After a long journey and a bumpy landing I’ve arrived at my new godless identity. It would probably be folly to declare the relocation permanent (even though I’m assuming it is). But so far my new association with Atheism and Secular Humanism feels comfortable and it also feels more permanent than Christianity had felt for me for many years.
So the next question that I ask myself is: “Great. Who cares?”
Part of this is just me wondering what I should do next. In my Introduction post I described how I’m interested in communicating my current belief system to other people mainly because I did not want people close to me thinking that I’m still a Christian if I’m not.
But as for who cares, some of that answer is easy: I care and I know my parents and some of my close family and friends care. Some of them care a lot. Although beyond that I’m not really sure who cares. Just because my highschool friends knew I went to church at that time doesn’t mean that I should now find them all on facebook and send them a personal notice to tell them that I’m not a Christian anymore. So far I’ve just been sending emails to small, but increasingly larger circles of people around me. I figure as long as I would be reasonably interested if they sent me a link to their blog, then I’m in safe territory sending them a link to my blog.
Now to take a step back to a larger question. Generally speaking, in society as a whole, how vocal should I (and other Atheists) be about promoting Atheism? The answer to this question is important. Mostly because I do not want to be an annoying Atheist. I also don’t want to be timid or ashamed about my belief system just because I switched from Christian to Atheist. Where is the ‘annoying line’ and how do I use up all the real estate until that line but not cross that line?
There are a few things that I’m sure are on the right side of the line: (1) writing a blog, (2) inviting friends to that blog, (3) writing transparently about one’s personal story, beliefs and opinions and (4) writing with such wit, style and humour that one begins a meteoric rise to the heights literary fame. Obviously, I’ve done all of these already.
There is also another simple way of determining which public expressions of Atheism are “OK”, and that is to just do everything that religious people do that is “OK”. This might include mentioning casually to a friend that on the weekend you enjoyed a nice Sunday morning brunch at a new restaurant with your local Atheists group. Since no one really takes offence when religious people mention church related events in non-church circles, no one should have a problem with Atheists doing the same thing.
I think it should be generally agreeable that Churches and Atheist groups should be treated the same in similar situations. Let’s call them both “worldview clubs” and then ask what types of public actions a “worldview club” should take. Which of the following actions are “ok”, which are “annoying” and which are “wrong”?
- A worldview club promotes their worldview on their own website, on TV, in print media, by distributing flyers on the street corner, and knocking on your door.
- A worldview club heavily promotes a large, high budget public event. A worldview club tries to expand their future base by promoting their worldview to children.
- A worldview club collects donations and uses the funds to alleviate poverty, and promotes these actions as being in the true spirit of their worldview.
- A worldview club donates money to political candidates that share their worldview.
- A worldview club receives public funds to create institutions of higher education guided by, and promoting their worldview.
I don’t have a complete answer to which of these are ok/annoying/wrong. But the last two immediately make me uncomfortable because they imply a close relationships between a worldview club and the government. Related to this are another set of questions: Does it matter if a worldview is shared by the majority of society, or just a very small minority? Does it matter if a worldview has a long history? What if a worldview was integral in the formation of a society or government?
Again, I don’t think I know the answers to these questions. But I do think that I can evoke different feelings in myself by “messing with the dials”. For example, let’s say I am participating in a group effort to promote my worldview and the effort succeeds in increasing the percentage of society that identify with our worldview from 15% to 16%. I think this would feel great. We’ve made headway! But what if the increase was from 98% of society to 99%? Would we still care to promote our worldview at that point? Also, is there a point at which having a pluralism of different worldviews in society is more important than further expanding your own worldview?
To answer these questions we would need to take a close look at which worldviews are involved. If Nazism was the worldview of 2% of society, then anyone with a worldview opposed to Nazism should feel no remorse in dissuading Nazis of their worldview. Obviously, this Nazi example has veered this conversation in a completely different direction. Suddenly we’re talking about what is objectively good or bad. In this case Nazism is obviously objectively bad.
Until I muddied the waters with Nazis (see Reductio ad Hitlerum), I had been describing different worldviews as if they were only subjective and innocuous personal choices. In many ways the difference between Atheism and Theism is purely a subjective choice. I believe that after death we all rot in the ground, and maybe Bob believes that there are streets paved with gold waiting for us in heaven. I like Daft Punk, and maybe Bob likes The Who. Just personal choice.
All of the questions that I asked in this blog post are important when worldviews are subjective choices, but they also remain important even when comparing worldviews that may be objectively better or worse than others. Of course the concept of what is “objective” and what we should do about it adds many more questions. I’ll take a swing at them in my next blog post.
Note: I often get the feeling that in my writing I’m basically referring to already well established concepts of ethics/theology/philosophy. But since I have very little education in these areas I’m just not aware of better ways of expressing myself. If you know of any authors, ideas, resources or definitions of big words (or even small and easy words) that might apply to any of this, I welcome the feedback.