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Atheism Exposed: Pragmatism


“Godlessness it seems, is not without a sense of purpose.”

Xenocrates

Apatheism

Apatheism (or Pragmatic Atheism) is perhaps the most popular agnostic concept. It is less concerned with arguments for or against the existence of any god and is more concerned with living life as though there wasn’t one. This indifference to the existence of or need for god is often bound in the concept that morality and theism are mutually exclusive. While that may be inherently true, pragmatic atheists often use this as justification for their  liberal lifestyles. Then some go as far as to attempt to redefine the status quo in the pursuit of ridding the world of its mythological entrapment. Either way, whether it is taking god out of schools or reducing the value of marriage, godlessness it seems, is not without a sense of purpose.

European Liberalism

Before I delve deeper into this discussion, I want to explore a few facts. This will give the entire debate some context. First of all, let’s look at some predominant atheistic states in the world. Observe the chart below:

Atheism in EuropeAccording to rank from most to least atheistic, this 2005 statistical map of European residents who disclaim any belief in god or supernatural power of any kind runs as follows:

  • 30 – 35%: France
  • 25 – 30%: Belgium, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Estonia
  • 20 – 25%: Germany, Sweden
  • 15 – 20%: Spain, United Kingdom, Ireland, Norway, Finland, Lithuania, Slovenia, Hungary
  • 10 – 15%: Iceland, Slovakia, Bulgaria
  • 5 – 10%: Portugal, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Slovenia, Latvia
  • 0 – 5%: Ireland, Poland, Romania, Greece, Turkey

(Source: Eurostat Poll, 2005)

A number of other polls suggest that Sweden is the most atheistic state with some figures as high as over 40%. However, Phil Zuckerman’s 2005 survey which summarises the non-religious population in the world certifies Europe as the defacto non-religious community in the world with some over 40 million residents claiming to be agnostic, atheistic or otherwise non-religious.

The United States by comparison has a paltry 15% of its population in this bracket – not surprising given its strong Christian population. This is despite the fact that the Christian population in the United States has seen a steady decline of late. A more recent study by the American Religious Identification Survey pointed to by an article in Newsweek suggests that the number of non-religious adherents has more than doubled since the 1990’s. Even if this rate continues, (which is most likely) it will never catch up with European Statistics.

Now if one were to take a step backwards and examine some differences in culture between these two continental unions, we make some very interesting observations (Click on the links to read more):

Issue European Union United States
Censorship France typically doesn’t harshly rate films with strong sexual content. Most are given a U (Universal) rating – suitable for all audiences. Similar standards exist in other European states. Similar movies are usually given a R or NC-17 rating in the US.
Cohabitation Roughly 50% of European adults live in cohabitation, in an intimate relationship with no view to marry. The figures are particularly strongest in atheistic states like Sweden, which sees 30% cohabitation. The US has a paltry 8.2%, according to the Venier Institute of the Family (2002).
Prostitution Prostitution is openly legal across 16 European States including (not surprisingly) France, Germany and The Netherlands. Interestingly enough, it has limited legality in Sweden. Prostitution only has limited legality in 6 US States.

Let’s not even talk about some of the stuff that goes on in Euro prime time television. There are enough YouTube videos online of game shows and other types of variety programming which, demonstrate the wanton and indiscriminate liberality of European culture – stuff that would have been easily banned on US television on any of the major syndicated networks. Where as pay-per-view networks like HBO and ShowTime can get away with such material by virtue of the fact that they are subscription based (thus automatically eliminating deliberate subscription from minors in most cases), Euro television holds nothing back.

Now I’m not suggesting that there is a direct and inextricable link between loose living and atheism. This is all correlational data. Never the less, the numbers don’t lie. The correlation is very strong. Most of the proponents of these lifestyles are a godless folk in every sense of the expression. They neither recognize the need for, nor feel there is any need to justify living a life completely void of any religious affinity. Therefore these statistics are not very surprising at all.

The Issue of Morality

Immorality

This is why I am not surprised by the many atheists who have taken me to task about declaring the mutual exclusivity between religion and morality. I always figured that the aggressive position on this particular stance seems highly suspect – even though I already knew it to be true. Liberalism allows for a very loose definition of morality (and many other things for that matter), so I won’t even go there. That’s another pointless circular argument just waiting to happen. What I am curious about, is why this is such a sore point for pragmatic atheists.

