Yesterday Rex and I presented to the Oasis organization in Houston about our project, and we were ecstatic about how well received we were. This was our first exposure to Oasis, and we loved what we saw and experienced with you. We want to give a big Texas sized shout out to Mike Aus, to the leadership team at Houston Oasis, and to all of the volunteers who make Oasis happen on the ground for every meeting. The questions we received were excellent, and the lunchtime conversations and feedback were awesome. It was clear to Rex and me that y’all are deep thinkers who care about the world, and who do the hard work that is required to stay inclusive. This is an amazing, interesting, and friendly group of folks who are wonderful models of humanism and atheism, and Rex and I are looking forward to visiting again. The atheist and freethought community in the Houston are is fortunate to have such a strong organization there. Thank you so much for having us, and keep living out loud!
One of the things Rex and I encounter with disappointing frequency is the No True Scotsman fallacy. As former Christians who are now atheists and advocates for freethought, it is sometimes difficult for believers to accept that we were ever Christians to begin with. The argument usually goes something like: “No true Christian could ever fall away, so you couldn’t have really believed.” I’ve always tried to take this reply in stride. It’s not worth being offended about because it doesn’t really diminish me at all personally, and from the point of view to my counter-party it makes sense that some kind of rationalization would be necessary to help that person confront the difficult reality right in front of them: it is possible to be a true believer and then walk away. When you unpack that, even just a little, what you find is a person who’s intellect is already struggling with the idea that disbelief is even possible. There is cognitive dissonance there, right under the surface. The saddest thing of all is that this would have been an argument I might have used many years ago back in my Christian days if I had encountered a former Christian. There are several takeaways, I think. First, anytime you have a conversation with someone where you have taken ownership of non-belief, please don’t ever be offended at the responses you receive. Try to understand the interaction from the perspective of the person saying this to you. This is a potentially painful and personally challenging situation for that person. Second, when you see a flawed argument like this, point out (gently and politely) to the person that the argument they’re using is actually a common and well understood logical fallacy that actually has a name. Explain to them why its a fallacy (it’s circular – the premise and the conclusion are the same). And finally, remember that you’re a representative of freethought, and the behavior you model might stay in that persons mind forever. You’re planting a seed into the mind of a person who may never have encountered a non-believer before. You never really know how that seed may germinate.
One of the things that Rex and I hear all the time in conversations with believers is that life can only have real meaning if you believe in a deity of some kind. If you have listened to or watched our presentation on “Answering the Five Claims” you will have seen us spend some time on that, and if you’re a fellow skeptic you will likely already agree with us that the meaning in our lives is self-determined rather than ordained for us in advance by a supreme being. This is important. Frankly, this might be the ultimate freedom that comes from a rational skeptical world view like ours.
So here’s what I ask: tell us what makes your life meaningful. Let’s make our voices heard that we’re allowed to choose this meaning for ourselves.
Rex and I have the good fortune of being able to live “out loud” as atheists committed to free thought and rational inquiry. Our lives, families, and professional responsibilities are not hindrances and do not impose any filters on our ability to live openly as skeptics, but this is not true for some, and maybe even many, Americans. For many people, the pressure of family, the expectations of peers, or the potential professional implications of admitting to being an atheist on an open forum like Facebook, is a significant barrier in allowing you to outwardly live the life that your mind and your integrity have determined is right for you and correct in truth.
If you’re one of those people who for social, family, or professional reasons simply cannot admit to being an atheist or even a skeptic, know that we appreciate your silent moral support, and we who can live out loud will work to make America safer for you and for future generations to openly admit their skepticism without any negative consequences.
If you’re a believer and you assume that nobody around you could ever harbor any doubts about the faith you assume everyone shares with you, let me assure you that you’re wrong. Rex and I talk to these doubters all the time, some of whom even cautiously look both ways in the church hallway before admitting their doubts or even outright non-belief to us.
Rex and I are committed to helping America reach a place where the only consideration a person need consider in openly rejecting faith is that person’s own conscience.
I wish you all the best.
Skepticism is one of those frames of mind that we frequently apply but rarely think about. Everyone I know, believers and atheists alike, applies a healthy degree of skepticism to almost all aspects of their lives. When we’re driving, we don’t always assume that everyone will stop just because there is a stop sign. When we teach children how to cross a street we teach them to look both ways because it’s never safe to assume that a vehicle might be traveling in the wrong direction. Being skeptical doesn’t mean being pessimistic or doubtful, it just means that before we accept that something is true we make sure that the evidence in favor of it (whatever it might be) outweighs whatever evidence there might be against it.
But there is one part of life where, for some reason, even the smartest people sometimes set aside the completely normal skepticism that helps us all to make rational decisions in our day-to-day lives, and instead to accept a proposition not because of any evidence but because they *want* it to be true. And that part of life is sports teams. Got you! Trust me, that was funny!
Ok, it turns out that a lack of skepticism can come in several parts of our lives and while the teams we support in sports might be a good example, another one can be how we think about religion. At least in the sports context we usually admit to ourselves that supporting the home team is really a preference rather than a rational choice. Most religious believers do exactly the same thing with religion, but in that context they are frequently unable to admit it.
All the best! Go Cowboys! Go Rangers! Go Stars!