The atheist advantage

I’m nicking this idea from one of my regular comment posters, tmso. She lists ten advantages to being an atheist over there and I thought I’d try my hand at a list of my own. My top five:

First – the bigger picture.

Not that I’m going to say that religious folk won’t see it, but I think it’s easier to view the patterns of belief and religious ideology if you’re not smack dab in the middle of them. It’s easier to see trends and similarities and flaws and flabbtergastingly ridiculous thought processes when you can approach them from the outside. Joshua provides a very sad example involving his participation in a wedding party as an atheist combined with the inexplicable banning of a friend of his, a church elder.

Second – realism

Ties into the first a bit. By ditching belief in supernatural reasons for things, we atheists can only accept realistic explanations for the world and things around us. What’s more, we learn to cope with never having a decent enough explanation for some of that, be it for the exact origin of the universe, or what jump started lifeforms, or even why we lifeforms can be so shitty toward other lifeforms no matter the size, colour, or shape of hoof, paw and claw. Someday we might figure it out. Or we might not. Life will go on regardless. We know so much our ancestors never dreamed was possible and the same will be true when we are the ancestors. We should never lose the desire to learn new things, but it’s never going to be possible to know everything, I don’t think.

Third – health

I know it’s a fraction of a fraction of people who’d rather pray than let a doctor give their children pills to cure what ails them. But other religious superstitions can get in the way of receiving medical treatment that can save lives. Refusals of blood transfusions come to mind. STD education. Condom use and safe sex in general. Vaccinations (although I hear Bill Maher’s also a bit of a twit about that subject). I’d never be able to claim there are no atheists taken in by homeopathy and emotional water crystals, mind you, but at least with them, they don’t base their ill-advised health assumptions on rules imagined to be enforced by some magical invisible man in the sky. They’re just ill-advised.

Fourth – attitudes

Human beings aren’t perfect creatures. We’re emotional critters, easily insulted and quick to retaliate, even if we don’t bother to punish the one who pissed us off in the first place and start snapping at someone else instead. That book I’m skimming, Connected, has some interesting stuff in there about how crowds deal with emotion, how gangs might assault anyone connected to the person who made the first wrong move, be it the rival gang or that person’s family. That maybe what law makers need to look at is less punishment of one person and more education, more work on the group’s dynamic, make them all less prone to looking at revenge as an answer to problems. No idea if that’d help, but there are some previous gang members around who do try to do just that.

I’m not a new atheist, but I’m new to the whole atheist network concept. I was quite used to being (or feeling like) the only one around so it’s pretty novel still to be able to forge bonds with like-minded thinkers in this particular area of my life. It’s pretty cool. I’ve also noticed that you can’t paint every atheist with the same brush. We’re not popped out of a cookie cutter, all the same. We bring to this philosophy everything we knew of ourselves when we tried living under other ones. Some are very vocal, some are very rude, some are focused on political aspects, others on human rights, some just seem to want to have a laugh over everything that makes religions weird. If there were an atheist scale upon which I could be measured, I have no real clue where I’d land.

That was a side-track, but I’m not deleting it. What I was trying to lead into was this – I don’t think people who’ve been atheists all their lives should necessarily be the ones pointing out the bad attitudes religious people might have about gender or sexuality or whatever the current big issue might be. Maybe the ones who could really get through to some of them would be those who’ve recently walked away from their faiths and have the guts to explain to everyone they’ve ever known and loved the reasons why. Even grandmas.

Fifth – relief

Religious people never seem to see it this way, but I’ve always found organized religion to be far too restrictive. And you only have to look as far back as temperance colonies and prohibition to see how damaging the outright ban of a “vice” can be, no matter how holy and noble the intentions.

I don’t want to have to pray for forgiveness over every naughty thought or secret chocolate treat or liquid lunch (which I’ve never done unless you count Boost). Life is too damned short to give yourself colossal guilt over every aspect of what makes a human human. We’re mammals! We want sex, we want food, we want other people’s mates and food sometimes too, even when we know we “shouldn’t.” Thankfully, we’re usually better than bonobos when it comes to resisting some of those less than socially satisfactory urges.

A human being never should have been a sin in the first place.

You’ll never see me say to throw all caution to the wind. Of course people need to keep their heads. It can’t be all hedonism all the time. A person’s got to work and sleep at some point, har har. It’s just this idea that one small fraction of some specific group somehow “knows” what’s best for the whole entire world and then pushes that belief into every aspect of life. They’re self-elected moral police and, by and large, I suspect humanity would do just fine without their prudish input on everything. In some areas we’d probably do better.

I find it a big relief to gauge what I do based on reasons beyond the fear of disappointing some deity and winding up somewhere hot and rotten eggy. I don’t steal because it’s against the law and because I don’t want people taking my stuff, so why should it be okay for me to take theirs? I don’t kill people because it’s not just against the law but it’s also gross and unnecessary and I don’t like dead things or bones or blood or violence. I don’t commit adultery, and not just because none of my friends are married or dating people I’d lust over. It’s just an icky ethical wall I’d never want to climb over. I’d rather ruin a friendship by neglect than nookie.

As to bigger issues like gay rights or abortion or whatever, well, a lot of it really ought to be up to the individual, not his or her neighbour.

I might be weirded out if someone gay hit on me but after we straightened out the confusion, there’d be some laughing, I’m sure. And hey, a hit on is a hit on. At least it’d prove I’m not undesirable, unlike my no-hitting-on experience thus far. I don’t see why there has to be a stigma over gender identity, anyway. I really don’t.

And I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable having an abortion, but I’d be glad of the choice of one in case I did decide to go that way. Better they’re legal and done properly than have girls bleeding out and dying because of secretive less than clean procedures.

So, that’s my list. Thoughts?

5 Responses to The atheist advantage

  1. 1minionsopinion says:

    No comments yet? I’ll add one since it’s just occurred to me that atheists likely come across as self-elected ethics police to other groups. But at least our intention is to illuminate the hatred and prejudice and fight for alternatives that maybe would improve the quality of life for many people. Who really wants to live in a situation where they feel pushed down and pressured by an overbearing religious hierarchy to behave a certain way not because it’s “right” but more because it’s thought to be some god’s inane will?

  2. tmso says:

    As one heterosexual woman who has been hit on by numerous lesbians (I know, I MUST look like a lesbian), I say, good thoughts!

    Are atheist, at least the vocal ones, self-elected ethics police? That’s a very good question, and one I fear a little because by becoming so we risk doing exactly what we ‘preach’ against – dogma. Any dogma (religious or irreligious) breeds stupidity.

    I think we should all (everyone) focus on your second point – realism. No one knows everything. My accepting the fact that we are always learning and always will, we can move beyond insulting and hating each other to understanding. At least, I hope.

    Thanks for the post. Lots to think about. :)

  3. 1minionsopinion says:

    I don’t know if we’re at risk of creating a dogma, but wouldn’t a rational set of values make better sense than sticking with ones cobbled together from superstition and fears of the unknown?

  4. princessxxx says:

    i like this, it would be great if you would be interested in sharing this at A Different Kind Of Blog.
    we have a lot of fundie christians that don’t understand athiesm,
    or christianity for that matter.

  5. 1minionsopinion says:

    I’d be glad to cross-post anything you like but currently I’m having trouble posting anything new there right now — two articles are sitting in “Pending” limbo at the moment.

    Until that’s sorted out, it’ll have to wait.

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