Positive Pillar

So, our release is over, and I’m on a desperately needed little vacation. So, let’s see what I can catch up with.

A recent editorial in USA Today put the focus on the efforts of Margaret Downey to put the focus on the positive aspects of atheism. This is right along the lines with which I’ve written on this blog, trying to offer a good story. From the article:

…consider the organizations that bar atheists from membership — the Boy Scouts of America and American Legion, to name two, as well as some local posts of the Veterans of Foreign Wars — and the conspicuous absence of openly atheist politicians on the national stage.

Mindful of atheism’s reviled reputation, a new current in non-belief is intent on showing the public what atheists are for. You might be surprised by what’s on their short list. Because, save for the belief-in-a-deity part, it sounds a lot like what most Americans value. Care for one’s community and fellow human beings, love of country and cherished American principles, the pursuit and expansion of knowledge — these are the elements of the new “positive atheism.”

Commendable. It is also admirable that Margaret Downey has teamed up with theists for important issues. Again from the article:

In an episode earlier this year in the Philadelphia area, where Downey lives, the stage appeared set for an atheist-vs.-Christian billboards shouting match: Downey and colleagues had posted a billboard on Interstate 95 saying, “Don’t believe in God? You’re not alone,” prompting a local Christian congregation to erect signs with a counter-message promoting God. Instead of escalating the billboard battle, Downey and company asked those who put up the pro-belief sign to join forces and volunteer with them for a Philadelphia charity. The people from the Light Houses of Oxford Valley congregation accepted the offer and teamed up with the atheists to spend a half-day sorting and packaging food for the needy.

“My goal is to teach by example that we believe in the importance of helping improve the human condition,” Downey says. “We atheists simply add one more ‘o’ to our belief system — we believe in good.”

That is excellent work. Now the article does mention that the so-called more strident atheists, such as Dawkins (who I’ve never really considered that strident, actually), has damaged our reputation. I disagree. We need both approaches. Although we do need the positive aspects of atheism emphasized, there’s always a place for the mockery of silly and ridiculous ideas. Healthy and vigorous debate is another component of driving progress. We should not engage in argumentum ad hominem or attack the people. Indeed, I know and respect several theists, some of whom are dear friends and family. But I don’t respect the beliefs they hold. If religious ideas are out there in the market place of ideas, they deserve all the critical scrutiny and mockery to which any other idea may be subjected. That may even open up a few eyes or have people examine their own beliefs more closely for their defense.

I truly believe though, that when these religious beliefs are examined too closely, they are exposed for the emptiness they are. I think this is a fear among many religious people when exposed to this type of open air debate. They don’t want to dig further into it or be challenged. Many do want to simply create their own self contained world, or bubble. Ridicule is a sharp pin that can pierce that bubble. Yes, thin skinned religious folks not used to real debate may feel offended, but others may see the light.

So, yes, if you want to ridicule, say, my acceptance of the big bang or evolution, feel free. Go ahead and mock the fact that I don’t accept the existence of an invisible green gremlin grooving in my garage (or simply mock my pathetic attempts at alliteration). I won’t be offended, but if you want me to take your criticism seriously, you better have the evidence to back up your position.

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