A Crisis of Faithlessness

So I had this miniature crisis of faith a few weeks ago — “crisis of faithlessness” would maybe be more accurate — and I’m wondering if any other atheist activists have experienced anything like this, and if so, how you’ve dealt with it.

Scarlet letter
It wasn’t about the atheism per se. It wasn’t about thinking atheism wasn’t correct and maybe God was real. Not even a little. I haven’t had a serious moment of doubt about my atheism in quite a while. In my last four years as an atheist activist, I’ve engaged more with religious believers, and have thought more about religious belief, than I have in the forty-five years before… and it’s done nothing to make me change my mind about my atheism. Quite the opposite. Years of seeing the same terrible arguments for God again and again and again; years of seeing religious believers slip and dodge and evade when asked what exactly they believe and why; years of seeing believers try to shut atheists up and stop our arguments before we’ve even begun them; years of seeing believers get hostile and combative at the mere fact of atheists saying out loud, “We’re atheists”; years of seeing believers say, out loud, in actual words, that it doesn’t matter whether the things they believe are true as long as it makes them feel good… these years have made me more certain about my atheism than ever. They have given me a vivid image of religion as a massive fortress protecting a house of cards: the ideas themselves weak and flimsy to the point of being pathetic, all the power of it lying in protecting the ideas from any sort of careful attention.

The crisis wasn’t about my atheism. It was about my atheist activism.

My crisis of faithlessness happened during that awful, awful week. You know. The one with the earthquake in Japan, and the union-busting in Wisconsin, and the war in Libya, and absolutely everything stupid and horrible in Congress.

I was reeling under that week like everyone else… and part of me was thinking, “With all this horrible shit going on in the world, why do I care whether people believe in God? So much so that I’m devoting the bulk of my professional life to trying to talk them out of it?” I spent that terrible week reading about war, and tsunamis, and possible nuclear meltdowns, and Planned Parenthood maybe getting defunded, and the erosion of one of the last remaining weapons working people have against the increasingly powerful and corrupt plutocracy, and on and on and on and on and on… and it made it kind of hard to get seriously worked up about Pascal’s Wager.

I don’t want to alarm you. It’s not like I was seriously contemplating an immediate change of career, or even an eventual one. I was just having a momentary moment of being overwhelmed by the suckage of the world, and feeling helpless about it, and wondering if I was putting my limited energy where it could do the most good.


San francisco crazy road sign
I realize, of course, that no matter what cause I devoted my life to, there would still be eighty thousand other causes demanding my attention, and making my one little cause feel trivial. If I devoted my life to, say, unionizing and labor rights instead of atheism, I still might have been spending that terrible week wondering, “Shouldn’t I be fighting to save birth control? Fighting against aggressive imperialist wars in volatile regions? Fighting against unsafe nuclear power plants being built on, for fuck’s sake, earthquake fault lines?” No matter what path we take, it means not taking eighty thousand other paths… and sometimes one of those eighty thousand paths can suddenly seem extremely important, or even just really interesting. That doesn’t mean we should suddenly switch gears. Of course we should be willing to re-think our choices in life — but if we keep hopping from path to path depending on the flare-up of the moment, we’ll never get anywhere.

When it comes to picking our battles, I think that, to some extent, we have to do what we’re inspired to do, and what we’re good at, and what we think is fun. I mean, it’s not like I think that people in the labor movement are dilettantes for not working on reproductive rights, or that people in the reproductive rights movement are dilettantes for not working on poverty in Africa, or that people in the anti-poverty movement are dilettantes for not working on global climate change. And I don’t think I’m a dilettante for working on atheism. Atheism has caught my imagination. I’m not sure I entirely understand why (although I have some ideas), but it has. I’m inspired to work in this movement; I’m good at it; I think it’s so far beyond fun that I sometimes just burst with excitement about it and have to get up from my computer to do a little happy-dance. I don’t entirely understand why… but I don’t feel that way about other political movements. Awesomely important though they are. And getting involved in a movement that isn’t fun and exciting for you is a sure recipe for burnout.

