Atheism: The Untouchable Subject

by | Apr 3, 2012 | Religion

There are two types of atheists. The first is psychological, the other philosophical. The psychological atheist is simply angry. The anger might be a reaction to family members who are religious, the policies or actions of various organized religions, or just generalized anger at “God.” Though, strictly speaking, the psychological atheist does not believe in […]

There are two types of atheists.

The first is psychological, the other philosophical. The psychological atheist is simply angry. The anger might be a reaction to family members who are religious, the policies or actions of various organized religions, or just generalized anger at “God.” Though, strictly speaking, the psychological atheist does not believe in God, he or she is often angry at God for “allowing trouble and pain in the world” (translation: “not making me happy”). Paradoxically enough, they see the ultimate way to punish God is to stop believing in God. The contradiction is obvious: In order to punish God you do, at least implicitly, have to believe in one.

The philosophical atheist is more rare. This is genuine atheism and is the natural by-product of the simple understanding that objective reality exists and that is all that exists. Furthermore, reason is accepted as the only method of attaining knowledge about objective reality. While atheism may be a shocking and radical view to most people, to the philosophical atheist it’s simply a byproduct—almost a footnote—to a wider commitment to the absolutism of reason.

A philosophical atheist understands that religious belief, though widespread and mainstream, is just not reasonable. The entire basis for belief in some sort of God is an arbitrary assertion that can neither be proven nor disproven—the kind of arbitrary assertion which is the very opposite of what reason and rationality require.

So how does the agnostic fit in to all this? The agnostic doesn’t want to make a commitment, one way or the other. The agnostic is often motivated by fear of what other people might think: “If people discover I don’t believe in God, they’ll dislike me—and that’s not tolerable.”

Another kind of fear goes like this: “I don’t know if there really is a Heaven and Hell, like I was taught. I don’t know if there’s some kind of an afterlife. So I’ll leave some room for belief, just in case. But I won’t be a believer, either.” This is the philosophy of hedging one’s bets out of fear. It’s emotional and psychological, just like the perspective of the psychological atheist.

The genuine agnostic makes a logical error by “reasoning” that “You cannot prove there is a God; but you cannot prove there isn’t one, either. So why not believe in God?” This is the very form of arbitrary inference that religion relies on for getting people to still have “faith” in an advanced, ever-more secular and technological world. Once you accept the arbitrary assertion that there might be a “God,” the way is paved to believe there is a “God.” Most agnostics are “deathbed believers.”

When in danger or under great stress, these semi-believers suddenly revert to belief in God. Once out of danger, they revert to agnosticism.

Remember after 9/11 when suddenly millions of people started going to church again, and then stopped after a time? This agnostic, fear-based approach is, unfortunately, the mainstream of America and other secular societies.

The only rational response to both agnosticism and supernaturalism is: “Prove it.” The responsibility of proof is necessarily on the believer.

The honest believer will tell you he has nothing but his faith. He won’t try to rationalize it.

To someone absolutely committed to reason, the reaction to any faith-based view is: “He has nothing.” Or, as Thomas Paine (a famous atheist persecuted in his time) put it: “No falsehood is so fatal as that which is made an article of faith.”

Atheism: The Untouchable Subject

by Michael J. Hurd Ph.D.

There are two types of atheists.

The first is psychological, the other philosophical. The psychological atheist is simply angry. The anger might be a reaction to family members who are religious, the policies or actions of various organized religions, or just generalized anger at “God.” Though, strictly speaking, the psychological atheist does not believe in God, he or she is often angry at God for “allowing trouble and pain in the world”

(translation: “not making me happy”). Paradoxically enough, they see the ultimate way to punish God is to stop believing in God. The contradiction is obvious: In order to punish God you do, at least implicitly, have to believe in one.

The philosophical atheist is more rare. This is genuine atheism and is the natural by-product of the simple understanding that objective reality exists and that is all that exists. Furthermore, reason is accepted as the only method of attaining knowledge about objective reality. While atheism may be a shocking and radical view to most people, to the philosophical atheist it’s simply a byproduct—almost a footnote—to a wider commitment to the absolutism of reason.

A philosophical atheist understands that religious belief, though widespread and mainstream, is just not reasonable. The entire basis for belief in some sort of God is an arbitrary assertion that can neither be proven nor disproven—the kind of arbitrary assertion which is the very opposite of what reason and rationality require.

So how does the agnostic fit in to all this? The agnostic doesn’t want to make a commitment, one way or the other. The agnostic is often motivated by fear of what other people might think: “If people discover I don’t believe in God, they’ll dislike me—and that’s not tolerable.”

Another kind of fear goes like this: “I don’t know if there really is a Heaven and Hell, like I was taught. I don’t know if there’s some kind of an afterlife. So I’ll leave some room for belief, just in case. But I won’t be a believer, either.” This is the philosophy of hedging one’s bets out of fear. It’s emotional and psychological, just like the perspective of the psychological atheist.

The genuine agnostic makes a logical error by “reasoning” that “You cannot prove there is a God; but you cannot prove there isn’t one, either. So why not believe in God?” This is the very form of arbitrary inference that religion relies on for getting people to still have “faith” in an advanced, ever-more secular and technological world. Once you accept the arbitrary assertion that there might be a “God,” the way is paved to believe there is a “God.” Most agnostics are “deathbed believers.”

When in danger or under great stress, these semi-believers suddenly revert to belief in God. Once out of danger, they revert to agnosticism.

Remember after 9/11 when suddenly millions of people started going to church again, and then stopped after a time? This agnostic, fear-based approach is, unfortunately, the mainstream of America and other secular societies.

The only rational response to both agnosticism and supernaturalism is:

“Prove it.” The responsibility of proof is necessarily on the believer.

The honest believer will tell you he has nothing but his faith. He won’t try to rationalize it.

To someone absolutely committed to reason, the reaction to any faith-based view is: “He has nothing.” Or, as Thomas Paine (a famous atheist persecuted in his time) put it: “No falsehood is so fatal as that which is made an article of faith.”

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Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at: www.DrHurd.com.

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