Thursday, October 11, 2007

Theophilic Atheist

The endless debate over labels rages on. I'm going to copy some comments I made regarding Sam's speech. First this one I posted on the Dawkins site:

I really don't know if Sam is right or not. Society is so complex and judging how a label will affect a group in that society is very hard. We have seen a lot about atheism in the media recently, but has it really diffused out into the general public? I'm not even sure the majority of Americans even know what atheism is or have ever heard of Harris, Dawkins, and the rest.

Personally I still like to use the label "atheist" just because it stimulates discussion. I like to use it in a seemingly contradictory way though. I usually say "I'm an atheist who loves god," which really flummoxes the listener! I mean I do love the idea of a god who punishes the bad guys who seem to get away with a lot in this world, sends dead children to a heavenly paradise and hopefully gives some answers to questions on life the universe and everything. Sounds good! (Note I certainly don't love the idea of a bizarre Yahweh-Jesus god model which celebrates human sacrifice and rewards blind faith.) I particularly like the god idea in John Shirley's secular "rapture" book, The Other End for example.

However, liking an idea doesn't make it true. My free and open mind can entertain all kinds of ideas, but the rational part filters those ideas based on real evidence. That is the education I want to give people when I say I'm an "atheist who loves god."

After writing this I did a Google search and found out that I wasn't the first person (no surprise there) who thought up the idea of "an atheist who loves god". I see this German philosopher, Paul Carus, said it a long time ago.

And here was my response to an e-mail from a member of our local atheist group ("she" is referring to another member who wrote a previous e-mail):

In general I liked Sam's article. He made many good points, but I don't agree with it 100%. I think the most problematic part is where he writes:

"We should not call ourselves “humanists,” or “secular humanists,” or “naturalists,” or “skeptics,” or “anti-theists,” or “rationalists,” or “freethinkers,” or “brights.” We should not call ourselves anything. We should go under the radar—for the rest of our lives. And while there, we should be decent, responsible people who destroy bad ideas wherever we find them."

In the current anti-science and pro-superstition culture we are in, we have to organize to "destroy bad ideas" and any organization has to have a name. Maybe a case could be made to avoid the term "atheism", but I don't see why Sam said we should avoid using relatively innocuous labels like "naturalist" or "freethinker". Anyway, there are already plenty of atheist organizations which use all kinds of labels such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation or Council for Secular Humanism.

This culture war is being fought on multiple fronts and it is natural for people to rally under various banners or no banners at all. Even the religious side is divided among various labels and leaders. I don't think that is going to change anytime soon.

It's a bit much to immediately crucify Sam for airing these thoughts. He didn't really say anything totally outrageous. (I do find it odd though that she chose to capitalize atheism. Lets leave the capitalization for actual religions.) I still think we should be thankful to Sam for opening the gates for the current atheist publishing boom. I certainly hope he continues to write and speak. Lets take his recent essay as some constructive criticism. We don't have to do what he says. There is no Pope among atheists. So lets get back to organizing as we please to promote reason and destroy those bad ideas.

I tried to come up with a clever title for this post, but I'm not even sure "theophilic" is a real word. There are a few google hits, but I don't really understand how people are using it in those contexts. I'm just guessing it means "love of god". Nothing like a good oxymoron! Which reminds me of another bumper sticker:

"God made me an atheist, who are you to question his wisdom?"

As a level 6 atheist on the Dawkins Scale of Belief I am open to the possibility of a personal god if some extraordinary evidence comes up, and if such an entity exists I would bet good money that He/She/It loves atheists best!

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