Washington Post runs rare column that praises atheism

March 26, 2022 • 1:00 pm

With things going to hell in Eastern Europe and the U.S. sliding into wokeness, perhaps there’s one area where we can expect good news: religion seems to be inexorably disappearing ain the U.S., Canada, and most of Europe. “None-ness” is just a step from godlessness.

In fact, this is the first time since 2019 that the Post has published a pro-atheism editorial by a regularly contributing columnist (that was Max Boot calling for an atheist President of the U.S.), and the first time since 2011 that outside contributors were allowed to publish an atheist piece (“Why do Americans still dislike atheists?” by Greg Paul and Phil Zuckerman). Today’s contributing columnist is Brian Broome, who writes about “politics, culture and the African American perspective.” Atheism is hardly an African-American perspective, making this both both more unusual and more laudatory.

Click on the screenshot to read:

What turned Broome into a godless person is that Achilles Heel of theism: the presence of physical evil, like childhood cancers. No rational theologian can explain the conundrum that drove Broome over the line: innocent children suffering. If you’re going to be parsimonious about this, the most likely explanation, given the absence of evidence for God when there should be such evidence, is that there simply is no God. Alternatively, there could be a malicious or indifferent God, but that’s not how most Christians, Muslims, and Jews like their deities.

Broome spells it out plainly:

I was raised in a Christian household, and my family is still religious. But, at a certain point in my childhood, the whole thing stopped making sense to me. I couldn’t work out why a loving God would let so many children suffer. The idea of eternal life seemed to be a way for people to skirt their fear of death or assuage the pain of grief. I noticed that the things people told me God wanted were, more often than not, things that they wanted as well.

I didn’t give it up all at once. Like many people, I went on a spiritual quest. But, like some of those, I quit the hunt after a while.

I stopped looking for the meaning of life and instead decided to just live it.

Living life is of course finding its meaning, for as a determinist, I’m convinced that the “meaning of life” is simply our following our evolved program to do whatever gives us satisfaction.(Much of that involves family–reproduction–and garnering the approbation of others.)

Not only is Broome an atheist, but he also espouses some antitheism, even rarer in the “MSM”:

 I often think that faith in God can be just as self-serving as staring at yourself in a mirror. The way a religion is practiced too commonly reflects the person who is practicing it.

If you want to be rich, you can find a religion that tells you that’s what God wants you to be. If you’re a misogynist, you find a church that will reaffirm your misogyny. If you don’t like our politics, or some of our political leaders, there’s a pew with your name on it somewhere, maybe closer than you think. If you are a hateful person, there are preachers for that, too. I watch people cherry-pick their religious texts to find what they want and ignore the rest. It was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. who said that the most segregated hour in Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning.

We are not the only country where things work this way. For those who think it is a good idea to invade other countries, the battle cry will always be that God is on your side. Wars and atrocities have been committed in the name of religion throughout history. People fight over who’s doing religion right and who’s doing it wrong — or who are not doing it at all. Some religious leaders make no distinction between their role and that of their nation’s political ambitions.

Broome explains below why he think religion will inevitably vanish. (Like many, I don’t think it will ever disappear completely, but I’m confident even the U.S. will become as areligious as Scandinavia in the next hundred years):

Church attendance and membership have long been on the decline in America. My guess is that because many folks realize that fear is at the root of so much religious conviction, the proposition has become untenable. Those fears have led too many people of faith to police the way that others choose to live their lives.

Well, I don’t agree 100% with that. If divisiveness and policing caused movements to decline, wokeness would be on the wane. More important, though, I think there are better reasons. Mixed in with the avoidance of fear and divisiveness is the well-known negative correlation between how well people are doing in their lives and their religiosity. As people get better off, and have better access to food, shelter, medical care, and other amenities that bring security, their need to rely on an unhearing god wanes. And of course as science dispels mysteries once seen as evidence for god, that takes its toll, on faith as well. .

Whatever the causes, and despite the lies of those who tell us we NEED religion as a form of social glue (the “little people argument”), we can do just fine without faith. Just ask the Danes and Swedes.

h/t: Greg Paul for the link to this and the earlier columns.

20 thoughts on “Washington Post runs rare column that praises atheism

    1. Or much of the rest of the Old Testament. Goodly chunks of the New. Most of the Koran. At least half of the Greek myths…

      Cue Dawkins’ quote, “The God of the Old Testament is is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction…”

    2. Indeed, the Invisible Magic Friend has boasted:

      “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7)

      Especially the ‘evil’ bit.

