Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World

Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World

by David Silverman

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250130716
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 08/08/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 816,369
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

DAVID SILVERMAN is the president of American Atheists and one of the best-known atheists in America. He has appeared on several T.V. programs for on-air debates, including, the O'Reilly Factor, Hannity & Colmes, Scarborough Country, and CNN Paula Zahn NOW. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and child.

Read an Excerpt

Fighting God

An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World


By David Silverman

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2015 David Silverman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-7128-1



CHAPTER 1

ATHEIST, KNOW THYSELF


If you say, I'm for equal pay, that's a reform. But if you say, I'm a feminist, that's a transformation of society.

— Gloria Steinem

Fuck you, you're an atheist.

— Penn Jillette


It's an unfortunate situation. Even some major sources of information give the wrong — or at least an imperfect — definition of the word atheist:

1. Merriam-Webster defines an atheist as "a person who believes that God does not exist." Wrong.

2. The Free Dictionary describes an atheist as a person who "absolutely denies" the existence of God or any other gods. Nope.


How do we win a battle with words when the words we use are wrong? How do we organize atheists when most of the atheists don't even know they are atheists because they've been given wrong information?

The Oxford English Dictionary, thankfully, gets it right: an atheist is "a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods"(emphasis mine).

So we begin this book with three different reliable sources, giving three different definitions for atheist — how do we know which is correct? There is a big difference between "lacks belief" and "absolutely denies," so we need to look at the word and see its etymology for support. As stated perfectly at defineatheism.com: "Absence (rather than opposition) is indicated by the 'a-' prefix, meaning 'without,' hence 'atheism' can be concisely characterized as 'without theism.'"

Theism is consistently defined as "belief in the existence of a god or gods," so atheism is therefore "the absence of belief in the existence of a god or gods," which makes it a broad term that has many implications, not just absolute denial. Atheism is without that belief, not against it. Got it?

Let me clarify this point with some helpful tips for determining if you're an atheist. For this list, literal god means a living, thinking, supernatural being, as opposed to a metaphor such as "god is love" or "god is the universe":

• If you don't have a belief in any literal god(s), i.e., are without theism, you're an atheist.

• If you don't have a belief in any literal god(s) but aren't sure none exist, you're an atheist.

• If you don't have a belief in any literal god(s) but rather think God is a metaphor for love, all humanity, etc., you're an atheist.

• If you don't have a belief in any literal god(s) because you think the universe is unknowable and we can never know all the answers, you're an atheist (and an agnostic, see below).

• If you don't have a belief in any literal god(s) and you feel you're educated enough to think you can say definitively there are no god(s), you're an atheist (a conclusionary atheist like me).

• If you don't have a belief in any literal god(s) but you like/follow some religious traditions (Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or whatever) in which you were raised and maybe even agree with some of the religion's nonsupernatural teachings (e.g., "Love thy neighbor"), you're an atheist.

• If you don't have a belief in any literal god(s), but you wish there were a god and maybe still hold out hope for one to show up, you're an atheist (hoping and wishing are not believing).

• If you don't have a belief in any literal god(s), but you consider yourself "on the fence," you're an atheist (until you believe, you're not a theist, and, no, there is no middle ground — you have a belief that a god exists or you don't).

• If you don't have a belief in any literal god(s), but you "like to think" there is a god, because the story is good and wouldn't it be nice if it was true, you're an atheist (and you're literally proclaiming belief in something you know is a fantasy).

• If you don't have any belief in any literal god(s), but you absolutely hate the word atheist — tough shit, you're still an atheist.


Is that clear enough? If I've just called you an atheist and you're unhappy about it, don't worry — it's good — you're right! Keep reading!

In one of his most brilliant books, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins describes the categories "weak agnosticism," "strong agnosticism," "weak atheism," and "strong atheism" as different extremes of disbelief along a continuum. I disagree with this definition. Almost all "agnostics" are atheists, and almost all atheists are agnostics, and I strongly feel that this distinction must be properly understood.

Atheist is the broadest term and, again, means only "the absence of a belief in a god or gods." The reasons for the lack of belief, and the convictions behind the reasons, are irrelevant to the term's definition. Agnostics, Secular/Humanistic Jews, Secular Humanists, Brights, some Buddhists, some Hindus, and all "apatheists" are atheists.

