Friday, February 21, 2014

When the Tactless Attempt to be Tactful

So. I managed to publish a whopping three posts in this blog over the course of 2013, because I am clearly a prolific writer of blasphemy. I started slacking off as work got overly busy and I got out of the habit of writing, and despite a few efforts to start back up I managed to go 8 months without putting anything here. To anyone who’s been checking this site during that time, I apologize for wasting your time.

Despite my lack of writing, I haven’t stopped thinking about the themes of this blog. Or talking about them. In some ways, I regret some of what I’ve written. Not because I disagree with anything that I’ve written--I just wish I would have written it differently. Religion tends to evoke strong feelings in both believers and non-believers. I’ve mentioned the drawbacks with the former (views on equality, religious wars, an inability to accept realities that are incongruous with belief...basically everything that I’ve complained about in this blog), but I haven’t spent much time discussing the problems of non-belief.

As it turns out, those who believe strongly don’t take too kindly to those of us who don’t ridiculing those passionate, emotional, and deeply held beliefs. To put it bluntly: I’ve been kind of a dick from time to time here, and I didn’t really need to be. If my intention was to convince the Christians in my life that their views on religion are wrong, I’m pretty sure I’ve done a terrible job. None of those Christians have made any convincing counter-arguments, but most of them either A) stopped reading my posts almost immediately or B) stubbornly refuse to acknowledge many of the points I’ve made since I’ve been some combination of dickish, pretentious, vulgar, dismissive, smug, and tactless. Those are not the traits that persuasive people embody. Not only did I fail to be overly convincing, I also strained some relationships in the process. In the words of the immortal Borat: Great success!

So, I want to apologize to the friends and family who I’ve offended. For all the words that I’ve spent here about the moral superiority of secular people, I’ve still managed to be an asshole on occasion, and I feel bad about that. Again, I stand by all the points I’ve made, I just regret not making them more respectfully sometimes. It’s a tricky line to walk, as I don’t really respect religion because I don’t think it’s based in reality, but I still respect many religious people since there’s much more to people than what they think about God. I don’t think my Christian friends are stupid. On the contrary, the majority of the people I like tend to be reasonably intelligent because, to be quite honest, I don’t like stupid people. I just think religious people happen to exercise some incredibly strong cognitive dissonance blended with wishful thinking. I can’t blame them too much since I used to be the same way...I just changed my mind. And wrote about it. Like a logical yet callous meanie-face.

In my defense, the strongest feeling that religion now evokes in me is frustration, and frustration does not lend itself to writing nicely. I’m mad that I spent so much of my life believing ridiculous things. I’m mad that they influenced the way that I lived my life. I’m mad that they influence the way most people on this planet live their lives. I’m mad that people die over these beliefs. I’m mad that people are treated terribly because of these beliefs. I’m mad that, if nuclear weapons end up being used during my lifetime, the cause is likely to have religious roots. That’s a lot of anger, and I still believe it’s justified even if I could have been more civil about it.

While the execution hasn’t been ideal, there has been plenty of good to come out of this blog. The biggest benefit has been a massive dose of catharsis for me. I’ve always been a big fan of truth and honesty, and I’m really glad that I’m no longer holding back any secrets about my religious beliefs (according to those crazies that believe in things like mental health (whatever the hell that is), bottling up all your feelings is “bad”). I’m also glad that I’ve been able to convey some of the innumerable thoughts that I’ve had rolling around in my head as religion is something that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. I also felt a need to justify why I’d changed my stance on religion since I’d been a believer for the first 20+ years of my life. So from a selfish point of view, I feel much better for having written this blog. While getting people to question their beliefs was certainly part of my goal here, so was getting all this stuff out of my head. It was like a sliver in my brain, but it was like a sliver of thoughts, man. Ya dig?

I’ve also managed to get some people in my life to at least think about their long-held beliefs, even if they haven’t changed their official stance on religion. Much like admitting that you have a problem is the first step in fixing that problem, giving a topic some honest thought is the first step in effecting a change in the way you think about that topic. I’ve never been a crack addict (I’ve never even been the mayor of Toronto), so I haven’t grossly ignored my behavior while incorrectly believing it was harmless. I have been a Christian, though, so for a long time I largely ignored the question of whether or not God exists because I never had enough information to make me change my mind.

Personally, I want to know the truth and I want to be right. Ideally, right about everything and wrong about nothing. This is impossible, but I still want to get as close to that state of knowledge and belief as possible. If I'm wrong about something but I never think about it, it's impossible for me to ever be right. If it turns out that the Christian God really does exist, I would absolutely want to know that (I suppose this makes me a big ol’ softie, but the idea of heaven for eternity sounds better than hell for eternity), so I don’t mind discussions with people who disagree with me (on religion or other topics). The easiest way to learn is by being exposed to the knowledge and opinions of people who have different thoughts rolling around in their heads than you do in yours, and then you decide whether this new information is valid or invalid. At best you learn something new, and at worst you still move the slider one way or the other between certain and uncertain.

When I look back at what caused me to finally change my thinking on the subject of religion, I can definitively point to one conversation that made it OK for me to honestly question the validity of Christianity. It was Green Beer Day in 2003, my senior year of college (if you’re not familiar, Green Beer Day is the collegiate response to colleges intentionally scheduling their spring break over St. Patrick’s Day in an attempt to avoid a day of widespread drunkenness on campus--the students collectively decide to christen the Thursday before spring break as a day to drink a ton of beer, color it green, and generally engage in debauchery). I was enjoying a delicious liter of schwarzbier with a friend of mine at Steinkeller. I don’t remember how the topic came up, or even what he said exactly, but I do remember him rather casually explaining that he wasn’t religious and amicably answering my ignorant questions about why that was.

That ended up being the catalyst that I needed to truly start questioning my belief in God, and it came about through something as simple as a smart friend of mine telling me that he wasn’t religious. He doesn’t even consider himself an atheist, he just doesn’t buy all the claims that religion makes about reality that make no sense. It took a few years for me to totally come around, but it started with just thinking about it. I hope that I’ve managed to have that effect on some of my friends. Or gave them reassurance that there are plenty of good reasons to question religion and let them know that other people also think about that stuff. When you’re brought up your whole life believing that your eternal salvation or damnation depends on whether or not you believe in God, questioning that belief is a risky proposition. Particularly in the midwest (or the south) where the populations are still overwhelmingly Christian. So I’d like to think that I’ve had some good things come out of this blog, rather than just ticking people off. And hey, it’s probably been marginally entertaining from time to time, too, so there’s that.

Anywho, I’m going to make an attempt to get back to writing semi-regularly again with a post every month or two. I’m also going to endeavor to write less offensively while still being relentlessly logical and relentlessly mediocre in entertainment value. A bit more tolerant, if you will, because that’s what Jesus would want. This is likely too late to make much of a difference since my readership is probably down to about 10 people (9 of which probably already agree with me), but I’m going to make the step toward self-improvement anyway. Life’s too short to piss off the people you love.


  1. Francis says: no apologies necessary.

    In a situation like the one we face as nonbelievers - often ridiculed (ironically, since we have all the facts on our side), marginalized, and disrespected (we always dominate those "least trusted") surveys - it's important that we be able to use the stronger tools at our disposal. These include ridicule and mocking, and we shouldn't hesitate to use them as we argue our points forcefully, if that's how we choose to write. Not everyone chooses to do so, opting for a more inclusive, friendlier approach, and that's OK - it's good to have a variety of methods for promoting nonbelief. But that doesn't mean that those of us who choose to lean more towards speaking bluntly and strongly should feel bad about offending the sensibilities of others simply because we've called their beliefs (and the negative actions those beliefs can promote) into question.

    After all, the tone trolls who would question the "respectfulness" of your posts often take that tack because they can't legitimately go after the substance of your arguments. They, like most believers, question their religious beliefs, which is understandable given how untenable and fact-free so many of the most popular ones are, and your shining a light on them brings those insecurities uncomfortably to the fore for some people. The simple act of being an atheist is an implicit yet sharp criticism of the believer; without even saying anything, you're basically coming right out and sweeping aside things that believers hold dear, and they're bound to react sgnificantly to that stance alone, let alone your forcefully and clearly articulating the reasons why they're wrong.

    The things you've posted here so far are in no way out of bounds. You've spoken clearly about the folly and negative consequences of belief without resotring to the ad hominem attacks so characteristic of the criticisms the devout level at atheists (you have no morals!). If that offends people, that offense taken says more about that individual than about your style and content.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Andy. I'm conflicted here, obviously--I find the beliefs that religious people hold to be quite clearly incorrect and therefore I think they'd be better off without those beliefs, but I still like many of these people and feel bad about insulting them. I can certainly be a coldhearted dick at times, but I do still have empathy for others. Some things can't be said without being offensive, and I'm not going to stop myself from making a point just to spare some feelings. However, there's a spectrum of offensiveness, and I could probably stand to lean a little nicer on there from time to time.

  2. It sounds like you grew up about 5 years in 1 year.

    Also, as the 10th person who does not agree with you, you now sound like someone I might want to have a discussion with.

  3. So hopefully you know I haven't taken any offense to anything you have written. I also haven't stopped reading your posts, nor will I "refuse to acknowledge" your points :c)

    I appreciate your very open and honest usually do a pretty decent job at not lumping ALL Christians (or deists in general) together as being stupid and naive, which I certainly appreciate.

    1. Thanks. I realize that not all Christians are as irrational as, say, Baptists or hardline Catholics, and some of them are even quite reasonable (such as yourself). Unfortunately, I don't think moderate Christians make up the majority in this country, and that's what I find troubling.