Atheism, Contratheism, and Why I’m An Antitheist

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Well then! I have no clue what this individual means by my “inferiority complex.” If anything, I think pretty highly of the ideas I present, and I think I continue to make a pretty good case for the prevalence of religious privilege, the undeserved respect that supernatural beliefs, belief systems, and related practices receive in society.

I am an atheist. I am also an antitheist, though I don’t think I’m in Christopher Hitchins antitheism territory! I don’t know if this cowardly tweeter meant to insult me or express a self-victimizing concern, but either way, it’s pretty laughable. I am not ashamed of my antitheism. 🙂

The only concern I have as a result of this tweet is the confusion between the words “atheism” and “antitheism,” because I do not think they are mutually exclusive. Since I recently developed another similarly confusing word, “contratheism,” I thought I would provide a post to clear up any confusion.

The terms atheism and contratheism refer to WHAT a person believes. The term antitheism refers to HOW A PERSON FEELS about what other people believe. Let’s start with the first two.

» atheists – those who do not believe in God/gods, recognizing that such entities have no supporting evidence, and thus they live their lives as if no gods exist (the prefix a- meaning “without”)

» contratheists – those who do believe there is no God and/or who actively deny the existence of God, often known as “strong atheists” (the prefix contra- meaning “opposing”)

I personally think it is important to contrast those two, as they are often thought to be the same. I am an atheist; I am not a contratheist. (Read the post where I introduced the term for more detail on this matter.)

So what’s antitheism all about?

Well, first, from my point of view, it’s important to note contratheism as a separate concept, because some would say that contratheism is inherent in antitheism. I argue that it is not. In fact, there are some believers who might also identify with antitheism, suggesting that even if God or god-like beings existed, they would not automatically deserve respect and subservience.

Next, it’s important to recognize that there are different degrees of antitheism. Some, like Dawkins and Hitchens, have been accused of being “militant” antitheists. They are not literally militant; like me, they are simply very open and direct critics of religion. I write, I hope, more like Dawkins than Hitchens, approaching such issues by offering an argument for discussion instead of writing uncompromising attacks. I think Hitchens is right about a lot of what he says, but I just don’t think he is quite as approachable.

Here are some tenets of antitheism as they apply to me (with thanks to Wikipedia and RationalWiki):

1. As an antitheist, I speak openly about my atheism and challenge those religious beliefs I disagree with.

While I argue that atheism and antitheism are overlapping and not mutually exclusive, it’s easy to see how some might think of antitheism as a different “brand” of atheism. As author Stefan Baumrin writes: “A mere atheist might think, or even write, as in a diary or a wellworked manuscript to be left in a locked desk drawer these words but would never broadcast them.”

2. As an antitheist, I hold that skepticism and critical thinking are intellectually superior to supernatural belief.

I have written before about how I do not respect beliefs. I have gone so far as to argue that this is a matter of the potential of the human mind. To hold a religious belief, one must suspend a critical analysis of the world in favor of a self-serving fiction. The only difference between religious beliefs and delusions is popularity. To exercise the full potential of our brains, we must challenge our instinct to forgo reality so that we can define our existence by that which we can know instead of that which we cannot.

3. As an antitheist, I hold that humoring any religious belief is dangerous to society.

I know, I know… I’m extremist and intolerant, right? No. This is an intellectual argument. Allow me to demonstrate mathematically. The commutative property will come in handy.

“There is a God and the Bible is His Word.” = A belief with no supporting evidence = x
“Slavery is an acceptable practice, since Jesus condoned it in the Bible.” = A belief with no supporting evidence = x
“Gay people lead immoral lives and should not be treated equally in society, because the Bible says so.” = A belief with no supporting evidence = x

x = x = x

When we’re accepting truths that have no substantiation, there is nothing to distinguish between them. By allowing for one as “harmless” as believing in God, we’re opening the door to any others. (Interestingly, when people cherry-pick their beliefs, they do so using secular moral reasoning, the very thing atheists/humanists/secularists espouse.) The only way we can eliminate stupidity and oppression is if we demonstrate that none of the supporting beliefs have any merit and we stop respecting them as if they’re okay.

Oh, and if you’re curious about the slavery thing, I would check out (you can just scroll over them!) the following verses: Matthew 10:24, Matthew 24:45-46, 1 Timothy 6:1-5, Ephesians 6:5-6, Titus 2:9-10, and 1 Peter 2:18-29.

4. As an antitheist, I hold that there are no unique benefits to religion.

Many have attempted to couch things like morality, charity, community, and inner peace within religion. I argue that while religions may be organizing structures for some of these “benefits”, that alone is not reason to preserve religion. No religion is responsible for the existence of those values, nor are those values dependent upon religion to persist in our society. In fact, there is substantial evidence that they reflect the very nature of humanity and how we evolved as a species. We can be selfish, but it’s easy to be selfish when society is prosperous. Our morals, our concern for taking care of others, our need to connect with others, and our need to feel good about ourselves… these qualities are universal properties of humanity. We do not need supernatural beliefs to access them, maintain them, encourage them, or provide opportunities for them.

..