What’s more, atheism is a fight where I can make a difference. In a way that I can’t do nearly as much in other fights. If for no other reason: I’m already in this movement, and I already have a respected voice in it. And the fact that I care so much about this movement, the fact that I find it so inspiring and fun, is of course a huge part of why I’m good at it… and the fact that I’m good at it is a huge part of why I can make an impact in it.

And maybe most importantly? This is a fight that, in the long run, I think has potential — maybe a seriously large potential — to help with these other fights.

History book cover#1#
I mean — if we win? If in a hundred years, even half the world population has stopped believing in religion? If in two hundred years, almost nobody does? If in three or four or five hundred years, historians are writing about religion as a fascinating relic of human history, the way we now write about geocentrism or the theory of the four bodily humours?

How much of a game-changer would that be?

How different would the world be… not just about religion, but about sexism and science education and same-sex marriage and reproductive rights and eighty thousand other areas of life that religion fucks up?

It’s not like I think the spread of atheism will bring the dawn of a Utopia, a new age of reason in which critical thinking is king and humanist values are treasured by all. Human nature is what it is, and even if religion completely disappeared from the human mindset and became a historical relic, people will still be wired with cognitive errors we evolved a hundred thousand years ago to help us find food and escape from predators, and we’ll still believe silly things for no good reason. Atheism isn’t going to make that go away. (There are way too many atheists who believe silly things for me to convince myself of that.)

But I do think that a huge number of the world’s greatest ills are made far worse, and in some cases are directly caused, by religion. I think religious belief, by its very nature, is a bad influence on humanity, one that does significantly more harm than good. I don’t think the world would be perfect without religion… but I do think it would be better.

And to get back to my specific point: I think that, without religion in the world, or even with less religion in the world, a lot of these other fights I’m talking about would be a whole lot easier. In some cases, they might not need to be happening at all. Without religion, homophobia would be a lot less rampant. Without religion, sexism would be a lot less rampant. Without religion, the U.S. wouldn’t be freaking out over government funding of birth control. Without religion, the Middle East wouldn’t be such a freaking mess. Without religion, we might even be less vulnerable to manipulation of irrational fears and false hopes by disgustingly rich fuckers trying to get even richer. I think the atheist movement has the potential, in the long run and maybe even the medium run, to make a serious dent in all these other issues I care about, and to be a positive force for the human race.

So no. I’m not going anywhere. I just need to question these things now and then, is all. After all, when I do this work, I’m asking other people to question some of their most fundamental ideas and assumptions about their lives and the world. I’d be a pretty big hypocrite if I wasn’t willing to periodically question my own.

And Pascal’s Wager still sucks.

A Crisis of Faithlessness
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35 thoughts on “A Crisis of Faithlessness

  1. 1

    I don’t know if you intended it this way, but this article reads almost like a self-pump-up. The tone starts off weary and slightly disillusioned, moves into an explanation of where the weariness comes from, which seemingly serves to reignite your passion for the cause, without any direct intent to do so.
    In other words, it reads like you can get yourself hyped up to fight the fight, all over again, just by talking about it. If that’s not passion, I don’t know what is. It’s inspiring.

  2. 2

    Although we certainly have a moral responsibility to be informed citizens, it is useful to sometimes take a step back from the bepixeled screens in front of us and realize that our brains, and our emotional reflexes such as empathy, were not designed to deal with a non-stop onslaught of global misery and suffering. Back on the Savannah, we only had to deal with the goings on of our tribal peeps. This may all sound horribly trite, but I do think that we need to protect ourselves by limiting our exposure to what goes into our heads, much like we (should) care about what we stuff down our gullets.
    Love your blog, BTW.

