- Step 1: Find a horizontal cable that can support your weight.
- Step 2: Stand on one end.
- Step 3: Step forward by placing one foot directly in front of the other.
- Step 4: Repeat.
- Step 5: Don’t fall.
- SH: . . .
- SH: Clearly, steps 3-5 entail a little practice.
This blog is about lack of belief of all kinds, and atheism in particular. It's run by a team of skeptics from across the USA.Atheism related blogs to follow Questions? Submissions
Introduction from RobertLovesPi: this is not simply a reblog. The Tumblr-blogger who runs “nonplussedbyreligion” is a personal friend of mine, so this should be considered a guest essay for LackofBelief, used with her permission, and my gratitude. It was written some time ago, before I really knew her well. I did not know about this essay before today. I hope the fact that I highly recommend her blog is obvious to everyone.
Today I had the first meeting in months of my interfaith group. For those of you new here, I used to meet once a month with a rabbi, a priest, two pastors, and another atheist. We’re all fairly young, in our 20s and 30s, and tend to think outside the box. Today was our last meeting, because life is pulling us all in different directions and we’ve pretty much hammered out our differences, and embraced our commonalities, over as much Starbucks coffee as we can take. This was a group, that has lost and gained members in the 4 years since my old pastor suggested I join it. They were with me through every phase of my move from Christianity to atheism, and will always be important to me. Meeting with this group was cited as one of the reasons I don’t argue with theists on Tumblr. Despite our break-up, that policy will remain in place.
Usually one or two of us will bring a topic to the table, and we’ll just throw it out there for discussion, with no prep, nor time for the others to work on arguments. We simply use what we have locked in our heads. Today the other atheist in the group asked me if I was excited about the new Sam Harris book. He was shocked when I said I’d like to read it, but I wasn’t overly excited. I’ve known him for about 2 years. He’s one of the few atheists that I actually interact with, outside of Tumblr, with any frequency. He looked at me as if I’d committed an atheist sin, if such a thing existed.
“What do you mean, ‘no?’ I love Harris’s work. He’s one of the most recognizable and relevant voices of New Atheism. K, I must say that I’m a little disappointed in you.”
I’ve discussed this here before, both Harris and New Atheism. However, I’ve never had a face to face confrontation with a fellow atheist over it. The other members of the group, knowing me for my quiet delivery, and him for his more animated style, just sat back to watch the show.
Don’t all un-follow me at once now for the act of atheism blasphemy I’m about to commit; I’m not a fan of Harris’ books. Don’t mistake that for me not recognizing his brilliance. I’ve found that for me, what he delivers when he speaks, does not translate to the pages of his books. My friend today said that I was probably “challenged by the complexity of his writing.” To which I replied, “I just got through reading A Universe From Nothing, by Lawrence Krauss. That book could double as a Physics text. Trust me, it’s not the complexity.”
Harris is, without a doubt, able to articulate and speak to things that are beyond my spectrum of knowledge. I like his speeches; I simply don’t like his books. Why is that such an anti-atheistic opinion to hold? Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, all brilliant; but so was George H. Smith when he put out Atheism: The Case Against God, in the 70s. Critical thinking is not an invention of 21st Century atheists. Shining a spotlight on the often ridiculous things of religion is not a new thing. What of Bertrand Russell, Charles Bradlaugh, Thomas Paine, and the many, many others that wrote and spoke out against religion, often in a time when their lives could have been in jeopardy?
So I will not call this wonderful movement towards secularism New Atheism. It’s just atheism, or secularism, or free-thinking, or whatever old idea we want to embrace. We are not unique in our way of thinking. We did not just invent these ideas, for, as long as there have been religions, there have been those who questioned them. We are, however, fortunate to live in countries where, though we are detested, we will not be jailed, nor killed for our lack of belief. We know it still happens, as we saw in Indonesia, just last month!
I know this is not an opinion held by many atheists. I also understand the importance of us all having our differences, that’s what makes us human. That’s what made my friend and I hug it out after we had our disagreement.
He’s a follower of my blog and knows I’m writing about this. He’s prepared for any support or backlash; of course he wants more support than backlash :)
So that’s my take on it. What do you think about New Atheism? Do you agree with the term? I’d love to know either way. I’m a new atheist in the sense that I’ve only identified as one for less than a year, but that’s it. I’m also curious to know if you were influenced by Harris, Dennett, Dawkins, and Hitchens. I read their work when I’d already made up my mind on what side of theology I stood, and that may be the reason why while I respect their work, but I don’t see them as the end all of atheism. There are so many other great minds out there, as well, whch paved the way for us.
Please message me your answer if it can’t fit in the answer box. Thanks . ~ Kim
***I’m actually serious, DON’T all un-follow me at once. LOL***
Follow-up comments, and answers to these questions, from RobertLovesPi:
Like my friend Kim, I do not like, and do not use, the term “New Atheist.” This essay will cause me to add many new books to my already-large reading-list.
She also makes an excellent point when describing out that, here in the United States, we are safe from being killed by our own government, simply for our lack of belief. This is not true in much of the world, and it is far too easy to lose sight of that. Are there people who want to kill Sam Harris? Yes — many. However, these are private individuals, not government officials. The police, whether believers or not, would respond to a 911 call from Sam Harris. This is important.
