The Paradox of American Nonbelief

It’s a great moment for atheist and agnostic Americans. Nonbelief is selling books. Nonbelief is giving the Faith and Values … Continued

It’s a great moment for atheist and agnostic Americans. Nonbelief is selling books. Nonbelief is giving the Faith and Values punditry a Fresh New Angle. Nonbelief is providing a symbolic and therapeutic refuge for Red-Staters escaping from abusive Fundamentalist homes. Nonbelief is generating buzz. Nonbelief is hot!

Yet all of this obscures a point of no small relevance: Nonbelief is in a state of complete political disrepair. It lacks everything from effective and recognizable leadership to grass roots infrastructure. In terms of size (i.e., votes) it is dwarfed by the ranks of believing secularists (not to mention believing non-secularists).

The crucial distinction between believing and nonbelieving secularists (see below) is lost on many and it is not unusual to find even opinion makers equating secularism with nonbelief. The recent success of the so-called “New Atheist” writers has done much to foster the perception that a “secularist” is not only a nonbeliever, but a person who profoundly loathes religion. All religion.

That distinction surely was lost on many who watched CNN’s YouTube debate two months ago featuring the Democratic presidential candidates. A young participant’s query drew attention to one of this election season’s most intriguing (and under-reported) storylines: the paradoxical predicament of American nonbelief.

Describing himself as a citizen who “does not believe in God,” one Stephen Marsh opined:

I about the amount of time given to evangelical concerns while secular voters are more or less getting snubbed . . . So my question is this: Am I wrong in fearing a Democratic administration that may be [giving] lip service to the extremely religious as much as the current one? And if so, why?

Mr. Marsh is not wrong in fearing that the Democratic Party’s presidential frontrunners are pandering to the religious. His reference to “secular voters,” however, requires a little greater precision. I recently noted that American secularism, as conceived in political terms, consists of two distinct, albeit overlapping, constituencies.

The first is represented by people like Mr. Marsh: nonbelievers who favor strict separation of Church and State. The second secular constituency consists of believers who favor strict separation of Church and State.

I will tackle the prohibitively complex dilemma of the true size of the atheist and agnostic movement in a future post. For now I simply observe that believing secularists are an immensely larger and more lucrative cohort. As far as political mobilization goes they are a “pre-fab” constituency.

You want to mobilize scads of believing secularists? Then speak to Mainline Protestants. Consult with liberal Catholics. Go kibitzing in almost any synagogue. Build bridges with your American Muslim compatriots. And never forget that there are probably more than a few million secular Evangelicals out there to boot (hint: spend quality time with disaffected Baptists).

You want to mobilize nonbelievers? Then speak to . . . who exactly do you speak to? Since atheists and agnostics don’t periodically congregate in any one place (like a church, synagogue or mosque, for example) where and how do you sign them up? Since their rhetoric of late has turned virulently anti-religious how do you get them to lock arms with believing secularists (or vice versa?).

Permit me, then, to offer a few answers to Mr. Marsh’s question.

Yes, Democratic strategists understand that they cannot be too closely associated with a small, wildly unpopular group of godless Americans with no discernible political organization.

Yes, the Party is doing all in its power to shuck its godless image (consider everything from Howard Dean’s appearance on Pat Roberston’s 700 Club to the religious imaging consultants on the staffs of all the presidential frontrunners).

Yes, its candidates are paying “lip service” (and more than just that) to religious voters.

Yes, that young man asked an excellent question.

No, it’s not a grand political moment for godlessness in America. To quote Lyndon Baines Johnson, “If you have a mother-in-law with only one eye and she has it in the center of her forehead, you don’t keep her in the living room.” The ironic truth is that nonbelievers (who are a rather youthful demographic) have become that aging, unsightly matriarch in the eyes of cynical Democrats.

But as they also say in D.C., “catastrophe breeds opportunity.” On Thursday, I unveil my proposal for rescuing nonbelief from its current malaise.

By Jacques Berlinerblau | 
September 18, 2007; 8:48 AM ET


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  • Victor Ponelis

    Excellent post, Dr. Berlinerblau. As a representative of that group equivalent to that “aging, unsightly matriarch”, I am continually frustrated in the political realm; my only choices are which “believing secularists” to choose from.Atheists will remain America’s most untrusted minority as long as our profile is written by others. Perhaps a “MoveOn” for atheists is one answer. However, it is difficult to discuss in the public realm, as our central tenet (there is no god nor gods) threatens what many perceive as their existential foundation.

  • Robert Merry

    Funny, I believe that non-belief and belief are religious positions, not political positions. It is the religious folk who want everyone to be like them, thus exercising there political will and weight to ensure that their version of the deity is the one that all will adhere to, such as believing the America is a Christian country. That is a political position, not a religious one. It is the religious who are politicizing belief. Let me remind you that Jesus did not. Most of us, religious or not just want to be left alone. However, the Christian and Muslim true believers think they have access to the ultimate truth, a truth born of a God, the same God as it turns out but that doesn’t prevent them form slaughtering each other, and gee , that sounds like politics to me. My question to you would be just how many versions of the truth must we have based upon an entity that one cannot see, cannot touch, cannot really commune with, as you would commune with any human non God like person? You take it on faith but declare it truth. Truth is defined by those things which can be proven. Everything else is merely superstition.

  • Mark G

    Atheists are found congregating. Just look in any science building or laboratory anywhere in the world.

  • Freestinker

    Mark G,Where do you go when you get sick?Don’t forget to thank all those atheists who studied all that science stuff on your way out!

  • Pastor Ted Haggard

    The Infidels are in a state of complete political disrepair. There is no Cult where you can find those who have not been brainwashed into joining a cult. Howard Dean is a man of God and he will take back America from the Oil Worshippers for Jesus. Praise be.That’s right. The Christ is back. And this time, He is pissed off…

  • Doug0

    You won’t find many active, ongoing, lively organizations whose defining characteristic is non-interest in a particular subject. I’m sure there’s a multitude of Britney Spears’ non-fan clubs on the Internet, but I doubt they’re very cohesive.Do you know of clubs of non-golfers or non-Civil War buffs or non-Harley Davidson owners?Disbelief in God doesn’t suggest any obvious organizing principles.

  • eric

    As an atheist, I believe in many things and would never consider myself to practice “nonbelief”. I feel the religious communities with their inherent and perpetuated lies, rewritten histories, and multi-leveled superstitions are destroying humananity.I can understand why, in the dark ages, humans would grasp instinctually at any type of survival. But now, in the modern day, anyone who believes that “God” created the earth, sun, moon, and white-Anglo Adam and Eve, all that we have around us, is a pure moron.If the president was struck down through the top of his head by a bolt of lightning, I might change my mind.

  • Garak

    Excellent point, Prof. Berlinerbrau. Believers have their tax-exempt churches around which to organize. Atheists and agnostics have nothing similar. And I believe you are correct on going after mainstream Protestants and Catholics. You don’t have to be an atheist to believe in separating church and state.

