05 October, 2006

More Mexico: Atheism where it counts

I feel like practically everyone I meet in the educated, middle-to-upper-middle-class, white-or-hoping-to-be-white America where I live is "agnostic" about god. They don't make strong statements one way or the other. There might be a god, they say. There might not.

Happily, such wishy-washiness seems to fade under the glare of a theocracy. In Mexico, where the Roman church continues to have power that approaches that of the semi-elected government, you don't hear half-way statements. You're either with god or you're against him.

A few notes from Chiapas:
- I had a Spanish teacher who, after I said I was an atheist, broke into a big smile and said how great it was to hear that, as he was too. He said it was scary to admit in a city like San Cristobal de las Casas, a very religious town.
- A flyer, in English, arguing for the existence of god, hanging at the Spanish school.
- On the stone exterior of the city cathedral, the spraypainted words, "Ni amor ni dios," or "Neither love nor god."

It could be that principled stands against the superstitious version of god are gaining traction. Current Amazon bestsellers (subject to change!) include, at No. 10, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and at No. 5, Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris. And then at no. 2 is Your Immortal Reality: How to Break the Cycle of Birth and Death by Gary Renard (about something he calls quantum forgiveness), which may be related in some mysterious way to No. 1, State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III by Bob Woodward.

Note: I admire religious traditions for their maintenance of cultural values and arts over the centuries. I just have no interest in the superstitious notion of omniscient creators and such.


I felt like there were enough crazy marxist types in San Cristobal that you could easily find atheists if you wanted... I met at least one local who was willing to cop to the charge.

The other day my sis (who will no doubt comment on this) was lamenting the fact that atheists are so contemptuous of theists. Not sure that many theists appreciate how much social pressure there is against stating your disbelief in certain circles. Good thing I'm stuck in academia land, where no one gives a shit. 

Posted by saurabh

a quote from dawkins's recent video rant: "we are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. some of us just go one god further."

so i'm thinking, agnostics are people who believe that atheism is meant to be taken metaphorically.

(disclaimer: i believe everything is meant to be taken metaphorically, including "meant.") 

Posted by hibiscus

Claps... I am so glad I live in Canada... Especially where I live... Almost everyone nearing the city centre is atheist. Not agnostic. Atheist. While most of my friends shout at me and say, " YOU DON'T BELIEVE IN GOD! EVIL! YOU'RE EVIL, LYZE!"

And that's when I laugh at their superstitious cowering at a supposedly omniscient creator... Harum...

Hm... That quote. I've seen it before.. Blast. I can't remember who its by... :( Anyway, yes, it can be a bit annyoing when people are all indecisive, or 'wishy-washy'.... 

Posted by Lyze

(If I seem particularly cranky it's b/c my original draft of this comment got lost on my phone.)

I'm all for Atheists being who they are, if that's who they are. Nobody should have to pretend to be someone they're not. *I* find it incredibly annoying when people are forced to take a stand, even if they don't want to, for no reason. I don't see what's wishy washy about being agnostic, it strikes me as simply honest. I'd be deeply suspicious of any state's tendencies, communist or theocratic, if it didn't have some mix of all three, and only had the two. That smacks of conventional thinkers and reactionaries preventing a person from thinking and feeling truly, on their own. Seriously, what the hell is it to you if someone hasn't decided? It's not like we're at Dinner and the Cosmology Waiter won't bring any of us our orders until we've all chosen. I am completley baffled by the notion of labeling someone's innermost life as "wishy washy" or feeling annoyance at it. I mean, isn't it vaguely possible that they're just telling the truth and haven't figured it out yet, and might not even want to? No, no that's Impossible! Pity the fools, cursed to live in a legal system that lets them be! Anyone who hasn't made up their mind as fast as I  have must be an idiot! Oh, for a way to force them!!!  ??? I just don't get it. I mean I suppose if you're in love with them, and need to make compatibility decisions, it could be annoying, but I can't think of any other scenario in which it would honestly matter to a body.

And there are at least pockets of academia who most definitely do give a shit. Saurabh, when summed up over the globe, given relative #s, I'm sure the theists not tolerating atheists is the much greater problem. That does not remotely negate the reality of strong, localized reversals. My experience indicates that, as a population, when they've accumulated enough density, Atheists are just as happy to engage in egotistical, cruel and sloppy groupthink and all the attendant nastiness. They just rarely get to achieve that density. (Oh wait, Hedgehog, is that what's so happy about what you found in Mexico? I see.) Maybe I'm being entirely self-delusional, but I can't think of any time I've been derisive or dismissive of anyone's Atheism. Perhaps you can find me a counterexample? Then note that I have, upon dozens of occasions, tolerated good friends and acquaintances gang up to loudly and lustfully decry the cruelty, stupidity, and psychological depravity of anyone and everyone with a scrap of religion. (And yes, I've gotten similar grief for being a idol-worshipping pagan or subpar Hindu.) Like most Atheists, and most human beings, I also don't like feeling like I'm being judged by the actions of those who share a chosen label with me, in spite of manifest differences in the way we relate to that label. I rarely fit into any group that can muster up a "that many" but, yes, this theist is very, very aware of the social pressures in all directions. That's frequently the nature of my localized environment. I don't know what the cause of your sister's lamentations was, but if it was her localized environment, I sure hope she got a sympathetic ear somewhere.

Amusing, earlier today I argued passionately for the importance of the separation of separation of church and state with a British Atheist who thought it just wasn't worth the bother. Perhaps this is the real trend? 

Posted by Saheli

Saheli - It seems I wasn't very clear. About the wishy-washiness: I have no problem with people who contemplate theology and aren't sure what to decide. The problem I have is that there seems to be an orthodoxy of agnosticism. I find it annoying because it seems that many people are basically atheists but they are scared that they will die and be judged by a supernatural creature and so they don't want to offend it/him/them by saying that god doesn't exist. That's the annoying part.

And no, the aggressive and over-the-top atheism I found among a small minority in Chiapas wasn't refreshing for its obnoxiousness so much as for its outspokenness. I could do without graffitti on a church, but considering the kind of grief I get from Christians in particular for not believing in god, it is nice to see it turned around once in a while. Not in a spirit of revenge, but rather in a spirit of "two can play that game" in the rhetorical dehumanization, a game that hopefully leads to both sides settling down. Which is unlikely, I suppose. 

Posted by hedgegod

it is nice to see it turned around once in a while. Not in a spirit of revenge, but rather in a spirit of "two can play that game" in the rhetorical dehumanization, a game that hopefully leads to both sides settling down. Which is unlikely, I suppose.   

Um, yes, from a martial arts pov that seems incredibly unlikely. Rhetorical dehumanization is not usually ranked high on peaceworker toolkits. I suppose it's "nice to see" that Atheists are no more likely than Theists to become bigger and better people by mere virtue of their stated belief, since it simply reiterates that humans are just humans and for many of them Isms are just a local excuse for universal behavior. It also reiterates that a theocracy is a really good way to bleach harmony and joy out of religion. These are beliefs about the world I have that I get no joy in seeing illustrated yet again, validating though it is. On the other hand I do agree that it is nice to see that some people will not cave in to pressure and lipsynch with the choir. Good for your Spanish teacher. I have a lot of respect for people who have the strength of character and self-respect to walk away from the choir without pausing to turn around and throw stones at it.

Re: wishywashiness:"Seems" and "many" were probably the key words I couldn't find the first time around. But let's think about being annoyed at someone' fear. Fear is a feeling. Fear is part of the inner life. When you tell me not to be afraid of walking around San Francisco at night, you really mean, "don't be crippled by your fear, and understand all these things that may lessen it." So I have two things to do here: I can will myself to behave a certain way, regardless of my fear, and I can try to learn and understand and absorb information that controls and lessens the fear itself. Maybe the latter will successfully destroy my fear completely, but if it doesn't---it doesn't. Denying it, disissing it, ignoring it completely---someone can't do that and be true to themselves. At that stage it seems like it's the annoyed person who is due for a compassion-self-review, and not the fearful person requiring yet more analytical dissection. And it seems to me that Agnostics are only being superstitious if they stop taking in relevant information, as per my "learn and minimize" step. If someone is agnostic just b/c solar eclipses freak them out, ok, that would be annoying. But when it comes to agnosticism for most people, what's relevant information is highly personal and idiosyncratic. I have no doubt you've plumbed the depths of some friends' inner lives and are accurately describing what you've found there, but I'm wary of generalisms.

On the other hand, I also can't relate. I don't really get being afraid of God at all.  

Posted by Saheli

Religious faith and atheism are both absolute postions by which those espousing them identify themselves as belonging to a group, or (ergo) not belonging to it. Agnosticism is the grey to religion/atheism's black and white.

Personally, I've always got around this by separating religion from spirituality. All religions are the word of man and I have no interest in fuelling the egos of others (my own is demanding enough). One's relationship with God/Dog/Gaia/Great Spirit is surely more authentic if it is expressed personally - who needs a man/woman with a beard to tell you what to believe? However, those with belief, or faith, in a higher power are found to live longer, happier lives, so it seems there are benefits to spiritual practice - dogma optional, I guess.


Posted by Glamourpuss


i think our current situation vis-a-vis warfare and warming and unwarranted excess of elite power is a direct result of clarity encouraging and then overcoming fuzziness.

thank you.

Posted by hibiscus

=v= Militant agnosticism: "I don't know and you don't either!" 

Posted by Jym Dyer

circular agnosticism: there is a god because that's exactly the kind of thing he wouldn't want us to know for sure. 

Posted by hibiscus

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