May 12, 2010

Clinging to a Belief that Atheists are Dogmatic

Posted in atheism at 5:26 am by Jerry

What I said here..

At first, I was more annoyed than anything when I heard Christians and Muslims repeatedly equating believers and non-believers in the sense that both claim to be certain about the existence or non-existence of god(s). But lately, it’s become more of a fascination.

It seems that there are plenty of monotheists that not only have dogmatic opinions about their own views, but also about the views of atheists no matter what atheists themselves have to say about it. Now, why would any believer want to dogmatically hold onto this misrepresentation of atheists?

Marc, you say Dawkins “and presumably Hitchens” make “faith assertions” about the non-existence of god(s). When you’re in a book store, flip open to the contents page in Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, and read the title of chapter 4. It reads, “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God”. [bold mine] Would a fundamentalist atheist use the word “almost”? How about a Muslim or a Christian? Would you say you were ALMOST certain about God’s existence when you preach and pray before others?

I’m not saying you never intellectually doubt your certainty. Look, if your prayers include phrases like, “God, even now, as I’m speaking to you, I wonder if I’m talking to no one but myself,” what are your feelings for God when you’re saying prayers like this? When you say prayers like this, what are your feelings for the role God is understood to play in this world? And if you ever felt that God seemed dead to you, were your feelings for this world colored by the mourning of a divine loved one?

When I became an atheist, whatever mourning I had (for what I once assumed to be a living, divine being) was gone.

Atheism, for myself and many others, is one answer for one question – “Do you believe in God?” And our answer is, “No.” We are WITHOUT a belief in god(s). And if you truly are interested in knowing what we are certain about, here it is: We are certain that we have no certainty one way or another about the existence of god(s). And we are certain we have no feelings for a god(s).

Have you ever had THAT kind of doubt?

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10 Comments »

  1. Will said,

    I thought Athiests were sure and Agnostics were less certain.

    • Jerry said,

      There’s plenty of room for overlap. I’m an agnostic in many ways, atheism being one of them. And I think there is overlap between agnosticism and Christianity too, but this Christian practice would be secular much like there are “secular Jews”.

      And for those Christians who are not secular, their choice to believe in dogmas prohibits them from being free enough to accept contrary possibilities, something only agnostics can do.

  2. Marc said,

    “And for those Christians who are not secular, their choice to believe in dogmas prohibits them from being free enough to accept contrary possibilities.”

    Really? Aren’t you and Becky examples of exactly the opposite?

    • becky said,

      Huh? What am I an example of?

      • Marc said,

        Jerry said that Christians who are not secular are not free enough to accept contrary possibilities. I presume I fall into the category of “Christians who are not secular”. I also presume that at one point or another, you and Jerry would have also been in this category. If this is true, but if Christians (who are not secular) are not free enough to accept contrary possibilities, how is it that you and Jerry now consider yourselves atheists and not Christians?

        I’m simply suggesting you are an example of the fact that Christians can, in fact, accept contrary possibilities.

  3. Marc said,

    The problem, of course, is if I accept a contrary possibility, there is a good chance that I am likely by default no longer a Christian. I assume Jerry meant “consider contrary possibilities”.

    If “accept” was the intended word, it seems to me that you are suggesting that true freedom can only be expressed in constantly abandoning current belief for contrary belief. What if a person has actually considered contrary possibilities and found them wanting?

  4. Jerry said,

    While I was a non-secular Christian I considered contrary possibilities. They were interesting. They might have even made me look at Christianity a little differently (causing me to doubt some previous perceptions of mine). But I didn’t drop my dogmatic positions. So there was no way that I could accept contrary possibilities. Whether I could use my mind to keep the dogmas firmly stacked around me or not, my heart was always the strongest support that allowed them to remain .

    Eventually, the process of analyzing the dogmas I clung to led to a process of finding them wanting. And my exploration of this wanting led it to be so over-whelming that I ended up dropping my dogmatic positions. I became an agnostic, an agnostic who was without a theist belief. I became an atheist-agnostic.

