Mar 18th 2015

We Are All Atheists

by Jeff Schweitzer

Jeff Schweitzer is a scientist and former White House Senior Policy Analyst; Ph.D. in marine biology/neurophysiology

So a Rabbi and an Atheist walk into a bar. What is funny about this joke entree is that the encounter made real news, in the form of a nice talk about good and evil, with the implication that an atheist cannot tell the difference. In another bulletin, a vast majority of Americans admit they do not want atheists to marry their children. Atheist in-laws are a taboo.

Trouble in Paradise

Eschewing relatives who reject the idea of god is just a small glimpse of the bias against atheists. In North Carolina, elected officials are constitutionally disqualified from office if they "deny the being of Almighty God." But let us not pick on the ignorant bias of the Tar Heel state, for they are not alone in primitive thinking appropriate to the 1600s. Yes, in modern America, we live in an era where public office holders in many states must pass a religious test. Arkansas, Maryland, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas all deny atheists the right to hold public office. Never mind that the Supreme Court ruled way back in 1961 that the U.S. Constitution trumps such outrageous religious discrimination through the supremacy of federal law. Atheists then are denied a right that any other American would take for granted without a second thought.

Outside the borders of the United States, 13 countries enforce laws that revoke citizenship for the crime of atheism; and since it is a crime, atheists cannot get married in these countries. If that were not enough, atheists can be put to death in these 13 Islamic states. An atheist blogger was hacked to death in Bangladesh.

The cold hard fact is that atheists face global persecution, yet attacks are rarely reported in mainstream news. In contrast, any attack on a Christian gets plenty of attention. One piece in the New York Times pleaded, "Who Will Stand Up for the Christians?" Here is a headline you'll never see: "Who will stand up for the Atheists?" The Catholic press emphasized that ISIS is killing Christians, which is true, but ignored that fact that ISIS is killing anybody they deem unworthy of their radical Islamic beliefs, including other Muslims and Jews. Is the killing of a Christian worse than the murder of an atheist or Muslim? Apparently.

Everybody is An Atheist

The deep and terrible irony of this global persecution of atheists is that all of us are in fact atheists, even the most devout, undoubting, dedicated priest, rabbi or mullah.

The word atheist derives from Greek, originally from the adjective atheos, meaning "without god." The term was later invoked by Greek writers to mean "denying the gods." All of us are without or deny the existence of at least some gods, and therefore all of us are atheists. This is undeniable: all monotheistic believers reject all gods, except one. They reject all the Greek elder gods Cronus, Gaea, Uranus, Rhea, Oceanus, Tethys, Hyperion, Mnemosyne, Themis, Iapetus, Coeus, Crius, Phoebe, Thea, Prometheus, Epimetheus, Atlas, Metis and Dione.

Muslims, Jews and Christians all deny the existence of the Greek Olympic gods Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Hera, Ares, Athena, Apollo, Aphrodite, Hermes, Artemis and Hephaestus. All major religions today dismiss as nothing but myth the Roman gods Jupiter, Juno, Neptune, Pluto, Apollo, Diana, Mars, Venus, Cupid, Mercury, Minerva, Ceres, Proserpine, Vulcan, Bacchus, Saturn, Vesta, Janus, Uranus and Maia.

Yet this roster of gods was real to multiple thousands of people for thousands of years, every bit as real as the one god worshipped by Christians, Muslims and Jews today. These Greek and Roman gods were the subject of daily pleas, prayers and sacrifice and the guiding force for much daily ritual. These mighty powers stood for millennia, ruling over their followers for a period of time that greatly exceeds all of Christianity. These gods are now demoted to nothing more glorious than a good story. What would convey upon these gods more or less legitimacy than the god of John, Matthew, Mark and Luke? Nothing.

If asked, Christians, Jews and Muslims today would use numerous and diverse reasons to deny the existence of Greek and Roman gods, who were so important to so many people for so long. Religious folks today are quite convinced that Greek and Roman gods are nothing but myth. I simply extend that reasoning to include the one remaining god. Everybody is an atheist; I merely exclude the existence of one more god than those who consider themselves religious. You deny the existence of Zeus and Jupiter; I deny the existence of Zeus, Jupiter and your one god. Whatever logic and reasoning, or faith, you apply to deny that Zeus and Jupiter are real, I agree, and apply that to your god as well.

