Atheist Says Challenging Religion is ‘Cruel,’ Nonbelief is for the Wealthy December 26, 2013

Atheist Says Challenging Religion is ‘Cruel,’ Nonbelief is for the Wealthy

Chris Arnade has a PhD in physics, used to work on Wall Street, and now works with the homeless. He is an atheist, but just about none of the people in trouble that he works with are, calling them “some of the strongest believers I have met, steeped in a combination of Bible, superstition, and folklore.” In a piece he wrote for The Guardian, he seems to be saying that this is more or less how it should be. And why? Because it is in this religion and superstition that they find hope.

In doing so, he unfortunately invents a heartless atheist strawman:

They have their faith because what they believe in doesn’t judge them. Who am I to tell them that what they believe is irrational? Who am I to tell them the one thing that gives them hope and allows them to find some beauty in an awful world is inconsistent? I cannot tell them that there is nothing beyond this physical life. It would be cruel and pointless.

Is there anyone doing this? Is there any atheist activist or celebrity who is targeting the downtrodden and brazenly attempting to force the blessings of godlessness on them? Of course not.

Instead, many organized atheist groups and individuals trying to lend aid without any theological (or atheological) strings attached.

Arnade concludes that atheism is something that is really only tenable for those who “have done well,” or at least are not struggling to such an extent as the subjects of his work are. Certainly, it is easier to step back and take a critical look at supernatural claims if one is not constantly worried about one’s safety or ability to feed one’s family. Of course those who are desperate are more vulnerable to seeking a grain of hope wherever they can find it, even in the ephemeral or fictional.

Arnade recalls his 16-year-old self who, as he tells it, snidely turned his nose up at believers in fragile and desperate situations.

I want to go back to that 16-year-old self and tell him to shut up with the “see how clever I am attitude”. I want to tell him to appreciate how easy he had it, with a path out. A path to riches.

I also see Richard Dawkins differently. I see him as a grown up version of that 16-year-old kid, proud of being smart, unable to understand why anyone would believe or think differently from himself. I see a person so removed from humanity and so removed from the ambiguity of life that he finds himself judging those who think differently.

I suppose Arnade has caught Dawkins lurking around, being extremely nasty to people in the streets, telling them how stupid they are.

Look, I understand that many atheists can be uncomfortable with confrontation of religious claims, and I even understand that one can take issue with the tactics or rhetoric of certain groups or figures. None of them, not Dawkins, not Hemant, not the big atheist groups (including my own), and definitely not me, get it right all the time. (I’m kidding, Hemant, you always get everything right. Please don’t fire me.) The magic force field our culture has placed around religious belief and superstition makes every discussion and debate fraught with tension and tender sensitivities.

But Arnade makes a mistake by castigating atheism-writ-large as some heartless, elitist club of buzzkills and dream-crushers. For many, if not most of us, our decision to be public and active about our atheism and our opposition to religion stems from a desire to see the world at large lifted out of a morass of bad and oppressive magical thinking. Flawed as we are, we are trying to make things better.

If religion is giving desperate people hope, rather than shake a finger at those who argue against religion, perhaps we should be working as hard as we can to give these people something other than religion to lean on. Something real that actually solves problems, rather than mystical falsehoods.

To leave things as they are, to allow religion to continue its infestation in the lives of those who deserve something better, just because it seems like the nicer thing to do in the short term, I think that’s what’s patronizing and elitist.

Image via Shutterstock.

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  • Their faith leads to belief in a non-judgmental god? Sorry, but just what religion is their faith leading them to? None I’m familiar with.

    In fact, nothing is so effective at keeping the downtrodden down as the broken thought pattern we call faith, or the false belief systems it produces. Nothing is more insidious than the belief that there will be something better after death.

  • WallofSleep

    “Soon I saw my atheism for what it is: an intellectual belief most accessible to those who have done well.”

    The fuck you say? Someone help me out here and remind me when I won the lottery, because, to the best of my recollection, I’ve been poor or close to it most of my life.

    EDIT: Oh, sorry. He said his atheism. He must have picked his up at Neiman-Marcus or something. Heh, I had to work for mine…

  • skeptical_inquirer

    I think trying to keep atheism an elite thing does a major disservice to the poor.

    Also, religious belief was a major factor in keeping peasants peasants in the bad old days. Not only was there the whole “divine right of kings,” the church often colluded with the nobles to keep people uninformed. Look at how the Bible was kept in Latin and not the vernacular for so many centuries.

    Keeping people in the dark helps only people who profit from keeping people uninformed aka the rich & wealthy who love to keep people poor.

  • EdmondWherever

    I’m sure it’s very reassuring to have a faith in which one’s SELF is not judged…

  • The Captain

    One of these days I’m going to write up a post about how I think atheist like Arnade and probably S.E. Cupp are really examples of what I just now decided to call “Religious Stockholm Syndrome”.

    You can figure out how it works by the name (identifying with your religious captors, I.E. the religion you grow up in over your own identity), but I have leftover turkey to go gorge on for a second time in two days.

  • gusbovona

    Imagining atheism as something for elites also does a major disservice to the middle and lower class, as if atheism is something that is beyond their capacities or imagination. Doesn’t matter if statstics say that atheists are wealthy in general.

    That article was just very poorly considered.

  • WallofSleep

    I’m still not convinced that Cupp isn’t a “FNC”, or “Fox News Contrivance”.

  • quasibaka

    Does no one remember the african slaves being given christianity as a balm so that their morale would be kept up . It gave them a FALSE hope.
    Anyway this guy actually voices what a lot people say to me : Don’t insult religions because … LOVE …. HOPE …. JOY …. (insert random abstract concept)
    I hate the use of poorly defined abstract words in arguments .
    Why does my lack of belief in leprechauns , unicorns and gOD mean that I have no morals , no LOVE , no Hope ?

  • $84687101

    I’m thinking of the research I recently heard about suggesting that being under stress enhances pattern matching behavior in the brain. It seems like being continually under the stress of poverty and hunger would lead to a heightened state of pattern matching, including the side effect, religious belief. Add that to all the more standard concept that religion gives hope and solace to those in need, and you have a recipe for increased religious belief among the poor. But it’s just bad thinking to assume that means that atheism is untenable among the poor. It’s just less common.

    And yes, his atheist is a straw man, as usual. Anyone from any group can benefit from losing religion, but of course it would be a bit absurd to get into an argument with every homeless person you scoop out a bowl of soup to at the soup kitchen who says “God bless you”, and it’s pretty hard to believe anyone is actually doing that. But that certainly doesn’t mean the public atheists shouldn’t advocate for their ideas. Anyone with the wherewithal to get to the library ad pick up a copy of the God Delusion can benefit from it. To suggest that either Dawkins ought to quit writing about atheism because a homeless person might read it and get sad, or worse that we ought to control the material that the homeless have access to for the same reason, is simply ludicrous.

  • If only the homeless and incarcerated would put away their religious delusions and see things as they really are, their lives would be a whole lot better.

  • $84687101

    Yup. Not only are the poor more likely to be religion, but conveniently enough, religious belief is likely to keep them from being so upset about their state that they do something like protest, strike, or riot.

  • WallofSleep

    “Why does my lack of belief in leprechauns , unicorns and gOD mean that I have no morals , no LOVE , no Hope?”

    It doesn’t, but by virtue of our simple existence, we sap those things away from the faithful. We’re like “hope vampires”. Thank Science we don’t sparkle, at least.

  • Art_Vandelay

    Who am I to tell them the one thing that gives them hope and allows them to find some beauty in an awful world is inconsistent?

    Ugh. Hate this so much. Religious faith is harmful and pervasive to humanity. We see endless examples of this. Anyone who promotes this insidious idea that religious faith is a moral virtue is helping to foster an environment where religious faith is protected and therefore is part of the problem. You can condemn the actions of people that use religious faith to oppress, abuse, subjugate, and even kill all that you’d like but as long as you think belief in the absence of evidence is a moral virtue, those people are using your numbers to harm humanity. There are many real victims of religion out there and your hope doesn’t trump my empathy for those victims. Not only is there nothing wrong telling irrational people that they are irrational, you have a moral responsibility to it.

  • realeasygoing

    I have lived in many 3d world countries and let me tell you the poor cling to religion because it is the only way they believe they will have a better life. Some of these people are very intelligent some not so intelligent. Making them “open their eyes” might take a their hope as some do not have the tools to make this life better. My own mother was lower income and that is why I believe she help on to religion so hard even though her intelligence probably told her it was false.

    For myself the richer I got the further my belief in god started to disappear. Once my bank account hit a special number he literally was gone.

  • Jeff

    So apparently, if you think a person is giving 10% of their income to a con man, the respectful thing to do is not voice that opinion. Especially if that person is already poor and has other uses for that money.

  • cyb pauli

    I am poor. I struggle to make ends meet. I am constantly on the verge of being on the street homeless. That doesn’t make God real. A nonexistent creature does not give me hope. My hope is that I will finish school and get a (real) job. My hope is that the New Mexico family court system will have mercy on my impoverished partner so we can eat and pay rent in the same month. When I’m in need I depend on the kindness of strangers and sometimes friends, not God. And if believers would open their eyes, they’d see they are no different. Every good thing they’ve had given to them when they were in need was handed over from a fellow human. Being poor doesn’t change the nature of ontology. But when you’re hungry and afraid, predators will try to take advantage of any weakness you have.

  • baal

    Or they might spend more time really pissed off and pounding on the gates of the wealthy or powerful. I think we got a taste of that with Occupy and the powers that be didn’t like it.

  • Lee M Anderson

    Having been unemployed to the point of POVERTY, I have to disagree that atheism is for the wealthy. I do NOT “believe” in a god, nor do I “practice” any religion. They are all fairytales.

  • cyb pauli

    I got mine at the Commissary at Kadena AFB in Okinawa. True story.

  • There is some truth to the “Religious Stockholm Syndrome”. But I also resonate with what Chris Arnade is saying. Perhaps the two ideas can be resolved.

    It seems to me that generally, we won’t help an individual who is in chronic need, by holding forth on Celestial Teapots. We should provide immediate material help to that person.

    I think each of us needs to identify a dividing line. On one side are those people we can reach only through immediate material help. On the other side is are people who we engage in discussion.

    For me, the people in Arnade’s story definitely fall in into the former category. I don’t suffer from “Religious Stockholm Syndrome”. But when my goal is to help someone, I do adjust my tactics to the situation at hand.

    Thanks @disqus_D97rwmviRx:disqus for putting a label on the issue.

  • Harry Underwood

    If anything, the article misses the existence of secular philanthropic ventures and charities which do the same thing as religious charities, as well as secular activism against religious and superstitious child abuse, as well as humanist social justice activism for institutional reform in our societies.

  • Good point. At least Occupy was trying to demythologize the economic system and make people realize the extent to which they’ve been exploited. Considering the love for scientific inquiry among modern nonbelievers, I guess they feel the corporate powers-that-be can be excused for their oppressive ways as long as they continue to fund expensive scientific research.

  • Bernadette

    I have said it before and I will say it again. If I had a dollar for every time an atheists called a believer stupid I could have retired decades ago. The atheists movement confuses me and there are times I just want to run right back in the closet. You will never gain equality and respect by trying to prove others wrong. Stop the fight with what religion and faith as offers or doesn’t offer. Talk about what atheism can offer and acknowledge what it doesn’t.

  • “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

    The problem is not the religious beliefs themselves (whether they be delusions or not), but the effect they have in distracting people who might otherwise act into inaction by offering relief from their woes in a world-beyond rather than the world they currently occupy. It’s not so much belief in a god that is the problem, but what the god purportedly offers as a solution to their ills: Suffer now, and you will be rewarded after you die.

  • Considering the love for scientific inquiry among modern nonbelievers, I guess they feel the corporate powers that be can be excused for their oppressive ways as long as they continue to fund expensive scientific research.

    Is this a sentiment you often find among modern nonbelievers? I can’t say I have seen it enjoy much popularity.

  • They have their faith because what they believe in doesn’t judge them.

    WTF? Has this guy even read the bible? Xians believe their sky-fairy judges EVERYBODY but that they’re (often smugly) exempt from the BURNING IN HELL FOREVER punishment that their petty god metes out.

