you're reading...
Atheism, Religion

Can Liberal Theism and Atheism Get Along?

Many believers have never spent time talking honestly and openly with an atheist.  Especially here in the Bible Belt.  One of the most common observations I’ve made since becoming an “open atheist” is that lots of believers honestly have no idea what I believe and what I do not believe.  Misconceptions abound.  (I’ve been asked if I believe in Satan since I’m an atheist.  Really?!)

Among the most common misconceptions is the belief that lots of us are atheists because of the bad things religion has done and continues to do.  Certainly, a lot of us are mad.  We’re mad at the Pope for saying condoms cause AIDS.  We’re mad at the American Theocrats for trying to legislate Christianity and rewrite American history.  We’re mad at all the friends and family we lost when we admitted we don’t believe in Jesus.

But that’s not why we’re atheists.  Not most of us, anyway.

A surprising number of liberal theists have tried to court my affection over the years.  They’ve told me about how much they hate what the Pope is doing.  They despise Sarah Palin and Focus on the Family.  They apologize for what theists have done to me personally.  They assure me that even though we disagree over God’s existence, we are in lock step when it comes to humanitarianism, egalitarianism, women’s rights, etc.

If the conversation ends there, things are usually fine.  In fact, I try to end it there in polite company because I know the bad place things will go to if I voice my true feelings.  You see, I know something they don’t know:  I am not an atheist because religion does bad things.  I am an atheist because I believe religion — all religion — is wrong.  Factually wrong.  Ethically wrong.  Completely wrong.  And while I give liberal theists high marks for being good people in spite of their religious belief, I do not approve of their religious convictions any more than those of Muslim terrorists or Christian abortion clinic bombers.




16 thoughts on “Can Liberal Theism and Atheism Get Along?

  1. Hamby, I think this view is the exact kind of “us vs them” view that I despise in the atheist movement. For one, you can’t say their actions are “despite” their religion, seeing as it is my understanding that religion influences behaviour on many levels. Why does the influence of religion suddenly turn off if you like what the action is? That’s called…..ummmm…..ultimate attribution error . Which is a symptom of…..ummmmm

    It’s simple to show the groupthink of this, just replace it with something else and you’ll see the tactics that are ironically used in the religious right.

    The fact is we are not going to agree 100%. I don’t 100% agree with Hitchens, but I will point out when he makes good points and voice my opposition to him when he makes bad points. I don’t 100% agree with Ken Miller, but I will point out when he makes good points, and challenge him on his bad points.

    That’s what it’s all about. Just because I agree with Hitchens that religion is superstisious nonsense, doesn’t mean I agree with him that killing Iraqi civilians is moral. Just because I think Ken Miller is a great defender of evolution and science, doesn’t mean that I believe in a magic sky daddy.

    Just because I agree that Bush was a lousy president, doesn’t mean I think he’s part of the NWO to turn the world into a police state.

    You may say that their believe in god is fueling the things the liberal christians despise because they are encouraging the rejection of science, but I can say the same about a lot of claims in the atheist movement. Case in point your UAE, which basically gives the green light for the religious right to UAE atheists.

    You often accuse me of all or nothing thinking, but this is the ultimate form of it.

    Posted by cptpineapple | June 30, 2011, 8:27 pm
  2. Your disagreement has been both expected and duly noted. I honestly don’t feel like explaining it in any more detail, so I’ll leave it as it lies and let you have the last word.

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | June 30, 2011, 11:37 pm
  3. I was going to post this on the “Examiner” page, but that site’s web pages are poorly written and won’t work with my HTML5 browser.


    The biggest problem is not belief versus lack of belief.

    Rather, the biggest problem is the willingness of the religion to lie or buy into the lie that the religious have some sort of “right” to inflict their religion onto others. If the religious kept their filth…I mean, faith in their homes and churches, there would be no conflicts at all. All conflict stems from the acts of the religious.

    Atheists do not want nor try to ban religion – in fact, the most anti-religious people ARE religious people, because they don’t want competition for money, power or numbers of believers.

    Another big problem is the dishonesty and “convenience” the religious feel, even the so-called “liberal theists”. When a christian terrorist like Scott Roeder, James Kopp or Eric Rudolph commits terrorism in the name of cheezus, many christians stay silent.

    They quietly support such terrorism when it helps further their religion, even if they don’t support it. Rather than saying, “Roeder is a murderer,” most christians will say, “Well, Tiller shouldn’t have been performing abortions” as if his murder were somehow his own fault or justifiable.

    You won’t hear any atheists supporting the North Korean or mainland Chinese regimes’ murder of christians, yet christians don’t think twice about supporting crimes that they approve of.