  3. 3

    No, no, no !!! Don’t give up now. You are so articulate in the defense of the rational – I use your stuff ALL the time. It is also such a mental comfort to know I’m not the only secular non-New Agey unbeliever in a state (Ky) full of fundies. On the other hand, most of the believers I work with and know wouldn’t be able to cope with their dysfunctional lives and families unless they had their illusions. As Jesse Ventura said, religion is for weak people. I only confront them when they get too over-the-top, and then I try to not do it confrontationally (is that a word?).
    Anyway, keep up the good work.

  4. 4

    Personally, that week made me even more adamant. I see my atheism not as a worldview in and of itself, but as the inevitable result of a skeptical worldview. When no one’s saying anything too blatantly stupid or crazy, I can sort of sit back and relax, but when people start whining about radiation coming over to California or how teachers’ benefits are bankrupting the state governments or anything along those lines, then I get pissed off and can’t sit still anymore. Maybe there’s a fundamental difference between people who prefer polite conversation and people who thrive on confrontation, but rest assured there are plenty of both.

  5. 5

    Well, great. I just thanked God you are still with us … and that of course set me off now. So thanks, thanks a lot. 😉

  6. 6

    Great post, Greta. I have sometimes thought about this myself — for example, I wonder, isn’t the current and growing income inequality in this country more urgent than the issue of religious belief?
    But then I end up going the same place you do; I think about my ability to make a dent in the discourse about economic inequality, and it seems small. My capacity to make a dent in the atheism discussion, on the other hand, while not huge, is considerably larger. And then I also think about how much of the cultural baggage that *allows* this country to be complacent about its economic inequality has religious roots, even when people are not particularly (or at all; think Ayn Rand disciples) religious. Indeed, part of this country was originally founded on the whole idea that the rich were rich because they were on a list; as for everyone else, well, they were suspect. (I’m thinking about Calvinism and New England here.)
    Today, I see so much how this assumption persists *despite* Calvinism being long dead and largely replaced by a fuzzy, all-loving God. But people still assume – consciously or not – that there is a certain amount of justice in “free market capitalism,” and the virtuous and hard-working really can and should rise above everyone else who, apparently, qualify as unvirtuous/immoral. But from an atheist perspective, there is nothing out there keeping score; God/the free market does not reward good or virtuous people with riches. That depends on us, entirely. And I think once you rid yourself of this knee-jerk assumption that there is some sort of large score keeper in the sky, you start to really *see* how fucked up things are and think, holy hell, there is no good reason for any of this to be like this.
    Again, it isn’t like religion is entirely responsible for this, far from it. But I think it is a sizable chunk of what is going on. And if I can encourage people to start to take responsibility for the society they see around themselves, I think that goes a long way, much further past simply not believing in God.

  7. 7

    It’s all part of one larger battle, the hydra has many heads.
    Atheism helps to fight the head that forces superstition onto impressionable children, and takes away the oxygen that feeds superstitious adults.
    Environmentalism helps to fight the head that destroys the economic philosophies that thinks that profit now is worth several tons of pollutants in the environment, and forget that it will affect the lives of the coming generations.
    Equality helps fight the head that forces people into in group/out group dichotomies where none should exist, but are simply there to reinforce the existing power structure.
    There are many heads, and a progressive group that exists to fight them. In the future we will find more heads, and groups will arise that we haven’t even thought of. Gay rights, Women’s Rights, Trade Unionism etc. didn’t exist a couple of centuries ago. Trans. rights, Net Neutrality, Universal Marriage are all appearing now, and need to be fought for in the same way.
    The Hydra needs to be fought on every front, if a head is left intact, all the others will regrow in time, and we’ll be back to square one. Authoritarianism and bigotry in even one area of life, will lead to authoritarianism and bigotry in all, when a right is denied to one person, rights are denied to all people. We may not understand every right yet, and may find new ones, but the fact remains.
    Carry on with your fight, in the cause that you find most important now, other people will fight in the same way, for theirs. We just have to support each other’s battles at the same time as fighting our own.
    You do so much for LGBT Rights and Atheism, don’t let the general shittiness of natural disasters, and rampant fuckwitedness distract you from your very important role, in the very important sphere, you have chosen, and are very good in, to fight for.

