Friday, June 20, 2008

The Atheist Thirteen, or - You Don't Have To Think God Loves You To Be An Insufferable Prick, But It Helps

I've been tagged with a meme by Shuggy, and since memes generally mean Sit nice while I bore you to tears, I see no reason to break with tradition - this'll be the longest and most tedious post I've ever written.

Hence, we have The Atheist's Thirteen or, as I prefer to call it, You Don't Have To Think God Loves You To Be An Insufferable Prick, But It Helps.

Without further ado...

1. How would you define "atheism"?

The complete absence of religious considerations from my life. Religion never intrudes upon my thought processes, ever, until somebody else raises the issue or, perhaps, someone tags me with a meme. I almost never waste time arguing with religious people, if I can help it, but I do find their practical and political uses interesting.

2. Was your upbringing religious?

Barely. They tried to jam Jesus down our necks at school, of course, but nobody paid any attention.

3. How would you describe "Intelligent Design", using only one word?

Politics.

If I can pretend that "one word" means "several hundred", many atheists seem to be incapable of separating religion from politics and culture.

Let's use the example of intelligent design - consensus from the Hitchens wing appears to be that it's simply a way of shoring up a tottering belief system. I think that's wrong, and fatally misunderstands the purpose of American wingnut religion... It's identity politics, pure and simple, with a southern twang.

Sure, they'd like to drag us all into their grand delusion, but Jesus-humping religion in the US is not aimed at turning the rest of the populace into Body-Snatchers pod-people - without us Godless heathens, they'd be nothing. Evangelical they are, but the purpose behind political Christianity is to whip up the believers into a paranoid frenzy, to set them ashiver with dread that the Godless liberals are coming to burn their bibles and lesbianise their families.

Think about this logically. What better way to keep the faithful committed than to give them a ludicrous theory like intelligent design, then set them flocking onto the internet like the flying monkeys of Oz to do battle with the unsaved? As soon as they encounter sane people they're going to face abuse, derision and mockery, and... No, wait. Isn't that a bit like how the early Christians were mocked and derided?

Persecution!

I mean, come on. The evangelicals are bankrolled by serious money, and you mean to tell me they couldn't come up with anything better than intelligent design? Hell, I know biologists who would take you step by step through the gaps in the fossil record for a hundred quid and a case of Stella. You're telling me the multi-billion dollar Jesus industry can't find a tame scientist to toss a few non-batshit talking points their way?

They haven't done that because it's not about winning the argument, and it's not about shoring up belief. It's about making sure the argument never ends. It's about keeping the rage and indignation boiling away, black and bitter, until it can be pointed at the ballot box and told Go Vote. It's about making sure the argument rages on forever, becoming ever more furious and foul-mouthed, thus confirming everything their pastors say about the villainy of unbelief and driving them ever deeper into devotion.

The more we laugh, the more they'll conclude that their beliefs are correct - that we do hate them, their faith and their "family values", and that they'll only face mockery and contempt in a secular world... Thus guaranteeing that their votes go to the candidate who shouts the loudest hosannas for The Lord and most vehemently condemns the abortion industry, i.e. the Republican.

It's win-win for these millionaire evangelists either way. Sucks, doesn't it?

What scientific endevour most excites you?

Archaeology of pretty much all stripes. I'm a bit embarrassed to be so backward-looking.

If you could change one thing about the "atheist community", what would it be and why?

Ladies, gentlemen, I agree with your points. I too believe that religion is a collossal hoax, with its roots in social control. I agree that it limits us as a species and wish fervently that it would simply go away.

There is, however, no need to be a cunt about it. I'm looking at you, Dawkins.

If your child came up to you and said "I'm joining the clergy", what would be your first response?

Who the hell are you? What? Well, I want to see DNA evidence, and even then, you're not getting more than five hundred quid.

Seriously? I'd be very disappointed and feel like I'd failed as a parent, but if it made the kid happy I'd just have to accept it.

What's your favourite theistic argument and how do you refute it?

Oh, the one about how there has to be a reason for all this, it must be somebody's plan.

You know, lichen can live on the tops of mountains, in the harshest environments the Earth can offer. It does practically nothing there, barely grows, barely feeds itself and little of any interest lives in it or feeds on it. It was there before we were apes and it'll be there long after our species goes the way of all the others that preceded us, and it'll continue to do nothing but sit on a rock emitting a bit of oxygen.

