No, Atheists and the Non-Religious Do Not “Feel Empty Without God”

Posted by Mike Merritt in Religion on | No Comments

Clouds
Photo by Sy Clark

Twice this week I’ve come across the same sentiment from two different people: “Atheists (and the non-religious) feel empty without God.”

One was from a Twitter account responding to a prominent lawyer who interacts on the mini-blogging service. It was blunt and to the point, which is how I’ve usually seen this sentiment made. To be fair to that “Tweep”, as the old identification goes, one of my more militant fellows had decided that it was just the moment to be snarky in response to one of the lawyer’s anecdotes. It was a cute, wholesome story, not requiring anti-religious pompousness in reply,  but he just had to be edgy. I think the response from the Tweep was sharing a common belief that such “hallowed out” people are angry at the world and their fellow man and have no problem showing it.

The other was from the writer Andrew Sullivan, who had a column last week in NY Mag where he spent a great deal of time on the corollary that I’ve seen usually accompany the Tweep’s assertion, that the non-religious try to replace this supposed emptiness with another form of religion.

He maintains that the non-religious (or less religious) on both the political left and right replace this with something else. For the left, that thing is social justice, or a set of diagnoses about and policy prescriptions for society. On the right, it is devotion to a wannabe strongman political figure like President Donald Trump, someone who will encourage their nationalist tendencies and xenophobia and the anger behind these things. Andrew’s words were not blunt like the Tweep’s but ultimately carried a similar line of thought, that the non-religious, lacking a clear purpose, will try to find it in all the wrong places. That they will ultimately be driven by their emotions into the arms of people and ideologies that are toxic.

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Openly Secular Day: Yep, I’m An Atheist

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Today on Facebook, I made this statement:

So today is Openly Secular Day (http://www.openlysecularday.org/), an event that is primarily focused on atheists/non-believers opening up to other people about their life experience. I could spend some time saying I’m “openly secular,” but this description also applies to any religious person who supports the principles of secular government and other secular institutions, which is most people in my experience. Instead, I’ll take a different route.

I am an atheist, but I’m also a videographer and editor, a webpage creator, an uncle, a son, a content developer, a huge sci-fi/fantasy geek, a grandson, a moderate libertarian, a book lover, a nephew, a cousin, a travel enthusiast, an asthmatic, a Chronie (Crohn’s Disease), and an American.

For me, “atheist” is just one part of who I am, and there are millions of people all across the country and the world who can can say the same.

Though I’ve never exactly hidden it, I’d say I’ve been openly quiet about the matter of my lack of belief, though it’s no doubt been blindly obvious to anybody who’s ever followed along with what I discuss. Yes, I am an atheist, but as I pointed out on Facebook, it’s only a small part of what makes me, well, me! I do other things, I talk about other things, and overall I’d say the issue of belief or disbelief is a rather minuscule part of the profile of my life.

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Bible Study

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I wasn’t raised in a particularly religious household.  My father is more or less a deist and takes issue with the theological positions of the more religiously devout.  My mother, like myself, was baptized as a Congregationalist Protestant, and holds slightly stronger religious views than my father.  Yet, except for a short period during some tough times many years ago, I have never known her to attend church.  She’ll give a prayer ever now and then, but no more than that.

I wasn’t raised with any religious guidance and that’s how I live my life today.  Day-to-day, I’m an atheist.  I don’t live my life in a religious way and see no reason to do so.  However, philosophically, I’m an agnostic.  I believe that the question of a deity’s existence or non-existence cannot, and may never be proven.  It’s this mix of atheism and agnosticism that allows me to believe that both religious and atheist alike should (civilly) debate the issue, based on well thought-out argument.  It’s also this mix that makes me believe that both parties should just accept the other’s way of life.  Debate on it, sure, but don’t harp on and ridicule people for their belief.  This, I believe, is the wrong way to approach things.

I’ve participated in many religion-based debates between atheists and theists.  I feel I have at least a basic understanding of the Old Testament and the New Testament, and some of the core principles of Christianity.  Yet, my religious education is lacking.  This is my own fault; I’ve never read the Bible (though I have a book of stories from it).  Well, at least, not cover to cover.  This is odd for me since my fascination with religion knows no bounds.

