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Just say NO to an afterlife

Most religions are built around the idea of an afterlife.  Some place little emphasis on it, others give you a constant reminder.  Even the so called “atheist religion” of Buddhism still has the concept of reincarnation.  In one sense I can understand why these ideas are so intoxicating, and why every culture seems to invent another version of life beyond the grave.  We enjoy life.  Life is fun.  And who wouldn’t like the idea that we can keep on living someday beyond the grave?  I understand, of course, that for some life is not fun.  For some life is a constant struggle of hardship, poverty, and pain.  For these people the promise of an afterlife can give them hope that their misery will someday end, and that they will eventually experience bliss in a beautiful endless heaven.

So what’s wrong with the idea of an afterlife anyway?  If it can encourage or bring hope to humans, then what’s the harm in it?  Even if we assume it is all wishful thinking, can’t the idea of an afterlife be permitted or even encouraged if it gives cultures or communities a sense of peace as death approaches?  I am going to argue an unequivocal “no.”  Although an afterlife may seem like a harmless idea on the surface, I believe there are plenty reasons why the concept of an afterlife is not helpful, and can actually be downright harmful.

Reason #1An afterlife concept eventually becomes nothing more than a threat. 

Imagine the concept of an afterlife in which everybody makes it.  Everybody’s in!  I could almost get on board with this version of an afterlife.  But almost no religion preaches this type of an afterlife.  In most religions the afterlife has been divided into various types, degrees, or categories.  Heaven, hell, purgatory, celestial, etc.  Even reincarnation argues that some people come back as something great, while others come back as worms.  Once you’ve set up dreadful and wonderful versions of the afterlife, you have everything you need to threaten people with the dreadful version.  Pay your tithe or else…  Accept Jesus or else…  Go to Mecca or else…  Even positive actions come with a threat.  Give to the needy or else…  While most religions may not emphasize such black and white threats (although plenty do), the fear of punishment is often lingering just below the surface of a believer’s psyche, reminding them that each of their everyday actions could have eternal consequences.  Also, once a threat has been properly instilled into the mind of a believer, it becomes way too easy to abuse the power of that threat.  Threats in my mind simply aren’t nice.  So if an afterlife is used to threaten and coerce, it’s a bad idea in the first place.

Reason #2Believing in an afterlife causes us to NOT live in the moment. 

Let me paint two possible scenarios for you about the nature of our existence.

1.  This life on earth is short and temporary.  Upon your death, your eternal life will begin.  Your eternal life will either be wonderful or dreadful depending on how well you followed the tenants of your religion on earth.  In either case, your first life (the life on planet earth) will ultimately be insignificant compared to the eternity you will spend in your afterlife.

2.  This life on earth is short and temporary.  Upon your death, you will be dead.  Gone.  Done.

The belief in which of these two scenarios will ultimately lead you to live a fuller life here on earth?  If one believes that death really means death, that there is no coming back or moving on to an afterlife, I believe there is more motivation to soak up as many beautiful moments as one can while we are still alive.  The knowledge that life is temporary causes us to appreciate every moment. The belief in an eternal afterlife, and that that afterlife must be earned, can cause individuals to put forth unneeded effort into earning their way into that afterlife.  Devout believers often give up the pleasures of this world (as they are often encouraged to do) in order to gain their ticket to eternal life.  This is the opposite of living in the moment.

Reason #3There is no evidence of an afterlife.

This, of course, is the best reason to not believe in an afterlife.  There simply is no evidence of life after death.  Believers often quote near-death experiences or out-of-body experiences as evidence of an afterlife.  While out-of-body experiences (the sensation of being out of your body) certainly do exist, controlled experiments have failed to show that anybody actually leaves their body during these episodes.  Basically they are nothing more hallucinations.  Scientists have, for example, placed a card on top of a bookshelf in the room where someone claims to leave their body.  So far no one has been able to identify the card.  Scientists are also discovering that conscious thought and experience is very much tied to our brain.  If the brain dies, it is very likely that our experiences die with it.  Until evidence is discovered in favor of an afterlife, the basic assumption (null hypothesis) is that no afterlife exists.

