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.
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.