Why do atheists care what theists believe?

Every time certain atheist spokesmen get themselves reved up for a rant they almost immediately begin by making fun of how stupid is to believe in religious ideas.

Is this a productive approach?  Doesn't this amount to shooting fish in a barrel?  How does it help the 'cause' of freedom *from* religion?

Don't we still have freedom *of* religion in this country?  Don't people have a legal right to be stupid or believe in stupid things?  How does it hurt or affect me personally that my neighbor believes Jesus Christ performed magic tricks?  Does it really matter?

I would argue it does not.  It only matters if my neighbor tries to impose his religious beliefs on me personally and, quite frankly, that isn't something I have ever really experienced. Most of my friends are Catholics.  They have never once wasted a single breath trying to convert me to their beliefs.

It seems to me if an atheist spokesmen's first line of attack it to ridicule and make fun of people for being stupid, it's no wonder they are perceived in a negative way.  It's this line of attack that makes me want to distance myself personally very far from the organized atheist movement.

I just can't bring myself to care what my friends and neighbors believe.  Everyone is entitled to their own personal beliefs about the world and, quite frankly, each of us has our own unique life experiences we draw upon.

I'll give you a concrete example.  I'm pretty sure that nearly universally every single person who is self-identified as a member of the atheist movement would state that there is no such thing as ghosts and anyone who believes in ghosts is a superstitious idiot.  It must be nice to be so certain about things but, guess what, I have never seen a ghost or had a ghost experience.  And I certainly don't presume to judge the experiences of those who have.  Some people see ghosts.  Some people see UFOs.  And some people have profound and deeply personal religious experiences and, well, I say, more power to them.  

Their personal experiences do not comprise a threat to me, or to my world view.  Their belief in ghosts, bigfoot, UFOs, or the Virgin Mary do not affect me personally in any way shape or form, other than perhaps enriching my life with interesting and entertaining stories.

I can't build up the the hate, anger, and resentment required to the point that my first desire when I discuss the religion topic is to call people fools, idiots, and liars.

Don't get me wrong.  I am militantly in favor of freedom *from* religion and I will fight to make sure that no law is passed which tries to impose a particular religious belief on another as public policy.  That said, I would fight just as hard to the contrary, that no law should be passed to restrict an individual from holding any particular religious belief of their own.

I really feel like the atheist movement is it's own worst enemy. Instead of trying to build bridges where the theist and non-theist alike can have a shared dialogue over what could lead, over time, to mutual respect and understanding, instead they begin the discussion by insulting, ridiculing, degrading, and attacking people of 'faith' in a way that I find personally very disturbing.

As my dear friend Rodney King once said, 'Can't we all just get along?'

As a personal example, I am a member of the fraternal organization the Freemasons.  We have two core rules and those are that we will never discuss religion or politics in the lodge.  The reason for that rule is that these are two topics which lead to the most disharmony and discord between men.

Instead, we focus exclusively on what we can agree on; that it is good for men to come together and support one another in brotherhood and charity for the benefit of society as a whole and to uplift the individual.

In the Freemason lodge my brothers have no idea what my personal religious beliefs are, nor do I theirs.

This policy is a pretty powerful idea that has stood the test of time and I think the atheist movement could learn a few lessons about how to build understanding instead of simply trying to piss people off with the first words that come issuing through their mouth when their kneejerk reaction is to paint the religious as ignorant and superstitious buffoons.

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Comment by thewoodenwand on March 24, 2012 at 1:58pm

Get out there, all of us need to talk to people, be real social not just facebook and blog.

Unfortunately if religious people would leason to reason (and accept logic) there would be no religious people.

Weak minded, uneducated and people who want power over others will always use religion and need false hope, not believe.

Comment by Novacovici Daniel on March 23, 2012 at 2:38am

Sure we have the right to be stupid and believe whatever nonsense we want to believe. But when this believes can have a major impact on other people's lives, don't you want that those believes are true believes? When an arab sheik asks the death penalty for some tweets about the "prophet" don't you wanna have 5 billion people shouting out loud: "You are insane!!". If the pope says that "Using condoms will INCREASE the spreading of AIDS" don't you wanna those catholic friends of you to say: "This dude is crazy! Let's make him shut up!".

Instead of those common sense reactions, we have nothing from religious people! They, at best, close their eyes, cover their ears and ignore the embarrassment as much as possible. In meentime, innocent people suffer because of some's irrational believes.

