It’s a sign of how far atheism has come in recent decades that religious organizations openly discuss how to lure us (back) into the fold. They used to lump us in with non-practicing theists and miscellaneous sinners, but now, we’re worth specific attention. There’s something satisfying in that.
David Robertson of Dundee, Scotland thinks he knows how to convince atheists that being Christian is a better bet, and wrote “Four Ways to Witness to Atheists” for the blog Desiring God. I’ve been mulling over his thoughts for a while now, because they’re a rollercoaster of amusement, bemusement, and insult, and the ride is as incoherent as the text.
It’s common, in conversations about atheism taking place in public, for one or more members of minority faiths to chime in with claims that what is being discussed somehow neglects their perspective. These rejoinders are often delivered with the snide implication that atheism is a reaction to the problems of big, common, monotheistic faiths, and that giving a little consideration to these nontheistic or polytheistic styles (or some other alternative to what they only assume the atheists’ religious background was) would have set the atheists on a righter path. They also, consistently, assume that atheist criticisms of religion, whether about its ethics or its metaphysics, somehow don’t apply to them.
I find these people only a little less irritating than I find folks who try to deflect conversations about alternative medicine and other unevidenced practices with accusations that criticizing these things is culturally insensitive, and that’s only because this latter set gets people killed.
I received an invitation from one of my partners to attend their Sunday service at Ecclesiax, a church in downtown Ottawa, and out of curiosity, I attended. It was an interesting visit, and I’m glad I added this unusual event to the series of religious presentations I have personally experienced. Like all the others, though, it’s not one I’ll be repeating if I can avoid it.
I got out.
I don’t know how long I can stay. Canada has refused to employ me despite (because of?) my advanced degree, and if anything goes awry in my immigration process, they might yet force me back.
But I got out.
I received your letter a few days ago, and have spent the ensuing period formulating a response in my mind. That response is ready now.
Images of people in my culture don’t look like me.
There’s a trivial sense in which that’s not true. My dark, angled eyes, curly hair, curvaceous figure, and diminutive stature all betray my origins. Our beauty queens and pop stars in particular look like me, conspicuously lighter in hue than even our own relatives. As distinctive as I always am in family photos, someone else who looked like me would not have seemed out of place.
But the image of us isn’t a scientist. She isn’t an atheist or a socialist. She isn’t dating outside her race. She isn’t deliberately far away from her parents. She isn’t autistic. She isn’t transgender. She isn’t gay.
I’m an antitheist, more so than many of the people in my social circle. I do not merely disbelieve in deities and the traditions that come along with them; I also think that other people should also disbelieve. I think that religion has, at best, severely outlived its usefulness and, more likely, has been a force for consistent ill in humankind’s history. I think them all false, and I think them all dangerous. There are some I find more palatable than others and some that are more reality-based than others, but none meet with my actual approval. I know many people who cleave to various religions and who are exemplary human beings my life is richer for including, and I know a much larger assortment of religious humans who fit in Donald Trump’s basket of deplorables. As a Taína trans lesbian, I am targeted for harms both ongoing and historic by the largest religious establishments in my vicinity, including through non-religious institutions nevertheless suffused with religious sentiment, and the entire edifice fills me with loathing; as a scientist, its non-empirical silliness me with irritated bemusement. As far as I am concerned, the good ones are good despite their faith, not because of it.
I’m often challenged, with all of that in mind, to describe what a version of Christianity my antitheism wouldn’t encompass would look like. If indeed my antitheism isn’t driven purely by emotional antipathy, then surely there is such a version. And there is.
Pokémon is a long-running television series, currently spanning nearly 1000 episodes since its Japanese debut in 1997. Like many such cartoons, it also encompasses a number of feature-length films, set between the episodes of the series and occasionally referenced thereafter. The nineteen Pokémon films are a fascinating oeuvre in their own right, because they return repeatedly to themes particularly dear to me and to other autistic, indigenous viewers.
Reading The Way of the Heathen, first and foremost, reminded me of why I fell in love with Greta Christina’s writing. A series of meditations on weighty topics from an atheist, science-loving perspective, The Way of the Heathen is the antidote to religious insistence that we have no answers for what it means to live a life well lived, and a much-appreciated bridge between the scientific and the sublime.