Some might counter my assertion by saying that dictionary definitions are not always the way words are used in the English language. They will say that language is ever evolving, and "words have usage, not meaning," and that relying on etymology for a word's definition is fallacious. They will assert that correcting people who use the words incorrectly is fighting an unnecessary, uphill battle.

In this case I disagree. This word confusion is detrimental to our cause and our freedom. It impedes communication such that nobody knows what anyone else is talking about, and this leads to the ignorance of the general population to the detriment of a minority — us. I assert it is necessary to clear up and reaffirm the correct usage of atheist and to not let society, which is heavily influenced by those who want the label confusion to persist, redefine us to make us look smaller and therefore less important than we are. Comparing the etymology of the word with the broad list of conflicting definitions (including current use) to determine which is most correct is a perfectly logical way to do so.

Skeptics are atheists, at least the good ones (see Fig. 1), because skepticism applied to religion invariably yields atheism. As a result, the amount of overlap between skepticism and atheism is quite large (larger than what the graphic depicts), but a sliver of atheists are not skeptical (homeopaths and such), and a sliver of "skeptics" will turn their nose up at homeopathy and Bigfoot, but consider the invisible man in the sky a reasonable possibility. The graphic says both slivers are "bad skeptics," but frankly, I wonder if we could call either side skeptical. You can be a skeptic, and you can be a theist, but if you're both, you're bad at skepticism.

Now, some atheists don't like the A-word. They feel it has a negative connotation — indeed, that it is a negative word — so they prefer to use a different descriptor. So silly — is independent a negative word? Unencumbered? Unchained? Atheism is a positive word — it is theism that is negative! Additionally, wishing something to be true doesn't make it so, and changing the descriptor of a thing doesn't change the thing itself. If you do not have an active belief in a god, you're an atheist, and all atheists by any name need to accept that reality. Any other word is sugarcoating at best and an outright lie at worst.

A well-regarded atheist who calls himself a humanist (Humanism is an atheistic lifestance that stresses progressive values and the betterment of humankind) once got angry in a discussion with me on this subject. He told me, "I'm not about what I am not; I like to tell people what I am," and behaved as if there was some kind of wisdom behind that statement. I asserted that he was just avoiding the question in a theist-approved way so as not to antagonize the religious majority. Doing so is being nice to the bigots because they've convinced you it's right to do so. It is avoiding the truth, not telling the truth.

Religion is about belief in a god, not a general philosophy on how we humans should behave or treat each other. If I ask vegetarians what meat they eat, they say, "None." They wouldn't answer that question with "I like lasagna" because that's not what I asked. The question of "Well, if you don't eat meat, what do you eat?" may or may not be a follow-up, but it's not the question at hand. Similarly, the atheist's answer to the question "Do you believe in god?" is not "I believe in treating all humans well." It's "No." The answer to "What is your religion?" is "None — I'm an atheist."

Identifying as an atheist, as opposed to some other descriptor, is a very important form of activism, in part because it helps those who cannot come out. Atheists who are unable to identify as such are inhibited by the bigotry we all understand, for any number of reasons, and bigotry is based on ignorance. Using atheist lets you fight bigotry by associating the word with a face, possibly for the first time (depending on the listener). This promotes an awareness and humanization of atheists, which attacks the church-taught bigotry that keeps others in the closet head-on. So, by specifically using atheist as an identifier, you educate the public about atheism, attacking bigotry one listener at a time.

Why not use those other words? Simple — very few people understand them. According to a 2014 quantitative study performed for Openly Secular, most people have no idea what all those euphemisms for atheist (they may have different dictionary definitions, but they are used by atheists as synonyms/substitutes for atheist) mean. As you can see in Figure 2, while more than eighty percent of Americans essentially know what an atheist is, less than half of Americans know what agnostic means, less than 30 percent understand what it means to be secular, and, as you can see, very few Americans know what Humanists and freethinkers (a person who forms their opinions on the basis of reason) are.

Where is the teaching in using these euphemisms? How do they help closeted nonbelievers? If you are asked about your religion and you answer with a term that, while technically correct, has a very high likelihood of being misunderstood, how is that telling the truth?

How is that even honest?


* * *

Agnostic is a useless term when used as a religious identifier. It states that gods, the finite details of the universe, etc., are simply unknowable, which as you may notice is not an expression of belief or disbelief, but rather of knowledge. This is a totally useless concept because anyone can say that about everything. We don't know with 100 percent certainty that Santa Claus isn't up there at the North Pole (maybe he's just really good at hiding), or that we aren't part of someone's dream or a computer simulation. Since we don't know everything, agnosticism would tell us we can never use the word know at all, since it implies a complete understanding of the universe. This confuses the word know, which means "to perceive or understand as fact or truth; to apprehend clearly and with certainty." Know does not imply perfect knowledge. I know there is no god just as surely as Iknow there is no Santa Claus, of which I am quite certain even though I've never been to the North Pole personally. Again, when Santa lands on my roof, I will believe. Until there is proof, Santa, like God, is a myth.

I am reminded of The Matrix, in which we find that all life is a dream, fed into our brains by sentient machines. Since we don't know everything in the universe and cannot mathematically prove the movie false, do we consider the hypothesis put forth in the movie to be viable enough to hedge our bets? Is The Matrix probably fiction? But even if I brought Keanu Reeves to your home and he personally told you it was just fiction, even if I brought the scriptwriters to tell you that they had indeed made the whole thing up, this would not prove the movie false with 100 percent certainty. Still, nobody would say they were only "pretty sure" The Matrix was fiction, but they couldn't commit to saying it for sure "because no one knows everything in the universe."

Why is God different from other fiction? The odds that a god exists may not be absolute zero, but in the words of British philosopher A. C. Grayling, the possibility is "vanishingly small," just as it is with unicorns and The Matrix. Being a former math geek, I think of it in calculus terms: "the limit as god approaches zero," which is, well, vanishingly close to zero.

Yet religion gets a waiver and is not subjected to the same standards as other fiction. It has no basis in fact (like fiction), cannot hold up to logic (like fiction), yet still earns a "probably not" by way of too many of us.

But again — probably not is just another segment of atheism. The word agnostic is used by atheists to soften the blow felt by people who don't like atheists (and thereby lessen the anticipated blowback from them). Therefore, atheists who call themselves agnostics use a euphemism to be nice to the people who aren't nice to us. Atheophobes (people who fear/dislike atheists and/or atheism) aren't all bad people — they are just ignorant victims, and they need help. Again, when an atheist uses a label such as agnostic or humanist, an opportunity to teach is averted, and the atheophobe walks away thinking, "What a nice person. At least they're not an atheist."

Now, consider Christianity. If you walk up to Baptists and ask what their religion is, you'd get one word: Christian. If you ask a Methodist, you get Christian. Ask a Seventh-day Adventist, you get Christian. Now try the other side. Despite that so many people are atheists, few people use the word, even when they know it is accurate. Some atheists will call themselves any of a breadth of descriptors just to avoid atheist. Some so-called secular Jews will call themselves Jews when asked about their religion, even though it means the exact opposite of the truth!

So Christians unite themselves despite real differences in theology, while we atheists will go out of our way to divide ourselves by using different words, despite the fact that we are all the same, religiously. As a result, polls measuring the numbers of Christians and atheists in the United States show Christianity at 70 percent plus and atheism in the 2–5 percent range, leaving a huge number of atheists categorized as agnostic, secular, none, or, even worse, Jewish, Muslim, or Christian. It's not difficult to see how we are perpetuating the myth that we don't exist in large numbers, because most of us claim to be something else!


* * *

For another example of why it's important to use a word that is clearly understood, let's take a quick look at my friends at Openly Secular, who graciously supplied the data above based on research they commissioned to find the best euphemism/word choice for atheist. They chose secular, even though 70 percent didn't know that the word secular, in this context, meant atheist. They clarified themselves on their Web page (www.openlysecular.org):

"The mission of Openly Secular is to eliminate discrimination and increase acceptance by getting secular people — including atheists, freethinkers, agnostics, humanists and nonreligious people — to be open about their beliefs."