  • Anonymous

    Jacques Berlinerblau wrote: “Nonbelief is in a state of complete political disrepair. It lacks everything from effective and recognizable leadership to grass roots infrastructure.”This assumes it has a political agenda or politics to be repaired. Non-believers have never been an organized political group nor do they need to be, in America, where the constitution protects their rights and freedom to not believe. If that ever changed, and non-belief were outlawed, you might see some politics being organized by non-believers, but in America today there is no need based on non-belief as a issue.Jacques Berlinerblau wrote: “In terms of size (i.e., votes) it is dwarfed by the ranks of believing secularists (not to mention believing non-secularists).”Very true. But you start out with this notion that non-believers have a political agenda. I think that is a very flawed assumption. It lumps the politics of all non-believers into a single political viewpoint where there is no single viewpoint. Non-believers are just as varied in their politics as believers, from far left to far right. There are even non-believers who consider religion to be essential for the stability of society and so favor such things as prayer in school and some are even against abortion on moral rather than religious grounds. These are rare viewpoints within the non-beleiving community but goes to show that non-believers are not the single minded group of people you stereotype them to be. And this diversity, which is echoed by the larger body of America, is why non-believers will never become a single political force.

  • E favorite

    I’ve been to three atheist gatherings in 2 weeks – one on a sunday morning. There’s another one this week. There’s a big Atheist Alliance conference the end of this month – over 500 coming and 500 turned away for lack of space — they’re doing internet feeds. People are sponsoring parties for those who didn’t register for the conference soon enough.

  • Therese

    I am an atheist and I believe that the “lack of congregation” of those like me is a strength. We do not need to gather to strengthen our unbelief, recite creeds of unbelief, or convince each other that really, truly we are right. If I felt the need for political representation *as an atheist*, I suppose this decentralization would be a problem, but I do not and I suspect many other atheists do not either. I vote for politicians that I believe will take action on issues I care about, regardless of their personal beliefs. If those politicians tell themselves stories about a magical afterlife for which they have no proof – good for them. We all comfort ourselves in the face of our mortality in different ways. I tell myself that I am passing on bits of me to my nearest and dearest and these will carry on after I am gone. There is no more or less proof of this than there is of Krishna or Christ. Like everyone, I hate being told that I must believe what others believe, and the obvioust flipside of this is that I don’t tell others not to believe what they do believe. Thus, atheist political action makes little or no sense to me, aside perhaps from pushing back against religious political activism, though atheists should well be joined by believing and non-believing citizens of all types in this endeavor.

  • Patty

    You are absolutely right, Dr. Berlinerblau. There are several politically powerful groups out there with tiny constituencies (e.g. AJC, representing 3% of the US population), so there is no a priori reason why a smallish number of non-believing secularists (we definitely need a better name than that!) shouldn’t be able to wield considerable clout. But a belief system that rests on a common disbelief does not a good rallying point make, especially since there is no lasting emotional bond in stating what one doesn’t believe in.Just think how the preamble of the Constitution would read if stated in the negative:”We the People of the United States, in Order to form a less imperfect Union, condemn Injustice, stand against domestic Turmoil, decry the lack of common defence, denounce the general Poverty…” Makes our founding fathers sound a little whiny, doesn’t it? Athiests and Agnostics need to find common ground that is not implicitly defined as the antonym of religion. Let’s focus on what we DO believe in for a change.

  • Therese

    I am motivated by a sense of justice, a love of humanity and an understanding of the concept of society to do good here on Earth. If you, Judas, must be threatened by hell or bribed by wealth to become a decent and caring person, perhaps the politicians are right to “worry” about you.

  • Mobedda

    Perhaps nonbelievers don’t currently have a strong political voice because their disagreement with sectarians stems, in large part, from the saturating din of idiocy currently created by the various religious PACs and other advocacy groups. Why join in and feed a dynamic that one finds abhorrent?

  • GJKBEAR

    I am a Unitarian Universalist and we have 2 churches in our town. There are atheists in both congregations – so the idea that atheists do not believe in anything or congregate is not true. Most of them believe in social justice, in peace, in equality and in fairness. They do vote! Atheism does not mean they have no belief – it just means they don’t believe in a GOD.

  • James Buchanan

    Its important to understand the need of religious persons to congregate. Religious belief is founded on the principle “repeat a lie often enough and it becomes Truth”. Congregating once a week repeats the lies over and over and over again, in a contained intellectual vaccuum. They close themselves off from reality when they enter a church, synagogue, temple, or mosque.Atheism isn’t about Truth, its about Reality. Its experienced as a part of the world outside of an enclosed place of worship. Understanding isn’t gained through regimented conditioning and verbal repetition, but through personal experience and derived insight. The reason there is no monolithic atheist/agnostic organization is that we don’t particularly feel compelled to impose our individual insights on each other. We achieve understanding and insight at our own pace, to the extent of our own capabilities. There’s not a lot of conformity among our beliefs, and there’s still plenty of room for life’s mysteries.

  • Grad Student in Medicine

    Firstly, I’m horribly confused by this article… specifically, about it’s assumptions and definitions concerning the terms “nonbeliever” and “secular”. Nonbeliever seems like a misnomer. As “Eric” already stated, not everyone who doesn’t have a faith in God is someone who believes in nothing. They have morals and ideals, just like any “believer”. And doesn’t secular mean “denoting attitudes, activities or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis”. As I read through the article with this definition in my head, I kept thinking “‘believing secularist’?… that seems contradictory.” Secondly, Judas, as someone who doesn’t believe in God, but nonetheless has respect for those who do, I like to think that I care and that I do good here on earth… I’ve devoted my whole life to caring for others… and I’m not motivated by anything (not money or respect or “an eternity of comfort, wealth, and wisdom”) but the opportunity to help my fellow man. And I’m not alone… so consider that before you start ranting about our eyes being eaten by worms…

  • Karen

    I would like to second the author’s motion that there are plenty of secularist believers in this country and I am one of them. If I had to classify myself (which I don’t like to do), I would say that faith wise, I am closest to evangelical believers. However, I am a total supporter of separation of church and state. And many in my non denominational church feel the same way.

  • rk

    The Democrats are only giving “lip service” to religious views in the same way that Republicans are. Since there just aren’t enough votes to be found in the Repubs belief in cutting taxes for big corporations and welfare for Wall street, more votes are always sought from the religious by pretending

  • E favorite

    Hmmm – I assumed Judas was kidding.In any event, Judas – don’t forget that believers have no obligation to vote – nothing in the bible about it. All they have to do to have eternal life is to ask forgiveness when they sin and to believe in an invisible, supernatural being. Of course, they’re encouraged by this being to be good, compassionate people while here on earth, but all they really have to do is ask for forgiveness and believe. Pretty simple, expcet that it requires a ‘leap of faith’ that some people can’t make.

  • Anonymous

    Yes! That’s what this country needs!!! Another lobbyist group to drive yet another wedge that divides us from each other with rhetoric and hatred!

  • Nelson Jonnes

    As a true believing atheist I point out that the very nature of those like myself is that we are exceptionally wary of organizations and movements in general. It is hard for me to imagine any atheist organization that would attract me. So far, most of those I have read are kooks, like Madeline Murray. The only conclusion I can recommend for your search for meaning in this is to avoid categorizing us. Some of us are deeply conservative in some ways, extremely radical in others. And many simply don’t want to argue about it. It is an interesting subject though.

  • finch atticus

    Hey….the more I am exposed to ‘belief’ in the American sense the more I am happy to say that I am a non-believer.

  • Blueair

    Well,

  • KK

    Well, it is not just atheists who’s influence is greatly exaggerated. For instance, take any article having to do with politics, trade, foreign relations, or immigration – Which is over half of a typical day’s edition of Washington Post. Then look at the comments on the article. Anyone reading the comments will get the strong feeling that 90 % of Americans are rabidly paranoid, hugely insecure louts. Then take a walk out on the street in any part of America, and meet some real flesh and blood Americans. Now, the situation is reversed. 90 % of the people one would meet would be polite, gentle, secure and confident. Where is the disconnect? I do not mean to imply that the irate posters on Washington Posts are atheists! (I am an atheist myself). But the issue is of confusing “noise volume” on the internet, and other media as sufficient proof of numbers and influence. It is, in fact, proof of neither.