So, here is a quick review:

I am an atheist.
I am also an antitheist.
I am not a contratheist.

There are plenty in the gay community who would never wave a rainbow flag, just like there are plenty of atheists who would never speak out against religion. I am one that would.

Oh, and don’t attack me anonymously or I’ll call you out on my blog.

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There are 12 Comments to "Atheism, Contratheism, and Why I’m An Antitheist"

  • Liz Mettille says:

    Zack!
    I have a couple points/questions regarding your opinion.
    As you know, I’m an atheist as well. However, I’ll be honest, I don’t agree with everything you have to say. I do see your point of view, though.
    One thing I’ve kind of struggled with has been what I plan to do with my future children. Any thoughts on that?
    I believe that religious belief should be a choice. I will not force my children to go to church. However, I don’t want them to be ignorant or feel “left out” when all their friends at school are going. I don’t want to close the church door to them… that is their decision to make… after I offer up arguments, of course. It will be a challenge to explain those things that got shuffled off as “God’s plan” when I was a kid. When people don’t want to explain things… it is easily brushed off that way.
    Also, in response to your comment about how religion is dangerous to society. While I completely understand your point. Do you deny that it does any GOOD, though?

  • ZackFord says:

    Hey Liz,

    Over at Friendly Atheist, Hemant often addresses this topic, as does Richard Wade through his “Ask Richard” columns on that same blog. There are a lot of great discussions, including some very specific kinds of questions, so I would look through that

    On a personal note, I would say that I hope to be very open about these issues with my children. I, too, want them to be able to choose, but I also want to discourage conformity to peer pressure. Everything I read and have experienced tells me that young people can handle a lot more than most parents are willing to share. The article on racism in this week’s Newsweek is a great example and definitely worth reading: Even Babies Discriminate: A NurtureShock Excerpt.

    In regards to your other question, note that I specified that I see no “unique benefits.” I can clearly see benefits, but I don’t think any of them warrant religion, because none of them depend upon religion. Organized charity, community gathering and sharing… none of these require that people submit to religious belief. It’s great that churches do it, but too often the belief clouds the intent.

    I think about the Salvation Army, who does a lot of great work, but I personally can’t support them because they have religious and anti-gay tones. How many service trips do churches send young kids on but also expect they will evangelize… almost in exchange for the service. There are good things that religious organizations do, but they are not good enough, and they certainly aren’t good enough arguments to maintain religions. Does that answer your question?

  • Liz Mettille says:

    Yes, and thanks for referring me to that. I’ll have to dig through all that stuff!

  • Interesting, two concerned responses about leaving belief choices open to their children, why is that? Would you support or encourage *any* choice your children make, or only when it comes to religion?

    So, you say your an atheist, your child chooses to become a Christian Scientist and stops going to the doctor or accepting modern medial help, still OK? They grow up an have kids of their own and won’t let modern medicine interfere with God’s plan, comfortable?

    Being open-minded is not the same as agreeing to be a fool; face it, there are very real limits on the choices your children will make before it upsets you, no different than the degree you get upset observing the behavior of the broken-minded as they go about their lives organized around a fantasy (and the projection of that fantasy onto others).

    Would you honestly say that your children believing in young-Earth creationism vs. evolution has equal merit in your view, and the resulting choice they make should be unbiasedly guided?

    You want your kids to be atheist because atheism is empirically, rationally, ethically, and morally correct. Furthermore, an atheistic life profoundly more rewarding and inspiring than anything *any* religion has to offer. Would you wish anything less than full-engagement with our shared reality to challenge their minds to their maximum potential?

    You might want to re-think those positions on religion being a “mere” choice.

  • ZackFord says:

    Jim, you make some lovely points.

    I want my kids to be atheists. And I will have conversations with them about religion and beliefs starting at a VERY young age. As I said to Liz, I think young people have cognitive potential that most people don’t give them credit for, and I will make it very clear to them how beliefs come about and why their daddies don’t share them.

    What I won’t do is MAKE my kids be atheists. Worldviews should really be about how people see the world through their own eyes. I want my kids to actually be able to make the kind of choice that most young people don’t. I’ll be disappointed if they choose to believe something (and of course I wouldn’t feel it had equal merit), but I care enough about the “risk” of allowing for their free thought that I don’t want to force them to conform to their parents.

  • MAKE? Not unless we’re in Soviet Russia, Iran, or maybe Texas (joke).

    I don’t think MAKE is the right way to think about it. I educate my kids about every and all religious stuff I learn about: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and variants in all those, but like cigarette smoking this is harmful stuff and I do not present it as an attractive set of world-views (they intrinsically are *not* attractive world-views) any more than I would hype smoking or drugs or self-mutilation.

    The reality is that I teach this stuff to my kids to *protect them* — they live in a world chock-full of people who believe that stuff, so ignorance is not an option. I don’t teach them about “living Roman mythology” stuff because it is not practiced — Mythology should be studied as part of history and literature not lived out on the streets like it is today, it’s embarrassing, and, occasionally, frightening.

    Clearly kids will grow up to be who they are, but guess what? If one or more of my kids (I have, um, several) grows up believing that nonsense is real BAM! They’re getting called on it just like every other broken-mind. Yes, you *can* believe (mostly) whatever you want, but choices are an action, some choices are qualitatively better than others and if you choose to make a really poor choice than you need to take responsibility for that action. I will still love and care for them, part of that love is being intellectually honest with them and treating them as respected equals: “Son, about this Christianity you’ve adopted, can’t you see…[devastating polemic follows leaving son a mass of quivering Jell-o]” and so forth.

    Imagine it for a moment, say Sam Harris, et. al. *do* finally achieve their goal of a world where theistic belief is rare, such folks would be viewed as quirky, or even crazy — what would your reaction be, in such a world, if one of your children, or someone close to you “went that way”? It would be painful (well, for me it would be) to watch happen. The only reason why there is even a conversation about some quasi-choice regarding what our children choose to believe is because if they did choose to go the nutter way “at least they won’t stand out.” Our responsibility, as rational human beings is to treat fairy-tale thinking the same way regardless if the world is run by theists (as today) or theism is rare: such world-views are not confluent with reality at their best and potentially indicative of a deeper problem at their worst – such folks need to be engaged and reasoned out of their delusion, otherwise they are lost to us (as many are today).

  • ZackFord says:

    SEVERAL? You aren’t one of those QUIVERFULL people are you??? Just kidding.

    You know, I pretty much agree with everything you said (except I don’t plan on hitting my kids, though maybe you were kidding). I’m still quite a few years away from having kids of my own, but your comments will definitely stick with me. Thanks!

    See? People comment and I learn things! Come on people!

  • Clue Giver says:

    “Since I recently developed”

    Like hell you did, liar!

    It has been in use on the interweb for years and most certainly NOT developed by you. It was developed by a theist.

  • ZackFord says:

    Well, I do not presume to be the first one to ever use it, but when I began using it, I had never heard it used elsewhere. It’s not in dictionaries or anywhere on Wikipedia. I see no other atheist bloggers using it (many seem caught up in the whole weak vs. strong atheism or agnostic vs. gnostic atheism which I don’t agree with).

    I use it based only on how I defined it in a prior post. Any previous etymology is unknown to me, and I do apologize to any who feel they have credit it over it.

    You’ll note that my blog is the top search result on google and bing for the terms “contratheist” and “contratheism.”

  • Bob Amser says:

    The talks you plan on having with your children would be denounced as fervent indoctrination if they were theistic talks.

    If you think you will avoid “making” your children believe something, you’re in error – they will by default believe anything someone who appears to know more than them tells them. It is only when they meet contrary views that they will have any glimmer of doubt.

    You don’t have any real desire to let them choose, the actions you plan won’t allow them choice, so don’t mislead yourself on that point. It’s a passionately held set of views that’s important to you, and you will certainly pass it on. All you can do is try to be gentle and tolerant with your rather weaker offspring.

    “Son, about this Christianity you’ve adopted, can’t you see…[devastating polemic follows leaving son a mass of quivering Jell-o]”

    Consider avoiding devastation and quivering, and try to imagine it from the other person’s point of view. If instead of Christianity it was “becoming a musician” or even “Atheism” or “homosexuality”, does that change the emotional impact on the child?

    All parents want to persuade their children not to make bad choices, but you have to let go in the end, or you’ll let the disagreement drive a wedge between you and eventually lose them permanently.

    Too many families don’t speak, and too many teenagers I’ve met have left home too early. Find a way to let your wayward ones have peace while they’re in your house.

    Thankfully, my Mum led with the love-the-black-sheep approach, and while we disagree about several things, we don’t let it get in the way of happy family life, and all her children (&significant others) and grandchildren love being together. Occasionally the children try out their parent’s beliefs on their cousins, but we all advocate the approach that you can both disagree and live differently without being intolerant of each other, it’s OK. There’s no need for any children to be left in tears or be on the receiving end of devastating polemics.

  • sthyer says:

    Hi Zack! I heard contratheism once and didn’t what it meant, so I googled it and your blog came up. I think this was very informational. But I also would have to disagree with some of your points. I am a young christian and would like to consider myself intelligent. I do believe in creation, but I believe the 6 days in which God created the earth is a metaphor for a greatly expanded period of time. However, I do not believe all life evolved from single celled organisms. I think humans have always been humans. Sometimes when we are discussing religion, I will tell people I am a christian. They will then say, I believe in science. I also believe in science. I don’t think religion and science are mutually exclusive, although I disagree with the theory of evolution, I do however find science fascinating and think 97 percent of the science world is correct. Would you say I am not intelligent? Also, many service projects my church does does not involve religion or beliefs of any sort and just has the sole purpose of helping people. As in, I have helped pack food at my church to send to homeless shelters and food banks. I respect your beliefs but I just wanted to show you my point of view as a young christian woman.

    • sthyer says:

      I forgot to mention, although I believe the bible is the word of God, it has gone through people before making it’s way to paper. It was written in old times, where most people shared these beliefs on slavery and gay people, not just jews, and later christians. I don’t support slavery(duh) and I do support the gay community, as God made them perfectly who they are and they have a right to love anyone they do.

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