that benefits them, which is itself an inducement. But no atheist would claim that no form of altruism exists. And I – nor any other atheist – would never claim that empathy does not exist. I have no idea how such ideas enter into such peoples’ heads, except by wilfully remaining ignorant.

I don’t think that the elderly lady whose load I helped carry to the recycling bin yesterday would say that my actions were selfish or lacked empathy. She could hardly walk unassisted, let alone carry all those newspapers, and there was no way I wasn’t going to help. Nor would the neighbors whose walk and driveway I apply the snowblower to in winter claim I was acting selfishly. Okay, so I got cookies out of the deal, but I never asked for them and never expected any recompense. I was even embarrassed that my wife saw what I was doing. Why, I have no idea. Chalk it up to a quirk of character. No atheist I know of would ever claim that altruism does not exist, particularly when it is observed in social mammalian species universally across the board. Someone send Todd a copy of Franz de Waal’s Your Inner Ape, please.

Again, to Todd and those who would agree with him: Fuck you.

Or this-

There is at least an element of truth to the selfish gene argument. When parents urge their children to always politely say their “thank yous,” it is in large part so they’ll be socially accepted and enjoy the rewards of society.

Maybe, Todd, it’s because they are being taught to feel thankful to others and to express that gratitude when someone performs an act which benefits them? Just a thought, Todd…

Todd does recognize that atheists can feel awe for the universe and ends his piece with this (no doubt in the belief that he was supplying a wonderfully poetic bit) –

With such expressions of atheistic awe, the religious and non-religious do not seem so different after all.

Oh, but we are very, VERY different indeed. Imagine how those around you must feel when you, Todd, give thanks to a deity you believe exists while being completely ignoring those to whom you should be very thankful to.

A lot of believers express dismay at how they are treated by atheists. You know what? To those offended by my opinion should look in the mirror. Maybe – just maybe, mind you -the fault lies with you. You may characterize yourself as wonderful all-loving people and that belief in a god has that benefit, but the truth is all too often quite different, and I fail to see that this is any less true of us atheists. Anyone who is going to slander us non-believing folk without ever bothering to get to know us expects us to accept it with quiet aplomb? Those days are gone, Todd, and good riddance. We atheists are caring, thoughtful, and – oh, lordy! lordy! – thankful folk. We’re nice to people who treat us nicely and not when people like Todd have no interest in really knowing or understanding us. We’re just standing up to let you know how wrong you and those who share your baseless opions are. Remember, Todd, you offended us, even if you don’t think you did. Get used to it.

We are very, VERY unalike, Todd. And I, for one am thankful for that. And something else, what I am not thankful for- and that is, the wilful ignorance of believers about atheism and atheists. Ignorance I can handle. But wilful ignorance I can’t ignore.

Advertisements

7 Comments

  1. I recently gave a ride to a theist friend who I occasionally debate with. When he thanked me, I said “no problem, it’s nothing that any decent atheist wouldn’t do”. He loved it, and spent time telling his theist friends about my comment.

    I think it’s sad though that there are parents whose children I teach voluntarily 2 nights a week, that would probably have a heart attack if they had any idea that I am atheist.

    • I don’t know where you live, but up here in Canada no one really cares what religion anyone is. No one asks “What church do you go to?” The prejudice against atheists up here is very muted and less apparent. It’s still there, though. Fortunately, I’m a scientist, and where I work everybody’s an atheist. One of the things I like about Catholics (not Catholicism) is that they are not evangelical and the vast majority are live-and-let-live types. I have no issues with them. My issues are with the guy in the funny hat who has never even acknowledged that church officials were directly involved (including himself) in hiding the rampant pedophilia and lies about condoms actually spreading HIV in Africa rather than being a prudent public health measure.

      Christians often mistake our opposition to Christianity as attacking Christians, which is not necessarily true. And at first glance it sounds like “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” But it’s not. Someone who is a rapist is a rapist. They hate women and enjoy the power and often despise themselves. Regardless, they’re pricks. The idea of forgiveness for such people is, in my estimation, an immoral position, and even those that would say they would do so must suffer migraines from the cognitive dissonance.