  • E favorite

    “As a true believing atheist I point out that the very nature of those like myself is that we are exceptionally wary of organizations and movements in general”Nelson Jonnes – I think you represent a sub-set of atheists (and certainly a sub-set of people in general). Since many atheists hav been pretty quiet up to now (with the exception of celebrity atheists) it would be interesting to see how much variation there is among us.

  • Chip

    I think the attitude presented in this article perpetuates what I, as an atheist, don’t want to see, and that’s political activism motivated by a particular position regarding religion, or in this case, lack thereof. Atheism has no more place in politics than religion does. The entire rationale for secularism is neutrality towards religious positions. The author comments that people equate secularism with non-belief, but by calling for atheist politics, perpetuates that perception. As an atheist I would like to feel represented in government, but that doesn’t mean I feel entitled to laws that favor my position with respect to religion. I simply want my position respected. As long as we keep viewing politics through the lens of believer versus non-believer we will never achieve a representative government that’s fair to all, believer and non-believer alike. The only truly important stance our elected officials must be held to is a complete understanding and embrace of secularism, as neutrality, not as a euphemism for non-belief. I passionately hate that politicians pander to religion, and to do so I must also accept that I shouldn’t be pandered to as an atheist. I should be represented as someone fully entitled to equal and equitable treatment under the law. Nothing more. Nothing less.

  • DnMn

    Maybe to find non-believers in clusters, you could visit groups that serve breakfast to the homeless, staff organizations like So Others Might Eat (SOME), teach English as a second language, volunteer at local crisis pregnancy centers, organize relief trips to African orphanages, etc. Oh, wait … too many religious types in those places, even (gads!) Christians — motivated by religious teachings to love their neighbors. (In “Eric’s” words, they’re “pure morons.”) I’m sure you could find places where religious people don’t tread — whether you’d want to visit them is another matter.

  • blackspeak,DC,USA

    Why do nonbelievers need “rescuing”? They are freethinkers and rely solely on the nature of man, without the trappings of religious dogma. To “rescue” nonbelievers you will need brainwashing, torture and propaganda tactics used at Gitmo.

  • Hermit Crab

    First of all, the very idea of a religious politician seems to be the only real paradox of this discussion, even though both religious groups and politicians’ primary duty appears to be to instill fear and ask for money.Want to reach the “nonbelievers”? Try the one thing our current overtly religious president seems unable to ever do — stop lying.

  • E favorite

    DNMN “I’m sure you could find places where religious people don’t tread — whether you’d want to visit them is another matter.”Yes – definitely stay out of all those scientific laboratories. The majority atheists who work there are very busy trying to improve human life – for everyone, without motivation from an invisible supernatural being. I’m all for positive motivation to help others, wherever it comes from. I hope you’re not suggesting that non-believers can’t be just as good as believers because their source of motivation is different.

  • Helena Montana

    Nonbelief is not a political entity. Nonbelievers don’t care what other people think. We just don’t want religious people cramming their beliefs down our throats. Unlike Christians and most other sects, we don’t have an agenda We don’t want converts. We just want to live our lives without a bunch of self-appointed (and usually hypocritical) moralists forcing their religious ideology on us.Is that such a difficult concept to deal with?

  • Hank

    The author makes the mistake of believing that non belief needs organization. It is organized groups of belief that most of us are trying to get away from, not have one of our own. There is no single, underlining reason why non believers, do not believe, to bring us together. I can’t speak for other non believers, but for myself, I’m too much of a realist to align myself with a group that tries to make themselvs feel special by believing that they know the unknowable, or that humans are somehow sacred. Where we come from or what happens to us when we die, are as much a mystery now as they have ever been. If you look at humans as they really are, you see the most degredous form of life on the planet. We perpetrate atrocities on each other, every other form of life on the planet and indeed on the planet itself. We even have the audacity to classify these atrocities, that are perpetrated by no other species, as inhuman. Are we capable of good things? Yes, but they will never become commonplace or the norm, as long as we align ourselvs with religions, that provide “forgivness” for the atrocities if we just believe. Atrocities are our addiction, and religion is the enabler. That is the reality, and a desire to divorce ourselvs from the enablers, and face who and what we really are, does not require organization as some political force, in order to inforce what we don’t believe on others through the political process. That is what religions do.

  • sbrooks

    I may be unique, but I don’t feel the need to turn my “non-belief” into a political strategem or organized movement. Human political history shows uneven but consistent movement toward “progressivism.” By that I mean that ideas considered blasphamous and unthinkable 100 years ago (women voting) or even 50 years ago (human-induced climate change) are now the norm. That trend will continue; religious fundamentalism and tyranny may hold sway periodically – even for extended periods of time in places of the world, but over the long term progressivism is the norm rather than the exception. And with respect to the universe, as the saying goes, it is what it is. Either it was created through conscious action or it wasn’t. Certainly the Bible isn’t an accurate description of the physical universe, but then it wasn’t ment to be, was it? Neither for that matter was (or is) any other religious or mythological system.So maybe a thousand years from now humans will look back on all the sound and fury surrounding the “debate” about religious belief as quaint and slightly pointless as the debate about whether the earth was the center of the universe (can you believe people used to be tortured and killed over that one?).So, just let me be. I want to be able to tell my son that the earth is billions of years old; that the universe is billions of years old; that our galaxy has hundreds of billions of stars just like our sun; that the universe has tens or even hundreds of billions of galaxies; that species evolve; that eden only exists in a book; that cultures from around the world have different ideas about how humans came to be and what their place in the world is, and none of the stories are any more right than any other; that culture is based on centuries of shared belief, myth, art, fear and superstition; that regicide is a fundamental belief in almost all cultures; that the climate history of the earth shows that we have enjoyed an unusually stable and temparate climate for the last 10 to 12 thousand years, but that wild temperature swings are much more the norm; that people can be good for lots of different reasons, and bad for lots of reasons, but most people have a coherent system of belief that justifies their actions: I want to be able to say all that without interference from people who think they know better.