What if I’m wrong?

Imagine I’m wrong.  Suppose I wake up after colliding with a Mack truck to find myself in heavenly bliss (no, I don’t assume that atheists will automatically go to hell).  At that point I would accept the existence of an afterlife because I would have good EVIDENCE for it.  Until then, I’m living this life like it’s the only one I have! 

Dan Savage!!

Beautiful story…

I identify with ex-mormons in many ways. As a former Seventh-Day Adventist I understand the exclusive and sometimes secluded environment they are raised in. I like this fellow’s story a lot, it reminds me of my own journey.

What is a “considerate” atheist?

OK, so it’s time I write a little bit more about what it means to be a “considerate” atheist.

I chose the name “considerate” because I wanted to approach people who are still in faith communities in a calm and collected manner. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about de-converting people. I’m all about destroying faith. I’m an evangelical anti-theist. But I want to be nice about it.

There are many beliefs and ideologies inside religion that cause societal problems. Hatred of Gays; Doctrine of Hell; Belief that Jesus is literally coming back in the clouds to rescue us someday (and hence we shouldn’t worry about the state of this planet); The doctrine of original sin – that we are evil at our core; Rejection of scientific method of reasoning. I could go on.

But there is one thing found in all religions that is even worse than all the errors I just mentioned. It’s the Big Daddy blemish that makes the rest of the problems look like child’s play. It’s not an official doctrine, and you won’t find it on the list of any church’s fundamental beliefs. The trait that I am speaking of is the better-than-thou attitude that almost inevitably comes with the belief that you have found the “one and only truth.” It’s the in-your-face sense of I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong-and-I’m-so-much-better-than-you feeling of superiority. In group vs. out group. Tribalism.

I am not the only person raising a stink about this. Religious people sense it too. John Shore recently wrote a book called I’m OK – You’re Not: The Message We’re Sending Nonbelievers, and Why We Should Stop. Sounds intriguing. Other writers and bloggers such as Michael Spencer and Donald Miller have been taking their swings (albeit soft ones) at Christianity, trying to encourage the faithful to use a gentler approach, to acknowledge that the approach of saving “the lost” has problematic implications.

It was actually this issue, more than any other, that brought me out of faith. I was always involved in religion because I thought it could bring people together. I was inspired by the words of Jesus when he told us to not judge each other – to remove the beam in our own eye before attempting to remove the moat in our brother’s eye. I kept clinging to the words of love and compassion in the bible because I knew that these words could bring an end to wars, bigotry, and hate (and I still believe they can). But the more I was involved with faith communities (I have worked for 7 different denominations), the more I saw how much focus was spent on lifting up the in-group and demonizing the out-group. Most of the distinctions between these groups lay in theological differences, of course. At one point I remember thinking, “If only we could realize that we don’t know all the answers. If we just realized that it’s impossible to know anything about theology in general, we wouldn’t have these lines in the sand, and we could all get along together.” That is when I realized I was an agnostic. I also realized that claiming to not know anything about God would bring humanity together.

I stayed an agnostic for a full year while I still worked for the church. I found a way to leave, and before too long I realized that I was an atheist. I discovered there were atheist conferences, leaders, and blogs. Imagine my excitement at the thought of finally being part of a community that didn’t claim to be superior than others; a group of people who didn’t have in-group vs. out-group tendencies. I would finally be a part of a group of people who realized that lines in the sand were unnecessary and we could finally get around to living in a global community of humans. Was I in for a disappointment? Of course I was, and I’m still trying to get over that disappointment. While I do believe that atheists have the potential of setting the stage for a global inclusive community, we are not there yet. Atheists still cling to labels, name-calling, and in-group mentality just as much (and sometimes more severely) than Christians. It seems the trappings of tribalism are hard to break.