      But I don’t think that the vast majority of Christians are pricks. Only those that are obviously morally bankrupt. The Pope comes immediately to mind, and I won’t belabor the point here since I’ve written extensively on that. Ted Haggard comes to mind. What a hypocrite. Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Ann Coulter, etc. They’re pricks. They are simply bad people. For them, I hate the ‘sin’ and abhor the sinner. Nothing in my personal philosophy says I can’t call them what they are – pricks. Indeed, every fibre of my being compels me to do so. No, the two positions are not at all analogous.

      My wife and I met online, and under the category ‘religion’ she put ‘not religious’. This is not true. She’s an atheist. Not as rabid as me, nor do the issues religion presents bother her anywhere near as much as they do me, but she’s an out-and-out atheist. But she never felt like she could be open about it till she met me.

      I think that’s sad. I honestly don’t give a hoot who knows. While I don’t think atheism (or anything else that I don’t believe) defines me, I don’t believe in gods and it is not up to me to deal with that.

      When we had the bus ad campaign up here in Calgary, a woman phoned in to the Dave Breckenridge radio talk show all upset and offended. She thought that the ads should be taken off the buses. Breckenridge answered “It’s a good thing it’s still a free country.” and hung up on her.

      Such people have this preconceived notion of who atheists are and are offended by our very existence. If one subscribes to terror managment theory, this makes sense. We remind them that maybe there is no afterlife and they just can’t handle that. We humans tend to attack what we fear.

      Now, if I lived in rural Texas I might not be so laissez-faire about allowing others to know that I’m an atheist, lest I end up with a hemp necktie that accidentally gets caught in a tree. Who knows, though? Maybe – just maybe – your example might plant the seed that we atheists aren’t such a bad sort afterall.

    • adoubtersramblings
    • Posted November 12, 2010 at 2:30 pm
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    I’ve slacked off at the blogging and reading blogs recently, but I’m really glad that I came back and read this! You’re arguments, as usual, are succinct and logically sound!

    There’s not a whole lot to add here but to say that I’m thankful to have found people out here on the interwebz like you to keep me from thinking that I’m all alone!

    • adoubtersramblings
    • Posted November 12, 2010 at 2:31 pm
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    and it really irks me that I used the wrong version of ‘your’ in my comment! D’uh! and that’s a pet-peeve of mine. I’ve really gotta start proofreading more in my old age! 😉

    • Thanks for the praise!

      I live a charmed life, I admit. Pretty much everyone that I work with is either an atheist or doesn’t evangelize. My wife is an atheist now out of the closet because of me. I do science for a living. I’m an executive member of the local chapter of the CFI.

      Yeah, I’ve got it good.

      There must be group of like-minded people in your vicinity. If there aren’t, it isn’t difficult to start one. Email the folks at The Atheist Experience for details and suggestions on how to do that. They’re awesome folk, an oasis of reason in Texas.

      I haven’t done much writing lately. Mostly just comments on other blogs. That’s because I’m in the middle of getting a podcast going. We have our first recording session this coming Monday and I hope to have it available on the net soon thereafter. I’ll post on my blog where it can be downloaded or streamed from.

  2. I was grinding my teeth before I even finished reading this blog. Bloody hell, this Todd person is an idiot.

    It reminds me of student work that I read in my college paper–there was one article about atheists in particular for which I repeatedly demanded an apology and never received one. “Atheists oversimplify religion,” it was called–it keenly brings to mind that it’s still okay, and even in vogue, to discriminate publicly against atheists.

    http://www.thelantern.com/opinion/atheists-oversimplify-religion-1.793927

    *gnashes teeth and growls*

    • Yeah, I rank this up there with the “Oh, but in your heart you really know there’s a god…” crap. Seriously. I can not be kind to stupidity born of willful ignorance. Truly, anyone espousing either deserves nothing but mockery. Unlike Phil Plait, I firmly believe that being a dick is sometimes called for if only to get the espouser to understand how moronic and insipid such statements are.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: