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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Atheism in the News

I'm not totally comfortable with Richard Dawkins representing my side in the popular dialogue about atheism vs. theism. It annoys me when he snarkily points out in his opening statements that he doesn't believe in Zeus or Thor either. He has valid points to make, but he comes off like a bit of a tool sometimes. Other atheism proponents tend to look just as bad, squawking in their Chicken Little voices about how the planet's religious zealots are bringing about the end of the world. On the other hand, if I were a Christian, I'd be downright mortified by the morons they are dredging up to defend the Biblethumpers' point of view.

Facing off against the head of American Atheists in a recently televised "talking-head pundits" show, I actually saw a preacher accuse atheists of not having ethics. He reasoned that ethics came from the Bible, and if you didn't accept the Bible as fact, how could you have ethics? This question is so shockingly ignorant, that it was not a surprise when this preacher later went on to bash gays and followers of other faiths.

Ethics, it should be obvious, come from your parents, your teachers, the books you've loved, the movies and television shows you've watched and the friends you've talked to, and (hopefully) from the private thinking you've done about life and how to live it. The Bible is certainly one source of values (though a little violent for my tastes.) And so are the Qur'an, the Bhagavad Gita, and Winnie the Pooh's Adventure in the 100 Acre Wood. So are the works of Roald Dahl, the Lord of the Rings, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, God Bless You Mr. Rosewater and Princess Mononoke.

The idea that one's ethics can be defined by a single collection of antiquated texts is sad rhetoric. Martin Luther King Jr., maybe Christianity's greatest modern statesman, was heavily influenced by Gandhi. If he hadn't opened his horizons to incorporate the values and teachings of various cultures and philosophers, he wouldn't have been the leader that he was. What does The Bible have to tell us about civil rights activism, or violence in video games, or about stem cell research or about a person's right to euthanasia? Only what we can loosely extrapolate. Frankly, that's not enough for me. I require other sources of information to make up my mind about how to live and what to believe in. I require the graphic novels of Alan Moore, and the 1995 Seattle Mariners, and Jack Keruac's On the Road, and Goya and Judy Bloom and Feargus Urquhart and John F. Kennedy and Frank Miller's Daredevil and the plays of Edward Albee and Vaclav Havel and the music of Nick Drake and Joe Strummer.

The idea that I don't have ethics because I don't believe in God is offensive and ignorant. I have done more thinking about personal ethics and live more in accordance with a set of ethics than most Christians. Just because I'm influenced by various sources and my ethics have evolved over the years doesn't make me different. Christians also learn and grow and change as they mature, and Christians are also influenced by media and pop culture. And yet atheists remain the single most distrusted minority group in America. Sad.



At 2/15/2007 05:17:00 PM, Anonymous Jimmimoose said...

No, you're wrong. The Bible's right.

At 2/16/2007 09:45:00 AM, Blogger Yojimbo_5 said...

Yeah (ditto!). And you're an atheist...so you don't believe in nuthin.'

Besides, according to the polls, the most trusted people in America are garbage-men (not that there's anything wrong with that!),but then that's from a poll by the minority of Americans who trust poll-takers.

At 2/16/2007 06:23:00 PM, Blogger Jon said...

Hey, I'm an atheist who used to be a garbage man - or sanitation engineer as we like to be called.

Rock on, John. An eloquently personal defense of reason against irrationality.

At 2/18/2007 06:34:00 AM, Blogger molly said...

I think it's unfortunate that the more eloquently spoken and intellectually brilliant individuals in the world often shy away from leadership roles, and that the more eloquently spoken and intellectually brilliant people are among the most misunderstood and are usually not voted in by the majority.

Your analysis is a strong one, your point is solid. And yet how is it that so many people are so willing to be led so blindly by nincompoops and ne'erdowells just because they're wearing robes or flashing a certain smile? That bitch preacher on that show is shooting himself in the foot if he thinks that parents and elders don't do most of his work for him. He needs those people to keep their children in fear of God, or else he'll be out of business. You can be certain that it ain't the church alone keeping itself alive.

Sometimes it's so hard to swallow.

At 2/20/2007 09:31:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey John,
Good to see some solid writing about something that matters to me.


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