Comment by thewoodenwand on March 23, 2012 at 12:25am

Almost gets you made enough to go to church, well I do I go to a Unitarian Church to try and explain to the supposed neutral leader there is no need for a God if you have morals. But very week he spouts off about haw there is a God.

Comment by Richard ∑wald on March 23, 2012 at 12:10am

Comment by thewoodenwand on March 21, 2012 at 2:01pm

In certain groups not caring about fellow members is fine. In the real world if the guy next door gets a delivery of large torture devices and children's toys and a walk-in safe UPS, you wonder.

When children are seen seen entering and never leaving and he stops grocery shopping, you call the police.

When a government, youth group, political or religious group teaches hate, publishes "the Solution" and builds weapons they never will need or have reason to use, same thing.

Comment by Bob James on March 20, 2012 at 7:07pm

Being in a group, such as it is even a 'group', that is dismissed as immoral because I don't believe in an unprovable entity... and the associated dogma surrounding that entity; and being placed in a particularly low category of trust for the same shoddy reasons leaves me feeling like it's not me who is unwilling to get along with others. If I could be seen in the same light as other groups politically and socially by religious groups I'd be fine with whatever that group wanted to believe in (as lang as they weren't harming others in an obvious way, i.e. physical or sexual abuse, severe mental trauma or major financial hardship).

Comment by Loren Miller on March 20, 2012 at 11:09am

I don't want to believe; I want to KNOW. [emphasis mine]
-- Carl Sagan

I've had all sorts of experiences, some ordinary, some very much not. The internal ones I tend to keep to myself because I can no more relate to another person precisely what they were than I could convey to them what Rocky Road ice cream tastes like if they had not tasted it themselves. External experiences might be approximated - like piloting a glider - but again, that's only an approximation. Let them actually sit in the cockpit as the tow plane pulls them aloft and they'll have their own experience, which might be something like mine.

The mistake that too many people make is having such an "internal" experience and assuming that it was a common, universal experience or worse - that EVERYONE had to believe it. The shared irrationality of the church is frightening to me in its power to persuade one to believe an experience and interpret its significance as being in concert with the group belief ... yet not one of them can corroborate or verify their own individual experience against a hard standard. That is the arrogance of communal belief which constitutes religion.

Anyone can believe anything they wish. They may KNOW what they saw-heard-felt-whatever. If they want someone ELSE to believe it (me, especially), they can substantiate it.

Comment by John W. Ratcliff on March 20, 2012 at 10:40am

@Loren, I think you are missing my point.  I'm not suggesting that *you* accept as evidence or believe something based on the experience of someone else.  What I'm asking you to do is admit that to the person who had the experience, that their experience alone is sufficient evidence for *them*.

There is a presumption in skeptical/atheist thought that all people who 'believe' in the paranormal are irrational idiots.  What I'm pointing out is that it is *not* irrational to believe in your own personal experience.  In fact, it would be irrational to not believe in it.

This isn't about what is reasonable for *you* to believe, the discussion is about what it reasonable for someone else, who has had a direct experience, to believe.

I have never seen a flying saucer, or bigfoot, myself.  But I'll tell you right now.  If I do see one, at close range and there is no other reasonable explanation, then I reserve the right to believe the experience of my own senses.  Relativity, it's a fact of life.


Comment by Loren Miller on March 20, 2012 at 10:35am

The eyewitness can be in love with his own testimony all he wants ... but if he wants me to buy into it, he can provide something more to back it up.

I mean, I'd look pretty foolish if I simply told the customer, "Hey, your system's fixed," and when the customer asked for proof, I just responded, "Oh, you can take my word for it."  Safe to say, that would be my LAST visit to said customer ... which is why I spoke of providing substantial proof that whatever was ailing the system I was tasked with servicing was indeed resolved.

Any eyewitness claim is only as good as the quality of its corroboration.  Jody Foster's character in the movie, Contact, ran headlong into this when the vast and expensive machine she rode in apparently did little more than drop her through itself.  Even she admitted (honestly!) that her testimony was without support ... until the digital recording unit she wore during the event was found to have recorded 18 hours worth of static.  Not a small matter.

Eyewitnesses need to understand their own vulnerability, regardless of the venue or their enthusiasm about what they purport to have seen.  Evidence still talks, BS still walks.

Comment by John W. Ratcliff on March 20, 2012 at 10:09am

@Loren I agree that eyewitness testimony is indeed very weak.  It is weak to you.  It is weak to me.  You know who it's not weak to?  The eyewitness.



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