“You have nothing to teach the church; it is the church that has everything to teach you." —a reader


I envy Abraham Maslow in that he was a born skeptic who--unlike myself--escaped having to struggle with religion. He wrote that, when he was a child, his mother tried to control him by threatening him with God’s wrath if he disobeyed her:

“I tested these various things that she said and did research at the age of four or five…Various nations about things—that if you do such and such, God will strike you down…I remember one. If I climbed through the window, I wouldn’t grow. So I climbed through the window and then checked my growth…And so it went on down the line.”

Despite my slow start, I reached the same place as Maslow, that of an atheist who has retained an adoration of The Sacred, although it’s a term that I tend to avoid lest I be misunderstood.

“The first operation I ever saw—I remember it well—was almost paradigmatic in its efforts to desacrilize; that is to remove the sense of awe, privacy, fear, and shyness before the sacred and the forbidden, and of humility before the tremendous and the like.

“A woman’s cancerous breast was to be amputated with an electrical scapel. It cuts by burning to prevent metastasis. The surgeon made carelessly cool and casual remarks about the patterns of the cutting, paying no attention to the [freshman] medical students rushing out in distress. Finally, he cut off the breast, tossing this object through the air onto a marble counter where it landed with a plop.

“I have remembered that plop for thirty years. It had changed from a sacred object into a lump of fat, garbage, to be tossed into a pail. There were, of course, no prayers, no rituals or ceremonies of any kind, as there most certainly would be in most preliterate societies…Here, this was handled in a purely technological fashion: the expert was emotionless, cool, calm, with even a slight tinge of swagger.”*


Theists tend to dehumanize atheists by viewing them as being like Maslow’s surgeon, and once people have been so dehumanized, they can be dismissed as having no rights and no claim to respect, understanding, or compassion. This is the thing I object to most about theists. They commonly regard me as being shallow, missing the point, having no depth, and the like based entirely upon the fact that I don’t believe in whatever it is that they call God. By not seeing me as I am, they regard me as having nothing to teach them. I am, in their eyes, what that amputated breast was in the eyes of the surgeon. 

*Maslow quotes from The Right to be Human by Edward Hoffman.

15 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

I am so very grateful to live in a largely secular society. I don't have much exposure to theists - but have largely been treated with pity (tinged with contempt). 'If you knew what we knew...' 'If you would only open your heart...'
The attitude I have seen (and resented) is that I cannot possibly have any ethics or morality, without God.

Snowbrush said...

"have largely been treated with pity (tinged with contempt). 'If you knew what we knew...' 'If you would only open your heart...'"

Exactly. I don't know that anyplace in the US could be called secular, but the Northeast and the Northwest (where I am) come the closest.

"The attitude I have seen (and resented) is that I cannot possibly have any ethics or morality, without God."

Give this a listen: http://www.radiolab.org/story/91508-morality/

Elephant's Child said...

That is a fascinating link - thank you. I started listening and will save it for a time when I am not trying to do anything else.

kj said...

Snow, since I don't feel this way at all, I am immune to this kind of judgement . Rarely does my religion or belief even come up in my interactions with anyone . And I'll be damned if I feel
Judged. He'll, I 'm a lesbian! That must be worst than being a nonbeliever :-)

Love
kj

Stephen Hayes said...

A powerful conclusion. I wish I could say that you're wrong about the public's opinion about atheists but you're no doubt right. Time seems to be the cure for most prejudices. At the moment gays are being brought into the mainstream of public acceptance and I can only hope atheists will one day receive the same treatment.

Charles Gramlich said...

I know plenty of shallow theists.

Strayer said...

I have old classmates from religious school try to trick me to get my address so they can come here, not to see me, but to proselytize. They don't care about me, they only care that I no longer profess to religion. How strange. They tell me then I won't go to heaven and I say why would I want to go to heaven, filled with religious people who have been mean to me on earth and whom I don't like at all, would be like hell. And where is heaven anyway and I don't like harp music or bowing down to gods I can't see and never will see. They see me as a robot I think, and yet I am more passionate than any of them I think, and more interesting too, by the way, thank you very much. Ironically, I think of most of them as robots, dead and white and cold as plastic and programmed.

Snowbrush said...

" I 'm a lesbian! That must be worst than being a nonbeliever :-)"

It depends upon which chat group you ask. Of course, neither is a problem until other people know about it, and this marks the difference between you and me versus people who suffer from racial discrimination. You and I could pass if we really, really wanted to. Of course, we would be dead inside.

"At the moment gays are being brought into the mainstream of public acceptance and I can only hope atheists will one day receive the same treatment."

I think that the number of popular books about atheism and the amount of push-back atheists are getting suggests that it's already happening. Polls seem to bear this out.

"Ironically, I think of most of them as robots, dead and white and cold as plastic and programmed."

Moonies being an obvious example, although anyone who is completely closed-off to anything but the teachings of his or her particular authority book or figure would qualify. Unfortunately, being completely closed-off is the goal of most religions because their emphasis would otherwise be on reason and evidence rather than blind faith.

rhymeswithplague said...

The thing I like about you, Snow, is how you always hold both sides of the conversation yourself in your own mind, putting words into the mouth of the unnecessary member, so that there is no need for anyone else to contribute anything, ever, to what is basically a non-conversation, because you already know what the unnecessary member will think or say or feel, based, I suppose, on your own vast, unlimited experience.

Dialogue is better than monologue any day of the week.

angela said...

God save me from the Christians.
I don't care what you believe, who you believe or if you believe. If your nice ill like you. People should really worry more about how they treat others in this life and less about any other lives they may or may not have. As for the breast, well I guess surgeons have to act like that to get through the horrific process of cutting into people. Maybe that's the same with the Christians, maybe they are worried that they are wrong and they will see you in heaven anyway, nd they are not so special after all.

ellen abbott said...

Someone who I considered a very good friend said to me, when I denied belief in his 'god' and religion, 'my god woman, where do you get your morals'.

As if compassion was not an inherent human quality.

Snowbrush said...

"you already know what the unnecessary member will think or say or feel, based, I suppose, on your own vast, unlimited experience."

I actually do have vast experience, and the comments I receive from non-Christians generally suggest that their experiences have been similar. The sad truth is that non-Christians do not tend to view Christianity in a positive light, not just because they don't believe in it, but because of the way that the masses of those who do believe in it treat them.

"Dialogue is better than monologue any day of the week."

Agreed. Please, feel free.

"I don't care what you believe, who you believe or if you believe. If your nice ill like you."

This reminds me of something Bertrand Russell (who was an atheist) wrote: "My religion is doing good."

"a very good friend said to me, when I denied belief in his 'god' and religion, 'my god woman, where do you get your morals'."

From the same place chimpanzees get their's: socialization and evolution. Take a look at: http://www.radiolab.org/story/91508-morality/

Snowbrush said...

"there is no need for anyone else to contribute anything, ever, to what is basically a non-conversation, because you already know what the unnecessary member will think or say or feel, based, I suppose, on your own vast, unlimited experience."

I regret that you did not respond to my invitation to dialogue, for it was a sincere invitation. For what it's worth, I was surprised by your complaint because you were the one who said that I have nothing to teach the church. I wondered at the time how you defined church, there being so many bodies that appropriate the name exclusively, or at least mostly, for themselves. I also wondered why you, who were complaining about my unwillingness to dialogue with you, had never attempted--to my knowledge--to dialogue with me, for I had often wanted to know how you felt about such and such a thing, yet the most I received for my wonderings were Biblical quotations. Did you imagine that your thoughts would not be welcome? Would you like for me to suggest a topic and specifically ask you for your thoughts? Very well. One of the things I've wondered about you is how you feel about the many theologians who are non-theistic, yet who regard themselves as devoted Christians. For example, Spong, Tillich, Niebuhr, Borg, Hamilton, Watts, and Tolstoy, either said that God was dead, or denied the existence of the supernatural, or spoke of equating God with the supernatural as being idolatry, or, at the very least, minimized the importance of a belief in the supernatural. Often such wonderings will pop into my head, and if I don't ask you about them, it is only because I know that you hate controversy, and this leads me to think that it is you who would not welcome dialogue. In fact, I would anticipate that you would run from dialogue. Just last night, I was reading what is surely the most honest and intense book I've ever come across: Tolstoy's "A Confession," and I wondered if you had read it, and how you would view various parts of it. In one place, he wrote: "And I saw that the faith of these people [meaning the masses of believers in mainstream Christianity] was not the kind of faith that I was looking for; their faith was no faith at all, but simply one of the epicurean consolations of life." I thought this was an incredibly powerful sentence, and I wondered if you would have agreed with it, and, if not, why not. And so it goes. I have but few remaining Christian followers--or even followers for whom religion or spirituality is important regardless of what form it takes--(I lost three followers within a day of putting this post online), and I have often wondered why those that I do have are so hesitant to express their thoughts, at least beyond saying that they were upset by mine. In any case, do not tell me that I am not open to dialogue because it is like telling a snowman that he isn't made of snow. The only dialogue to which I am not open is canned dialogue. Bible verses are meaningless to me (when quoted as statements of an authority which I do not accept). In fact, arguments based upon authority in any form are meaningless to me, but sincere expressions of the heart and the intellect are another matter indeed, and I welcome them. I won't even argue with them if not so invited, and hereby resolve to do what I can to make it easy for people to offer them.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

I think all of us have value...those of us who believe and those who do not.

I think we all have our own journey, our own wounds, our own "cross to bear." Life is hard on all of us. Best not to judge.

The Tusk said...

Hi Snow, Nothing new here on my end of the world, trying not to have a heart attack, earning 166,000. dollars this year working two jobs equaling 14 hours a day Saturday and Sunday included. Rarely have a day off or time to practice my Art.