I Was an Angry Atheist: Why I Launched (and Relaunched) OnFaith

How religion became the center of my life and work.

When I started OnFaith over seven years ago, I was an atheist. Actually, I was an angry atheist. You might well ask why on earth I would want to have a religion web site. The fact is, as a journalist, I had been covering political and cultural issues for the Washington Post for over 30 years, and I felt religion was a huge story that the media (yes, the dreaded elite-liberal-East-Coast-secular media) was not covering. I mentioned it to Don Graham, then owner of The Washington Post, now head of Graham Holdings. He suggested I start a religion web site. I told him I knew nothing about religion and less about the internet. He replied that nobody was perfect and challenged me to do it. What choice did I have?

With the help of my friend, author, religion scholar and then-Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, I began gathering a group of contributors and telling a few friends. I might as well have told them I was having a sex change operation. Even my husband, Ben Bradlee, who actually does believe in God and with whom I had had quite a few heated discussions about religion, was shocked. In fact, he still is. To this day, when the subject comes up, he never fails to remark to people, “Can you believe that Sally is doing this?” Where was the person he thought he had married?

It turned out that starting a website was really fun and the subject was endlessly fascinating. The more I read and spoke to people and studied religion, the more I realized how little I really did know. I also began to understand more.

Certainly much evil in the world has been done in the name of religion, but much good as well. There were so many brilliant people in history whose lives had been devoted to searching for answers, and many of them were believers. There were so many compelling points of view. I came to respect those of many different faiths and those with no faith. More importantly, I came to understand the incredible power that faith has in the lives of so many people. Some 90% of the people on this planet are guided by their faith.

I lost my anger. Jon Meacham talked me out of being an atheist. I don’t use that word any more. When people ask me what I am, I tell them I’m a “somethingist.” There is a Dutch group who actually call themselves “somethingists.” I believe there’s something there. I don’t know what it is. But then, nobody does for sure.

Many of my friends and colleagues will say that they are not interested in religion. One religious friend in the South was lunching with a woman who totally dismissed the subject. “Are you interested in sex?” he asked her. “Yes, of course,” she replied. “Politics?” “Yes.” “How about foreign policy, gay rights, civil rights, women’s rights, abortion, the environment, immigration, sports, crime, art, history, literature, films, philosophy, music, evolution, morals, values, ethics, the questions about why we are here?” She was stunned silent. “Well, darlin’,” he said, “then you are interested in religion.”

Religion is about everything. It’s just the word that’s a turnoff.

Someone once asked me what made a good story for the Style section of a paper. “Anything interesting,” I told him. “Anything boring is not a Style story.” I feel the same way about religion and about our new site. Religion does not have to be and is not boring. You will never be bored by OnFaith. You might not agree with everything that is written, but you will learn something, and you may come to respect and understand the faith or lack of faith of others.

I have never been more fulfilled, more consumed, or more excited about anything than what I am doing now. We are all looking for those precious moments of transcendence, for a sense of the divine, even if you don’t call it that. There are times I have experienced it, and I crave more. We are all looking for meaning in our lives. What could be more interesting than that? That ultimate meaning as understood by people is what we are going to be covering every single day on“OnFaith.

We hope you will join us. You really don’t want to be left out. Religion is where the action is.

Sally Quinn
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  • John M Wells

    Thanks for sharing your and others journeys to something. Inspiring!

    • faithstreet

      Thanks!

      • bippy1234567

        I think Sally should be introduced to the shroud of turin. It’s definitely a fascinating relic that’s one of the most scientifically studied objects on earth that has brought many seekers and something’ists to believe in God.

        And congrats Sally on not being an angry atheist anymore . I pray and hope keep seeking . As an inclusivist I believe you are doing exactly what your supposed to be doing :)

        Veridical Nde’s could be another area of interest for Sally as they provide very compelling evidence for at least a minimalist view of life after death.
        Pamela Reynolds would have made for a great interview but she has passed on.

  • Russ Dewey

    I don’t want to sound mean, but this comes across as an attempt to lure page visits by slurring atheists. People like Dawkins are often referred to as angry, even though they are unfailingly calm, polite, and reasoned, simply because they dare to challenge the dearly-held beliefs of others. Some atheists, like Krauss, are mocking in tone, but never visibly angry. Hitchens seemed angry, I’ll grant you that. But most of the atheist writers just seem eager to stay with naturalistic explanations of reality, not angry. The “angry atheist” meme has taken hold in religious blogs where it provides a feeling of satisfaction, apparently. But I also know from reading those blogs that Sally would be condemned, too, unless she explicitly accepts _______________ (fill in the blank, depending on your fundamentalism: original sin, the necessity for believing Jesus is God incarnate, TULIP, what-have-you). On the other hand, her feelings of awe and transcendence are exactly like those expressed by Dawkins in his book An Appetite for Wonder. If that is the sort of “religion” Sally has discovered, she should realize that she has a lot more in common with the majority of atheist and spiritual-but-not-religious people than those who typically denounce “angry atheists.”

    • faithstreet

      Hm, you might try re-reading the piece. Sally says she was an angry atheist. She does not say or even imply all that atheists are angry. She does not impugn a single atheist except for herself.

      • Russ Dewey

        Gosh, maybe she wasn’t replicating the meme after all! lol No, I don’t think it works quite that way. It was a click magnet. More importantly, the awe and wonder and joy she feels now is exactly the set of emotions often reported and extolled by atheists who blog online these days. Yet conservative religious blog writers unanimously describe atheists as angry. To them the two words go together like bread and butter. This is what struck me as remarkable. The awe-and-wonder-and joy bit is a striking feature of atheist writings in recent years. (Outside of comment sections! I see plenty of vitriol there, unfortunately, from all sides.)

        • Surprise123

          Sally is not longer an atheist: she’s a “somethingist.” It’s not up to her to ensure that atheists are viewed as a group of people inspired by something other than anger at religion and its adherents. If you’re an atheist, that’s YOUR job.
          Frankly, I primarily see atheists as a group of people who are inspired by mockery and satire of those whose lives are guided by values other than faith in empirically – tested reality. Not so much the “angry atheist,” but the “mocking atheist.” Mocking atheists have so little faith in empiricism, science, and their own values, that instead of asserting themselves respectfully in the public sphere, demanding equal representation in public displays or on public property (perhaps with displays, monuments, parades celebrating Darwin’s Day, the grandeur of exploring the cosmos through science, or the religion non-establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution), they resort in juvenile fashion, pretending disingenuously to be followers of “the Flying Spaghetti Monster” or of “Satan.”
          Pretty sad. You want people to believe that you’re something other than “angry atheists” or “mocking atheists”? Then do something about it. Stop being so infantile, step up to the plate, and affirmatively champion and celebrate your own values — your awe and wonder at the cosmos, at the microscopic world; your respect for Charles Darwin and his Theory of Evolution; your devotion to the religion non-establishment clause in the U.S. Constitution.
          YOU have to do that. Not others, not even former atheists, now “somethingists.”

          • https://www.facebook.com/etseq97 etseq

            Wow…did an atheist steal your lunchmoney when you were a kid? You sound awfully angry and bitter. Isn’t your Sky-Daddy supposed to make you tingle on the inside?

  • Peter Armstrong

    I am so glad Sally took Don’s advice, and look forward to all that OnFaith will become in this new iteration. I resonate with her journey and see it in the lives of so many friends and family members.

  • Guest

    Sally – sorry to hear you’ve given up on reason and logic and all the transcendent possibilities of genuinely understanding the universe. Please be aware that we atheists, as a group, don’t tend toward anger. Frustration, surely, because so many are indoctrinated as youths and thus deprived of the beauty that comes with skeptical thinking and a clear eyed view of the actual world. But as Russ Dewey pointed out – generally not anger; that’s pretty much a lie put forth by frothing fundamentalists – either as part of an orchestrated smear, or perhaps from psychological projection.
    So I hope you find your way back. If you need some help, check out Peter Boghossian’s Manual For Creating Atheists or do a search for Boghossian and Easter Bunny Talk – it will re-awaken you to the dangers of holding forth faith as a virtue. In the tiniest nutshell, just think if you’d get better measurements for the size of a window by praying to know the answer or using a ruler – pretty much anyone who’s being honest will admit the ruler is more accurate. Now extend that to something really important – like women’s rights, slavery, education, gay rights – and ask yourself if reason / logic / enlightenment values and so forth will lead you to better decisions, or if you really want to stick with a 2000 year old tome written by a multitude of unknown authors with varying agendas. I’m not going to go off on a rant here. Truly hope you find your way back for your own sake, your husband’s, and certainly any children you might raise. Thinking rationally is nothing to be ashamed of; it should be a source of pride. And if we want to improve the human lot, it’s something we need to pass on to the next generation. Good luck.

    • Surprise123

      “Sally – sorry to hear you’ve given up on reason and logic and all the transcendent possibilities of genuinely understanding the universe.” Believing that there is “something out there,” versus categorically rejecting the possibility that there may be something out there (minus any empirical evidence to support such a belief) is “giving up on reason and logic”? Really? Really? That is pretty ironic.

      “…and certainly any children you might raise.” Atheism is not known for its ability to transmit values (including valuing education and System 2 analytical thinking) across generations in societies that are not homogeneous. Mormonism…yes. Confucianism + Ancestor Worship…yes. Orthodox Judaism…yes. Catholicism…yes. Atheism…not so much.