    I also see Richard Dawkins differently. I see him as a grown up version of that 16-year-old kid,

    Psychologists would label this “projection.”

    I see a person so removed from humanity and so removed from the ambiguity of life that he finds himself judging those who think differently.

    Really? Seems like more projection.

    In every instance I’ve seen Richard Dawkins talk to someone on T.V. or YouTube, I’ve seen a man keenly interested in other people, who is mostly polite to them in that Englishman-polite-way but willing to ask direct questions that may ruffle some feathers. He’s not perfect (who is?) and I don’t always agree with him but “so removed from humanity” is completely out of bounds.

  • Good heavens, no. Rather, the professed belief is usually that scientific research takes place in the ether somewhere, completely separate from all political and economic interests, and is an organic, objective search for truth-with-a-capital-T without bias or philosophical context of any kind.

    See? Totally rational, and backed up by evidence!

  • Matt E. S.

    I don’t understand all this baggage that folks try to attach to the concept of non-belief. I don’t believe in God, the miracles recorded in the Bible, or the notion that people survive their deaths very simply because it’s never been part of of my world and it’s very clearly not real in any literal, factual, important sense. That is my atheism – it doesn’t come with elitist ideological baggage attached. Maybe it does for this guy; I’ll allow that many atheists wrap their rejection of religion up with their own political agenda and values (cough Hitchens cough). We probably all have our own flavors of atheism to some extent, inevitably influenced by our own viewpoints and biases, but every atheist is different and the one common thing, the lack of belief in God, is completely independent of anything else.

    The connotations attached to the word “atheist” by our media = the reason I generally identify as a non-believer rather than with the “A” word.

  • Neiman-Marcus does offer their complete Atheism Activist package, including a ghost-written atheist book (you come up with a title), a start-up blog with a guaranteed 50,000 hits a day and several appearances on some weak-sauce T.V. Pundit shows, for a “reasonable” price.

  • cyb pauli

    The professed belief is that scientific research takes place all over the world, and when thousands of people who have opposing ulterior motives can verify multiple times the same causes of an effect there is a rational basis in assuming the causes of the effect.

    It’s the same process all humans go through when doing something like trying to find their homes after they leave work, except on a much wider, more rigorous scale.

  • My hope vampires sparkle!

  • Pete Green

    So he has matured a bit since he was 16. I would hope so. But the idea that atheism is the province of the well heeled, over educated dilletante is patronising to those of us who are none of those things. So he can’t bring himself to be mean to desperate people who cling to their delusions for comfort? Who does? Who would do that? His conscience may be wracked by his 16 year old self but why drag the rest of us along for the ride?

  • KMR

    Here’s the thing though. There are many things that happen that are so awful and so bad that nothing will ever make up for it. The victims are left to try and make their way in a world that will never be okay again and this belief in a wonderful afterlife where hurt will be forever erased is the only thing that stands between them and suicide. Personally what I would love to see secularists focus on is not trying to “wake” people up to the ridiculousness of their unbelief but waking people up to the ridiculousness of voting their religious beliefs, of letting them solely influence their civic decisions. Some secularists are truly trying to do this. Others I don’t think are and I really think they are doing some people a disservice.

  • WingedBeast

    I want to address the hope argument, and I’m going to Godwin right away. “Arbeit macht frie” offers hope. Does it offer real hope? Is it the only possible hope? Is it better to believe in the hope that keeps you in place rather than the hope that you can improve conditions and change things yourself?

  • If you’re saying that most people (nonbelievers included) are ignorant of economics and political science, I’d be the first to agree with you, but that’s really not a function of rationalism (or a failure thereof) and more a simple lack of experience or knowledge with the subject. The breadth of human knowledge is far greater than that quantity which one person could plausibly claim competence; navigating the world, even the most rational of people must operate sometimes off of faulty premises and a lack of reliable or relevant information.

    When they do become aware of the rational frameworks and evidence necessary to track the moral consequence of corporate R&D, I would argue they are perhaps less likely than the average monkey to dismiss that evidence and understanding in favor of something more comfortable but false. Albeit, more likely than they themselves think they do, but less likely than average.

  • $84687101

    If I had a dollar for every time someone on the internet called someone else on the internet stupid, I could buy Bill Gates.

    If I had a dollar for every time I know of where an atheist called a believer stupid in person, I’d have zero dollars.

    If I had a dollar for every time any atheist anywhere ever called any believer stupid in person because of their belief, I’m sure I could buy a new laptop or something, but who knows?

  • $925105

    In order to be consistent he’d have to say that challenging racism is cruel. After all, it’s a strongly held faith people have that other people are biologically inferior. But I don’t think they give columns to Atheists who are going to promote Atheism, only Atheists that attack Atheists. It’s kinda like why Fox News has Black people on, so they can attack other Black people.

  • If I had a dollar for every time I know of where an atheist called a believer stupid in person, I’d have zero dollars.

    That’s more of a function of the “I know of” clause (small and unrepresentative sample) than likely global behavior. People who have incompatible belief systems call each other stupid, in person, all the time.

    I’d bet on being able to buy at least a small country with the atheists-calling-believers-stupid take.

  • that is the most condescending and insulting arguments i have ever read. not only is he saying only the wealthy and priv’d can understand atheism, but he’s ignoring a host of religion based reasons why some people are homeless, downtrodden and poor. and believe me there are many. homeless gay youth, anyone? kicked out of the homes by their own families because jeebus? an incredibly high percentage of all homeless teens.

    i am so fucking sick and tired of these newspapers who can only seem to publish ‘religion is great!’ “atheists.” SECupp comes to mind, as well as some others. meh, this is why i rarely read mainstream media, and this is example #298347923784.

  • lol. i am so stealing that.

  • Taz

    “I also see Richard Dawkins differently. I see him as a
    grown up version of that 16-year-old kid, proud of being smart, unable
    to understand why anyone would believe or think differently from

    But not Chris Arnade. He’s grown up now and understands why the little people need their comforting delusions. They’re not capable of handling the truth he perceives, so he pats them on the head and lets them be.

    I think you’re the one who’s never matured, Mr. Arnade.

  • baal

    ” host of religion based reasons why some people are homeless [and etc]”

  • $84687101

    I wrote a really long response to this and deleted it. I’ll acknowledge the small and biased (I don’t hang around with assholes if I can prevent it) sample size. But if we’re talking about sample sizes, then we have to recognize that the original argument is nothing but conjecture, if we’re assuming that internet comments hardly count, as I must. The correct response is that that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. Therefore, zero dollars, unless someone has some evidence for me?

  • TommyNIK

    “I see a person [Richard Dawkins] so removed from humanity and so removed from the
    ambiguity of life that he finds himself judging those who think

    Projection Mr. Arnade…pure projection. It seems to me it is you who are removed from humanity. At any rate you’ve never read Dawkins. If I’m wrong and if you have, you weren’t paying attention.

    I laud you for working with the poor and not trying to “convert” them to non-belief however. I just think that the conclusions you’ve drawn are questionable.

  • Quintin van Zuijlen

    It’s “Arbeit macht frei”, but whatever.

  • WingedBeast

    Thanks, edited to correct.

  • A3Kr0n

    They’re not capable, or in a position to think for themselves, so encourage the bullshit that they believe in?
    Would it be appropriate to call this guy a condescending prick, because I’d like to.

  • bearclover

    So true. I prayed to God every night for years from the time I was about three years old asking God to keep various family members out of my bedroom that were raping me. Nothing happened. Later, believing that God gives the heaviest burdens to those that can carry the weight, I endured the abuse rather than reporting the perpetrators and imploding my family. It was only when I took action into my own hands by reporting it to the authorities that any change occured. It was only when I sought counseling (thank you, Science!) that I was able to repair the damage done to me. It was only when I renounced a belief in a supernatural being and an afterlife that I was able to take stock of the life I was living and make the decision that *I* had the power to make a difference for myself and for those around me.

  • i will admit to saying many times, that believers are willfully ignorant. the venn diagram which separates those that actually are stupid, vs those that are not but actively choose to use their intellects to deny reality is an interesting and debatable space.

  • his limitation is that he cannot master the way to be a”friendly atheist.” it is possible, he just doesn’t know how. it’s a shame he’s projecting his own failings on to the rest of us.

    i talk to poor believing people in need all the time. if you’re not a condescending elitist, you’ll find poor believing people are just as interested in spirited debate as privileged people with degrees from fancy schools and enough money in their bank accounts such that they can devote their lives to helping poor people. really! IQ is not, in fact, a function of wealth and privilege.

    but i guess this guy didn’t learn that in school.

  • KMR

    ridiculousness of their unbelief = ridiculousness of their belief.

    Many apologies for the typo.

  • Keyra

    There’s the superiority complex I find in so many atheists, right there. But not all are like that. Better to live & die in faith, than live & die in condescension and overconfidence. Believers will never know they were wrong and nonbelievers (including people like this guy) will never know they were right (IF there is no God).

  • jordan

    Isn’t it obvious that Arnade is still that smug 16 year old? He’s realized that smugness toward religious folk isn’t satisfying anymore, so now he’s trying it out on his fellow atheists. He’ll feel bad about this phase soon, too.

  • allein

    Thank you, Mr. Pascal.

  • jamilleChristman

    The things he is saying about Dawkins is obvious he knows very little about him and his philanthropy and fighting for human rights all over the world. He gives hope to those in fundamentalist countries. The fact he speaks about Dawkins knowing very little of him or his work but eludes he knows everything about his methods reminds me of christians who preach, yet have never read the bible.

  • Keyra

    “Does no one remember the african slaves being given christianity as a balm so that their morale would be kept up . It gave them a FALSE hope.”, that doesn’t make it false, hun. It was a convenient motivation to use their faith against them (whether they realized it or not, or just purposely misinterpreted slavery in the Bible against anyone who didn’t realize slavery wasn’t beyond the laws in the Torah, which was exclusive for the ancient Israelites, because the slaves didn’t know better; as slaves didn’t have access to education, or much of the Bible for that matter).

  • Stev84

    It’s definitely true on a larger scale. Generally, the more developed a country is the less religious it is. In the Western world, the US is the exception to that.

    Or maybe it has more to do with how fair a society is. The Nordic countries always do well in such statistics.

  • Keyra

    Lol. It rings true, though, does it not? Any rational person would see that

  • Jeff See

    “They have their faith because what they believe in doesn’t judge them.” – wrong. Completely inaccurate statement.

    ” I cannot tell them that there is nothing beyond this physical life. It would be cruel and pointless.” – It would be the truth; what other reason is there to tell anyone, anything? If there is negativity associated with it, to hide it does no good. If you cannot find a way to accentuate the positive in it, then that’s on you; that isn’t reality’s fault.

    I’m glad you bloggers read this stuff and then relate it to us, because I’m not sure I could endure it first hand. It’s like trying to read Ann Coulter sometimes.

  • cyb pauli

    Yeah it really cuts deep when people imply that because I’m not of means I must be stupid and in need of delusions.

    And they always conveniently forget ALL the terribly rich people who believe in God and thank God for their wealth.

  • Keyra

    Dawkins does do those good things you mention, but he does come off as condescending quite alot of times (and self-contradictory), but he does have that Brit charm & charisma to him as well

  • bearclover

    Wow, I don’t even know where to begin. If I read this correctly, this guy starts off as a 16-year-old who has no other obligations for his summer job money than to save it so he can “escape”. Apparently he didn’t need to use his paycheck to help pay bills at home and had the luxury of being able to keep his money. He’s so college educated that he was able to obtain a PhD. Then he worked on Wall Street for 20 years. Then he’s able to quit his job to pursue photography. Must be nice. Sounds like he’s never spent any time LIVING in crushing poverty other than to take pictures of it. Yeah, great, he volunteers.

    Mr. Arnade, you’re talking out your arse, and sir, you still are that 16 year old with the “see how clever I am attitude”. Take it from someone who grew up poor and started working in the fields at ten- I didn’t get to keep my money. It bought food. You have no idea what it’s like to be one of those people you write about. I was Takeesha when she was 11. I was homeless at 15. I was surrounded by family members who were addicts and alcoholics. I was raised Southern Baptist and prayed like crazy. Prayer is the cake and the cake lies. You have no more right to pretend that you understand the complexities of the lives of those people than you do to speak for atheists.

