Religious people: This post mentions the nonexistence of certain things the majority of religious people believe exist, such as God, an afterlife, the supernatural, and any nonhuman force that rewards good and punishes evil in the world. If your form of religion doesn’t believe in those things, that’s very nice for you and I’m not talking about you. If you are upset at the suggestion that these things don’t exist or that the majority of religious people do believe they exist, I suggest you look at Cute Roulette instead, because this post will not make you happy.
Today I would like to complain about the phenomenon of Asshole Atheists. Let me be clear here: when I talk about Asshole Atheists, I’m not talking about people who are loudly atheist. While some people have a tendency to consider you an asshole if you say, loudly and without caveats, that God doesn’t exist, I don’t think that’s true. Of course there are times in which it’s inappropriate to bring up the topic of God’s nonexistence, ranging from small talk to funerals. But
Signs that you are an asshole atheist: If your description of the deity involves the words “invisible,” “sky,” “daddy,” or “fairy.” If you make pedophile jokes about Catholic priests. If you appropriate the struggles of Christian queer people and Muslim women to prove that religion is always and everywhere terrible, without acknowledging the queer people and women who use their religion to defend their liberation. If you believe there is absolutely nothing good that religion has ever done ever, no good moral teachings in the Bible or Koran or Torah or Bhagavad Gita, no Dorothy Day or Oscar Romero or liberation theology (can you tell I’m an ex-Catholic?). If you describe religious people as stupid, blind, deluded, or sheep. You get the idea.
Some people seem terribly smug about being right about one thing. It makes me wonder if this is, in fact, the only thing they’ve ever gotten right in their whole lives.
Atheists are not necessarily any more right than other people. There are atheists who believe vaccines cause autism, homeopathy has any benefits other than the placebo effect, alien abductions happened, the stars control our destinies, alternative medicine is superior to regular medicine because it’s natural*, sexism is over, “I’m colorblind, I don’t see race,” mentally ill people are monsters, and if poor people just pulled themselves up by their bootstraps they would stop being poor. All of those things are factually wrong statements that huge numbers of atheists believe!
Religion is a result of the same cognitive biases that affect every human everywhere. Do you think you’re free from confirmation bias, you who get all your news from fifty people on Twitter who agree with you in every particular? Do you think you have never assigned a mind to something that doesn’t have a mind, you who constantly plead with your computer or your car when it isn’t working right? I’m sure you don’t believe in the Just World Fallacy, which means you’ve never said that with hard work and sacrifice anyone can get ahead, or that cheaters never prosper, or that if that horrible thing happened to someone they must have done something wrong to deserve it.
For, lo, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of rationality.
And let’s be clear here: I’m not exempting myself from this. I’m wrong. I’m wrong a lot! I’m incredibly cognitively biased! I’m a regular victim of the planning fallacy, and reactance, and the unit bias, just to pick a few random examples. I have been wrong about things in the past (look through the NSWATM archives if you’re curious) and I am wrong about some things now. (Hell, I might even be wrong about some of the things I said were wrong up there.) I am on a lifelong quest to try to be less wrong about things.
The world is a million-question test. The problem with Asshole Atheists is that they look at the first question, bubble in “No” on “is there a God?”, lie back in their chairs, and are like “I got an A!” That’s very nice for you, getting the first question right. Now it’s time to deal with the rest of them.
*Some alternative medicine treatments have been shown to work for some illnesses; mindfulness meditation is actually part of the standard, evidence-based treatment for borderline personality disorder. In addition, it makes sense to take advantage of the placebo effect for certain illnesses, such as colds or mild depression or pain, and altmed may offer the best placebo effect with fewest side effects. Therefore it is not correct to state that alternative medicine is less effective than regular medicine in all circumstances.