Why I’m anti-theist, not just an atheist

So, the other day I was doing public outreach at a church event. Let’s say I was promoting “Cash for Clunkers.” Remember that? Remember George Bush and his occasional wacky schemes that put a few extra hundred dollars in your pocket every few years? I kinda miss that sometimes.

Anyway, this is an analogy, but it fits pretty closely. So I’m making a speech, asking people if they want to pay less for gas, and get some incentives to ditch their old dirty cars and buy an electric. “How many people here are happy with the amount of money they pay for gas every week?” I ask rhetorically. Surprisingly, one hand goes up.

Later on, as we’re taking questions about the program and passing out flyers, the woman who raised her hand approaches me.

“I wasn’t being sarcastic when I raised my hand,” she says. “We get really good gas mileage.”

“Well, that’s great,” I say. “It’s true, every once in a while I meet someone who owns a car that’s already very efficient, so they don’t really need our program.”

“Oh no, it’s not an efficient model,” she replies. “I’m pretty sure it’s miraculous.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, God just puts a little extra money in our pockets whenever we need it.”

It’s not the time to do a spit-take, so I settle for, “Wow, that must be really handy,” accompanied by a somewhat awkward smile.

Now, the people at this church are really, really nice people. I mean, they are absolutely adorable. It’s probably the most racially diverse crowd I’ve been in since I moved here. And the people are kind and friendly and laughing–the children are rambunctious but not obnoxious. If it came down to it, I’d definitely call the pastor for help turning people out to a rally against racism or against climate change or something along those lines. But the religiously inspired paradigm they use lends itself to inadvertent insults and denigration of human achievement and human effort–which are obstacles to change.

In this woman’s case, I can’t really be confident that her car gets good gas mileage. We didn’t discuss what constitutes good vs. bad gas mileage, and it sounded like she was saying that the mileage actually varies somewhat, according to whether God feels like they need some extra cash or not. Like, when they’re poor, God magically makes the engine burn more efficiently, and when they’re flush he lets it run normally.

If this is true, that means several things. For one thing, it’s a testable claim which if verified would lend support to the hypothesis that not just god but specifically Yahweh, the god of the Bible exists. But that’s a story for another day. Another thing it means is that there’s barely any point in measuring fuel efficiency. Also, it means that whatever humans put work into designing and building her car to be as fuel efficient as it is–their work is paltry and meaningless compared to the influence of this supernatural being.

I am also forced to wonder if God is artificially depressing her car’s greenhouse gas emissions when He makes it magically more efficient, or if he’s artificially increasing them when he’s letting the mileage go lower. Either way, it would seem to me like global climate change is a much more pressing concern than the concerns of this or that family in upstate New York, no matter how nice they are.

Then my brain starts to boggle at the worldview that sees this omnipotent being as being avidly concerned with one family’s monthly budget but can’t be bothered to avert a major ecological catastrophe, but then I remember that this is the same God that’s supposed to destroy the world, or so some Christians believe, and that’s supposed to be a good thing, which is why they don’t have to worry about climate change, and there’s a burning smell and smoke starts to come out of my ears.

Truly, even in a congregation whose ethics and values are in the right place, religion poisons everything. Not only was this woman blinding herself to the value of human achievement, she’s also using her religious belief to buttress her system justification, meaning that she’s rendering herself less likely to even be able to hear evidence that economic inequality exists in the world and is unjust. If God pads the pockets of the deserving, the obvious implication is that those with less padded pockets haven’t given God what he wants.

I don’t really see how you can maintain a belief in an invisible but powerful being that rewards those who please it but not those who don’t, and not have it feed into system justification at some point.

Theism is a poisonous and destructive belief, even in very small doses. I don’t suppose it’s reasonable to think that religion will end in my lifetime, but that doesn’t mean I can’t give it a shove while I’m passing through.

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8 Comments

Filed under Atheism, Global warming, Religion, Science

8 responses to “Why I’m anti-theist, not just an atheist

  1. Damn! you don’t have a ‘really really really and I effing mean really’ like button….

  2. I am reminded of that “inspirational” story some of my religious family members have emailed me once or twice, of the Christian girl who sees a creepy guy at the end of the alley she’s walking through, and so she prays to God for protection. And to prove that God was indeed looking out for her she later finds out that the creepy guy raped the next girl who walked past but never even saw her. It was supposed to be a happy story about how God protects the ones he loves, or something? But it just reads as “this girl deserved to be protected from rape when the other girl didn’t.” It’s that same sort of thinking, how the people who believe this stuff honestly think that some people are helped in personal ways, like getting money when they need it or being protected from violent assault, and that other people who are in even harder situations or more dangerous situations are ignored because they don’t grovel enough to this petty, vain sky-person — or because they groveled to the wrong one. And somehow that’s a good thing, because stories of one person escaping a horrible fate only for that same fate to befall the next innocent person to walk by are passed off as cheerful or inspiring. It’s a really messed-up way of looking at the world.

  3. Nick Gotts

    but then I remember that this is the same God that’s supposed to destroy the world, or so some Christians believe, and that’s supposed to be a good thing, which is why they don’t have to worry about climate change, and there’s a burning smell and smoke starts to come out of my ears.

    LOL*.

    *I only use this acronym when I actually did.

  4. Truly, even in a congregation whose ethics and values are in the right place, religion poisons everything.

    So much this. Another example are the people (and I have a friend who thinks this way) who thinks their god gives a damn about the Super Bowl and yet, like you said, is completely fine with climate change. She actually said, “God moves in mysterious ways.” I managed not to vomit on her, but only by the skin of my teeth.

  5. cicely

    Howdy!

    How did I not know ’til now that you have a blog???

    God’s affections are notably fickle; one week you’re His Chosen People, next week you’re being carried off into the Babylonian Captivity.

  6. cicely

    Clearly your comments box doesn’t like me. 😦

    To continue: And that’s what you can expect if he’s On Your Side! The rest of us, obviously, have to settle for such scraps as he can spare—the odd football win, or the cops pulling someone else over, instead. Nothing major.

  7. Hey Cicely! Comments have to be approved by me before they come through.

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