This argument, this line of reasoning, is not some semantic sleight-of-hand. Any good Christian or Jew would dismiss outright, as absurd, the possibility that Zeus exists as a real god. He or she would do so with gusto, with no inner doubts, with no hesitation, with unyielding certainty. For identical reasons, using the same logic, and with the same unyielding certainty, we dismiss out of hand the absurd possibility that the god of the Old and New Testament could exist as a real god. We all agree in principle;we're just haggling about a number, with my calculation resulting in one fewer god in the equation.

A Move to Rationalism

Now that we have established that all of us are atheists, the time has come to prove that there are no atheists. Or more precisely, the word atheist should be permanently retired as a description of what we all are. Just as society was able to move past Jim Crow, we need to leave behind the biased idea of atheism. The word embeds a false assumption that god exits; and that there are then people who are "without" that god. Defining anybody or any movement as the negative of another is a bad start. I refuse to be defined as an absence of what somebody else supposedly has; I simply cannot be without something that does not exist. I am not lacking what someone is fortunate enough to possess. The idea is ridiculous. Calling me an atheist is like defining me as a man without a dragon tail, and then denying me my rights because I do not have a dragon tail. I cannot be absent something that is nothing but another's myth.

I am a rationalist, and if others wish to believe in an invisible man in the sky with magical powers, we can label them arationalists. There are not believers and non-believers or theists and atheists; that inverts reality. Instead, henceforth, think in terms of rationalism and arationalism, a world in which the standard is an objective reality, not a 2000 year old myth.

African-Americans were once called "Colored" when civil rights were a distant dream. That word is offensive because of the implication that all others must be compared to the pure "standard" of White. If black skin was considered the standard, all Caucasians would be properly called "a-pigmented" or "uncolored." That only sounds strange because we are so used to the bias. But if we accepted the standard as black, we would indeed be uncolored relative to that standard, so the moniker would make perfect sense. Likewise, the word atheist implies a standard of religiosity in which belief in god is somehow the measure by which all others must be judged. But be clear: religion is no more legitimate as a standard than is white skin.

I stand on a soap box about this because of the power of words to impact our perception. Atheism is a pejorative term in the eyes of believers because it is the negative of them (without something that others have), and with that inherent negativity comes implied permission to discriminate blatantly and openly. Proof is seen in such blatant discrimination, like prohibition in holding public office. Or being killed for harboring rational thought. We can trash or harm that which we do not respect. During the Second World War we called our enemies Japs and Krauts among other degrading epithets in order to diminish them as humans, making them easier to hate, fight and kill. Our cause was just enough without the name calling. Many believers use "atheists" in a similarly derogative vein. The solution is to abandon completely the use of the term atheist, just as polite society no longer uses the "N" word to describe African-Americans, "Rag Heads" for Arabs or "Wet Backs" for those south of the border. Offensive? Yes, just as is the use of the word atheist. Rationalism and arationalism; that is the appropriate distinction.

To follow what's new on Facts & Arts please click here.



Below links to Amazon for Jeff Schweitzer's books.



     

 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Jan 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: " For the first time in over two decades a painting by Marc Chagall will be going up for auction in Israel. Tiroche Auction House will be hosting the Israeli & International Art auction on January 25th – featuring paintings by a number of Israeli masters, including Reuben Rubin, and Yosl Bergner. The highlight of the evening however is Chagall’s Jacob’s Ladder (1970-1974), a theme to which the artist would return at least a dozen times in paintings and drawings."
Jan 16th 2020
EXTRACT: "Between 1940 and 1942 Charlotte Salomon, a young German-Jewish artist, created a sequence of 784 paintings while hiding from the Nazi authorities. She gave the sequence a single title: Leben? oder Theater? (Life? or Theatre?). Viewed in the 21st century, Salomon’s artwork could be considered a precursor to the contemporary graphic novel, creating a complex web of narratives through words and images."
Jan 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "It’s simply not possible to do justice to the value of Iran’s cultural heritage – it’s a rich and noble history that has had a fundamental impact on the world through art, architecture, poetry, in science and technology, medicine, philosophy and engineering. The Iranian people are intensely aware – and rightly proud of – their Persian heritage. The archaeological legacy left by the civilisations of ancient and medieval Iran extend from the Mediterranean Sea to India and ranges across four millennia from the Bronze age (3rd millennium BC) to the glorious age of classical Islam and the magnificent medieval cities of Isfahan and Shiraz that thrived in the 9th-12th centuries AD, and beyond."
Jan 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Lautrec had a genius for representing people. He would rarely paint any other subject. When he looked at a person who caught his interest, not only their appearance, but seemingly also their personality would magically flow from his hand, fixing a moment of their life, and his, on a piece of cardboard or canvas."
Jan 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "In 2010, Great Britain generated 75% of its electricity from coal and natural gas. But by the end of the decade*, these fossil fuels accounted for just 40%, with coal generation collapsing from the decade’s peak of 41% in 2012 to under 2% in 2019. The near disappearance of coal power – the second most prevalent source in 2010 – underpinned a remarkable transformation of Britain’s electricity generation over the last decade, meaning Britain now has the cleanest electrical supply it has ever had. Second place now belongs to wind power, which supplied almost 21% of the country’s electrical demand in 2019, up from 3% in 2010. As at the start of the decade, natural gas provided the largest share of Britain’s electricity in 2019 at 38%, compared with 47% in 2010."
Jan 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "Owing to these positive developments, many were lulled into thinking that modern advanced economies can run on autopilot. And yet economists knew that market capitalism does not automatically self-correct for adverse distributional trends (both secular and transitional), especially extreme ones. Public policies and government services and investments have a critical role to play. But in many places, these have been either non-existent or insufficient. The result has been a durable pattern of unequal opportunity that is contributing to the polarization of many societies. This deepening divide has a negative spillover effect on politics, governance, and policymaking, and now appears to be hampering our ability to address major issues, including the sustainability challenge."
Jan 2nd 2020
In September 2018, Ian Buruma was forced out as editor of The New York Review of Books, following an outcry over the magazine’s publication of a controversial essay about #MeToo. A year later, in a conversation with Svenska Dagbladet US correspondent Malin Ekman, he reflects on lost assignments, literature, cancel culture, threats to freedom of speech, and the state of liberal democracy.
Dec 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "I have long been troubled by the way so many believing Christians in the West have either been ignorant of or turned their backs on the plight of Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim. Right​-wing Evangelicals, under the sway of heretical theology, are so blinded by their obsession with Israel that they can't see Israel's victims. Other Western Christians simply just don't know or about the people of Palestine. I find this state of affairs to always distressing, but especially so at Christmas time, since the Christmas story we celebrate not only took place in that land, it continues to define the lives of the Palestinians who live in places like Bethlehem and Nazareth. "
Dec 19th 2019
EXTRACT: "Although there have long been farmers and merchants who specialised in growing and selling seeds, it wasn’t until the 20th century that people started talking about seed production as an industrial process. Thanks to changes in farming, science and government regulations, most of the “elite” seed that is bought and sold around the world today is mass produced and mass marketed — by just four transnational corporations."
Dec 14th 2019
EXTRACT: "Dehydration is associated with a higher risk of ill health in older people, from having an infection, a fall or being admitted to hospital. But an appetite for food and drink can diminish as people age, so older people should drink regularly, even when they’re not thirsty. Older women who don’t have to restrict their fluid intake for medical reasons, such as heart or kidney problems, are advised to drink eight glasses a day. For older men, it’s ten glasses."