  8. 10

    Wonderful post! I’d like to add that we probably make much quicker progress as a society by working on many problems simultaneously, in part because solutions to one problem help us to find solutions to others, and also because some of the most pressing problems are simply too difficult at the moment. So, perhaps stopping wars is the most important problem we could try to solve, but we don’t know how to do it, and it’s unclear whether we’ll get much better at it if all activists for all causes suddenly devote all their efforts to it.

  9. 11

    I guess just try not to let things get you down. I (and many others) really like your blog and if it ever feels unimportant, I don’t know… it is important? I sure enjoy it if it means anything.
    Noone can do everything, I say pick your work(or job), pick your fun, and if you have time, pick your battles. It also seems like you are getting upset about things you have absolutely no control over. Like the tsunami, I can’t possibly drop my life to go physically help them, but I did as much as I could by giving a rather small donation to people who -can- do something. If you can help, do it, but with global media and a huge world its not really feasable to make an impact on every single issue.
    And I fully agree we need people like you, or on a larger scale Hitchens/Harris/Dawkins and others, to fight the fortress that is religion. You’ve given me quite a bit more information or phrased arguements I hadn’t found elsewhere, and (*said shyly*) some *other* topics a typical guy wouldn’t have considered. Anyways, thanks for your insights.

  10. 12

    I agree that if people were more skeptical, all of these problems would be prevented and/or less severe. For example, skeptics might have insisted on using safer methods (such as dry cask) to store the spent fuel at Fukushima, or made a big deal about the compromised containment and/or the dependence on an active cooling system before the earthquake. Meanwhile, I have noticed that the people who are pointing out that even with Chernobyl/Fukushima accidents, coal power plants kill more people than nuclear power plants (coal power plants kill in more mundane ways, but that doesn’t make the victims any less dead) are also skeptics. The current atheist movement is doing a lot to spread skepticism, so yes, it is helping in the longish term.
    Great blog, by the way, reading your writing has helped me clarify my own thoughts.

  11. 13

    Greta, I’ve had a similar doubt, but related more to how “the movement” fits into the broader civil rights movement. Women, people of color, or lesbians and gays are generally more easily identified as a member of their marginalized groups than are atheists, who are often white men, often in academia (like me) or in other positions of privilege. Although I DO experience marginalization because of my open atheism, it is difficult for most people to take me seriously when I claim to be part of a marginalized group because of my other privileged identities. Our invisibility is part of what perpetuates Christian privilege. How can we plead our case without sounding petty?

  12. 14

    Oh wow, this hits close to home.
    I had a VERY similar reaction to similar events- most broadly the Arab Spring (which kind of “woke me up” to the serious, systemic faults in our foreign policy) and Wisconsin (which woke me up to what bad shape the US is in.)
    My atheism hasn’t flagged, of course, but I have been kind of looking at stuff in a larger picture, outside of the easy-to-understand fact that religion is false and dangerous.
    I’ve not changed my mind that decreasing religious belief is a noble goal that would benefit society immensely. But… that’s going to take a while. In the meantime, the world is pretty fucked up, and getting people to drop their irrational religious beliefs isn’t going to fix some major problems.
    Here’s just one example:
    I’m honestly coming to view the Middle East clusterfuck as less a problem of religion and more one of politics. (Which isn’t groundbreaking, it’s the view of the standard liberal.) Yes, Israel is a theocracy, and settlers are stealing “holy land”, which is religiously motivated. But what’s the big picture?
    We prop up repressive dictators because we value “stability” over democracy. They then put our interests before those of their people (see: Mubarak selling oil under market cost to Israel). If they don’t cooperate, we bomb/occupy them (Iraq, Afghanistan) or vilify them (Iran). Anyone who plays on our side (Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Libya to a point) is allowed to get away with murder.
    None of this has anything to do with religion.
    So I’m getting pretty tired of Sam Harris’s take on Islamic extremism, which seems to be the norm among gnu atheists. It completely ignores the political aspects. You can not explain suicide bombings and 9/11 without examining *why* so many muslims are angry at us. You know why? Because we occupy/bomb their countries, and let Israel get away with murder. That’s why they’re angry. This anger would still exist without religion, and I think attacks would continue, in some form.
    Atheists have really bought into the conception that there is something supremely irrational in muslim anger. Therefore, Islam itself is to blame for this irrationality. Not at all. The *actions taken* are immoral and counter-productive, and undeniably influenced by religious conviction (who wouldn’t blow themselves up for 77 virgins?) But the anger underlying it? Totally rational.
    So I’m all for wanting Islam out of the picture, but how can we actually accomplish this? No matter how much we secularize the west, nothing will change in the islamic world if we continue the status quo. We will make NO progress there if we continue to call Sam Harris one of our spokesmen.
    But atheism is not monolithic, and I think we can all take our atheism and seed it into our pet causes. Some people can do pure philosophical atheism for it’s own sake; others can apply it. Big problems stand in our way, but atheism can and should adapt.
    I’m just saying, Sam Harris, SO 2005.

  13. 15

    Yes, okay, but have you ever considered that if you believe in God and you’re wrong you lose nothing, but if you are an atheist and you’re wrong you go to Hell?
    Or did I just blow your mind?
    (There once was this totally brilliant French mathematician named Blaise….)

  14. 16

    You cannot fight all battles. I’m sure many worthy people are fighting the other ones; meanwhile you are doing an amazing job for atheism, and you would be missed here if you went elsewhere.
    Aside, Blaise Pascal was one of the founding minds behind the theory of probability. It baffles me how he could get that wager business so wrong.

  15. 17

    “if we keep hopping from path to path depending on the flare-up of the moment, we’ll never get anywhere” This is true, but if part of your intense interest in educating others about atheism does ever being to fade off, there is nothing wrong with chosing a different path. You are a gifted educator and communicator, and the average adult goes through at least 5 career changes I believe.
    It doesn’t surprise me that during a time of horrible world crisis you would feel a bit odd for trying to take away from people their source of comfort and perceived power(prayer) in the face of tragedies and situations out of their control. This is the worst part of atheism – not having someone more powerful than you to cry out to for help. It keeps me from becoming an atheist. I WANT to believe there is someone who cares and can help me.
    However, nothing like a tsunami to establish with perfect clarity that THERE IS NO GOD up there taking care of us – if there is, He has got to be without emotion or compassion as He watches His children die in giant waves pulling them under. It takes so much energy to explain that there is a God during times like these that many Christians feel despair as well in their cause.
    I believe you are trying to set people free from the pain that religion can bring. I am still bound by what I do consider to be chains of Christianity. An angry God, the fear of hell if I don’t believe anymore, constant self-monitoring of every emotion and thought that I have for morality.
    But look at me . . . creeping onto your blog. It gives me hope. I dance around your ideas but I’m off in the shadows wishing I could join in. I say keep up the good work, and when life gets tragic, know you are not alone in feeling like your mission may not be the most beneficial – everything is trivialized in the face of tragedy.

  16. 18

    But I do think that a huge number of the world’s greatest ills are made far worse, and in some cases are directly caused, by religion.

    This is the key point, Greta. Consider some of the religious reaction to the earthquakes in Japan, or to similar natural disasters. Consider how dreadfully religion often exacerbates war – or causes it. Hitch may have been overstating when he said that religion poisons everything but it surely poisons a hell of a lot, doesn’t it?
    Should you be fighting to save birth control, or abortion rights? You’d be fighting religion if you did. More activity for gay rights? You’ll be fighting religion.
    Atheist activism is a really, really important cause in today’s world. That, coupled with the fact that you’re good at it should be all the reason you need to keep fighting the good fight.

