The Smartass Atheist Syndrome

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Once the contradictions inherent in religion finally lead you to accept that God almost certainly does not exist, it is natural to want to share your newfound wisdom.

I know that feeling well. It’s as if you saw the world as it really is for the very first time.

Wake up! Open your eyes! The emperor has no clothes! NO CLOTHES, I TELL YOU!!

You want to shout it out from the rooftops. You want the whole world to realize their error.

All of a sudden you start seeing glaring contradictions everywhere.

She says she believes in the Bible but she’s never even read it!

He’s grateful he survived, but who should we blame for earthquakes?

She says it’s a miracle she survived the operation, but what about the doctor who performed it?

He’s always asking us to pray for starving children, but he’s never donated a single dollar to charity!

And how do people react when you point out these contradictions? Instead of thanking you for taking an interest in helping them, they lash out! They tell you you’ll burn in hell! Or worse, they piously tell you that God loves you anyway and that they’ll pray for you!

CAN YOU BELIEVE THEM?!

It’s at this critical point when many new atheists contract the smartass atheist syndrome.

People suffering from this condition wholeheartedly believe that religious people are idiots. The main symptom is attacking people who profess religious beliefs instead of focusing on the beliefs themselves.

How can they believe all this?

Don’t they see how contradictory and retrograde their beliefs are?

How can they be so blind?!

Only an idiot would believe such bullshit!

Name calling is obviously bad form, but here I want to focus on whether the smartass atheist’s strategy is logically sound and, more importantly, what effect it has on religious people.

I’m now talking directly to you, my dear smartass atheist.

By now you’ve undoubtedly heard about logical fallacies; those ‘mental illusions’ that religious people love so much. I suppose that as a new atheist you’re very careful not to fall into these common mental traps, right?

Well, how’s attacking religious people instead of their beliefs not a perfect example of Ad Hominem?

Let’s suppose that your religious interlocutor is indeed an idiot; can you then logically conclude that their beliefs are false?

No, of course you can’t.

If logic and reason are so important to you (as they should be), I suggest you should be careful not to fall prey to one of the most elemental fallacies.

Let’s put logic aside for a moment and be a little machiavellian.

What is it that makes you share all those offensive memes and ridicule religious people? I suppose your intention goes beyond insulting them, doesn’t it? I’d like to believe that deep down your intention is to defend reason and fight against irrational beliefs.

Well, please note that not so long ago you were one of those ‘idiots’. Do you honestly think that some annoying smartass would have made you see how ‘contradictory and retrograde’ your beliefs were by calling you an idiot? Would you have changed your mind had some arrogant jerk insulted you and your whole family?

Of course not. I would submit that, in fact, experiencing something like that would have had precisely the opposite effect.

Calling religious people idiots in order to persuade them is not only ineffective but counterproductive; not only do you fail to get your point across, but you actually make them reaffirm their beliefs.

What is it that you really want? Advocate for reason and critical thinking, or simply show everyone how smart you are?

In my experience, if you’re trying to talk someone out of believing something irrational, it is much more effective to assume that your interlocutor is not an idiot, be empathic, and try to understand where the belief is coming from.

Maybe they think that questioning their religious beliefs is wrong. Maybe they find solace thinking this way. Maybe they’re afraid of losing their faith. Maybe they have never thought about it!

Don’t lecture people with bombastic, pretentious, and well rehearsed sermons, which are also frequently incomprehensible and, therefore, utterly useless. Take an interest for your audience’s point of view. Ask questions. Put yourself in their shoes. This should be easy enough; you were in the dark side not too long ago, remember? :).

I’m strongly convinced that in our fight to defend reason and destroy superstition, empathy and humility are much more powerful weapons than aggression and arrogance.

What do you think?

Hekanibru

 

Eres ateo o idiota: el síndrome del ateo cagante

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Cuando reconoces las contradicciones, farsas, y aberraciones alrededor de la iglesia y la religión, y finalmente aceptas que lo más probable es que Dios no exista, es natural querer compartirlo con el mundo.

Conozco bien ese sentimiento. Es como si de pronto te quitaran una venda de los ojos y pudieras admirar al mundo en todo su esplendor por primera vez.