    Later, I re-considered some of the previous contrary possibilities and even found some of them worth accepting. So, I accepted them. And I was able to do so because I had previously freed myself from the dogmatic positions I once held. So, when I dropped my dogmatic positions, not only did I become an atheist- agnostic, I also became a “freethinker”.

    I am not loyal to the contrary possibilities I have accepted. Nor am I faithful to them. I don’t believe in them in the religious sense of believing in something. So I don’t approach them with a “faith seeking understanding” stance. I don’t have feelings for them that prohibit reason from overcoming them. And if they are not easily replaced because they have a strong foundation in reason, I see value in them. But just because I value them it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t put more value into something that had a stronger foundation in reason.

    I hope this clears things up. If not, just ask.

  5. Marc said,

    I do still wonder if it is really true that non-secular Christians are not free enough to consider/accept other possibilities–if that were true, I suspect you wouldn’t be an atheist-agnostic now. Even when you say, “the process of analyzing the dogmas I clung to led to a process of finding them wanting,” it seems to me undermine the notion that non-secular Christians are not free in this sense.

    Having said that, your reply does clear things up in terms of understanding what you are saying (even though we continue to disagree 🙂 ).

    I guess I would be inclined to rephrase it as, “Non-secular Christians are not able to accept contrary possibilities without by necessity abandoning what it is that makes them Christian in the first place.” (Assuming that by ‘contrary possibilities’ we mean something that is fundamentally contrary, rather than secondarily contrary.)

    Of course, there is also the likelihood that some Christians are simply unwilling to consider contrary possibilities, which I agree with, as long as it’s not a sweeping generalization of all Christians.

    But the suggestion that Christians are unable to do so seems contrary to the what actually happens. Considering contrary possibilities does not require acceptance of them in order for a person to be free in their thinking. If considering contrary possibilities requires me to accept them as well, I am no more free than if I am unable to consider or accept them. Freedom of thought by definition allows me to accept or reject contrary possibilities even if I have considered them fully.

  6. Jerry said,

    Marc, my words that inspired you to respond were, “And for those Christians who are not secular, their choice to believe in dogmas prohibits them from being free enough to accept contrary possibilities, something only agnostics can do.” [bold mine]

    Let’s talk about the parts I boldfaced. First, the part you left out when you quoted the paragraph, “something only agnostics can do”:
    (1) Do you consider yourself a Christian-agnostic?
    (2) Are you UNCERTAIN (in your “heart, soul, mind, and strength”) about the truth of ALL Christian doctrines?

    If you’ve answered “yes” to these questions, then you have NOT chosen to believe in dogmas. You may wonder, ‘What do Christians without dogma embrace or assert? I don’t know. Though I would love to meet and talk with them.

    (A Christian-agnostic may like the idea of a creator of all things because it inspires one to seek a greater purpose in their lives. Or like the idea of a God who is one and also three persons because it inspires empathy and love in their relationships. Or like the idea that one of the three persons entered this world as God incarnate, fully divine and fully human, to save the lost, because it inspires people to be heroic, yet humble, helping those who can’t help themselves. These ideas may be the reasons why a Christian-agnostic would attend church, go to a bible study group, maybe even take part in the Eucharist.)

    Now, for Christians who choose to believe in dogmas, they choose to believe they are CERTAIN about at least some of the Christian doctrines. I assume, that out of all their personal dogmas, they are certain that a ‘Creator of all things’ IS REAL. That this God IS one and three persons. And that one of the persons IS Jesus, “fully God and fully human”.

    This is an important point that shouldn’t be over-looked. The choice to claim certainty about these things, to claim the Trinity to be real, is a choice to assume you can’t be wrong about these things, is to assume that these ideas are infallible.

    So, Marc, you say, “What if a person has actually considered contrary possibilities and found them wanting?” Well, what does it matter if you found them wanting or not? If they are contrary to dogma, contrary to infallible ideas, they could have no effect on the doctrines anyway.

    Not until Christians decide they are NOT dogmatic, not until they decide that they are in fact, Christian-AGNOSTICS, will they have FREED THEMSELVES to be able to accept or legitimately reject a contrary possibility.

  7. Jerry said,

    More with Marc on this topic here: http://vandersluys.ca/?p=3731#comments.


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