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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Responding to Matt Barber’s WND Article

by @ 2:16 pm. Filed under Atheism, Joe's Rants, Nonviolence, Nonviolent Communication

Last night, religious pundit, Matt Barber published a piece for the e-commentary site, World News Daily. The site is more of a opinion site than a news site. I wouldn’t have even paid this article a second glance except Matt tweeted 31 tweets in a row linking to the article, which actually made me laugh out loud.  I wonder if Matt was afraid we’d mis it if he didn’t post it repeatedly.  Oddly, his tactic worked because I actually read his article.

Matt’s article was in opposition to atheists, nonbelievers, and Planned Parenthood.  He wrote the article in response to a previous article by a woman named, Valerie Tarico, where she writes her opinions about the signs she sees leading her to believe that “fundamentalism is going down”.  Matt’s article makes some interesting claims that have nudged at my intellectual neurons just enough to make me feel like writing, something I haven’t been up on doing for the last several years.

First, before I jump to thoughts on the article, I want to put out there that one of the reasons I stopped writing about gay rights, religion, and nonviolence was the challenges that come from living compassionately and nonviolently while still respectfully being able to challenge ideas.  I sometimes find this blog itself has been a journey of that.  If you go back to my original posts from 2006 and compare them to the stuff I wrote in the past few years, the is a huge differences to be seen in my response to things I believe are harmful and things and people with which I disagree.  It has been part of my reason for not writing, I need to keep growing in my own understanding of nonviolence, respect, and compassion first.  Now, onto Matt’s article.

I think what has struck me most about this article is the strong tone of black and white thinking that seems to permeate our current culture.  We have been living in this “all this-all that” mindset for just far longer than I like.  I amazed how many people ask if I am for or against guns or even gun control as if those are simple yes or no answers.  The same is true of socialism, communism, marxism, abortion, god, nationalism.  You are either for these things or against them rather than a spectrum of ideas.  We Americans seem to feel more at ease if we take complex and colorful concepts and simplify them into black and white issues.  My experience of the world is that life just isn’t that simple and neither are these issues.

Matt’s article is heavy in the language of sides.  You are either a north American progressive or a god fearing conservative.  You are on god’s side or satan’s side.  You are either for god or against god and by that, he is only referring to his god and none others.  Again, I don’t think the world is this simplistic.

Matt writes:

For those of us so very blessed to have raised our personal white flag in mankind’s inherently fruitless struggle against the Creator, there can be no joy in watching God-deniers continue to labor under the grandest of all deceptions. Regardless of how nasty they may be as individuals, there can be only sadness, genuine pity and prayer.

First off, I want to say I totally get what Matt is saying. I can empathize with this pain because I share the exact same sentiments just from the other view.  It is painful for me to watch religious folks to labor under what I would call the greatest of deceptions.  Over the years, I have found no joy or pleasure in watching people engage in things in which I don’t believe. This includes god, psuedo-science, homeopathic medicines, chiropractors, and acupuncture.  Where Matt and I differ is that I am working in my life to find compassion for those who believe different stuff than me.  I really want to have empathy and understanding as opposed to pity.

I also am not really sure what a “god-denier” actually is.  How do you deny what you do not believe exists.  I personally don’t believe in a god.  There is no more denial in that than there is the fact I also don’t believe in ghosts?  Does that make me a ghost-denier? I don’t believe in homeopathic medicine.  Does that make me a homeopathic medicine denier? Makes me wonder why Matt would make such a choice for a label?  Does he not really understand how belief works?  Does he simply think everyone who doesn’t believe really does believe and they are faking it with denial?  Not sure I could make any logical sense of that and then again, is there any logical sense to be made of it?

Belief is an interesting concept Matt seems to only grasp in terms of choice.  Reality is we don’t actually choose what we believe.  We take in the evidence (and I use that term lightly) and come to our own conclusions.  Even if we wanted to believe in something, we cannot make ourselves believe.  I certainly can’t wake up tomorrow and say, “Yup, I am deciding I believe in unicorns” and then actually do it. Doesn’t work out that way.  I could say I believe in god and the fact is, I don’t.  It would be  lie if I said I did. I also know I can’t make myself believe in god anymore than I could make myself believe in ghosts, psychics, or the Loch Ness Monster.

The flip side of this, and a fact that has built much compassion in me for those who do believe, Matt won’t be waking up tomorrow and making a choice not to believe.  He has read and heard the evidence and it has led him to believe there is a god and that it is the god of the Christian bible.  He couldn’t stop believing that by choice anymore than I could start believing it by choice.

I find his comment about nonbelievers being “nasty” as just his anger that people like me don’t see what he sees the way he sees it.  Guess what, Matt?  I don’t see what you see and it doesn’t make me nasty, sad, unhappy, or anything of the sort.  I will say that I miss my belief in god and Jesus.  I was raised a Catholic.  I went to mass most weeks.  I was an alter-boy in 6th and 7th grades.  I also went to Catholic Schools for all of my schooling.  I studied scripture in high school and for a short time in my early teens, I sincerely wanted to join the priesthood.  I had very strong beliefs then that god existed and that he and I were actually talking to each other when I prayed.  Something I did often.

Over time, those beliefs changed and faded.  There was no one reason for this but many.  I do have to admit, the kicker for me was the realization that religion was more geographical then factual.  Most people are the religion they are because they were born into it by location.  If I had been born in the East, I might be a Hindu or a Muslim.  Since I was born in the USA, I happen to be Christian.

I do miss my “beliefs” in god.  I sometimes think it would be lovely to wake up tomorrow and believe there is a god.  On the other hand, I am also happy I that won’t happen.  There was a lot of comfort to be found in it.  There was also a great sense of community going to church each Sunday and being involved with church activities.  That is why, while not a Catholic church, I do still attend a church.  The pastor of the church knows I am an atheist.  She also knows I joined this church because of the social justice work they are doing around hunger, Haiti, and the homeless.  I get a little freaked out by the whole communion thing because I see it differently than I when I was a kid.  It now seems a bit odd that people are eating flesh and blood regardless of whom they think it belongs.  Either way, I still enjoy going, especially for the sermon  which generally meets with my values.

Matt also writes a few paragraphs about there being no freedom unless you are a believer.  Of course, I would ask Matt, what is your definition of freedom?  I don’t think I felt anymore freedom when I was a believer than I feel now except now that I don’t believe, I no longer struggle with odd and outdated rules about morality that makes little sense to me.  In fact, I might say I feel an increased sense of freedom in my life because I am no longer held down by dogma.

Matt writes:

When God-deniers like Ms. Tarico dig in their heels, a pitiable paradox occurs. While they think they’ve achieved intellectual enlightenment and freedom, they have, instead, been played for the fool. They have become slaves to the flesh, and playthings to the enemy.

I have never met anyone who thinks they have more intellectual enlightenment and freedom through the strategy of “god-denial” whatever that means.  I don’t think I ever met anyone who thinks intellectual enlightenment is an achievement that is achievable.  I would go as far as to say, what does that even mean.  Next, I just laughed at the slaves to the flesh comment.  I can assure you Matt think about and writes about sexuality way more than any nonbeliever I know.

Ultimately, I see Matt’s entire article as a way of drumming up fear and hate for people who don’t believe in Matt’s god.  My question would be, what purpose does that serve?  Does Matt think he will insult them into believing?  What is Matt’s end game? To turn other believers against those who don’t believe?  Is it to rally the troops of believer into having some reaction?  What is Matt’s intention behind his article?

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