So, I’m remedying this situation.  From Amazon today came a copy of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, complete with the Apocrypha (the Deuterocanical Books, including the Books of Maccabee).  I know that even a reading of the Bible won’t make me understand all of, say, Catholic or Methodist teachings, but it’s a start.  After the Bible, I’ll continue on with the Book of Mormon (a copy is already in my possession).  After that will come other scriptural texts.

And no, I don’t intend on seeing my own personal beliefs change.  This is academic for me.  I wish to understand more about religion, so I’m going straight to the source.  My goal is to become as knowledgeable as possible; at least enough to be able to hold up my end in a truly theological debate.  Most of what I’ve debated so far has skirted around the edges of hardcore theology.  Obviously, such an endeavor to understand religion is the work of a life time.

I have no problem with that.

Which leads me to this blog.  It’s been gathering a lot of dust since I joined Poligazette.  I had hoped to transform it into discussion of my profession, video, where I’d discuss the latest in the field and give some useful tips on video filming and editing.  I still hope to have some of this material here, but it’s been slow to come, seeing as how my first post related to editing was made only late last month.  I’d also hoped to showcase other works, such as writings and video material.  However, I haven’t done much creative writing as of late (and that which I’ve done I can’t show as it’s for work).  I haven’t gotten a copy of Adobe CS4 yet, so video material won’t be here for a while.  Eventually, though, I hope to find time to do all this.  Whatever I can squeeze in between work and writing about politics, I guess.

Yet, this new project of mine provides a perfect opportunity for re-invigoration of this blog.  As I go through my religious studies, I can make some commentary on the text I am currently reading.  I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to do it.  Perhaps once a week, but I’m not going to set a solid goal.  I’ll just let them come naturally.

So, on to the studies!

 

My Kind of Atheist, Part II

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I’ve always felt that in order to be able to effectively join the debate on religion (no matter which side you support), you must at least try understand both sides.  It makes you appear more credible if you know what they’re talking about.  One atheist, Cambridge professor Matthew Kramer, has spent a better part of his life studying the Bible (and, I infer from the text, the Old Testament and the Koran), trying to make sense of it all.  He feels it gives him a better understanding of not just these texts, but Western society as a whole:

My original aim of improving my understanding of Western philosophy has been realized. Though I don’t write on theology or the philosophy of religion, my study of the Bible has significantly shaped my thinking about a number of issues in the areas of philosophy on which I do write. Over the years, however, that original aim has come to be supplemented by other reasons for my avocation as a Biblical scholar. Such an avocation not only improves one’s understanding of Western philosophy, but also greatly enhances one’s understanding of Western culture more broadly. While the Bible has heavily influenced many philosophers, it has likewise heavily influenced countless artists and writers and composers (among others). Some of the richness of Western art and literature and music is lost on anyone who does not possess a good knowledge of the Bible.

Kramer makes a good point.  One of my history professors in college would often say that the history of Western society is the history of religion, and largely framed his class that way.  And when you consider the influence of the Christian church on Western society, you can see it to be true.  Even the more secular developments coming on after the Reformation can be seen as influenced by religion.  Basically, Luther’s and Calvin’s ideas ended up leading to people thinking about governing themselves rather than being the subject of a monarch.

There are a few things in the speech (this post was transposed from it) that believers may cringe at, but it’s well worth the read.

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Connecticut Legislator Introduces Bill to Re-organize Catholic Parish Administration

Posted by Mike Merritt in Politics, Religion on | No Comments

This one is interesting if only because it’s happening in my backyard.  Via The Secular Right, a state legislator (technically, a whole committee, via a Connecticut General Assembly procedure) has introduced a bill that would effectively strip administrative control of Connecticut’s Roman Catholic parishes away from their bishops and transfer it to a board of lay-parishioners.  The boards would have control over all administrative, financial, and legal matters of their parishes.  All religious matters would remain the purview of the bishop.

