Religion and Atheism: Cultures in Conflict

November 8, 2007 at 10:03 am 23 comments

ConflictThe danger and the pain of the conflict between pre- and post-Enlightenment cultures were illustrated in a recent court ruling fining Westboro Baptist Church, Topeka, Kansas, £5.2 million.

The church comprises around 70 members of the pastor’s (Fred Phelps) extended family. For years the church has denounced homosexuality and picketed the funerals of Aids victims. However, they later extended their pickets to the funerals of soldiers, who they say are being punished by God because of America’s tolerance of homosexuality. Last year, they caused outrage when they attended the funeral of Matthew Snyder with signs reading “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “You’re going to hell”.

Matthew’s father, Albert Snyder, wept when he heard the verdict. “I hope it’s enough to deter them from doing this to other families. It was not about the money. It was about getting them to stop.”

Daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper – co-defendant along with another daughter, Rebecca Phelps-Davis – vowed to continue picketing military funerals.

The Economist Special Report on Religion and Public Life (3/11/07) reported that Christians in Kenya recently denounced the exhibition of the Turkana Boy – the most complete prehistoric human skeleton – because he inconveniently lived thousands of years before Adam is supposed to have met Eve.

A lavish new $27 million Creation Museum in Petersburgh, Kentucky, aims to set the record straight, showing how dinosaurs could have mingled with humans shortly after time allegedly began in 4004BC, and how Noah squeezed pairs of all the world’s animals into a boat only 135 metres long.

In the early hours of October 25, 2007, 22 year old Emma Gough, a shopworker from Telford, UK, died. She had recently given birth to twins, and held the babies as her life ebbed away.

She died, despite being in hospital with a team of doctors and nurses around her. She died, even though her life could have been saved. She died because she refused to have a blood transfusion which would enabled her children to have a mother, and would have enabled her to continue to be a wife to her 24 year old husband. She died because she was a member of a religious organisation that prohibits the eating of blood. She died in the twenty-first century because of health regulations relating to a near stone age society. She died because she was a Jehovah’s Witness.

Despite the advances in the sciences, the social sciences, and in textual criticism that have taken place since the Enlightenment, the religious people want to be left alone to believe as they believe. They question why organisations like the National Secular Society, and people like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are so angry with them and advocating that people should speak out against them.

The simple atheistic stance, as I understand it, would question why should we go on listening to people who believe things which are so irrational and absurd? In America or Iran (at least) these people, who have a medieval or pre-medieval mindset and persist in believing in the myths, are the same people who have access to nuclear weapons. In my opinion, the whole world should be concerned, not just the atheists.

– A Thinking Man

Entry filed under: AThinkingMan. Tags: , , , , , , , .

Where does Atheism fit in my life? Reasons why I can no longer believe: 2 – God as a ‘no show’

23 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Shannon Lewis  |  November 8, 2007 at 10:22 am

    I’m very proud to say that I got a PERSONAL phone call from Fred Phelps himself back in ’96. He threatened to sue me. I don’t know what his problem was. I mean, I only shut down his email server for 3 or 4 days – no biggie! 😉 He must’ve had – seriously – close to a billion emails (no exaggeration) because of my little ‘prank’. Very proud.

  • 2. Mike  |  November 8, 2007 at 11:11 am


    Are you saying that the world should be afraid of religious cultures more than they should be afraid of atheist cultures? Why do you draw the pre and post enlightenment distinction?

  • 3. Rob  |  November 8, 2007 at 11:57 am

    in response to mikes question to whether we should be afraid of religious cultures, I say no not afraid but concerned. we live in a world of religious extremism that brainwashes the many and allow people like jim jones and Warren Jeffs to teach their convoluted views. while i respect freedom of speech these “leaders” need to be watch to make sure they don’t overstep their bounds within the various constitutions of the world

  • 4. Stephen P  |  November 8, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    Cause for concern indeed. Simen recently suggested that atheists were concerned about belief because they were hobby philosophers, but the causes for my concern are much closer to the ones in this post.

    Mike: I can’t speak for ATM, but I would suggest we should be worried about all dogmatic cultures: cultures which reject critical examination and indeed set out to suppress all criticism of themselves. I doubt it makes much difference whether the dogma in question is religious, communist or nationalist.

  • 5. athinkingman  |  November 8, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    I agree with Stephen. For me the issue is really about a lack of criticality and a willingness to examine evidence – as is most often typified by religious cultures.

    At this point the non-atheist camp usually say: What about Hitler or Stalin? Can’t atheistic cultures be as bad?

    I think the issue with many oppressive dictatorships is that they are like religious cults in many ways – leader worship, symbols, ceremonies AND uncritical faith leading to dogmatism and a lack of rationality.

    In answer to Mike about the distinction between pre- and post-Englightenment – I wouldn’t want to argue that too closely. It was just meant to be a short-hand way of distinguishing between a time that valued investigation and science and reason, and a time of uncritical dogmatism and acceptance of dogma.

  • 6. Mike  |  November 8, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    Okay, I appreciate the clarification. The problem isnt with Christianity or Islam, the problem is with the uncritical acceptance of beliefs. Of this I wholly agree.

  • 7. BEn  |  November 8, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    Mike, I agree. The issue isn’t that religion shouldn’t exist – I see a place for religion just as I see a place for all differing opinions. My issue is that for a majority of “religous” individuals there is no room for any opinions, theories, or beliefs outside their own. It is blind acceptance that we should be most wary of, and it is always important to question it.

  • 8. The Reformed Faith Weblog  |  November 8, 2007 at 5:14 pm

    The groups of people you cited in this article were mainly from fringe radical groups or cults, not orthodox Christians.
    This is not the way we think nor is it how I believe my God wants us to think… It is unfortunate that groups like this exist in this day and age. Technology and increased knowledge was the gift of God to human kind… as are the more advanced methods of examining the Bible with all the available original texts, historical and archealogical evidence and plethora of study tools and cross references, etc. But the mind will justify what the heart has already chosen… if that is what you mean by uncritical acceptance.

    However, to insist that belief in a higher spiritual force (God) is believing in a myth is implying that evolution has disproved God, which has not happened, nor can it. Belief is something that is subjective, for any belief system, even yours…

    When Francis Crick claimed that human emotion and belief was nothing more than a conglomeration of electrical currents and chemical reactions that were the result of millions of years of evolution, then he assumed (based on his presupposition that humans come from lucky slime) that ALL humans are subject to this effect of evolution. Even Evo’s. The mind justifies what the heart has already chosen. (Now where have I heard that before?)

    And did you really shut down Fred’s server?? OMG LOL… I can just imagine the cursing coming out of him and his clan. Talk about a potty mouth moment. Would have loved to be a fly on the wall for that.

    Anyway, I just saw your blog up on the front page and found it interesting.

    Blessings, Mrs. P.

  • 9. tobeme  |  November 8, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    I agree that the people whom you cited have a twisted view of their beliefs, however if that is how they wish to live and die, so be it. These of course are isolated cases and there are many relitious people who do not fit into this sort of ignorance and extremisam.

  • 10. karen  |  November 8, 2007 at 5:45 pm

    One of the members of my ex-fundamentalist support group posted this today as part of a discussion about the Christian persecution complex. I thought it was germane to our discussion here, so I got her permission to repost it:

    I’ve often said here that fundamentalism begins the moment you believe you have the One True Right and Only Way (OTROW) — and are therefore commanded by God to inflict your truth on everyone else, regardless of their interest. It’s an aggressive faith that has zero respect for outsiders, and consequently treats them very poorly unless they’re potential converts. (After all, we’re all just going to hell anyway, so it’s not like their God cares about us.)

    It’s hard to be accepting of people who are actively abusing the rights they enjoy as part of a free society in order to destroy those same freedoms, and set themselves over the rest of us. Letting them pick up the scissors and run amok on the Constitution is not an option. Unfortunately, they’re usually not happy when they lose the fights they themselves picked, and are prone to whine like a bunch of toddlers about how unfair it all is that we didn’t let them win.

    But their unhappiness is not my problem. Keeping my own rights and boundaries intact is. As far as I’m concerned, all that wailing is just proof that we’re doing our jobs right.