Dec 12th 2019
EXTRACT: "A decade ago, I wrote The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty. This month, a fully revised Tenth Anniversary edition was published, and is available, free, as an eBook and audiobook. The chapters of the audiobook are read by celebrities, including Paul Simon, Kristen Bell, Stephen Fry, Natalia Vodianova, Shabana Azmi, and Nicholas D’Agosto. Revising the book has led me to reflect on the impact it has had, while the research involved in updating it has made me focus on what has changed over the past ten years"
Nov 27th 2019
EXTRACT: "Jay Willis at GQ reports that Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said on Fox and Friends that Trump is God’s Chosen One. He said he told Trump, “If you’re a believing Christian, you understand God’s plan for the people who rule and judge over us on this planet and our government.” Perry also said that he had written a memo for Trump about how God uses imperfect people, comparing Trump to biblical figures such as Solomon, Saul and David, who were also flawed. This evangelical discourse that a providential God controls political power goes back to old West Semitic Religion"
Nov 7th 2019
Extract: "The PSA test is done using a small amount of blood to detect raised levels of prostate specific antigen (PSA). Yet, despite its relatively low cost and ease of administering, it is not offered for routine screening in many countries, including the UK. This is because a significant proportion of those testing positive have no disease (a false-positive result), slow-growing cancer that doesn’t need treatment, or positive results caused by a relatively benign condition, such as a urinary tract infection. Detecting prostate cancer early is important and saves lives. But many of those identified by the PSA test as having elevated levels of the antigen could potentially undergo painful treatment with significant life-altering side effects, which were unnecessary. Also, up to 15% of men with prostate cancer have normal PSA levels (a false-negative result), meaning that many men would receive unwarranted reassurance from this test. Guidelines in most countries, therefore, note that the possible benefits of testing are outweighed by the potential harms of over-diagnosis and over-treatment, making it unsuitable for screening everyone."
Nov 5th 2019
Extract: "Ken Loach’s film, Sorry We Missed You, tells the harrowing tale of Ricky, Abby and their family’s attempts to get by in a precarious world of low paid jobs and the so-called “gig economy”. But how realistic is it? Can Loach’s film be accused of undue pessimism?"
Nov 3rd 2019
Extract: "Travel to Prague, Kyiv, or Bucharest today and you will find glittering shopping malls filled with imported consumer goods: perfumes from France, fashion from Italy, and wristwatches from Switzerland. At the local Cineplex, urbane young citizens queue for the latest Marvel blockbuster movie. They stare at sleek iPhones, perhaps planning their next holiday to Paris, Goa, or Buenos Aires. The city center hums with cafés and bars catering to foreigners and local elites who buy gourmet groceries at massive hypermarkets. Compared to the scarcity and insularity of the communist past, Central and Eastern Europe today is brimming with new opportunities.......In these same cities, however, pensioners and the poor struggle to afford the most basic amenities. Older citizens choose between heat, medicine, and food. In rural areas, some families have returned to subsistence agriculture."
Nov 3rd 2019
EXTRACTS: "Genetic clustering has existed in all past societies. People have typically been relatively genetically similar to others nearby. But most of this was because of limited mobility."........."But in the 19th and 20th centuries, people started to move about more. Societies opened up geographically, and socially. This new mobility has created a new kind of clustering – what the American author Thomas Friedman called a “great sorting out”.".........".....this is now visible at the genetic level too."
Oct 9th 2019
EXTRACT: "The idea that we are living in an entrepreneurial age, experiencing rapid disruptive technological innovation on a scale amounting to a new “industrial revolution” is a pervasive modern myth. Scholars have written academic papers extolling the coming of the “entrepreneurial economy”. Policymakers and investors have pumped massive amounts of funding into start-up ecosystems and innovation. Business schools, universities and schools have moved entrepreneurship into their core curricula. The only problem is that the West’s golden entrepreneurial and innovation age is behind it. Since the 1980s entrepreneurship, innovation and, more generally, business dynamics, have been steadily declining – particularly so in the US. "
Aug 28th 2019
EXTRACT: ". But today, the impulse to gain attention on social media has produced a discourse of extreme defamation and scorched-earth tactics aimed at destroying one’s opponents. We desperately need a broad-based movement to stand up against this type of political discourse. American history is replete with examples of people who worked together to solve – or at least defuse – serious problems, often against great odds and at significant personal risk. But the gradual demise of fact-based history in schools seems to have deprived many Americans of the common ground and optimism needed to work through challenges in the same way they once did."
Aug 8th 2019
Consider the following facts as you wend your way to the Guggenheim Museum and its uppermost gallery, where you will presently find The Death of Michael Stewart (1983), Basquiat’s gut-punching tribute to a slain artist, and the centerpiece for an exhibition that could hardly be more timely.