Sometime in what appears to be the 1960's, documentary film maker Rob Elkins made a short movie on the life of America's most hated woman - Madeline Murray O'Hare. In that interview she explains why the atheist must be threatened, hated and harassed. Today we are going to discuss what O'Hare had to say about all the threats (real or imagined) that atheists pose to the modern world. From there, we will discuss some of the major conflicts this new found freedom brings along with it. I call these conflicts the birth pains of the modern world.
One of my Facebook friends, Samone Carreker, invited me to a private group The Ostracised Atheist. The groups function is to support atheists who have been rejected by their families, former friends, and community. The group is for people who cannot get police protection, equal protection under the law, or fair treatment in family courts because they are atheists. The group is for people who are called immoral, devil worshiping, spiritually dead, sinners, and a slew of other personal attacks because they are atheists. Although the number of atheists are growing throughout America, Middle East, and Australia, we still experience hostility from our families and communities. The function of this group is to support, and share our experiences in a world that considers us evil incarnate.
This blog will discuss why atheists are hated in the first place, and the role that a culture of anti-intellectualism plays in feeding into that hatred. We will examine the myth of the 'arrogant' atheist, the threat atheists pose to power structures, and how theist anger is really a form of self protection.
WHY ARE ATHEISTS DISLIKED?
This is a question I struggled with for many years. I was an atheist before it became popularized by Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins. When I was sixteen years old I began to realize that many aspects of Christianity simply do not make any sense at all. As I grew up, read more books, and learned to think deeper about things, religion began to make less and less sense.
One thing I find is that atheists are called arrogant. This has been an insult hurled at Evolutionary Biologist Richard Dawkins many times. The fact is, Dawkins is not arrogant. Harris, Hitchens, Pinker and Dennett are not arrogant. The message is with the receiver. When a person feels that another is being arrogant (definition of arrogant: exaggerated sense of ones own importance, haughty and proud), think for a moment if these perceptions are more representative of the receivers own psychology.
The antonym of arrogant is meek, modest, and humble. When a person feels atheists have an air of arrogance, maybe we should ask whether the theist is feeling humbled by the words coming out of the atheists.
Atheists do not believe in many other silly ideas: the Bible/Quran/Vedas/Torah as holy books, efficacy of prayer, life after death, reincarnation, ghosts, demonic possessions, witches, ouiji boards, psychic powers, and premonitions. Atheist also question the power structures of churches, mosques and synagogues including everything that goes along with these power structures.
O'Hare said, "atheists are someone that has to be harassed by existing power structures because we are a threat to those things that they hold dear."
The principle threat lives within the very nature of the atheist. The atheist is a person who questions every kind of authority. If we can question, without blinking a eye, the ultimate authority, god, the one who must be authority, then we can question any authority figure. An atheist is a person who looks at an authoritarian idea and ask, "to whence do you derive your authority and why should I be obedient to you?" Authority figures do not like having their authority questioned. This is true in the West, and even more true in the Islamic world where Muslims cannot imagine life outside of their power structures.
The atheist knows that if they possess human intelligence, that intelligence is enough for them to question anything that the power structure is doing.
HUMAN INTELLIGENCE IS ENOUGH
Historically the United States and Australia have anti-intellectual cultures. This is hard to fathom in light of the amount of scientific knowledge these countries produce, yet the anti-intellectualism among the masses is very real. We portray the intellectual as an arrogant, class of people (sound familiar yet?), whom regular communities view as 'city slickers', foreign, radical people who think very differently from the layman. Religious critics like Pat Robinson who once said, "communism was the brain child of German Jewish intellectuals."
In previous blog posts, I exposed other Americans who continue to express their feelings of anti-intellectualism Aaron Clarey, Davis Aurini, and even Davis's current partner Anya who wrote in her own blog that parents should not pad their children's college fund. These types of anti-intellectuals typically failed at their own education and feel resentful towards those who succeed. They tend to be very conservative in other aspects of life. Moreover, on their social networks, they claim to have a Bachelors Degree, when upon further investigation, they never graduated. By virtue of the fact that they lie about their education online, tells us that even the anti-intellectuals value education. If they did not value it - then why lie about it?
We know that a culture of anti-intellectualism exists when member's of that culture do the following things.
- Intellectuals are portrayed as mentally unstable, proposing a casual connection between genius and insanity.
- It is what you DO that matters, how much money you make is the ONLY thing that matters.
- There is no value in art, music, philosophy or literature.
- Scientists who discover science for the sake of science are called 'out of touch'
- Anti-intellectuals portray themselves as the 'common folk',
- The anti-intellectuals will celebrate mediocrity.
- Everyone is a winner, even when they come in last place.
- When we bring attention to how well students in Japan, Singapore, and Korea perform in high school math, the anti-intellectual will quickly claim the Asian success is math is a cause of their teenage suicide.(even though Eastern and Central Europe have much higher suicide rates than Asia)
- Anti-intellectuals are apathetic and unmotivated but who belittle and resist efforts to educate themselves.
Unfortunately, the practical culture of the Americas and Australia view the education and expertise of intellectuals as a form of power or privilege. They snub their noses at the degrees that people earn, as 'useless', 'worthless' and 'meaningless pieces of paper'. They see the intellectual as a snobbish, eccentric elite and their talents are dismissed as cleverness.