¡Despierten! ¡Abran los ojos! ¡El emperador está desnudo!! ¡¡DESNUDO, LES DIGO!!

Quieres gritarlo a los cuatro vientos. Quieres que el mundo entero salga de su error.

De repente encuentras contradicciones y sinsentidos en todas partes. ¡Es como si súbitamente pudieras verlas en un color fosforescente!

¡Dice que cree en la Biblia aunque nunca la ha leído!

Agradece a Dios que sobrevivió, pero ¿a quién debemos culpar por los terremotos?

¿Opina que su recuperación fue un milagro? Y el doctor que lo atendió, ¿qué?

Pide que recemos por los niños que se mueren de hambre, pero ¡nunca ha donado un quinto!

Y lo peor es la respuesta de la gente cuando expresas tu opinión.

En lugar de agradecer tu preocupación por corregirlos, ¡te ofenden! ¡Te dicen que te vas a ir al infierno! O peor, con ojos de compasión te dicen que Dios te ama de cualquier manera ¡y que rezarán por ti!

¡HAZME EL CHINGADO FAVOR!

Es en este punto crítico cuando muchos nuevos ateos contraen el síndrome del ateo cagante.

Los afligidos por este síndrome opinan sin reserva que la gente que no es atea es idiota. El principal síntoma es que ofenden a las personas religiosas en lugar de atacar los dogmas y creencias que éstas profesan.

¿Cómo pueden creer en tremenda sarta de estupideces?

¿Acaso no ven lo contradictorio y retrógrada de sus creencias?

¡Cómo pueden ser tan ciegos!

¡Se necesita ser idiota para creer esas cosas!

Obviamente ofender está mal, pero más que hablar sobre el poco controversial aspecto ético del síndrome del ateo cagante, quiero hablar sobre su validez lógica y, en especial, sobre sus consecuencias.

Te hablo ahora directamente a ti, mi querido ateo cagante.

Seguramente has escuchado hablar sobre las falacias lógicas. Sí, esas ‘ilusiones mentales’ de las que la gente religiosa gusta tanto. Supongo que ahora como ateo tomas mucho cuidado de no caer en estas comunes trampas, ¿no?

Ahora bien, ¿no consideras que el atacar a una persona religiosa en lugar de atacar sus ideas es un ejemplo clásico de Ad Hominem?

Supongamos que, en efecto, tu interlocutor religioso es un idiota, ¿puedes entonces concluir lógicamente que sus creencias son falsas?

¡Ponte abusado!

Si la lógica y la razón son tan importantes para ti (como debería ser), sugiero que no seas presa de una de las falacias más elementales.

Pero dejemos la lógica por un momento y pongámonos un poco maquiavélicos.

¿Qué es realmente lo que te lleva a compartir esos memes ofensivos que ridiculizan a los religiosos? Supongo que tu intención no es solamente ofender,  ¿o sí? Quiero pensar que en el fondo tu intención general es defender la razón y luchar en contra de las creencias irracionales.

Pues bien, te pido que hagas un poco de memoria y recuerdes que hace no mucho eras parte de ese ‘rebaño de idiotas’.

Siendo completamente honestos, ¿podría realmente un sabelotodo cagante haber logrado hacerte ver lo ‘contradictorio y retrógrada’ de tus creencias con insultos? ¿Habrías cambiado tu forma de pensar luego de que un cretino arrogante te ofendiera a ti y a toda tu familia?

Sostengo que no. Sostengo que, de hecho, el haber experimentado algo así habría tenido en ti el efecto opuesto.

La peor manera de exponer tu punto de vista de manera efectiva es ofendiendo y/o subestimando a tu audiencia; no solo fallas en tu afán de exponer tu opinión, sino que creas cerrazón y necedad que luego serán extremadamente difíciles de erradicar.

¿Qué es lo que realmente quieres lograr? ¿Ayudar a la causa de la razón y del pensamiento crítico, o sentirte muy listo y más que los demás?

En mi experiencia, si de convencer se trata, es mucho más efectivo asumir que nuestro interlocutor no es idiota, tomar una actitud empática, e intentar entender las razones por las cuáles tiene tal o cual creencia.

Tal vez piensa que el simple hecho de dudar está mal. Tal vez encuentra refugio y apoyo en sus creencias. Tal vez tiene miedo de lo que podría pasar si pierde su fe. ¡Tal vez simplemente nunca había considerado el tema!

No prediques tu posición con un sermón ensayado, rimbombante, y presuncioso que en la mayoría de los casos resulta también ser ininteligible y por lo tanto inútil. Interésate por la posición de tu interlocutor. Haz preguntas. Ponte en sus zapatos. Esto debería ser relativamente sencillo, después de todo, ¡hace no mucho estuviste en el lado oscuro! :).

Estoy plenamente convencido de que en nuestro afán de defender el uso de la razón y acabar con la superstición, la empatía y la humildad son armas mucho más poderosas que la agresión y la arrogancia.

¿Tú qué opinas?

Hekanibru

¿Vives tu ateísmo en secreto?

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A mi esposa siempre le han interesado los temas de justicia social. Como abogada, podría hacer una fortuna trabajando para una corporación multinacional; sin embargo, ha decidido dedicar su vida profesional a ayudar a inmigrantes con pocos recursos económicos.

Es verdaderamente admirable la manera tan genuina en que se preocupa por el bienestar de los demás. Siendo honesto, la considero una de las personas más respetuosas, sencillas, compasivas, caritativas, amables, justas, y sinceras que conozco.

Ah, además, es atea.

Pero, ¡cómo? ¡Los ateos no aceptan a Dios! ¡SON EGOÍSTAS, RUÍNES, E INMORALES!

Desafortunadamente esta clase de prejuicios son todavía bastante comunes en Latinoamérica.

Estoy plenamente convencido de que un sinnúmero de personas religiosas cambiarían su forma de pensar acerca de los ateos si tuvieran la oportunidad de conocer a alguien como Cristina.

Irónicamente, aunque existen millones de personas admirables que no creen en Dios, muchas han decidido vivir su ateísmo en secreto por miedo a represalias.

¿Eres una de ellas?

Si tu integridad física no está en riesgo, ¡TE EXHORTO A ROMPER EL SILENCIO Y DECLARAR TU ATEÍSMO! 

Afronta a tus familiares y amigos. Destruye el estereotipo del monstruo ateo inmoral.

¿Decirle a mi mamá que no creo en Dios? ¡Ay no! ¡Se va a preocupar por mí! ¡Va a sufrir mucho!

Sé que no es fácil, créeme, yo pasé por lo mismo hace unos años. Entiendo perfectamente que te preocupes por cómo se pueda tomar la noticia pero, piénsalo, el hecho de que tener un hijo ateo sea causa de preocupación y sufrimiento ¡es precisamente lo que está mal!

Mostrémosle al mundo con nuestro ejemplo que los ateos, como cualquiera, podemos ser personas de bien.

Hekanibru

Si no crees, ¿respeta?

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No necesariamente.

Hay culturas que creen que los cuernos de rinoceronte o los huesos de tigre son medicinales, causando la extinción de varias especies de estos majestuosos animales.

Hay gente que cree que vacunar a los niños causa autismo, lo que ha llevado al resurgimiento de varias enfermedades peligrosas previamente erradicadas.

Hay organizaciones que piensan que la raza blanca es superior, y racionalizan todo tipo de violaciones de los derechos humanos más fundamentales.

Hay pueblos que creen que la mujer es intrínsicamente inferior al hombre, “un animal de cabellos largos y pensamientos cortos.”

Hay quienes opinan que los órganos genitales, de bebés varones y de niñas adolescentes, deben ser mutilados.

Hay personas que opinan que el uso del condón nunca está justificado, aun en lugares devastados por el SIDA.

Hay gente que cree que la homosexualidad no es natural; existen incluso países en donde el ser homosexual es ilegal y puede ser motivo de cárcel o de la pena capital.

Hay pueblos elitistas que se creen los “elegidos por dios”.

Hay muchos que opinan que ofender al profeta Mahoma debe ser castigado con la muerte.

Hay millones que piensan que quienes no creen en Jesús merecen una infinidad de miseria y dolor.

No todas las ideas son dignas de respeto. El respeto se gana.

