Windows and Doors

Windows and Doors

Thank God For The Atheists

I give thanks to God for the 21% of atheists who, according to the recent study by Pew, affirm their belief in Her or Him, and I am blown away by the holiness of such people who manage to pray once a week. In fact, I think that I aspire to being one of them (though with a bit more regular prayer).
Of course the quick response to such a finding is that American atheists must not be a very bright group if over a fifth of them say that they believe in God. Don’t they know what the word means?! But in truth, they may be way ahead of many of us who count ourselves among the faithful.
Perhaps what this twenty-one percent is expressing is their awareness that the categories of both “faith in God” and “atheism,” as both are commonly used, are too narrow to capture the complexity of that which they believe and that which they do not. It seems to me entirely reasonable to deny the existence of the old man in the sky which most people have in mind when they use the word “God”, affirm belief in something/someone, and accept that one may as well use the word that most people use when they want to talk about something which is, almost by definition, beyond human language.
The disbelief of these atheists sparkles with a holiness that in Jewish tradition has been the hallmark of none less than the biblical Abraham and the great Moses Maimonides. It was the latter who insisted that no positive statements could be made about God because they would constraint an infinite being to finite language.


According to Maimonides, one could not speak of God as great or merciful or anything else that relied on human experience to understand. One could only affirm the existence of a god who was beyond all measure and comparison – in other words, One who is truly infinite.
I appreciate that praying to such a god, especially in times of need, crises, or pain can be almost impossible. At least I find it so. I want that loving presence, that perfect parent in the sky who hears my prayers, notices me and my family, etc. But I also know that if such a God exists, He or She has a funny way of listening to some of us and failing to notice others!
Abraham knew that long ago, which is why the Bible’s first monotheist is also its first atheist. It was Abraham who heard God’s plan about destroying Sodom and argued that doing so failed to meet the criteria of good judgment; that if God was the most righteous, He should act more justly! In effect, Abraham was willing to deny God’s godliness if He didn’t measure up to Abraham’s understanding of justice. While that might be a bit arrogant, it strikes me as a very healthy corrective for the same man who was willing to “blindly” alter his life and that of his family just because God called him to do so.
It seems to me that Abraham’s holy atheism is the needed balance to a life of passionate faith in which one give’s themselves over to that which they most believe. In fact, the more we believe in something, the more ready we need to be to question it and even to walk away from it. Abraham lived that lesson and so I think, do those twenty-one percent.
For more really fascinating responses to the question of what it means to be a self-defined atheist who believes in God, check out responses at the Newsweek & Washington Post site, On Faith.