    That’s from Sara (Mrs.) Robinson, who blogs at Orcinus:

  • 11. tadcronn  |  November 8, 2007 at 5:50 pm

    Glad you clarified the statement about the pre-, post-Enlightenment thing. A lot of Atheists seem to suggest that the Enlightenment happened because a bunch of people suddenly woke up one day as Atheists and brought their way of thinking to the world, when the Enlightenment came about because of Christian thinkers and their respect for reason. Atheism is an outgrowth from that time that follows one line of reasoning (one I disagree with), but there are many others. The examples cited in the article are clearly outside the mainstream of modern Christian thought. Many renowned scientists are and have been Christians. The Vatican itself is a large sponsor of scientific research. Mainstream Christian thinkers include doctors, philosophers, scientists, professors, even (God help us) Nobel laureates Al Gore and Jimmy Carter. If your complaint is really about critical thinking vs. ignorance, then I’m with you there. I feel compelled to point out, though, that modern Christianity cannot in seriousness be tossed in the same boat with Islam. To do so, you really have to be seriously ignorant of Islam and the differences between the Quran and the Bible. The tendency in schools and even among some scholars who should know better is to consider Islam as being just another form of “the Book.” In reality, while the Quran references some biblical stories, its take on those is so turned about that it really should be considered a separate tradition, almost cultic in its origins. And I’m being generous here. Bear in mind that Islam is the only world religion founded by a warlord. And frankly, it shows.

  • 12. athinkingman  |  November 8, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    Thanks for all your comments.

    Several people have pointed out that the examples chosen are from the ‘extreme’. Ok. But what about the ‘central’? Prayer is central to faiths. Some of us would argue that that is equally strange and bizarre and another example of an atheistic culture in conflict with a believing one.

    I refer you to:

  • 13. parallelsidewalk  |  November 8, 2007 at 6:49 pm

    “They question why organisations like the National Secular Society, and people like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are so angry with them and advocating that people should speak out against them.”

    Richard Dawkins is just as fanatical, petty, intolerant, and hateful as most religious fanatics. He’s a brilliant biologist but I don’t plan to take any advice from him on what to believe or how to live anytime soon.

  • 14. athinkingman  |  November 8, 2007 at 6:59 pm

    parallelsidewalk – Dawkins is passionate yes, but it seems harsh to call him intolerant. Isn’t his point this: “I will listen to reason and examine evidence and have a debate and change my mind if necessary. Most people in religion won’t do the same.”

  • 15. Scott  |  November 8, 2007 at 7:35 pm

    Regarding comment #12 – I’ve seen the “amputee” site, the 10 questions and the jug of milk argument on prayer… The guy is misinformed about prayer. It’s not a magic incantation. Check out my post at

  • 16. Askin  |  November 8, 2007 at 11:07 pm

    Where did you read about the date when Adam and Eve have met?
    There is no indication of its date in any religious book. Certainly
    they must have met before the Turkana boy.
    Recetly there were articles in many world magasines, including one in German Spiegel, I think, which talked about the Paradise must have been somewhere in today’s Turkey, beside the two rivers – Euphrates and Tigris- and the ruins of the first human settlement there dated back to 15000 BC.
    So your article is making only speculations.

    Life has started from a single cell and in water according to Koran
    -which came to confirm the books sent previously by God.
    And the process of life has continued afterwards under the guidance of God. How else can one expect such an intricate and superior order in the nature (one example , the human brain)
    which is definetely not a result of a series of co-incidents.
    Somewhere in the chain, came Adam and Eve, thrown out of Paradise. This resembles the story of the modern man very much actually- we are slowly being thrown out of “our Paradise”
    and maybe forced to look for another planet, if we continue to use
    the earth the way we do…
    Askin Ozcan
    Author of SMALL MIRACLES – ISBN 1598001000
    Outskirts Press

  • 17. athinkingman  |  November 9, 2007 at 2:49 am

    Regarding #15. One of the points of prayer MAY be to get to know God, but when Jesus said: “Ask and you will receive”, he didn’t say: “Ask and you will get to know God”. And the question still remains: Why doesn’t God heal amputees in answer to prayer?

    And the bigger issue still remains. If prayer is central to mainstream religion, and if it involves somehow getting the divine to do something that he already know he/she will do:
    1) Where is the proof that it is happening?
    2) Doesn’t it seem a slightly odd thing to have to do?
    In other words, it is both irrational and unscientific. And therefore mainstream religion is part of a pre-Englightenment culture.

  • 18. ESVA  |  November 9, 2007 at 10:44 am

    Mrs. P.:
    You opened your comment with these statements:

    The groups of people you cited in this article were mainly from fringe radical groups or cults, not Orthodox Christians. This is not the way we think nor is it how I believe my God wants us to think.”

