Questionable Motives

October 7, 2010

Why am I a Gnu Atheist?

Filed under: Atheism,belief — tildeb @ 12:20 pm

I am a gnu atheist and as such I feel it is important to show that, on issues that matter, all of us as people share far more than the beliefs (or lack of them) that so often divide us. And what matters most, I think, is compassion (‘com’ meaning ‘with’ in the sense of something shared, and ‘passion’ meaning suffering). We are in this world together and what brings us closer is this sense of sharing the trials and tribulations and triumphs of human life, what John and many others call ‘love’.

I can appreciate because I’m fully human what it means to another to suffer like I do – whether that suffering is an artistic expression that falls just short, unrequited love, personal loss and tragedy, pain and injury and betrayal, even a child advancing to some new endeavor leaving a part of childhood behind forever (tough not to cry when the child heads off to school for that first time filled with such excitement and courage and armed with nothing but optimism).

But so too can I share the passion that infuses all of human life with so much potential meaning and purpose through love and adventure and excitement and common achievement. We share all of our humanity even if we share only some of what our different ideas of what that life should look like.

When I come across this sense of shared suffering – our common humanity expressed a zillion different ways – undermined by particular religious beliefs, I feel compelled to speak out. Not always well, not always effectively, not always kindly, but with an intention that is good, an intention to bring people back to what we share. In the same way that criminality is determined by intent to cause harm, so too do I criticize beliefs whose intent is to divide, to reduce human welfare and human well-being in the name of obeying and pleasing some other-worldly agency. Too often this attempt to impose one’s religious belief on others – no matter how heartfelt the case may pretend to be – is done to raise one’s lesser self to a more elevated place in the belief hierarchy, as if piousness itself is more precious to whatever creator agency is believed in than the actual welfare and well-being of others. Those individuals who are willing to sacrifice the welfare and well-being of others in the name of promoting them selves in the metaphorical eyes of some deity need to be confronted for their selfishness, stupidity, for their lack of empathy, for their arrogance and effrontery, for their misplaced priorities, and worst of all for their intentional perversion of that which binds us together: compassion – of shared suffering with other people in this life, in this place, in the here and now. In its place comes this belief-twisted caricature of compassion that is equivalent to becoming god’s jackbooted bully in order to share the deity’s suffering. It’s a form of illness of human spirit, one that is so blindly extended into the world through misogyny and bigotry and intolerance for what is just, what is right, what is good. We know better. And we can do better.

Religious belief opens this door (and often makes these divisive acts into virtues) as much as it opens a door to community and love and good works and to sharing beliefs of like-minded people. I think religious belief is unnecessary to achieve the same positive results (for what I think are better reasons) under different secular enlightened banners and ends up causing more harm than it does good in the conglomerate. I also recognize that the choice to hold religious beliefs is not my call (I’m not the one promoting the idea of the Thought Police). Each of us (but only in a secular liberal democracy let us remember) has the legal right to believe whatever we want that juices our religious engine but we don’t have the right to impose those beliefs in any way on others without undermining exactly that same right! (It’s a mystery why so many fail to recognize the importance of this very point when it comes to one’s primary worldly allegiance between a specific religion and the state, especially those who denigrate enlightened secularism in the name of extending their religious beliefs into the world.) Sometimes that fact needs to be pointed out to those who seem to be so willing to sacrifice it on their religious alter.

Finally, I have come to the conclusion that religion and all its negative effects can be all but eliminated if each believer holds true to keeping the positive beliefs they cherish wholly private (especially from children). We can be just for the sake of equitable justice and fairness, do what’s right for the sake of being ethical, be good for the sake of our common morality. Religious belief is not a better foundation (nor the only foundation) upon which to justify these goals and their achievement, nor is it central to determining and exercising what is just, right, and good. We can gather compassion in our hearts regardless of our beliefs and spread it like seeds through compassionate action as our testimonial to having lived honest and full human lives.

I don’t need to believe in deities. I can seek my answers – even if they include the ever-popular “I don’t know” – without any religious baggage. And that’s both empowering and freeing.


  1. and rewarding….

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — October 7, 2010 @ 3:50 pm | Reply

  2. In what way does authentic Christianity harm anyone? I read your post twice and didn’t see where you established how and why Christianity is so deleterious to society.

    Comment by Jim J — October 8, 2010 @ 6:06 pm | Reply

    • Thanks for popping by, Jim.

      First of all, I don’t know what you mean by authentic christianity: every christian I know thinks their assortment of interpretation and acceptable scriptural authority is authentic but I have no wish to try to sort out what is and is not acceptable to your notion of what’s authentic.

      As for my post, I make reference to any action based on any theology that causes a negative impact on the human rights and freedoms and the dignity of personhood and, by extension, a necessary loss of compassion.

      I have no problem with christianity or Muk Muk of the Volcano if believers keep their beliefs private and personal and don’t extend them into the world to cause effect. We have enough in common as people to stay on the same team and work together without introducing theology that causes at least as much harm as good.

      Comment by tildeb — October 8, 2010 @ 7:22 pm | Reply

  3. but I have no wish to try to sort out what is and is not acceptable to your notion of what’s authentic.

