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What's the matter with atheists these days? - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

What's the matter with atheists these days? [May. 12th, 2007|05:19 pm]
Arvind Narayanan
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Apparently another anti-religion book has reached #2 on the Amazon bestseller list. For those that missed the first one, Dawkins's The God Delusion was all the rage a few months ago. This is far from an isolated phenomenon: Scott Adams argues that America might be ready for an atheist president, and youtube is full of interesting stuff like the Blasphemy challenge. (And if you search for "Christians", it turns up "how do we know that Christians are delusional?")

This is surprising to me. I don't think it could have happened 10 years ago, or without the Internet. And it isn't so much an expression of atheism as of anti-theism. Personally, while I have a bit of a problem with organized religion, I have no beef with belief in god, and I think good atheists leave theists the fuck alone. But clearly, many atheists don't feel that way.

It's not too hard to understand why. Discrimination against atheists is still rampant:

From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in “sharing their vision of American society.” Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

Even though atheists are few in number, not formally organized and relatively hard to publicly identify, they are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public.

You can't fight prejudice with logic, or by ignoring the prejudiced. You fight it by becoming organized and being in-your-face about it. The danger, of course, is of organized, evangelical atheism, which would be just as bad as organized religion. But so far, it's working. I agree with Adams's assessment with atheists as the new gays, and in 5 to 10 years, atheism will be just as acceptable as homosexuality is, at least in this part of the world.

Let's talk about that. Looking at major areas of the world by population, it seems to me that acceptance of atheists is highest in China and Japan, followed by Europe, then the US, and lastly India. (I don't see any hope for Africa and the Middle East, so let's ignore them.) Given that the situation in the US is rapidly improving, India will be left as the last bastion of good ol' atheist-hate.

Is it time for atheists in India to get organized and get some respect? Is it even possible? I don't think so, but I would be delighted to be proven wrong.

[User Picture]From: theswede
2007-05-12 11:40 pm (UTC)
The problem I have with theists is that they by their authority based activities strongly affect policy, available goods and other aspects of society for the worse. If ones personal belief did not in any appreciable way affect how one votes, what one buys and what attitude one has to environmental and educational concerns, I'd have no problem at all with theists. As it is, I think good atheists stand up against theists and do what the fuck they can to convert them, in order to improve (or at the very worst save) humanity. Anyone leaving them alone is a traitor against society and humanity. And I honestly do not understand the contrarian view on this one, especially in the light of the data you present here.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2007-05-13 12:21 am (UTC)
That's a fine example of what I was talking about. Especially the save humanity rhetoric. Apparently it hasn't occured to you that you sound exactly like an evangelical Christian?

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[User Picture]From: theswede
2007-05-13 12:34 am (UTC)
So your only argument with my concern is that, in your opinion, it sounds just like the faith based arguments of an evangelical christian? That's weak enough to be completely dismissable, and warrant no counterargument.
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[User Picture]From: haran
2007-05-13 01:07 am (UTC)
Oh Please.
He's commenting on your over-zealous need to convert people from their faith. This is so exactly what evangelical christian's are like, I initially assumed you were just parodying them.
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[User Picture]From: theswede
2007-05-13 01:20 am (UTC)
So just because one group of people have a strong conviction, everyone else who have a strong conviction must be exactly like them, solely on basis of their level of conviction, regardless of source of conviction?

What kind of foolishness is this? I expected at least rudimentary reasoning skills here, in all honesty. Not spineless "you are CONVINCED, you are JUST LIKE THEM!!!1".

Whatever. You're the ones who have to live in it. I make a difference where I can, and so far it's worked out.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2007-05-13 01:26 am (UTC)
Ok, could you please stop now, thanks.
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From: kupamanduka
2007-05-13 07:36 pm (UTC)
Did you refer to an organization like this?

And are you sure Indians have so much hatred for atheists? By "by population" did you mean "percentage of atheists in society" or so? I would consider the Indian census data on atheists highly misleading ( eg. I am sure your family would enter your religion as "hindu" ). And I would suspect that Christian belief about eternal damnation etc. would make it more likely for Christians to hate atheists - compare the idea of believers entering heaven and non-believers being barbecued to eternity, with those who eradicate vAsanas etc. getting nirvANa ( of course my language betrays the buddhist tilt of my hindu beliefs, but most hindus, I don't think, are far ). I somehow think the emphasis on "belief" is less in India, even in circles where people don't worry much about realization. I know so many atheists in India who openly declare themselves atheists and do not face any extra disrespect for that. Moreover such famous saints as Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda have described atheism as a path on the way to truth ( of course, you won't agree with them, but my point is that these are not people with hatred ). So with Mahatma Gandhi, I believe. So many hindu saints emphasise that unless you realize the truth for yourself you shouldn't say that your own view alone is right. And these modern saints have more impact on present day hinduism than some shaivite or vaishnavite works in medieval times.

And I am always suspicious of such random telephone surveys. As someone said : lies, damned lies, statistics,...,surveys.

P. S. : May be this comment amounts to breaking the agreement, but I somehow feel that the context and these discussions are harmless.
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From: kupamanduka
2007-05-14 03:37 pm (UTC)


Sorry, I made a typo :

such famous saints as Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda have described atheism as a path on the way to truth

I meant "a stage which one often passes through in his/her path to truth".
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