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My Encounter With An Atheist, and others who suffer from the I’m The Only Enlightened One Syndrome

The other week on a certain blog, another blogger had contributed a post that spoke to the growing trend secularism within the black community.  This particular blogger had taken exception to the one and only Steve Harvey (although can I blame her) concerning a statement he made about black women choosing “a good black man.”  And that Harvey had made the claim that black women should “walk the other way when a black man says he’s an Atheist.”

Well, that’s probably a true sentiment and I can only imagine if that was ever said in a room full of black people that he would damn near get a standing ovation.  With that being said, I’m really not surprised at a statement such as that, core Christian doctrines support the understanding that Jesus is the only way to God and that to stand outside of this belief or this covenant will result in the eternal damnation of one’s soul–a damnation to a place called hell.  Aside from the numerous loopholes in this belief, people still believe it and place a lot of stock in it.  Wars have been fought over Christianity in the early years and still with the evidence of Catholic versus Protestant and the plethora of denominations underneath the guise of Protestantism, we see not everyone agrees on every single jot and tittle.

So, this blogger gave the break down from fundamentalism through various levels of skepticism including agnosticism and ending with atheism, the simple belief that there is no God.  I was happy to see that this blogger did put it out there that the simple non-belief in God does not correlate with a non-belief in a moral structure or that of concrete social ethics, however, I did feel that this author did take the gist of W.E.B. DuBois approach toward black religion slightly out of context and that there was this underlying tone of condescension toward black Christians in general.

This is where I get off board.

Don’t respond to Christians in the manner in which you complain about when Christians respond to you.  That is to say, this author took a slight tone as if to say “I’m the only enlightened one” and that those who believe otherwise are imbeciles.  Now this is very much the line of reasoning that many hardcore Christian Evangelicals and fundamentalists as well.  We see this in various sectarian enclaves associated with Southern Baptist and various other fundamentalist off-shoots.  The same goes for off-brand holiness churches within the Pentecostal tradition as well.  So for me, it wasn’t so much a push back against atheism as it was against blatant and unwarranted arrogance.

Now, I wonder do atheists run around with a chip on their shoulder daring someone to knock it off?  And look to be fair, this is an issue I have with anyone.  You know there’s always one person in that Intro to Philosophy or African American Studies class who speaks as though they have the answer to everything that’s wrong with the world and the air about them says “I dare you to challenge what I just said.”  And usually I just chalk this up to the “I just read a book” syndrome meaning they finally read all of Plato for the first time or they just finished reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X and they have a different world view that they think everyone should subscribe to.  So no, this isn’t just geared at Atheists per se, but since we’re talking about them….

I came across an op-ed piece in USA Today from a few days ago and I believe that this sums up EXACTLY what may be my sentiment:

For the sake of argument, let us set aside questions about the truth of religion vs. the truth of science. Suppose there is no such thing as religious truth, as Richard Dawkins argued in The God Delusion. Allow that the “New Atheist Noise Machine,” as American University communications professor Matt Nisbet calls it, has a privileged grasp of the truth. Even with these concessions, it still appears that the New Atheists are behaving like a boorish bunch of intellectual bullies.

There is something profoundly un-American about demanding that people give up cherished, or even uncherished, beliefs just because they don’t comport with science. And the demand seems even more peculiar when it is applied so indiscriminately as to include religious believers with Nobel Prizes. What sort of atheist complains that a fellow citizen doing world-class science must abandon his or her religion to be a good scientist?

Our commitment to pluralism and individual freedom should motivate generosity in such matters and allow people “the right to be wrong,” especially when the beliefs in question do not interfere with us. Nothing is gained by loud, self-promoting and mean-spirited assaults on the beliefs of fellow citizens.

The New Atheists need to learn how to play in the sandbox.