Where pragmatic atheists feel compelled to assert that morality is not bound to religion, their cultures are curiously more indulgent or accepting of social behaviour that other states around the world would consider to be morally questionable. So one wonders if morality was ever really the issue, or was their position only a ploy to eliminate religion in order to eliminate justification for morality by proxy? For this would allow them to redefine morality anyway they like, and thus to do anything they want. It is a very curious thought indeed.

For the record, I agree that one does not need to be religious to be moral, or vice versa. I also concur that we really don’t need mythology to teach us how to respect and love each other. I will even go as far as to say that morality does not just include what could be considered sobriety. However, all of those arguments are meaningless distractions. For I would also say that the Muslims who overreact to the slightest offense are no more moral than the folks who effectively invalidate marriage for whatever other form of slackness they’d like to see in its place.

If that is however what people want, then more power to them. However, that doesn’t seem to work well with any atheistic argument that would seek to discredit the Bible. Apatheistic support of European liberalism only seems to give the Christians more wood for their fire, because the Bible quite clearly predicts that in the end days, men shall become more lovers of pleasure, than lovers of God. It would seem that pragmatic atheists are unwittingly undoing the hard work of their more precise fellow skeptics.

The Freedom to Misbehave

A lot of Europeans contend that the censorship of vulgarity and profanity in the media is an inhibition of one’s Freedom of Expression. That would explain why the media in countries like England and France are so garishly unapologetic about some of the rather objectionable material they put out on the news stands – stuff that would get media companies in the US sued into bankruptcy.

So let me ask the obvious: since when does our right to freedom include the freedom to be disgusting?

Freedom is not exclusively a good thing. Freedom is directly proportional to chaos. There are extremities of censorship and freedom of expression that should be avoided. It applies to both sides of the fence. Where censorship becomes overbearing, it stifles artistic expression. However, where it almost ceases to exist, just about any kind of garbage is allowed to be perpetuated unchecked, unscrupulously parading under the banner of something more benign.

However, I don’t blame pragmatic atheists for this breakdown in standards. Rather, I think European agnostics are mostly a product of their excessively liberal culture.  I suspect that a substantial portion of American pragmatists however fewer in number, are just searching for justification to soothe a pricked conscience. I could be wrong, but based on those numbers, I very seriously doubt it. American culture is steeped in theism.

But to be honest with you, if I wanted to live my life devoid of a God that would make me feel bad about myself, I’d fight tooth and nails to justify my need for ambivalence too. Who wouldn’t? I suppose if I grew up in those cultures, I’d be just as adamant for my freedom to be naughty on prime time as well. I’d probably see religion as a threat too – which is not surprising since we all viciously defend what we were socially engineered to believe as children.

Generational Miseducation

Miseducation

Speaking of children, how about this furor about removing religion from schools? Everyone knows that all children are born as blank slates. Humans are inclined to inherently hold on to what they were programmed to believe as a child. This explains why so many atheists are launching campaigns to eradicate religion from schools. If children are not socially engineered to be conscious of theism, they won’t have to suffer the “psychological enslavement to mythology” like their peers’ parents. Makes sense, right?

Dear Secularists,

Have you thought about the other parents who want their kids to be taught about religion? If you feel so strongly about religion in the classroom, why not band together and form your own set of schools where you can socially engineer your own kids in a secular way of life? Camp Quest seems to have the right idea. I don’t know if any of its proponents are a part of the movement to secularise schoolrooms, but I think they are going in the right direction as opposed to secular parents who’re busy oppressing institutions heavily drenched in theism.

Furthermore, this whole argument about Creationism vs. Intelligent Design vs. Evolution is meaningless. All three camps are making educated guesses. None of them can unequivocally prove what they believe. Anyone making that assumption is obviously deluded – theist or atheist alike. So let’s put that aside. But if you pragmatists believe that secularism is more rational than Creationism, then you’re doing a piss-poor job of proving it by fighting with school boards about the 10 commandments. It’s a silly waste of time.

Belief by virtue of Capacity.

Stupefaction

If all men were created with the same cognitive predispositions as hardcore atheists traditionally have, then religion would simply cease to exist – overnight. Unfortunately, most people aren’t as cognitively gifted. I say this, because most Christians (I’ve found) simply cannot wrap their heads around the alternate possibility that life has no intrinsic purpose. The idea is literally too simple for many to understand (even if after consideration, they chose not to opt for that theory).

The profound simplicity of such ideas sometimes flies right over the heads of even well educated theists because of their psychological preconditioning to believe what they believe. They are mostly completely (and blissfully) unaware of this because they grew up being told everyday that God is very much like them in a very personal way. So they grow up thinking about God as though he is human like, even though if God exists, he is anything but.

When you have something driven into your head like that every day for over 20 years, you don’t just let go of it on a whim – especially if you have no grasp of philosophy or you’re not a naturally critical thinker. So if one is going to tell such a person that God is probably an irrelevant variable in a universal equation, you might as well phrase it in Greek. They’ve invested their entire lives subscribing to that idea. At this point, their emotional attachment becomes the proof that God is real and that’s all they need.

Implicit Atheists

Now compare the many people who are Implicit Atheists. They are not categorised with the other sets of atheists because they have no explicit declaration of the existence of any supernatural entity. Like the preconditioned theists I mentioned earlier, implicit atheists have no interest in religion, not because they thought about it, but because they were never exposed to it. All they see is life, death and taxes. They attach no mythological significance to it whatsoever. Life is that inherently simple to them and it makes sense that way.

So if a theist were to approach an implicit atheist and try to convert them to religion, it would have almost the same effect as trying to convert a preconditioned theist to atheism. Religion presents a whole new level of philosophical quantification of life to these people. It is so profound to an implicit atheist, that chances are, these simple minded subsistence dwellers would dismiss it as yet another old wives’ tale just as much as simple minded theists would dismiss atheism as heresy and blasphemy.

Thus my contention is this:

Where does a pragmatist get off trying to compel a simple minded theist that God doesn’t exist because he is unnecessary? Wouldn’t it be the same thing as trying to compel an implicit atheist that God is necessary? The logic is not the contention here. It’s the very concept of attempting indoctrination on a mind that has already been preconditioned to accept whatever it was programmed to believe during childhood while simultaneously lacking the capacity to think in any way other than that which it was preconditioned to think and believe. If it doesn’t have the natural capacity to question that belief (or to accept another) then the effort is effectively meaningless.

Environmental Religion

Concordantly, there are other people who can’t fathom the idea that the only reason why they believe what they believe is simply because of where in the world they were born. The average American Joe-the-plumber can’t think that far outside of the box, because his brain doesn’t have the material capacity to do so. This average Joe could be the same back water, small town guy who clings to his guns and religion because of the culture in which he was raised.

The average theist has been so deeply socially programmed, that their attachment to their belief is incredibly profound. You can’t use logic to break that kind of bond if they didn’t already have a curious mind. Therefore, Joe Six-pack et al, either believes in whatever his environment tells him to believe or he believes in nothing.

I’m not implying that religious people are stupid. Rather, the people who subscribe to religion are not the same kind of people who have the capacity to think about what they believe even if they cared to.  They are often the same kind of people you find in some atheist states in the world who have no cognition of anything religious – the philosophical complexities of which are effectively meaningless to them.

Cognitive Dissonance

Both sets of people would experience a deep sense of cognitive dissonance if they were cornered by any idea which appears to prove the necessity of religion (in the case of implicit atheists) or the possible irrelevance thereof (in the case of many theists). They have spent so much of their lives living that way (i.e., with or without God), that in the face of a very strong argument for or against, they will desperately cling to what they were preprogrammed to believe, over rationalise their position, perhaps, even attacking the messenger in the process.

I have never met an atheist who had the same level of carefree attitude about anything they thought about. Similarly, I find that people who are religious are also inclined to be superstitious – and for all the same reasons why they subscribe to religion in the first place. Curiously, they don’t experience any cognitive dissonance when they are cornered about the conflict between their religious and superstitious beliefs.

What would be interesting is if there are any atheists out there who are also superstitious. I’m sure there are, but none of them would dare to show their faces because of the obvious double standard they’d have to defend and the cognitive dissonance that rides their conscience. Based on a number of conversations with a few pragmatists of North America, it would appear as though they still maintain some level of superstitious belief. I have never met someone who lives their life as though there was no God however, who would freely admit to being superstitious, even if they clearly were.

The Issue of Belief

Belief

In the classic Wachowski Brothers film “The Matrix” (1999), the character of Morpheus offers Neo a choice of two pills. One pill will permanently disconnect him from the Matrix. The other disrupts the current experience, giving him the capacity to believe whatever he wished when he woke up thereafter. The interesting thing to note here is that if Neo took the blue pill, the story would effectively end. Thus, it is important for him to take the red pill in order for the credits to not roll early.

In reality (or our perception of it) most people cannot handle the truth and thus would take the blue pill without even batting an eyelid. Some Atheists would like to say that taking the red pill proves that one is an adherent of truth in whatever form it presents itself. However, how do we know that the red pill isn’t just presenting Neo with an alternate possibility and not necessarily the truth? The Merovingian’s prison in The Matrix: Reloaded (2003) is proof of just that.

Many people would like to believe that truth is whatever can be proven empirically. However, theoretical physicists have demonstrated that if there are indeed parallel universes, what could be true in this universe, might be relatively untrue in another. So is truth universal? Consider this: Two people can look at the same evidence and make two completely different certifications of truth. Therefore truth is only valid as far as we believe it.

Ergo, it probably didn’t matter which pill Neo took. His mind makes real whatever the outcome he chose to accept. Neo was already of the opinion that something was wrong with his reality anyway. So even if he took the blue pill, he might’ve broken out another way eventually. After all, it is the destiny of the one to do so – as did his predecessor who had no one to hack him out of the matrix.

If you recall, when he was disconnected from the Matrix, he still had trouble discerning which reality was real. But notice that once he understood how belief worked, he could manage to defy the laws of gravity in the Matrix and stop giant killer robots in the real world. So he could have existed in either reality and been just fine. The pills were irrelevant. They were just a placebo to get his mind to do the work. That’s the power of belief.

Appropos;

Belief can do just as much harm as good. It can kill and cure in equal portions. Thus, we cannot categorically deny that religion changes people for the better (if only changing a few of those people for the worst). An admission of anything less is only an expression of dishonesty. This is why I find the justification for absconding from religion because of malpractice just as ludicrous as forsaking surgery because of a few quack doctors with a god complex.

Never the less, as flawed as religion may be, that emotional placebo does have a very real, meaningful and positive impact on the lives of many. So long as it is not malicious in nature, what they believe is quite probably irrelevant. That they believe at all manifests all the difference. We have learned so much from the deep thinkers and the Biblical truisms. Do we toss out all of those things too? Isn’t that the same as tossing out the baby with the bathwater?

There are many, many more people in the world using their religion to positively impact upon it, than the media chosen few who do the worst with it. We all know the media doesn’t care about goody two-shoes. So I’m surprised more intellectually gifted atheists fail to make this distinction when asserting that religion is inherently dangerous. That’s rubbish. People are dangerous. People are evil. People will take anything good and use it for evil. Nothing is exempt from this principle – not even belief.

Speaking of which, while it is common to call atheists unbelievers, they are only unbelievers in one theory. They still believe in something else. Therefore the usage of the word in this context by both sides of the fence is demonstrably fallacious. Concordantly, just as how some religious subscribers have used their belief in religion to commit evil, so have people who use their belief in secularism – albeit using more inconspicuous methods.

At the end of the day, there are too many people who believe in a life devoid of a great moral adjudicator who also express that belief in a lifestyle that manifests certain characteristics that the morally aware consider questionable. I do not doubt that there are pragmatic atheists who are not so inclined. The question is, what percentage of this sub set of the secular population isn’t?

By the significant predisposition for certain types of lifestyles in the cultures which have large percentages of secular populations, I would not be surprised if that percentage is significant. The two appear to go hand in hand like bread and butter, bench and buttocks, cause and effect. You’ll rarely ever see smoke, as they say, without fire.

Next: Atheism Exposed – Skepticism

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  1. American Atheist
    November 17, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    All i say is, if God makes everyone, then why are the Atheists?

    It leaves people speechless stammering for words.

  2. Josh Vizanko
    September 19, 2011 at 7:54 am

    “Like the preconditioned theists I mentioned earlier, implicit atheists have no interest in religion, not because they thought about it, but because they were never exposed to it.”

    Well considering I was raised Christian, and am an implicit atheist beacause I thought about it (and also think that it is the most rational stance), I’d say this statement is completely wrong and baseless as well.

    • October 24, 2011 at 5:09 am

      You can’t be an implicit Atheist if you already knew about Christianity. Implicit Atheism and epistemological awareness of religion are mutually exclusive.

  3. Richard
    April 17, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    “…. None of them can unequivocally prove what they believe . Anyone making that assumption is obviously deluded – theist or atheist alike”

    That’s what I keep saying!!!

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