Tuesday, December 29, 2009

TED Talk Tuesday: Richard Dawkins on Militant Atheism

What's in a name? What took me so long to start calling myself an atheist? It's been at least two years since I've believed in any kind of personal God (or Goddess), but I had this stereotypical idea that atheism meant not believing in anything, and I still had spiritual leanings (though I've come to dislike the word "spiritual" because I'm inclined to disbelieve in spirits).

Realizing I was an atheist was similar to realizing I was a feminist. See, growing up in Mormonism, I was led to believe that feminists were bitter, angry, men-hating women who have abortions for fun and spit on stay-at-home moms. I recall on more than one occasion hearing my mother say that women who use the title "Ms." are ashamed of being married. Then a few years ago I took a women's studies class and learned that a feminist is simply someone who believes in equal rights and treatment for women. There's nothing in there about hating people who have penises or gratuitous fetus murder or eschewing marriage and family if that's what a woman wants. Once I learned that, I thought, "Oh, that's all it is? I guess I am a feminist."

We took a road trip this summer and listened to the audiobook of The God Delusion to pass the time. The more I listened to Dawkins, the more I found myself nodding along as he articulated conclusions I'd already come to on my own. Then he defined "atheist" as simply someone who doesn't believe in any deities. "Oh, that's all it is? Well, that's been me for quite a while now." Nothing in there about rejecting all spirituality and turning to hedonism or nihilism. 

Still, why label myself? Because I want to do my part to dispel the stereotype that not believing in God is a shameful, immoral, irrational thing. If you're an atheist and you haven't already, come out, come out wherever you are.


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  1. Leah, where do you consider you are on the Dawkins Scale? I'm 6, inclined towards 7. After all, I don't believe that any god ever imagined by humans exists, but cannot disprove the possibility that a supernatural being exists.

  2. I totally agree! The more people see that an atheist can be a normal, happy, well-adjusted, kind person, the sooner those stereotypes will start to melt away.

    I'm a high school history teacher, and I try to do a lesson every year on stereotypes. I post different groups around the room (Asian, White, Jewish, Atheist, Teenager, Gay, Lesbian, etc) and the kids rotate to write in stereotypes they've heard about each. I remember last year for atheist, a few kids wrote down "worships Satan," or something to that effect.

    After the rotation activity, we talk about each group and the stereotypes listed, then have a debrief about judging and prejudice vs tolerance, etc. It can get pretty funny when you're talking about the stereotypes.

    Anyway, when we got to the atheist group, I explained that "worships Satan" is funny because atheists don't even believe in Satan. They got a kick out of that, but from my standpoint, it was great to be able to fix that view, if only in a few high school students.

    The students don't actually know I'm an atheist, though. They ask me all of the time my religion, but I explain to them that since I teach them about religion (and they're only 14 years old), I don't want to tell them my personal beliefs about it. Part of me really wants them to know, so that they can see a 'real' atheist who is actually a good person. But, my ethics trump that, in this case.

    Anyway, I'm rambling. In every other part of my life, I'm totally out as an atheist. It's great. Rock it, girl :-)

  3. To me spirituality is what I call the yet-to-be-explained driving force of the universe or the force that moves us when we're alive and leaves us when we're dead. I don't believe in being healed spiritually. I only believe in being healed physically or mentally because I don't believe spirituality is a separate entity. I think it's all apart of our minds.

    As for Dawkins actual talk, he pretty much said everything I was thinking so I couldn't really add to it. I especially liked his part about why we shouldn't be so respectful to religious ideas anymore than others.

    PS Who here was distracted by his crooked collar?

  4. Darren, I consider myself a 6, leaning heavily toward 7, as far as an intelligent, personal deity is concerned. Something like a governing force I find more likely than some being with a personality running the show, though like you say, it can't be definitively disproven.

    Michelle, Teachers rock! Good ones who love teaching anyway, and it sounds as though you're one of those. Good for you, getting kids to think, and changing just a few minds at a time is the way to change the world.

    John, I really like that definition of spirituality. And I didn't even notice Dawkins' collar. :-)

  5. "At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break will then be rendered wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as at present between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.[4]"

    Hi Leah,

    I just wanted to present another side of this issue that rarely seems to be examined. Many of the ideologies espoused and promoted by Richard Dawkins,i.e. Darwinism, if taken to their "logical" conclusions are self-defeating and, in Darwin's case, inherently well...racist. The above is a quote from Darwin's book "The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex."


    Also, an examination of the full title of his book "On the Origin of Species..." is capable of raising suspicion as well.

    I write in compassion, because I too am a questioner and am unsatisfied with ignorance and bias without justification. I have also "investigated" the Mormon church and gone through all the meetings with the elders...and really received no confirmation. I am a believer in Christ so I guess you would call me a Christian, although that term has been so muddied up by this world that I am often hesitant to use it.

    Anyway, I guess I just wanted to write and to offer another perspective in regard to Dawkins. I have read (with an open and willing mind) "The God Delusion" and have found it wanting. It seems he uses so many "unscientific" phrases and ideas like "beauty" and so much sentiment to "prove" "science" and “disprove” God--backwards logic in the first place. He also seemed extremely bitter to me (keep in mind I wanted to believe in evolution when I read this).

    You seem like a genuine person and one who wants to know the truth. Watch out for these subtleties and the inclination of the media and the masses to render people like Dawkins as "glamorous" and "cutting edge." Modern day biology will tell you there is one race—homo sapien—and it is the human race.

    As I was saying, I am not attempting to proselytize, but I am thinking about that quote above and about some of the subtle and totally unscientific ways (i.e. joking, use of sentiment) Dawkins is using to "prove" his case.


Religion, skepticism, and carving out a spiritual life post-Mormonism