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Church of the Non-Believers

Published November 2nd, 2006 by Bobby Henderson

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There’s an interesting article recently published by WIRED titled The Church of the Non-BelieversA band of intellectual brothers is mounting a crusade against belief in God. Are they winning converts, or merely preaching to the choir?

The number of nonreligious people in the US is something nearer to 30 million than 20 million,” he says. “That’s more than all the Jews in the world put together. I think we’re in the same position the gay movement was in a few decades ago. There was a need for people to come out. The more people who came out, the more people had the courage to come out. I think that’s the case with atheists. They are more numerous than anybody realizes.

…the big war is not between evolution and creationism, but between naturalism and supernaturalism.

There’s lots of interesting things in this article, including a few mentions of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Link to the article.



274 Responses to “Church of the Non-Believers”

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  1. J says:

    Interesting article. Well-written, very readable. Insightful author who reaches his own opinion without forcing it on readers or pretending to represent objective authority (allowing me to not completely share his conclusion). Thanks for the link.
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    Nice to see that Father Christmas not only exists, but is an atheist, by the way.

  2. One Eyed Jack says:

    Well, look at that… an new Trinity.
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    OEJ

  3. Jingles (formerly The Aussie) says:

    The article raises a good point about the dangers of radical atheism.
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    It is kinda hard to bring people into the light when you are shouting that they are damning the world to a violent end of fire and death.
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    Wonder why all those religions do it?

  4. J says:

    Jingles:
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    ‘It is kinda hard to bring people into the light when you are shouting that they are damning the world to a violent end of fire and death.
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    Wonder why all those religions do it?’
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    Thing is, most successful religions don’t rely on that.
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    No one ever takes up a religion because it’s the most logical. Take Christianity, which has spent centuries refining its recruitment methods and even its actual doctrines. A semblance of logic (God’s Plan, the Atonement and so on) is handy for insulating believers against their rational doubts. The threat of hell adds an incentive to challenge any temptation to stray from Christianity, appealing to fear as a restraint.
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    But successful preachers, and successful religions, gave up on logic and fear as primary weapons long ago. These now play a supporting role to the big gun – Christianity’s nuclear bomb – which is: God Loves You.
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    It’s all about love. Getcha love here. Free love. Come and feel Jesus’ love.
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    The above article does a decent job of indicating how this message works and appeals. Evangelistic atheists would do well to take a leaf out of their religious counterparts’ bibles. Winning friends and influencing people isn’t done by slapping them to the floor and then offering them a hand up afterwards. Certainly not when the Reverand, the Rabbi and the Mullah down the street are offering to give them a hug.
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    What atheists need is to practice their hugging. We ought to have the best hugs in the business. Since we’ve got the entire corpus of scientific knowledge on our side, we ought to be able to have a look at what makes a good religious hug so good and so huggy and to find rationalist and humanist equivalents. Rationalist and humanist superior hugs, in fact. Then we need to get out there and start hugging.
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    We’ve got the logic and the anti-religious rhetoric well developed. That stuff can follow. Start with the hug.

  5. J says:

    Daniel Dennet comes across as the most appealing in that particular article. I think there’s something to be said for the idea that you can maintain a ‘religious’ belief quite safely and happily so long as it is insulated by humanistic rationalism. So long as none of your real-world actions are inspired by your supernaturalism, you can keep a bit of supernaturalism in a little padded cell of the mind for comfort.
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    For example, I might refine an argument by speaking it out loud to an imaginary opponent. This is a perfectly legitimate way of trying out my thoughts. However, I would not let my imaginary opponent co-deliver the resultant lecture; nor would I solicit questions from him in a public forum after I’d finished.
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    Similarly, if I have reached a difficult decision in life and feel isolated and nervous about carrying it through, I may need to access my own psychological reserves of strength to see me through. If the most effective way I have of doing this turns out to be imagining an all-powerful bloke in the sky patting me on the back and saying ‘Go get ‘em, champ’, then that’s all well and good.
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    But the minute my ethereal boxing trainer starts telling me what my decisions ought to be, then I need to put him back in place. And, if I am having doubts about a decision I’ve made, I need to be very clear that it’s the right choice on rational terms before I solicit my imaginary god friend for help in settling my nerves.
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    I think the problem people like Dawkins have, inspirational and galvanizing though they are, is that they don’t personally have any need to take recourse to such mental tactics to access their own psychological support, and they consequently find them absolutely baffling. I can understand this. But it leads them to trample quite insensitively over issues that, with a slightly more sympathetic tack, they might be able to address very satisfactorily.
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    Still, we atheists have plenty of use for Dawkins’ iron fist. We just need a team of people working on the velvet gloves.