Hekanibru

Dewey on God

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Dewey [to the Bible teacher Helen]: What kind of God makes children think when they’re not in school?

Helen: That is a torment but I’m sure He has His reasons.

Dewey: Yeah, like Pastor Roy said, how God is so much bigger and wiser than us, and trying to see what He’s thinking would be like an ant trying to see what I’m thinking.

Helen: Yes, exactly. But we can trust in His wisdom, and have faith that He is watching over us.

Dewey: Like me with the anthill in my backyard. I spent days watching the ants, trying to figure out which ones were good, and which ones were bad, but they all just looked like ants, so I started smiting all of them.

Helen: Well that’s not –

Dewey: I was smiting them with the garden hose, and with lighter fluid, and with the lawnmower, and to be perfectly honest, I think I went a little crazy with the shovel. Those ants could have been praying to me all day, I wouldn’t have heard them.

[ponders]

Dewey: There was nothing they could do about it.

Helen: But, I don’t think –

Dewey: Really, it’s the same with us. There’s nothing we can do about anything either, so why worry about it? Hey, this is making me feel better.

Helen: Well, that’s good, but –

Dewey: I guess all we can do is live our lives with as much kindness and decency as possible, and try not to dwell on God standing over us with a giant shovel. Bye!

Absolutely brilliant.

Hekanibru

The Little Miracle

The Accident

When I was a year and a half old, I had a very serious accident. My aunt had boiled some water to make coffee and as she was walking towards the dining room, the glass pitcher started to crack in her hands. Not knowing what else to do, she threw the pitcher to the far side of the living room, which she thought to be empty. Alas, I was playing there behind the couch.

The water burned both my arms and my chest. Even though the burns were only of first and second degree, I was immediately admitted to the hospital given the percentage of the affected area. The months that followed were torturous for me and for my parents. Every day, after having been soaked for hours, nurses then proceeded to thoroughly disinfect and wash the wounds to remove any secretions. Unfortunately, given my age and the seriousness of my condition, it was not possible to use any kind of anesthetics. During the first weeks, I would implore the nurse to stop with the very few words I knew. I eventually stopped crying but I would grit my teeth as I looked at my parents with despair and anguish. On many occasions since then, with tears in their eyes, my parents have described to me their feeling of helplessness and grief at having to see me suffer like that.

During that time, my parents never left my side. They both asked for time off work so they could take turns and be with me 24 hours a day. They took it upon themselves to ensure the doctor’s orders were carried out to the letter. The type and amount of every food, liquid, and, of course, medicine that I was given was thoroughly verified. They corrected numerous potentially dangerous mistakes made by careless nurses. Even though my parents’ watchfulness caused some discomfort to the hospital staff, they increased their vigilance after a very unfortunate incident.

Misael was a three year old boy who had also suffered serious burns but was well on his way to recovery. One day, as a nurse was getting ready to disinfect my wounds, Misael’s mother said her son should go first, as he had been soaking longer. My mother agreed amicably, thereby inadvertently saving my life. Shortly after the nurse had started disinfecting Misael’s wounds, he began to choke and his skin turned purple. To the horror of his mother, he started convulsing and died. The nurse had forgotten to dilute the powerful iodine-based disinfectant.

Under my parents’ intensified vigilance, I began to recover. Sadly, in spite of the precautions taken to maintain a sterile environment, I contracted chickenpox and my condition worsened rapidly.

My entire body was covered with sores and the still raw wounds became infected. To avoid the risk of septicemia, pustules had to be removed from the burned areas with pinking shears every day. I stopped eating and had to be fed intravenously. The lack of solid food caused my stomach to become distended. I started having cardiac arrhythmias, pulmonary problems, and frequent nocturnal seizures caused by the lack of electrolytes. After a few weeks, the chief of Pediatrics told my father that there was nothing else they could do, that my death was imminent.

The ‘Miracle’

What happened next is something my mother unreservedly describes as a miracle.

She had finished her vigil for the day and left the hospital not knowing what to do. She wandered aimlessly for hours, deeply immersed in her grief. She eventually found a church and went inside. She prayed more fervently than ever; this time, however, she was no longer asking for my recovery. She told God she did not want me to suffer any longer, that she was even prepared to accept my death. At that moment, she realized someone had left an empty baby food jar on the floor. On a whim, she picked it up and filled it with holy water. She snuck the jar into the hospital and, in an act of sheer desperation, she made me drink the water. My father only knew of this much later and the doctors never found out.

