The vast numbers of different religions and denominations (parodied here) in the world is possibly the strongest reason to deny any and all religions with any sort of interventionist, personal, or judgment-dealing God.
Deluded Christians and Muslims commonly skirt this accusation by rationalizing that other religions are corrupted by man or “the devil.” However, there is a terrific atheist response to this claim.
Atheist: “Can you explain the diversity of religion in the world?”
Theist: “The devil has caused corruption of the true religion.”
Atheist: “Then I have two challenges for you.
“One: How do you know your religion is correct? Couldn’t it be corrupted in the same way as you claim countless other peoples’ religion is corrupted? Don’t other believers of other religions have the same response to this question that you do?
“Two: Christians, Jews and Muslims pray to the same god, the Abraham’s god Yahweh. If God answers prayer or guides human understanding in any way, should we not expect God to consistently guide understanding for all these earnest believers, resulting in a mass conversion to the ‘correct’ religion and even denomination?”
This is the response that is so very strong. At this point there is nothing the theist apologist can say that holds up to reason without contradicting basic tenets of their religion. For example, saying that God does not actually shape human understanding is to deny all authority of the Pope, pastors, rabbis, imams, and ayatollahs and is more of a deist belief than a theist one; it also contradicts the idea that God plants faith in the hearts/minds of humans, which leads us to science and atheism. No matter the response, it is impossible for a God who is all-loving and all-powerful who cares about orthodoxy (right belief) to ignore the earnest prayers from confused beliefs whose “corrupted beliefs” may earn for them eternal damnation. It may also be pointed out that the theist will rationalize a response to fit the facts everyone knows are true about the variation of belief, despite the way their own beliefs should predict that most of the world (if not all) would have the same religious beliefs they do!
The day I came to terms with my budding atheism was the day I voiced my doubts of Christianity to a professor, asking for a bit of guidance. I will never forget the professor’s response. He said something to the effect of, “We should not worry too much about believing the right thing. People have so many different religious beliefs that, if there is a God, He is almost certainly nothing like what you have been told.”
Perhaps the argument discussed in this article is not so strong for everyone, but I found it extremely convincing.
The difference, I would argue, is that theist catchphrases are meant to limit thinking and/or reinforce orthodoxy; atheist catchphrases typically have the opposite effect.
Authorized or generally accepted theory, doctrine, or practice.
I think my claim can be demonstrated in two ways: philosophically and by examining representative catchphrases (hopefully selected at random).
There is no such thing as atheist orthodoxy or dogma, by definition, as we all know atheism is simply the rejection of a theism’s revealed gods and religions. Atheism requires no leaders, books, or even thoughts to exist, as it is the default state, the lack of certain beliefs.
Of course, most (but not all) of the atheist community embraces rational, scientific inquiry. We also place value on such an approach to belief; I would personally go so far as to call doubt a virtue.
Without orthodoxy, an atheist catchphrase that reinforces dogma is a contradiction of terms.
By Example: Christian refrains
“It’s God’s plan.” / Mystery
Don’t worry (think) about it; it’s not for mortals to control or even understand. Sometimes this is even used to cover up contradictions inherent in belief.
God/Jesus loves you.
Sins / “Died for you” / Sacrifice
Instill a sense of guilt and create an obligation/debt; thinking doubtful thoughts is thus ungrateful. (Thus, reason is cut off and dogma is enforced.)
“Pray for understanding”
On the surface, it sounds like a call for reason. But then why include prayer? Because the only response to prayer is imagined — “pray for understanding” really means “go rationalize this or ascribe it to God’s plan.”
“Think with your heart, not your mind”
Don’t think at all. Let us guilt you into belief.
By Example: Atheist catchphrases
“Correlation is not causation”
Encourages reasoning: Is there evidence of an ultimate cause? What other ways might trends be related? Could the causation in fact be the opposite of the assumed or wished direction?
Proof / “Do they have stats on that?”
Leads to greater understanding, enabling better (informed) reasoning.
Used to refer to “Intelligent Design” or creationist proponents. This is one case where it actually makes it easy to dismiss opposing beliefs out-of-hand. Personally, I think we should avoid such language if possible. And yet, the scorn comes from what we perceive as the “IDiot’s” inability to see facts and reason with them, so there is still very much a sense of valuing science and reason over assumptions and faith.
Admittedly a lot of the atheist catchphrases are not specifically atheist in nature, but heard often within the community as a result of the scientific inquiry process which can often lead to atheist beliefs.
Please let me know if I am being unfair, if I have missed anything, or if there are atheist catchphrases that do dead-end reasoning (I’m sure there out there).
A number of atheists and agnostics have opted for de-baptism, a symbolic event meant to formally renounce their usually non-voluntary baptism and conversion into a religion. Apparently this practice, which often includes a blow-dryer labeled “Reason,” is popular in America, Italy, Britain), and increasingly so in Ireland.
Read on to find out the purposes of such a ceremony.
Is de-baptism ironic?
Some observers, like The Young Turks, below, note the irony of “atheist rituals.” Is it ironic? The definition of irony is something that is incongruous or contradictory. (Alternatively, irony can be defined as something with two or more meanings, known to different people; in this case, the atheists know there is no transcendent or spiritual meaning to baptism or de-baptism, but believers put value on such customs.)
Atheist de-baptisms would indeed be a contradiction, if it weren’t for the following:
Atheists do not believe there is a metaphysical or eternal effect of baptism or de-baptism. This is the only element of irony, and atheists’ awareness of it (even calling de-baptisms “a bit of a joke” and a “mock ceremony”) ensures no genuine contradiction is made.
