A Manual for Creating Atheists by Peter Boghossian: A Book Review by Christina Knowles

Manual for Creating AtheistsIn A Manual for Creating Atheists, Peter Boghossian makes a great case for street epistemology, or attempting to create atheists, whenever we engage someone stuck in a faith system in our everyday lives. At first, the title comes across as a little too “evangelical” for even my taste. I mean, what about “live and let live?” Should we actively try to spread our take on things just like the religious do? What about respecting people’s views if they’re not harming anyone?

Well, Boghossian points out what many of us are aware of already. Faith, or “pretending to know things you don’t know,” as Boghosssian defines it, hurts us all. It dumbs down our society, causes us to deny science, create laws that inhibit the rights of others, and feeds radical fundamentalism. At any rate, he is not advocating for bringing this message door to door, but merely engaging in Socratic questioning when we find ourselves in a friendly conversation with those of faith. Basically, he wants us to stop backing down out of “respect” for ridiculous beliefs, distinguishing between respecting the individual and pretending to respect their beliefs, thus legitimizing irrational thought.

Where I disagreed with Boghossian was that we should always target the epistemological process of faith, rather than specific beliefs or contradictions in “holy” texts. While I agree, blind faith is the problem, and as he puts it “all faith is blind,” many will be more willing to question the “virtue” of having faith if you put a crack in the specifics of what they already believe in their particular religion. It’s a lot easier to expose the fallacious elements of faith, in general, if you can show how beloved personal beliefs fail. This often leads to questioning everything. And this is the ultimate goal, questioning—examining everything with critical thinking. Skeptical thinking is the epistemological method that leads to finding truth. In my experience, it seems that many people progress through many steps toward skepticism, and that the first step is admitting that their own holy book has undeniable errors.

My favorite part of this book was how eloquently and logically Boghossian makes his case for getting back to Classical Liberalism, rather than the modern liberalism we see so much in higher education today. Boghossian explains that in an effort to promote tolerance and acceptance, we fail to attack bad ideas and bad thinking out of a misplaced politically correct sense of diversity. While cultural diversity is a good thing, we still have to point out, question, and attack logically the ideas that cannot be true or that are harmful to freedom, democracy, human rights, etc. Boghossian discusses how certain topics are considered off limits in our educational institutions today, religion being primary. Boghossian says that liberalism today has “favored” groups that are protected, while the rules against intolerance for these groups do not apply to other groups who are not favored. For example, one favored group currently is Muslims. Boghossian states,

“Contemporary academic leftists don’t withhold making judgments entirely, as do cultural relativists. Rather, they withhold judgment to the degree that a culture seems foreign and/or alien, or to the extent that they perceive a culture to be misunderstood or victimized by the West. Islam currently occupies the top rung on the contemporary leftist hierarchy of beliefs and practices that should not be criticized.

“Leftist academicians fervently judge elements in Western culture. For example, academic leftists take great pride in condemning Western institutions, Western financial systems, and Western corporations. One might see a leftist academic withhold judgment, regarding a clitoridectomy in Northern Africa, but loudly decry a gender imbalance in the headcount of speakers at an academic conference” (Boghossian 205).

This type of hypocrisy is all too familiar. Sam Harris often points out what he sees as the dangers of the Islamic faith, as well as other religions, and I have always appreciated his willingness to come out with these issues publically, realizing this dialogue cannot be “off limits,” just because it will offend someone. Open and intelligent civil discourse requires that we can engage these issues. And as both Harris and Boghossian point out, religion is not race. People choose to change religions every day and cannot be born a certain religion even if they are born into a religious family. As Boghossian points out, Islam is the favored protected group at the moment, but we don’t have any trouble pointing out flaws in Christianity, Mormonism, or Scientology. What is the difference?

Boghossian, by no means, advocates for discriminating against the rights of anyone based on their religion, but merely states that no religion is off limits for critical examination and civil discourse.

