Monday, July 1, 2013

The even newer atheists

Okay, I realize that I just wrote about Jerry DeWitt in my last blog entry, but I couldn't put his book down today and wound up finishing it.  There were moments when I got choked up reading it, as I found myself relating even though I've never been so deep in the faith as being a pastor.  There's a particular moment where he relates to finding scientific explanations to his problems when the supernatural explanations had only made the problems worse, I couldn't help but think of some of my own experiences, and how much of a psychological relief abandoning my faith became for me.

I cannot recommend this book enough to pretty much anybody whether they're believers, former believers, or never-were believers.  I think that any open-minded believer would enjoy it because although it's obviously from an atheistic viewpoint, DeWitt doesn't really bother with making a case for atheism.  That's pretty smart, because what new things can possibly be said at this point?  Basically, the whole thing is about his personal experiences, and you can see how a person can be very sincere in their faith, and WANT to believe more than anything, but when you reach that breaking point, where you just CAN'T believe something anymore, there really isn't any turning back.

As for the nonbelievers, I know that I certainly wound up learning a bit about different Christian denominations, especially the differences between Pentecostals and Baptists.  If you've never been deeply entrenched in that world, then it might seem like people shunning each other over arguments regarding whether Superman can outrun The Flash, but it's fascinating nonetheless.  Also, I learned that being a pastor is tough work, especially if you want to be sincere and not some kind of carnie who promotes the faith through cheap magic tricks.  DeWitt certainly went through a lot of trials and tribulations when he was a man of faith, and it's not like you just go down to your local church, apply to be a pastor, and get a job.  Those guys really have to hustle, especially if they want to make a living off of it without having to seek a second job.

What I'm really hoping here is that DeWitt's book is going to start something new.  We've had the "New Atheists", which is kind of a silly term, but it's used to describe the likes of Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and probably even David Silverman of the American Atheists.  Those guys have a reputation for being "militant" and sometimes even "hostile" toward theism.  I think that the case made against their approach is a bit overblown though, mainly because people just don't like being told that what they believe is nonsense, and as Daniel Dennet put it, there simply is no polite way to do that.  Still, while I disagree with the criticism, I at least understand why people feel that way.

Then I watched DeWitt on Morning Joe.  You can find the video for it below, and hopefully you'll notice that we're dealing with a very different kind of atheist here.  The guy's not looking for a fight.  He's polite.  And even though he's basically surrounded by people who take issue with his position, he's not ready for a fight or even a debate.  He's just there to talk about what he went through.  To be fair, the Jesuit priest is warm and accepting of DeWitt, and even though the host, Joe Scarborough clearly states which side of the debate he's on, can't find too much fault with the former pastor.  I think even most Christians would have felt bad for him if everybody started ganging up on him and started hitting him with the usual apologist arguments.

I'm not a psychic.  I'm not even a good guesser.  However, polls are showing that religious faith is waning in this country.  I am aware that it could shift in the other direction, as historical trends don't always go one way and keep going that way.  Still, the number of people who are openly atheist is rising in this country.  Many of them have either deconverted from their old faith, or finally decided to step out of the closet, based on the advocacy of the "New Atheists".  DeWitt's deconversion and coming out was partially inspired by those guys, and now he can probably reach an audience that might have eluded those fellas.

One of the reasons why people are becoming so much more accepting of gay people nowadays is that so many more people know people who are openly gay, and they realize that they're not a problem.  I know for a fact that I've changed some people's minds on what an atheist would actually be like.  (One Christian I met asked her congregation to "pray for her" before meeting me in person.  I'm pretty sure that she found me to not be as assertive about atheism in person as I seem to be online.)  And while I'm a pretty affable fella for the most part (I think - I hate explaining what kind of person I am, as usually when people do that, they're really far off the mark.) I don't think that I have the same warm personality that DeWitt has.

This might just be what inspires even more atheists to come forward and say, "Hey.  We're your friends, your neighbors, the friendly strangers that you meet, your family.  We're not so scary."  They'll see that we're not so frightening after all.  (Again, those of you who are living in my area, you're probably wondering why anybody would have to be told this in the first place.  Read DeWitt's book - for some people, coming out atheist isn't just a big deal to their families, it's a big deal to their entire city.  DeWitt, for instance, got fired from a SECULAR job when word went around that he had become one.)

And maybe when they see that we're not so scary, then maybe they'll be willing to listen to why it is we don't believe.  We'll basically be saying the same stuff that Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. say, but they might actually take it more to heart - and maybe just change their minds.

Obviously, I think that would be a good thing for the world, but why I think that would be another blog post entirely.  Maybe I'll write about it soon, but I've been itchin' to write about comics and movies lately, even though my atheism-based posts get far more hits.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

No comments: