I’m feeling under the weather right now (sore throat, since you ask), and it has left me feeling a tad peevish. So I thought, what better time to put pen to friendly blog?
I’ll try to make my tetchiness entertaining. Here for your edification are ten things that annoy me:
- “Humanists are just atheists who don’t want the pejorative label.” Oh, the gems that come from within one’s own tribe. I’ve only heard this one from other atheists. They ought to know better! The words “humanist” and “atheist” have different meanings. It may be that some people avoid the label “atheist” because of the negative optics associated with it; but for many of us the term “humanist” more completely describes our beliefs and values. It is, communicatively, a better word for what we’re trying to say. And for the record, I am a humanist and an atheist.
- “You need as much faith to be an atheist as to be a believer.” Give me a break. Saying “I don’t have enough evidence to believe, so I won’t believe” is not on the same level as saying “I don’t have enough evidence to believe, but I’ll believe anyway.” Sure, some atheists assign an unnecessarily pejorative definition to the word “faith”, but even under the most generous meaning, the above claim is ridiculous. Do you accept the tenets of Government-Binding Theory (in the syntactic analysis of language)? If you do, without seeing any evidence for it, then you are making a leap of faith. If you do not accept it, then you are not making a leap of faith. You are sensibly reserving judgment. That is the position of the atheist.
- Malapropisms, bad grammar, and vague language. Communication is such a fragile thing. Much suffering and strife can be traced back to unclear transmission of ideas, yet many people use language in any old slapdash way they fancy. You can almost feel the social glue dissolving as they speak. It’s like they want misunderstanding, confusion, and strife. (And yes, the Oxford comma is the appropriate, clear, and logical way to behave in civilized English prose.)
- If there’s even a possibility that Jesus died for your sins, isn’t that an offer worth considering? Emotional blackmail? Seriously? But leaving that aside, consider the proposition. People tell me that an all-powerful guy who created the universe arranged a brutal sacrifice of himself* to himself in order to permit himself to forgive me for the imperfections built into me by himself. And they expect me to be grateful?! No, if Jesus died for my sins as they describe, the universe is being run badly by an evil being. Human sacrifice is a practice that thoughtful, compassionate humans have grown out of. If gods have not also grown out of it, so much the worse for them. (*Part of himself, anyway. Temporarily.)
- Who are you to judge God? Who am I? I’m the one being asked to commit my life and behaviour to a being accused of child sacrifice, genocide, and helping people in statistically imperceptible but psychologically compelling ways. The believer who judges God to be good enough to worship is at least as arrogant as the disbeliever who judges him to be fictional and/or not worthy of worship.
- Rhetorical questions that beg for answers. For example, a creationist rhetorically asks, “What could possibly account for the way giraffes’ cardiovascular system is perfectly adapted to the problems of a long neck?” (example) Asking the question betrays a culpable lack of curiosity in the world around use. The only way someone can ask that and not get an answer is if they’re saying it in a one-way medium, like a film (thanks, Netflix, for that half-hour I’ll never get back), or if they’re talking to people who are even less curious about the real answers than the speaker. (By the way, the answer to the giraffe question is evolution. Like, real evolution, not the strange straw man that creationists imagine when they compose their semi-coherent polemics.)
- God is beyond human understanding. Then stop claiming to understand him! Saying “God is mysterious” when he seems to have done something bad, but “God is good” when he seems to have done something good is what we call special pleading, and it is monumentally unpersuasive. Take Government Binding Theory again. If I tell you it’s beyond human understanding, then catalogue how it concisely explains syntactic structure across a variety of languages and predicts what patterns we should and should not see in new languages, you will suspect that (a) it’s not actually beyond human understanding, and (b) my empirical claims are weak and I want to have an out. At any rate, you will approach the theory with sensible, appropriate skepticism.
- My internal grammar-nazi. Let me be completely clear here: I am very grateful to Mrs Church for guiding me through some of my key formative literary years. I have benefited greatly from her strict, no-nonsense approach to what is appropriate and what is heinous in grammatical constructions. But is it really a matter for moral repugnance when someone uses a double-negative? Does someone’s failure to use the Oxford comma really merit a black mark in my mental Rolodex? Is there really a word that one should never end a sentence with?
- Overstating the role of religion in the world’s evils. Honestly, atheists, there are a lot of other things out there that lead to more evil. Like money. Well, okay, that seems to seep into organized religion and produce some amazing exploitation. What about power? Hmm, same problem. The human tendency to tribalism and divisiveness? There we go: religions often preach unity and universality, so they’re free of that at least. Of course, they often disagree about whose unity and universality should be used. And those disagreements often turn violent, divisive, and tribal. Gah. Anyway, snarkiness aside, my original complaint stands. Religions aren’t the source for any of the world’s evils. The source is human nature. Religions are just really, really convenient conduits for them, made more amenable by their tendency to encourage blind faith over careful questioning and scrupulous doubt.
- Hell. One of the worst ideas that humans have ever come up with. What sort of person threatens a child, her friends, and her family with hell for honest dissent? I once met an otherwise pleasant woman who happily explained that, if she ended up in heaven and a loved one ended up in hell, it wouldn’t matter, because God would give her some sort of emotional lobotomy to prevent her from caring about the eternal torment of others. The idea of hell was not inflicted on my impressionable young psyche, for which I am very grateful to my parents. But I have known people who have been deeply scarred by the doctrine of hell. Some of them have since escaped its psychological prison; others have not. While I have no grand dream of a world without religion, hell is one meme that I would happily consign to the flames if I could.
(Yes, I see what I did there. What can I say? It’s a repugnant idea, but it’s a useful metaphor.)