  17. 19

    If everyone abruptly decided to lay down their scriptures and consciously think their way out of religion, I really don’t think bigotry, plutocracy, authoritarianism, ignorance, apathy, and uncritical thought would disappear. But, their biggest pillar of justification or necessitation would be knocked down.
    So many issues are interconnected. This is why I find atheist activism such a satisfying matter to concentrate on.
    (P.S.: As a Wisconsinite, I thank you for your support.)

  18. 20

    Just going to say that the only crisis I ever have is an occasional moment of horror, when I think, “Bloody hell, if these people where even *remotely* correct about their god existing, given the stupid shit I am seeing, there would really be no damn hope at all for anyone, or anything, in this universe.” In short, my reaction to congress, and disasters, etc. is to go, “Man, I better be right, because the alternative is completely frakking insane.”
    This isn’t any more questioning my rejection of god than yours, but the simple fact is, no god, no matter his/her/its nature, can repay the stupidity, crass inhumanity, and terrible horror, perpetrated by both fellow humans, often based on belief in the same magical sky fairy, or generated by natural disasters. No sort of “plan”, or “mysterious ways”, justifies these things. And, thus, if it where even remotely true, it would be indistinguishable from worshiping Cthulhu.
    So, I would have to say, I don’t have quite the same crisis. More an existential moment of horror. lol

  19. 21

    Just be cautious of investing more nobility into your fellow atheists than they’re likely to possess. Hatred of the Other requires no religion to exist. Sure, religions have preyed on this for a long time. But just as not all religions insist on hatred and fear as a motivating factor, not all atheists are free of bigotries. I’ve seen atheists argue against same-sex marriage. Pseudoscience independent of any religion can, has, and will argue in favor of racism. Your own desire to strip belief in deity from the world is an evangelical one, which is part of your problem with religion as well. That in and of itself is the seed of intolerance.
    So holding atheism up as the savior of the world is utter nonsense. Humans working together and recognizing the value of pluralism is far more likely to pull that off. An ancient Persian king once called for all faiths to live in peace together in his kingdom and that the atheist should be left alone with his/her decision not to believe. That to me is the ideal, not converting the world to one or another. One-way thinking is the path to bigotry regardless of why your way is better than anyone else’s.

  20. 22

    Lysana | May 03, 2011 at 03:09 PM:

    Just be cautious of investing more nobility into your fellow atheists than they’re likely to possess.

    Good point. Greta wrote about that. See also here. There is, of course, reason to continue to raising the issue.

    Pseudoscience independent of any religion can, has, and will argue in favor of racism.

    True, but so far it has always been science, not religion, that has dismantled the claims of pseudoscience.

    Your own desire to strip belief in deity from the world is an evangelical one, which is part of your problem with religion as well.

    I don’t see her arguing anyone go knocking door to door.

    So holding atheism up as the savior of the world is utter nonsense.

    What did Greta write?

    It’s not like I think the spread of atheism will bring the dawn of a Utopia, a new age of reason in which critical thinking is king and humanist values are treasured by all. Human nature is what it is, and even if religion completely disappeared from the human mindset and became a historical relic, people will still be wired with cognitive errors we evolved a hundred thousand years ago to help us find food and escape from predators, and we’ll still believe silly things for no good reason. Atheism isn’t going to make that go away. (There are way too many atheists who believe silly things for me to convince myself of that.)

    She has also criticized racist, misogynistic, and homophobic atheists in the past.


    One-way thinking is the path to bigotry regardless of why your way is better than anyone else’s.

    Atheism is “one-way thinking” to the same extent that bald is a hair color.

  21. 23

    Your own desire to strip belief in deity from the world is an evangelical one, which is part of your problem with religion as well. That in and of itself is the seed of intolerance.