      Atheism is often associated with a value system focused on the individual, on employing his or her rational mind in meeting wants and needs during his or her lifetime…in the present. Successful religions, on the other hand, religions such as Mormonism, Confucianism + Ancestor Worship, Orthodox Judaism, and Catholicism, religions that value education and analytical thinking, are successful in sublimating the wants and the needs of the individual to the future- based needs of the next generation, and the generations that follow.

      “And if we want to improve the human lot, it’s something we need to pass on to the next generation.” Good luck with that. What is the birthrate for self-designated Atheists? And, what is the likelihood that Atheist parents in a diverse, heterogeneous society, will be able to pass on their values to their children, much less to grandchildren (assuming that individuality-valuing, freedom-valuing, present-valuing atheists have children or even grandchildren)?

      • http://YourGods.com/ Robert Penczak

        Believing anything without evidence (which is a pretty decent definition of faith) is indeed giving up on reason and logic – you are putting faith in their place and simply accepting what the good book (or the rabbi/priest/or imam tells you). Not sure where the irony lies in that.

        As to atheism – atheism doesn’t entail any specific values; it simply entails not thinking there is sufficient evidence to believe in a god (which is invisible, inscrutable, mysterious, and a whole bunch of other descriptors which take great care to make sure that no matter it every gap of god’s supposed authority is progressively closed out by knowledge of how the world actual works – the faithful will still proclaim to the high heavens that god is everywhere.

        Transmitting values – that’s a tough one. Indoctrination of young children who are evolutionarily primed to believe whatever their caretakers tell them is certainly effective; we are in complete agreement on that matter. Hence the Jesuit claim: give me the child for 7 years, and I will give you the man. And much brain research (again, with good evolutionary basis), shows that humans are indeed primed to attribute agency to things that aren’t real – the brain science is fascinating – some authors to check out include Andy Thomson (Why we believe in god(s)); Michael Shermer (Why we believe weird things; Pascal Boyer addresses this; many others — but all of that simply explains why we are prone to such beliefs; there simply isn’t any evidence that the beliefs (ie – that god or devils or ghosts and so forth) themselves are accurate.

        Atheism across the generations – if you stopped inundating children with the bible / torah/koran or similar fairy tales for a generation, those specific fairy tales would quickly die out. Each one claims divine certitude, yet all are mutually contradictory. (Throw in Mormonism, Scientology, Adventists, and the 1000 plus other religions that are certain they are the one true religion) So yes, faith in specific stories can spread like a virus, from parent to child down through the generations and horizontally across friends and spouses
        Critical / skeptical thinking requires far more work, but is a noble objective (and is indeed what Christians apply to every god but Jesus (or Jesus/Father/Ghost) or just Father +/- Mary depending on specific sect – you are skeptical of allah, and thor, and zeus – and probably do not spend much time considering how certain people of other culture or other epochs are or were in their existence.
        But just because critical thinking is harder, doesn’t mean you should give up with out trying.

        Successful religions value education and analytical thinking – well, there are plenty of very smart and educated religious individuals; I don’t dispute that. But as to whether or not religious institutions encourage education and analytical thinking – that’s a much harder sell, at least when the education and analytical thinking is turned to scrutinize religion. Note that 97% or so of elite scientists – our absolute best and brightest – do not believe in god as defined by Christianity / Judaism / or Islam. Sure you can fudge the definition – god is love, god is beauty, god is the humanity within all of us . . . . but in terms of the god that religion has taught people of for generations and threatened people with for generations – education and critical thinking are pretty good at eradicating such phantoms – and religion does everything it can to insulate itself from such scrutiny.

        Thank you for the wishes of luck. Don’t know the birth rate off hand, but there are roughly 60 million people in the US who no longer affiliate themselves with a specific religion – and whether religionists care to admit it or not, that has them quite nervous. Imagine, a child indoctrinated for years, threatened constantly with hellfire and brimstone, bribed with promises of an imaginary heaven – yet the cognitive dissonance is so great, and the disgust with the earthly sexual abuse of all the piously shuffled priests and all the money grubbing of the tax exempt god squad, and all the barbaric political policies under the banner of heaven . . . and all of the sudden, these sheep are bucking up and leaving in droves. And amongst the young, the rates of atheists are skyrocketing. Weren’t atheists the fastest growing group? So you know, I think atheism is going to do okay – just as long as the fundamentalists don’t blow up the world before reason can save us.

        • Craig Ford

          I enjoyed reading your post. I don’t think I could ever become an atheist. It takes way too much faith to believe that everything comes from nothing!

          Check out: http://www.equip.org for well reasoned answers to believe in God and the gospel that is proclaimed through His Word, The Bible, unless you’re of those who say, “I’ve already made up my mind, don’t confuse me with the facts”.

