You probably know by now that I'm not a believer in any kind of supernatural super-being. It's quite possible (as far as my limited capacity for reasoning takes me) for me to accept that there may be living entities with extraordinarily long life spans (after all, we have trees which live in excess of five thousand years), or with much more highly developed senses and abilities. There is undoubtedly much that we as a species (and much, much more that I as an an individual) do not yet understand - if we ever will. However, so far, there is nothing which amounts to credible evidence to support the existence of a spiritual, supernatural, omnipresent and omniscient deity operating independently of all the principles that scientific endeavours have illustrated to us. So: I don't believe in such things. If you choose to do so, then I have no problem with that choice. Just try not to be precious about it.
Today I came across the latest in a long line of "Things I wish Atheists would stop saying." Christian blog posts via FaceBbook. It wasn't vitriolic, it wasn't extreme, and it was in fact a fairly gentle example of that kind of subject matter. What, however, always irks me (I do like to use the old 'irk' word once in a while, lest it become underused and obsolete) about these pieces is the apparent assumption that Christian faith - that most revered of all mental states according to some - must not be challenged. The flip side of such an assumption (often garnished with a drizzle of self-righteousness sauce) is of course that a lack of faith IS to be challenged. That seems a bit one-sided.
While I'm happy for my (let's use the word for brevity's sake) atheism to be challenged and discussed, I don't see and hear the same level of comfort among believers whom I know and may even be on friendly terms with. My atheism isn't a belief, first and foremost- it carries no expectations, other than the overriding principle that I am able and free to change my mind if I wish, with no negative consequences. If, for example, proof of a supernatural deity were to be presented to me (and I mean real proof, not the shape of a face in a piece of toast), then I'd be comfortable saying "I was wrong.", and to start fretting about the afterlife again, and probably doing some grovelling.
Having once been a practising Christian, I also understand that faith actually requires itself to be challenged, in order to be affirmed. And yet, so few Christians (other religions notwithstanding) seem ready to welcome a challenge of reason versus their faith, the very word often being held up as a shield against reason and fact. It's a little sad, really, but I suspect that it's the main reason why believers stay believers: it's more comfortable to not swim against the stream you've been in for so long.
The Christian blogger has a point though. I'm frequently dismayed by attack atheists (stand by for generalization) who use crude and often aggressive language and tactics to argue their point. In fact, many don't seem to be arguing a point at all, but merely attacking the other person's beliefs, which is something of a cul-de-sac in critical thinking terms. Online, such people seem to most frequently be (generalization beginning: NOW) white males under the age of thirty and apparently with some very large-bladed axes which need grinding, and - I suspect - underused penises which need regular rubbing. Such people (aggressive atheists, not young white males per se) are the equivalent of loony Christian fundamentalists.
For some reason the name Ken Ham just popped into my head, along with another word: bonkers.
Aggression takes an argument nowhere. I know: I've fallen into that trap too many times. Once belligerence becomes a tactic, arguing is meaningless, since opinions grind to a halt and stop any pretence of moving or developing. I'd even go further: atheism isn't a movement or a principle; it's a development of reasoned thinking by an individual. Nobody convinced me to leave behind a life of Christian belief; I just allowed all the things binding me to my indoctrinated* faith (fear, anxiety, guilt) to fall away and to tell myself what seemed to be a blindingly self-evident truth. After that, I was able to say it out loud.
*I had, after all, only ever had faith because I had been taught to have faith by my parents and alleged 'betters' in the church.
Maybe that's what atheism is; what true atheism can ever really be. It's intensely personal (in a world filled with the doctrine of organized religion, perhaps more personal than any kind of faith which must align with that doctrine), and perhaps that's the scale at which it belongs. Shouting about it doesn't and won't ever convince anyone - indeed, I've yet to walk away from even a civilized conversation on the subject with the impression that anything has changed for the person of faith - and aggression merely entrenches opposing opinions and probably encourages bigotry.
Maybe atheists could adopt a new strategy of laise-faire. Let the believers (if they do truly believe, although a lack of comfort being challenged upon their faith would seem to hint at some fundamental doubts in the background) get on with it, while we get on with feeling free from the kind of oppression that religion offers us. It's a thought. A small-scale one, being shared in case you're remotely interested.