The Blessings of Atheism

Susan Jacoby, author of the forthcoming book The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought, celebrates non-belief in the New York Times:

In a recent conversation with a fellow journalist, I voiced my exasperation at the endless talk about faith in God as the only consolation for those devastated by the unfathomable murders in Newtown, Conn. Some of those grieving parents surely believe, as I do, that this is our one and only life. Atheists cannot find solace in the idea that dead children are now angels in heaven. “That only shows the limits of atheism,” my colleague replied. “It’s all about nonbelief and has nothing to offer when people are suffering.”

This widespread misapprehension that atheists believe in nothing positive is one of the main reasons secularly inclined Americans — roughly 20 percent of the population — do not wield public influence commensurate with their numbers. One major problem is the dearth of secular community institutions. But the most powerful force holding us back is our own reluctance to speak, particularly at moments of high national drama and emotion, with the combination of reason and passion needed to erase the image of the atheist as a bloodless intellectual robot.

The secular community is fearful of seeming to proselytize. When giving talks on college campuses, I used to avoid personal discussions of my atheism. But over the years, I have changed my mind because such diffidence contributes to the false image of the atheist as someone whose convictions are removed from ordinary experience. It is vital to show that there are indeed atheists in foxholes, and wherever else human beings suffer and die.

Now when students ask how I came to believe what I believe, I tell them that I trace my atheism to my first encounter, at age 7, with the scourge of polio. In 1952, a 9-year-old friend was stricken by the disease and clinging to life in an iron lung. After visiting him in the hospital, I asked my mother, “Why would God do that to a little boy?” She sighed in a way that telegraphed her lack of conviction and said: “I don’t know. The priest would say God must have his reasons, but I don’t know what they could be.”…

[continues in the New York Times]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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11 Comments on "The Blessings of Atheism"

  1. BuzzCoastin | Jan 6, 2013 at 10:33 am |

    an all knowing & all powerful God
    is about the least comforting idea I can think of during a tragedy like (fill in the blank)
    especially since He’s sending any of those kids killed to hell
    for not buying into to some bullshit sounding story
    about His neediness & the kid’s obligation to fulfill it or go to hell
    I would think anything but that would be comforting
    even that ad from taxact DOT calm with Gramma and a thumbs up

  2. SoruhFrake | Jan 6, 2013 at 11:16 am |

    Just another fight over labels, wish people would stop wanting to shove themselves into a boring category or label. Whenever someone then uses the label to give their opinion every single self proclaimed adherent of that label feels offended or complimented depending on the nature of the argument.

    Fighting over labels and categories that are pure abstractions, is just creating a demonic war that keeps itself spinning perpetually driven by the force of judgment. If you’re a christian, I am sorry to say you are not christianity, if you’re an atheist you are not atheism. You’re belief merely matches more or less of the ideas contained under that huge category of atheism.

    I’m tired of this nonsensical battle over labels , categories and definitions. All it does is try to put rules on ideas that were born in the realm of abstraction, and everyone wants their own definition of that idea to be the ultimate truth and everything else is in their eyes merely offensive, usually ending up being the trigger of a battle that leads to a lack of progress in matters of true importance.

    • SoruhFrake | Jan 6, 2013 at 11:29 am |

      I quote:
      -In his speech at an interfaith prayer vigil in Newtown on Dec. 16,
      President Obama observed that “the world’s religions — so many of them
      represented here today — start with a simple question: Why are we here?
      What gives our life meaning?” He could easily have amended that to “the
      world’s religions and secular philosophies.” He could have said
      something like, “Whether you are religious or nonreligious, may you find
      solace in the knowledge that the suffering is ours, but that those we
      love suffer no more.” -from the article above

      Seriously? Is this such a huge issue that you were personally not included in some speech or another because you’re group was not mentioned?
      If people focused on more pressing issues, like why the fuck do you care what a fuck-up like obama wishes you anyway? Be happy he didn’t include you in his speech wishing you well, his good wishes end up with the sound of a missile flying into your living room after a drone spots a hazardous weapon in your kids hands( toy gun)

      I personally never cared what people adhere too, or what they claim to be or who they claim to be. Since that is worthless information, it doesn’t give you any better understanding of the true character within. God I might write an essay comparing atheists to christians and then another mixing capitalists and communist as being all the same ideology. Namely that of living a label as a truth. Which is why everyone adhering to a label feels so personally offended, if you were just YOU, then a lot of things wouldn’t seem as offensive.
      The only label we have in common is being Human, yet when humanity is in danger, it is caused by the many individuals of humanity who fail to connect with the label Human, but fanatically with labels such, scientist, philosopher, chemist,writer,atheist, muslim, white,black, sheeple, elitist etc etc invent as you please.

      • SoruhFrake | Jan 6, 2013 at 11:37 am |

        The worst label is wanting to be a hero, for a hero needs to find an enemy first. The person true himself might become known as a hero, but that is because he is the enemy of none.

  3. In a perfect world the word “atheism” would not be necessary because there would be no theists. Theism is a mental illness. I hope some day this disease is eradicated because it causes great harm to everyone. Even people not infected with theism can be killed by it.

    When asked “Do you believe in god?” instead of saying “No, I’m an atheist” i say “No, I don’t have that disease.” darwinkilledgod dot blogspot dot com

    • Nickopotamus | Jan 6, 2013 at 8:53 pm |

      Ehh, I think thats really shitty. I’m not going to tell people they have a “disease”. As an atheist, I would want nothing more than for everyone to make their own decisions on what they believe, without belittling anyone, whether i like it or not. Think about it: thats just as bad as religious people standing around talking about how goofy and inept other religions are. It might even be worse because aren’t we the “smart” or “logical” people. We its logical to me that you’re can’t change anyones mind by being a smarmy ass- and you shouldn’t be trying to change anyones mind anyway.
      How many vegans do you know became that way because they got blood thrown on them, by the way. Not many I assume.

    • SoruhFrake | Jan 7, 2013 at 11:14 am |

      Some type of superiority complex you must have. If you were truly intelligent you’d have the decency of respect. The thing every personal fanatic lacks is the ability of respect towards those that are viewed as “diseased,retarded,stupid” due to their difference in belief. The only diseased person that exists in my eyes is one who believes in diseases, who believes in conflict and an absolute wrong or right existing somewhere. But if you’d let that vocabulary of disease decease and accept that it was just an illusion, you’d be able to see the perfection in all. Shadows aren’t completely unreal, they are an image of the truth yet their darkness creates the illusion of evil and of being separate to its origin. As the shadow changes according to the angle and direction of the light hitting the original object(truth), it is so also that the truth and it’s shadow change for each individual with a different perspective and belief.

      • Respect must be earned, not demanded. Demanding respect is admitting that you know you don’t deserve it, but want the perquisites that go with it anyway.

        When a religion earns some respect by either providing undeniable proof of their claims or admitting they don’t know any more than anyone else, I’ll be the first to give them respect.

        • SoruhFrake | Jan 7, 2013 at 3:25 pm |

          You don’t understand the minority of religious people are true fanatics, most people are rather private about their beliefs and don’t impose it on others and while they might not agree with some views they don’t go offending those people unless they are personally attacked perhaps. The kind of behavior like saying “No, I don’t have that disease” in terms of other people being sick for having another belief is the same line of thinking fanatic islamists, christians fanatic, or football fanatic uses and which is the cause of all the trouble in the first place. So get your shit together and realize it is harder to create peace than it is to be destructive and create conflict.
          By being brave enough to be respectful to others and to living ones own truth and not a damn label that divides between things that are wrong and right, bad and good. An atheist who views a believer in god as someone with a disease, is following the same rules of worship as christianity funnily! Namely that of I bearer of absolute Truth versus Evil.

          Learn to realise that truth is dynamic, as it evolves in a upward spiral. A truth that is static will eventually turn to a heavy rock called lie, the more you hold on to it the heavier you get. No truth has withstood the call of revolution, just as man grows old and and withers and dies, so a truth goes old and one day becomes a lie then dies. But always in its place there’ll be a new star shining bright to see, a new world grows the old ways told as tales that bring back memories.

          • I understand very well. I understand that all religion is a fake. I understand that the “moderates” of any religion are also hypocrites. If the were not, they would be speaking out loudly and often about the excesses of the fundamentalists. Not to condemn is to condone.

            You mean being hypocritical enough to pretend respect when none is deserved? Hypocrisy is for theists. We atheists disdain it along with myths and lies.

            Truth is dynamic and does move upwards. That’s why the “god of the gaps” silliness is being shut out as more truths about the universe are known.

            Truth does not die, that is contrary to your statement that it is dynamic. But I do not expect logical reasoning from a theist. Logic and truth are always fatal to any religion.

            I repeat, if shown undeniable proof of any religion, I would change my position. What would it take to change yours?

          • SoruhFrake | Jan 7, 2013 at 4:53 pm |

            I have said nothing of my own beliefs, I am merely saying that even the way of the fool implies knowing how to make the offense sound funny to both ears. I am not implying to offer any person unjustified respect or unearned respect. But instead of being judgmental of the differences being smart enough to shrug them off as non-existant and outside of ones own reality, since openly casting grudging statements like the commentator above did, as viewing people as diseased for lack of agreement with their belief is not going to make the other person more educated or friendly towards you, hence begins the cycle of hate

            . I personally believe what suits me at any given time, while I deny religion, through psychology I have learned to appreciate the occult and for that matter I still view theism as a potential gateway to those bold enough to inquire past the walls of dogma but finally having the right questions to ask when they see through the lie of theism itself as a controlling faculty. In my eyes this notion of duality has outgrown itself, it is no longer of any use to humanity, we have refined our ability of division to excellence with science but we forgot that in truth we only began to divide in hopes of finding what it is that unites!

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