  • whomung

    I’m someone who considers himself DEEPLY and PROFOUNDLY Spiritual, a Genuine Believer –but who has absolutely no use for religion –Particularly Christianity as defined by the Religious Right(and I really do love Jesus –as well as feel really sorry for him)You say the “secular vote” is in disrepair…. I agree…. No one foresaw the NeoCon misuse of Religion as a propaganda to gain Political Power….. completely ignoring “separation of Church and State” as they strive to build global Fascism…. It’s hard to imagine the closeted, repressed, self loathing and deep denial and rampant hypocrisy of The right wing leadership voting against the constitution, freedom for all, and their own personal interests in gay sex…. To me…. “God Vote” is really a lot of people who have been scared out of their mind… and are unclear on the concepts. (1) Religion is not the same thing as “God” or even “faith”; and (2) Religion has been repeatedly and systematically used as a political tool of social terror and human repression, to build power and wealth for centuries…. and it still is today…. We find Preachers urging their congregations to vote for greedy, lying, manipulative mass murdering narcissists and sociopaths –because they *pretend* to believe what they want to hear them sayIt’s been like this for centuries…. look at The Italian renaissance…. The Medici had a contract from the pope to collect tithes…. and could punish, imprison/torture those who didn’t pay up…. Religion as extortionGalileo imprisoned…. Religion as a road block to human knowledgeAnd… Then as now…. We had Religious leaders who were certifiably insane, considered themselves above the law, and were extreme sexual perverts… I give you the Borgia’s…. and Larry Craig…. And what’s his name… the “I’m not gay” paster who likes to go to Vegas and do speed and ‘get male massage from hookers”There is a curve to everything –including ethics and intelligence -and a bottom to every barrel… Ironically, on paper, these are typically represented as “bells” with the “low scores” on the RIGHT. The reason the “secular vote” is in disarray, is that –for thinking people– its extraordinarily difficult to imagine the level of lies, deceit, hypocrisy, greed, and perversion of the right wing religious and political leadership –or the willing acceptance of it by stupidest people in the USA….. either way –both groups are way on the “right side” of the old IQ/Ethics curve….. It’s sad, but trueLook at the Bible Belt…. Statistically, highest rates of unplanned teen pregnancies, teen marriages, and divorces… and no sex education, or access to contraception — so to them –what’s the answer to this issue?…. more of what we already know doesn’t work, only louder…. stupid… but they vote…. and they believe the Flintstones is the model of human history.People that aren’t smart enough to know they are dumber than a box of rocks- but they vote…. That’s how Republicans came to power… by manipulating the ignorance, bigotry and fear of the population living in the most provincial and isolated portions of the USA… and controlling the electoral college It’s not like the party had any good idea’s besides “lets (1) cut taxes to the rich; (2) start a war of choice based on lies; (3) that will be good for the stock market –if you are invested in military/defense….so we’ll make even more money –make the middle class pay for the overhead, and cut services to the poorest And so they manipulated the Religious stupids to gain enough of the electoral college so they could loot the USA –we need a constitutional amendment on gay marriage and flag burning…. two of the most significant issues in our time… if you are stupid.”The God Vote”…. Christians today are like the Jews of 2000 years ago…. If Jesus came back… They’d kill him, like they did then…. rather than think they might have something more to learn… rather tan understand… not only is there first and sexond grade –there is seriously advanced studies that you can’t even pronounce –but as the messiah, I want you to start thinking about them…. time to move forwardNope…. If Jesus returned… and as before… questioned the assumptions of the Status Quo… rather than validate the assumptions of reality The Christians prefer to believe…. they’d call him a heratic, and call for his head on a plate

  • quinn

    I am a non-believer who vaccilates between political conviction, frustration with politics, and ironic detachment. I am eager to hear your idea for rescuing nonbelief from its current malaise because I believe (for lack of a better word) that we need a better form of atheism these days. Hopefully not something as transparent as “compassionate conservatism,” but a narrative that says non-belief is not a despairing and depressing philosophy. Regarding the young demographic, I think that this is important. Non-belief is well-represented among college students, and even young Christians, in my experience, are not afraid to have an open debate about the existence of god. I think we will see a quiet transformation in the public consciousness on religion, and that in the next decade or so a (viable) presidential candidate may even publically proclaim his or her atheism.

  • Cal Gal

    The writer is so unfortunately correct. We non-believers don’t have a church or synagog or mosque to go to weekly to receive the annointed message.Freedom from mythology is so darned unorganized.I guess we’ll just have to congregate around issues that DO mean something to us, whether it’s the environment, civil rights, lower taxes, or crony capitalism.We can find communities of like-minded people, and we can buy books by Christopher Hitchens and the other defenders of our non-faith, but I doubt many of us will take the time to go to a non-church/synagog/mosque UNLESS we really DO start to get persecuted.

  • Hank

    Judas–You and people like you, are the reason non believers don’t believe. You instill more fear in me than any terrorist anywhere. It is exactly that kind of bizzar belief, that drives people to commit bizzar acts.

  • Michael D. Houst

    QUOTEPart of the problem that atheists run into is their very “beleif” structure is weaker than theists because they do not have this respect for an ‘ultimate authority’ or existing hierarchy, nor do they have a sense of purity or sanctity because there isn’t one imposed on them by a religious beleif structure.

  • DNMN

    E FAV: Of course I’m not suggesting that non-believers can’t be compassionate; and I’m not suggesting that all religious people are compassionate. I was responding to “Eric’s” statement that people with religious beliefs are “morons” — also, according to a more recent post, “dumber than a box of rocks.” Apparently my personal experience is different from theirs.

  • nobody her

    Yes, atheists and non-believers, I’m one, do not bow to authorities. To organize efficiently would mean to allow dogma and hierarchy to intrude into their world. Any congreation of theirs on any issues would be a defensive one, designed to ward off a scheme hatched by the vociferous faithfuls, not to promote any agenda near to their hearts. So it’s cool, really. No need for yet another posse of angry citizens spewing their venom at dissenters.

  • Kurt

    Okay — while there is no organized movement of non-belivers of god(s) there are groups of people which may or may not be religious but are dedicated to building as accurate models of the universe and the world as is possible.They are folks who use the scientific method to test and verify answers to questions.If non-believers wish to get together and tackle the problem of religion and state. Helping people to understand science (biology, chemistry, astronomy, physics) and the language of science, mathematics, and esp statistics, would be the best start that anyone could make.Because once one finds a question there are always more questions which lead from it. And while the truth may not set us free, because in science folks speak of probabilities, the questions asked in pursuit of the truth (or a 95% likelyhood of something occurring) can set a pattern of thought in action where one asks, “is this realistic or likely given everything else we know?” The search for the answer to that question is the mechanism which sets one free.The game is called verisimilitude and if a ‘belief’ does not stand up to other tests either the tests are wrong or the belief is wrong. And it is the person’s free choice to accept or not accept the research which has gone one before, some of which has born fruit and some of which has not.Phremonology (the “science” of determining personality by the bumps on one’s head) did not and has been discarded. The theory that Acquired charcteristics after birth can be passed on genetically has been proven bunk — just ask anyone who has been circumcised, ‘were your kids born circumcised?’ Not!And the list goes on and on. But remember science is a search for better models which which we can build a ‘better’ world. And it’s teaching is something liberal believers and non-believers should rally around, if only because (1) science can advance technology and (2) technology can build a better life and (3) the alternative is an ignorant superstitous population hanging on to the words of any random preacher / politician who claims to know the truth and ask you to trust without verification or who connects the dots in an improbable manner.

  • Erik

    Maybe non-believers are wary of organizing and, by implication, identifying an orthodoxy – that’s kind of what turns a lot of believers into non-believers in the first place. Perhaps there shouldn’t be an organized, cogent voice of non-believers because I they are too politically diverse to be lumped together.

  • Daniel

    America is a secular society, despite the rise of the pseudo-religious right. In a society that is dominated by a single religion, nothing is secular, even the concept, and a word to describe it, does not exist. That is old Medieval European Christendom, when social custom and convention requried every other sentence to refer in some way to God, such as they do in the present day Arab countries, the peace of Allah, be unto you. being an example of that.Anything that does not relate diretlcy to relgion would be “secular.” That would include knitting, watching tv, eating at restaurants, shopping in the mall. In America, even people whom you might think of as religious fantatics lead largely secular lives. In America, the institutions of religion are fragmented and shattered, and even “very religious” people are either fundamentalist kooks or else have a depth that is very shallow indeed. Most of what passes for faith in politics is either deliberate deception, or else just plain old politics with little a not-very-convincing religious veneer. And most of the hostility of atheists is a simple reaction to that. Maybe there are alot of “believing” religious people in America, but America is a highly secular society.

