I received your letter and found it hit a familiar ear(I hope that is not cliché). I understand your frustration. Being a non-believer, particularly an anti-theist, is never a simple affair. In fact the most rewarding and simultaneously exasperating aspect of such a mindset is the constant challenge by those who believe you are wrong in your disbelief. The never ending yet necessary challenge to re-assert your position and determine whether or not you truly are what you profess to be. If you are unsure of yourself do not fret or feel ashamed, for your feelings demonstrate your position as a freethinker. Renee Descartes, despite his affinity for the torture of animals for sport, did contribute one of the most important axioms before he died, and no I do not refer to that overly played out Latin quip. Descartes, being a product of the enlightenment, understood the necessity of inquiry even at the expense of existential threat. “Question everything.” If an assertion is made it is up to the individual to decide for themselves whether or not they agree with it.
I do not wish to burden you with platitudes and a point by point examination of the offenses of religion, for that will be necessary only if you choose to continue this correspondence. All I can offer you is my own realization and experience.
I admit I do not like the moniker Atheist. In fact I have grown to detest it. The name Atheist connects myself to too many idiots who peddle what they believe to be “free-thought” when in fact it is only a pseudo-tribal faith rooted in elitism. Did you know there are now “Atheist Coming Out Pins?” Rather than simply acknowledge a lack of faith, the contemporary public atheist has decided to laud his unbelief as a Christian would laud the cross round his neck. A hint to yourself, when your behavior mimicks the very people you despise you have lost whatever integrity you possessed. I would advise you to avoid such rubbish and stick to your guns. The only reason I continue to refer to myself as such is because it communicates clearly my opinions of the divine. In all honesty I prefer to call myself a skeptic.
I promised you a brief autobiographical experience. It happened around two years ago that I was talking with a friend and a student of mine and we were discussing god and religion. My own faith came up, or lack thereof, and rather than reciting the polished and rehearsed manifesto I had prepared and recited numerous times to the mirror, I balked. I mucked up my language and intent to the point I conveyed a loose deism for fear of social rejection. Leaving the table I approached the ponds that divide the campus in two and rested on the peer staring at the water. I felt sick. I felt confused. I was angry at myself. What had been an opportunity had become a bungle. But you see the first time you attempt to express your intellectual position, it is akin to having sex. You’ll always fuck-up the first time. Seeing the student the next day I was able to properly convey my sentiment regarding religion. She smiled. Nodded. And resumed reading her book. Simple as that, however I should warn you that you will not always meet such cheery acceptance.
If you will allow me one more moment of indulgence, I know your time is precious and so I shall do my best not to waste it, let me quote for you a passage from a book that helped me come to terms with my own skepticism:
“And here is the point about myself and my co-thinkers. Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, open-mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake”
This quote from Hitchens’s god is not Great remains my stance for any who would suggest that I am part of some religion (those who fling such pathetic arguments never seem to fully comprehend they have smeared themselves with their own shit). I do not promise that you will always feel confident addressing people who’s convictions border on lunacy, nor can I promise you that all shall be courteous (on all sides there are assholes, never forget this truth). And finally please, I hope this letter does not come across as pompous, elitist, or self aggrandizing. I am only a man with a blog. This letter, and hopefully the more to come should we continue this correspondence, is merely an effort to begin the conversation.
Take your time. Think for yourself. Come to your own conclusion.
I hope I have helped.
Sincerely yours in the best of confidence and support,
Joshua Jammer Smith