  6. Davey Jones' Slacker says:

    Tricky. I suspect that religious conditioning utilises both fear and love in equal measures: fear that “Jesus is watching” as a child, the comfort that *someone* cares as an adult, when the world has roughed you up a bit.
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    I suspect that we’re not getting to ‘em young enough, and that’s a major moral dilemma, because messing with a child’s mental development is just plain wrong.
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    For example, I’m a natural-born, dyed-in-the-wool atheist. My son (11 years old) reckons he’s a Christian – and that’s entirely down to what he’s been told in school. I try (subtly) to get him to question his religious education (he’s nuts about science), and I think it’s working – but I don’t think I could actually sit him down and tell him that, basically, it’s all bollocks.
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    De-programming an adult is damn hard work (see any number of conversations on this site). De-programming a child? I don’t even know how I’d begin to think about such a thing – but how do you work out the morality of that, knowing the train-wreck of irrationality that they’re likely to become as an adult? Risk harm now, through action, or harm later, through inaction?
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    Any advice or comments gratefully received.

  7. J says:

    @ Davey,
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    Oh, that’s a toughy. It’s a different question for kids, alright.
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    Ideally, any attempt to instil religion in a child before the age of, say, 16 should probably be legally prohibited. Teaching *about* various religions – fine.
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    Of course, many religions couldn’t accept that, partly because any children who die before their 16th birthday are DOOMED, and partly because that’s their best shot at converting them thrown out of the window. (I was taught at university that, until the age of 14, you can learn to speak any language so well that a native speaker wouldn’t be able to tell it wasn’t your first language, but that you lose the knack thereafter. Something to do with the way your brain matures. Seems to me that something similar may apply.)
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    None of this solves the problem faced by parents such as you, Davey, who know that their kids are not being schooled in such an even-handed environment. (That’s probably every parent in the world.) And I can’t really help. What you are doing sounds bang-on right. Concentrate on keeping him *thinking* and see what he decides for himself.
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    He’s nuts about science? When I was his age, I was a huge fan of Douglas Adams. I hadn’t actually *read* anything by him, but I listened to tapes of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio series over and over and over again in my Dad’s car. (I won a chocolate medal in school by reciting the first ten minutes or so of it, in fact, in possibly the most boring piece of performance art ever presented in a junior school talent show. I’m not sure which of my parents contributed the ‘geek’ gene.)
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    Anyway, he’s hilarious and full of mind-expanding takes on the universe. A few years ago, rediscovering Adams through ‘The Salmon of Doubt’ played a large part in my departure from Christianity. I instantly loved his writing again and it reminded me of the effect it had had on me years before. And, lo and behold, it turned out that he was an atheist, and one with clear reasons for being so…
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    Anyway, I’d recommend those Hitchhiker’s Guide tapes (or CDs, now) to any eleven-year-old kid with a science (or sci-fi) bent, irrespective of religious leanings.

  8. PiGuy says:

    DJ’s Slacker:

    Replace *Jesus* with *Santa Claus* (Daniel Dennett – they sure seem indistinguishable!) in your “Jesus is watching” statement and, to a child, I think that you get the same result. The problem is that, once we become Santa, it’s no longer the same sort of motivation. My daughters (9 and 13) believe(d – I think that the 9 year old has her doubts now, too) in Santa but also know that I don’t believe. For that matter, they can choose what they wish but I don’t think that they’ll choose religion either.

    I agree with J regarding Doug Adams. I think that, if we were to observe the people of Earth from the point of view, say, someone from the vicinity of Betelguese, some of the ideas to which we cling would seem ridiculous. I was already at least agnostic (splitting hairs with atheism, I think) when I read Hitchhiker’s Guide but it was all funny and all seemed dead-on to me.

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