Who introduced it exactly, and for what reason, were a little fuzzy at first, but further investigation by the Greenwich Time reveals that it was apparently requested by members of a Darien chruch after their former priest stole $1.4 million to spend on lavish luxaries for himself, such as limousines, vacations, fancy clothing and jewlery, and a condo.  The bill is said to be introduced by State Senator Andrew McDonald, a Democrat.

There’s no question in my mind that the bill is unconstitutional, and if the General Assembly is smart, it won’t even make the floor.  It’d completely undermine state/church separation.  A vendetta by one church’s members over a bad apple of a priest shouldn’t change things for everyone else.

 

Mother/Doctors of Pregnant Nine Year Old Excommunicated from Catholic Church

Posted by Mike Merritt in Religion, Society on | No Comments

I’m so glad the Catholic Church has got its priorities straight here.

A nine year old girl from Brazil was raped by her father and became pregnant as a result.  The mother opted for an abortion at 15 weeks as her doctors believed her life to be in danger.  Then the church steps in and excommunicates the mother and the doctors.

While I understand the Church’s position on abortion, I just can’t agree with them here.  Instead of excommunicating them, perhaps the church should have praised the mother for saving the life of her nine year old daughter.

Of course, this poses another question: What exactly are they putting in the water that a nine-year-old can even get pregnant?  I remember when everyone was going wild about 12 year olds developing faster than they used to.  A nine year old shouldn’t ever have to worry about the distinct possibility of becoming pregnant.

 

Is Religion Inescapable?

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That seems to be the argument David Hume is making over at The Secular Right:

The fact is that religious traditions are a part of human culture, and they interact with ostensibly non-religious parts of human culture.  To extirpate all that is religious from one’s life is to extirpate human culture.

The post is about the “War Against Christmas” hoopla that comes up every December.  Hume argues that religious traditions and celebrations have been going on for centuries, even before Christianity.  And of course, he’s right.  The Christmas tree?  Santa?  Both (or at least elements of both) are said to descend from pagan traditions.  The same case can be made for many elements of the Judeo-Christian tradition.  For example, flood stories similar to Noah’s flood has been mentioned in texts since the Sumerian culture existed.

My only quibble with his argument is that Hume uses “culture” where he should probably use either “history” or “nature.”  The first becaue it is undeniable that human history is inexplicably linked with the history of religion.  The second because humans do have a tendency to go for the “it’s bigger than you and me” reasoning for something they can’t explain.  And because if one study is true, a predisposition to religion may quite literally be in our genes.

 

The Gullability of Some

Posted by Mike Merritt in Politics, Religion on | No Comments

Now, I’m all for everybody having their own opinions on something.  I’m more for those opinions when they at least have some good research behind them.  Do you own research, I say, and then your opinion is educated.

So, it’s a laugh when I see an inane comment at some forum, blog, or other medium of communication.  To that extent, I’m an avid reader of Michelle Malkin’s blog, because I like to see a range of opinions from the far left to the far right.

I’ve agreed with Malkin once before, and now I find myself agreeing with her co-blogger, “see-dubya.”  See-dubya writes about some research (I guess it’s research) done by one Dr. Danielle Allen on the origin of web-based rumors.  They focus on one of her findings, the supposed originator of the “Obama is a Muslim” rumor: a man named Ted Sampley.  Here’s the money quote:

For some people, people in the core Sampley target zone, politics can never be bad enough. McCain need not merely be an abrasive centrist who panders to Hispanic race-baiters and despises movement conservatives, he has to be a traitor commie spy. Obama isn’t just a callow far-left machine politician caught up in the cult of his own personality, he has to be Al-Qaeda’s secret sleeper trained from birth.

Note: I’m not necessarily agreeing with see-dubya’s descriptions of the candidates, but he (she?) is spot on with the snark toward Sampley.

While the main post is all right, the couple comments that are there are insane.  Now, Malkin tends to attract a pretty far-right crowd, with a few liberals tossed in to the mix.  I was going to just post there, but registration seems to be disabled, so I decided to do it here.  Below are the dissenting comments as of this entry.  Says “malkin_fan”:

Forget the rumor tha Obama is a Muslim.

