Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Natural Born Skeptic: My Atheist Journey Part 5

The Road Towards Antitheism

I didn't immediately become the antitheist that I am today after studying philosophy in college. After my lapse into hedonism, I gradually reignited my interest in philosophy, but the process took years. As late as my mid-twenties I was more or less still an atheist who kept his beliefs largely to himself. As I had done in my teens, it was relatively rare when I spoke out on atheism and I usually only ever exposed my beliefs in a reactionary fashion, such as when I was confronted with someone else’s theistic or supernatural claims that I thought was nonsense. Over the years however I did seem to increasingly enjoy initiating conversations about politics, science, god and religion and began enjoying the challenges of pitting together antithetical worldviews. I also briefly became an agnostic for a short while when I began concluding that knowledge of the existence of god was unknowable. I guess you can say that agnosticism was the closest I ever veered away from atheism. This foray was short lived however because I came right back to atheism when I realized that agnostics are really just atheists, since anyone who doesn’t actively believe in god is technically an atheist. I also had a lot of trouble reconciling the seemingly contradictory properties of the concept of god, along with what we would expect to see in the natural world if there was a god.  

With my passion in philosophy and science having been reignited, I began seeking out like-minded company. It was shortly thereafter that I caught wind of the creationism vs. evolution debate that was raging across the US and my red flag went off. I suddenly became aware that various states and school districts were trying to get creationism taught in science classrooms under the new guise of “intelligent design”. I thought to myself, “Haven’t we been there before? Wasn’t this issue of teaching evolution in school settled in like the 1920s or something?” I vaguely remembered reading Inherit the Wind in high school about the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee when they put evolution on trial, but I had completely forgotten that the teacher who was accused of teaching evolution actually lost that trial. It wasn’t until 1968 in the Epperson v. Arkansas case that the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the banning of the teaching of evolution was unconstitutional. Slowly after this, school districts across the US replaced biblical creation with evolution in the science classroom, but the creationists were always at it trying to get forms of intelligent design taught alongside with evolution. Personally, I never recalled anything but evolution being taught in biology class, but I of course grew up in liberal New York.

Upon realizing that in the twenty-first century there were young earth creationists at it again trying to get their faith-based nonsense rebranded under a different name and taught in public schools, I felt in a sense a call to arms. I started taking my atheism a lot more seriously. I started researching into all the old tactics theists were using to advance their theistic agenda. I began reading about atheism and watching lectures and debates between creationists and evolutionists, and between atheists and theists. I became obsessed with all the arguments made for and against the existence of god, and realized that there was an enormous amount of people engaged in public debates on the matter. And then I came across Christopher Hitchens who I would come to greatly admire. He’s the polemic type of militant atheist who is actively opposed to religious belief and argued that religious belief, far from being benign and humble, is actually a very harmful and negative belief system. His arguments resonated profoundly with me and introduced a new word to me: antitheist. He was the voice I was looking for; he was the person I wanted to be. He articulated many of the negative views I already held about religion (albeit better): its appeal to authority over reason; its ignorance to scientific facts; its misrepresentation of the nature of our origins and the truth; its emphasis on faith and dogma over evidence; and its primitive ethical systems developed by stupefied iron age desert dwellers who didn’t even know the earth was round. I can go on and on, but you get the point.

Having never been religious myself, and having never spent any significant amount of time around religious people, I began to fully realize just how dangerous the religious way of thinking potentially was. I had a few run-ins with stereotypically ignorant religious types over the years. I knew I didn’t agree with them or particularly like them, but their effects were always at an arms-length from me, never able to wield any significant power in my domain. I had now known exactly what they were capable of when they worked together. It wasn’t just trying to get creationism taught in school that bothered me, the religious right in the US was trying to erode away hard won civil liberties that formed the pillars of our secular democracy and the separation of church and state. I became more political and realized that most who debate on behalf of religion were also against secularism – the one condition I draw that I cannot tolerate being violated. I realized that there was also an opinion war at stake here: the more religious someone is, the less likely they are to support a secular government and the separation of church and state. Therefore, I realized that it was vital that atheists, agnostics, skeptics, freethinkers and anyone who supports the preservation of the Establishment Clause and a society that uses reason and evidence, needed to continue fighting the good fight and make the case for a rational, secular, humane society where its citizens are free from the tyranny of dogmatic religious belief being imposed on them by their own government.  

And thus, the road towards antitheism was paved.

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