Today as I was browsing Hulu I came across the following clip from Nightline.  It focuses on a central character in the growing movement of vocal atheists – one who’s not at all afraid to mock those of differing beliefs.

Now if I were an atheist I’d probably be fairly upset with this bit of reporting by Nightline, mainly because it does come across as biased toward religion by focusing on a character (Edwin Kagin) whose methods of anti-evangelism are hard to distinguish from the fire-and-brimstone religious evangelists he’s trying to mock.  It’s by no means a thorough or fair treatment of the deeper discussions which divide atheists from theists, and really just makes this group of atheists look silly.  Still, the interview with him brought up some important distinctions, among them the fact that a moral argument (which many modern atheists are trying to use against religion) is nonsense: there are “good” and “bad” believers and unbelievers.  The fact that atheists like Stalin do not represent the larger body of unbelievers is no different than the fact that medieval crusaders do not represent the example of Christ nor the theology of Christians.  And of course, an atheist making a moral argument is itself a bit ridiculous: their belief system denies moral absolutism.  To a true naturalist, right and wrong are at most subjective conventions, and at their core nothing more than natural selections toward iterative improvement, where the end justifies the means.

But the main point I wanted to make about this video is that if I were to show it to many atheists, they’d probably dismiss Kagin and his “followers” as being pretty outside the norm of atheism.  They may not disagree with the core beliefs, but would distance themselves from the way they represent them.  I find this to be a good illustration of a similarity between atheists and theists and one which exposes a common mistake that outspoken atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens make when “disproving” religion.  Just as there are many Christians whose beliefs and/or tactics are out of the mainstream and often unorthodox, there are many atheists who paint a similarly unflattering and somewhat unfair picture of their fellow “nonbelievers.”  When I hear arguments by atheists about the anti-reason, anti-science, brainwashing tactics of some within Christianity, I’m upset because that is not the Christianity I claim nor the one I see described in the Bible.  It’s a weak defense mechanism adopted by some believers who feel it is the best way to preserve and spread their faith, without recognizing the damage it does not only to Christianity’s image, but to believers’ understanding of their own beliefs and why they hold them.  Yet these “fringe Christians” get noticed because they’re easy to identify and their arguments easy to expose as flawed.  The broader body of orthodox Christians who hold more mainstream beliefs and encourage discussion among each other and unbelievers, do not receive focus because they’re not as easy a target.

So if atheists are upset when Christians or the media focus on the most outspoken and out-of-the-mainstream members of their unbelief, then hopefully they can understand why Christians are upset when supposed disproofs focus only on fringe beliefs and tactics which most honest and open Christians at least partially disagree with.

I think atheists ignore how often their arguments against religion apply equally well to themselves.  In fact, when you look at atheism along with any other body of belief, you find that it is not at all dissimilar to many of the religions it denies.  While theists have faith that God exists and created the universe and is at least somewhat involved in that creation, atheists must equally have faith that nature’s existence has a natural explanation and that human reason and the tools it has at its disposal (logic, science, etc.) are sufficient in answering not only natural questions, but also existential ones.  I believe this is as much a stretch as belief in the supernatural.  Calling atheists “nonbelievers” is a misnomer…their core presupposition that naturalism and reason are everything must itself be taken on faith, and thus it’s not surprising that they often share many similarities with the “believers” they criticize, crazies and all.

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]