This book is filled with wonderful references for further reading and resources to help the concerned atheist spread critical thinking, and I look forward to reading many of them; however, I will still attempt to point out specific problems with specific doctrines, rather than only targeting the faith fallacy. Overall, Boghossian conveys some very good strategies and makes his points well. Four stars out of five—Christina Knowles

Here is a link to purchase Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists

 

 

 

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Alone, I Thrive by Christina Knowles

I wrote this poem in 2009 during a time of struggling to believe in the unbelievable, trying to make sense of a cruel or absent god with no evidence to support that this god existed at all, and finally coming to the realization that God was not cruel; he just did not exist. This was not the beginning of my struggle, nor was it the end, but looking back on this time, I realize that facing the reality that God probably does not exist, I, indeed, am thriving. I say “probably” because I cannot know he does not exist, but I have no reason to believe he does, and living my life based on my best assessment of reality has freed me to blossom and grow with the confidence that I won’t drown when the waves of trouble crash against me; I can swim.

Ocean Storm

via free-download.com

“Alone, I Thrive”

Once again I’m drowning

With You nowhere to be seen

Can’t You see I’m floundering

In the open sea?

 

In my doubt I’m sinking,

Not knowing if You’ll come.

I just can’t help but thinking

More faith would help me some.

 

Could it be Your purpose

To let me drown again?

I think You are not merciless;

There must be a higher end.

 

I reach out to You, Oh Lord,

Grasping at Your hand.

I can see the distant shore,

The fabled Promised Land.

 

I feel Your hand is slipping

There’s nothing I can do.

I feel my heart is ripping,

But Your plan was all You knew.

 

Gazing at the inky sky,

I see the moonlight shine.

I tell myself I shouldn’t cry

For Your will be done, not mine.

 

I tell myself, someday, You will let me see

The purpose in Your plan,

And I’ll understand why You let me

Sink, slipping from Your hand.

 

I’ll understand Your absence

In time I’ll comprehend

Why You don’t come to my defense

No doubt your reason will transcend

 

The silence from You is deafening

Abandoned once again

My hope in You is lessening

My withdrawal from You begins

 

I don’t blame You for Your failure to assist

Me, You are unable to respond

You simply don’t exist

I should have known it all along

But the idea— impossible to resist.

 

So alone in the water, I struggle to survive

Rising to the surface, surging

Forward, I arrive

To the shore emerging

In tact, alone, I thrive

—Christina Knowles (2009)

What I Miss About Being a Christian by Christina Knowles

broken_cross_by_cantabrigian

Photo via deviantart.com

Since I’ve become an atheist, I have had to give up a lot of things I was used to. When giving up religion, God, an entire belief system, of course, there are going to be major changes.

For example, I gave up some prejudices. It’s not like I had obvious prejudice in my life, but I remember feeling sorry for people whom I thought didn’t “know” the truth like I did. When people asked why so many horrific things happen to good people in a world with a supposedly loving god, I thought they just didn’t understand God like I did. After all, what about free will or helping us to grow our characters? I ignored how in the bible, God didn’t really condone free will at all. I mean, is it really free will when you are condemned to everlasting torment if you refuse his commands? That doesn’t even fit our legal definition of free will. At the very least, it would be considered coercion or extortion. And I tried not to think about how a child getting cancer could possibly have a positive purpose. After all, to a Christian, this life doesn’t really matter as much as the afterlife.

Speaking of the afterlife, I had to give up ignoring this life in favor of an unknown possible life after death. As an atheist, I have to face that this life is all I have, so this makes me appreciate each day, see the beauty of now, and make the most of the time I have here instead of dreaming of a day when I get to die and go to some better place. To be honest, heaven never sounded that appealing to me anyway. I’m glad this is the only life I have, and I’m going to make the most of it.

