January 06, 2013

blessings of atheism . . .

Susan Jacoby in The New York Times SundayReview shares thoughts on being forthright about atheism and compassion . . .
This widespread misapprehension that atheists believe in nothing positive is one of the main reasons secularly inclined Americans — roughly 20 percent of the population — do not wield public influence commensurate with their numbers. One major problem is the dearth of secular community institutions. But the most powerful force holding us back is our own reluctance to speak, particularly at moments of high national drama and emotion, with the combination of reason and passion needed to erase the image of the atheist as a bloodless intellectual robot.

The secular community is fearful of seeming to proselytize. When giving talks on college campuses, I used to avoid personal discussions of my atheism. But over the years, I have changed my mind because such diffidence contributes to the false image of the atheist as someone whose convictions are removed from ordinary experience. It is vital to show that there are indeed atheists in foxholes, and wherever else human beings suffer and die.

Now when students ask how I came to believe what I believe, I tell them that I trace my atheism to my first encounter, at age 7, with the scourge of polio. In 1952, a 9-year-old friend was stricken by the disease and clinging to life in an iron lung. After visiting him in the hospital, I asked my mother, “Why would God do that to a little boy?” She sighed in a way that telegraphed her lack of conviction and said: “I don’t know. The priest would say God must have his reasons, but I don’t know what they could be.”


  1. The description of your start towards atheism has to be one of the most common reasons why anyone would have doubts about this God deal - "How could God allow that to happen?"

    Being raised as a Catholic throughout my childhood, then being "saved" and baptized in a small town Baptist church at the ripe old age of 12, I had actually given that question no thought (along with no thought to any other serious questions, to be honest). However, after growing up and opening my eyes to the world around me (and learning a little how to think for myself), my perspectives have widened somewhat.

    Why do I not believe in God? A clip (quote?) that I found, I can't remember where, comes to mind:

    The belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib/woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.
    Makes perfect sense to me.

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