And I would like to add to the line with regards to having a “privileged grasp of the truth” that this privilege allows for these atheists to make these vast assumptions about ALL Christians.  One of the guys I got into the debate with took to quoting scriptures as if I truly believe in the book of Colossians.  And then when I said that when making a faith claim, or faith argument which is really where most Christians begin the basis of such religious discussions that generally the two discourses will never meet up.  My opponent proceeded to tell me that Hebrews 11:1 was for the “willfully ignorant” and full of “wishful thinking” meaning he had resorted to personal attacks, which is yet another reason to terminate such conversation.

Much the same way that atheists and anti-theists wouldn’t want me to make the generalization that because you don’t believe in the existence of a higher deity means that you have no grounding for morality nor a social ethic, don’t make the assumption with regards to me that I blindly agree and follow all of the church dogma associated with Christianity.

My gut feeling, and yes I’m jumping to a broad conclusion here is that probably many atheists, at least those who started out with a Christian faith, ran the gamut from mainline to skeptic to agnostic and finally rationalized the notion of God not existing.  My personal belief is that somewhere along the way, these persons just decided to think critically and realized that there were some broad jumps that Christianity makes–therefore making it a belief system requiring faith.  However, when these individuals raised those questions, they were met with the tried and true answer of “You’re not supposed to question God!” or any variation of that.  What resulted was them being hurt by the church and hurt by organization and structure: religion.  And as many of us know, hurt people, hurt people, and that’s what many of experience when engaging in dialogue with many atheists.

Studies have shown that whenever one’s religion is blatantly challenged, it does nothing more but retrench the individual in their faith system.  That’s why Jehovah’s Witnesses are still selling Watch Tower door-to-door and why when Mormon teens move into a community and do their in-your-face proselytizing upwards of 90% of them eventually return to Utah their communities.  Also the same goes for those in Amish communities after their rumspringa, where the vast majority of persons go back to what was familiar and comfortable to them.  I interpret this to mean that no amount of bullying or brow beating in the name of rational and empirical thought is going to change the minds of those who have a faith system.

And since I’m here and this is my blog…

I’ll actually say that atheists need better PR, because for the most of us in this country at least, we dismiss them as sectarian and cultish.  If, and yes I mean if, run of the mill atheists are the ones I recently encountered–the ones who troll Twitter picking fights–then atheists don’t have a hope in a holler.  Honestly, I do think that there is something humanly wrong with individuals who refuse to even allow other individuals to place hope and acknowledge a life force that is ephemeral and very much intangible.  Even if one wishes to dismiss it as mere imagination, I’d rather have an imagination than to be relegated to the confines of science and empirical rationale; its too much color-in-the-lines for me.

When we think of Atheism, our minds go back to Madelyn Murray O’Hair and her brand of craziness that was not just about getting prayer out of the school, but nearly ran the gamut of trying to institute a brand of non-theism in this country.  This resulted in bad PR.  No one gained a deeper knowledge of atheist philosophies and rationale.  I dare say that when Atheists make a statement now, they come off as tinkling brass and sounding cymbals because they take the same approach as the current GOP party and Tea Partyers: they just say no to everything.

To this end, they’ve got to do better.  But I’m sure some random Atheist is going to read this blog and write some long, eternal comment that totally proves my whole point about them being “the party of no.”

There is a philosophy associate with Atheism, I’m sure a basic Wikipedia search would do wonders for the average bro joe as far as really understanding it, but just the few blogs with Atheist writers, a good portion of their slant is not really an apologetic for Atheism, but spent ragging on the rest of us who choose to believe.

Look, I went through seminary and I still believe.

I believe in spite of all that I’ve been taught, I still choose to believe in God.  Despite the influence of post-modernity, I still choose to believe in God.  Despite deconstructionist theory, I still choose to believe in God.  What I learned did not disprove the existence of God, that of gods in general, but rather just proved the fallibility of humanity to explain that which is intangible.  Personally, I have problems with the sovereignty of God because that leaves us in a position that either God allows stuff to happen or God causes it to happen resulting in the eternal question: why do bad things happen to good people?

I don’t know, and don’t profess to try and know.  I’m just trying to live the best I know how like the rest of us–and I don’t need any other Christians or Atheists with a “I’m more enlightened than you” complex telling me that I’m wrong.

Leave a comment below if you’re so inclined.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

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17 thoughts on “My Encounter With An Atheist, and others who suffer from the I’m The Only Enlightened One Syndrome

  1. Though, I’m not a relativist because I believe ideologically people can be wrong and others can be right (especially about matters of faith and culture), I agree with your general point Brother Uppity.

    I agree because though I’m not a relativist about matters of faith, I’m also not a fundamentalist. And this is my big beef with certain so-called atheist and secular humanist brothers and sisters. In their dislike and disdain for religion, they often exhibit the same fundamentalist arrogance and vitriolic insensitivity that they claim people of faith are guilty of displaying.
    So I second your recommendation that the atheist and secular humanist community get better PR, because the typical /“were right your dumb”, “religion poisons everything”, “our no God ideological penis is bigger than your there is a God ideological weenie,”/ is not going to fly that high

    • As an athiest (no this is not a preamble to aforementioned tirade and proof), I can completely understand where you are coming from; however, I get the sense that the motive of the radical atheist is misunderstood.

      In our current society, we (the atheists) feel we are marginalized. For every atheist idiot trolling twitter and the CNN comments section, there is a religious person doing the same. I think we can relegate that crowd to the “doesn’t really matter much, but are bad for our reputations” level.

      What I take offense to is when matters of faith extend beyond the domain of the personal and I am expected to go beyond respecting belief/faith and *accept* it to the point of living by it.

      Current policy is being driven, in many instances, by faith. No gay marriage, no stem cell research, no gays in the military (although that has been removed now), no abortion, abstinence-only education, kill aid for the poor (yes, this has been shown to be religiously motivated) etc etc. What really begins to fry my proverbial eggs is the current (longstanding) education policy debate and teaching creationism *as science* in the classroom. ( I stress as science, because I have no issue with public education offering electives in religious thought and history). All of these things begin to affect me, quite deeply and in a very real way (not just an emotional reaction). A very large group has hijacked the discussion, interjected their beliefs and faith into policy, and has marginalized the secular groups as clanging cymbals that distract from the “real America”. From this perspective, it may be easier to understand the vigor with which some respond (I am talking of the Dawkins/Hitchens kind here).

      But I agree with your points and would take it one step further – both atheists and those of faith need better PR.

  2. ha…the picture of the atheist alone…lol. funny, the town drunkard has a lot of friends too. but that doesn’t mean what he’s doing is progressive and healthy.

    i am an atheist. and i would agree on the fact that we may not have the best PR. atheists in the media can sometimes come off as euro-centric and intolerant. however, i disagree on the relevance of a PR. i don’t think any of the currently famous atheists are trying to convert (or de-convert) anyone to being atheists. if you read any of the books, its mainly about leaving the dogma of religion. while Dawkins has said some not-so-nice things about agnostics, i’m sure he would be fine with an agnostic, a deist, and a Buddhist than he ever would with anyone religious.

    and i do agree with you that many atheists in the media seem to have what is almost a fetish with science.

    but, just as you have said not to confuse you with a christian that takes the bible literally, or who lives accordingly with every scripture, do not assume that i agree with Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and others. i think science has its purpose, but that it is not the litmus test for all things right/good/progressive/beneficial.

    and no, actually, i was not hurt by anyone or any church. the worst experience i got from church was boredom from enduring 4 hours of sunday school and regular sermon combined with bible study, vacation bible school, church anniversary, pastor’s anniversary, black history month program, christmas program, easter program…and 30 different separate events that happened on a weekly basis. i didn’t really question aloud, so there was no open way for someone to shun me. and although my parents are quite active in the church, they’re fairly accepting of me being non-religious and so are most of my friends. i’m not a hurt individual nor am i hurting anyone (at least, i don’t think…).

    i think what you happen to be encountering are many atheists that, like you said, are hurt individuals, many new atheists that have aligned themselves with this label they really know nothing about, and teens that just want attention so they do or say things to offend and not for any constructive dialogue or result. but just as Fred Phelps isn’t the face of the Christian, Dawkins and losers picking fights on twitter are not the face of atheism.

