June 26, 2019

Does Having the Support of Atheists Help or Hurt Political Candidates?

people shaking hands

It is clear that atheists have the right to support whichever political candidates they want and to be as vocal in their support as they choose to be. I think that lots of us would like to see more atheists being politically active. I have found myself wondering lately whether there might be a potential downside of how some atheists are expressing their support for various candidates on social media. Here's the question to consider:

When it comes to a candidate's odds of winning an election, might it sometimes do more harm than good for open atheists to publicly support political candidates? It seems like there might be a real risk, at least in some locations, of the candidate's opponents using the fact that he or she is supported by atheists against him or her.

I have to admit that this is something that only occurred to me recently. If I were to use my Twitter account to promote a candidate I like, might I be hurting more than helping? One concern would be that the candidate's opponents would use support from atheists as a weapon against the candidate. Still another is that religious believers who supported the same candidate might decide that they should reconsider supporting the same candidate that atheists support. And then, of course, there's the question of how the candidate and his or her campaign feels about having the support of atheists. It might be something they'd be happy to have, but it might not.

June 25, 2019

Challenging Faith

Faith, allegory by the Spanish sculptor Luis S...
Faith, allegory by the Spanish sculptor Luis S. Carmona (1752–53). The veil symbolizes the impossibility of knowing sacred evidence directly (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Assuming we are someday able to overcome our reluctance to criticize religious belief and can bring ourselves to directly challenge faith-based claims (see previous post on this issue), what would such challenges look like? If we decided to challenge these claims, how would we go about it? I think this might depend on whether the claim was a moral statement (e.g., "X is wrong because X conflicts with my religious faith") or one which addressed objective reality (e.g., "My faith leads me to believe the Genesis account of creation").

When faith is used as a basis for moral statements, challenges are probably limited in some ways by the nature of morality and the difficulty involved in obtaining any sort of external validation. In these cases, challenges might focus on (1) refuting the implicit assumption that the morality claim is both universal and valid on its face, (2) examining the consequences of the moral statement, and (3) addressing the underlying faith directly.

Consider the following familiar example: "I oppose homosexuality because of my faith. The Bible clearly says it is wrong, and so it is wrong." How might we respond to this? We could remind the speaker that there are many different interpretations of the "holy" bible and that many Christians do not oppose homosexuality for faith-based reasons. We might attempt to help the person see that his or her faith is leading to intolerance. Does this fit with his or her self-image? Is the persecution of others really a suitable manifestation of faith?

June 24, 2019

If You Could Believe Again, Would You?

lavender field

Back in 2008, I wrote a post about how miracles work. In response to this post, a reader (Melissa) left a comment in which she said that she would gladly return to Christianity if she thought she could do so. For those of you who were raised in the Christian religion and who once believed in it but are now atheists, is this a desire with which you can relate? If you could snap your fingers and return to being a believing Christian, would you do so? Why or why not?

Personally, I would not return to Christianity if I could do so (which I can't). As for why, I suppose the easiest way to explain it is that I have find my post-Christian life to be more intellectually rewarding and less plagued by fear than my former Christian life. I recognize that this probably isn't fair. After all, I was about 16 when I stopped believing in gods. There are far too many differences between my life before 16 and my life as an adult to give me much confidence that religion was the sole culprit for the perceived improvement. Although there are some things I miss about being a Christian (i.e., being regarded as morally virtuous merely because I was Christian), I don't find any of it so appealing that I'd try to convince myself to believe things that clearly aren't true.

Do Your Friends Think You're Going to Hell?

Buddhist hell

Here's a fun question to consider: Could you maintain a friendship with a Christian who thought you would end up in hell? I realize that you are an atheist and that you don't believe in hell. Maybe that makes it easier for you to set aside the beliefs of someone who did. Still, I am curious about whether you think you'd be able to stay friends with someone who not only believed in hell but also thought you were heading there. I am not sure whether I'd be able to maintain such a friendship, although I'd probably give it a try. Even if the Christian did not talk about it often, I would know that they believed I deserved to be tortured forever. I think that would be a problem, and I'm not sure I could get past it.

Hell is one part of Christian doctrine that few Christians like to discuss. I can't say I blame them. Reconciling a loving god with everlasting torture can't be easy. Why would anybody worship the monster who created hell? Those who describe themselves as liberal or progressive Christians often seem to ignore hell as much as they can, leaving it to the fundamentalists to celebrate. I suspect some Christians reject this part of their doctrine altogether. Good for them! It is certainly a start.

June 23, 2019

But Isn't Religion Good for People?

sculpture wood child

If you've been an atheist for more than 10 minutes, you've probably heard this one. "But isn't religion good for people?" I often hear it after pointing to the lack of evidence to support any claims of supernatural entities. In this context, it seems to be an appeal to ignore the truth because it feels better to believe a falsehood.

The idea seems to be that even if the foundation of religious belief (i.e., that some god or gods exist) is false, religion might still be worth keeping around. There are many variants of this line of thought, so I'll pick what I think is a particularly thought-provoking one for this post. Can you imagine a scenario where you would advocate maintaining a false belief simply because the belief provided some benefit to the believer?