  • Hoda

    Don’t forget the Brights, a worldwide association of people with a “naturalistic” worldview. One of the turn-offs people have about nonbelievers is that they’re are defined by what they oppose, or at least by what they don’t espouse. The Brights (www.the-brights.net) seek to remedy that by defining their naturalistic (mysticism-free) outlook in positive terms — making nonbelief more palatable, less threatening to others.The group — only a few years old — has meetings across the country (and elsewhere), and exists primarily not to endorse any particular philosophy, but to seek and gain acceptance as a legitimate social and political voice.

  • Oy

    Prof. Berlinerblau isn’t too bright. He wonders how Democratic strategists can possibly appeal to nonbelievers when they don’t ever congregate in a church. Gee, ever heard of the internet?

  • Oy

    Prof. Berlinerblau isn’t too bright. He wonders how Democratic strategists can possibly appeal to nonbelievers when they don’t ever congregate in a church. Gee, ever heard of the internet? Plenty of nonbelievers lurking there — and they are reachable!

  • Herbert Wild

    It seems to be tacitly assumed that the term non-believer should have a negative connotation. Someone who does not believe in God oriented dogma, be it Christian or Islam or whatever, is free to explore for himself the philosophy of existence, in what way we relate to the universe,and what does the sense of self convey. Rather than being subservient to doctrines that were developed from a montage of ancient religions by priests who were in far greater ignorance of the workings of the universe than we are, the opportunity exists to explore, unfettered by hoary tradition, all sorts of possibilities and theories rationally. We shall probably never know the why and how but it is a vastly interesting contemplation.

  • K

    I remember back when Gore and Lieberman were running for president, somebody asked Lieberman a question regarding religion in government … I wish I could be more specific. He responded to that question, and I quote: There is freedom of religion, but there is no freedom from religion.Now there is no such thing as “Freedom From Astrology” in the constitution, and none of us seems to be worried that the astrology believers (nancy reagan was one) are going to try to impose their beliefs on the rest of us. Even if they did try, they are too few in number to be of concern – to believers or non-believers.So it is the sheer number of theistic believers that concerns me, it is their desire to impose (proseltyze) their beliefs on me, and it is their Ability to do just that, the tyranny of the majority.I wouldnt’ join any atheist society, well maybe to meet chicks, but I wouldn’t pay any dues and I wouldn’t listen to any self-important yahoo telling me how to be an atheist either. i don’t know too many atheists who feel differently.They say man is the social animal, maybe we just aren’t as social as the the religious animal.

  • Andrew Alberico

    Religion/Faith is a person matter. It belongs in the head. In the heart. In churches, mosques, synagogues. It does not belong in government, politics, civil matters. Faith and Religion have nothing to do with morality or immorality. A good person is a good person, whether a Christian, Jew, Muslim, agnostic, or atheist. If I was running for public office, and I was asked about my religion, I would tell the questioner it was none of his business. I want a Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Gerald Ford or Theodore Roosevelt type of President. Could not care less if that person was religious or an atheist.

  • Herbert Wild

    It seems to be tacitly assumed that the term non-believer should have a negative connotation. Someone who does not believe in God oriented dogma, be it Christian or Islam or whatever, is free to explore for himself the philosophy of existence, in what way we relate to the universe,and what does the sense of self convey. Rather than being subservient to doctrines that were developed from a montage of ancient religions by priests who were in far greater ignorance of the workings of the universe than we are, the opportunity exists to explore, unfettered by hoary tradition, all sorts of possibilities and theories rationally. We shall probably never know the why and how but it is a vastly interesting contemplation.

  • candide

    Non-belief is only for the intelligent, not the rubes who populate this country.

  • Herbw

    It seems to be tacitly assumed that the term non-believer should have a negative connotation. Someone who does not believe in God oriented dogma, be it Christian or Islam or whatever, is free to explore for himself the philosophy of existence, in what way we relate to the universe, and what does the sense of self convey. Rather than being subservient to doctrines that were developed from a montage of ancient religions by priests who were in far greater ignorance of the workings of the universe than we are, the opportunity exists to explore, unfettered by hoary tradition, all sorts of possibilities and theories rationally. We shall probably never know the why and how but it is a vastly interesting contemplation.

  • Herbw

    It seems to be tacitly assumed that the term non-believer should have a negative connotation. Someone who does not believe in God oriented dogma, be it Christian or Islam or whatever, is free to explore for himself the philosophy of existence, in what way we relate to the universe, and what does the sense of self convey. Rather than being subservient to doctrines that were developed from a montage of ancient religions by priests who were in far greater ignorance of the workings of the universe than we are, the opportunity exists to explore, unfettered by hoary tradition, all sorts of possibilities and theories rationally. We shall probably never know the why and how but it is a vastly interesting contemplation.

  • MikeF, Aldan PA

    Thanks for a great post, which highlights the reality that secularism and atheism/agnosticism are not interchangeable terms.

  • Sully

    Maybe people who do not believe in the flying spaghetti monster should also organize, but alas, they too have no where to congregate, so no wonder they are not a political group fighting for the only thing they care about, establishing the non-existence of the flying spaghetti monster.Berlinerblau is a moron who cannot understand that non-belief is not a “belief in nothing”. Why people who believe in the supernatural end up thinking that people who do not believe in the supernatural must have a belief system is beyond me. Why is it that the more idiotic columns end up in the On Faith section? Maybe there’s a clue there…

  • E favorite

    DNMN: “Of course I’m not suggesting that non-believers can’t be compassionate; and I’m not suggesting that all religious people are compassionate.”Good – that’s what I thought – glad to have it clarified.” I was responding to “Eric’s” statement that people with religious beliefs are “morons” — also, according to a more recent post, “dumber than a box of rocks.” Apparently my personal experience is different from theirs.”Then please don’t start acting like them. I was recently a christian and have many good and intelligent christian friends. I think some of their religious beliefs are dead wrong – the supernatural stuff — but still think they are OK as people. I bet Eric has some similar experience. I suggest you try not to focus on some of the extreme statments that atheists make and think instead about the more reasonable ones – some of which still might be very threatening to your faith.

  • JD Kolassa

    Mr Berlinerblau says:”Nonbelief is in a state of complete political disrepair”That’s because it isn’t a political structure, Mr. Berlinerblau. Last time I checked, nonbelief was a stance on metaphysical concepts, and that is all. Your statement would have merit if you were talking about conservatism or liberalism, but not nonbelief. (Sadly, theocratic Christians don’t realize this also applies to their religion too.)There are also many organizations for nonbelievers. There is the Secular Coalition for America, American Humanist Association, American Atheists, and the Godless Americans PAC, among others. There are also dozens, if not hundreds, of online websites and discussion communities centered on nonbelief. Look there.

  • John

    I’m not convinced the issue is athiests and agnostics inability to organize and politicize, but the issue that seems to bother every moderate at every turn: how do we realign the country to a more “sane” path? I think some confusion comes about because there are no powerful moderate parties or organizations. When looking for something or someone to fight what they are against, people look to what is naturally opposite. Want to fight the republicans? Turn to the democrates? Want to fight facism? Turn to Capitalism? Want to fight the Religious? Turn to the non-religious.Unfortunately, this ignores the the fact that because we are non-believers, or as I like to call us “rational”, we don’t organize. We don’t politicize.What we, athiests, agnostics, secularlists, humanists, “brights” – as the Brits call em – need is a party and canidate more interested in trying to undo the damage to our political system and “unalienable” rights, than in placating an intolerant percentage of the population.