Imagine a world where we judge someone based on their character on not upon their religious or non-religious culture? Imagine trying to find the good in others before you point out their flaws? I’m not talking about tolerance, for I don’t think religious ideas should be tolerated. I’m talking about inclusiveness, where we welcome all people as our fellow human relatives, honor the good that is within them, and seek friendship above all else. Once a connection is made with a fellow human being, there is a natural tendency to learn from and adopt their positive values, even if this means questioning our own dogma. This is how religion will finally fall. When we finally learn that friendship and love is more powerful than dogma or faithfulness to a group.

And so I have this to say to all atheists and Christians: Stop yelling at each other. Stop calling each other names. Take a moment to build a relationship with someone outside your belief system. Tearing down the walls that divide us will always work better then building them up.

Science vs Religion for Children

This video speaks for itself.  Which place would you rather have your child?

 

 

Why do Americans still dislike atheists?

Interesting article that made it into the Washing Post and the Seattle Times.  It discusses how atheists are still marginalized and hated even more than gays, Muslims, and other minorities, and why that needs to stop.

Why do Americans still dislike atheists?

 

Mark from Austin stone – This guy is making progress

Another long clip, but a wonderful ending!

Beautiful

It’s nice to hear Hitchens speak in a positive manner. I think he’s growing wiser as he feels his own mortality. I wish him many more good years…

Breakthrough

This is a long conversation, but it’s nice to see how mike’s conception of atheists changes throughout the conversation. Tracy and Jen handle his questions beautifully.

Everything I needed to know about Atheism I learned from Christianity

My road to Atheism was paved by Christians.  And I don’t mean that their dogmatic narrow mindedness drove me away from faith (although that certainly helped), I mean that their values were so attractive, I decided they were worth adopting.  This merits an explanation:

It seems to me that Christianity today does not have a very distinct and consistent set of values.  Christians in different camps and denominations interpret the bible in such random and different ways, each claiming that their version of Christianity is the correct one.  Because of this, one can find almost any value or viewpoint if they just look for it.  For example:

Christians believe that the bible is the inspired word of God (except for those Christians who don’t)
Christians believe that homosexuals are evil people (except for those Christians who don’t)
Christians believe in Heaven and Hell (except for those Christians who don’t)
Christians believe that Jesus died for our sins (except for those Christians who don’t)
Christians believe that we should be compassionate to the poor (except for those Christians who don’t)
Christians believe we should be tolerant of other faiths (except for those Christians who don’t)
Christians believe in science and logic (except for those Christians who don’t)
Christians believe in evolution (except for those Christians who don’t)
Christians believe that we should think for ourselves (except for those Christians who don’t)
Christians believe in the separation of church and state (except for those Christians who don’t)

I grew up surrounded by Christians for nearly my entire life.  Some were liberal, some were conservative.  Some exemplified love and grace.  Others were judgmental.  And with each church I visited came a different set of values and beliefs.  Slowly I found myself being changed for the better by the Christians around me.  With each competing set of values that were presented to me, I would simply choose the option that seemed the most attractive.  When Christians told me that homosexuals were not evil, this seemed to be the most attractive proposition.  When Christians told me that there probably was no such thing as hell, this made lots of sense.  In the end, I found myself embodying values that seemed to be uniquely my own.  I had borrowed values from every camp of Christianity that I had visited, and had come to something that was unique.  I believed in science, logic, and reason.  I didn’t believe in the scriptures, hell, or that Jesus was divine.  I also thought that going to church was a little bit silly.  Of course I soon found out that atheism is the closest thing that embodies all these values.  And it was about this time that I changed my title from being a “unique” Christian to being an atheist.

It seems strangely ironic to me that when I adopted the very best traits from all walks of Christianity, I was immediately shunned by all walks of Christianity.  There is nothing like the word “atheist” that strikes fear and prejudice into the heart of a Christian.  And yet I still assert that there is nothing that I believe that cannot be found in Christianity today.  Atheism is the freedom to pick and choose one’s own beliefs, to think for one’s self, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

Alas, I am left in a strange place where I am both indebted to and hated by Christians for my beliefs.  All I can say, I suppose, is thank you for the insight, and I’m sorry you don’t like it.