      1. It’s fun (in a certain, limited sense of the term) to watch modern translations try to excise this. Usually, they translation the Hebrew word ra’ as “calamity” or maybe “distress.” I’ve got to admit, I don’t see how this materially improves their theology. In fact, it might be more reasonable to classify childhood cancers, tsunami and random accidents as “calamities” rather than “evil.” Which makes God responsible for them directly. Which makes Dawkins correct in his assertion.

  1. The Cathars (or Albigeois) had a perfectly rational solution to the problem of evil. Their postulate was that Satan is in charge here on earth, whereas God rules somewhere else, such as the moon.

    I’m not persuaded that improvements in living conditions explain the recent decline in faithism in the US. Income for a large part of the population has stalled for a generation, the younger generation faces worse prospects than previous younger generations (certainly those of the 50s, 60s, 70s), etc. etc.
    Could it be that publication of anti-theistic discourses (by our host among others) is having an impact? Or maybe the universal presence of digital devices reminds people that real science, not stories about the supernatural, is what works in the real world. If that is part of the explanation, then perhaps there is hope that the woke anti-science attitude will also falter among the general population, despite its current advance in the groves of academe.

  2. I couldn’t work out why a loving God would let so many children suffer.

    To the extent that the loving-god concept makes sense, that would rule out a loving god. I don’t think it rules out god.

    One cannot associate a truth value with just any statement — it has to be sufficiently concrete. This realization was important to the development of science. We learnt to formulate questions in ways that were amenable to rational, empirical investigation. Many religious statements that I have come across are grammatically correct nonsense to the point that truth values just do not apply, not even the agnostic position does. If one were to ask me if Lincoln was born on a Sunday, I can say I don’t know; but if one were to ask me if his shoes are married to each other, I can’t even say I don’t know. The local priest may as well tell me that his bloody shoes are married to each other. People talk about a creation out of nothing or about god hearing and responding to prayers without making precise what is meant by such statements. Just because you make up gibberish does not mean it has to exist. This is the problem with religion and religious people who bang on vacuously about their faith.

    Religion is not true or false — it does not even qualify for consideration.

  3. Quote: “I noticed that the things people told me God wanted were, more often than not, things that they wanted as well.”

    Indeed. A few quotes along that line:

    “Men create the gods after their own image, not only with regard to their form but with regard to their mode of life.” (Aristotle)

    “I don’t believe in any gods or goddesses, because they are so obviously human inventions. Desert-dwellers have severe, austere and dry gods; suffering and oppressed people have loving and merciful gods; farmers have gods of rain and fruitfulness, and I have never met a liberal who believed in a conservative god, or a conservative who believed in a liberal one. Every god I have ever heard of bears the indelible marks of human manufacture, and through history we can explain how and why we invented them.” (Andrew Copson).

    “God is a word to express, not our ideas, but the want of them.” (John Stuart Mill)

    “I distrust those people who know so well what god wants them to do, because I notice that it always coincides with their own desires.” (Susan B. Anthony)

    “And that what we call god’s justice is only man’s idea of what he would do if he were god.” (Elbert Hubbard)

    “Man created god in his image: intolerant, sexist, homophobic and violent.” (George Weinberg)

    “If triangles made a god, they would give him three sides.” (Montesquieu)

    “If horses had gods, they would look like horses.” (Xenophanes)

    1. One of the great ironies espoused by many modern American Christians:

      God is so mighty that he and his motives are above our puny human judgments. He is unknowable precisely because he is so vastly greater than we in every regard.

      Now, let *me* tell you *exactly* what he thinks and wants you to do….

  4. My guess is that a post-Christian America will look nothing like Scandinavia. In America, religion will be replaced by all kinds of irrational beliefs and ideologies.

    1. Well, it happened. One could explain the irrational veneration of an idiot called Trump a religious fervor, just like the ancient Egyptians believed that their pharaohs were gods.

  5. “If divisiveness and policing caused movements to decline, wokeness would be on the wane.”

    I think this is because cancellation affects so few people relative to the number of those doing the cancelling. When people lose their jobs or their platforms, they tend to disappear from the battle, allowing those who might otherwise object to simply ignore it. There’s also the tendency of those in charge to dismiss the offender rather than actually investigate. People just seem to disappear, as they do in Russia and Ukraine right now.

    I believe that Wokeness may actually be on the wane though it can’t happen fast enough for me. The Republicans and the MSM pundits are all telling the Democrats that they are endangering their political futures by allowing it to continue. More and more people are realizing that it is a big problem. When the Dems lose big in November, as they are expected to do, there will be even more soul searching. But there’s still a long, long way to go before we’re done with it.