Todd Stiefel, Chair of Openly Secular commented for this book: "We picked SECULAR specifically because it was a word that could serve as an umbrella over a wide-swath of self-identities. It simply means 'non-religious' which applies to a huge group of the nones ( pronounced like "nuns," who self-classify as "none/no religion"), from atheists to those who simply say 'I am not religious.'"

The thing is, less than 30 percent of those surveyed understood the definition of secular. Secular refers to things that are separate from religion, so a secular person would be a person without religion, aka, an atheist, as described by Openly Secular. But as secular usually refers to a government or a school, as opposed to a person, secular person often gets used as a synonym for secularist — a person, religious or not, who supports a secular government. This one word has two very different but confusable definitions.

Unfortunately, but predictably, during Openly Secular Day (April 23, 2015, on which the organization encouraged people to come out as "secular people") much of the discussion was about what secular meant, not about coming out as a nonbeliever. My Twitter feed was filled with messages including "I'm a Christian and I'm secular" and "secular =/= Atheist." Even popular blogger (and friend) JT Eberhard wrote "Religious people can be openly secular. Being secular doesn't mean you're an atheist. Just look at Barry Lynn or Rebecca Florence Miller," unaware that his definition for secular (secularists) conflicted with the definition given by Openly Secular (atheists).


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Fighting God by David Silverman. Copyright © 2015 David Silverman. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Atheist, Know Thyself

Chapter 2: The War Has Already Begun, and We Are Ethically Obligated to Fight

Chapter 3: Telling the Truth About the Lie of God

On the “War on Christmas”

On Jewish Atheism

On Islam and Religion-Inspired Terrorism

Hinduism: Classism Incarnate

The Bad Atheists

Chapter 4:Fighting the Good Fight

All Religion Is Cafeteria Religion

I’ll Pray for You

On “Proofs”

On the Defense of the Indefensible

Chapter 5:Use, or at Least Understand, Firebrand Tactics

In My Beginning . . .

Firebrand Atheism, Defined

Billboards and Methods

Data Proves Being a Firebrand Works

On the WTF Face

Chapter 6:Be Everywhere

The Conservatives—CPAC

The Progressives

Chapter 7:On Defining Morality Without God(s)

Chapter 8:On Fighting Unpopular Battles (but Being Right)

Government-Imposed Religious Privilege

The 9/11 “Miracle Cross” Case

An Unfortunate Addendum

Benches and Other Atheist Monuments

Utah Highway Patrol Association Cross Case

Chapter 9:On the Reason Rally

Chapter 10:Relish the Future

Chapter 11:Moving Forward

Appendix 1:Free Will

Appendix 2:My Reason Rally Speeches

Appendix 3:On Opening the Atheist “Closet”

Appendix 4:My Speech at Starke, Florida

Appendix 5:Ten Commandments Posting

Appendix 6:Marriage Equality Is a Separation-of-Church-and-State Issue

Appendix 7:Letter to the Editor: School Prayer

Appendix 8:Letter to Randall Terry (Operation Rescue)

Appendix 9:Diversity at Work

Notes

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Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
KFulr More than 1 year ago
I've never written a review for a book before, but after reading this book and seeing it had no reviews, I felt it deserved one. Firstly, this book is not about deconverting believers or arguing the existence of a god, but rather explaining why firebrand atheism is a force for good and should be read by both atheists and theists alike. For atheists like myself, who are mostly quiet about their lack of belief, it shows us the equality that can be reached by being vocal activists. It also explains what firebrand atheism is how it could be effectively used to reach said equality while tearing down religion's self made pedestal it sits upon. It's aim is to get us to show the world that we are out here, and we have numbers. For the theist, this book can also provide insight into the mindset of a firebrand atheist, and how it is not a fight for special treatment, just equal treatment, for everyone. Believer or not. The biggest eye-opening moment for me was his experience at the Conservative Political Action Conference handing out flyers and talking to those in attendance, alone. I was almost in fear for his safety but the attendee's responses surprised me. :) David Silverman's conversational tone in the book is not preachy or disrespectful, but he definitely knows he is right and isn't afraid to say so. It was a pleasure to read and I could not put it down until I was finished. For me, it helped me realize that there is a fight to be had and that I am not alone, there are more like me, and we need to stand up and be vocal, or just be ignored.