Spanish Inquisitor, I could kiss you.
I have to give an enormous grateful shout-out to Mr. Inquisitor. He tagged me with one of these “blog tag” memes, this one being “Pick out five blog posts that illustrate the evolution of your blog, link to them, and comment on them.”
So I was going through my archives trying to pick out the five posts that summed up my blog’s development… and I thought, “You know, I’d really like for the last one to be that Atheists and Anger piece I keep wanting to write. That would sum up the evolution of my blog quite nicely. I should just get off my duff and do it.”
I’d been wanting to write that piece for ages. But I knew it would be painful to write, and I knew it would piss people off, so I kept procrastinating. When I got tagged with this meme, though, I knew I wanted Atheists and Anger to be the capper… and I finally got off the pot and wrote it.
The blog post that changed my life.
I owe you one, dude.
Anyway, here’s the meme. The evolution of my blog, summed up in five posts. Except I’m expanding it to six. Okay, seven. Fine, if you’re going to be a fascist about it — eight. But I’m counting two of them as one, so it’s really seven.
So I’m breaking the rules. So sue me. I’m a rebel, and I’ll never, ever be any good.
1. Transcendental Skepticism: My Letter to Mark Morford
This is the first overtly skeptical/ godless piece I wrote in my blog.
I wasn’t even calling myself an atheist back then. But already some of the common themes from my atheist blogging were beginning to crop up. An awareness of how clueless religious and spiritual believers can be about non-believers. A willingness to question, not only mainstream religious institutions, but also the warm and fuzzy lefty varieties of religious belief. And an attempt to be civil and respectful to someone I strongly disagreed with, while at the same time unabashedly calling them on their bullshit.
Pull quote: “It is entirely possible to be a skeptic, an agnostic, and/or an atheist — regarding all metaphysical beliefs, not just deities or organized religions — and still lead a rich, satisfying life, full of creativity and connection and love. More to the point, it is possible to be a skeptic, an agnostic, and/or an atheist, and still experience awestruck wonder at the mysterious majesty of the universe, and a feeling of transcendent oneness with it.”
2. Oh, The Believer and the Skeptic Should be Friends…
This one makes me a little sad now.
I’m including it because I no longer agree with it. Not all of it, anyway. I’m including it because it represents an early stage in my “coming out as an atheist” process, and I think I was being a bit naive. I have, in fact, had casual friendships lost, and closer friendships seriously strained, as I’ve become more outspoken about my non-belief and my problems with religion. (I also think that my “religious faith isn’t that different from secular faith” analysis was way off-base. I plan to write more about that in the future.)
I still agree with the basic intent of this piece. And I still have friends who have religious and spiritual beliefs. But it’s nowhere near as easy as I thought it would be when I wrote this.
Pull quote: “I mean, at least on the surface, the skeptical and the spiritual outlook would seem to represent seriously different values, fundamentally different ways of looking at the universe and our place in it — a difference that would seem to be irrevocable.
“And yet, I don’t think it is. Not to me, anyway. Not always.”
3. Atheist or Agnostic?
Here is a big sea-change. Here is where I stop calling myself an agnostic, and start calling myself an atheist.
I like to pretend that The God Delusion wasn’t the catalyst for this. Dawkins’ snarky, pissy attitude about agnostics ticked me off — it still ticks me off — and I like to pretend that his snarky pissiness actually delayed my shift from “agnostic” to “atheist.”
But the fact is that I started calling myself an atheist about half an hour after I read — and started thinking about — his explanation of what atheism means, and why it doesn’t mean the “100% certainty that God doesn’t exist” thing that I’d always assumed it meant. As soon as I realized that even Dawkins — the hardest-core atheist I’d read — wasn’t a “100% certain” guy, the furniture in my head started re-arranging itself. And for both philosophical and political reasons, I was calling myself an atheist by the time I’d finished the chapter.
Pull quote: “A comparison I’ve been making a lot lately is Zeus. I am about as sure that there is no personal interventionist creator god as I am that there is no Zeus. But I wouldn’t call myself an agnostic about Zeus. I would call myself an atheist about Zeus. I can’t absolutely prove that Zeus doesn’t exist– but I think Zeus’s existence is sufficiently improbable that I don’t have to consider it as a possibility, and I certainly don’t live my life on the assumption that he might exist.
“And I feel exactly the same way about Yahweh/Jehovah/Allah, or whatever you want to call the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good, personal interventionist creator god.”
4. The Unexplained, the Unproven, and the Unlikely
This is the first time I laid out a specific argument for why I don’t believe in the supernatural, and why I think belief in the supernatural isn’t reasonable.
I was still walking on eggshells around the whole “God” issue: I still thought it was unseemly and disrespectful to tell people — directly, in words — that I thought their belief in religion was mistaken. So I said “the supernatural” instead.
But I still think this is one of the best things I’ve written about religious and spiritual belief. It’s still probably the Number One reason I don’t believe in God or the supernatural. And I still cite it all the time.
Pull quote: “When you look at the history of the world, you see thousands — tens of thousands, arguably hundreds of thousands or more — of phenomena for which a supernatural explanation has been replaced by a natural one. Why the sun rises and sets; what thunder and lightning are; how and why illness happens and spreads; why people look like their parents; how people got to be here in the first placeâŠ all these things, and thousands more, were once explained by gods or spirits or mystical energies. And now all of them have natural, physical explanations.