    all that being said though, if you were to read, say, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, you will see at some point in there that he believes that he is doing what is best for humanity. when someone passes me a bible on campus (as many people do during Christmas time in the south), i have learned not sneer at them or roll my eyes, but to say “thank you” because this is a kind gesture on their part. Dawkins, and i, believe that religion (mainly Christianity and Islam) are destructive to humanity. and although we have different ways about acting on that belief, you need to understand that an attempt to enlighten you is done out of love. it may not seem that way, but that is what it is.
    peace

    • @ Nell

      I want to be clear that this comment is specifically from the personal and not about the grand meta-narratives of this conversation:

      I take exception with your last sentence saying “you need to understand that an attempt to enlighten you is done out of love. it may not seem that way, but that is what it is” as if I’m an unenlightened individual. I was actually shocked, it seemed out of place with everything else you had written. I think its highly presumptuous to infer that I’m not. And if this is your true feeling deep down, then I think your approach to the conversation is no different or better than the staunch fundamentalist who carries a sign saying “God Hates Fags” or those that protest at soldiers funerals.

      So please, help me understand your logic on that last sentence; I hope this was just a misunderstanding on my part.

  3. well, a better term would have been “an attempt to ‘open your eyes about a specific topic’ is done out of love….”.
    we all have some area or another that we are unenlightened about, and more often than not, many Christians, in particular, don’t know or understand the arguments of atheism, or atheists, nor do they usually know the inner workings of the book they claim to live by. can we agree on that?
    and know that i’m not coming from this “Team atheists!!” approach. atheists can be racists, warmongers, and misogynists just as anyone else can be.
    i don’t want to get into a debate with you about your personal reasons for believing (because this isn’t about that), but you said earlier “…as if i really live by the book of Colossians.” and many Christians say that about the whole bible with the exception of the 10 Commandments…..yet they still call themselves Christians and they still look at me as if i’m the serpent in the garden for not believing in a book they may not even fully know. so when someone says “hey, that scripture you’re quoting comes from a book that also say A, B, and C”, then that is an attempt to open you eyes, and it is out love.
    atheists usually do know more about religion (more than one religion) and religious texts than religious individuals do. and this is not because atheists are smarter or more intelligent, it is because most atheists were raised religious and have spent much time debating, researching, debating, researching, and openly questioning than our religious counterparts. and i know that may sound arrogant, but whether it’s arrogant isn’t my main concern-whether its true or false is my main concern.

    and i’m not saying you’re an unenlightened individual. for that, i would have to see what these debate you’ve participated in look like. the fact that you have this as a blog post topic is indciative of a healthy level of questioning.i’m more so speaking from debates i’ve been in in which i try to inform a religious individual of a contradiction in their religious text, and am called arrogant in the process because i knew of things the bible sanctioned and they did not.
    and i’m also speaking about all these best selling books written by atheists.
    in the introduction of The God Delusion, Dawkins says that while some of the things he says may come off harsh and even rude sometimes, that he is doing so because religion is not a trivial matter. it is a very serious one; as serious as war as murder as jihad. so, he’s not going to “don kid gloves” in order to deal with it.
    how trivial does being arrogant become when you’re trying to stop people from blowing other people up?
    to me, it’s almost like when Malcolm X was called radical, harsh, mean, and even violent for trying to protect his people. whites were saying he was inciting violence, and some blacks were calling him uppity. but the fact that racism can and does turn very violent makes rudeness, harshness, and even arrogance at times necessary in order to deal with a very dangerous threat. in the same way, the fact that religion can and does turn violent makes arrogance and rudeness sometimes necessary.
    peace

  4. My Theology says that there is no such thing as an “atheist.” An agnostic sure, but an atheist is a logical impossibility, or rather; to claim to be an “atheist” one would have to make the proverbial “…leap of faith…”

    It may be a self-justifying rationale, but I think it’s justified to tell an “atheist” that their belief does not exist.