It's just there, pointless, meaningless, living a miserable existance, just because it looks rather like life strives to exist just for the sheer hell of it. Some plan, that.

What's your most "controversial" (as far as general attitudes amongst other atheists goes) viewpoint?

Ooo, lots here. I don't believe that you're necessarily doing people a good turn by disabusing them of their beliefs, for a start.

My great-grandmother lay on her deathbed convinced that she'd soon be joining her long-dead husband and infant child in eternal paradise. Millions of people worldwide lead lives shittier than we can imagine, and draw comfort from the idea that there's some kind of greater purpose underpinning it all. Plus, and I hate to depress everyone, but even those among us lucky enough to live to a ripe old age will have to watch their friends and relatives pass on one by one.

Good luck selling those people a universe that's utterly indifferent to their existence and an eternity of oblivion. They may live in a fantasy world but damn, even I understand it.

Further, the idea that religion is responsible for all or even most of the world's ills is - and I use the term advisedly - fucking cretinous.

Take the Taleban - a nastier bunch of theocratic cut-throats you couldn't imagine. Read The Kite Runner and note the hallmarks of their rule the author chooses to emphasise - beard patrols ensuring the male populace are suitably hirsute, the sexual abuse of young boys, the subjugation of women and horrific public executions.

There's no doubt they're crazy on fundamentalist Islam, albeit a form that won't tolerate modern inventions like recorded music but has no problems with rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Problem is, from my reading, the beard-wearing, boy-buggering and woman-hating precedes the upsurge of deranged religion - they're Pashtun tribal culture, just as they were tribal culture in ancient Athens or Sparta.

Sure, they'll cite validation from the Koran, but when it comes right down to it it's gangbanger rules - the biggest and nastiest gets to be in charge, whether it's Stalin or Genghis or the Crips. Religion just gave them the kick up the arse they were waiting for to bring their lunacy screaming out of the countryside and into the cities. If they woke up convinced atheists tomorrow they'd still strap on their AK's and be out hunting for evil shavers by 7 a.m.

Oh, you disagree? The Mongols - the most terrifying people in history, bar none - found religion to be an annoying distraction from genocide, paying Shamanism lip service at best. The Roman Empire, famously won by exterminating the entire populace of cities that resisted, was no more built for the glorification of Jupiter than it was to edify chocolate Nesquik. The secular constitution of the United States probably wasn't much comfort to the tribes being pushed onto the shittiest land in the West at gunpoint, and that's before we get to the twentieth century, likely the worst for the man in the street since the days when he had to worry about bubonic plague.

Seriously, fellow Brits, here we are at the heart of what was once the mightiest, most calculating Empire in history, lecturing people to cut out their violent, God-crazed habits? Sure, I'm in favour, but I don't expect anyone to pay attention, any more than I paid attention to the smiling haircut of a minister they used to send to my primary school.

Or, to put it another way for those who think the term Cultural Relativism is a devastating put-down...

There are plenty of parts of Africa where the sudden dawn of an era of enlightenment and rational inquiry would mean a lot of enlightened, rational minds inquiring into how machetes could be made longer and sharper, and anyone who thinks otherwise is living in a bedtime story for polite westerners.

The innate desire of humans to fuck up anything unfortunate enough to get in our way is what made us, and not Homo Florensis, the dominant species on this planet. Religion and wrong-doing may know how to tango, but we humans don't need a spiritual partner to cut some bloody rug when the groove takes us.

Of the "Four Horsemen" (Dawkins, Dennet, Hitchens and Harris) who is your favourite, and why?

Harris I don't know and I've read only one of Dennet's articles. Dawkins, I find incredibly pompous and annoying, whether in print or on-screen. I've read extracts from Hitchens' God Is Not Great, and concluded it was yet another song of praise offered up to that great secular saint, Christopher Hitchens.

In short, none of the above.

If you could convince just one theistic person to abandon their beliefs, who would it be?

No question - Mrs. Rodent. She's not really a believer, but she has serious leanings in that direction and is prone to picking up ideas from religious friends of hers. It's like Whack-a-Mole, but with maddeningly glib anecdotes and trite suppositions instead of moles.

There.

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