  • Sully

    MIKEF wrote: “The counter-insurgency against extreme religion-based assaults on the constitution will come in large part from religious believers who are also secularists, and the atheists and agnostics will continue to reap the benefits, just as they have for a good part of this nation’s history”You think atheists and agnostics will stay home? You think only atheists and agnostics benefit from the separation of church and state? Me thinks you do not understand that the separation benefits the religious MORE than the atheist since it is religion, both the one in favor and the ones not in favor, that suffer when the separation is not maintained. The separation is as much there to protect religions, all of them, as it is to protect the atheist. When the religious believers fight to protect the constitution, they will be doing it for selfish reasons, and the atheists, as always, will be working quietly and cooperatively next to them as they do today in ever aspect of life.

  • Tony Q

    I think most of us atheists don’t care about representation in government. We just want the government to get out of the business of taking sides on metaphysical issues, and instead focus on governing.

  • Libertarian Leaning

    I think J. Berlinerblau misses the bigger picture of the lack of political inclusion of the secular vote by both parties. The epistemological differences between secular atheist/agnostics and secular believers is not a very big separation. We are lost to the big parties primarily because of their central political philosophies, not because of our secular epistemological differences. We are given the choice between four flawed political philosphies which most of us find totally unappealing. They server either Big Government, God, Mother Earth, or Big Business. On the progressive left there is tax and spend on big government social programs and the curtailing of the free market by organized labor. The religious right offers free markets, but with a dose of moral interventionism obliterating individual liberty. The religious left worships at the altar of “Gaia” instead of “God”, with a healthy dose of hatred for free trade and free market. Finally, the big-business right refuses to respect any borders, exporting imperialism and importing cheap labor. There are a lot of us disaffected secularists who could care less whether anyone believes in God or doesn’t. We just want government to leave our businesses alone with a healthy helping of individual liberty to guarantee our right to make epistemological decisions in freedom.

  • MikeF

    Sully wrote:My post did not suggest that atheists and agnostics benefited more or less than religious believers who champion the First Amendment nor that atheists/agnostics will sit on their hands and permit the continuation of the assault on the First Amendment by extremists of any stripe. Since this blog was about the political state of atheists/agnostics (which is, apparently, a non-concern to many atheist/agnostic posters) versus that of religious believers, I was responding to that argument.

  • K

    Politicans and their Roves on all sides do not care what we the people think, they only care what the actual voting public things. This is why I worry about the religious running the government. The fundamental core of religious belief is unquestioning blind faith. I don’t mean the parts you do question, I mean the primary first assumptions are not to be questioned.Some Pat Roberston comes along, seesm charismatic, seems smart, tells you about what you really believe when you say you believe, when all he really wants is power – and now he has a large group of followers who don’t know better than to question this creep.If it weren’t for the believer, there would never be a pat roberston, an osama, a stalin or hitler or mao.

  • Civic Humanist

    The USA – like the Vatican – increasingly functions under structures of deceit, though the USA is unique in that it is driven by collective self-deception.Both the so-called “believers” & the so-called “non-believers” all believe that this is the most “religious” nation in the western world. But – pragmatically – for americans, there is only one religion, the quasi-economic religion of consumption & status, mixed in w/ more “cosmetic correctness” than “political correctness” All the rest is pious chintz!

  • Jay in Pa

    In Philadelphia other areas there are Meetups, at which people of similar interest get together to discuss Separation of Church and State, Atheism and other topics. This is just a tiny fraction of the topics on which Meetup participants get together. The Philadelphia Meetup group occasionally brings in speakers on topics of interest, at a local restaurant, at a Unitarian church and at other locations. Usually just its members attend to discuss topics and events of mutual interest.

  • Gerry

    Why should “humanist”, even “secular humanist”, be such a bad name for us? Latest brain neurology and latest psychology suggests, that our brain is not wired for negatives. A golfer never says: “The ball may NOT fall into the water”. Instead: “The ball must hit that particular part of the green”. Or: “Can you concentrate on NOT imagining a pink elephant”?So “non-believer” (similar to “a-theist”) is a very bad name and furtively suggests “believer”, see above.Religion must be abolished from inside its own constituency, a process we can already observe (starting with “secular believers”). As has been mentioned, there is no political movement of “non – stamp collectors”, nor is there a necessity for it.Human dignity is based on the fact that we can think for ourselves. There always were (and are) so admirable independent anti-religionist minds around. Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, John Locke, Thomas Paine, Voltaire, all the superb minds of the European enlightenment, come to mind. Their “deism”, if it existed in the context of their historical times, amounted to nothing more than to believe that the universe, that life, that society is (or should be) “good” or “valuable”, whatever that may mean to them. Compare these people to the abysmal demagoguery of the Pat Robertsons, the Ted Haggards, the G.W. Bushes, the John Hagees and, alas, the majority of people (voters!) who swallow this poison because they depend on the superstition of the prescribed religions to legitimize their cowardice. Religion is based on nothing but fear (“god-fearing”). What about the “land of the (god-) fearing”?Hitler (he was democratically voted into office!) brought the Germans behind himself by appealing to the most primitive human feelings: Fear and revenge (revenge after the treaty of Versailles). Those feelings were genuine in the German majority in 1933, just like they are genuine in US voters today.

  • Soja John Thaikattil, Sydney, Australia

    I classify atheists into three types:1. Nominal atheists: Those who don’t particularly care about whether God exists or not. They don’t believe in a God because there is no place in their life for such thoughts. They are the equivalents of believers who say they believe in God when asked, but don’t particularly care if God exists or not and don’t let their belief play any role in their lives. This group probably constitutes the vast majority of atheists and are open to ideas in the books written by Dawkins et al.2. Dyed in the wool atheists: Atheists who have seriously considered the question whether God exists and have come to a rational conclusion that He doesn’t. They don’t stuff their atheism down anyone’s throats. They respect the freedom of other human beings to believe in God and are able to recognise good when they see it, no matter where. This group agrees in general with the ideas of Dawkins et al, but do not share the religion-bashing fervour.3. Religion-bashing-atheists: They are a special brand of atheists who are convinced that nobody has the right to believe in God simply because they don’t. They are fundamentalist and evangelistic like any religious group, making it a point to attack believers for their faith – not just the wrong practice of religion but ALL practice of religion, no matter what good fruits it produces. Professor Dawkins and Mr Harris belong to this minority and they have their disciples who feel a sense of mission to spread the bad news of religion-bashing-atheism. First posted by SJT on Richard Dawkins blog

  • patient

    Talent is the ability to hit a target using skill. What do you call the ability to hit a target others can’t even see?

  • Gerry

    Soja,the unfolding of your categories, the meaning of which amounts to zero, is not enhanced by repeating it. There are even some more people with the ability to peruse “On Faith”.Nobody, even the category 3 atheists, doubts your right to believe in god! The limits of your thinking, however, becomes very clear by this sad attempt to put your fellow humans in 3 (!) practical drawers. Is that all your religion can equip you with?

  • Jay in Pa

    Gerry isn’t sufficiently explicit about the link between Hitler’s regime and Mr. Berliner’s theme. A focusing question is why people who are unpopular with a large and currently politically successful group (the religious Right) might not want to be listed members of organizations which could be targeted for discriminatory actions by government agencies and activities. Many threads intertwine here. The implications for civil rights are frightening.