    “They have their faith because what they believe in doesn’t judge them. Who am I to tell them that what they believe is irrational?
    It also doesn’t require anything from them. They can sin one day and be forgiven the next. Why do any self-examination when you can have your drugs and heaven too?
    “Who am I to tell them the one thing that gives them hope and allows them to find some beauty in an awful world is inconsistent? I cannot tell them that there is nothing beyond this physical life. It would be cruel and pointless.”
    Because the only thing worse than no hope is false hope.

  • Chuck Farley

    You just caused me a flashback.

  • allein

    Yes, I suppose it does…until you actually think about it.

  • sara

    It’s rather like the religion some people pick up in prison. They take the parts that appeal to them and ignore the rest. In the case of criminals that’s usually forgiveness. In the case of the extremely downtrodden it’s the promise of a better afterlife. The usual burdens of trying to live up to a god’s expectations are passed off as being for other people.

  • Proteus

    Oh look another faitheist who lives in a bubble.

  • You will never gain equality and respect by trying to prove others wrong.

    Bulls#!t. Equality is the goal. Equality is the only goal.

    Equality has been gained by proving others wrong: the Suffrage Movement and the Civil Rights Movement and the LGBT Movement have shown that to be the case.

    Fnck “respect.” I don’t expect the sexist, racist, homophobic of the population to respect me and I certainly don’t respect them. I expect that my rights are equal under the law: no disenfranchisement, no Jim Crow, no denial of service because of “religious liberty,” none of that crap.

  • sara

    That puts you in a position that is more likely to improve than the people in this article. When you need help you look for helpful sources. When a believer needs help, they pray.

  • A false hope is, by definition, false.

  • $84687101

    You know the fundamental flaw though, right? The logical fallacy inherent in the wager? It’s the appeal to consequences. God doesn’t exist just because it would make for a better outcome after death, or at any other time, for that matter. So if you’re evaluating the question rationally, no, it doesn’t ring true, it falls foul of a basic logical fallacy.

    Since the wager cannot, therefore, provide any rational reason for the actual existence of God, it leaves us right where we started: do we, based on whatever criteria we use to make judgments, believe in god or not? Now suppose I’m the sort of person who uses logic, reason, and evidence to evaluate arguments and come to conclusions, and I’ve come to the conclusion that god probably doesn’t exist. On the actual merits of the question, rather than the consequences, I don’t believe. Can I then just set that aside and say I believe, pretend I believe, and get into heaven? Not if god is what most people say it is. The wager is useless because it is impossible for me to even make it. I’m not betting, I’m evaluating an idea.

    Meanwhile, this god whose predominant criterion for whether I suffer eternal torture or eternal bounty is whether I believed in him is cruel and sadistic. He has given me a brain that uses reason, he has set the world up to show no evidence that he exists, and he has allowed countless “false” religions to spring up all over the world making similar and equally unlikely claims and many of which predate the supposedly “true” religion. He has made it impossible for me to believe and for this sin he will torture me like unto death for all eternity.

  • $84687101

    You know saying “hun” like that makes you come off as incredibly condescending, right? You come around here often enough, you might try to avoid that kind of condescension, especially when the rest of your statement is the kind of tired rationalization we’ve all seen a million times over, not something we’re at all ignorant of.

  • smrnda

    He’s simply espousing a different flavor of elitism. I’d say even nastier, since he basically thinks that the *little simple people* out there can’t handle the truth.

  • There’s the superiority complex I find in so many atheists, right there.

    Yeah, I’ve *never* seen Xians proclaim their superiority because they are “god’s Chosen PeopleTM.” That *never* happens.

    I’ve also *never* seen Xians proclaim “goddit” to questions like “how did life start on Earth?” As opposed to those “superior” atheists who say “I don’t know.”

    Better to live & die in faith, than live & die in condescension and overconfidence.

    Yeah, better to claim infallibility and certainty based on a 2000 year old book of fables than explore the world using the messily fallible and uncertain (yet ultimately self-correcting) scientific method! After all, imperfect science has provided us with technology that improves our lives in thousands of ways. Yet Xianity hasn’t changed much, or provided anything new, over the years.

    Believers will never know they were wrong and nonbelievers (including people like this guy) will never know they were right (IF there is no God).

    But believers will spend their lives beholden to the insane rules of an imaginary petty non-evidenced god, interpreted by hucksters and con-men bent on controlling their behavior for economic, social and political gain. That’s got to count for something!

  • Troy Wilson

    Yes! Let’s use hookers and addicts as prime examples on why Atheism is for the wealthy! People with psycho-physiological issues and psychological conditioning always hope for a better situation through divine intervention. They already feel powerless, if God could just make things better for them. Much like someone being tortured, they will believe anything to take away the pain and torment.

    If I lost it all (not much by the way) today, I would not pray to a God to help me. I know only I, and the kindness of others, can help myself.

    Apparently, Takeesha proves that Yahweh is into voyeurism. For “when you giveth a blowjob, Yahweh smiles upon you,”

  • It’s not so much belief in a god that is the problem, but what the god purportedly offers as a solution to their ills: Suffer now, and you will be rewarded after you die.

    I agree, and I think it’s the height of irresponsibility to get people to suffer and make others suffer in the hopes of some reward in the afterlife. However, let’s at least be honest that telling people they’re nothing but the wiggling and jigglings of atoms, and that life has no meaning, doesn’t exactly ennoble them either. And our corporate overlords have every reason to get people to believe that it’s futile to hope for anything better than the shiny high-tech sewer we inhabit in our brief, meaningless lives. Suffer now, and you will be rewarded after you die.

  • Randall Slonaker

    Very well said my friend. “In the sweet By and By, we’ll get pie in the sky, when we die!”.

  • Exactly! He disrespects the people he’s serving if he doesn’t think they’re good enough for his own beliefs.

  • However, let’s at least be honest that telling people they’re nothing but the wiggling and jigglings of atoms, and that life has no meaning, doesn’t exactly ennoble them either.

    Of course not, but again, do you know many people who claim that it does all by itself? The point is by recognizing that suffering is not some payment for delayed reward, one obstacle is removed from the path of taking effective action. It is not usually sufficient by itself to actualize a person going from inaction to action, but then again atheists generally don’t claim that it is. In cases where it represents the primary stumbling block that keeps a person from acting, it can be the causally efficacious insight. More commonly, it is only a beginning step on a more complicated set of realizations about power, self-worth, justice, and value that atheists tend to differ on same as everyone else.

    I’d also take exception, on a philosophical level, with the flattening of physicalism you’re implying here to reductive physicalism. That we are, at one level of abstraction, jiggly atoms bumping about, doesn’t make us only that in any relevant sense any more than a gourmet meal is only its several ingredients. Structure, arrangement, context, pattern, and behavior all matter in describing the material implications of an object. Such a materially reductive description is only relevant if the context that the description applied to was one which directly intersected the human as a collection of atomic particles; such a context doesn’t come up very often, to be sure, so it is not particularly effective in explicating the relevant implications of the object that is the human body in most circumstances.

  • Bob Jase

    Sounds like Mr. Arnade considers religion to sort of be an opiate for the masses.

  • Unlike Marx, though, he seems to be incapable of saying it without sneering.

  • Bob Jase

    I knew there was something funny about the meatloaf.

  • Spazticus

    And to think all of my financial woes have nothing to do with my career being sent overseas; I’m just in the wrong faith system for my income level. (Just seeing how far I can twist this pretzel of logic).

  • Bob Jase

    Not in the daylight anyway.

  • Bob Jase

    Which is more than you have.

    I know, wasn’t I awful?

  • Randall Slonaker

    “…let’s at least be honest that telling people they’re nothing but the wiggling and jiggling of atoms, and that life has no meaning doesn’t exactly enoble them either.”. I disagree-as a materialist, I realize that there is no afterlife, and we only have one life to live to it’s fullest. There are solutions to our problems, and they involve thinking, rational human beings working together. Religion and belief in an afterlife or a benevolent God being are at best distractions that keep people from acting to improve their own lives or the lives of others.

  • Chicago dyke, above, provided you with a first data point.

    So, one dollar. 😉

  • Randall Slonaker

    Well said. I have heard religionists hastily, condescendingly dismiss atheism at least as many times as I have heard one of our crowd call a believer “stupid”.
    The huge difference that I have noticed between us and them, is that most religionists that I have encountered are willfully ignorant concerning many of the sorts of rational arguments that support a belief in atheism, while almost every atheist I have ever encountered are quite well versed in the supposedly strong pro-religion arguments, and therefore know how to refute them.

  • Cloe

    Wow, that is such a slap in the face to most people. Sure, the NT is written for the poor (it would be easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven). But beliefs in an ultimate parent figure, seems to suggest that human beings that follow such beliefs, are perhaps in need of growing up and facing adult responsibilities. The world is what we make of it. Existential angst comes only to those that cannot accept that it’s up to them to give meaning to existence. Growing up can be difficult apparently to most, but it seems essential if we are to ever reach our next evolutionary step…even if only on Kardashev scale. By the way…atheism is the non-belief in deities…it is not a belief.

  • tinker

    CD said: “IQ is not, in fact, a function of wealth and privilege.”

    So many people link wealth and IQ and while it may require some
    intelligence to obtain a PhD, become a CEO or a p̶o̶l̶i̶t̶i̶c̶i̶a̶n̶, there are many of us out here that are intelligent but don’t do well in a school environment. We may not be rich because we are unwilling to compromise principles that we believe in.

    I personally believe that the smartest, most moral and compassionate among us are incapable of rising to the top income brackets because of their intelligence, morality and compassion.

    Does that make us incapable of not believing in fairy tales?

  • That we are, at one level of abstraction, jiggly atoms bumping about, doesn’t make us only that in any relevant sense any more than a gourmet meal is only its several ingredients. Structure, arrangement, context, pattern, and behavior all matter in describing the material implications of an object.

    Well said.

  • onamission5

    Condescending, yes, amongst a plethora of other choice words.

  • TychaBrahe

    You know, throughout history, wealthy churches have told people that it was a blessing to be poor, that being rich was sinful. Slaves were told, too, that their suffering was ordered by God, and that for being good slaves they would be rewarded in the next life. It kept people from seeing the injustice of their oppression.

    Maybe if people were told that their place in society has a lot to do with both society and how their parents brought them into the world, and that their actions can help them better themselves, many of them would seek some sort of change.

  • LesterBallard

    Asshole. Yeah, the powers that be, the wealthy, the powerful, they love for those who continually get the shitty end of the stick to have that hope. The hope that no matter how terrible your existence is now, it will be wonderful in the next life. That way they don’t agitate for change. Instead, you can get them worked up about the war on Christmas and the war on marriage and the war on traditional values, and keep feeding them shit.

  • John Welker

    Actually “prosperity gospel” is pretty effective at lifting up the superstitious. The belief that God wants you to be successful. I have family members who buy into this and it seems to work well for them. Not everyone is capable of rational thought, and this seems a decent alternative.

  • onamission5

    My guess, and it’s a guess based on experience with being poor, is that a person is less likely to come out as an atheist if it means risking the loss of the support structure they rely on for survival. If your relatives are the ones who provide free child care so you can keep your job, are you really going to risk the loss of that for a philosophical principle? If you rely on charity to get through the month, and most of the charities have religious strings attached, are you really going to come out and proud in your non belief? If the way you get by, the way you cope with structural inequity, is through pooling resources/sharing experiences with others who are in the same straits, are you really going to risk the possibility that no one will want to pool resources or share experiences with you? (all you’s are general)
    People with more resources can afford to take more risks with their social support structures. As much as it hurts for someone financially comfortable to be rejected by friends or family, it’s not a matter of survival the way it is when you’re marginalized.

  • gusbovona

    I agree, but with the proviso that the considerations you laid out are only possible, even probable, but not necessary. That is, there are surely poor atheists. Maybe more atheists are not poor than are, but the article tries to make some point, apparently, about the *essence* of atheism, and there’s nothing essential – only possible/probable – about atheism and class/wealth. In which case, ones response to the article can well be, “So what?”

  • Thanks!