Unlike most churches, atheism (which is, of course, not an organization or authority in any sense) requires baptism of no one.
Atheists would not de-baptize infants or young children.
There are positive social effects of de-baptism, which we will discuss below.
Some individuals value the event as a symbolic renunciation of dogma they were taught earlier in life.
Because the reasons and beliefs surrounding de-baptism do not contradict the atheist’s rejection of theism and revealed mysticism, it’s unfair to ridicule de-baptism.
Reasons to be de-baptised
De-baptisms are not for everyone. Those who do opt for one do so for a number of reasons.
One motivation is to commit a formal act of apostasy, or the rejection of a religious belief. This decreases the number of people on churches’ official rosters, as these churches often use these numbers for political clout. (Of course, not even all active members agree with Church teachings.) In Ireland almost all public schools are actually run by the Catholic church, partially on the grounds that most Irish are Catholic; the formal apostasy of de-baptism is seen as a way to decrease this theocratic power. I expect this to become even more common now, in the wake of the Ryan Report on clerical abuse and after the absurdly backward anti-blasphemy law was passed.
The second common reason is personal or symbolic meaning. One of the de-baptized, Jennifer Gray, called her experience “very therapeutic.” In a sense, a comparison could be made to New Year’s Resolutions, a custom that has absolutely no mystical meaning, but which can nonetheless be a decisive step and a statement of intention.
Lastly, some (such as myself) may view the ceremony as an assertion of children’s rights. Why, they ask, should parents be able to decide what a child will believe? (Not all religions practice infant baptism, so this doesn’t always apply.)
Is baptism irreversible?
Some churchesrefuse to take the de-baptized off their rosters, claiming that baptism lasts forever in the eyes of God and/or the Church. I call baloney. Should God exist, He could keep His records just fine without a mortally run organization helping him out by artificially swelling their numbers.
While Christians are free to believe that baptism is permanent, common sense and modern Western law suggests that, on paper and in practice, no one can be forced to remain a part of a group to which they do not wish to belong. That’s what cults do.1 That is almost the definition of slavery.
The way that these same churches welcome converts from other religions, even if such converts were baptized into another religion. (As if they would refuse. Those collection plates don’t fill themselves!) If baptism lasted forever, church-hoppers could end up being permanent members of multiple faiths. How absurd would that be? (Yes, a lot of churches see other denominations’ baptisms as equivalent to their own, but the point stands: the convert has left a church.)
To summarize: Dogma is within the church’s domain, but the roster should be composed entirely of those who wish to be on it.
What about those who want to be removed from church records, but are denied the right to do so by their church? Is there hope? Barring legal action, there may be! Since churches generally allow conversions between denominations, a possible loophole may be able to switch to a less retentive church, inform the old church and request to be expunged, and then get that new church to remove them from the roster. Sounds like a lot of effort, but it may be worth it as a last resort.
Personal attitude toward de-baptism
Before I heard that other atheists enjoyed de-baptism, I had hoped to experience one someday. While others I expressed this wish to could not see any reason to it — after all, if I believed baptism had no meaning, what need had I for de-baptism? — I wanted to undergo it for more practical reasons. I wanted to make a statement about children’s rights, to formally end my relationship with the Church, and to show myself and others I was serious about my atheism.
Unlike the accounts I have linked to here, I did not envision my de-baptism taking place with a blow-dryer. I hoped to honor the legacy of Douglas Adams and use a towel.
General tips: I couldn’t find a definitive resource for those looking to officially leave churches, but in most cases a letter to the Bishop stating your intent to commit apostasy, like Irish Catholic one above, should suffice. Consider sending your letter via registered mail or with delivery confirmation.
Photo credits: Baptism used with implicit permission
Update: If you live in the Phoenix or Chicago area and have been de-baptized, please contact me.
Using this as a definition of cults, Scientology and Christian Science easily qualify, as do Mormonism, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as do fundamentalists like Pat Robertson who advocate not speaking to family members who left the church. (Yes, I am aware there is precious little difference between cults and religions.) ↩
While the Pope claims to speak for a billion people, his beliefs and statements do not actually reflect the beliefs of those who call themselves Catholic.
Part of this is due to a lack of education, and part is due to a lack of a comprehensible, comprehensive compendium of Catholic dogma. Catholic tradition states belief should come from the top down; the idea that people can believe whatever they want is the least Catholic idea there is. Yet as a former Catholic and as an atheist who often wonders what the Church’s official stance is, I am very aware of a lack of such a compendium and the lack of the unity of belief the Pope would have us expect.
A Sunday school (CCD) teacher once told me we could pick and choose which bits of Catholicism to believe.
Many Catholics do not believe that the Host, or communion wafers, are actually non-metaphorically Jesus’ body, as doublethink-like Catholic dogma claims.
It is common knowledge that the Pope prohibits the use of condoms and indeed all forms of birth control (besides the rhythm method, which they call Natural Family Planning; apparently the high error rate lets God to his thing). Yet it would be foolish to think that every Catholic considers their usage a sin.
Even dead Popes disagreed with the current one on many issues, be they vulgate Bibles, limbo, indulgences, the Crusades, and Hitler’s Nazi party.
(Update, early 2014): A full 60% of US Catholics “do not oppose” gay marriage, despite the Church’s stance. 76% say abortion is sometimes or always acceptable; 79% support the use of contraception; and 64% want to see women priests. In each of these statistics, the majority of Catholics disagree with Catholic dogma. (Source: Univision, as quoted in The Week)
Of course, this may all be a moot point since no Christian really understands how the Trinity is three separate people but one God. If the most basic of doctrines doesn’t make sense, it may be too much to ask for the rest to be believed with any consistency, as well.