Atheist Assholes

Tuesday, November 23, 2010
It took me many, many years to reach the conclusion that I'm an Atheist. After spending four years in parochial school, after exploring and studying every major religion, accepting the null hypothesis that is Atheism is the only thing that makes sense to me. For me, the choice came down to being an intellectually honest Atheist, or continuing to try and force my brain and my belief into something wholly unsatisfying. So I'm an Atheist.

The reasons it took me so long to reach this conclusion are myriad, but one of the contributing factors was that my exposure to Atheists gave me a less than flattering opinion of Atheists as a group. The Atheists in the public eye were typically supercilious, self-righteous, arrogant in their certitude, and generally just assholes. In other words, they were no better people than the evangelicals who insisted I was going to burn because I refused to sacrifice my intellectual honesty on their alter.

It took me far longer than it should have to realize that not all Atheists were sanctimonious prick-bags. In fact, the majority were simply living their lives, doing their best to make a difference in this world, because they didn't believe there was a world beyond this one. Not all Atheists feel the need to wear their non belief on their sleeves, telling people of faith how stupid they are, how gullible they are, how much better the Atheist community is because they've cut faith from their lives.

I resisted admitting I was an Atheist because I didn't want the people I knew and respected to think I was an Atheist asshole.

Finally realizing that Atheist and asshole were not mutually inclusive terms freed me to look at the world with a lot more charity. If you're a good person, and comport yourself in a way that does credit to your humanity, the fact that you believe your symbolic underwear protects you from harm does not take that grace away from you. If you spend your life in service to others, and make their lives better by your acts, then the fact that you practice ritualistic cannibalism does not make your good works less worthy of my respect.

While I still try and maintain a level of intellectual honesty that precludes my respecting religious belief in a "young earth" and other forms of self-deception, I'm learning that I can disrespect ideas and belief and still respect other things about people of faith.

So, no, I'm not offended when people of faith say "bless you" when they thank me for a kindness. I'm not offended when people of faith say they'll pray for me when I suffer some setback or loss. I take such gestures in the spirit they are intended, and thank those believers for their good will. And in the spirit of mutual respect, I expect people of faith to recognize that not all Atheists are assholes.

13 comments:

Geek Goddess said...

Thank you!

Vagabond said...

I could not agree more. I think the big problem in this day and age of polarization is the inability to have your own personal beliefs without having to justify them to every other interest group on the planet. We seem to have forgotten that personal beliefs are just that, and in the absence of doing harm to others because of your beliefs, should be left to the privacy of the individual. My definition of "asshole" definitely includes that category of person who is incapable of accepting another's belief system as personally valid for that individual without attempts at conversion, coercion, prosletyzing, or other forms of mental abuse.

vince said...

I try and recognize that not all people are assholes. It's not always easy. It's been my experience that no particular group has cornered the market on assholes, although some group's assholes are much noisier and public than others. And admittedly, some groups seem to draw the most assholy into their ranks. (Well, I thought the pun was funny.)

I can respect someone who's beliefs are different than mine as long as they've actually thought about what they do or don't believe, and why. And as long as they're not an asshole. :-)

I think that goes along with my general desire to associate only with people with some intelligence and that are decent human beings.

Janiece said...

Vagabond, I love that you categorize conversion and proselytizing as "mental abuse." Hee.

Vince, you and the Smart Man would get along just fine. One of his favorite comments: "I hate people."

:-)

Random Michelle K said...

:)

John the Scientist said...

In the words of my ex-labmate, a former Jarhead, "I love mankind. It's the people I can't stand".

Steve Buchheit said...

I don't think assholeness has any real preconditions. It's more a state of being than it is a value set.

WendyB_09 said...

I believe my brother once commented that everyone has an asshole, some of them are just larger than others.

With that said, I became disillusioned with organized religion when it failed me during the most difficult time of my life. My support system was two very close friends and my family. And my personal set of core beliefs.

I understand where you're coming from.

nzforme said...

That last paragraph resonated with me. As I grew up Jewish, it took me a long time to accept "Merry Christmas" in the spirit in which it was intended (and not as an attempt at recruitment). Once I got past that, the rest was pretty easy.

wtm2015 said...

I've been a lurker here for a long time, but I wanted to add a comment here.

I am a Christian. The biggest problem I have with many Athiests is their failure to differentiate between Christianity and "the Church" (i.e., organized religion). Do I believe there's a God? You bet I do. Do I support everything (or even most of what) Catholics/Episcopalians/Baptists/whoever do or believe? Not on your life. Likewise, I don't believe Christians are right and Hindus, Jews, Muslims, etc. are wrong. I think God can appear to different cultures in different forms. In fact, it's only logical that God would do that. I mean, how effective would a Middle Eastern carpenter be in a crowd of Asians? Not very.

So many people say, "how can you be a Christian when the Catholic Church allows pedophiles," or "the Baptists say gays are going to hell," or whatever? The truth is, I am a Christian IN SPITE OF the organized church.

So the only thing I ask is that Atheists not equate Christianity with the organized church. The two are not one and the same.

Janiece said...

Welcome, wtm2015.

Your comments are well-taken, and I have to say I'm far more likely to judge "The Church" as an institution than I am to judge individuals of faith. Like Vince, I'm respectful of people who think about and are intellectually honest about their beliefs, regardless of what they end up accepting as "true." I try to judge self-identified Christians by the measure they themselves claim to use - how "Christ-like" are you? I don't blame people for failing to live up to an impossible standard, although I will blame them if they're big, fat hypocrites about it.

But organized religion? Yeah, basically just blows, since it's usual purpose is to control the masses.

wtm2015 said...

Thanks Janiece.

If you're ever interested, read some of the works of Brennan Manning. He was a Catholic priest but left the Catholic Church. He is a Christian, but highly critical of the organized church (basically he believes it's in the business of hoarding money and controlling the masses through fear and intimidation, while the Bible is about love and forgiveness). He writes spiritual books about God's grace-it's powerful stuff.

Keep writing-I like your stuff!

Janiece said...

Thanks, wtm2015. I appreciate the feedback, as it's hard to know how many of my lurkers are people who landed here seeking teh pr0n, and how many are folks like yourself.