  • onamission5

    There are absolutely poor atheists. I’ve known I was an atheist since I was 15, and I’ve been flirting and/or dancing with poverty pretty much my whole life, very recent present circumstances excluded. It’s just that someone may be less likely to say they are an atheist, out loud where religious persons can hear them, when they rely on the kindness of those religious folks for practical and emotional support. For that reason I don’t think that anyone can say that atheism is the sole purview of the wealthy, they can only say that people who are comfortable are more likely to be open about their atheism.

  • Sean Beavers

    My main issue with Atheism is that it is not an -ism in the same sense as religions. It is not a set of beliefs but gives religious believers the false idea that it is. Why do you label yourself with a non-belief. I suppose you do it so that you have something on which to advocate and perhaps find kinship but really, it is a false label and limits your growth as you will likely work to define reality with that label framing you. Saying you do not believe in a god or an afterlife is not in itself a belief. You can state “I don’t believe there is a god.”, not “I believe there is no god.” You don’t believe in a lot of things and yet you label yourself with this one non-thing. Why? Do you feel pressure to give people who do believe a response that is more easily digestible? Really, I’m curious.

  • randomfactor

    “They have their faith because what they believe in doesn’t judge them.”

    What the–pardon me–HELL kind of Christian god does he think they believe in, then?

  • JeromeMac

    He wants his 16 year old self to shut up, his 16 year old self wS badgrred by this preacher

  • gusbovona

    The nuance you and I have been talking about undermines the entire reason the author brought up the idea that atheism is of the wealthy.

  • trog69

    What really made me angry reading that was, at the time it was published, my MIL was very sick, and we thought she wouldn’t make it. She did, but in no way would I have tried to cause her to doubt her devout beliefs, even before she fell ill, I knew that it would not do her any good at this point in her life.

    Her great-grandchildren , otoh…

  • Madison Blane

    Because the only thing worse than no hope is false hope.
    A-feckin-men!! I ABSOLUTELY agree!

  • SocraticGadfly

    No, the piece isn’t perfect, but, I think most atheist criticisms of it are way overblown.

    First, yes, there are atheist and humanist charities. How many of them have things like homeless shelters, though? It’s a simple fact that for “street-side” assistance for homeless, a lot of it comes with a religious background. And, maybe it’s too much to say it would be “cruel” to disabuse said homeless recipients of their religious belief while religious or “spiritual” charities, etc., are helping them … but it could well be a shock, at least.

    In that sense, to some degree, I saw this as a restating of Maslow’s hierarchy of values. Let a person actually get some food, a little shelter, and a little comfort, THEN they’ll possibly be ready to consider more abstract issues.

  • jonhanson

    “These poor, simple people can’t handle the real world like us well off intellectuals. Real debate would just hurt their poor little impoverished hearts!”

    I’m no fan of Dawkins but that’s what I hear from this douche.

  • Ibis3

    But Marx wanted to see the masses free of both the opiate and the pain that it’s relieving. This guy seems to think the masses should remain addicts because they can’t hope for better, let alone create something better, in the real world.

  • Drakk

    No, the utter lack of evidence is what makes it false.

  • Drakk

    Well, I’m completely convinced. Allahu akbar!

  • Ibis3

    ” host of religion based reasons why some people are homeless”

    Like how religion forces women to reproduce despite their poverty and shames them for having sex in the first place (for good measure). When women have the means to control their bodies, poverty drops drastically, but religion* hates that.

    *NeoPaganism excluded, afaik, but I somehow doubt that’s the religion this yahoo thinks is such a salve for those poor unenlightenable poor people.

  • Taz

    “And, maybe it’s too much to say it would be “cruel” to disabuse said
    homeless recipients of their religious belief while religious or
    “spiritual” charities, etc., are helping them … but it could well be a
    shock, at least.”

    Who exactly is doing that? And the part about Dawkins sounds like it was written by a Liberty University sophomore.

  • indorri

    It rings true

    Untrained, arbitrary intuition is a terrible, awful, absolutely useless way of determining what is true. I’m almost convinced sometimes that “something ringing true” is evidence for it being false.

  • indorri

    The materialism issue is a personal bugbear of mine, and one which has driven in me an absolute loathing of much of philosophical discourse.

  • skeptical_inquirer

    You always forget, which God? Worship the wrong God and you’re just as equally screwed. In fact, you might piss off the right God more if you’re championing his competition rather than being quietly on the sidelines.

    Also, not interested in a religion that attracts people who get some serious jollies at people being skinned and being burned alive for eternity to reinforce their smugness. It reeks of hand-rubbing and going “Oh, boy, oh boy” at stuff most people condemn serial killers for enjoying.

  • Mike De Fleuriot

    One thing I do think is that activist atheism IS for the well off. Blogging, running atheist social media accounts, attend atheist events from pub lunches to cons, is the province of the well off. Take a look around at the folk who attend your next atheist in the pub meeting, how many of them are unemployed, how long have those been unemployed.

    There has to be atheists on welfare, no doubt, but reality means they have no time for fun as an atheist. That is why it falls to us who can afford to be activists, to promote atheism. And I think we should make some attempt to include the poor atheist into our groups. Just saying come and join us for a drink forgets that it’s a choice between a beer and their kid’s school lunch.

  • Finn Nicolas

    I want two.

  • Nomad

    Because we live in a society that is positively soaked in religion. Because everywhere you turn, religion is provided undeserved privilege.

    Someone who does not fly kites as a hobby is not labeled a non kite flyer because in not flying kites he does not stand out, he does not have a specific identity because of it. To tell someone I do not fly kites as a hobby does not actually inform them about me in any meaningful way. But because I do not plan my actions with regard to the demands of a sky tyrant, many people would make false assumptions regarding me unless I informed them. On the other hand, they would not automatically assume that I look to every windy day as a possible chance to go kite flying simply because I didn’t tell them that I don’t fly kites.

    Give me an alternate reality in which you believe in a magic man in the sky or you do not, and in every sphere except the church itself people deal with reality instead of the desires of said magic man, and I’ll give you a world in which the label of atheism is not needed.

    I take issue with the term “false label” though. That seems to be some really tortured logic you’re following, as if the term referring to a lack of something rather than possessing something means the term is invalid.

    As to the idea that considering myself an atheist limits my growth, why should it? It frees me, I’m free to be more than what a stunted theology tells me I should be. Identifying as an atheist means I cannot be a believer in a god, otherwise it pretty much leaves me quite able to become just about anything. As for limiting my definition of reality, which is more limited: Looking at the natural world as a thing that can be understood by investigating it because I do not assume that it’s all arbitrarily rigged up by a divine entity, or looking at it as an arbitrarily rigged game which can only be understood by reading a collection of myths written thousands of years ago?

  • Derrik Pates

    It sounds like he’s found a way to feel superior to both the Christian addicts and his “fellow” atheists. How nice for him.

  • Derrik Pates

    Until you realize that Pascal’s wager is crap because it’s a false dichotomy – either you don’t believe in any god, or you believe in the wager-maker’s preferred deity. What about the other 2000-3000 deities that humans have worshipped? They’re just as legitimate. Or maybe the right god hasn’t been imagined yet.

    As Homer Simpson put it, what if you’re worshipping the wrong god, and every time you go to church, you’re just making the real one madder and madder?

  • TCC

    At least prima facie evidence.

  • midnight rambler

    While there are not many explicitly atheist charities that run homeless shelters and the like, there are plenty of nonreligious ones that do, which would certainly qualify as “humanist”. And I’ve certainly never heard of any of them trying to discourage religious belief in the people they deal with. Many religious charities, on the other hand, not only encourage their brand of belief but require it as a condition of receiving anything.

  • SidelongGlance

    The Guardian article can be boiled down to the syllogism:
    1) I am an atheist
    2) I am privileged
    3) Therefore all atheists are privileged

    That said its easier to roll the Guardian up to smack him on the nose with.

  • SidelongGlance

    But nobody is advocating proselytising addicts or homeless people on atheism, let alone doing it. What most of us seem to be taking issue with is the idea that atheists are wealthy or privileged; that the poor, addicts or homeless people need religion to keep going and the implication that atheists pick on the vulnerable to convert them. All three of those things are false.

  • SocraticGadfly

    of these people may also be looking for a sense of community and
    belonging. Given that a fair chunk of atheists explicitly reject
    anything that even comes close to the atheist equivalent of “church,”
    again, folks with this type of need are going to go to what’s offered.

    That is part of how I relate this to seeing it as part of Maslow’s hierarchy.
    No, it’s
    not about seeing religion as a need. Rather, it’s about seeing critical
    thinking as 2-3 steps up the hierarchy from basic food/shelter needs.

    Yes, Amade probably could have wrote some of this better. But, to
    accuse a man of actually working with homeless people, and explaining
    his observations of some things on the ground as being elitist is
    ridiculous in my book.

    And, thinking this way is why I don’t normally identify myself as an “atheist,” but rather
    secularist, secular humanist or similar.

    That said, Paul, let’s bring Tom Flynn into the picture while we’re at it, and tell these homeless people to stop calling the days of the week after pagan gods.

  • While many outliers such as yourself exist, there’s half a grain of truth to what he’s saying; irreligion and decreased belief in God do both modestly correlate on socio-economic standing (likely with education as a mediator), and religious priming does seem to trigger prosociality. There’s also the work on how national religiosities (reverse) correlate to strength of the social safety net.

    However, I don’t agree with Arnade’s overall assessment. As Christopher Silver’s research suggests, Atheism as a cultural cluster has multiple aspects; while the more intellectual variety may appeal more to those who have achieved economic propsperity via application of their intelligence, there are other sorts of Atheist and Atheism.

  • Deanna Jackson

    I remember the article this is responding to and this response is spot on.

  • Randay

    Arnade says, “Who am I to tell them that what they believe is irrational? Who am I to tell them the one thing that gives them hope and allows them to find some beauty in an awful world is inconsistent?”

    I guess he isn’t the one, that one was Thomas Paine. Paine was feared by the atheist elite as well as the religious elite of his time because he tried to tell common folk exactly those things. Those elitists thought that their social and economic privileges could be in danger if those common folk didn’t have a superstition to keep them resigned and under control.

  • Mary Howerton

    I wish people would quit acting like helping poor people means they will immediately follow your religion or philosophy. Just because we are poor does not mean we are stupid. It also does not mean we are unable to handle life without a mythological daddy to make it all better.

    Having money just means you’re lucky, these days. It has nothing to do with hard work or intelligence or being emotionally “tough” or anything like that. Your idea of reaching poor people through material help and rich people through discussion is insulting and ridiculous.

  • Sean Beavers

    I agree with your point about standing up in the face of so
    much religion and needing something to say so that you can differentiate
    yourself. Still, that doesn’t make it a
    proper label, because like you said you would not call yourself a non-kite
    flyer or a non-trumpet player. Both of
    those including a non-god-believer would fall in the same category regardless
    of the presence of so many god-believers.
    When enough people no longer believe in a magic man in the sky, when
    does the term become irrelevant? I find
    that some people who call themselves Atheists fall into the same trap of
    certainty as do religious people and they will stand on their own bully pulpit. You know what they say when you assume too
    much. For me, magic has 2 meanings. The first would be Lord of the Rings fantasy
    kind used in fiction. It is frivolous
    and fun. The second is simply things we
    do not yet understand, like showing a disposable lighter to an aboriginal
    tribesman. I’ve had some amazing
    experiences that defy logic as I understand logic, but I am not willing to call
    them magic. I just haven’t figured them
    out yet.

  • TheRealRandomFunction

    For many, if not most of us, our decision to be public and active about our atheism and our opposition to religion stems from a desire to see the world at large lifted out of a morass of bad and oppressive magical thinking.

    I am all for getting rid of magical thinking. I don;t see why you equate that with religion in general.

  • John H

    “To leave things as they are, to allow religion to continue its
    infestation in the lives of those who deserve something better, just
    because it seems like the nicer thing to do in the short term, I think that’s what’s patronizing and elitist.”

    That’s very similar to the comment I left on the AlterNet posting of the article. Most religions have some form of Just World (and/or Just Afterlife) myth, which actively suppresses action to try to make things better in the here and now. False hope might make the destitute feel better, but actually working to make things better for everyone requires understanding how reality works so that we can find solutions that will work in reality. Religion very much impedes this process.

