Every once in a while I do talk to Christians (of various flavors) and I get to hear various arguments “against atheism”. One of the more repelling and disgusting ones is “you’re an atheist only because someone hurt you in the past”.
To be honest – I believed that people which I lived around were of the “level” (both intellectual and ethical) that wouldn’t let them say such thing. Boy was I wrong.
And to top that – not only did the hit I was sure I would never encounter smack me out of the blue, but it also came from quite close family. I was baffled, disgusted and frankly speaking hurt. Hurt not by those words themselves (since being an atheist means armoring yourself against things like that and being able to cope with it in a productive way), but because I couldn’t force myself to answer that ridiculous, disgusting argument with a riposte which it deserved. I thought my family does not deserve words that were ready to leave my mouth in a merciless, brutally honest rebuttal. My moral spine betrayed me again. In hindsight it was the right thing to do and I didn’t cause an inside-family fight, but the temptation was gargantuan.
So what exactly is wrong with the question? Why is it so big of a deal? Why don’t we just ignore it? Couple of reasons, but first things first.
Imagine this – you and your partner love each other. Your feeling is genuine, you’ve been together for some time and you decided to formalize your relationship. So you choose a ceremony, organize everything, put your mind and ‘soul’ into that thing that is very special to both of you. Everything goes fine and now you’re husbands, wifes, or husband and wife. Then someone comes by and you hear, that you’ve married your partner just because of pity you felt for him/her (for whatever reason).
Or this – you have your beloved hobby. You spend every minute of your free time perfecting the thing you like. You take part in competitions and you compete with this one particular guy. Sometimes it’s you who win, sometimes it’s him. So there’s this very big, maybe international, competition, which is very hard to qualify for and only the best of the best can go. You work your ass off but you manage to get in. Because of years of you perfecting the thing you manage to win some medal, no matter the place. Then someone else comes by and says you only won the prize because of the grudge you held against this long-lasting competitor of yours.
Or this – You participate in a charity organizations. After hours you work your ass off helping homeless, sick children and elderly. You don’t expect any praise or prize. You do it because you think it’s the right thing to do and by this work you’re helping the world to become a bit better. Then someone else comes by and says you only do it because being good to other people makes you feel good.
Do you see the common thread yet? Do you feel OK with those comments or do they make you sick? What would you think about person commenting like that? Would you consider that person to be of the sufficiently high intellectual ‘class’ to deem him/her worthy of your time and/or attention?
So back to the atheists – there are many ways one becomes an atheist in. Some people, after being born as atheists (like every single person in the world) are just raised as one, are never subject to childhood indoctrination in religion and they don’t develop any religious belief.
Some people are raised in religion, but they keep asking questions, they see something is not right, they see the problem of evil, contradiction in the Bible/Quran/Torah, they see the evil of those books, they see how religion plays out in the real world and/or due to many many other things – they become convinced the idea of a god has not yet been proven in any way so it does not warrant any belief in it.
Some people want to get closer to the god that they believe in, they study the religion very carefully and thoroughly, and then they discover that the whole idea doesn’t make any sense, that it’s just a baseless lie perpetuated through minds of young, defenseless people being packed into churches/synagogues/mosques and fed with religious dogma.
People become atheist in various ways, many more than I can describe in a tiny blog post. Majority of those ways include a heavy dose of thinking, analysis, questioning yourself and your belief, and in general – a great deal of painful work. Painful, because loosing one’s religion can be a painful process. Usually thanks to religious members of the closest family who distance themselves from newly-self-described atheist.
In other words – oftentimes, and in case of open, active atheists – always, the road to sane, rational beliefs (or lack of irrational ones) – is a hard work involving a great deal of time spent over books or in the Web, great deal of work and a painful process of discovering you’ve been fed bullshit your whole life.
And then this asshole comes around and with one idiotic question openly throws your entire work, often years of it, to the gutter. Who cares about your research, about your education, questioning, reading, discussions, debates and whatnot. None of it matters because you know what – you’ve been hurt in the past and now you’re just angry, and that’s why you’re an atheist – it’s just your emotional response to some bad thing that happened to you, nothing more – just an emotional kid who changes beliefs according to mood.
Now this is insulting on various levels, not only on the one described above.
First – it strips you off of the entirety of your hard work and effort you’ve put in to get to where you are right now. Puff – gone.
Second – it strips you off of a dignity of a rationally thinking person that you are. Who cares about your rational thought process, reasoning, questioning… none of it matters because your belief is based only on emotional response due to some traumatic event from your past.
Third – it disrespects you by showing that there is no way you could have gotten to your position purely through logical, rational thinking. No, according to those people it is impossible, according to them “rational” thought process may lead only to God, therefore they dismiss your intellectual effort and humiliate you by claiming only some terrible thing that happened to you may lead you to an atheism.
Fourth – this makes you feel guilty for being human and utilizing your mental and intellectual capabilities to the fullest
Fifth – they radiate the feeling of pity and guilt for being around you
Sixth – their unwanted and unwarranted pity is extremely condescending, rude and intrusive
Seventh – it makes you mad at them for pushing their insecurities at you
I am sure I only scrapped the surface of “Why are Catholics so damn condescending” and I could probably write entire series with that theme. The question is, though, how to react?
Most of the times the believer will not be able to understand your objection. In my case I only heard “Well, I didn’t know you were so touchy!”. And even after my explanation nothing really changed. I said that this is extremely rude and offensive and I want that person to say that thing to me never again. And they didn’t seem to grasp that in fact accusing someone of being a victim of some non-existent traumatic event and suggesting that trauma is responsible for your (skewed) thought process – is plain rude and despicable.
Do not allow those people to put you on the defense. They throw some stupid crap around and suddenly you find yourself in a position when it is you who needs to prove to them that you were not in fact hurt. And as we know – one cannot do it. So do not let them do it – oppose any single of such attempts, stop them in the middle of the sentence and tell them not to finish. Tell them they are rude, condescending, intrusive, dismissive and impolite. Tell them you’re not asserting they are Catholic just because a priest raped them and the only solution they saw was to run to their God for help. Tell them you expect them to respect your own intellectual conclusion reached through rational thought process of a sane, mentally healthy adult person. Tell them you have nothing to talk about if they do not respect that.
Do not let them treat you like a traumatized victim with damaged reasoning capabilities (or without them whatsoever). Demand respect for your intellectual work and do not falter in executing your demands.
If you give them respect – you deserve it too. Do not let them tell you otherwise.