[Marxism] 10 myths -- and 10 truths -- about atheism

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Thu Dec 28 09:31:17 MST 2006

Here in the United States, where religiosity is imposed on us all 
whether we like it or not, those who believe religion should be at
the core of social and political life use a series of myths to justify
surrounding us all with various symbols of what they want us to
believe, on faith. Religion does play an important, but a highly
contradictory role on modern life. Most religions mostly teach us
to wait for a better future, after we're dead and no longer need
food, clothing or shelter in THIS life and in THIS world. Here's a
timely reminder of the good sides of atheism, literally it means
being without God, from Sunday's 's L.A. Times. Here in the U.S.
where Christianity is dominant and Judaism a distant second, 
public attacks on Islam are not really considered to be way out
of the mainstream. Perhaps a bit nutty, perhaps "a bit" racist,
but they express widely-held views among non-Muslims, that
of FEAR: of things different, foreign, and of non-white origin

It's no wonder now, nor was it during his lifetime, that Malcolm X
gravitated to the Islamic faith as he took it to mean a root-and-
branch rejection of the racist hypocrisy of this society. I find it
pointless to argue with people about the existence of God or of
any other similar stuff. That's faith-based stuff and either you
believe it or you don't. This is a timely reminder of many of the
answers to questions which atheists so typically get when these
points are raised. It serves little purpose to debate such stuff, but
it is useful for atheists to be aware of them. For awhile I used to
get mailings from, and listen to, a radio program from a group
here in Los Angeles, Atheists United. They were a good group in
lots of ways, But they seemed to delight in their self-righteous
absence of religious belief, and in providing an understandable
social milieu for like-minded individuals. Well, as I like to say 
from time to time when the subject comes up, "I'm an atheist, 
and, God willing, I always will be." <g>

Walter Lippmann
Los Angeles, California


10 myths -- and 10 truths -- about atheism 
By Sam Harris

SAM HARRIS is the author of "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, 
and the Future of Reason" and "Letter to a Christian Nation."

December 24, 2006

SEVERAL POLLS indicate that the term "atheism" has acquired such an
extraordinary stigma in the United States that being an atheist is
now a perfect impediment to a career in politics (in a way that being
black, Muslim or homosexual is not). According to a recent Newsweek
poll, only 37% of Americans would vote for an otherwise qualified
atheist for president.

Atheists are often imagined to be intolerant, immoral, depressed,
blind to the beauty of nature and dogmatically closed to evidence of
the supernatural.

Even John Locke, one of the great patriarchs of the Enlightenment,
believed that atheism was "not at all to be tolerated" because, he
said, "promises, covenants and oaths, which are the bonds of human
societies, can have no hold upon an atheist."

That was more than 300 years ago. But in the United States today,
little seems to have changed. A remarkable 87% of the population
claims "never to doubt" the existence of God; fewer than 10% identify
themselves as atheists — and their reputation appears to be

Given that we know that atheists are often among the most intelligent
and scientifically literate people in any society, it seems important
to deflate the myths that prevent them from playing a larger role in
our national discourse.

1) Atheists believe that life is meaningless.

On the contrary, religious people often worry that life is
meaningless and imagine that it can only be redeemed by the promise
of eternal happiness beyond the grave. Atheists tend to be quite sure
that life is precious. Life is imbued with meaning by being really
and fully lived. Our relationships with those we love are meaningful
now; they need not last forever to be made so. Atheists tend to find
this fear of meaninglessness … well … meaningless.

2) Atheism is responsible for the greatest crimes in human history.

People of faith often claim that the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao
and Pol Pot were the inevitable product of unbelief. The problem with
fascism and communism, however, is not that they are too critical of
religion; the problem is that they are too much like religions. Such
regimes are dogmatic to the core and generally give rise to
personality cults that are indistinguishable from cults of religious
hero worship. Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields were not
examples of what happens when human beings reject religious dogma;
they are examples of political, racial and nationalistic dogma run
amok. There is no society in human history that ever suffered because
its people became too reasonable.

3) Atheism is dogmatic.

Jews, Christians and Muslims claim that their scriptures are so
prescient of humanity's needs that they could only have been written
under the direction of an omniscient deity. An atheist is simply a
person who has considered this claim, read the books and found the
claim to be ridiculous. One doesn't have to take anything on faith,
or be otherwise dogmatic, to reject unjustified religious beliefs. As
the historian Stephen Henry Roberts (1901-71) once said: "I contend
that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you
do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods,
you will understand why I dismiss yours."

4) Atheists think everything in the universe arose by chance.

No one knows why the universe came into being. In fact, it is not
entirely clear that we can coherently speak about the "beginning" or
"creation" of the universe at all, as these ideas invoke the concept
of time, and here we are talking about the origin of space-time

The notion that atheists believe that everything was created by
chance is also regularly thrown up as a criticism of Darwinian
evolution. As Richard Dawkins explains in his marvelous book, "The
God Delusion," this represents an utter misunderstanding of
evolutionary theory. Although we don't know precisely how the Earth's
early chemistry begat biology, we know that the diversity and
complexity we see in the living world is not a product of mere
chance. Evolution is a combination of chance mutation and natural
selection. Darwin arrived at the phrase "natural selection" by
analogy to the "artificial selection" performed by breeders of
livestock. In both cases, selection exerts a highly non-random effect
on the development of any species.

5) Atheism has no connection to science.

Although it is possible to be a scientist and still believe in God —
as some scientists seem to manage it — there is no question that an
engagement with scientific thinking tends to erode, rather than
support, religious faith. Taking the U.S. population as an example:
Most polls show that about 90% of the general public believes in a
personal God; yet 93% of the members of the National Academy of
Sciences do not. This suggests that there are few modes of thinking
less congenial to religious faith than science is.

6) Atheists are arrogant.

When scientists don't know something — like why the universe came
into being or how the first self-replicating molecules formed — they
admit it. Pretending to know things one doesn't know is a profound
liability in science. And yet it is the life-blood of faith-based
religion. One of the monumental ironies of religious discourse can be
found in the frequency with which people of faith praise themselves
for their humility, while claiming to know facts about cosmology,
chemistry and biology that no scientist knows. When considering
questions about the nature of the cosmos and our place within it,
atheists tend to draw their opinions from science. This isn't
arrogance; it is intellectual honesty.

7) Atheists are closed to spiritual experience.

There is nothing that prevents an atheist from experiencing love,
ecstasy, rapture and awe; atheists can value these experiences and
seek them regularly. What atheists don't tend to do is make
unjustified (and unjustifiable) claims about the nature of reality on
the basis of such experiences. There is no question that some
Christians have transformed their lives for the better by reading the
Bible and praying to Jesus. What does this prove? It proves that
certain disciplines of attention and codes of conduct can have a
profound effect upon the human mind. Do the positive experiences of
Christians suggest that Jesus is the sole savior of humanity? Not
even remotely — because Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and even atheists
regularly have similar experiences.

There is, in fact, not a Christian on this Earth who can be certain
that Jesus even wore a beard, much less that he was born of a virgin
or rose from the dead. These are just not the sort of claims that
spiritual experience can authenticate.

8) Atheists believe that there is nothing beyond human life and human

Atheists are free to admit the limits of human understanding in a way
that religious people are not. It is obvious that we do not fully
understand the universe; but it is even more obvious that neither the
Bible nor the Koran reflects our best understanding of it. We do not
know whether there is complex life elsewhere in the cosmos, but there
might be. If there is, such beings could have developed an
understanding of nature's laws that vastly exceeds our own. Atheists
can freely entertain such possibilities. They also can admit that if
brilliant extraterrestrials exist, the contents of the Bible and the
Koran will be even less impressive to them than they are to human

>From the atheist point of view, the world's religions utterly
trivialize the real beauty and immensity of the universe. One doesn't
have to accept anything on insufficient evidence to make such an

9) Atheists ignore the fact that religion is extremely beneficial to

Those who emphasize the good effects of religion never seem to
realize that such effects fail to demonstrate the truth of any
religious doctrine. This is why we have terms such as "wishful
thinking" and "self-deception." There is a profound distinction
between a consoling delusion and the truth.

In any case, the good effects of religion can surely be disputed. In
most cases, it seems that religion gives people bad reasons to behave
well, when good reasons are actually available. Ask yourself, which
is more moral, helping the poor out of concern for their suffering,
or doing so because you think the creator of the universe wants you
to do it, will reward you for doing it or will punish you for not
doing it?

10) Atheism provides no basis for morality.

If a person doesn't already understand that cruelty is wrong, he
won't discover this by reading the Bible or the Koran — as these
books are bursting with celebrations of cruelty, both human and
divine. We do not get our morality from religion. We decide what is
good in our good books by recourse to moral intuitions that are (at
some level) hard-wired in us and that have been refined by thousands
of years of thinking about the causes and possibilities of human

We have made considerable moral progress over the years, and we
didn't make this progress by reading the Bible or the Koran more
closely. Both books condone the practice of slavery — and yet every
civilized human being now recognizes that slavery is an abomination.
Whatever is good in scripture — like the golden rule — can be valued
for its ethical wisdom without our believing that it was handed down
to us by the creator of the universe.

Atheist Manifesto: 
The Case Against Christianity, 
Judaism, and Islam (Hardcover)
by Michel Onfray 

This tightly argued, hugely controversial work convincingly
demonstrates how the world's three major monotheistic
religions-Christianity, Judaism, and Islam-have attempted to suppress
knowledge, science, pleasure, and desire, often condemning
nonbelievers to death. If Nietzsche proclaimed the "Death of God,"
Onfray starts from the premise that not only is God still very much
alive, but increasingly controlled by fundamentalists who pose a
danger to the human race. Documenting the ravages from religious
intolerance over the centuries, the author makes a strong case
against the three religions for demanding faith, belief, obedience
and submission, and for extolling the "next life" at the expense of
the here and now. Not since Nietzsche has a work so groundbreaking
and explosive appeared to question the role of the world's dominant

About the Author

Michael Onfray was born in 1959. The prolific author of over 30
books, he teaches philosophy at the Free University of Caen and lives
in Paris.


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