  • Muscle man

    I am an Atheist and my wife is a Catholic, and you know something we get along better than when I was a Catholic. I take her to her church and the Priest sometimes asks her, when is your husband joining us? She tells the Priest real soon because he has begun to think differently and may an up with a surprise entrance in due time,

  • Nomad

    I pretty much told you when it becomes irrelevant. When it cease to matter. When, to go back to the metaphor, my not being a kite flyer ceases to effectively bar me from holding most forms of public office, my being a non kite flyer ceases to matter. When I stop seeing people stating that not flying kites makes me a horrible person unable to tell the difference from right and wrong, it ceases to matter. When people will not automatically assume that I will be spending my free time on windy days holding onto a piece of string connected to a sail-like structure held aloft in the sky by the forces of moving air, it will become irrelevant.

    And, since you brought it up, when people stop assuming that because I do not fly kites I’m unable to experience a sense of wonder, THEN it will become irrelevant.

    In other words, make religion as irrelevant to daily life of people other than those that engage in it as kite flying is, then the term will cease to be needed.

    In the mean time, I shall continue to be an atheist so long as I do not experience any convincing evidence pointing towards the existence of a supernatural entity which supports a particular religious belief system.

  • Guest

    “To leave things as they are, to allow religion to continue its infestation in the lives of those who deserve something better”

    I think this was what many missionaries of my faith, Catholic, held at times.

    To leave indigenous people as they were, to allow paganism to continue its infestation in the lives of those who deserve something better, just because it seems like the nicer thing to do in the short term, was likely agreed to be…Well probably not patronizing and elitist, but cruel and selfish. Maybe you didn’t always need to destroy their beliefs, but hope for them to accept the Truth in time. Or at least have the benefits of Western civilization.

    The part of me that sympathizes with traditionalist Catholicism can see the appeal in what many atheist like you say. There is Truth, Truth matters. To allow error to go unchallenged, and people to be lead by primitive beliefs that sanction say widow-burning or infanticide, is therefore wrong. Nineteenth century Protestants tended to agree that there is a Christian duty “to see the world at large lifted out of a morass of bad and oppressive magical thinking.” (“Kill the Indian, Save the Man” I think was a phrase. Idea being you don’t want to hurt the American Indians, just destroy everything they ever believed in. It’s not like their culture lead to a society that created hot-air balloons, steam engines, vaccines, or pocket watches) Maybe Nineteenth c. Christians wouldn’t have used that exact phrase, but that shamanism, animism, or any polytheism was a primitive delusion to be lifted out of wasn’t too far from their thinking.

    The Victorian/Edwardian or SSPX type confidence in your own reasonableness and the error of others is seductive. Of course if it ever had appeal for me that’s dead and buried so far back it’s hard for me to relate to anymore. (It’s certainly not coming back for me)

  • Bob

    Why perpetuate the lie though? Why not work to repair this “awful world” so people don’t NEED fairy stories to get them through life/keep working & paying taxes like a good little soldier?

  • WScott

    So Arnade used be an arrogant, condescending atheist who looked down on theists. And now he’s an arrogant, condescending theist who looks down on atheists.

    I think I see the constant here, and it has nothing to do with religion.

  • torch2k

    Ahhh, so the complex, abstract musings that support ideologies like atheism might be fine for intellectuals like Arnade, but those poor, diminished folk he comes across in his work will do better with the tales of magic and imagination better suited to their simple natures. How … clerical.

  • Jacobi Coriolanus

    The “relief” that religion offers, while scientifically demonstrated as a viable placebo, is the reason why many people sell it to begin with. I wouldn’t use charity as a platform for proselytization either way but to claim that class should divide religion is to create a perpetual segregation. I can understand the fact that “looking down” on people who have not had access to the education necessary to develop the ability to reason sufficiently to overcome religion is elitist but that does not mean religion can be ignored as merely benign.

    I’m originally from an area where people kill family members because they believe they are possessed by demons and the community sees it as a spontaneous snap rather than a predictable result of declaring delusion socially acceptable and desirable. I don’t think its responsible to shame someone merely for the abiological belief of a virgin birth but abusing children by denying them nutrition or immunization or blocking blood transfusions simply under the pretense of “religious” belief rather than a delusion masking ignorance is not something that should be legally sanctioned, which with the current mindset due to the “peace” religion offers occurs in places where the means to improve people’s lives are readily available.

  • I thought I deleted this post as potentially irrelevant. I guess I forgot “deletion” only deletes your name, not the post. Irritating.

  • Kent M Shade

    The real issue for me, is that there is a visible and public acceptance of a kind of “behavioral template” at work…. and it permeates and clogs meaningful approaches to dialog. The copying of this same “template” or tools, by political and economic leaders, shows the obvious proximity to religion’s rejection of critical thinking and it’s failures to use the scientific method., Especially when there are little or no proofs to support traditional claims of supposedly “sacred” doctrines. The Template? The use of Fear, Superstition, Magical Thinking, Authoritarian Leadership, and Punitive Reactions to Questioning or challenging. . Did Religion learn the “template” from temporal leadership? or vice versa? It doesn’t seem to matter, since almost all institutions find it useful to use the ‘template’ to keep their power and authority intact.

  • Ramon Casha

    If non-belief is for the wealthy, then WHERE’S MY FUCKING MONEY?!

  • Sanjay Bhai

    Arnade, atheism is for the rational and educated people who can reason and discuss about issues. Religion is for the weak, meek and uneducated filth who realises in life that to have some form of status in society, religion will have a special place of respect. Well that is now changing and the greatest thing about religion is that it is NOT evidence based.

    Keep religion PRIVATE and that way peace will be attained!

  • DRM

    Religion is the refuge of misguided and the desperate.

  • doc3559

    Religion is the opiate of the masses. As a physicist, Arnade should be ashamed to embrace a charade of unreality. Magical thinking will not help the underclasses rise out of poverty.

  • John Wells

    Religion is a dream of how to avoid nightmares.

  • Anthony Pillari

    im going to ignore the countless solid well articulated argument to why this article simply does not stand up to its premise. its all said below, so why repeat it.

    in stead i will say with tongue in cheek: if Atheist are much more likely to be rich, well firstly God really working in mysteries ways on this one! and second, shit we better convert those poor to Atheists and get them above the poverty line… *rolls eyes*

  • joe3eagles

    Near the end of the piece, Fidalgo points out that we need to offer those who are desperate an alternative to lean on. Any suggestions? I’d really appreciate something existentially satisfying to offer the panhandlers on the street I pass on my way to the weekly Skeptics in the Pub meetup.

  • Devil’s Advocate

    Atheism is on the rise. It will always start with the more ‘elite’ and then trickle down. There is no rush but within the next couple of generations religion would be in the fringes of society. What we can hope for is for human misery to be somewhat alleviated by then, by that I mean extreme poverty, deprivation and disease. Because, like it or not, religion does provide the downtrodden with hope – if not in this life, then the next…

  • Ole Petter Gravdal

    I almost agree with this.. the undercommunicated point in this articel in my opinion is that even though we can be realists and find real solutions, there are certain problems that seems unsolvable. For instance, if there’s a conflict of interest where none of the sides will succumb because of them being too heavy invested to be wrong, they perhaps need something authorative to keep them from going insane. If you are well educated, from the wealthier parts of society, the investment in any argument wil be just that – an argument, a game of language and logic to search for truth. But for people in worse situations, the only thing that makes them act civilized is the example given from f.ex Jesus. Unfortunately we have a system that is dependent on there being differences between the social classes. We are probably evolutionary inclined to follow good leadership, and what is religon more than people looking for leadership? For every other person without knowledge of science, logic or philosophy ( f.ex stay at home moms, average joes, economists and uneducated fundamentalists) the religion, or the religious culture is what ties their meaningless lifes together. Take for instance christmas.. everbody loves christmas, and alot of people feel obligated to call them selves Christians because they love the story, the atmosphere, and the reminders of being good to others. As an atheist i’ve met lots of people with approximately this attitude. Theres alot of problems that can’t be solved by atheism alone, but alot we can blame human nature.Global warming, inequality, tragedy of the commons, conformity.. In every aspect where uncertainty is present, imagination or wishful thinking takes over to close the gap. As a former student of Cognitive Science i think this is a very important human skill to make sense of things. If you find yourself believing there are patterns between seemingly correlated pieces of information, but you know by reason they are random, theres still this little suspicion in your head.. wanting to see them as a pattern. And thus you form a hypotethis that might or might not be true.. and if you work alot, tell people, invest time and resources to prove the pattern.. you start to wanting the hypothesis to be true, right? And then you start to defend your hypothesis, even without proof.. with this way of thinking, you keep yourself motivated, without it, you are likely to give up. Thats religon at work, in it’s easiest form. Being atheist can almost be seen as an intellectual sport between scientifically educated people, being more consumed by the search for truth, than the problems of the average person. The only thing that will reduce the problems of religion, is teaching the scientific method to kids earlier ( logic, philosophy ) and better living standards for all. Only problem is the religious teachers getting in the way..

  • Janine

    I think this article is over simplifying the issue. Ofcourse, religion might give desperate and poor people hope, but that doesn’t mean that most religious people are desperate and poor. I think the article fails to look at the big picture, wherein many religious people are quite well off. I live in the netherlands, where almost 50% of people are not religious. Research has shown that it’s mostly religious people who have most money, property, savings, etc. This shows that religion is not necessarily only for the poor.
    Furthermore, keeping desperate people in the delusion of religion is not a nicer thing to do. Sure, in the short term it might keep them ‘happy’, but not trying to help those people find a real way to help their situation, that’s cruel. Letting them stay where they are, praying for help, instead of helping them help themselves, that’s cruel. Don’t patronize religious people by saying it’s something for the poor and don’t patronize the poor by saying they’re all so desperate that they turn to myths and fairytales.

  • Eilish Mccahill

    This is utter bullshit! I am a chapter leader with the American Humanist Association and a very excited and proud gay atheist. I am broke as broke can be but I am not a moron and my lack of belief did not come from an up bringing of money riches at all and my nonbelief is not one based on feelings from bad life experiences either. Also, calling out the beliefs of others is a natural and very healthy thing and in some cases I think it can be a humanitarian cause. Of course we should not be overly harsh in our challenging of the beliefs of others in a way that cuts down the person or persons who hold those beliefs that we do not share. I think that perhaps having a healthy discussion that gently challenges the superstitious beliefs of the less fortunate can actually help those people to feel good about themselves and getting them to question these things can help them to build confidence that they need to get to a more successful level of society and can help to do away with the guilt and shame of being human that religion often imposes. Saying that as long as somebody is not as financially well off as you are keeps them in their superstitions is horrible and degrading and completely false! Shame on Mr. Arnade for saying these things and I hope that he comes to realize just how degrading these statements really are. Think about it! What if one or more of these people that he apparently helps in his outreach to the homeless saw these statements? I know that if that was me it would feel like a jab to my intelligence and that is never ever a good feeling.

  • Diane Moffatt

    Atheist bus driver here. Not rich. Not stupid either

  • Guy Sturino

    I used to think it was wrong to try to expose the fallacies, inconsistencies, innate pride and indoctrinated bigotry of religion. I used to think it was wrong to point out that an American who grows up knowing that their Christian religion is the only true religion would, if they had been born in Baghdad be Muslim today and positive that they practiced the only true religion. I used to think it was wrong to tell people that prayer was an attempt to feel that they were doing something when they were just passing time that might have been better used actually helping someone else. Not anymore. Yes, religion makes a lot of people feel good but we let children believe in Santa for the same reason. However, when children grow up we expect them to accept and work within our physical reality. The best thing we can do for society is to expunge the sources of bigotry and unfounded pride and unite to solve those social problems that can only be solved working together. I do not quarrel with those who practice their religion in private without evangelizing, but those who strive to instill religion as a foundation for the society I live in are building on an unstable platform and I will quarrel with them.

  • Susan Carey

    Before dismissing Chris you should learn more about him. I too very much dislike this article he wrote, yet disrespect toward his subjects (he doesn’t serve; he is a photographer) is the last thing one can accuse him of.