Modern conservative currents of anti-intellectualism are far more apparent, and even proven disastrous. Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin demonstrated a rather ignorant, if smug tendency for dismissing sciences as eccentric, so often found in neoconservative rhetoric, in her first policy speech urging the federal government to fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Here is the quote itself:
Where does a lot of that earmark money end up anyway? [...] You've heard about some of these pet projects they really don't make a whole lot of sense and sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not.
Palin did not seem to be aware of the fact that, one year previous, a study at the University of North Carolina, of fruit flies, demonstrated the need for a specific protein called neurexin for nerve cell connections to form and function properly (Li, Jingjun et al. 741-55). To quote: "The discovery, made in Drosophila fruit flies may lead to advances in understanding autism spectrum disorders, as recently, human neurexins have been identified as a genetic risk factor for autism" ("Specific Brain Protein"). In fact, there was another such study done the very same year ("Drosophila Drug Screen" & S, Chang et al. 256-63) and plans to further explore the implications of these discoveries (Leuven). I hesitate to make any conjecture based on this alone, but I can't help but wonder what state Sarah Palin's youngest offspring Trig would be in for the rest of his life had the Governor's version of reality been enacted as policy.
In short, anti intellectualism brings dire consequences for the West. Although not all atheists are intellectuals, a vast majority of them are more intellectual than the average person. Atheists are disliked from the church goes, and they are disliked in a culture that seems to think one's ignorance is just as valuable as one's knowledge. Anti-intellectualism is working against us. It prevents human progress, celebrates mediocrity and causes our civilization moving at a glacial pace. It is something we must fight against with every breath we take. If you care about your community and people - fight anti intellectualism everywhere you find it.
BIRTH PAINS OF THE MODERN WORLD
Anti-intellectualism cultures have a strong bond to theism, and as such, causes hostility towards atheist. Historically, the church, mosque, and synagogue had been givers of moral truth. This makes the world a very easy place to live for the anti-intellectual because they do not have to think independently and authentically. All they need to do is be lectured, and told what to do, what to think, and how to live.
Atheists know that pre-destination does not exist nor does morality originate in religion. We know that there is no magical deity up in the sky that has planned out our entire lives from birth to death. We know that we are the masters of our own destiny, our own future, and can rely upon our own intelligence to understand the world.
The anti-intellectuals lack the ability to reconcile themselves with this kind of freedom. Life is easier when they are told what to do, what to think, what to eat, and how to live. They do not want to have complete control of their lives. This level of freedom is beyond them. They cannot understand how they can live as a moral adult, a free spirit, without being told what to do. It is easier to hide under the covers.
How is it a person can do evil things, get away with it, and experience no punishment? How can we live in a world with such unfairness and cruelty? The anti-intellectual says, "trust my invisible god, everything happens for a reason." The intellectual on the other hand works to contrive new and better ways of holding evil doers accountable for their actions. Sometimes, we must simply accept that evil people will never be punished. We accept that as an unfortunate inevitability, something that is part of life and just sucks.
Then we have the people (usually women) who believe that everything happens for a reason, and bad people eventually get what is coming to them. The truth is - sometimes people are rewarded for doing evil things, and experience zero consequences for their actions. Frankly - it pisses us off. It upsets us even more when we believe there is nothing we can do about it.
As modern atheist, everyone from the big names like Friedrich Nietzsche, to Madeline Murray O'Hare, to Christopher Hitchens, to Sam Harris publish their books, lecture and deliver their message to society there is going to be a vitriol of hate that comes their way. Then we have the lesser known atheists, like The Amazing Atheist, who has reached an entirely new and different audience. We have atheists like myself, who targeted the irrationality of Islam. Then we have all the other bloggers and vloggers who attack religion over and over again, showing its irrationality on every level. The anti-intellectuals are having intellectualism shoved down their throats, and in the midst of it all they are feeling humbled, embarrassed and angry.
Their anger is not as much about being humiliated, but angry that deep down, they know that they have wasted their precious life and time. For example, my great aunt lived to the age of ninety-two. She spent years of her life in a Baptist church praying to a non-existent god.
Imagine a person spending years of their life praying to Poseidon, Thor, Loki or Athena. Would you say that is a good use of ones time on earth?
If we took Christianity away from a woman who built her entire life around a lie, showing that she is a victim of that lie, she would have buckled at the knees and fall into despair. All confidence in herself would be lost. The anger theists have towards atheist is first and foremost a way of protecting themselves from despair, humiliation and all the birth pains that come with finding a new way of seeing the world. When I think about my great aunt, I feel a deep sadness knowing that she spent hours upon hour upon hours of her life in a church. Today, she is in the cemetery She is in the same place she would have been if she had not wasted all that time praying to something that never existed. Her entire life was based on a lie. It is heartbreaking.
Arriving at atheism is painful, and that pain is the breaking of a shell that encloses ones understanding. Breaking that shell is only the first step.
The next step is finding a way to live to live an authentic, moral life without being spoon fed superstition by any religious organization. We will need continuing, ongoing support for each other. It is very hard being treated this badly by theists. Atheists should not be subjected to so much abuse. Unfortunately we must learn to deal with it, and all we have is each other.
The death of gods and deities gives rise to something entirely new in the human experience. That new thing, is the absolute power to become the only master of one's destiny. As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Unfortunately, many people cannot handle that kind of responsibility.
The death of god leaves a void. Filling that void will become a painful experience. In the twentieth century, we entered a new world where we are told to think for ourselves and not let anyone else do the thinking for us. It is a liberating thought, yet an uncomfortable thought for people who need to be told what to do, what to think, and what is right.
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