He IS a muslim:

http://web.israelinsider.com/Articles/Politics/12918.htm

And then there’s the doozy from “Gabe”:

I definitely agree with Malkin_Fan. Perhaps so many people believe that Obama is a Muslim because he is a Muslim. . .at least culturally.

In the Israeli Insider article, there are many facts that have never been refuted by the Obama camp. For example, why was he registered as a Muslim in his Indonesian Catholic school?

I teach in a Catholic school in Northern Virginia. Believe me, nearly every teacher has qualms about Barack Hussein Obama and has suspicions that Obama is a closet Muslim. Why? Because we know our Catholic faith and know something is just not right about Obama and his “Christian” faith.

From the Israeli Insider article:

Obama describes his new found “Christian” faith as: (1) Suspicious of dogma (2) Without any monopoly on the truth (3) Nontransferable to others (4) Infused with a big healthy dose of doubt, and (5) Indulgent of and compatible with all other religions.

On February 27th, speaking to Kristof of The New York Times, Barack Hussein Obama said the Muslim call to prayer is “one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset.”

In an interview with Nicholas Kristof, published in The New York Times, Obama recited the Muslim call to prayer, the Adhan, “with a first-class [Arabic] accent.”

Sure seems like a Muslim to me.

Gee Gabe, according to the first paragraph of your quote, Martin Luther must have been a Muslim too.  Sticking those 95 theses on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg; arguing that Catholicism wasn’t the only way; that others should be able to make their own interpretations of the bible and not follow the Pope’s dogma.  Definitely a Muslim, that Martin Luther.  According to your own argument, Gabe, 800 million Protestants are actually sooper sekrit Muslims.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being a Muslim.  If a Muslim was running for President – and it’s not going to happen for a long time given the tolerance level of this country – I wouldn’t think less of it, unless they were proven to support some bad apples.  Same would apply to a Christian or any other person of faith running for President.  Heck, same test goes for atheists and agnostics, too.

See-dubya has the best reaction toward these comments:

[bangs head on desk]

Amen.

 

The Evangelical Left

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I say “evangelical,” and what do you think?

Perhaps the name George W. Bush comes to mind.  Maybe Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson.  And yes, Ted Haggard really is an evangelical.  Then I tell you some new names.  Jimmy Carter.  Jim Wallis.  Amy Sullivan.  The first is rather more recognizable than the other two, but I think you know where I’m going with this after seeing Carter’s name in the list.

For those of you who haven’t already been enlightened to the fact, you better get yourself out of stereotype central, because liberal evangelicals do exist.

“But this can’t be”, you say.  “Aren’t evangelicals those people who dislike the idea of homosexuality and abortions?”

Perhaps there are many out there who could be defined by this, but it’s unfair to say all of them are like this.  Evangelicalism is not purely interrelated with politics.  Yes, there are many people who do mix the two.  But, you’ve got to think that not everybody who follows the movement thinks the same way about the issues in the world?

And it’s true.  Evangelicalism is first and foremost a religious movement.  From my studies, to be an evangelical, you usually have to have a strong commitment to Jesus Christ, and to be active in spreading His word.  Sometimes, there is also a conversion element to it (being born again).

It makes sense to me, then, that many types of people would wish to spread the word of Jesus, and yet may care for the environment, or want to be active in civil rights.  You know, those things traditionally associated with liberalism.

Now, I try to keep myself open-minded as possible, and yet, I am not devoid of personal prejudices.  There was a time where I believed “all evangelicals are right-wing fundamentalists.”  Then you get into the real world and find out what’s different.  Like how one of the best professors I’ve had is very much a practicing Catholic with strong views on the subject.  If you think he’s a conservative, try again.

So, because of things like this, it is not surprising to me that there are liberal evangelicals.  It’s doesn’t really phase me much because I know that people in this world are not robots.  There is no one person with quite the same views.  It’s be a boring world if this were the case.

 

Obama and Faith

Posted by Mike Merritt in Election 2008, Religion on | 2 Comments

Obama is a typical liberal? Try again.

Very good speech. Doubtlessly, many conservative evangelicals would have trouble arguing with a lot of his logic (not a shot at any of my evangelical friends :P).

 

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