  • Pat

    For many, their faith is the bedrock of their existence. Pointing out the obvious flaws and ridiculousness of their religion would not be a benefit to them. It could actually cause them harm, mental harm.
    I agree that religion is a very effective method of control. Control wotks well on the poor and uneducated because they are vulnerable. Teach a man to fish AND to read and you set him on the path to freedom. Just let him walk the path in his own good time.

  • Susan Carey

    I find the replies here disturbing.

    Chris voiced some conclusions he has come to, as an atheist, working with the disenfranchised.

    I disagree with his comments.

    But in my arguments against them, I do not feel the need to insult and deride Chris and his work and his relationship with his photographic subjects.

  • Neo_Montero

    There are some people I try not to talk to about religion, because I know that I’m not going to agree with them and I don’t want to be put in a position where I either have to lie or upset them. These situations usually involve old people who grew up when religion wasn’t questioned and hold on to their beliefs that they are going to see their friends and loved ones that they desperately miss in the afterlife. Most atheists I know feel the same way about this situation. This instills in us a certain hesitancy to address religion in other situations as well, but I think taking this to a blanket restriction for ‘them’ is too a step too far.

  • Susan Carey

    No, you are judging him based on a biased article about an awful article he wrote. This does not reflect his life and character. Look into his work. I agree the article was disagreeable, but Chris and his work deserve respect.

  • Oli

    I am an Atheist. I am not well off. My husband and I often struggle, and I had a very difficult childhood. Despite that, I was always a questioner (I grew up in a highly religious family), and so I don’t think this is explicitly the case. I did not become more religious during those difficult times, I kept seeking answers and turned from God when I didn’t find them.

    But on the other hand, I can understand these claims. My mother has become more religious the worst her life has become. It is a trend I see a lot, people who cling to faith and superstition because it is all they feel they have. And they don’t want to feel like there is no control in their life, or that this is all there is.

    I would imagine it is much more palatable to live a difficult life if you think the afterlife will be filled with Heaven.

  • Cicero

    In some ways I subscribe to a variation of this same theme. As condescending as it might sound, I often place people within the group of “those who need faith.” Some people have an outlook on life that would be turned upside down and corrupted to such a degree that they would not have the emotional nor intellectual capacity to adjust, to imagine life without their irrational belief system. Their entire identity and perspective is so clouded by mysticism and faith that they will never be able to see clearly and plainly. Their interpretation of life’s chance events and the contemplation of their own, as well as others, mortality would no longer have a model. While an inability to divorce mysticism from rational thought applies more so to the less intellectually inclined, even otherwise exceedingly intelligent people can feel equally desolate without their faith, especially those who have been indoctrinated since childhood.

    Being raised in and around an extended family of literalist Christians, I find myself being empathetic toward those who believe, as reprehensible as I might find those beliefs and their implications. When interacting with those of faith, I gravitate towards gentle persuasion rather than forceful argument. In some circumstances, I think it is even more humane and compassionate to allow the religious their emotional placebo rather than challenge them. We Atheists tend toward engaging with believers very aggressively when we should treat them more like a sick patients rather than malicious mystics. Their beliefs are not choices in the true sense, any more than we could “choose” to believe. Some, like myself, will begin to question, little by little, the irrationality of their dogmas. Some will eventually reject superstition and live comfortably with their new world-view. Most, however, regardless of the veracity of reasoned argument, will continue to cling to their faith; for them, it might be a better option.

  • Windguy

    If belief that some sort of parental figure will take care of you prevents you from standing on your own two feet, striving to better yourself, and allows you to be satisfied with your lot in life, then it is doing you a great disservice–it is not giving you any real hope. Your chances of pulling yourself out of the mire go way down if you think this life really doesn’t count and that you are more likely to be rewarded in heaven if your life on Earth is a miserable one. The rich push religion on the poor not to give them hope, but to discourage them from demanding a better life.

  • eccles11

    From what I understand of prosperity gospel, it seems to be more concerned with using faith, superstition and ritual to gain prosperity, and has less of a focus on teaching financial responsibility and perhaps business studies.

    It seems based on that, one should expect that if you as a member oh the church, aren’t one of the few on the receiving end of the collection plate, the odds of actually gaining material wealth as a result of membership is going to be improbable, and far less likely than if you pursued a reality based course on business management or accounting, or any kind of economically useful skill set.

  • Larry Gilleland

    I find that people who actively promote atheism are no different than those that actively promote other religions (atheism is a religion). Although I don’t believe the myths of any religion I do appreciate and enjoy their mythologies. Some people need to believe that there is a higher power that directs all events on earth…but they still take a child’s hand when crossing the street. Obviously they don’t fully believe it. We should be promoting religions as interesting mythologies, not trying to convert people to our beliefs.

  • Greg

    It seems the comments here only serve to validate what Arnade suggests; most atheists are “unable to understand why anyone would believe or think differently…”

    Take for example Takeesha, a prostitute of 30 years, who got her start at age 13 and believes whenever she gets into a car, God gets in with her. Would she somehow be better off if some learned atheist sat her down and convinced her there is no God, she’s alone in the universe and this is as good as it gets? Because why? Because if she only had that knowledge she would pull herself up by her bootstraps, go back to school, get a well paying job and… what? As an atheist, I appreciate the dangers of religion. However, as a human, I also appreciate the grain of comfort the truly downtrodden take from religion. And despite the inconsistencies and lack of logic that inform the beliefs of someone like Takeesha, I have no desire to strip her of the shred of hope she gleans from those beliefs.

    That said, I do feel Arnade misses the point on Dawkins. Dawkins is not preaching from a selfish vantage point”, as he’s not proselytizing to the homeless. Mostly Dawkins is preaching to the choir or combating ignorance among people who should know better.

  • NobleHalcyon

    You know what’s funny about this and all of the comments? How absolutely true they are. I like Dawkins simply for his science, but as far as his Atheism, he is the most bigoted individual I’ve ever seen, to rival any Christian I’ve ever met. He constantly hates on Christians as if he has some grudge or has an inferiority complex, which I wouldn’t doubt. Men in his position often do, considering the stigma that must come with his opinions and when not surrounded by people of his belief how often he’s probably belittled-the kind of man to speak out against Christ during mass and think he can overwhelm the pews with knowledge and instead getting caught in their volume. I’m definitely an agnostic, borderline atheist, and I think that everyone here who has a problem with what was said in the article are exactly what’s wrong with nonbelievers today. It’s hard to come out in public and talk casually about my lack of belief, especially living in Texas, because everyone thinks I hate them and this is why. Shame on anyone here who puts down a man of faith-shame on you cynics and bigots, and I pity each and every one of you. You’re all living in some fucked up major depressive episode if you want to spread disdain, disbelief, and hatred to others. That’s why atheism is for the wealthy: because often times the poor are nothing but spiteful without some sort of faith. The rest of you are advertising atheism as a hateful and malicious breed of faith-sucking, ignorant, bigoted individuals. ‘Murica.

  • Prism

    I sort of agree with Arnade and his philosophy. It is true that religion gives solace and peace to people who are in trouble. It also helps give them the confidence and a feeling of security which otherwise they are not mentally capable of. It is true that religion is based on myths and unproven beliefs, just like fairy tales are. But fairy tales do not endure centuries of belief. Everyone knows that they are ust myths. But religious mythes endure because they give solace, peace and spread the philosophy of forgiveness and love. Now those are powerful messages and the myths that help them diseminate tends to endure. So who are we to destroy those myths? Do we have an equally effective replacement to provide these people with solace and peace or are we asking them to become intellectuals to understand themselves and draw their solutions from their own brains. If in fact that was possible, then everyone on this planet would be an intellectual.

  • kso721

    one aside as stated by aaron ra and a few others…. “if you don’t care what the truth is, why should i respect your beliefs?”

  • Anti-athiest

    This is funny…God bless you!!!

  • spehizle

    the unscrupulous and powerful continue to fool the less fortunate out
    of money and hope, while perpetuating hate, intolerance, misinformation,
    and criminal activity? Simply because “it gives the poor hope?” As if
    being poor is some sort of a mental deficiency that prevents you from
    caring about the truth, or social equality, or historical bullshit, or
    simply being lied to and stolen from. That is an insult to everyone
    earning less than their means. “You’re poor and desperate, so of course
    you’re also stupid and gullible. Not to worry, you poor downtrodden
    faithful; the benevolent wealthy atheist with the guilty conscience will
    stand for your right to be bilked and lied to.”

    Fuck Chris Arnade and his condescending ass. You can be poor AND skeptical, you patronizing tit.

  • Roxana Teodor

    But… IF you’re well educated and well off, you OUGHT to be an atheist?

  • Todd

    On this page in particular and in real life I see atheists blasting believers, taunting them, making cruel comments and the like. If you truly believe in religious freedom, don’t criticize others for their beliefs, whether they believe the same as you or not. This goes for believers as well as non-believers. I think everyone has their own reasons for their beliefs, religious or not. The religious books from all religions have myths that inspire, give hope, give guidance and comfort to many. Why rain on someone else’s parade?

  • Karen Loethen

    I was going to post a few comments on this particular article too. My blog is getting some hits from the religious readers. But honestly, Hemant, this piece is better than the emotional one that I was avoiding writing!

    Well done, Man!

    HS Atheist Momma

  • Andrew Jones

    I actually liked the original article. I did not see it as a criticism of atheism itself (as you say, I got the impression that the author himself was still, essentially, an atheist), nor even a criticism of all atheists. It seemed to me to be a criticism of a particular type of frustration-driven atheist anger that I also think I’ve been guilty of in the past, assuming that merely because I believe the supernatural claims of religion are factually false that the faith itself cannot possibly serve a use to people. I think it’s valid and useful to remember that, whatever supernatural claims that we dismiss, religion serves other, more pragmatic purposes. It’s a very easy thing to forget, and to forget that those of us who adopt non-theistic thinking tend to be educated and comfortable, so it is something of a privileged position. (Yes, I know poor people who are atheists, but poor people can also gain benefits of economic privilege … such as ready access to clean water, working toilets, etc., which are economically privileged positions in a global perspective.) The claim that if you point at a poor and ignorant person, you’ll likely be pointing at a theist is not a statistically false one … in fact, it’s usually something that I point out as an argument against theism. Theism thrives best in poverty and ignorance. I would say the ignorance/education gap is more telling than the poverty/wealth gap, in general, but since these tend to correlate, I don’t think it’s worth splitting hairs.

  • John Forest

    White affluent guilt coupled with the lionizing of the unfortunate. I get it, but it is sappy and he needs to get over it.

  • Mario Rodgers

    Hope is a carrot on a stick. Religion is a carrot that doesn’t exist. The atheist grows his own damn carrot.

  • Lunatic Fringe

    What a cop out! I come from a strict Catholic family. I am not affluent or wealthy. I am sane. I’ve been homeless under a bridge and in several homeless shelter programs. Things are better for me now. I’ve been an atheist since I was 3yrs old. To say that someone who is down and out is better off having something or someone to “dull the pain of REALITY” is friking ignorant! You might as well say that it’s ok for a drug addict or an alcoholic to use their substance of choice to dull the pain of reality! People are always better off when they are playing with a full deck. It’s not always easy or fair…but that’s life! If you need to rely on Santa, god, or cocaine to get thru it, there’s something seriously wrong with you. I’m just sayin…

  • Conrad Winchester

    This makes me sad. I absolutely respect peoples’ rights to choose what they believe in, but I will not necessarily respect what it is that they choose, i.e. I respect a persons right to believe in the Christian religion, if that is what they want to do, but that does not mean I have to respect Christianity and its beliefs.

    I believe that, as an atheist, it would be hypocritical of me not to question irrational beliefs and ask difficult questions. I believe that we have to do this to move the human race forward rather than have it held back by primitive superstitions.

    We MUST NOT put religion on a pedestal nor award it special consideration. It is the cause of far too much suffering for it to be exempt from extreme analysis.

  • Dileep

    I avoid conversations on god even with rich and educated theists,… but for other superstitions like faith healing or positive energy.. I will start debating anyone in an instant.

    What’s the point of being an atheist if you won’t help your friends when it comes to matters of reason and objectivity?