Without God, I also had to give up being a child, being told what to do and how to do it. And without the hope of heaven, I had to give up selfish reasons for being good. Now, I have to decide for myself what I believe is right and wrong and how best to live out my ideals. When I do something for someone, I don’t think there is some invisible father watching me, counting up my good deeds in order to lavish reward upon me in the afterlife. I do it just because it is the right thing to do, it is kind, and I want to live in a kind world with the least amount of suffering for my fellow inhabitants of the earth. And who really wants to remain a child all her life? Aren’t children supposed to grow up someday and think for themselves? Apparently, not God’s children.

I also had to give up a lack of self-esteem and guilt. Being told you are nothing without God, a seemingly cruel and vindictive tyrant, can damage your self-image. Worshipping anyone, including an imaginary being, takes a toll on your self-perception. I’ve always had an issue with the idea of worship anyway. If there were a perfect being, wouldn’t he be too perfect to have an ego problem? If pride is a sin, then the god of the bible, if he existed, would be the biggest sinner of all. Why would he feel the desire to strike people dead and send them to hell for not bowing down to him? Does he have a self-esteem problem? He sounds worse than any monarch I’ve ever read about. But now, I don’t have to believe that something is inherently wrong with me just for being born human. I don’t have to tell myself that I deserve hell when, really, I never did anything to deserve eternal torment. If God created me and chose to make me with flaws, what gives him the right to judge me for it? And expect me to bow down and thank him for the privilege of not being tortured for eternity?

So, I had to give up fear of punishment, especially for thinking. I can’t make myself believe something so flawed and unbelievable. I can’t make myself believe something which has no basis in the reality I experience every day, and I can’t force myself to have the faith God supposedly requires to avoid his wrath. Now that I don’t fear my doubts, but instead embrace skepticism, the world just makes more sense, and I sleep just fine at night. People ask me, “What if you’re wrong?” Good old Pascal’s Wager. The common atheist answer is “What if you’re wrong about the particular religion you chose; what if you chose the wrong one?” But my answer is that if I’m wrong, God will have a lot of explaining and apologizing to do, and if his answers aren’t good enough, I probably won’t even offer him my forgiveness.

Furthermore, I had to give up pretending I don’t have a mind. I don’t have to pretend that the earth is six thousand years old, and that women were created as an afterthought, just to keep men company. I don’t have to pretend to believe that two of every animal on earth fit on a boat, or that we have different languages because God confused them because he was afraid people could actually build a tower to heaven, or that a man lived in a fish for several days because he refused to be a missionary (where’s his free will?). I don’t have to believe that it was a good thing for God to impregnate a barely pubescent, scared virgin teenager or that it was right to accept the blood of an innocent to atone for the sins of the guilty. Now, I can use my brain to think and say that it is actually silly to believe the unbelievable.

But the most important thing I’ve given up is confusion. The entire time I was a Christian, I was completely confused. When I first became a Christian, I wanted to learn all I could. I read, and I studied, but that’s the worst thing you can do if you want to stay a good Christian. The more I learned, the more I realized that the bible was full of contradictions, the god of the bible was a lying, self-centered villain with a maniacal ego, and that Christianity was just another cult like every other religion, based in no more reality than Scientology or the worship of Odin. Now that I am not a Christian, the world seems to make more sense, and I am not constantly in a state of anxiety over trying to figure it out.

So, I gave up my stress over making sense of religion, and with it, I gave up my conditioning—what I was taught from birth to accept without question or logic, what my culture decided I should believe, and I learned to see the world without the blinders of indoctrination. I’ve given up the chains of blind belief, and I feel truly free for the first time in my life.

So what do I miss about being a Christian? I miss out on wasting my life on a delusion. I miss out on forcing myself into a box in which I never fit, and I miss out on overlooking this life while I fantasize about the next, which probably doesn’t even exist. What I’ve gained from giving up on God is the whole world and the ability to be a grown up, making my own decisions, and living this amazing life as I see fit.—Christina Knowles