    Actually, if you read my writing at any length, you’ll find that this isn’t part of my problem with religion. I don’t have any problem with religious believers trying to persuade other people that they’re right.
    I have problems with many of the ways they go about it — fear tactics, false promises, appeals to emotion instead of reason and evidence, manipulation of cognitive biases, outright bullying, etc. But I don’t have a problem with people trying to persuade one another that their ideas are right. We do that in every other sphere of life — science, politics, medicine, art, etc. And we don’t consider it “intolerant.” Why should religion be an exception?

    So holding atheism up as the savior of the world is utter nonsense.

    When did I do that?
    I made a point of saying that I wasn’t doing that. I simply said that I thought the world would be somewhat better off without religion. That’s hardly the same as holding atheism up as the savior of the world. Can you please do me the courtesy of arguing with the points I’m actually making, instead of points I’m not making and in fact am actively repudiating?

  22. 24

    I am still bound by what I do consider to be chains of Christianity. An angry God, the fear of hell if I don’t believe anymore, constant self-monitoring of every emotion and thought that I have for morality.
    But look at me . . . creeping onto your blog. It gives me hope. I dance around your ideas but I’m off in the shadows wishing I could join in.

    Tea Roses: Your comment breaks my heart. I hate the thought of anyone trying to convince themselves to believe something they know isn’t true, simply because they’re afraid of it.
    So instead of trying to make an argument for why your religious beliefs are almost certainly not true — since it seems like you’re already there — I want to point you to some of my writings about how atheism is a safe, happy, joyful place to live, and how letting go of religion is okay. (Lots of other atheist writers have written about this too, btw — I just know where to point to with my own writing.)
    Dancing Molecules: An Atheist Moment of Transcendence
    Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing To Do With God
    The Meaning of Death: Part One of Many
    The Meaning of Death, Part 2 of Many: Motivation and Mid-Life Crises
    The Meaning of Death, Part 3 of Many: Fear, Grief, and Actually Experiencing Your Emotions
    Atheism, Bad Luck, and the Comfort of Reason
    For No Good Reason: Atheist Transcendence at the Black and White Tour
    Atheism and Hope
    Atheist Meaning in a Small, Brief Life, Or, On Not Being a Size Queen
    A Skeptic’s View of Love
    A Skeptic’s View of Sexual Transcendence
    Atheism, Openness, and Caring About Reality: Or, Why What We Don’t Believe Matters
    Part of the Show: Atheist Transcendence at the Edwardian Ball
    Skepticism As a Discipline
    I really hope this is helpful. I know — from personal experience, as well as from the experience of others — that letting go of religion can be hard and scary. But I also know that most people who do it feel grateful and glad that they have, like a great burden has been lifted from their shoulders. I hope you can find the strength to accept what you really think is true. Know that there is a community here to support you in your process, and to help catch you if and when you do let go.

  23. 25

    Greta, you’re one of my favourite writers. Sometimes you introduce me to knew ideas, and often you put my own thoughts far far better than I could. Always, you are interesting, and always you have a way with words.

  24. 26

    Well, I am in the middle of a crisis of real faith (can’t decide what I believe or don’t) and your faithlessness makes me feel better: See, I don’t HAVE to come to a conclusion about any of this!Other people have opted out ALTOGETHER!
    On a somewhat related note: I’ve now had two atheist relatives die and their obituaries described them as 1) Catholic and 2) Methodist. Say what?! In what universe was this? I was infuriated, but had no say in the matter. But see, now every time I read obits, I wonder if they really WERE whatever religion they are described as being…

  25. 27

    Your comments were really touching, Tea Roses. I’m glad I got the chance to read them.
    I’m neither an activist, nor do I consider myself atheist, so I’m just armchair theorizing here, but I wonder if one of the difficulties in being an ‘atheist activist’ is that it’s a lot hard to measure successes. Donating money or feeding the poor is much more tangible, and even if with something like reproductive rights, you can look at what’s happening and have a sense of whether you’re winning or losing.
    Atheism as a belief is straightforward, but atheism as a MOVEMENT still feels like it’s defining itself in a lot of ways.
    I think what you’re feeling normal, and I think its healthy to have those questions about what you’re doing, whether it’s about our politics, our path in life, our beliefs, or our relationships. Certainly, I think the best among us look honestly at those questions when they come up instead of trying to pretend they aren’t there or blindly grabbing on to what somebody else tells us we should feel or believe.

