Atheism Is Not Endearing

While looking for something else, I stumbled across this quote from the actor/atheist Hugh Laurie.

I find my atheism is becoming more marked with each passing year. I once prided myself on a relaxed and respectful attitude to other people’s beliefs, but I’m finding it harder to keep that up. I might find myself taking a tougher line with people about certain beliefs that are so painfully nonsensical. Because nonsense is not endearing or eccentric anymore – it’s causing death, destruction, and endless torment for millions of people around the world.

What’s funny to me about this is that it describes perfectly my own attitude toward atheism. When I was an undergraduate I thought atheists were generally intellectual powerhouses who had serious and meaningful challenges to the existence of God. Or, perhaps they were deep thinkers who had endured such awful tragedy in their personal life, that no other narrative except unbelief could offer a reassuring explanation of their suffering. For a long time this was the idea that I had about the “skeptics” and the teachers they so enthusiastically emulated.

But over the last couple of years, I too have experienced a shift  from a “relaxed and respectful attitude,” and exactly for the reasons that Laurie mentions: The stakes are too high and the effects of this worldview are too toxic. Contrary to what my undergraduate self imagined, I have discovered that more than a few self-described “skeptics” remain skeptics chiefly because they have taken exhaustive efforts to never be challenged in this regard. The number of atheists I’ve met and corresponded with who will admit to not knowing one historic argument for the existence of God, or not having one acquaintance with a believer who can seriously argue his case, is astonishing.

Beyond this, I’ve seen that the intellectual case for atheism, which I had believed to be so formidable, is not just irreparably deformed from a logical perspective, but also from a humane one as well. To read the latest and most popular volumes of skepticism from people like Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins is to confront an intellectual system that is nakedly bankrupt in moral and aesthetic value. The efforts of “scientism” to explain away the transcendent phenomenon of beauty, and the personal experience of the numinous, is nothing less than a project to sweep the legs out from under hope and human freedom. The fruits of such a belief system are evident, too: Atheism is the undisputed ruler of the internet, but it reigns alongside the most twisted forms of pornography and human degradation imaginable. There is a reason that Reddit and 4Chan are bastions of sophomore skepticism on one wing, and factories of sexual nihilism and abuse in the other.

I’ve lost my patience with atheism, but I hope I haven’t lost my patience with atheists. I still enjoy very much talking about these things with the unconvinced. And, of course, as a Christian, I have an eschatological motivation in those conversations. But as Laurie succinctly said, I don’t find the whole thing endearing anymore. There’s just too much, and too many, to be saved from it.

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15 thoughts on “Atheism Is Not Endearing”

  1. My problem is that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that religion is an addiction. Or to put it another way, religious people get upset when challenged for the same reason that smokers or alcoholics get upset when they are challenged. Religion does this by exploiting certain of our instinctive fears; of death, loneliness, immorality and even chastity. In each case it provides a false answer that leaves you dependent on it. For fear of death, christian religion asserts that you will “live forever,” with the caveat that how you live forever depends on how you obey the religious fantasy. From the outside, it’s a pretty obvious con job. “Eternal Life” has never had any scientific proof to back it up and not all religions have it. From the inside, abandoning the idea that you will “live forever” means facing your utter and complete death for the first time — a withdrawal symptom. I remember that when I smoked, I forgot that life was possible without tobacco. I see the same thing with religious people, who seem not to know that life is possible without religion. Ah, but for christians who have been told that morality is a set of rules from on high, this is scary. Unfortunately, they don’t realize our morality is instinctive. We share it with all of the animals we domesticate, since there would literally be no other way to live together. I’ve learned that I feel closer to all of my fellow humans because I no longer have a barrier of religion to worry about.

    So I think that if you feel hostile towards or fearful of atheists. It isn’t because something is wrong with atheists. It’s because something is wrong with you.

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      1. No, obedience from fear is subjugation through tyranny. To suggest otherwise is sadistic. People like you are the reason Hell was invented — for the bible makes absolutely no reference to eternal torment — products of illiterate and deceptive fear-mongering religious leaders.

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  2. “The number of atheists I’ve met and corresponded with who will admit to not knowing one historic argument for the existence of God, or not having one acquaintance with a believer who can seriously argue his case, is astonishing.” The number of evangelicals who believe the universe is between 6,000 and 10,000 years old is equally astonishing to skeptics. Does that not indicate a profound miscommunication within the evangelical enterprise?

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  3. I agree Samuel. I questioned my Christian faith during my college years and was ready to abandon it if I didn’t find satisfying reasons for why I should believe in Jesus and the Bible. After much study I became more convinced than ever that Christianity is true. Atheism really is an intellectually unsound belief that does not account at all for the way things are.

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      1. Interestingly, an absence of belief doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is set alongside other “belief systems” and rationally judged to be more liveable or more in accord with experience or other verifiers. So for practical purposes, it is a kind of inverted belief system. I’m not sure how one would get around this notion and remain honest with themselves.

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  4. Well let see, do I believe people or God. I chose God.

    Romans 1: 18-20 says

    18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

    How can we believe people who deny what they see, our Father says they see it, they see His reality, yet deny it. They need our love and prayers more than we realize. To be without hope in this life is tragic!

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  5. I so wholeheartedly disagree with this article. If you have met so many atheists who are unfamiliar with any classical argument for the existence of god, you have not looked very hard, for we exist in abundance. In that respect, you seem to suffer from confirmation bias and I should recommend you only need look around WordPress to find more well rounded skeptics.
    Further, your lumping atheism in with “sexual nihilism and abuse” is profane.

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