          • http://YourGods.com/ Robert Penczak

            Humorous, but it doesn’t take any ‘faith’ to be an atheist. It just takes a measure of skeptical thinking applied to the field of religion. For everything coming from nothing, you should check out Lawrence Krauss’s “A Universe from Nothing” – though on a simpler level, the fact that we haven’t yet solved a complicated puzzle is not evidence that god is the answer. And religionists have learned the hard way that this is a poor tactic – because with each scientific advance, their all powerful deity get forced into a smaller, more remote, more impossible to access corner of a universe that keeps proving itself more wondrous than the imaginations of the bronze to iron age creators of monotheism’s official deities.

          • Surprise123

            “And religionists have learned the hard way that this is a poor tactic – because with each scientific advance, their all powerful deity get forced into a smaller, more remote, more impossible to access corner of a universe.” And then, sometimes, those former religionists, now atheists, bereft of a coherent ethnic – cultural worldview and community, turn to drugs, alcohol, promiscuous sex, and the alternative fairy tale realms of Star Wars, Lord of the Ring, etc. to find meaning and value in their lives.

            And, sometimes, the time and energy they spend in dealing with the reality principle, “the most accurate understanding we can reach about how the real world works,” to the benefit of their personal lives, or to the benefit of the lives of their families, is actually LESS than the time and energy some religionists expend in dealing with the reality principle.

            Having “the most accurate understanding we can reach about how the real world works” does NOT automatically mean that people actually apply it to the benefit of their own lives. What if some religions actually do a BETTER job of ensuring that the reality principle is made manifest in people’s lives?

          • Surprise123

            Penczak seems to believe (without evidence, mind you) that having “the most accurate understanding we can reach about how the real world works” automatically translates into people actually applying that understanding to the benefit of their own lives.
            I’m of the firm belief (with no real evidence, mind you) that some religions, religions that inculcate delayed gratification and impulse control in immediate instinctual actions associated with sexuality, the pleasure principle, pain avoidance, and especially in automatic cognitive processes, actually do a BETTER job of ensuring that the reality principle is made manifest in people’s lives than Atheism.

        • Surprise123

          “if you stopped inundating children with the bible / torah/koran or similar fairy tales for a generation, those specific fairy tales would quickly die out.” THAT’s quite a statement. Based upon what evidence? Plenty of self-designated atheists I know immerse themselves in other fairy tales – Star Wars fandom, Lord of the Ring cos play, World of Warcraft online gaming. Oh, they, of course, are willing to state up front that “The Force” and “Gandalf” are NOT empirically real, but that doesn’t stop them from passionately creating costumes, characters, and electronic games that reflect those fairy tale universes and from spending hours upon hours avoiding the messiness of analog real life, and the reality principle.

          It seems quite obvious that whether or not we self-identify as Atheists, many of us are pre-disposed to immersing ourselves in fairy tale universes, to spending an inordinate amount of time engaging with those universes, independent of the degree that immersion furthers our material or physical well-being in the real world.

          “But as to whether or not religious institutions encourage education and analytical thinking – that’s a much harder sell.” Really? A quick Google search of “education level and religious affiliation” leads to an appropriate Pew Research survey:

          http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/table-education-by-tradition.pdf

          It shows that the most educated people in our country, those with post-graduate degrees, by percentage, are, in fact, religious: 1) Hindus at 48%; 2) Reform and Conservative Jews, both at 35%; 3) Unitarians and other liberal religious adherents at 29%; 4) Buddhists at 26%; and even the category “Other Christian” does rather well, coming in at 20%.

          Whereas Atheists come in at 21%, and the group I most closely affiliate with, the Agnostics group, comes in at 20%, the same rate as those who identify as “Other Christian.”

          Those faring the worse vis-à-vis education levels? Jehovah’s Witnesses at 3%, Members of historically black protestant churches at 5%, and Evangelical Protestants at 7%.

          Secular unaffiliated come in at a not very respectable 13%; and religious unaffiliated come in at a very poor 6%.

          And, it’s interesting to note that this Pew Research survey did not even address the Confucianism-Ancestor worship of Asian Americans. I would be very interested to learn whether 1st and 2nd generation immigrants from East Asia feel that an ancestor watches over them and is concerned about their success in the world. I wonder what % of these folks have achieved post-graduate degrees?

          I’m, of course, not claiming that being religious always equates to a greater emphasis on education. But, I am asserting that the worldview of “Atheist, Agnostic, or Secular = More Highly Educated, more inculcated in System 2 analytical thinking, and Religious adherents of all faiths = less educated, less inculcated in System 2 analytical thinking” is pretty darn simplistic.

          I suspect that the most successful religions are able to transmit valuing education, valuing System 2 analytical thinking across generations, while preventing that System 2 analytical thinking from destroying the values and beliefs the religion is based upon.