    • Scientifically, the null hypothesis is assumed. One cannot prove that a god doesn’t exist unless every position in the universe was checked for a god at the same time; this ensures that if a god moved from an unchecked spot to a checked spot, I don’t conclude that he doesn’t exist. To prove that a god does exist, one would show evidence of a god. It would be easier to get a god to come to earth than it would to check every spot in the universe (at the same time), because the checking is impossible. Being athiest is the only logical belief.

      • @Cole

        There are a couple of issues of logic I have with general atheist presuppostions. One of which is why does the burden of proof automatically fall on those who align with religion to prove that there is an existence of a deity, or at least disprove atheist logic. Another is the logical disjunction that proof of a deity can only exist if the universe can be checked at the same time; since this cannot be true then ultimately the operand of a deity cannot be true as well. Moreover, the line of questioning many atheists put forth are questions that are going to ultimately lead to their own prejudiced answer based on their brand of logic.

        After all of this I can still come to the conclusion that “I don’t know.” It burns me that atheist logic is so convinced that they do. It’s an unchecked arrogance that just really grinds my gears.

    • Atheism: “A” without/lack of + “theism” belief in a god or gods…

      Departing from this definition we can state that atheism exists as a position of lack/absence of belief in deities and religions, and not as a religion as mistakenly understood by some. Saying that atheism is a religion is as much as saying that darkness is a type of ligh.

      • Obviously, I have a point that you and many others wish they could “transubstantiate.”

        My objective was to modify the direction into how an analysis of Faith or “…the leap of Faith…” affects this discussion. I’m not overly optimistic that others are going to engage.

  5. T.U.N.

    What Cole means is that, if you are claiming there is a god, you have a burden of proof because you are making a claim. Now, you can not even attempt to prove there is a god, and thats just fine. But Christians are supposed to share the gospel. So if they are making a claim to an atheist such as myself, they need to provide evidence for the existance. This is similar to a court case.

    If you accuse someone of rape/murder/robbery what have you, you as the plaintiff have the burden of proof. You need to provide evidence the crime happened. In the same sense if you say there is a god, and I should believe/worship him you must provide evidence of the claim.
    I, as the defendent, do not need to prove my innocence (that there is no god). I simply claim, not guilty (I dont believe in a god). I have no burden of proof.

    The thing about atheism is that it is ONLY a lack of belief in a god. Thats it. Thats all there is to say about atheism. Some atheists are democrat, some socialists, very few are republicans and a lot of us are libertarians. Some are humansists, futurists, naturalists. Some are racist, sexist, homophobic. Some believe in aliens, ghosts or bigfoot. Atheism says nothing about anything other than the fact that we atheists don’t believe in a god.

    The fact that some atheists may seem arrogant has nothing to do with whether they are atheist or christian. Its just who those people are.

    The very large majority of atheists are not atheist because we were hurt by the church or leaders either. That is a common misconception. In my case, I eventually quit going to church, so I didn’t have the continuous religious reinforcement. I wasn’t hurt or offended.

    There are other points I’d like to address, but I don’t want to write a story. I already wrote more than I planned to. Your article is pretty good though. You do not sound as biased as many non-atheists are, you seem more like you are trying to write an honest article about your experience and I commend that. You should check out The Atheist Experience (www.atheist-experience.com). They have a live tv call in show on Sundays. I forget exactly what time as I always have to catch them a couple days later on youtube. They are in Austin Texas. You can (and anyone else reading) can call them up and ask whatever question you’d like to know. Christians always get priority, and they are not mean and will not insult you unless you do. Matt Dillahunty is a GREAT person to speak with also if you have questions. Again, pretty good article, well written.

    • @Brandon —

      So then I have a question:

      What was the moment when you stopped going to church? I mean, what was the moment when you said “Okay, I’m done with this ish!” and walked out and never looked back. I guess, I’m saying in my experience, I’ve encountered far more who had an early life (childhood to early adulthood) of being a Christian religious setting and then poking holes in so much of the seemingly contradictory theology and the praxis of said contradictions and seemed to find solace elsewhere outside of religion or making the full jump toward atheism.

