I haven’t posted in a while, and I’m sorry about that. So, I’ll start off small (at least, that was my intention).
Here’s a few Penn Jillette quotations from nearly one year ago. It appeared in “The Province” on October 16th, 2011. They really highlight an issue that the atheist community should try harder to exploit.
“Christian used to be a throwaway word. People didn’t use it very much. People didn’t start self-labelling or getting labelled “Christian” until the last part of the 20th century. Before that, you might identify as a Baptist, or a Southern Baptist or a Methodist. But there wasn’t one identifier that put you in a fold with all the other believers.”,
That’s right. In fact, it’s really only in combining their many minority groups that “Christians” have been able to hold any majority at all. As Penn goes on to say, if one were to break up these individual belief entities, atheism rises pretty fast to being one of the largest groups. Direct quotation here (emphasis added by me):
“Atheists are growing way fast, from under two per cent to about eight per cent just in this century. If you throw in self-labelled agnostics and those who identify as not religious, you’re getting up to around 20 per cent. Evangelicals are about 26 per cent, Catholics about 23 per cent, Jews, 1.7 per cent, Mormons also 1.7 per cent – if you start breaking Christians up into their smaller groups, non-believers come close to being the dominant religion, if you can call no religion a religion. That’s like calling not collecting stamps a hobby.”
So, there are a few problems I see with the argument (though, I wish they weren’t there). Penn has suggested we do the exact same thing. We “throw in self-labelled agnostics and those who identify as not religious”. Well, are they atheists? I mean, can we count them? Is that different than the catholic church padding their numbers by including everyone who was baptised (even if they never again stepped foot into a catholic church)? It seems almost too similar.
Yet, if it is similar, is it an issue? Is it wrong to highlight the number of non-religious. Maybe they don’t identify as atheists, but perhaps instead of using terms like “atheist”, “agnostic”, “skeptic”, etc., the groups become a conglomerate that makes a much larger and dominant collective.
This is tough for two reasons. The first is that gathering atheists has been likened to herding cats. However, more and more people are coming out of the woodwork each day. The new “good news” (pun intended) is that people really like things like The Amazing Meetings, CFI conferences, FreeOK, and the Reason Rally. These things are catching on. So, gathering like minded individuals – even those with non-belief – is getting easier.
The second, which is more difficult to overcome (in my opinion), is that just because a person is an atheist, a skeptic, an agnostic, etc., doesn’t mean they can’t (or don’t) have other ridiculous – and sometimes laughable – beliefs.
The churches have been able to swallow this big pill whole. Obviously it’s impossible to rectify the mormon storyline with the catholic, or the catholic doctrine with the baptist (although I’ve heard that one is pretty close). Yet, they still count themselves together because of the commonality of Jesus. Actually, it’s worse than that, because the Gallup poll that stated 80% of the USA is religious counted “belief in aliens as a higher power” to be among the same group. Not exactly implicit differentiation, if you ask me.
So, while I actually would like to band with some of the other non-religious groups who share the belief (some might call it knowledge) that religion is fraudulent, purposefully deceptive, and oftentimes hateful (or at least a more widely accepted vehicle for hate), I think we ought to maintain the group identifiers for the time being; if only because we truly do share different belief systems.
We can all come together at events like The Reason Rally, and The Amazing Meeting, but atheism is simply the non-belief in god – nothing more. Atheists can still be dumb as shit. Some don’t even know WHY they don’t believe (just like some religious don’t know why they DO – or at least have never asked the question).
So Penn’s article is bitter-sweet for me. I would like to break up the christian groups. We already saw that at the beginning of the Republican primaries. The candidates (nearly all MEGA-christian) were quick to point out that mormonism is closer to being a cult than part of the christian conglomerate. Yet, now that Romney is the front-runner, look who jumps back on the bandwagon. It’s a dirty trick and it needs to be pointed out. If for no other reason than that it’s dishonest. However, I think the best reason to point it out is because their individual beliefs are actually different enough to exploit.