To answer one question directly, I clung to the term “agnostic” for a very long time, due to a mistake on my part: I used to think one could not be an atheist unless one believed, firmly, in the non-existence of any deities. I have been taught by others that this is not true, and now call myself both an agnostic atheist, and, even more importantly, a skeptic — even about my own thoughts. My mistake about the word “atheist,” now corrected, helped me with that. I began reading the works of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens while still clinging to the term “agnostic,” and they helped me make the transition — but not so much as personal friends did. “Coming out” as an atheist was tremendously liberating.
It gets really interesting, though, when we turn to the subject of Sam Harris, in particular. Of the four authors I just listed, he was initially my least favorite. His first book, The End of Faith, was written in the wake of 9/11, and it reflects that fact. I have more Muslim friends than any other atheist I know, and this book, at least to me, seems downright Islamophobic. I do not like Sam Harris’s first book.
However, I now read every word Sam Harris writes, and I don’t just mean his books. I follow his blog. I get notification of his new posts by e-mail. Sam Harris changes my mind about things, in ways I appreciate. This happened just this morning, in fact, when SH posted an essay defending the word “spiritual” on his blog. You may see it there: www.samharris.org — it is both short, and, in my opinion, powerful.
Atheists change. I have written about that recently, here, myself. In Sam Harris, I see much that reminds me of myself. We were born at almost the same time, we both have martial arts training, and we both have turned our attention, recently, from constantly bashing religion, to other topics, having realized that beating the same drum, indefinitely, gets really, really old. I am glad I kept reading Harris, for his books, to me, just get better and better each time. So, yes, when a new book by Harris is coming out, I get excited. He is now my favorite living author, after all.
I would never criticize my friend Kim, though, for not sharing this view. There is too much dogmatism within atheism, and that is the last thing we need. Atheism is NOT a religion, and we must avoid the trappings of religion. We don’t threaten — we persuade. We do not have, nor do we need, denominations, nor sects. We are united only by our lack of belief, and that is enough to give us common ground for conversation. Conversation, including with believers, IS something we need to do, more often, and I found Kim’s description of her discussion group fascinating. To be effective, this conversation requires mutual respect. Do I rave about Sam Harris’s books? Yes, except his first one — but I don’t push any of his work on anyone. That would violate my (recently-revised) personal code of ethics, for it is extremely important to me, more so than ever before, to respect the rights of everyone to believe, or disbelieve, whatever they wish. Such choices are deeply personal. I have no right to try to force my views on others, and I refuse to do so.
This was never a struggle for me with Islam, for no Muslim has ever tried to harm me, and many have helped me immensely, over many years, with many personal struggles. This is not true for many atheists, of course.
The religion I have had the hardest time establishing a truce with is the world’s largest, Christianity. This isn’t something I worked out logically — it is based on emotion, I must admit. The fact is that I have been hurt, deeply, by many Christians, including a member of the clergy, and including family members. For a long time, I simply could not enter a church, for I knew that doing so would instantly trigger a panic attack. The horrors inflicted on me, in childhood, by one Christian in particular, now deceased, have left me with both Panic Disorder, and PTSD, and I will have to struggle with these problems for life. As a result, it is hard for me to be objective about Christianity, and, for most of my life, co-existence with Christians equated to continual mental and verbal warfare.
It is only during the last few months that this has begun to change. I welcome this change. There are around two billion Christians in the world, and the vast majority of them, also, have never tried to harm me. I now realize that it makes no sense to bear such animosity, toward so many people, because of the crimes of one horribly abusive human being, and the lesser crimes of other Christians.
It is still a struggle, but I am making progress, and intend to keep doing so, for as long as I live.
Thank you, Kim. You have given me much to consider. You are absolutely correct: there is nothing new about atheism. Consciously-chosen atheism is often simply the product of thought, or, in some cases, thought mixed with trauma. Both thought, and trauma, are even older than our species.
It is no secret that prominent atheists often receive death threats, but, until this morning, I did not realize that the scope of the problem was as huge as it is.
I discovered this by accident. While reading “Free Will,” I stumbled across information that made it clear that Sam Harris, my favorite living author, is almost exactly the same age as myself. Since Wikipedia is a great source for dates of birth, I went to the article about Sam Harris, and only found a year: 1967.
I then went to Google. Since I edit Wikipedia, my intent was simply to find Sam Harris’s birthday, and improve this article a bit (the article itself is terrible, strictly in terms of quality, but that’s another subject).
Google does not know Sam Harris’s birthday, and that can only mean one thing: he has carefully concealed this information, for reasons of personal safety. He has also recently resumed martial-arts training, and has blogged about self-defense at www.samharris.org — and now, I understand why.
Further investigation has made me more aware of the magnitude of this problem. It is truly horrifying. It’s not just prominent atheists, either — innocent bystanders also receive death threats. Here is a story, from 2009, that documents this sort of thing: http://www.examiner.com/article/death-threats-force-removal-of-atheist-billboard
There will be additional posts on this subject. There will not, however, be ANY information revealed (if I stumble across any) about how to find Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, or anyone else being threatened in this manner. (Those threatened because of that billboard have long since removed it.)
—RobertLovesPi, non-violent atheist (and holder of a black belt, myself — for, while I would never initiate violence against anyone, I do reserve the right to defend myself, if attacked).