Once every year or so I find myself in a position of feeling like I have to blog about my position on certain things – if only to help those new people following me or who have become acquaintances on Facebook - understand a little bit more about my views.
As you may already know or have figured out by the presence of the scarlet letter A on the side of my personal blog – I am atheist.
I used to believe in a god, but I no longer do. How and why I finally divested myself of that belief is for another story, hell maybe even a book, but today I feel the need to talk about that dreaded thing “the bigger picture.”
Separate and apart from my atheism – I am also a skeptic. What’s a skeptic you ask? Well, a skeptic is a person who – tries like anything – to use reason as a basis for decision making as opposed to blind acceptance, dogma, anecdote or non-scientific method as foundations of proof for any claim.
It’s why my profile says I’m an “atheist-skeptic”.
Recently, within the skeptic communities I’ve noticed that there seems to have been a real debate as to whether or not deism was somehow weakening the skeptic “stance.”
Number one – skepticism has no stance. On anything. Just like science has no stance – it merely is a process by which we Humans use to help us understand the world around us.
It is entirely possible for a person to have made a leap of faith with regards to the existence of a deity and still be entirely rooted in the use of science and skepticism for everything else.
For people to shun those with faith merely for the existence of that faith makes them fundamentalists – and I can think of no fouler word to describe a person.
Fundamentalism – in all its forms, whether religious, atheist, commercial or philosophical – is a wedge that drives people apart as opposed to driving real debate, understanding and tolerance.
Anti-theists have an opinion that frankly – I really do understand. I’ve seen more pure hatred, crime and tragedy inflicted upon people and children in the name of a deity than I have by any other means. There are many times I wish that everyone would just dump their blind faith to see that greater accomplishments are only achievable when actions are taken instead of the wasting their breath on prayer.
However I am also, above all else, a true believer in the right of others to be able to have that faith and to practice it how they see fit – as long as they keep it in their homes.
Many brilliant scientists are deists and just because they have a need to feel they’re going to have an after-life shouldn’t discredit their work - as long as their work is grounded in science.
The skeptic community needs every single person it has – deist and atheist – in order to help those who don’t even have a basic comprehension of scientific method understand more important things right now – namely the dangers of vaccine and AIDS denialism; the uselessness of homeopathic “remedies”; civil and Human rights; teaching young children to think critically about commercials and the way items are sold to them by misleading advertising; keeping junk science out of our courts; resisting the fundamentalist movement to push creationism in public schools …
… a multitude of problems that face Humanity, whether they’re believers or not.
I don’t want any religion in my government – not because I’m atheist – but because the one problem I really had when I was questioning my faith wasn’t really whether or not there was a god – but which faith was the “right one.”
I went to mass for most of my life and talked 'til I was blue in the face with priests and nuns and clergy. Then I went to synagogue for 2 years and talked 'til I was blue in the face with rabbis. I moved onto the local temple where the Buddhist monks listened and smiled and told me I was normal and that I would find my path. I traveled to the Hare Krishna temple to talk about their faith because I was told I couldn’t be Hindu as one is “born” into that faith and conversion to it wasn’t possible. I’ve spoken to Wiccans and Druids and Mormons and Christian Scientists and Jehovah’s Witnesses and Native American polytheists and Pentecostals and Presbyterians and Episcopalians and finalized my religion shopping at a local mosque – where the imam graciously told me that I was doing more than shopping for a new religion – he rightly pointed out I was questioning all faith … to its core.
But the one thing I will always take away from the experience of reaching out to members of those communities is how private faith really is.
And by private – I mean private.
I have no right to tell others how they can believe, the same way those with faith have no right to tell me that I must acknowledge a deity’s existence.
However – as I’ve said before, the word “tolerance” doesn’t mean to accept as fact another person’s faith, ideas or philosophy – it means … tolerate.
It may sound like a mean or nasty term. To say I tolerate those with faith somehow sounds like I don’t like them.
Well – in some cases I don’t. Just the same way that some people with faith don’t like me. As long as they tolerate me and my right to exist without faith … then the system is working.
And maybe those of us in the skeptic communities had better remember that. I think the only way we’re going to be able to help those ignorant of the scientific method or lack the tools to grasp rational thought is to live by example and show others that tolerance is possible and work together to give them those tools.
Just my opinion of course – I only ask you tolerate my right to express it.