I used to embrace atheism and I used to be active in the Philippine atheist forum and community. However, during the past few years I find myself being drawn away from atheism. Did someone “save” my wretched soul and showed me the path to eternal life and salvation? No! I still believe that there is not enough evidence yet that I have witnessed and experienced that would offer sufficient proof (and arguments) for the existence of the theistic god. Given that my view on the existence of the theistic god hasn’t changed, why do I find myself being drawn away from atheism? If atheism is favored by science, evidence and reason, why is it such at a disadvantage against religious beliefs that often comes with credulity? The biggest word that comes to my mind when I think about this question is “Arrogance”. As long as arrogance lingers amongst the vocal proponents of atheism in the Philippines, I just do not see it prospering in the country despite the feeding programs, conventions, public debates and media mileage its organizations have.
Ever heard of Salmoneus? In Greek mythology, Salmoneus was a prince who led a group of colonists to the Peloponesse and established the kingdom of Salmonia in the region later known as Pylos or western Messenia. Salmoneus was an arrogant and impious man who commanded his people worship him as the god Zeus. He impersonated the divinity by driving around in a chariot dragging bronze kettles to make thunder, and casting torches in the air for lightning. Zeus was angered and struck Salmoneus dead with a thunderbolt and laid waste to his city.
Here’s another good “mythical” story.
A long time ago the whole earth had one language, and the same words. One day the people found a plain in the land of Shinar, and dwelt there. The people said one to another, “Come on, let us make bricks, and burn [them] thoroughly!” And they had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. Then they said, “Come on, let us build ourselves a city and a tower, the top of which [may reach] to the heavens; and let us make ourselves a name, lest we be scattered over the face of the whole earth!”
Then God came down to see the city and the tower which the people built. God said, “Behold, the people is one, and have all one language; and this have they begun to do. And now will they be hindered in nothing that they meditate doing. Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech”.
And God scattered them thence over the face of the whole earth.
The story of Salmoneus and the Tower of Babel has one thing in common – they both teach us the folly of arrogance. The story of the Tower of Babel also shows man’s need to erect symbols of his achievement. When the people built the tower, it wasn’t built for God but a monument to themselves. Their intention was to reach heaven with it and proclaim themselves gods.
Some may ask: Why was there a need for an omnipotent god to confound the people’s language? Was God so insecure of Himself that He felt threatened by the tower being erected by the people? No, it wasn’t about God’s insecurity. The biblical mythology already depicts that the tower was never a threat to God. There was never any chance that it could actually reach heaven. In the story’s case, it’s not actually the deed (building the tower) that was the problem; it was the attitude of the people. The Babylonians were arrogant believing themselves to be “All-Powerful”. We don’t have to look far to see similar arrogance in organizations and folks with (militant) atheist leanings in the Philippines.
I really feel bad about writing something negative about the Philippine atheist community because I still have a lot of friends there and I still share a lot of their philosophical beliefs. However, I just cannot help but feel dismayed about their projections and about a lot of the things they are trying to pontificate. For instance, I am puzzled about the reasons of these self-professed atheists who enter religious forums. Some of them say that they are there to learn from theists and some say they are there to test their own non-belief in the existence of God (in a form of discussion or debate). However, if we notice their approach and especially when they refuse to rationalize their own arguments and perspectives to the same kind of critical assessments that they demand of theists, their sincerity comes into question. In other words, when one spends so much time in a prolonged debate with one or more of these types of self-professed atheists, it becomes very apparent that there is absolutely no real desire to engage in a balanced, open, and reasonable discussion with theists. They express no desire to actually learn about what theists believe. Instead, they continually articulate the same old straw man arguments emphasizing their stereotypical characterization of theists (e.g. Christians) because it makes it easy for them to justify their rejection and in some cases, hatred of theists. A polemic built on intellectual laziness.
Anyway, what is atheism? Dr. Gregory Neal from the Errant Skeptics Research Institute offers a very interesting explanation that atheism is the denial of the existence of a deity or deities. You will be able to follow his arguments in this link:
Self-professing atheists place atheism in two forms – active and passive. The active sense, is regarded as the “denial of deities”, while the passive sense is merely a “lack of belief in deities”, as self professing atheists claim. But as Dr. Neal points out, there is no difference between atheism in the passive and active sense after assessing the linguistic and historic invalidity of the passive sense of the term. His argument summary states:
1. The particle “a” must be applied to the Greek word theos, not to the English word “theism,” thus reflecting the negation of the object, not the predicate.
2. The passive negation of the theistic precept isn’t attested to in the historic usage of the Greek word atheos.
3. Active negation of the theistic precept (either in general or in particular) is exceedingly common throughout Greek literature, thus reflecting the morphological formation of the word atheos.
How different would the assertion: “I do not believe a deity exists” be from “I believe a deity does not exist.”? This splitting of hair is what self-professing atheists use to avoid having to shoulder the burden of proof for their position (denial of the existence of God).
If atheism is simply the “lack of belief” in God, that self-professing atheists just don’t make any claims about God and that they don’t make any God postulates or that they simply don’t take God seriously, that is okay. But if one is to make a claim, such as “God DOES NOT exist” or “God IS inexistent” or “God is a delusion” or merely an “imaginary product”, then the claimant also has the burden of proof for the claim(s). Self-professing atheists who make such claims deny that God exists while, at the same time, deny that they have a burden of proof. As Dr. Neal points out, they want theists to prove their belief in God, but they don’t want to have to prove their belief in the non-existence of God. In other words, they refuse to provide the evidence for their belief while severely criticizing theists for failing to do the same. And if I may add, demanding that theists step out of their cocoon in order to meet the atheist mindset. Well, as Dr. Neal correctly points out, that is called hypocrisy and if I may add, arrogance as well.
Don’t get me wrong, I do agree that theism ought to be subjected to critique but atheism should not be about knocking down straw man in its critical analysis of theism. Projecting theists as merely non-thinking coddlers of an imaginary being to suggest more credibility to the atheist position is revolting and bone chilling at its very core. For thousands of years, religious belief has been accompanied by thought and intellectual discovery. In addition, projecting that theists are primarily driven by their own selfish motivation for salvation is smacking of ignorance and lack of empathy. Self-professing atheists who make such derogatory projections of theists do not do any service to atheism by characterizing people (a lot who are sincere in their goodwill intentions) that way. Again, this attitude comes across as a bit arrogant and characterizing faith as something only idiots would attach themselves to won’t help atheism’s case and cause.
A lot of self-professed atheists assert that theists are delusional. A lot of self-professed atheists seem to condemn theism because of its past record of having caused too many atrocities and that it deals with ridiculous life experience questions. But on the same token, self-professed atheists are being delusional as well if they think they can kill theism simply by exposing theism’s folly.
I agree that religious zeal in the past has resulted in many atrocities and unimaginable terror – the Crusades and the Inquisition immediately come to mind. However, atrocities and terror are not specific to religious inclinations! In the Enlightenment period, the proponents of anti-religion insisted that the universe and human nature could be understood and controlled by the rational mind. They saw the universe was ruled exclusively by consistent laws such as Newton’s law of gravity. Such laws can be explained mathematically or scientifically. The Enlightenment empowered those who argued that superstition, blind instinct and ignorance had to be eradicated. Immanuel Kant, in “Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View” asserted that Africans were inherently predisposed to slavery. The Enlightenment gave the world the “scientific racism” adopted as an ideological reason for murder by 19th and 20th century despots. Those who could not be educated and reformed, radical Enlightenment thinkers began to argue, should be eliminated so they could no longer poison human society. The Jacobins who seized control during the French Revolution were among the first in a long line of totalitarian monsters who justified murder by invoking supposedly “enlightened” ideals. Again, many lives were devastated from the roots of arrogance and powerlust.
Mythology and even history seem to teach us that whenever we try to put ourselves on the throne, we seem to suffer for it. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with achieving great things. There is nothing wrong with trying to do the best one can do and strive for a little more. These things are not bad, it’s when we use them to define who we are and show others how special we are that these things become personal towers of Babel. It’s the attitude, not the tower that is the problem.
It seems to me that organizations in the Philippines with inclinations to atheism (especially militant atheism) are tools serving as the personal Tower of Babel of many militant atheists in the country. While it is true that many of the members are intelligent and articulate individuals and while it is true that a lot of them have embarked on admirable pursuits such as social activism and community support programs, a lot of them still seem to be unable to recognize that genuine honor and respect are not gained through noise and mere dole-outs and bragging of one’s intellect while undermining others’. Much like Salmoneus, they won’t gain respect by driving around in a chariot dragging bronze kettles to make thunder, and casting torches in the air for lightning. As long as arrogance dominates the attitude of proponents of atheism in the Philippines, I think atheism in the country won’t succeed.