      I’ve only met a small few who just flat out said “I’ve NEVER in my life felt anything, anything remotely” as far as some inner-spark something or anything. To that, well, hell, it’s not even worth discussion.

      *********

      To address your first statement and your analogy about the courtroom, this is where I’ve yet to make inroads with my argument and my logic when I try and address this. smh.

      For me, both are systems of belief, of equal standing: one belief is religious, the other is in science. Basic human nature and for us to operate as a high-functioning society, we HAVE to have a codified system of how we communicate and how we operate. For some religious beliefs are the foundational absolute; however for others, their foundation rests elsewhere. Postmodern thought, for me, says there’s no real one absolute that should fundamentally undergird all others which for me says, why should anyone have to have a burden of proof–those who believe in religion nor those whose life trajectory is elsewhere.

      For me, this isn’t an issue of one proving or disproving an existence of a supreme deity (or deities), and I personally don’t believe it should be about saying those who do have given way to ignorance and are operating in the shadows of human progress (not saying you said that, but I’ve heard others say it), but, me, the Uppity Negro, I’m more interested in trying to encourage those to be the best humans that they can be. If that means disavowing religion to be a better human–fine with me. If one’s sheer and unmitigated belief in Jesus Christ is their reason why they got off drugs and live a healthy and productive life–fine with me.

      My issue with my fellow religious nutcases is that they equate atheism with lawlessness. As to how they make that jump is beyond me and I seriously begin to wonder do they possess higher functioning critical thinking skills.

      • I find your statement on theism being a belief system based on science very interesting. While logical, we would have to consider if a belief system based on the empirical study of the events present in our environment (ergo “science”) can be set in the same category as religious belief systems.

        I am atheist, and identify myself with your quote of people that never really “felt” anything during my early christian era. I study psicology and philosophy, while I don’t share your belief system I find your article very interesting.

        One can sound pretentious when exposing a broad knowledgein this field,

      • “For the record” I meant to write “Atheism” when referring to you stating it is a belief system based on science.

        On “sounding” pretentious, sarcastic, or any other way when exposing an informed point of view or allegation on the religion topic, we both atheists and religious have made such mistake and even gone as far as killing dicidents in the mix. Is it PR favorable? That depends on the hability of the public to digest the message, since the respect religions are owed is for some (including myself) overrated; now, we do have to grant that it is everyone’s individual prerogative to choose either faith or have a lack of it, but the choice is what we may respect for it is to the individual to question his decision.

        There is an arising question regarding children right to informedly choose to believe or not which isa topic that interests me a lot. Should we make religion-related courses optional and separate them from sience? In my opinion the question itself can be considered a sarcasm as a religious belief is not sience but in USA and other countries of America and Europe the question is being raised and our children require an answer.

        Should churches be taxed? ABSOLUTELY!!!

        Thanks for the article and the space…

    • “The thing about atheism is that it is ONLY a lack of belief in a god.”

      If that were the case, I wouldn’t have a point. (HA! not as easy as that…)

      A typical “militant Atheist” (not my term) has a real agenda. That agenda eclipses any belief or “lack of belief.” That is what this article was all about. The “lack of belief” operative was one of Huxley’s methods when he coined the term “Agnostic.” Now an “Athiest” is trying to acquire an Agnostic rationale.

      [ BTW who has Agnostic as an opposite to Gnostic? They are not related — as what took place in the article’s accompanying illustration ]

      It’s that fear of proclaiming “I don’t know” that leads to the subject in this discourse.

      What would show prescience, is to unhitch the proof discourse and engage a discussion on what “Faith” can mean. Or to put it another way; when I find myself trying to “prove” my faith, it actually shows how little faith I have.

      Atheism is a proper noun. Atheism is a belief.

      • Agnostic: one who declares lack of knowledge of the existence or non-existence of deities.

        A term we can grab from Hitchens is “Antitheist” which is an atheist taking on an active campaign against religions as Hitchens called himself in many of his books and public debates.

        Can we call atheism a religion, I am afraid not. Can we call it a religious belief system, I’d recommend considering if a lack of belief being considered a belief system is a plausible argument.

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