“Natural explanations, I should point out, with mountains of solid, carefully collected, replicable evidence to support them.
“Now, how many times in the history of the world has a natural explanation of a phenomenon been supplanted by a supernatural one?
“As far as I am aware, exactly zero.”
5. Defending the Blasphemy Challenge
This is where I start crunching on a few eggshells.
This is where I start defending, not only atheism, but angry atheism, atheism that is actively pissed off at religion and is working to oppose it. This is where I start openly criticizing the idea that religion should be treated with any more deference than any other theory or philosophy of the world.
And this is where I garnered my first link from Pharyngula… thus spiking my traffic to five times what it had been. This piece marks my departure from the kids’ table to the grownups’ table.
Pull quote: “Religions are (most of them, anyway) an idea about the world: a theory about how the world works, and a philosophy about how the world should work. And as such, it should be part of the public discourse, part of the marketplace of ideas — no different than any other ideas about the world, and treated with the same level of respect and/or irreverence.”
6a. A Lattice of Coincidence: Metaphysics, the Paranormal, and My Answer to Layne
6b. The Slog Through the Swamp: What Science Is, And Why It Works, And Why I Care
These are important.
These are my first thorough, systematic attempts to build an argument against religious/ spiritual belief, and for a naturalist, rationalist world view. They are my first step-by-step explanations of why, precisely, I think religious belief is mistaken. They are where I start talking, in a serious, methodical way, about things like confirmation bias and our tendency to see patterns and intention where there are none… and about the need for us to test our beliefs and expectations with a method specifically designed to screen out error and bias and our tendency to see what we expect.
They also represent yet another baby step onto a few more eggshells.
I’m listing them together, because I think of them as a pair, and I wrote them hard on each other’s heels, the latter inspired by the comment discussion in the former.
Pull quote: “Random thoughts about the people we know and love are flashing into our minds every minute of every day. And things are happening to the people we know and love every minute of every day. Given enough time, the thoughts and the events are going to line up — in a way that will seem far too unlikely to be merely a coincidence.”
“Intuition and inspiration are great. Scientists rely on it heavily to come up with ideas in the first place. But intuition is a starting place — not a final answer. We KNOW that intuition is heavily slanted by bias and expectations and what we want to be true. Intuition gives us ideas, gets us started on roads to explore — but if we want to be really, really sure that our ideas reflect reality, as sure as we can be with our imperfect brains and our huge and mystifying world, then we need a method to test those inspired, intuitive ideas. And as imperfect as it is, I think the scientific method is the best one we have.”
7. Atheists and Anger
This is where I officially stop walking on eggshells.
This is where I put on my big steel-toed work boots and go, “Crunch, crunch, crunch” on every eggshell in my path.
I wasn’t setting out to be provocative or to piss people off. But I wasn’t making any effort not to, either. I made a very careful effort in this piece to be fair and accurate… but I didn’t make any effort at all to not hurt anyone’s feelings.
This is where I officially become, not only an atheist, but an angry atheist.
And this may well turn out to be the blog post that changed my life. This was the blog post that picked up over 800 comments, and still climbing. This was the blog post that got me 100,000 hits in five days. This was the blog post that showed up in the weirdest assortment of online forums ever, from Democratic Underground to Comic Book Resources, Gametrailers to Parenthood.com, Marijuana.com to the Sean Hannity forum, Military.com to Girl Nation. This was the blog post that made the Top Ten on Digg. Defending the Blasphemy Challenge was the first time that I got a link from Pharyngula; Atheists and Anger was the first time that a link from Pharyngula was just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s a funny thing. I like this post a lot and am very proud of it; but if I could have chosen a post to go Kaflooey all over teh Interwebs, I don’t think it would have been this one. It’s not that it’s not a great piece; it’s just that the “furious rant/ litany of complaints” format isn’t really representative of my usual style. The piece is more intemperate than most of my blogging, less closely-reasoned — and a whole lot less funny.
But I also think there’s some poetic justice to it. I think it’s very interesting that the moment I decided to just say what I meant without worrying whose toes I stepped on… that was the moment when the world started recognizing my blog in a serious way.
There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
Pull quote: “So when you tell an atheist (or for that matter, a woman or a queer or a person of color or whatever) not to be so angry, you are, in essence, telling us to disempower ourselves. You’re telling us to lay down one of the single most powerful tools we have at our disposal. You’re telling us to lay down a tool that no social change movement has ever been able to do without. You’re telling us to be polite and diplomatic, when history shows that polite diplomacy in a social change movement works far, far better when it’s coupled with passionate anger. In a battle between David and Goliath, you’re telling David to put down his slingshot and just… I don’t know. Gnaw Goliath on the ankles or something.”
I am now tagging:
OrneryPest’s My Demented Diary
Beth Terry’s Fake Plastic Fish
I’m supposed to tag three more people, but I have this thing about not tagging people non-consensually, and I couldn’t round up anyone else who wanted to play. So if you want to play, say so in the comments… and consider yourself tagged.