    Posted by P Smith | July 1, 2011, 1:34 pm
  4. That should read:

    They quietly support such terrorism when it helps further their religion, even if they don’t support it directly.

    Posted by P Smith | July 1, 2011, 1:36 pm
  5. I think I will take that last word.

    I actually agree to an extent.

    Where in lies the main disagreement isn’t that liberal theists throw out evidence to support their god and operates on faith [that is evidence to the contrary or no evidence at all]it’s that the atheist movement basically does the same.

    I want liberal theists to evaluate their claims and I think that’s a good thing, but to demand it of them, and not of us is daft. When American Atheists claim they should get the Noble Peace Prize for getting ridding of religion, and hence ending the overwhelming majority of conflict, that’s daft.

    I think you are confused to my position. I don’t blame atheists for having cognitive biases. They are human after all, I blame them for doing little to fix and correct them.

    So I essentially agree. I agree that liberal theism does throw away evidence etc… and I think it would be a great thing for it to go bye bye, but I refuse to use the same methods I critisize of it to get rid of it. The liberal christians don’t need to support or condone the actions of the religious right or the methods they use to arrive at their bigotry, , the atheist movement is doing that quite nicely.

    Posted by cptpineapple | July 1, 2011, 4:04 pm
  6. (I told you I would let you have the last word, and I’m trying to stick to the spirit of that promise. But I think you’re talking about something I wasn’t saying. What you say is true. But I didn’t intend to address how to get anyone to do anything. All I was doing was expressing the view that atheism is as incompatible philosophically with liberal theism as fundamentalist theism. That’s why I used the words atheism and theism instead of atheists and theists. I was trying to delineate the difference between the convergence of ideals — such as progressivism, gay rights, etc — between atheists and liberal theists, and the divergence of philosophy. The philosophies are incompatible. The goals are not.)

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | July 1, 2011, 4:24 pm
  7. Thanks, Pete. Very good points. I hesitate to say that you won’t find “any” atheists who do this or that, but I think in general, atheists of a progressive bent would definitely not support murder of any theists, Christian or otherwise.

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | July 1, 2011, 4:27 pm
  8. It seems that my first post was valid then.

    Of course the view that god does not exist is incompatible with the view that god does exist. DUH

    The cataylist for my second comment was your paragraph about the liberal theists worldview waiting to bring in another crusade i.e are basically fundamentalists in disguise.

    You seem to have a tendacy to do stuff like this either by accident or design. That is you take a valid point, [thinking god doesn’t exist is incompatiable with thinking he does] then insert something else, a second point [about moderates relation to fundamentalists etc..] and then when I attack the second point, you revert back to the first point.

    I treat this like any other thing, is it more important for me to agree philosophoically or agree with goals of somebody with a different worldview? Sometimes it’s the former, others it’s the latter.

    Of course the decision is easy in regards to the religious right, as I don’t agree with their philosophy or goals.

    Posted by cptpineapple | July 1, 2011, 5:34 pm
  9. Living Life Without a Net: “I hesitate to say that you won’t find ‘any’ atheists who do this or that, but I think in general, atheists of a progressive bent would definitely not support murder of any theists, “

    Poor writers call those who correct them “grammar nazis”. In the same way, I call “exception nazis” those who claim a statement is a blanket statement because there are no caveats. I’m not directing that at you or saying you are, but those who would deliberately misconstrue my statement are plentiful. Isn’t it funny how the rabidly religious would attempt to claim my statement was a blanket statement, yet would then go on to say “all atheists are communists”?

    As for North Korea and the PRC, they’re not “atheist states”, they are ideological states, nations with extremist ideologies. Until religions prove there is a “god”, all religions are ideologies, and usually extremist ones at that. Every atrocity throughout history was perpetrated by an extremist ideology, whether for political, religious or economic aims (e.g. slavery of blacks, imperialist wars for oil, Pepsi and Nike employing slave labour, etc.).

    There is no difference between a theocratic state and a communist state except that one uses religion as a tool of of dictatorship and one bans religion as a threat to its control. One violates you with religion, the other violates you because of your religion. And corporatist states violate you to take your money.

    Posted by P Smith | July 2, 2011, 3:21 am
  10. P Smith, I don’t see how atheism and ideological states are incompatiable.

    On another note, I popped by Greta’s blog and she had a post about christians supporting the gay pride parade, and how she had to decide to support them or oppose them.

    Then an idea popped into my head what about the reverse? Should we expect liberal christians to make nice with us? If we are philosphically opposed to their worldview, then by definition our worldview is opposed to theirs.