          You know what might even be MORE interesting to learn? What religion or lack of religion did the respondents of the survey experience as children, within in their own home, and within their own community? Sure, a respondent now self-identifies as Atheist, or as Conservative Jew, or as Muslim, but what religion or non-religion did he or she grow up in? Did his/her mother believe in supernatural entities? Did his/her father believe in supernatural entities? How often did the family attend church, synagogue, mosque, or temple, or, did the family keep an altar to their ancestors within the home, and how did all of these factors influence the respondent’s values of education, of System 2 analytical thinking?

          “So you know, I think atheism is going to do okay – just as long as the fundamentalists don’t blow up the world before reason can save us.” I’m not concerned about the religious per say, those who, at the very least are willing to say they believe that there is “something out there”: what I am worried about, however, is absolutist ideologues, whether those be Christian Fundamentalist Dominionists, convinced that the U.S. was founded by and for Jesus-loving folk alone; Muslim Islamists, convinced that Mohammad as Warrior is their ideal, and 72 virgins await them in heaven; Marxist atheists, who believed all religion is evil, and were willing to rip out religious institutions and their adherents by their roots in the former Soviet Union, Communist China, and North Korea; and anti-religious Atheist ideologues here at home, who show no scientific curiosity in religion, are convinced that religion is bad ALWAYS (without evidence, mind you, based upon personal experience and private testimonials, ignoring scientific proof that religion is a complex phenomena that can benefit people, in addition to causing harm), and are intent in chasing religion out of the public sphere, and even from communal private gatherings (as a recent petition from the American Atheists shows, a petition demanding that the U.S. Baseball commission stop encouraging the singing of “God Bless America” at baseball games).
          Our nation was founded by men heavily influenced by the Deism of Freemasonry: they believed that every man had the right to explore his relationship (or, lack of relationship) with God within his own conscience. They were not the secularists of revolutionary France, who thought all religion was evil, and that only a disavowal of the supernatural was the way to go. In 18th century revolutionary Paris, the movement that promoted Liberte’, Egalite’, and Fraternite’, resulted in the worship of the dictator, Napoleon.
          Note how secularism plays out in France today, as opposed to how it plays out here. In France, Christians, Muslims, Jews are not permitted to wear religious identifiers in public, not in the public schools, and not while serving in public positions. In France, the public sphere is hostile to religion. Whereas in America, members of Congress may be sworn in on the Bible, the Koran, a copy of the U.S. Constitution, a photo of their family, or an image of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, for that matter. The idea that a Muslim American woman may be prohibited from wearing the niqab, the black garment that covers her face as well as her body, in public in the United States? Hell, NO! As much as some of us may loathe the niqab, a piece of clothing that transforms women into visions of our most horrific dreams – death, faceless in black robes and scythe; the Nazgul from Lord of the Rings; the creepy Ghost of Christmas Future in Dickens’ Christmas Carol; wraiths and demons from a thousand stories, still we maintain that her religious clothing is a matter of conscience, a matter of identity, a matter of her 1st Amendment right to free expression. Not so in the anti-religious secular France.
          We shouldn’t fear religion or religious people: we should fear absolutist, my-way-or-the-highway, people of all ideologies, both secular and supernatural.
          We are, for the time being, a Christian majority nation. But, even more fundamentally, we are a nation founded on the most tolerant of quasi-religions: the Deism of Freemasonry. We are a nation, that, at its best, allows its citizens to follow the dictates of their own conscience, to explore their relationship with God (if they’re of the Abrahamic faiths) or Gods (if they’re Hindu, etc.), or their supernatural ancestors (if they’re East Asian) or their lack of relationship with the supernatural (if they’re Atheist or Agnostic) in their own way. We don’t insist that the only path to heaven or to the promise land or to the good life is via our own ideology, religious, secular, or otherwise.
          It’s the my-way-or-the-highway ideologues we have to fear, not the religious or those lacking in religion.

          • http://YourGods.com/ Robert Penczak

            Yes, plenty of atheists (and all sorts of others) enjoy immersing themselves in fairy tales and all sorts of other stories – but that ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ that allows for such immersion doesn’t translate into living their lives and dictating how others should live their lives once story time is over and that willing suspension is swapped back out for critical thinking.

            Agree that Fundamentalists are far more dangerous than those who pick and choose what to believe based on their evolved sense of right and wrong – though it’s important to remember that more progressive believers do serve an enabling function for the more extreme elements. Just think how much healthier our culture would be if we all based decisions on the most accurate understanding we can reach about how the real world works.

            Equating atheism with support for the flawed application of Communism and Marxism is simply a smear tactic, And when a state leader – be it Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong, or Kim Jong-il – sets himself up as if he were a god, then it is not the atheist mindset that’s responsible for the society that follows, it’s the same subservience to a totalitarian overlord that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam demand of their followers.

            No curiosity about religion? Actually, atheists tend to know more about religion that the typical practitioners themselves. And I personally enjoy studying mythology – be it Norse, Greek, Babylonian – or the monotheistic mythologies we’ve already mentioned. I simply don’t mistake stories for reality.

            Our Nation founded by Deists – agreed; no dispute there. Though if such a group of Enlightenment thinkers as those had been born after Darwin’s Theory of Evolution had been proposed and confirmed by all the branches of science that now support it – I think it’s safe to say they’d have come down on the side of atheism (or agnosticism depending on the semantics of how you define your terms)

          • Surprise123

            “but that ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ that allows for such immersion doesn’t translate into living their lives.” Depends upon the fairy tale fan: some fairy tale fans (undoubtedly, including some who call themselves atheists) wear totems of their Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, SCA fandom in their mundane lives, and undoubtedly the values evidenced in those fairy tale universes (Star Trek – Vulcan logic, a hopeful future for humanity among the stars; Star Wars – the individual overcoming great odds, an evil empire beaten back by a rag tag group of rebels; and Lord of the Rings – self sacrifice, devotion to community, the power of an insignificant, small being to change the world; and the SCA – chivalry, reverence for those who display prowess in armed combat, artisanal crafts, and the bardic arts) have great impact on and resonate in their personal lives.

            “Just think how much healthier our culture would be if we all based decisions on the most accurate understanding we can reach about how the real world works.” And, what if the understanding we reach is that human beings are not as rational as we thought (a la new discoveries on psychology and economics by Daniel Kahnerman), or, what if we discover that in non – homogeneous societies, human beings without a coherent ethnic-cultural worldview (versus the secular, more or less coherent ethnic-culturally pure societies of Japan and the Nordic nations) seek out other ways of establishing meaning in their lives – i.e., temporary alternative realities and fairy tale universes, art, drugs, alcohol, sports, cults, etc. Healthier? What makes you think atheism induces health – either physical or mental? Are Hindu, Mormon, Muslim, Jewish, and Ancestor-worshipping Confucian Americans less healthy than Atheist Americans? Do they live shorter lives? Are they less educated? Are they less wealthy? Do we have evidence for this? Where are the scientific studies that lead you to believe this?

            “And I personally enjoy studying mythology – be it Norse, Greek, Babylonian.” Studying the mythic stories of ancient extinct civilizations is very different than scientifically studying the political, economic, sociological and psychiatric effects of modern day, existing religions on people

            “Equating atheism with support for the flawed application of Communism and Marxism is simply a smear tactic.” I respectfully disagree. I did not “equate” atheism with the flawed application of Communism and Marxism. But, denying that a particular variety of atheism, a fervent anti-religion atheism that rested on the belief that human reason (embodied in the Communist Party) would lead to the promise land, the socialist utopia of the future, was associated with these ideological movements is disingenuous at best. Stalin, Mao Zedong, or Kim Jong-Il ( I don’t list Hitler because Nazism was never associated with Atheism) may have set themselves up as cult like omnipotent father fathers, but if you were to ask their followers if they were supernatural gods, capable of addressing concerns even after their deaths, they would say “NO! That would not be scientific!” And, then they would go off and reverently dust off the photo of Stalin, Mao Zedong, or Kim Jong-Il hanging in their kitchen (much like atheist followers of the Star Wars or Lord of the Rings universes would deny that these worlds exist, but then would then go on to spend hours upon hours trying to make these worlds come to life).

            Totalitarian, absolutist societies are possible under the aegis of atheist ideologues (a la Stalin’s Soviet Union), AND they are possible under the aegis of religious ideologues (a la some of the early theocratic Christian communities in pre-1776 in America). Do you not see that?

            “Our Nation founded by Deists – agreed; no dispute there.” Except that I said that our nation was founded by men who were heavily influenced by Deistic Freemasonry, many of whom who would have also self-identified as Christian.

            “I think it’s safe to say they’d have come down on the side of atheism (or agnosticism depending on the semantics of how you define your terms).” THAT is a biased assumption based upon absolutely …nothing but your own prejudices. They could have just as equally have decided upon “somethingism,” which of course, is quite compatible with Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.

            Or, they could have integrated evolution into their faith, much like Catholics, liberal Christians, and the Christian evangelical scientists of the Biologos Foundation have done.

            My own heavily biased, non-scientific opinion is that, if our founding fathers had been exposed to the theory of evolution circa 1776, they still would have never abandoned the belief that human beings struggling within their own conscience; coming to terms with their own morality; their own relation to reason, to the sacred, to the supernatural; their own comprehension in attaining heaven, the promised land, blessed utopia, or even simply the good life was the ONLY way to go. They never would have abandoned the FAITH that any government that, through force, sought to enforce a one-way-or-the-highway solution, whether that be “the most accurate understanding we can reach about how the real world works” or “that almighty God is going to send you to Hell for eternity if you don’t worship his divine son, Jesus” is inherently wrong.

            Note: this comment was edited 8:55am 1/23/14

          • http://YourGods.com/ Robert Penczak

            We are not as rational as we’d like to think – agree with you there; many authors I respect make that point – and I’ve got a couple of Kahneman books on my reading list

            Founders identifying as Christians – Jefferson rewrote the bible specifically to take the supernatural hocus pocus out of it, and you would have to dump the Nicene Creed to bring some of them into the fold – plus that’s missing the point that in the post-Darwin era, people who prided themselves on drawing conclusions from evidence would likely side with skeptics, rather than going with the crowd that fabricates evidence or forces it to conform with their pre ordained beliefs.

            Though I will say you’re absolutely right about all of us being subject to confirmation and disconfirmation bias, which puts us at risk of simply rationalizing what we believe for emotional reasons as opposed to believing what the evidence shows us. And that’s precisely why science / the scientific method is so critical to understanding how things work.

            As to the possibility that atheists can be bad people and believe in a variety of non-sense like homeopathy, chiropractic, horoscopes, and 9-11 conspiracy theories where Bush blew up the twin towers – you’re right on that account too, and something the atheist community needs to work on is broadening their skepticism so it’s not just focused on religion.

            I think that’s about all the time I have for this right now (though I will check back if you have a last comment you want to post)

          • Surprise123

            I flatter myself that we both value the scientific method, but where we differ, I believe, is that for you, science and the tools that enable us to determine empirically–testable– reality are the highest values; whereas for me, resonant meaning, community, coherent identity are as at least as important. And, sometimes, of course, these values conflict with one another.

            I don’t deny that Jefferson was a Deist: what I wrote was that “our nation was founded by men who were heavily influenced by Deistic Freemasonry, many of whom who would have also self-identified as Christian.” There’s no contradiction there.

            “…rather than going with the crowd that fabricates evidence or forces it to conform with their pre ordained beliefs.” I wouldn’t go too hard on folks who are unwilling throw out their entire worldview, their entire religious cosmology based upon new evidence. Atheists (well, at least the non – Star Wars fan type) seem to be able to extract sufficient meaning in life from their personal relationships, from their work, from their hobbies and pastimes. Other people may simply not have that capacity.
            One thing I plan to study is the question as to whether successful religions are human phenomena that rationalize communities, phenomena that clearly signal information that allows them to efficiently marshal resources (food, water, security, reproductive capacity) during times of societal breakdown, anarchy, stress – famine, plague, war.

          • Ed Cantarella

            “Yes, plenty of atheists (and all sorts of others) enjoy immersing themselves in fairy tales and all sorts of other stories – but that ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ that allows for such immersion doesn’t translate into living their lives and dictating how others should live their lives once story time is over and that willing suspension is swapped back out for critical thinking.” My experience has been that many of them remain in the state of mind induced by the fantasy time/play and they seem to have a large amount of cognitive dissonance with the real world. It appears they try to stay in a world were things are beautiful, cool and magical for every inhabitant of same. Most religions, aside from the element of believing in the deity behind it all, paint the world quite realistically – a place of both pain and joy, a place were moral decisions have to be made, a place where you have to earn your keep.

        • Surprise123

          “a child indoctrinated for years, threatened constantly with hellfire and brimstone, bribed with promises of an imaginary heaven – yet the cognitive dissonance is so great, and the disgust with the earthly sexual abuse of all the piously shuffled priests and all the money grubbing of the tax exempt god squad, and all the barbaric political policies under the banner of heaven . . . ”
          You have a very shallow understanding of religion. You reduce it to single data points: the hellfire and brimstone of Hell, the sexual abuse of priests, and ignore the fact that some Abrahamic sects (including Christian ones) don’t focus on the fire and brimstone of Hell, but on the love of God or the love of Jesus; that religions are able to transmit values and wealth across generations in favorable environments (Hinduism and Judaism in America, for example); that the Catholic Church, as institution, circa 1,000 CE through restrictions on inheritance and adoptions, and permitting women to own and bequeath property,broke up agnatic patrilineal clans that were so oppressive to women and that the Catholic Church, again, as institution, founded great centers of learning — monasteries, in which the academic riches of the ancient Roman – Greco, and Persian Islamic empires were copied, studied, and passed on to the next generation; founded great religious universities, which eventually became secular universities, which then secularized society.
          The story of religion is a complex one, not conducive to cherry picking data points that bolster one’s pre-conceived biased and negative views about belief in the supernatural. Have a little more scientific curiosity in religion — it’s fascinating.

          • http://YourGods.com/ Robert Penczak

            Yes, back in medieval times, those seeking an education needed to use the infrastructure that God had handed to his chosen few, much to the detriment of the masses of peasants he evidently cared for not at all. To claim that religion is all about education these days, however, (Santorum’s college is for snobs not-withstanding) or that religion has been the champion of women’s rights (never mind the current assault on women’s rights and the Catholic church’s opposition to women’s suffrage), or that the lever of Hell and Heaven is of no consequence (please disregard all the sermons), or that the tax deductions of all that is priestly and the renewed sale of indulgences or pious push for tithing demonstrates that money matters not a bit . . . kind of puts the surprise in Surprise123 to hear anyone say that.

