June 9, 2008

Atheists Do Not Worship Humanity

Many Christians seem so hung up on the idea of worship that they cannot comprehend how anyone could not worship something. We atheists are routinely accused of worshiping Darwin, science, humanity, and even ourselves. Nothing could be further from the truth. We do not worship anything, and it baffles me why this is so difficult for some Christians to understand.

Worshiping makes no sense to me, and I'm not sure it ever has. Even as a Christian, it bothered me that the sort of god who demanded worship could be deserving of it. I dealt with this gnawing doubt the same way many Christians do - by trying not to think about it.

Among famous deceased figures from history, Charles Darwin is probably the one atheists are most likely to be accused of worshiping. And yet, the very notion of worshiping a long dead person is absurd. Darwin was certainly worthy of respect, admiration, and praise for his many contributions. But worship? I think not.

So how about science? Frankly, I am not sure what worshiping science even means or what it would look like. Do I have a high opinion of science? Of course! Not only am I a scientist by training, but I have been impressed with the countless benefits to humanity conferred by scientific advances. But I hardly regard science as somehow flawless or worthy of worship. Science both a method of acquiring knowledge and a body of knowledge. Simply because it works extremely well is no reason for worship.

Claiming that atheists worship humanity ignores the evidence that a great many atheists have fairly negative attitudes toward humanity. I can tell you that this is something with which I struggle quite regularly. I've made no secret of my episodic misanthropy, but I think my attitude is usually one of guarded optimism. I may hope for better days, but I am also realistic in my pessimism regarding the limits of our species.

So this must leave me worshiping myself, right Christians? This is the common fallback position when all other avenues are exhausted. If the Christian cannot identify anything else that we might worship, we end up here. I am not sure what I can say here except to point out that I barely tolerate myself much of the time and that this falls well short of worship. If worship includes positive feelings, then it is more likely that I worship my friends, my camera, or my dog. As great a dog as he is, he's not worthy of worship either.

Psychologically, the common tendency of Christians to denigrate atheists by making us seem more like them is fascinating. We see it with the claims that atheists must worship something and that atheism requires faith. There are many ways in which atheists and Christians are similar, but these are not among them.