    I’ll begin with the first sentence. I think one point of citing the fringe elements of religion is to demonstrate how far afield religious thought can stray from reasoned thought. Unfortunately, religious thought is all of a piece; the distinctions between beliefs and the practices carried out on the basis of those beliefs are differences in degree, not in kind. Religious thought occurs on a continuum and it is difficult (perhaps impossible) to define the points on that continuum at which beliefs cross from orthodox to radical to disturbing to dangerous, etc. Religion does not have the self-correcting mechanisms of science or logic, and, as Dawkins points out, westerners are expected to respect, or at least tolerate, all religions equally. Such respect is precarious in a world in which bona fide lunatics can wreak horrendous destruction upon themselves and their neighbors.

    Now I will look briefly at your second sentence. Based on the entirety of your comment, I suspect that you are a believer with whom I would love to chat, have a cup of coffee, etc. I would probably love to live next door to you. Unfortunately, you reveal the weakness of your position by saying that radicalism is not how you believe your God wants us to think. Your religious vision may be beautiful, but it is yours alone; your understanding of your God is yours alone. And that’s the problem with religion in general.

    Oh, we point to “authoritative” texts and cite them as our foundations, but textual interpretation is a free-for-all in which anything goes. Yes, there are advanced methods of biblical study available, but not everyone agrees that they should be applied. Even among those who apply the newer, more scientific means of study, there are thousands of interpretive results that compete for dominance. There is no mechanism by which believers can test the teachings of Borg or Wright or Spong or Colson or Ehrman or Geisler or Craig, or even Pope Benedict, and can, at the very least, weed out the mistaken or misleading or dangerous beliefs. There is no falsification in religion.

    You also stated, “The mind justifies what the heart has already chosen.” This, is, alas true in too many cases. The challenge for all humankind is to strike the appropriate balance whereby both mind and heart can inform and influence each other so that life will be enjoyed and enriched to its fullest.

    Thanks for your input. Sorry I’ve gone on a bit in my response.

  • 19. owen59  |  November 12, 2007 at 8:01 am

    If there is a culture clash it is between ideologues and rational thinkers. It doesn’t help the dialogue to think of it as between atheists and theists. I think you would find a large body of religious thinkers as deeply disturbed by the actions you described here. The question is whether we want to go through life drawing lines between people or trying to find places of connection. We shouldn’t have to agree with each other on everything to make society work well. But we do have to be respectful.

  • 20. athinkingman  |  November 12, 2007 at 9:31 am

    I take your point Owen. Nevertheless, part of me wants to point out that from my perspective, there is something PROFOUNDLY irrational about having any religious faith, and therefore I posited the culture clash in the way that I did.

  • 21. Jason  |  November 12, 2007 at 10:35 am

    I find this discussion rather intriguing – and encouraging. As a current seminarian studying for the ministry, I’m glad to find a place where these ideas can be discussed without turning into petty, thoughtless accusations and insults from either side.

    It is true that Christianity – and all major world religions for that matter – is extremely diverse in its practices. That’s disturbing even from a Christian perspective. But there is a positive that comes from it as well: Christianity is a faith that allows for a tremendous amount of diversity. And to echo some things that have already been said here, it’s only the most extreme right-wing cases that don’t accept that diversity. You’ll find the same thing Islam and Judaism.

    We Christians may argue about a lot of petty differences – very bothersome – but one thing remains the same: We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that he died on the cross for the sins of those who would accept Him as their Lord and Savior. The Bible is a very mysterious book, and Christians everywhere need to accept that there is a certain degree of mystery to it. That means we’ll never have all the answers…and I’m okay with that.



  • 22. athinkingman  |  November 12, 2007 at 11:11 am

    I take your point Jason. Nevertheless, part of me wants to argue that the key issue is that all the diversity in religion (however mainstream or fringe) is always irrational. Atheists may disagree, but at least they can hold a rational conversation about it. However, it is difficult to hold a rational conversation with people who invoke the mysterious (in the sense of non-scientific and therefore irraitonal) or the supernatural (which is also non-scientific and irrational). Personally, I’m not ok with that, given where it has lead to in the past and where it may lead to in the future.

  • 23. Pastorpreneurs, Megamosques, Public Life « Balneus  |  November 15, 2007 at 7:19 am

    […] Religion and Atheism: Cultures in Conflict (Deconversion 2007-11-08) […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

Today’s Featured Link

Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.



Blog Stats

  • 2,162,441 hits since March 2007