  • Anonymous

    Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics … and Pew
    Mark Twain popularized Benjamin Disraeli’s claim that there were three kinds of lies, “Lies: damned lies and statistics.” Now that the PEW Foundation has added a fourth category: “oxymoronic lies,” the statement might read “Lies, damned lies, statistics and PEW lies.”
    An oxymoronic lie is my description of an ostensibly noteworthy finding by a respected authority that is semantically or logically impossible and that is then sold to the gullible public to relish, escalate and eventually make indelible in the mind of the average person. Basically it is a claim that is a violation of the known laws of the universe, (and many religious claims fall into this category) but which doesn’t prevent theists from gloating about the serious damage it does to critics of the established order, such as atheists. An oxymoronic lie often has a “Gotcha!” quality to it and is best typified by beliefs such as “there are no atheists in foxholes.” It is also found lurking in conversion stories of atheists like Francis Collins of Human-Genome-Project fame, and the alleged subtle but strong Christian allegiances of the Founding Fathers. A great recent example was the “finding” by Columbia University “researchers” that distant anonymous prayer could help infertile women to conceive.
    Now we have learned, according to a recent Pew survey, “21 percent of atheists in the United States believe in God or a universal spirit,” and 8 percent are “absolutely certain” that such a Being exists. “Atheists believe in God?” How can anyone conceive of such a conclusion? Are we about as far into Orwellian “newspeak” and “doublethink” as it is possible to get?
    Sam Harris, in commenting on this same subject, has pointed out that locating an atheist who believes in God makes about as much sense as “claiming to be a happily married bachelor.” I see it as the use of statistics, which is a lynchpin in much of scientific work, to attempt to take advantage of people who have a lack of common sense.
    There was a time when I thought that the most humorous criticism of the use of statistics was: If your head is in the freezer at minus forty degrees farenheit and your feet are in the oven at two hundred degrees, then, on average, you are quite comfortable. Now, the humor in this old joke is greatly surpassed by the use of oxymoronic lies such as PEW’s revelation that there are atheists who believe in God.
    Even for an organization that boasts about itself that “The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. . . . (and) to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life,” finding God-fearing atheists is an extraordinary feat. I ask you; would you rather use a simple average of the temperature of a freezer and an oven to delude yourself into thinking you knew something about the world or rely upon a PEW survey to really make an ass of yourself?
    For, millennia, humans have concocted all manner of schemes for obtaining difficult-to-acquire information; foretelling the future and in general finding out about many things including how their fellow beings will behave at some future date. They tried to cut open frogs and “read” their entrails, they searched the patterns of the stars like our friends the good astrologers still do, and they worshipped oracles at Delphi and future television staples like Nostradamus. Eventually scientists and mathematicians got into the act of trying to find out what will happen if thus-and-so were to occur and soon statistical inference and sampling techniques were born.
    But once mathematically inclined humans became involved, things really started to get ridiculous because not only could they lend an air of respectability and erudition to it all, but they found they were able to bamboozle many more people who simply became terrified at even the thought of figuring out the flaws in some mathematical algorithm. This is not to deny that statisticians were able to develop reasonably credible techniques based upon probability theory and Gaussian mathematics using normal curves and distributions that showed (among other things) how to win at Blackjack, what the average woman should weigh and why poor people vote for Republicans and other weird behaviors.
    In modern times the statistical analyst was born and he relied heavily upon Gauss and curves and “normal distributions” and, believe it or not, the flipping of coins, all of which could be demonstrated to be valid and somewhat reliable. But man being the arrogant creature that he is was not content to stop there, and so he invented the pollster.
    Pollsters are convinced (and have therefore convinced many of us) that they can walk up to a complete stranger, ask a few innocuous-sounding questions and in a few moments come to believe that this stranger not only trusts them but will (given a promise of confidentiality) reveal the combination to Uncle Henry’s vault. That’s why Mark twain got such a kick out of riding these guys by claiming that there are lies, damned lies and statistics.
    In conformity with Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion (here simplified as) “every action has an equal and opposite reaction,” the”pollster-deceiver” emerged. Pollster deceivers like myself delight in tweaking the noses (and numbers) of arrogant surveyors like those from the PEW Trust and when we are approached with questions like “What do you value most in a car?” we answer, “Fuel economy.” And to the next question, “What kind of vehicle do you drive to work?” we answer, “A nine-passenger SUV.”
    This type of response then permits the researcher to conclude that “most Americans believe that an SUV is a fuel-efficient vehicle,” rather than the obvious reality that the average American was convinced to buy something that was counter to his best interests. It also gives us the perverse satisfaction of knowing that we have contributed to the implausibility of many survey results. This is my charitable explanation for the PEW findings about atheists, but it doesn’t explain why PEW’s experts wouldn’t be aware of this. I have no doubt that much of the confusion, ambiguity and downright inaccuracy of research polls lies in the development of the as-of-yet-unstudied but clearly emerging class of pollster-deceivers.
    The Pew Charitable Trusts was founded in 1948. It claims its current mission is to serve the public interest by “improving public policy, informing the public, and stimulating civic life.” PEW’s contributions to the examination of the human mind began as seven charitable funds set up by Joseph N. Pew and his wife, Mary Anderson Pew along with other wealthy relatives of the Sun Oil Company. They were, always have been and still are conservative, “freemarketeers,” anti “new Deal” style of government, and decidedly supportive of “traditional values” Republican style. Their attitudes seem to generally be substantiated by their research findings which they hope will “acquaint the American people with ‘the evils of bureaucracy’ and to inform our people of the struggle, persecution, hardship, sacrifice and death by which freedom of the individual was won.'”
    It is certainly not surprising that an organization such as this one would really think they have discovered “believing atheists,” because it is well-known that researchers tend to find what they are hoping to find and if they don’t get it right the first time, with a five billion dollar net worth like PEW’s, they are not opposed to keep on trying until they do.
    Can you believe that the media actually publish statistical junk like this? Would the New York Times report the results of a Pew study that claimed that 21 percent of American journalists who work for major newspapers actually do not speak English but rely instead upon Google translations? Granted a few of them don’t speak it very well . . . but . . . oh, well, maybe this isn’t a good example.
    I could be wrong, but, given the complexity of the definition of an “atheist,” i.e., “weak atheism,” “strong atheism,” (to say nothing of the subtle shadings of agnosticsm and its overlap with weak atheism) I maintain that it is probable that 95% of PEW’s respondents, most of whom are theists, don’t know what an atheist really is. When they answer the question they are either bluffing or revealing something about their own ignorance. For the small percent who are able to see the illogic of Mr. Pew’s “research,” and perhaps contributed to it, I say “Congratulations on answering pollster’s questions with malicious intent, because the more you do, the greater the chance that nobody will take religious pollsters seriously.”
    And definitely don’t be surprised if one of your best friends, in an attempt to steer you away from your downward path toward degradation and Hell and convince you of the obvious existence of God (and thereby save your worthless hide) points out to you that “the latest PEW research proves that even many atheists believe in God.”

  • Taliesan

    There are entire denominations of a**holes out there, the freaks who protest funerals, who encourage the murder of abortion doctors and who repeatedly try to control what computer games you are allowed to play.
    A**holes who think that because a person was honest about their religious affiliation, or lack thereof, that person is automatically amoral and not to be trusted. A**holes who disown their kids for refusing to believe in the magic sky fairy of their choice, and a**holes who think that shooting your own guys in a war is a good way of spreading the faith.
    A**holes who bring up the courtiers defence, the “truth is relative” and accusations of atheists being “intolerant” because while theists seem to feel feathers about the s**t they put everyone else through, they don’t exactly like it when people start fighting back.
    I mean, look at those a**holes who go on about the God Delusion. Here you have theists flying planes into buildings, killing people for changing their minds (Ala Saudi Arabia), threatening soldiers who don’t believe with fragging (US Military Issue Christians) and isolating otherwise okay members of their community – and the God Delusion is a terrible, terrible form of atheist oppression and intolerance.
    You know, two opposing extremes, on the one hand you have a**holes who kill people, and on the other hand you have people writing books in response to a**holes who kill people. Reeeaaally opposite and equal that isn’t it?
    Is it any wonder that a fifth of the population of atheists out there actually lies about being atheist? Maintain a charade of deep religious belief to you know, not have to deal with religious a**holes on a daily basis?

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