Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"Funny - You Don't Look Like an Atheist!" (part 2)

Part 1 of "Funny - you don't look like an atheist" described some of the erroneous preconceptions believers have about the physical properties of an atheist.  Those preconceptions can be somewhat humorous, expecting atheists to basically look like lowlifes, or criminals, or satanists.  I mean, Jimmy Bakker was as low as they got, the finest criminals go to confession, and if atheists don't believe in a god, how in the hell (pun intended) are they supposed to worship a non-existent devil?

Part 2 gets a little more serious, and by "serious" I mean in part "depressing", in part tremendously frustrating.  This part focuses on that vile preconception of good vs evil, and whether atheists can determine one from the other.  Sometimes I am able to ignore fools who proclaim you cannot know goodness without a belief in their flavor of a higher being.  Their ignorant statements may be frustrating, but they whither away.  The depressing part is when somebody you know, whom you've been friends with for years, makes the declaration that "you can't be an atheist - you're too good."  How do you respond to something like that?

I heard it from a neighbor, a friend.  I knew she and her husband were hardcore believers, but they were the good kind of believers - they believed what they believed, but did not try to force it on anybody else.  They did say a quick prayer before eating, but never tried to get me to pray with them, or do anything related to their faith.  But one day we were talking and she described a visit she recently was paid by a couple of Mormon missionaries.  She had a good chuckle at some of the things they said and her response to them ("they mentioned only 250,000 are allowed into the inner sanctum of heaven, and asked if I would like to be one of them.  I told them 'sure - but which one of you will be pushed out because I was let in?'").  A couple more minutes of conversation about religion led her to ask if I have ever believed in (her) god.  The topic had been discussed in the past, and I told her that, no, I had never felt there was any sort of deity, or higher being(s) of any sort, and repeated that I was an atheist.  That's when she said "you can't be an atheist - you're too good."...

At first blush I was depressed by that statement - that somebody that I thought knew me pretty well would completely disregard a declaration that I was dead serious about with such ease.  But then, I started getting angry.  Not green "Hulk smash" angry, but as angry and frustrated as I had ever gotten with her.  She made another statement, this one about "you can't know good without knowing (her) god".... At that, I told her straight out how arrogant, how condescending, and petty those statements were.  "What you are saying is that, unless I believe EXACTLY WHAT YOU BELIEVE, that I cannot be on your level.  Without believing in your god, nothing means anything.  My parents taught me what is right, and what is wrong, but without a mysterious all-powerful ghost looking over my shoulder, they wasted their time.  Do you realize how arrogant that is?"

"Well, I didn't mean it like that" she said.
"But that is exactly what that means - unless I am exactly like you, I mean NOTHING.  What my parents taught me - nothing.  My experiences of 40+ years - nothing.  Philosophical debates within myself about existence, and the results of those debates - NOTHING.  That...is...arrogance."

The conversation dropped rather quickly - she is not one who enjoys direct confrontation like that, and I believe she sensed she had offended me.  Every once in a while, though, the subject of religion comes up, and I still get the question "you really don't believe there is a god?" in a somewhat astounded manner, as if it was inconceivable that somebody would NOT believe...   It was almost like somebody who loved peanut butter, and could not understand why anybody would not love peanut butter - even those with allergies to peanuts.

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