Sometimes it’s a honest expression of puzzlement. Often, it’s a deliberate provocation, a cheap way to try to rile a non-believer.
I’m talking about a line I’ve heard from believers (and some apatheists) at least a dozen times:
“For an atheist, you sure care a lot about religion.”
Sometimes that’s followed by the grizzled canard that atheism is itself a religion (to which the best answer probably is “Yeah, just like ‘off’ is a TV channel”); or there’s some premature Schadenfreude and nose-thumbing about how atheists are unable to ban religion from their lives because we are supposedly defined by our opposition to it.
Over at Camels With Hammers, philosopher/blogger Daniel Fincke carefully unpacks that criticism and shows it to be lazy and illogical. His essay runs to almost 3,800 words, but I’ll give you the Cliff Notes version in seven quotes that stood out for me.
That’s a way of trying to do what, exactly? Paint us as irrational for caring about [the effects of religion]? Imply we are still in religion’s thrall as a way to chip away at our sense of identity and make us feel dependent after all on what we are trying to reject? Make us shut up about religion out of fear of committing this supposedly terrible inconsistency you are trying to accuse us of?
Just as doctors don’t live unhealthy lives because they hang around sickness all the time and detectives are not defined by criminality because they investigate crimes, argumentative atheists are not in some covert way defined by theism and supernaturalistic religiosity just because we debunk [it].
Apparently anti-war activists, slavery abolitionists, capital punishment abolitionists, anti-regime rebels in authoritarian states, etc. all have egg on their faces too. Because, really, what kind of a ridiculous person ever defines themselves by what they’re against?
No one asks what’s so fun to a mechanic about figuring out how to fix uniquely broken engines. Why does anyone think it’s inherently uninteresting to try to figure out the logic behind a broken belief system and each unique believer’s contorted perspectives on the world, and try to correct them? Problem-solving is problem-solving.
Arguing for atheism is not some arbitrary decision to focus some efforts (even substantial ones) on just any random thing that I don’t believe. It’s not like I picked a random non-belief out of a hat and said, “I don’t believe in unicorns, I’m going to make a whole website about how unicorns don’t exist!” Rather I got into this in no small part because these silly beliefs — the very ones we’re so often told are as much a waste of time to debunk as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny — are actually believed on a massive scale.
I can understand why manipulative religions, which will do anything to keep people from being free of them, engage in these rhetorical tactics against us. When they tell us we shouldn’t worry about their beliefs if we don’t believe in them, they’re simply trying to shut us up. They’re not happy with what we’re saying and they’re trying to find a clever way to embarrass us and make us feel dumb for caring.
Goading apostates by saying, “Ha ha, see! you can’t really escape!” [is] like mocking someone coming out of a[n abusive] relationship … for campaigning against domestic abuse. “Ha ha, see! you can’t really escape!” How ugly.
That’s the gist of it. For Fincke’s remaining 3,300 words of rebuttal, click here, or add your own in the comments.
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