Given my health condition in general, and the state of my digestive system in particular, one might think that drinking water that was very likely unsanitary should have been disastrous. However, on the very next day, after not having spoken for weeks, I asked my mother for soup. Even though eating solid food in my condition was dangerous, my doctor allowed me to have a regular meal, perhaps considering it to be my last. I ate the whole thing and from that day onwards, to the amazement of the staff, I started recovering. In the course of only two weeks, after having been in the hospital for approximately four months, I made a full recovery and was permitted to go home. By the time I left, everyone at the hospital knew me as ‘the little miracle’.

How can I be an Atheist?

Several people who know this story do not understand how I can be an atheist: “How can you explain what happened? You wanted soup the very next day!”, “And what about Misael? It was your turn!”, “Either the holy water or the food they gave you could have killed you!”, “Not even the doctors had an explanation for your recovery!” I honestly cannot explain my recovery, but neither can I accept that it was a miracle; that is, an intentional transgression of the laws of physics undertaken by the creator of the universe.

There is an enormous difference between something extremely unlikely and something impossible. If I buy a lottery ticket, it is highly unlikely indeed that I will win, but it is not impossible. According to the medical experts, my recovery was so unlikely that they thought I would not survive, but was it actually impossible? Did God necessarily have to intervene and break the laws of physics so I could recover? Is it really inconceivable to imagine an unlikely scenario in which my recovery was physically possible?

However strange it may seem, highly unlikely events occur relatively frequently. There are countless books and websites describing some of the most extraordinary examples (simply google for ‘amazing coincidences’). Although many of these events remain unexplained, it is important to understand that this does not imply that there must be a supernatural explanation. Throughout the centuries, we have attributed a large number of now-understood phenomena to the supernatural.

The hypothesis that my recovery was miraculous cannot be falsified; that is, it is impossible to prove that it was not. There are, nevertheless, only two possibilities: either it was a miracle or it was not. The latter does not require the existence of a supreme being capable of breaking the laws of physics who, for some mysterious reason, decided to save me; therefore, I consider it to be more likely that it was not a miracle (cf. Occam’s razor).

Setting aside for a moment what I consider the more likely explanation, there exist moral reasons for my preference to believe that God had nothing to do with my recovery. If I accept that it was miraculous, what about Misael? We were both innocent children, did he deserve to die and I did not? Why? How could it be fair to save one and not the other? Let us, for the sake of argument, assume that God had a valid reason to save me over Misael. If God, in his infinite wisdom, had decided I should survive, could he not simply have prevented the accident in the first place? Why was there need for so much suffering, anguish, and sorrow? The God my mother believes saved my life is one of love and justice, I refuse to believe that the whole experience was some kind of test of faith. I definitely prefer an indifferent God, even a nonexistent one, to a sadistic one.

Finally, even if we ignore all these important questions, what kind of egotistical megalomaniac would I have to be to believe that the very creator of the universe personally intervened to save my life? I do not think that God saved me so I could fulfill an ‘important mission’ in this world, as some people would have me believe. I do not consider myself a special person, only an extremely lucky one.

The True Heroes

I will probably never know for sure whether God intervened, but what I do know beyond any doubt, is that it would have been much less likely for me to recover had it not been for all the people involved in my treatment. My gratitude goes out to the countless people who have contributed to the development of medicine through the ages; to the medical staff who treated me, for their experience and their efforts; and finally and above all, to my parents, for their unconditional love and their uninterrupted vigil, for so many hours of helpless anxiety and suffering. It is all of them, real flesh-and-blood people, whom I consider the true heroes of this story. Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s; it is they who deserve the honors and to whom I undeniably and undoubtedly owe my life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I wear my scars with pride. They are silent witnesses of a truly wonderful fact: even though we are unavoidably subject to the seemingly cruel whims of the universe, by use of our reason and motivated by the love we feel for others, our efforts have the power to transform nearly impossible dreams into happy realities.

Hekanibru