June 20, 2014

Views of Atheism:
Do these people even realize what they are saying?

This is not to be confused with my Dear Christians columns, guys. Let's get that straight up front.

Recently, a study showed that 38% of Harvard graduates identify as atheistic or agnostic. A column in the Reno Gazette-Journal presented the findings to a panel of various religious leaders and asked for their reactions.

I was truly struck by the things that they said.

It leaves me the question: Religious people, do you not realize what you are saying? Do you not understand the implications? And can you really be surprised that atheists are sometimes antagonistic towards you?

Let's start with Sherif A. Elfass:
"As countries get richer, they tend to lose some sense of religion. That is why atheism is on the rise, not only in the U.S. but in other parts of the world as well, except Africa. Moreover, within these rich countries, college students, who generally are younger and physically healthier than the general population, get further away from religion. Consequently, this survey does not surprise me. It also does not worry me because as people get older, they are drawn closer to religion."
 Elfass, first, starts with an assumption that the US trends like other countries with regards to religion--we don't. We trend much higher in religiosity than our economic and social peers.

Then there's the assumption that these people are only atheists because they don't know any better, but that they will learn better as they mature and be "drawn closer to religion".

Then there's Matthew F. Cunningham. First, Matthew asserts that this is good news:
"Sadly, many people believe that some college professors intend to destroy the religious faith of students. The far that the number is only 38 percent might be viewed as good news. It means that 62 percent of the graduates retain a religious belief of some types."
Did you catch that, guys? Those dang atheists, out to "destroy the faith" of those poor hapless students.

He also says:
"I do believe that faith is essential to our national identity. The old hymn "Faith of our Fathers" says it well" "Through the truth that comes from God, we all shall then be truly free." 
"John Adams noted, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. 
"Faith leads us to the deeper meaning and purpose in life. It provides a firm foundation upon which we build productive, meaningful lives."
This is a doozie. For one, there's the idea that the only true freedom is through God, which implies that non-believers can't ever be free. There's also the idea that atheists can't be moral, included in the John Adams quote.

The last paragraph is the worst. It honestly reminds me of parents that go, "You'll understand when you have one of your own" to non parents, or that believe holding a baby will change a childfree woman's mind. Without faith, you lack a "deeper meaning and purpose in life" or a "firm, foundation". It also implies that without faith, your life is neither productive nor meaningful.

Then Sharla S. Hales chimes in:
I respect the right of all people to believe as they choose. While respecting those rights, I feel sad for the 38 percent of Harvard's graduating senior class, and all others, who do not believe in God. 
My belief in God enriches and blesses my life. In sorrow, I find comfort through my faith in God. In the anxiety of difficult times, I feel peace in my belief that God watches over and blesses me. In times of perplexing problems, I seek and receive inspiration. When I fall short, I have hope and optimism through repentance that God will forgive me and, through his grace, help me to do better. 
All of these blessings of belief, and others, would benefit leaders in all realms of society. The benefits of leaders with increased hope, inspiration and humility extend to all those under their jurisdiction. 
This is one that I really struggle with, personally. It infuriates me like no other. YOUR belief in God does a lot for you--that is great. Please stop generalizing that to everyone. I don't need you to feel sorry for me.

ElizaBeth W. Beyer added:
The percentage at Harvard is similar to their peers, categorized as unaffiliated. They lack the wisdom to reach beyond their physical environment to sense what is beyond the superficial, and find what is deeper and more meaningful. It may take time for them to awaken. Hopefully, they will be moved to grow spiritual roots once they face life's challenges or tragedies. 
They lack wisdom. They can't see beyond the superficial. They can't find "what is deeper and more meaningful"--they just need "time to awaken".

How 'bout no?

Stephen R. Karcher chimed in:
In a similar survey done years ago among Oxford students, more than 50 percent labeled themselves as atheist or agnostic compared with just 5 percent of the overall British population. However, within that study, the more highly educated postgraduate students were shown to be more religious than undergrads in both "belief in God and self-description." So, apparently, there's no direct relationship between atheism and education. (New Scientist, March, 2010)
 Karcher's issue is that he, like Elfass above, doesn't understand that religiosity in the US trends differently than in other developed nations. 65% of American assert that religion is very important to them, much higher than most other developed nations, including the UK. So it is unsurprising that Oxford has a larger percentage of nonbelief among its students. It also means that his last statement is at least partial bullshit, but that's a different story, I guess.

Stephen B. Bond jumped in with:
The growing number of Harvard graduates who are atheists and agnostics mirrors the religious decline throughout America.
In  and of itself, it's pretty innocuous. It's true that as nonbelief grows, belief must, by simple matter of the numbers decrease. But then he says:

However, once the university rejected the authority of the Bible, it began moving far away from God. Whenever we presume to know more than God himself, we end up doing what is right in our own eyes. As a result, the moral boundaries which God created for our protection and blessing are discarded and sin abounds. 
Harvard's spiritual decline points to an increasingly dark future for our nation. The more we ignore God's standards, the more judgment we will reap. "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." (Galatians 6:7)
Uh, no. This foments the fears of the populace about atheists. There is no "dark future" to be had here. You can, in fact, do good without believing in God. And as I don't believe in God myself, I'm kind of laughing at the idea that there is judgement to be had for not believing.

But it's thoughts like this that are the scariest to me, because coming from that fundamentalist background, I realize that it's frightening to think about how much these people honestly believe in what they are saying. They truly believe that nonbelief may very well end the world.

Just in case you guys missed it, here's a short list of the qualities one could reasonably conclude these people assume atheists have:

  • Atheists are privileged. They can choose not to believe because they have not experienced hardship (Elfass, Beyer)
  • Atheists are anti-religion. (Cunningham)
  • Atheists are destructive to our national identity. (Cunningham)
  • Atheists are immoral. (Cunningham, Bond)
  • Atheists lack meaning and foundation. (Beyer)
  • Atheists have less hope, inspiration and humility. (Hales)
  • Atheists lack wisdom. (Elfass, Cunningham, Hales, Beyer, Bond)
  • Atheists are superficial. (Elfass, Beyer, Shales)
  • Atheists are awaiting judgement. (Bond)

And then they call us "angry"? If we said similar things about religious groups, they would be nearly up in arms.

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