    Should we expect them to be nice to atheists? If we can’t expect to make nice with them, then how do we expect them to make nice to us? Shouldn’t they be opposed to us? You complain about christians not being nice to atheism and atheists, but should they?

    I don’t know, I want to hear your answer to this.

    Posted by cptpineapple | July 2, 2011, 3:56 pm
  11. cptpineapple: “I don’t see how atheism and ideological states are incompatiable.”

    You obviously missed the point. Atheism is as much an absence of a dogmatic political ideology as it is an absence of a religious one. Why pretend those two are different things, or give religion some special status?

    All people are born atheists but are indoctrinated into extremist garbage, whether fascism, communism, religion, or murderous capitalism.

    Posted by P Smith | July 3, 2011, 9:53 am
  12. <blockquote
    You obviously missed the point. Atheism is as much an absence of a dogmatic political ideology as it is an absence of a religious one. Why pretend those two are different things, or give religion some special status?

    P Smith, the only thing atheism is an absence of is a belief in god.

    Political and religious ideology are two different things. One is based on religion, the other is not. While they both can lead to atrocity, that doesn’t mean they are the same thing.

    All people are born atheists but are indoctrinated into extremist garbage, whether fascism, communism, religion, or murderous capitalism.

    I can point to atheist fascist, atheist communists, and atheist capitalists.

    As long as they lack a belief in god, they are atheist.

    Theists are wrong at equating communism/fascism with atheism. For the simple fact, that while one can be an atheist and communist/fascist, atheism isn’t required to attain those, nor are they derived from it.

    Posted by cptpineapple | July 3, 2011, 3:27 pm
  13. My husband is an atheist and I am not. I was indoctrinated into religion at a very young age thru a catholic education system. The idea that we can’t get along is an imaginary line drawn in the sand by religions only to prevent the co existance of atheists and believers.

    I respect the intellectual deductions that my husband made as a young child that led to his atheism, I also have to say that my personal experience with the atheist community on line leads me to believe that most atheists are more knowlegdable about religious history and the bible than most self professed religionists. Having said that, I find it obvious that for the most part, the atheist community has done extensive intellectual research to arrive at their conclusions. Since I value intellectualism, it is not an issue for me.

    Posted by sandora31 | July 6, 2011, 7:24 am
  14. Sandora, thanks for the comment. I agree that atheists and theists can get along individually. However, I wasn’t talking about that. I was very specific about the use of the words “atheism” and “theism” in the title, and talked about the differences in philosophy.

    For a comparison, imagine if I asked the question: “Can capitalism and communism get along?” Is there a compromise where a country can be both capitalist and communist at the same time? No… there is not, since one is antithetical to the other. But could a communist and a capitalist marry, have kids, and get along? Of course!

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | July 6, 2011, 1:34 pm
  15. I am an atheist because I believe religion — all religion — is wrong. Factually wrong. Ethically wrong. Completely wrong.

    All religion is ethically wrong? That’s an absolutist statement if I’ve ever heard one.

    The following religious beliefs are ethically and factually wrong, without a scrap of evidence to support them:

    Divine command theory of morality
    Special revelation
    Eternal damnation

    Those beliefs don’t deserve respect, and there are good, objective reasons why they don’t. But there are other religious beliefs besides those, which tend to be the ones that liberal theists hold. The belief in God and an afterlife, for instance. There’s certainly not enough evidence to prove either of those, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no evidence at all. To dismiss their beliefs as being based on “dopamine rushes” and pure fantasy shows that you’re not really interested in participating in the debate on those issues.

    What about a guy like Howard Storm? If you’d been through what he experienced, how do you know that it wouldn’t convince you? It’s not at all unheard of for an atheist to have a religious experience and end up becoming a theist.You may believe that there are better explanations for these experiences than real contact with the supernatural, and that’s fine, but you can still have a little bit more respect for their beliefs than to dismiss them as wacky and illogical.

    That’s what “getting along” means. Not that our beliefs are exactly the same, but that we understand and accept that humans will disagree with one another. And although there is a certain point at which a belief is so dangerous and removed from reality that it doesn’t deserve respect, there’s also a range in which different, incompatible beliefs should be tolerated with respect. Because if there’s anything we know for certain, it’s that all of us are fallible. All of us are guaranteed to be wrong about something we believe. Maybe that’s deism. Maybe it’s physicalism. In the end, what matters is how we get to the beliefs we have. Whether we’re really engaged in the authentic search for truth.

    I know a lot of atheists share your position on this subject, and that’s a shame. We’re alienating a lot of people–including many atheists–for no good reason.

    Posted by Ian | July 12, 2011, 8:08 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Follow Me On Twitter!

%d bloggers like this: