Human beings are masters at labeling each other. New York University Assistant Professor of Marketing Adam Alter points out how labeling, based on our first glance can affect a person for years. In his article for Psychology Today, entitled Why It’s Dangerous to Label People, Alter discusses how labeling a person by general color of their skin, rather than the nuanced gradation of colors we all come in, engenders a specific cultural identification on the surface–a surface label that may not describe the person at all.
Alter uses the example of college students who are shown a video of a girl named Hannah, put in either a working class neighborhood or in a middle class suburban neighborhood, and answering questions. The college students, in this famous study by Princeton professors John Darley and Paget Gross, labeled the child an underachiever when she was presented in the working class neighborhood, but when presented with Hannah in the middle class neighborhood, labeled the child to be at least one grade higher than when she was seen in the poorer surroundings.
Such profound labeling can affect all but the most confident or, perhaps, narcissistic of persons.
When we believe the labels put on us, we either rise or lower to that expectation.
We are so very much more than the labels we outwardly project.
I often watch religious-based movies just to see what the arguments are for being religious.
I recently watched–well, mostly watched–the movie, God’s Not Dead. I say that I watched most of the movie because the movie is one of the worse movies with one of the most implausible plots I’ve ever seen. The acting itself was sub-par; I’ve seen much better acting in community theater. I just could not get through the last 10-15 minutes of the movie because it was becoming so incredibly stupid. When I read the conclusion of the movie on Wikipedia, I am glad that I did not waste the last 15 minutes on my life; it was perhaps an evangelical Christian’s dream that the so-called atheist gives his life to Jesus right before he dies, but if the final scenes were as bad as the rest of the movie, I might have lost my popcorn. Rotten Tomatoes gave it 15% and I would say that is generous. Critics almost en masse panned it. Susan Granger of SSG Syndicate wrote, “Immediately, the proselytizing concept loses credibility – because no teacher at a legitimate academic institution would make that demand, augmenting it with the threat of failure in the course.” Granger nailed my criticism. If you want to attempt to change people’s minds, especially when arguing Christianity versus Philosophy or Science, you’d better start with a plausible scenario. God’s Not Dead’s basic premise is so bad that it only confirms why I am an atheist. Variety film critic Scott Foundas sums my sentiments perfectly when he writes, “The Almighty deserves better advocacy than he gets in this typically ham-fisted Christian campus melodrama.”
One of the major problems with this film is that the atheist professor tells the protagonist that he is an atheist because he is mad at God. Don Batten with Creation Ministries International writes an editorial entitled, “Why do atheists hate God?” Batten writes, “Recently, I have had a lot of conversations with atheists. Many express a strong hatred of God. I have been at a loss to explain this. How can you hate someone you don’t believe in? Why the hostility? If God does not exist, shouldn’t atheists just relax and seek a good time before they become plant food?” This is where Christians and so-called atheists get it wrong. If you are angry at God, then you are not an atheist. You are an angry deist. You STILL believe in God. When you don’t believe in God, there is nothing to be angry about. End of story. So if you are angry at God and call yourself an atheist, you are mislabeling yourself. You need to educate yourself and do some deep psycological and spiritual work to figure out the origin and depth of your anger.
Michael Lipka with the Pew Research Center recently published an update to a year-old article called, “10 Facts About Atheists. Lipka notes that, “Although the literal definition of “atheist” is “a person who believes that God does not exist,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, 8% of those who call themselves atheists also say they believe in God or a universal spirit. Indeed, 2% say they are “absolutely certain” about the existence of God or a universal spirit. Alternatively, there are many people who fit the dictionary definition of “atheist” but do not call themselves atheists. About three times as many Americans say they do not believe in God or a universal spirit (9%) as say they are atheists (3%).” If you are certain of a universal spirit or a God or god of some sort, then you are NOT an atheist.
Religious people are not tolerant of atheists. We can’t put atheists to death in the United States, so religious people must take other routes. Clay Routledge, Ph.D., wrote in Psychology Today, “Five Reasons People Don’t Like Atheists.” Routledge writes, “Atheists represent one of the least trusted and most despised groups in America. This seems odd. Why is it so threatening for someone to opt out of religious belief? People believe and don’t believe in all sorts of things. And yet, atheists seem to really drive people nuts. Polls identify atheists as untrustworthy, unelectable for public office, and unworthy of marrying into one’s family.” So why are religious people so angry about those who do not believe? According to Routledge, “Atheists are sometimes not very nice about their beliefs. This is a tricky one because most atheists just go about their business and are even very supportive of those who believe. In fact, many atheists are afraid to expose themselves as nonbelievers out of fear of prejudice. However, some atheists have taken the strong stance that religion is a social ill and thus use more combative tactics, which can include treating religious individuals like they are unintelligent and mentally weak. This approach obviously upsets religious people and can make them falsely believe that all atheists think this way.” I do understand this. Some outspoken atheists such as Richard Dawkins are militant atheists. But I think that those who are religious must also understand that in the past, atheists have been killed for their non-beliefs. Atheism in America is no longer a death sentence, but in other parts of the world, it is a death sentence. Siobhan Fenton writes in The Independent, an article called, “The 13 countries where being an atheist is punishable by death.” Most of these countries are Islamic and are located in the Middle East. Yet in India, Fenton notes, “at least three atheist bloggers have been hacked to death in Bangladesh, after penning posts advocating that scientific proof should inform public opinion above religious beliefs.” I think the vestiges of past state-sponsored religion, giving a country carte blanche to remove from earth those who do not believe, still resonate with the religious population. It is these vestiges of militant religion that cause the militant atheist backlash against religion. The United States was one of the first countries in the world to end state-sponsored religion, yet, ironically, we are one of the most religious first world nations on earth.
Who are atheists? Lipka and the Pew Research Center note,”Atheists, in general, are more likely to be male and younger than the overall population; 68% are men, and the median age of atheist adults in the U.S. is 34 (compared with 46 for all U.S. adults). Atheists also are more likely to be white (78% are Caucasian vs. 66% for the general public) and highly educated: About four-in-ten atheists (43%) have a college degree, compared with 27% of the general public.” Although I am not male and in my 30s, I am highly educated with three college degrees, one of which is an engineering degree. My brain does not process religion and dogma. I am MUCH happier not having to deal with the religious dogma that gives so much joy to those who are religious. For me, it is torture.
One thing that I want to make crystal clear is that I do not feel comfortable publicly announcing that I am an atheist. In my blog, I do not identify myself directly. I feel my lack of beliefs would jeopardize my life, just as the LGBTQ community often feels now and how black Americans might have felt living in the Jim Crow South. Anyone living in a minority situation often feels threatened. Michael Lipka sums up my feelings, writing, “In the 2014 Religious Landscape Study, self-identified atheists were asked how often they share their views on God and religion with religious people. Only about one-in-ten atheists (9%) say they do at least weekly, while roughly two-thirds (65%) say they seldom or never discuss their views on religion with religious people. By comparison, 26% of those who have a religious affiliation share their views at least once a week with those who have other beliefs; 43% say they seldom or never do.” In the United States, sharing your religious testimony is like breathing. I have heard these testimonies over and over and over again, ad nauseam. Routledge sums this up by writing, “… people should recognize that many atheists feel marginalized in American society because most people are believers. Believers should not feel threatened by atheists. People believe different things and someone not believing in God does not jeopardize your own beliefs.”
I am not spiritually-based; I am evidence-based. We are seeing more evidence about countries that are majority atheist and the evidence is promising for their populations. Routledge reports, “…there is a common belief that rejecting God is the same as rejecting morality. However, countries that have high rates of atheism (Scandinavian nations) tend to have much lower violent crime and teen pregnancy rates than countries high in religiosity such as the United States. In addition, in the United States, the least religious states have the lowest violent crime rates. Like it or not, there is no compelling evidence that atheists are less moral than believers. Morality can be found with and without religion. In fact, research indicates that atheist parents spend a lot of time teaching their children to be moral, compassionate, and fair.”
Understand, I am not mad at God or Jesus or Muhammad or Thor or Shiva or Satan or any of the saints or any other god. I don’t believe in god. I can’t be mad a something I don’t believe in. Period. Rather, I feel uncomfortable when telling Americans that I am an atheist. Until an atheist is elected to public office and people realize that atheists are not satan, but merely non-believers, I will not openly give my opinion on my beliefs until I feel safe. If you want to believe, knock yourself out. If you want to read my blog, have at it. I am not forcing anyone to read this blog; I write to help me solidify my understanding of life and how I now view life and death. Yes, I think that your beliefs in gods are stupid, but if you’re so threatened by what I think, maybe you need to rethink your own worth and your own beliefs. Just because I may think your beliefs are unintelligent and superstitious, but I will still love you if you are my relative or my friend. I will not try to purge religion from you, although I have had countless Southern Baptist try to convert me from being a Methodist to becoming a Baptist–and those are just different sects of the SAME religion. If you wish to ask me about being an atheist, I will tell you, but I will not start the conversation, nor will I continue the conversation if I feel threatened by you.
Besides, I might decide to move to a Scandinavian country where the population is tolerant. It’s seems to me that most atheists are not the angry ones–it’s the religious community members who are so angry.
Dylann Roof, Courtesy, Psychology Today and FaceBook
One of my prime issues about religion is that you must abandon the laws of physics to be a part of the group. As I have blogged in the past, the very unreasonable tenets–make that impossible–of Christianity include the belief that a virgin gave birth to a man as a result of woman-to-god “contact,” miracles of healing, walking on the water, parting the sea, the smiting of non-believers by the deity and countless other impossible acts. I think that people’s spirituality can be so skewed that they need to believe in superheroes to rule their lives.
Something else even more sinister can result from such beliefs. Author, attorney and activist in the Humanist and Secular movements, David Niose has written a compelling article about such beliefs which was recently published in Psychology Today.
Niose points out the problem that arises from taking all of your beliefs and values from an antiquated religious book–and that problem is Anti-Intellectualism.
Niose presents his essay in the wake of the murder of nine innocent black church members in Charleston, SC on June 17, 2015 by the 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof. Niose argues that when a racist Neo-Nazi takes religion and a rampant gun culture to heart, the ultimate result is the killing of people that the racist believes is “beneath” him.
These arguments are not new in religion in general and Christianity in particular. White slave owners in early America used the bible to justify slavery when their own constitution exclaimed that “all men are created equal.” Well, some more than others and apparently, the more religious that man was and is, the more equal and the more that man deserves to live while those not so equal are as good as dead.
Courtesy Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/what.htm
Anti-intellectualism gives the person a pass to not have to think, but to rely on the interpretations of the bible as given by his pastor or his local society. And in the South in the United States, that society is often anti-intellectual, highly fundamentalist, religious, conservative and racist.
For me, personally, this is an embarrassment and a failure of our educational system to break the chains of bondage to religion and deeply-seeded ideas of racism and misogyny. Anti-intellectualism is a call to return the United States to the pre-Civil Rights era and everything that the era embraced. Think of where medicine was back then, or the engineered world before the Apollo missions to the moon. Remember that women were still second class citizens and minorities were literally told to “know their place”–translation: you are not good enough to sit at deli counter with me and have a piece of pie, or use the same bathroom as I, or drink from the same fountain.
Also, understand that people who continue to educate themselves will usually come up with these same conclusions, realizing that the old wives tales and biblical stories that were presented to them as undisputed facts are really just ancient attempts to explain the world. These explanations are simply no longer relevant in a world of reality and evidence.
Anti-intellectualism makes our entire country look small and ignorant. It continues to stratify our society where the intellectuals live on the East and West coasts, with pockets of intelligence in the big cities. That leaves the South and the heartland to be steeped in ancient myths and fears which bubble up in ignorance. This ignorance took the lives of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Ethel Lance, and 87-year-old Susie Jackson, who were slaughtered during a bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC by Dylann Roof.
And I am mortified by this. Inexcusable. Anti-intellectual.