  • Mischa

    “On Thursday, I unveil my proposal for rescuing nonbelief from its current malaise.”Berlinblau is what the bloggers call “a concern troll.”

  • SML

    Why don’t I organize? Become more outspoken? Simple, I’d like to keep my job. Prominent academics protected by tenure can speak out. My job would be forfeit if I discussed my long held (over 35 years) beliefs. The books on the best seller list are proof that there alot of us are in the closet, how long will it be before thre rest of us can speak our minds without fear of retaliation?

  • pv

    I think the term Non-Fundamentalist covers it.

  • E favorite

    SML – without giving too much away, can you say what kind of job you have and why you think you’d lose it. While I don’t doubt your concerns, wouldn’t it be illegal to fire someone on the basis of their beliefs?

  • JohnD

    I think many of you are missing the author’s point. There are political groups that are pro-choice, and groups that are anti-abortion; groups that are for gun control, and the NRA. There is no united group that is giving any pushback to the religious encroachment on the U.S. government, and so they tend to lose to the very well organized Christian Right on issues like goverment support of faith based charities, gay marriage, etc. An article in the Post recently declared those who want to remove “In God We Trust” from money as “extremists”. Why is that considered extreme? Because few are effectively expressing the secular side of the debate.

  • Keith Budden

    But belief in a Supreme Being does not imply support of religion or approval of religious doctrine, much of which seems to be morally dubious and to have no actual historical provenance but many claiming Faith have been too lazy to look outside the narrow confines of doctrine and examine the historical legitimacy. It is without question that the Bible in use today has been rewritten and added to- The oldest New Testament-Codex Siniaticus- contains no Christmas story, therefore no virgin birth and no resurrection. These were provably added to the Bible some hundreds of years later. Many believe that it is religious doctrine and religious heirachies(particularly when politics claims legitimacy by hiding behind religion) that stand between a closer relationship of man to the divine. Why would a Supreme Being, Creator of a Universe that has more stars than the Earth has grains of sand, require political boasters and so called ordained purveyors of doctrine to tangle up religious science and God’s evolutionary morality with their narrow and petty political concerns?

  • Keith Budden

    But belief in a Supreme Being does not imply support of religion or approval of religious doctrine, much of which seems to be morally dubious and to have no actual historical provenance. It is without question that the Bible in use today has been rewritten and added to- The oldest New Testament-Codex Siniaticus- contains no Christmas story, therefore no virgin birth and no resurrection. These were provably added to the Bible some hundreds of years later. Many believe that it is religious doctrine and religious heirachies(particularly when politics claims legitimacy by hiding behind religion) that stand between a closer relationship of man to the divine. Why would a Supreme Being, Creator of a Universe that has more stars than the Earth has grains of sand, require political boasters and so called ordained purveyors of doctrine to tangle up religious science and God’s evolutionary morality with their narrow and petty political concerns?

  • ltu

    I think this is the most intelligent discussion by “non-believers” that I have seen on WaPo. I agree with Chip 100%. The definition of a good human being to me is doing good things for our fellow man without being forced to by some carrot in the afterlife or being damned for eternity. Can people just accept that atheists/agnostics want to do good just because it’s good?

  • Mr Mark

    Mr (Dr? Prof?) Berlinerblau’s columns used to really set me off, until I realized that they are not-so-subtle parodies loaded with sarcasm.If one reads them with the understanding that they are supporting the position OPPOSITE to what they seem to support, then they make a lot of sense and are sort of fun to read.It would help if Berlinerblau’s writing included a few more-obvious clues as to what he was actually about in these columns.

  • E favorite

    LTU – When Chip contributes, it tends to elevate the conversation.In answer to your question,”Can people just accept that atheists/agnostics want to do good just because it’s good?” Sure – but first they have to know a good few atheists/agnostics, meaning we have to identify ourselves to them. They don’t know we’re there unless we tell them.

  • Gerry

    Mr. Mark,I agree to your observation about the “tongue in cheek” character of Mr. Berlinerblau’s contributions. The term “godlessness” can only be meant ironically.But I had the same feeling as you to start with, lol!

  • SML

    When GWB was elected, our state anti-discrimination office started to receive an avalanche of complaints from people who were fired because they “weren’t Christian enough”.As for where I work, I work at a private school. While they advertise as an EEO employer, there’s a clause about how anyone that they hire has to have a philosophy “compatible with ______”, a specific religion.

  • MCVotaw

    In my experience, nonbelievers tend not to be a rather youthful demographic, but aging hippies and other intelligentsia.

  • Chip

    E favorite, thank you. That’s very kind of you to say. I’m not sure I completely agree though. I have my snarky days too!LTU, I’ve also been impressed by this particular discussion, especially by how the prevailing attitude of the atheists represented here isn’t so much anti-religious, but rather pro individual freedom.SML writes “The books on the best seller list are proof that there a lot of us are in the closet, how long will it be before the rest of us can speak our minds without fear of retaliation?”I think the answer to that question depends on people like you, not on those who would retaliate against you. Freedoms are won by generations of people willing to risk their personal comfort and security for the sake of principle.

  • James Buchanan

    As a person somewhere between Category 2 and Category 3 on the aforementioned atheist scale, let me defend the 3’s by saying that they don’t question your right to believe in God, they just thoroughly exercise their right to call you an idiot for it.

  • Civic Humanist

    Jacques Berlinerblau – another pre-posterist – putting a propositional cart before the necessary conceptual horses!Mr Berlinerblau essay is a nest of conceptual confusion, at best, and rhetorical disingenuousness, at worst. Let’s assume – under the principle of charity – the former.His use – like that of the American populist evangeloids & theocrats – of the paternalistic term “non-believers” shows both conceptual and epistemic ignorance, maybe carelessness.Like the earlier appropriation of the word ‘gay’ for the self-designation of a cultural sub-group, the appropriation of ‘believer’ & ‘belief’ & ‘faith’ by another – sometimes overlapping – subgroup sows conceptual confusion & serves only to accelerate the decay of American English.Briefly: How may & should one designate a belief for which there is not or – in principle – cannot be empirical evidence?Simply: Faith: Pistis! [Trusted Beliefs]Hence: Everyone is a “person-of-faith” since everyone lives by mental states that can only be described as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen”, including scientists in both their empirical & theoretical endeavors.The cognitive state of faith, therefore, is constitutive of human nature. To think otherwise is itself a paradoxical mental state!

  • Franz

    Excellent post. I don’t really understand agnosticism, atheism or religion. By that I mean – I don’t understand the importance of religion or questions about the existence of a supreme being. Why do such questions really matter – except perhaps to the extent that such beliefs are used for sinister purposes? I think of millions who perished in concentration camps and how they needed good people to refuse to be a part of such a terrible system. I also think of people supporting (presumably out of fear of the consequences of objecting to the holocaust) a system in which guards at concentration camps made decisions of life or death for millions – merely on the basis of a fortuity of birth that none of us has any control over. These notions cause me to wonder why anybody would want to support the notion of a supreme being that makes decisions over the fate of humans on the basis of a fortuity of birth that is beyond the control of any individual. (Some may argue, of course, that despite the fortuity of one’s birth – human’s are still free to choose the “right” path). But why should any moral person want to believe in a supreme being that will only grant salvation to those children of non-believers or “wrong believers” who reject the teachings of loving but perhaps “misguided” parents? How is such a supreme being (who condems a child of “wrong believing” parents to hell any different than the concetration camp guard (or rather the man made system of Nazi extrermination) that condemned millions of Jews and others to the gas chamber and crematorium. Why is such a notion so clearly unacceptable when imposed by humans but somehow worthy of faith when practiced by a supreme being and supported by an arrogantly proclaimed moral majority? Why would any decent person want to support such a twisted notion of religion? Why wouldn’t any decent person feel compelled to object and advocate in favor of a different notion of a supreme being that is far more loving, accepting and tolerant? Some may say that G-d is the way G-d is and we mortals have no power over such things. But I believe that we define God by our faith. Einstein argued, for example, in opposition to the religious beliefs of his day, that a truly powerful G-d would not construct a world that did not abide by the most beautiful and elegant principles of physics. In similar fashion, it is inconceivable to me that a supreme being would behave in a way that imitates the worst traits of humans. I can understand why some Germans in the late 1930’s and 1940’s may have lacked the courage to object to the inhumane practices of the Nazis – but I cannot understand what fear compels citizens of our free society and our political leaders to cower and submit to the will of religious movements that advocate in favor of horribly dangerous and ethnocentric notions of a supreme being that is less than completely loving and embracing of all. It was the job of all decent and moral people to find the courage to object to such twisted notions in the 1930s and 1940s. Given that the only consequence of making such objections now is little more than the fear of ridicule or not getting elected – it is difficult to understand the lack of courage on the part of our citizenry and our politicians. Enough is enough! Surely there must be a Barry Goldwater among us somewhere.

  • Franz

    Excellent post. I don’t really understand agnosticism, atheism or religion. By that I mean – I don’t understand the importance of religion or questions about the existence of a supreme being. Why do such questions really matter – except perhaps to the extent that such beliefs are used for sinister purposes? I think of millions who perished in concentration camps and how they needed good people to refuse to be a part of such a terrible system. I also think of people supporting (presumably out of fear of the consequences of objecting to the holocaust) a system in which guards at concentration camps made decisions of life or death for millions – merely on the basis of a fortuity of birth that none of us has any control over. These notions cause me to wonder why anybody would want to support the notion of a supreme being that makes decisions over the fate of humans on the basis of a fortuity of birth that is beyond the control of any individual. (Some may argue, of course, that despite the fortuity of one’s birth – human’s are still free to choose the “right” path). But why should any moral person want to believe in a supreme being that will only grant salvation to those children of non-believers or “wrong believers” who reject the teachings of loving but perhaps “misguided” parents? How is such a supreme being (who condems a child of “wrong believing” parents to hell any different than the concetration camp guard (or rather the man made system of Nazi extrermination) that condemned millions of Jews and others to the gas chamber and crematorium. Why is such a notion so clearly unacceptable when imposed by humans but somehow worthy of faith when practiced by a supreme being and supported by an arrogantly proclaimed moral majority? Why would any decent person want to support such a twisted notion of religion? Why wouldn’t any decent person feel compelled to object and advocate in favor of a different notion of a supreme being that is far more loving, accepting and tolerant? Some may say that G-d is the way G-d is and we mortals have no power over such things. But I believe that we define God by our faith. Einstein argued, for example, in opposition to the religious beliefs of his day, that a truly powerful G-d would not construct a world that did not abide by the most beautiful and elegant principles of physics. In similar fashion, it is inconceivable to me that a supreme being would behave in a way that imitates the worst traits of humans. I can understand why some Germans in the late 1930’s and 1940’s may have lacked the courage to object to the inhumane practices of the Nazis – but I cannot understand what fear compels citizens of our free society and our political leaders to cower and submit to the will of religious movements that advocate in favor of horribly dangerous and ethnocentric notions of a supreme being that is less than completely loving and embracing of all. It was the job of all decent and moral people to find the courage to object to such twisted notions in the 1930s and 1940s. Given that the only consequence of making such objections now is little more than the fear of ridicule or not getting elected – it is difficult to understand the lack of courage on the part of our citizenry and our politicians. Enough is enough! Surely there must be a Barry Goldwater among us somewhere.

  • Concerned Citizen

    Excellent post. I don’t really understand agnosticism, atheism or religion. By that I mean – I don’t understand the importance of religion or questions about the existence of a supreme being. Why do such questions really matter – except perhaps to the extent that such beliefs are used for sinister purposes? I think of millions who perished in concentration camps and how they needed good people to refuse to be a part of such a terrible system. I also think of people supporting (presumably out of fear of the consequences of objecting to the holocaust) a system in which guards at concentration camps made decisions of life or death for millions – merely on the basis of a fortuity of birth that none of us has any control over. These notions cause me to wonder why anybody would want to support the notion of a supreme being that makes decisions over the fate of humans on the basis of a fortuity of birth that is beyond the control of any individual. (Some may argue, of course, that despite the fortuity of one’s birth – human’s are still free to choose the “right” path). But why should any moral person want to believe in a supreme being that will only grant salvation to those children of non-believers or “wrong believers” who reject the teachings of loving but perhaps “misguided” parents? How is such a supreme being (who condems a child of “wrong believing” parents to hell any different than the concetration camp guard (or rather the man made system of Nazi extrermination) that condemned millions of Jews and others to the gas chamber and crematorium. Why is such a notion so clearly unacceptable when imposed by humans but somehow worthy of faith when practiced by a supreme being and supported by a arrogantly proclaimed moral majority? Why would any decent person want to support such a twisted notion of religion? Why wouldn’t any decent person feel compelled to object and advocate in favor of a different notion of a supreme being that is far more loving, accepting and tolerant? Some may say that G-d is the way G-d is and we mortals have no power over such things. But I believe that we define God by our faith. Einstein argued, for example, against the religious beliefs of his day, that a truly powerful G-d would not construct a world that did not abide by the most beautiful and elegant principles of physics. In similar fashion, it is inconceivable to me that a supreme being would behave in a way that imitates the worst traits of humans. I can understand why Germans in the late 1930’s and 1940’s may have lacked the courage to object to the inhumane practices of the Nazis – but I cannot understand what fear compels citizens of our free society and our political leaders to cower and submit to the will of religious movements that advocate in favor of horribly dangerous notions of a supreme being that is less than completely loving and embracing of all. It was the job of all decent and moral people to find the courage to object to such twisted notions in the 1930s and 1940s. Given that the only consequence of making such objections now is little more than the fear of ridicule or not getting elected – it is difficult to understand the lack of courage on the part of our citizenry and our politicians. Enough is enough! Surely there must be a Barry Goldwater among us.

  • John-Michael

    I am a secular non-believer and really do not see any need for political mobilization as the political climate in the US is generally secular anyway. Evangelicals are constituents and paying lip service to them does not bother me a bit. As Mr. Berlinerbrau noted the secular believers have a healthy majority and my disagreements with any group of them are far more likely to be due to political ideology than religious identity. I would also say that in my experience most non-believers do not loathe religion and think that it is generally a healthy influence on society given the primarily peaceful teachings of all major religions. The “New Atheists” are not representative of the general non-believing community. Again in my experience, most non-believers are in fact members of religions and appreciate the communal experience and the moral compass it reinforces in their children. I think true atheists are subject to much of the criticisms they levy at believers as they are in fact believers of a different sort. Most agnostics do not make the leap (of faith?) that if the God of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam is a human creation, there is no God or divine presence at all. Agnostics generally think there are no good reasons to believe anything in particular about the divine or lack there of.

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