Saturday, July 05, 2008

The country shrink's other points, and my response

The country shrink, whose point #2 from his post on "some psychological aspects of atheists" I critiqued in my previous post, also listed six other alleged characteristics of atheists. These were:

1). They tend to take the moral high ground. They look down on believers as simplistic, uneducated, stupid, weak, intolerant, gun toting, racists, and simple minded dolts.

2). [Responded to in my previous post.]

3). There is something in their lives that they are afraid they would have to give up if they believed in God. It’s usually some pattern that brings them pleasure in a way that they feel believers might label as immoral. They are typically not conscious of this.

4). They portray themselves as enlightened, intelligent, tolerant, moral, caring, accepting, loving, peacible, and kind. And sometimes, they really and truly are. I’ve known them and met them. However, they are not tolerant, in general, of the beliefs of “believers.” They can tolerate anything but that.

5). Just like the fervent believer, they have trouble avoiding proselytising their belief system. They often try to promote their views to believers. They get a kick out seeing believers squirm when they ask them some deep philosophical question which the believer has not considered nor been confronted with.

As an aside, in treatment, I’ve noted a number of youngsters who are constipated, like to “crap on people rather that in the toilet.” Once they start utilizing the toilet appropriately, they stop utilizing people as a repository for their bound up bodily functions. They have to be taught to drink appropriate amounts of water and eat fiber to achieve this.

6) They find a replacement for “religion.” Whether it’s the environment, political causes, sociological wrongs, whatever, but they find a replacement. They have the notions of sin, redemption, and salvation, in their substitute belief system.

7) They pretend their emotional and psychological system has nothing to do with their lack of belief. But readily attribute psychological factors to those who do believe (i.e., needing a crutch, simple minded, lacking education, delusional). They espouse that naturalism is the true faith of intellectuals. Only a simple and weak minded fool would believe anything different.

Here's my response to these (also posted in comments at his blog):

Re: #1: I think “taking the moral high ground” is a good thing, but that’s probably not what you mean–I think what you mean is claiming to have the moral high ground (and, by implication, when one doesn’t actually have it). Nobody likes arrogant people with an air of superiority, but we also must admit that there are also people who genuinely are stupid, small-minded, uneducated, ignorant, etc., and in my opinion, nobody should be exempt from criticism. If an atheist criticizes something a Christian says as stupid, ignorant, or fallacious, that may mean that the atheist is an arrogant jerk, but it may also mean that the Christian has said something stupid, ignorant, or fallacious.

Re: #3: I think this is much rarer that most Christians seem to think. In any case, the public behavior of prominent Christians shows them to actively engage in any sort of immorality I can think of (whether a genuine immorality or simply something that conservative Christianity labels as such), so Christianity doesn’t seem to be any barrier to such actions.

Re: #4: Most atheists of my acquaintance genuinely have most of those characteristics. Some do not. Most Christians of my acquaintance genuinely have most of those characteristics. Some do not. As for tolerance, in my experience atheists are far more tolerant than Christians (including more tolerant of Christians than Christians are of atheists).

Re: #5: Among my acquaintances, I don’t see any greater proclivity towards proselytization by atheists than Christians–in fact, it seems to me that it’s the reverse. There are numerous Christian streetcorner and campus preachers, Christian missionary organizations, etc., but I’ve yet to run into any similar atheist streetcorner or campus preachers or missionaries. If somebody knocks on your door to tell you about their religious views, the safe bet is that it’s an advocate of some sort of Christianity rather than an atheist.

Re: #6: If person A has a life filled with a rewarding career, raising a family, contributing to the community through public service, engaging in recreational activities, while person B is cloistered and spends all of his time praying and chanting, would you say that person A has replaced religion with other activities and has a less well-rounded life than person B? How do you distinguish someone simply filling their life with valuable activity from someone who is “replacing religion with a substitute”? I can think of some activities which are religion-like, including sports fanaticism, but I don’t think most atheists find religion substitutes which include correlaries to the notions of sin and salvation.

Re: #7: You really make two points here. One is a claim that atheists don’t recognize their nonbelief as a (or the) cause of their psychology. I think that in many cases, it’s not. Most atheists live lives that are indistinguishable from those of most nominal or mostly secularized Christians (of the sort who make up the majority of Christians in Europe). Your second point is that atheists often attribute some delusion or pathological need to religious believers. On that point I think you are correct, and that atheists who do that are mistaken. Pascal Boyer’s excellent book Religion Explained argues, correctly in my opinion, that religious inferences are just like other kinds of inferences that we make, and that it is the natural state of humans that they infer agency behind causes. Unfortunately, our natural inference patterns get it wrong much of the time–when we inferred that lightning bolts were thrown by the gods, that was incorrect, for example.

4 comments:

Gridman said...

Re: Re #7 - People do make inferences, and that includes atheists. Like all humans we try to find cause in things.

That carries through to atheists who are also trying tp make sense of the seemingly senseless - in this case, belief in god itself.

We can go on all day about all the various potential reasons used to explain religion (and, from the atheist standpoint, all of those reasons are, by definition, sans diety) but I think they all fall somewhere on one side or the other of a line.

That line represents, for want of a better word, "credibility". That line in a debate, particularly a debate based on factual data rather than opinion (that is, a debate such as "is the Earth flat?" vs "Is nuclear power a good thing?"), tends to move with time and with data collection.

At some point, that line moves so far to one side, it becomes difficult to take the other side seriously, and when you can't take someone's position seriously, the tendency is to attribute their argument to something other than reason.

I can't take flat-earthers seriously. I'd like to think they exist just to get together at the pub and have some beers, but... I can't imagine that being the real reason, either. So, other ideas start creeping into my head: They're delusion, they're somehow pushing an agenda for their own benefit, they're nuts, they're stupid, etc.

And I stand by that assessment because those are all more likely than that they've considered the evidence and made a reasoned decision.

I don't consider myself to be "arrogant" in my belief that the Earth is round(ish), yet I'll defend that position tenaciously until (and if) something more compelling comes along to explain the shape of the Earth.

I can, however, see how someone on the flat side of that argument (assuming they really believe their argument) could see that position as arrogant.

This is not far removed from the standpoint that many atheists hold about religion, and for the same reasons - it is difficult to credit that someone espousing religion came to that position through rational thought.

Wanderin' Weeta said...

"As for tolerance, in my experience atheists are far more tolerant than Christians (including more tolerant of Christians than Christians are of atheists)."

I would add, ... and usually more tolerant of Christians than Christians are of Christians of a conflicting denomination.

Jim Lippard said...

Wanderin' Weeta: Good point!

Humanist.Observer said...

"3). There is something in their lives that they are afraid they would have to give up if they believed in God. It’s usually some pattern that brings them pleasure in a way that they feel believers might label as immoral. They are typically not conscious of this."

Ok!!! He's got a point! I like sleeping in on Sunday mornings! But I am conscious of this!