  • Breandán Mac Séarraigh

    It seems to me that the ruling class in America uses religious extremism to force people put up with gross unfairness. It’s a bit like mediaeval Europe, where you were promised your reward in heaven if you put up with all the shit in ‘this life’.See Marx on the ‘Opium of the People’.

  • ScottishBrat

    I think it’s cruel to let them think there’s something beyond this physical life because it allows them free reign to squander the only life they’re going to have.

  • kalqlate

    The jury’s still out on whether we live a deterministic or indeterministic existence and whether “free will” is a true phenomenon emergent from either of those states or just an illusion/delusion. IF free will doesn’t really exist as an active force for choice, then we’re all just along for the ride on destiny’s carpet no matter how we perceive. But even if we are captive on destiny’s carpet, perceiving as we do that we do have choice, we can, if we (illusorily) choose, attempt to effect change in others. Perhaps as we do though, we might increase our empathy that those others might also be caught aboard destiny’s carpet and thusly, according to their innate sense and possibly predestined path, may not have as much choice over their perspective as we think they should.

  • JWDundereducatedatheist

    It’s unfortunate to think that these people are partially in the position they’re in because of their “beliefs” and “faith”. As long as “something” is looking out for them, they don’t have to help themselves. The reason a large majority of atheist are better off financially is that they’re better educated, and push to help themselves, no one’s going to do it for us. I would never dash the hopes these people have, but they have to be willing to help themselves if they want to improve their position in life.

  • Comradebg

    All “atheist vs theist” discussions would be better served if, instead
    of being arguments about why my group deserves to be winner in the
    beliefs contest, they were framed as inquiries attempting to understand
    how cultures work.

    You’ve very perceptively stated we should remember that religion serves other, more pragmatic purposes. I
    think it’s also useful to understand, once we understand who is a
    candidate for a particular stance and why, why such a person can’t realistically be presumed capable of immediately adopting a more logical
    stance merely because that stance is explained to him. That a grasp of
    reality about the likelihood that their circumstances may never be good
    could devastate the very poor was mentioned in the article. There are
    myriad other life circumstances that influence people to practice the
    religion they do which cannot merely be set aside by someone else’s
    demonstration of logic. If the “someone elses” would promote greater
    understanding of the various cultures and their unique reasons for
    existing, both in themselves and others, it could promote more useful
    discussions about how we go about systematically moving society from
    where it is to a better place.

    I’m not in favor of a long-term goal of merely supporting satisfaction
    with theistic ignorance because it represents an individual right. I
    think the only morally justified longterm goal is to reduce ignorance so
    each member of society is capable of making a meaningful contribution.
    But, in the short run, a small contribution is better than none and, in
    the short run, it may not be realistic to hope for some to do more.
    Discovering effective strategy for eventually moving everyone’s
    understanding to higher planes should be our goal, and that strategy may
    logically call for promoting the benefits religion is capable of
    rendering in the interim.

  • Edward Baker

    The wealthy put on to be religious for show (Romney, Myers,Rick Warren ,Benny Hihn., The Koch Bros. G.W. Bush and all the other millionaire politicians and Preachers.It is all for show and acceptance from the uneducated poor . They have us believing they care about us ,but really they care about getting MORE money …

  • Thomas

    Prayer as their only tool for improvement has been leading them to more despair. In fact, rational thinking (ex. communication skills) and science seminars (ex. neuroscience of motivation) should be what they get fed.

  • Sean Beavers

    I’m not trying to convert you. I think we have both gotten off topic and are devoting too much time to emotional relativism. The original question is one of semantics. I just think it is a poor choice to represent in a single word how you view life. You are defining yourself as a negative to someone else’s views, which by itself means nothing and says nothing. Better -isms would include humanism, realism, naturalism, or perhaps a new word like sciencism. You don’t have to be a scientist to be a sciencist. I just made that up though after googling it I wasn’t the first by far.

  • Roddy Williams

    I do get very frustrated by both the newspapers who feel they have to publish something controversial and those who write the articles. I would accept their right to do so if they were presenting a valid argument, but it is a shocking and somewhat insulting generalisation to assume that the majority of atheists can afford to be so, and that poor people can have no hope without the artificial crutch of religion. Religion is a learned dependency, and one could just easily make the same mistaken generalisation about the same demographics with regard to drugs or alcohol, although I cannot see that an argument that drug use among poor people should be condoned because it makes them feel better holding much water.
    I come from a relatively poor background. I cannot say that we were starving or homeless when I was a child, but money was in very short supply and making ends meet was a struggle.
    There was no resorting to calling on God for help or comfort ever. We found hope quite easily without any of that nonsense.
    Should we trying to awaken people – of whatever social level – to their delusions? Yes of course, because to allow them to continue means that their children will be cursed with the same dependency, and the cycle will continue, in all levels of affluence.

  • Comradebg

    “… especially those who have been indoctrinated since childhood” is a
    perceptive observation. The importance of emotional imprinting as a strategy for perpetuating religious belief is underestimated. Children
    raised in a religious home haven’t merely received a predetermined
    logic diagram to justify a particular belief, they have been emotionally
    imprinted with life-long feelings of self-worth and guilt that are
    dependent on maintaining consistency with their childhood beliefs.
    That’s emotionally very different from those who merely adopted theism at a later
    age due to some rational desire.

  • Sandy Moran

    I was about to list myself among the poor, but I am not at all poor, since I have a roof over my head. enough food to eat, and clothes to wear. However, paying the bills will probably always be a struggle for my husband and I. We manage it without resorting to pleading with an imaginary being for help.

  • Comradebg

    Very simple. Pompously throwing down the gauntlet to demand that another will get no respect until he recognizes “truth” is immature. It’s the adversarial tactic of the shallow person who doesn’t grasp the feebleness of his own competence while he’s demanding a standard of perfection from the person he’s eager to criticize. Notwithstanding legitimate criticisms of religious behavior, there’s no shortage of pompous, self-righteous, self-consumed, eagerly self-deluded atheists who lack adequate recognition of their own weaknesses.

    What any of us know of the whole scheme of things, whether we’re pompous theists or pompous atheists, is minuscule. What humans almost universally lack, whether they’re pompous theists or pompous atheists, is sufficient understanding of the feebleness of their own understanding. Self-delusion fuels an engine that brazenly throws down the gauntlet and demands others live up to the standards we demand from them. It doesn’t, however, produce the first step toward a realistic strategy for removing the impediments that prevent competing groups from collectively moving forward.

    Too many atheists’ self-satisfaction in knowing they don’t suffer from the annoying shortcomings of those unlike themselves prevents them from ever asking which shortcomings they do suffer from. It’s simple to see the shortcomings in another’s stance when you’re not emotionally tied to whatever the other is invested in. To suggest the atheist doesn’t have his own array of emotions and shortcomings is foolishness. In fact, too many seem intent on proving theists don’t have a monopoly on poor behavior.

  • Eric Lawton

    Alcohol may be the only thing that brings comfort to some alcoholics but you wouldn’t suggest that they should keep drinking.

  • Dirk Maes

    Have most of you here even read the original article in The Guardian before flocking around Pauls criticism like mindless sheep? I don’t think his accusations are making sense at all, or at least that he may have missed the point.

    The essence of Chris’s column is this one observation: Religion is mostly popular among people who have little or no chance of a economically successful life. Atheïsm is mostly popular with people who have done well for themselves.

    This begs the question why do some Atheïsts think the world will be better off if they preach Atheïsm and rationality in a similar fashion as religions are imposing their views on others?

    It seems that the assumption is made that preaching Atheïsm will somehow enlighten people and lift them out of poverty. But that’s false attribution error. It’s not that scepticism gives people the ability to become bayesians, but it’s the hard work of becoming a bayesian that will make you a sceptic towards people who claim to know all the answers.

    So, atheism isn’t superior to any other religion if it gets preached as a religion. It hasn’t any value if you haven’t come to that conclusion yourself and therefore it hasn’t got much utility to mess with other peoples heads, just because you have good reasons to believe they are wrong.

    And yes, we can all fully agree that finding comfort in misery and ignorance is a bad thing and, but are you really so arrogant to think that you are going to solve all that by “offering them an alternative”?

    After all, what makes you think that people want an alternative; just because you happen to find their ways of living and thinking repulsive? Magical thinking my friends; it makes you feel warm inside doesn’t it?

  • Susan Carey

    You should read the actual article, or even google Chris’ work, before making such criticisms based on the above review, which I find very poor and not reflective of the original article. I don’t agree with Chris’ article but the last things you can call him are condescending and patronizing.

  • Cathal Ó Broin

    I notice where he says: “I see a person so removed from humanity and so
    removed from the ambiguity of life that he finds himself judging those
    who think differently.”
    Not satisfied with his straw man, he’s also judging Dawkins for allegedly judging others.

  • graybaggins

    I am unemployed, and due to injury virtually unemployable. I am bright, articulate and empathetic. I rejected Christianity in my late teens after being exposed to some of the worst elements; Hypocrisy, judgement, elitism, etc.
    My first response when someone starts a christianity discussion is to warn them that they don’t want to enter a theological disussion with me. As a student of Christianity I have read the Bible front to back several times. (all that smiting in the old testament – what did the people of Jericho do wrong? They had the misfortune (like the palestinians) to live somewhere that God told the Israelites they should live.)
    I support people who find solace and comfort in their religion, I appreciate people who live according to the tenets of Jesus (which has very little to do with the practices of most organisations that claim to follow him.)
    I despise elitism in all it’s forms, I reject that false superiority those ‘of faith’ project on others, I reject the idea of original sin; the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons – bloody lovely.

    Any precept of an omniscient god that punishes people like a selfish patriarch for disagreement, that visits disease and pestilence upon his ‘children’, that allows the gap between the haves and have nots to expand, that ala Mother Theresa encourages people to accept their lot (“well God made you poor, there must be a reason for that, accept his wisdom and love.” Stuff that.)
    Any Christian that calls me out can expect a vehement and probably better informed demolition of their argument than they expect. “What? You have heard the ‘Word of God’ and rejected it? how can that be?
    Simple, I don’t need the threat of supernatural punishment to behave in a way that causes no (or little) harm to others, nor to live a fulfilling life. I don’t need the promise of a magical cloud man who loves me to not be an asshole.

  • James Killough

    That Arnade piece was pure noodle-brained, specious logic. And badly written. But he’s a photographer, a total hack with the aesthetic of a plywood wall, so why should his writing and thought process be any different? While I don’t agree in general with Gore Vidal that photography is across the board “the art form of the untalented,” it certainly is in Arnade’s case.

    His article was pure clickbait. You shouldn’t have risen to it, but I guess you needed to create clibckbait of your own. From the number of comments it would seem you’ve succeeded.

  • graybaggins

    All religious institutes edit faith to suit there ends. The Catholic church has been up to it for most of 2 millenia – lost gospels, lost books of the old testament. Charismatic churches “Give your money to me and Jesus will REALLY love you.”

  • graybaggins

    and all this after jesus’ statement, unambiguous I thought, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter my fathers Kingdom (or ‘kingdom of heaven’)”

  • graybaggins

    Despite any of his actions, this article reveals his sense of superiority – perhaps unidentified by/to him before. It is an eliist view and hopefully these response will encourage him to do some re-examination of his views, beliefs and feelings. He seems a genuinely concerned person with a lot to offer.

    The biggest mistake someone committed to constant self improvement can make is believing he/she is finished.

  • graybaggins

    lets not forget that “IQ” is essentially a social construct with many of the earlier tests being skewed specifically to score non-whites lower. An IQ test designed for an Australian will be very different for one designed for a US citizen. Do the wrong one and you will score significantly lower than if you did your culturally specific one. It also doesn’t allow for “EQ” I have met several truly brilliant people with the empathy of a house brick.

  • graybaggins

    “and on the day of Judgement, all humanity will stand before my father to be judged, those who are found wanting will spend eternity in hell.” Yeah. Sounds pretty ‘judgey’ to me. Also shades of Osiris – lets steal the bits of other religions we like and incorporate that into our own. Much like the charismatic churches these days.

  • graybaggins

    you can respect the work and not the individual. This article is a window into his inner most thoughts, I find them repugnant.