          • Surprise123

            “kind of puts the surprise in Surprise123 to hear anyone say that.” Clever…clever…never saw that one coming.

            “To claim that religion is all about education these days, however…” Mr. Penczak, you’re misstating my position. In my post above, I laid out my understanding of the Catholic Church, as institution, and its relationship to the great centers of learning of Europe over the past 1,000 years. And, in another post, based upon data from a Pew Research Survey, I claimed that the most educated people in America were religious (the Hindus, the Jews, the Unitarian Universalists) AND the least educated people in America were religious (the Jehovah’s Witnesses, adherents of the historical Black Churches, Evangelical Protestants). And, in yet other posts, I intimated that impulse control, delayed gratification, character traits that many religions emphasize, may also be employed in the development of cognitive processes, of analytical thinking skills. And, that is all. I never claimed that “religion is all about education these days.”

            “…or that religion has been the champion of women’s rights.” Mr. Penczak, you’re again misstating my position, which is that, at least at one point in history, religion has been the champion of women’s rights, at least inadvertently (as my example of the Catholic Church circa 1,000 CE, which granted Christian women the right to own and bequeath property – usually to the church, clearly shows).

            “or that the lever of Hell and Heaven is of no consequence.” Once again, misstating my position. I wrote that “some Abrahamic sects (including Christian ones) don’t focus on the fire and brimstone of Hell.”
            And, I still maintain that you have a VERY shallow understanding of religion, you who have read the myth stories of the ancient Babylonians, the ancient Greco-Romans, and the ancient Norse.

  • http://YourGods.com/ Robert Penczak

    Sally – sorry to hear you’ve given up on reason and logic and all the
    transcendent possibilities of genuinely understanding the universe.
    Please be aware that we atheists, as a group, don’t tend toward anger.
    Frustration, surely, because so many are indoctrinated as youths and
    thus deprived of the beauty that comes with skeptical thinking and a
    clear eyed view of the actual world. But as Russ Dewey pointed out –
    generally not anger; that’s pretty much a lie put forth by frothing
    fundamentalists – either as part of an orchestrated smear, or perhaps
    from psychological projection.
    So I hope you find your way back.
    If you need some help, check out Peter Boghossian’s Manual For Creating
    Atheists or do a search for Boghossian and Easter Bunny Talk – it will
    re-awaken you to the dangers of holding forth faith as a virtue. In the
    tiniest nutshell, just think if you’d get better measurements for the
    size of a window by praying to know the answer or using a ruler – pretty
    much anyone who’s being honest will admit the ruler is more accurate.
    Now extend that to something really important – like women’s rights,
    slavery, education, gay rights – and ask yourself if reason / logic /
    enlightenment values and so forth will lead you to better decisions, or
    if you really want to stick with a 2000 year old tome written by a
    multitude of unknown authors with varying agendas. I’m not going to go
    off on a rant here. Truly hope you find your way back for your own
    sake, your husband’s, and certainly any children you might raise.
    Thinking rationally is nothing to be ashamed of; it should be a source
    of pride. And if we want to improve the human lot, it’s something we
    need to pass on to the next generation. Good luck. (Re-posting this because I wasn’t trying to submit anonymously – please feel free to delete the anonymous copy – and if you’re interested in topics about faith and skepticism and separation of Church and State, please join us on RoadToReasonTV on YouTube)

  • FredO

    Dawkins is a nasty piece of work, a slimy little man who has called religious education “child abuse”. Of course this is in keeping with his atheist worldview, which by logical necessity implies a moral nihilism.

    To find awe and transcendence in a meaningless and purposeless world ? Who’s the irrational fabulist, Mr. Dawkins (and Mr. Dewey) ?

  • Jenner Valmond

    I pray that you continue your search for Him. “He created us for Himself and our hearts are restless until they rest in Him”. St Augustin of Hippo.

  • OneSixteenth

    “Religion is about everything. It’s just the word that is a turn off.”
    Your new quasi-definition, Sally, is definitely “somethingist”. That is a pretty interesting word and I am going to start using it to describe my beliefs.
    I recall something that Rose Kennedy said after three of her sons were gone. She cited her faith as getting her through. I thought that she was lucky….whatever “Faith” was to her. I was terribly disillusioned after all of the assassinations.

  • A Dream’s Theater

    I consider your article to be amazingly accurate in detail. The points you make are obvious if only individuals in different settings reach for truth, reality, a sense of purpose, and most of all characteristics of love. Even Atheist scientists express that they can love, (they just disagree with certain aspects of purpose). At any rate I appreciate your article. Inspiring for sure.