  6. It’s endlessly frustrating to me that the world still has this weird phenomenon of theism to deal with. All the ritual, the efforts at justification, the endless words written and spoken to defend it, to criticize it, to partake, to reject. So much human capital devoted to it. Imagine it all gone—all of it, the practices, the defenses, the critiques, the art in its name, the literature, the violence perpetrated on its behalf. The amount of talent and treasure that could have been (in the past) and could be (now and in the future) made available to useful ends without the yoke of religion is difficult to comprehend. The mind boggles to imagine how much better off we would be without it.

    1. Yes, it is unbelievable how six-years olds are brainwashed with religion all over the world. That the UK supports religious schools financially, for example, is entirely unacceptable. Growing up in Belgium, I was taught in a Catholic school that skipping church on Sunday’s was a mortal sin and you would be punished by burning in hell if you would not confess it. I was terrified because my mother did not go to church. But by age ten I realized that religion was nonsense (mainly by reading “Mecki im Schlaraffenland”). During final exams in high school I was flunked by the black frocks because I said that I had read “La Religieuse” by Diderot. Fortunately we had state exams that superseded the Catholic school exams. Fortunately Belgium has turned quite atheistic since the 1970s.

      1. Very interesting. I was never so deeply indoctrinated as to be fearful, thank goodness.

        When my beloved uncle Maynard died of brain cancer at age 30 in 1967 when I was ten years old, I asked my parents why he had to die. Clearly they didn’t have a good answer and they knew it, offering—tentatively—that God must have wanted him. Pondering that answer as a ten year old, I couldn’t imagine why God would need a pharmacist in heaven, or why his three young children and wife—bereft here on Earth—wouldn’t need him more. Even at age ten, I had the good sense to think the idea of a benevolent God as highly suspect.

        When the Project Gemini astronauts repeatedly blasted into space in the 1960’s without once encountering heaven, I rejected the idea permanently on empirical grounds. I was a ten year-old kid. (It appears that age 10 was the turning point for both of us.) I was a smart kid, probably smarter than most, but I don’t think that any child left to his or her own devices would ever invoke a benevolent supreme being as a explanation for anything. Without systematic coercion, no child would grow up believing in God.

  7. Looking at this from an Australian perspective I’m not sure that religion is disappearing so much as mutating.

    On one hand each successive census shows a decline in the number of people identifying as Christian. And church no longer has the political and cultural power it once had. On the other hand Christianity has largely been replaced by a civic cult based around Aboriginal people. Most public events start with an acknowledgement of the local indigenous people, schools and universities increasing incorporate ‘Indigenous ways of knowing’ into their programs. The last time I was in a church, and a fairly conservative, evangelical church at that, I noticed an Aboriginal flag by the pulpit and a statement acknowledging the local Indigenous elders prominently displayed.

    Nor has the decline in Christian belief seen an end to the persecution of ‘heratics,’ questioning acknowledgements of country is not a good career move, as illustrated by a recent controversy in my home town.

  8. Re “Alternatively, there could be a malicious or indifferent God, but that’s not how most Christians, Muslims, and Jews like their deities.”

    A third alternative, and one often cited by believers, goes something like this:

    The rape, torture and murder of a child is “good” in the sense that it fits into their omniscient, omnibenevolent god’s ultimate plan, which is by definition, “good.” It’s just that we puny humans cannot possibly understand how the suffering of the child, or the god’s privileging of the murderer/torturer’s “free will” over that of the child, fits into the whole, wonderful plan.

    This variation does ultimately depend on a sort of “might makes right” argument. In some ways, it’s why I view the Muslim notion of submission to an all-powerful deity as more rational (though no more true) than the pretzel-logic of Christians who must believe that the all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing deity is both loving and tolerant of incredibly suffering that it could, presumably, stop if it wished.

    1. I wonder how this apologetic survives. A higher, mysterious good still has to have a beneficiary who isn’t necessarily you or me. Slaves can be said to suffer in service to a master’s mysterious good plan but it’s not good for the slave. And even if we are all mysteriously beneficiaries of the mysterious good, how do they explain the gross inequality in how much each of us suffes for it?

  9. My favorite quote from the play, “Inherit the Wind”: “The lord God created Man in His own image, and Man, being a gentleman, returned the compliment”. I’ve cited this quote before (I apologize for any inaccuracy). The quote obviously was written before the days of gender quality.

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