Monday, June 1, 2009

Atheist Quotes of the Week 36 and 37

I know I missed last week, but I was packing, then flying, then adjusting to jet lag so it just kept getting put off. Here are two quotes, one for last week and one for this week, to make up for the difference. While I'm in Europe there will be no new Nintendo washcloths (watch for one of those potentially in late June/early July, however) and no updates on the lace sweater project, which remains in Canada during my trip. I do have wifi though and will use it to rant if necessary alongside the atheist quotes each week.

But people ... don't even know what atheism is. It's not a negation of anything. You don't have to negate what no one can prove exists. No, atheism is a very positive affirmation of man's ability to think for himself, to do for himself, to find answers to his own problems. I'm thrilled to feel that I can rely on myself totally and absolutely; that my children are being brought up so that when they meet a problem they can't cop out by foisting it off on God. Madalyn Murray's going to solve her own problems, and nobody's going to intervene. It's about time the world got up off its knees and looked at itself in the mirror and said: "Well, we are men. Let's start acting like it."
~Madalyn Murray O'Hair

Agreed. One of my main complaints about religion is its ability to explain everything while solving nothing. Anyone having a problem can say that it was "God's will", as if that somehow makes it better, or they can give their god credit for their success, thereby negating the effort they put into their achievements, or they can even say that current problems facing society are their god's way of punishing us because some of us are doing something it doesn't approve of. Why is there HIV? Because God hates gays. Why did Katrina destroy New Orleans? Because people there were sinning. Why does a child die of starvation and disease in a poor country? Because God wanted it that way. It explains everything but offers no compassion, no solution, no nothing.

The main reason, I think, is because if you remove God from the equation, suddenly HIV exists because it jumped from primates and it spreads today at least in part because we fail to teach proper sex ed in North America and religious organizations denounce the use of condoms in Africa. Katrina destroyed New Orleans because the government of the country failed to maintain the levees and so many people died or were left homeless because that same government failed to act swiftly in the face of a natural disaster. Children starve to death in poor countries because greedy rich countries do not behave like the world is one community and we would rather have another widescreen TV than help provide the essentials of life to other human beings. Those explanations are hard truths, and demand action to improve things. That's much less simple than just hand-waving some deity into the mix. It scares some people to death that we might have to actually work hard and sacrifice some wealth and some superstitions in order to make life better for our fellow human beings. Why not blame them instead? That is just so much easier.

As Madalyn says, it's time to start acting like men.

Why am I an atheist? The short answer is that I cannot accept any of the alternatives. I simply don't find them believable. As for the accusation of intellectual pride, surely the boot is on the other foot. Atheists don't claim to know anything with certainty—it's the believers who know it all.
~Barbara Smoker

This is related to the above quote in that it also references the easy answers believers seem to need. Rather than using their brains, they prefer to have pre-packaged answers for questions that really require thought on an individual level. While it must be nice, in a way, to have simple answers to any and all questions about life and the universe, I wonder why we, as thinking human beings, should be content to just be fed answers to everything. We are able to think for ourselves, so, even if it creates more questions than answers and more uncertainty than reassurance, it's independent thought, critical thinking, and scientific truth that should be what we are looking to achieve, not soundbite "truths" that are really just bedtime stories to make us less unsure of ourselves.

Atheists are not afraid to say, "I don't know." We are not afraid to face constant uncertainty and a neverending set of questions that may never have satisfactory answers. It is the believers who are afraid to not have an instant answer to any question. It is the believers who are afraid of change, afraid of needing to adjust their worldview, and constantly clinging to comforting but completely incorrect ideas and insisting they are true.

So, then, who is it that is arrogant, closed-minded, and know-it-all? Not the atheists, who by definition go where the evidence goes and must therefore be open-minded, humble in the face of being wrong (which happens all the time), and able to freely admit when they do not know the answers. Those sorts of insults are the product of frantic defensiveness on the part of believers who are trying to discredit a point of view that is contrary to the easy answers that make them feel safe and keep them from needing to think too hard about anything. Atheism, despite the fact that it is not an organization and does not have goals or some kind of agenda, is extremely threatening to religion, but for an interesting reason: as a philosophy, it promotes thinking for yourself. And, as it turns out, thinking for yourself usually ends with people moving away from organized religion.

I wonder why that is? Maybe to a thinking person (which we all have the ability to be), those "easy" answers aren't so easy to swallow after all.

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