  • graybaggins

    and that is exactly why I have a problem with Mother Theresa work in India, yes she helped a lot of people, but her help was predicated by the concept; “You are poor because of gods will. accept it and pray for a better life in the afterlife.” Yeah. Right.

  • graybaggins

    most of my non-believing friends feel that way.
    We are happy to have our belief systems (non-supernatural) challenged, and in the face of evidence, change our opinions more readily than those of faith. People find it hard to accept that something that has been all pervasive throughout their life is in fact, bullshit.

  • LesterBallard

    I don’t know that she did all that much to actually help people. Personally, I think fuck Mother Teresa.

  • artemismeow

    yea I mean the ability to reason comes from being wealthy. After all things only work in extremes and all poor people are theist only rich people and people who are on their way to be rich are atheist. …. or maybe we missed the point cyb pauli was trying to make.

  • Lenna Hanna-O’Neill

    I do see both sides of this. Despite what this author espouses, I *have* met plenty of atheists with precisely that attitude, ‘I am so much cleverer than you, you idiot with your Magical Invisible Sidekick’ And it is pretty off-putting. Whether or not this attitude is born of frustration with religious types who are just as nasty and polarizing in presenting their POV as the only valid one and enforcing it often by law, I do not know, but it does not sit well and it is patronizing, insulting and not very attractive. I view the people who take this attitude with pretty much the same dismay that I have towards ‘born again Christians’ who seem to feel the need to buttonhole people about their new enlightenment. Whether it is pretty to admit it or not, and whether the author personally engages in this kind of posturing or not, the fact is that the attitude is pretty rampant in atheist circles. This is not nearly so much about wanting to ‘help’ the religious get away from the crippling effects of their magical thinking, but more about posturing and preening about how much smarter they are than the boobs mired in their superstitions. As for God not being ‘real,’ until you can offer me real, empirical proof of that fact, it’s not really fair to throw brickbats at those who believe. There are plenty of phenomena that defy rational, ‘scientific’ explanation, and I have also seen my share of atheists who want to blame off all of those situations on mass hysteria or weather balloons. Sorry, that isn’t any more scientific and grown up than believing that there is a higher intelligence that is unfathomable to us. Whether that rises to the level of a God or not is simply semantics. Pretending that they ‘know better’ may make atheists feel superior, but it isn’t any more rational than what they accuse the religious of, sorry. As for me, I am neither an atheist nor a religious type, I prefer to take the agnostic road and admit that I just plain don’t know and am not going to pretend to just to look ‘smarter’ to the ‘right people.’ ;o)

  • aought

    Or, going back further…

    “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” ~~~Lucius Annaeus Seneca

  • Cicero

    Well put!

  • fergus macerc

    faith in a creator god keeps people poor and in chains to capitalism. only the struggle for self-actualisation and the examined life keeps us free.

  • Nomad

    You may be getting off topic, I’m just answering your question. I mean I answered it with my first response, but you ignored it to ask it again and forced me to repeat myself. It seems to me that you were looking for a specific answer and when I didn’t give it you suddenly ceased to be curious about my reasons and decided to switch to telling me how I should define myself.

    I am defining myself as not subscribing to certain “view”. Yes. Just as vegetarians define themselves as not consuming meat, pacifists define themselves as not supporting war, and so on. This is hardly unique. Yet you take exception to it when it comes to atheists.


  • NS

    I’d like to note that several of these comments do the same thing to Christians as what you are saying society thinks of Atheists. There is a broad spectrum of Christian belief. It’s not one size fits all. I am a Christian…that doesn’t mean I believe in unicorns or rule out quantum physics or deny someone loving whoever they want. I’d think for such educated individuals, there would be language that identified and accepted differences. While I may disagree with your conclusion, I still respect you enough to speak of Atheism in a respectful manner. Please extend this same respect to others, Christian, Buddhist, Agnostic, etc. Are we clear here? Having a belief system does not automatically equate me to believing in magic or unicorns.

  • Gehennah

    While I do understand that not all Christian beliefs are the same, I do have to disagree with you believing in magic.

    The very basis of the Christian god and Jesus is magic.

  • I think H.L. Mencken said it best:

    I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a
    curse to mankind—that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the
    ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear
    and honest thinking.

    I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be
    wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however
    virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.

    I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better
    than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.

    I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and
    to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.

    I believe in the reality of progress.

    I—But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I
    believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is
    better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know
    than be ignorant.

  • Henk Doorlag

    Have you done the double blind?
    Do the poor need faith, or does needing faith make you poor? (all with statistical deviations of course, there is never a one to one relation)

  • Eddie Hahn

    I am a single parent of three kids. I am lower middle income at best. The other day I talked to a young guy that was a former gang member taking collections for the homeless through his church outside a department store. If nothing else he agreed to at least consider the false claims of christianity, and he agreed that religion was at least in part responsible for justifying the slavery of his people in the USA in the first century after the countries founding. At least I planted a seed.

  • onnesty

    “religion was at least in part responsible for justifying the slavery of his people in the USA” – An irresponsible and stupid claim. MONEY and GREED are behind slavery, not religion.

  • onnesty

    “allows them free reign to squander the only life they’re going to have”. How so? That doesn’t make sense.

    “I think it’s cruel to let them think…” – (“let them think”). As if you’re in the position of deciding what people can/should think. This is yet another example of why the totalitarian tendencies of atheism are so despised by the rest of the culture. Thought police.

  • kso721

    I like to frame it in the simple notion of acknowledging we are one species united by our biology and divided by a litany of theologies.

  • There’s a difference between holding a different viewpoint and having a cavalier disregard for empirical intersubjectively-accessible facts. So, while I agree wholeheartedly with the general admonishment towards intellectual humility in the face of a remarkable and vast and subtle universe, there are prudential limits to that humility that tend to break around having a commitment to following facts where they lead.

    It is too easy to swallow a false equivalence of arrogance. The atheist (if he or she is an even barely rigorous empiricist) does have a qualitatively better position than the theist at evaluating certain claims because the atheist doesn’t have an extra layer of cruft to explain or compartmentalize away. This leads to excessive arrogance only because human beings generally are worse at evaluating our biases than we think we are; the original commitment to do so generally makes you nonetheless better at it than the person who doesn’t even try.

    It is not childish to say, hey, look at the world and what we have found within it by poking it with a stick eleventy bajillion times. What we have revealed has massive utility and explanatory power. With sharper sticks and more precise poking we have come to expose some of the subtler mechanisms that explain things that were not obvious. This approach has yielded power over those processes, a capacity to manipulate them to our own ends. Until you can match even a portion of that efficacy of explanation and produced utility and increased capacity, what would motivate us to take your approach seriously?

  • GeraldRReynolds

    This Arnade guy is nothing more than a quitter, a loser…regardles of the things he has done. SHOULD NOT THE TRUTH BE THE BEST POLICY…….as they say. If one gives them confidence these people can rise from their troubles….I did. As a matter of fact my brother did cold turkey on both alcohol and tobacco…. no jesus, no “higher power”…nor any steps 12 or otherwise… the task is about decision making skills and not much else…

    Get a grip before you make these people’s lives even worse.

  • GeraldRReynolds

    So, Arnade do you not remember or did your so called intelligentwell off brain not tell you that everyone is born an atheist or whatever you want to call us….all born atheist and it is not until our parents drag us into a cult do we not believe or at least worship a super her or god etc…..?

  • Will S

    “predators”… what an excellent term.

  • Will S

    I will never forget the day I was told all my problems were bc I didnt believe in the christian god enough. I’m Pagan, not atheist, but but never said more than not believing in the bible.

  • Sean Beavers

    That particular question was meant to be rhetorical though admittedly it wasn’t obvious. I understand why you wish to have something to say to people. I concede that calling it a false label is incorrect for it is a true statement but I still think it is a poor label. The two examples you used, vegetarianism and pacifism, are not in the same league semantically. They are grammatical affirmations of their respective philosophies. Atheism is a nullification label.

    I find that getting to know someone new, I try to avoid labels at all. I don’t ask where they work, their religion, their politics and I try to avoid giving up labels that have too much psychological baggage. Such things so early in a new relationship usually trigger automatic character judgements. It is a universal human trait. We have a lot of assumptions tied to labels. Using a word like Atheist is very abrupt and can shut down the conversation quickly since it is seen as an absolute denial of beliefs very dear to a lot of people, regardless of their veracity. Just saying no to someone’s world view is the surist way for them to shield up, and no amount of logic, empathy and love will get through it. They’ll just write you off. Letting people know what you are about rather than what you aren’t is a much better way of getting through to people. When they find out later that you disagree on the whole magic man in the sky thing, they will already know you aren’t a devil worshipper. They’ll see you as a lover of nature, a thinker, a dreamer, a realist. I find the easiest way for someone to give up a particular world view is to give them a better one so that they stumble upon it themselves. Just saying no is not enough.

    So now I’ve gotten off topic. I don’t really care if you want to be known as an Atheist. I find that labels can give us an idea of a person’s world view but try not to let them overly influence my understanding of an individual. I have a lot of friends and most of them are believers in some way. What am I gonna do, have no friends? Like you said, the world is soaked in it. I understand how important these beliefs and their corresponding labels are to the people that accept them and how hard it is for them to drop them. It is actually quite frustrating. It doesn’t mean I will stop working to get them removed from people’s minds, for them to see clearly without the stained glass and hard edges they inherited from their well-meaning elders. I’ve been working my technique for a few decades now but it is still shit.

  • Comradebg

    There is indeed a difference between holding a different viewpoint and having a cavalier disregard for empirical intersubjectively-accessible facts, and my comments were directed at atheists who cavalierly display a propensity for narrowly painting all who are unlike themselves with a single brush. Judging by your comments, I doubt that *you* (specifically) should change your approach, which is very perceptive.

    I’d suggest, however, that, just as you indicated by your qualification (ie., “The atheist, IF he or she is an even barely rigorous empiricist…”), “atheists”, “theists”, “conservatives”, “cats”, and “goats” are not perfectly homogeneous groups. In fact, wandering atheist forums affords countless opportunities to witness exactly the same behavior I find repulsive in theists. I can only guess that many atheists learned their behavior while being brought up in religious settings and have done little more in adopting atheism than revolt against what they didn’t like by merely shifting membership to whatever opposes their initial alignment. There are atheists and there are atheists.

    One of the worthy slogans found in religious rhetoric is [paraphrased], “To whom much is given, from him is much expected.” I think that’s universal wisdom and plain common sense. The author in the article under consideration was obviously focusing his attention, and his conclusions, on those to whom extremely little was given.

    I distinguish what I expect from a child raised in a den by a family of wolves from what I expect from a child raised in a den by a family of wolves that subscribes to basic cable TV plus all the optional add-on packages, especially if Father Wolf has a college degree. The latter had opportunity to learn about more than what goes on inside the conventional wolf den or, conversely, has far less justification for blaming ignorance or poor behavior on fortuitous misunderstanding. The latter needs to choose to fail.

    Those the author described have had their hands full merely surviving, in any way they could, grabbing whatever motivation they could find to keep themselves going. That they have survived to this point should seriously be considered testimony of the emotional value of religious motivation. The evidence of that is that they are being interviewed for the article, whereas similar others haven’t even survived long enough for that. The asshat atheist who can focus on nothing other than that such people don’t measure up to his dream of the perfect outcome and is committed to hard-ass condemnation of their failures doesn’t belong on any list that receives respect. He is the atheist-equivalent of what’s repulsive in religious practice.

    That the intellect and capabilities of all should eventually be raised to the highest level of understanding of which they’re capable is a worthy goal. Whether those who tout that have any competence to contribute to the goal is a separate question. The cavalier asshat who’s content to merely point out how others are to blame for not achieving his dream is merely, IMO, purely “cavalier”, notwithstanding
    that he eagerly plops his ass down in the middle of the atheist camp. There are atheists and there are proclaimed atheists who make them look bad.

  • Susan Carey

    Did you read the article written by Chris, or just this misleading review of it?

    A sense of superiority is definitely lacking from Chris and his work.

    But maybe you have already condemned without knowing.

  • Susan Carey

    Thisreview article above? Which totally miscontrues Chris’ intent? Yes, this article and its author may be vile.

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