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    When I get in that sort of mood, I often ask myself, “How many of these problems were caused by religion? By nonreligious but superstitious beliefs? By power structures that were lifted up on the backs of churches? By divisions between people who disagree over who their invisible parent figure loves more?”
    To me, investing in atheism is an investment in something that will pay off in the long run. It doesn’t seem like much, but part of the reason is because of the timescales involved, and part of the reason is because atheism stands a better chance as a preventative measure against new problems and complications, than an immediate cure for the old ones.
    We’ve had several centuries since the Enlightenment, most of which involved very minor gains for rationality in the general populace (although the sciences have fared very well). Unfortunately, part of the reason for this is probably that everyone, in every generation, has more urgent-seeming problems. If you’re a skeptical and progressive type of person in 1850, are you more worried about religion in general or slavery? This is not to say that abolitionism wasn’t far more important at that time. But if every such person in every single generation had made the same sort of decision, atheism would have stagnated, which only means that the people in the next generation would have to put up with a whole new generation of religious garbage, with no net progress having been made at all.
    Or to put it differently, the fact that atheism didn’t quite catch on around 1900 is quite relevant to the power amassed by the religious right decades later.

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    Although it’s worth noting that, just as atheism influences other issues, other issues influence atheism. Education, for example, is the big key to getting people to think more critically.

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    The best time to fight battles is when they can be won; and the best way to fight battles is with overwhelming force. Thanks to you and others like you, atheism in the west has religion on the ropes, reeling under an intellectual onslaught of the like which has never been seen before. Deep-frozen attitudes are starting to thaw and shift, and attitudes once held in private are beginning to coalesce into a great social movement.
    There is still lots of dirty work to do, and it will get dirtier as the more moderate believers evaporate and only the hard-core fanatics remain. But there has never been a better time to fight this particular battle.

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    When you work against religion, you’re “killing many birds with one stone,” not that I would ever kill any birds.
    But, religion is the ur-cause of so much that is wrong with Congress, it’s behind the union-busting in Wisconsin because the Bible is absolutely, completely anti-democracy and anti-equality. Much environmental devastation is due to the fact that humans think the Earth is some kind of waiting room for the hereafter, so there’s no need to take care of it.

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    I’m not sure where you’re getting your info, but great topic. I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more. Thanks for magnificent information I was looking for this info for my mission.

  31. 33

    Its like you read my mind! You appear to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is magnificent blog. An excellent read. I will certainly be back.

  32. 34

    Questioning is good which is why I’ve quit ID’ing myself as an atheist and gone back to referring myself more as an agnostic. What the hell do I know?

    I don’t believe in Christianity or any religions. I think the most likely thing that will happen to me when I die is, well, I just die. But you know what, the fact that I’m here, typing these words is pretty bizarre. Life is crazy, no?

    The Milky Way, our galaxy, is thought to have somewhere between 200-400 billion stars in it. It’s just one of who knows how many galaxies in the universe, a universe that, so far as we can tell, just came out of nothing at some point in the very distant past and may just keep expanding itself out of existence into the far, far future.

    So far as we can tell. But I remind myself of how little it is we really know. After all, we ‘just’ discovered viruses and bacteria in the 19th century, right?

    Is there a god? Gods? I don’t see any evidence. But that doesn’t mean anything. No one saw evidence of bacteria or viruses in, say, the 1200’s. That didn’t mean they didn’t exist.

    It seems the only logical position to take is to question and to doubt. Like I said, what the hell do we know?

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    Excellent post, Greta. Once we get rid of the “Ultimate Authority” in the sky, it is much easier to question the justification for the various secular authorities which make up the kleptocracy which seems to be the evolving out of the “free market capitalism” idea.

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