Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Natty Boh

One time, I was drinking Natty Boh with one of my brothers (the one who is of drinking age). We got to talking about doubt and how religion has emotionally scarred us. He mentioned a bumper sticker that said "I believe in God, only I spell it nature." "I think there's something to that." my brother said.

I like that statement, but it's a little sneaky.

A lot of religious people are distrustful of people who don't think God exists. In No Country For Old Men, Anton Chiurgh is so scary because he only believes in what he sees. He's unhindered by concepts of society or order; he kills mercilessly, he has a singleminded focus on his goal. I suppose that a lot of distrust of the nonreligious comes from the expectation that their lack of belief would turn them into violent anarchists or abortionists. Atheists make up 15% of the population of America, but only 0.2% of the population of America's prisons. Atheists are unusually good at either hiding their foul misdeeds or behaving politely.

Most nonbelievers aren't at all like Anton Chiurgh, they aren't soulless machines. They have a deep sense of beauty and wonder at nature. They have a deep sense of love and compassion due to human nature. These two kinds of nature, an outdoors and an indoors, lead to a lot of wonderful human acts, and they're accessible to everyone. Whatever it is of God that believers see in nature, nonbelievers see, too; we might not call it God, but we're just as easily transfixed and delighted.

Calling nature God is a little sneaky because these things that believers see of God in nature aren't the same thing as God; good feelings from sharing or from having a pet rabbit or a lively hike aren't the same as a worshipful relationship with a personal God. While Frank Lloyd Wright might be happy with spelling God n-a-t-u-r-e, his theist friends don't typically mean nature when they ask, "Do you believe in God?"


  1. It's true. I don't want to worship beauty, order, the golden ratio, or anything else I find in nature.

  2. Ooh, the Golden Ratio! I forgot about that. Let's all melt our gold down and make a ratio and worship it at the base of Mt Sinai

  3. What do you think motivates atheists to do hard things and sacrifice themselves to serve others? I see lots of atheists and agnostics, for example, doing international aid work in places like DRC or Somalia.

  4. I don't think people are generally that rational, Matthew. Atheists don't need a good reason for altruism, they already have a lot of cultural pressure and deep psychological tendencies toward compassion, at least, in some ways.

  5. hmmm. Interesting. That isn't what I would expect at all from reading their blogs, but okay. So then, 99.8% of atheists/agnostics are reasonable and non-violent people (or, that is, they don't use their beliefs to justify terrible actions like Harris & Klebold, for example.) Do you think that these nonbelievers would ever be willing to sacrifice their own lives for others, and if so, do you think that "cultural pressure towards altruism" would be primarily responsible?

    I'm really just very curious.

  6. Well, yeah, people's blogs are generally a terrible way to figure out why they're doing what they're doing. Bloggers lie all the time!

    Harris and Klebold aren't exemplary atheists. This morning, actually, I just listened to Skepticality, the 8/24/2009 episode on Columbine:
    There are a lot of misconceptions spread by an overeager media. Eric Harris was very likely psychopathic, in the proper clinical sense of the word.

    Some atheists would die for others, and they do. What's important to people can mean more to them than their own lives, even if they believe that this life is all they have. Of course, there are very strong cultural pressures and instincts woven deeply into these beliefs.