    Hi again,
    Wouldn’t you want to know what’s authentic? I certainly don’t have anything to do with the Westboro Baptist Church and I don’t expect you have anything to do with atheistic institutions like communism that have murdered millions of innocents. I wouldn’t understand you if I lumped you with Chairman Mao and you wouldn’t understand me if you thought I was Rev Fred Phelps or one of his in-bred followers.

    When you talk about keeping beliefs private, what about your beliefs? What if we all hid our beliefs, wouldn’t we end up like the Christmas show the first year of South Park? Say, you’re not Mr. Hanky, are you? Just kidding. I loved that episode…

    Comment by Jim J — October 8, 2010 @ 9:35 pm | Reply

    • As long as you’re doing the heavy lifting on that sorting, then yes, I am curious what you mean.

      Surely you know that communism is not premised on reason. It is by no stretch of the imagination an institution or even a passing reference to atheism; if anything, totalitarian states are premised on exactly that which founds a theocracy: one set of beliefs that demands obedience and honouring the precious leader. Atheism offers nothing like it, no leader, no absolute ideology, no obedience, and so on.

      The word ‘belief’ can mean different things. In theological terminology, it means faith in place of proof. As I use it, it means “I think…” and is a collection of what I currently hold to be the best reasons. If better reasons come along, then I alter what I ‘believe’. I do not hold fast to them in the sense of pretending that they are my private access to absolute truths and blessed by some supernatural agency who has an interest in how I use my gonads or is concerned with what I might covet or idolize. And I do extend them responsibly into the world as testable hypotheses subject to change with cause, but conditionally so. And I’ve listed the conditions. So I don’t expect anyone to hide their beliefs in this sense of the word, but I do hope those who use the word as a substitute for religious faith exercise that same ethical responsibility toward others and keep the beliefs private and personal.

      Comment by tildeb — October 8, 2010 @ 11:22 pm | Reply

  4. PS _ I do like your blog and have added it to my blogroll.

    Comment by Jim J — October 8, 2010 @ 9:36 pm | Reply

  5. Gnu atheism is really an intentional and confrontational stance against religious power and authority and theocracy and irrationalism and superstition and religious exploitation. All of these public expressions of religious belief I think stand against our common interests and work tirelessly to undermine our human rights and freedoms and dignity of personhood. They need to be met with public criticism.

    Comment by tildeb — October 9, 2010 @ 10:21 am | Reply

  6. Religiosity seems to have a protective effect against suicide. Exactly which religion(s), during what ages/developmental periods, and among which ethnicities remain unanswered questions. Many of the studies of the relationship between religion and suicide have been too small, contradictory, or flawed to make overall conclusions. However, research suggests that in the United States, areas with higher percentages of individuals without religious affiliation have correspondingly higher suicide rates. Involvement with a religion may provide a social support system, a direct way to cope with stressors, a sense of purpose and/or hope, and may lead to a stronger belief that suicide is wrong. Religiosity also seems to be related to other demographic factors; religious North Americans are much less likely than nonreligious people to abuse drugs/alcohol and to divorce (which are both associated with increased suicide risk). (Source)

    Comment by 4amzgkids — November 12, 2010 @ 6:35 pm | Reply

    • A new study of the effects of religiosity on the genetic variance of problem alcohol use in males and females has found that religiosity can moderate genetic effects on problem alcohol use during adolescence but not during early adulthood. (Source)

      Comment by tildeb — November 12, 2010 @ 9:51 pm | Reply

      • As for divorce, it’s important to remember that there are a lot of factors in play. The Pew study helps us understand what’s going on.

        Comment by tildeb — November 12, 2010 @ 9:54 pm

    • Are you asking me for the source? That is under the address I gave

      Comment by 4amzgkids — November 13, 2010 @ 5:23 pm | Reply

      • No, 4ak, I was merely adding to your comment. You’ll note that religiosity as an isolated factor adds very little effect (Many of the studies [pre-2006] of the relationship between religion and suicide have been too small, contradictory, or flawed to make overall conclusions.) with certain updated exceptions that I’ve linked to (2010) for adolescents. Remember, this site concentrates on suicides and the rates they talk about are those directly related to people who have either committed or attempted suicide, which is why I added the PEW study for a wider basis and – hopefully – a better understanding of what those stats actually represent. What I am trying to make clear is that the phrase much less likely to abuse drugs/alcohol and to divorce does not hold true for the wider population regarding religiosity as a causal factor, but is part of the co-relational differences between north and south, urban and rural rates. Again, the higher these negative effective rates (and there are many specified in the source you gave), the higher the rate of suicide. Religiosity is one of those influences shared among those who have a lower rate of the negative effects.

        One makes a mistake to think – as I suspect you do, 4ak – the religiosity causes fewer suicides. It is a co-relational factor.

        Comment by tildeb — November 13, 2010 @ 7:06 pm

  7. RESULTS: Religiously unaffiliated subjects had significantly more lifetime suicide attempts and more first-degree relatives who committed suicide than subjects who endorsed a religious affiliation. Unaffiliated subjects were younger, less often married, less often had children, and had less contact with family members. Furthermore, subjects with no religious affiliation perceived fewer reasons for living, particularly fewer moral objections to suicide. In terms of clinical characteristics, religiously unaffiliated subjects had more lifetime impulsivity, aggression, and past substance use disorder. No differences in the level of subjective and objective depression, hopelessness, or stressful life events were found. Full article online:

    Comment by 4amzgkids — November 14, 2010 @ 12:08 pm | Reply

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