The following is an interview with the writer for Reason Being: A Secular Humanist Site for Rational Discourse. Follow him on twitter @logicalbeing.
You were raised Catholic and went to Catholic schools. Do you think this foundation in, and later breaking from, faith has made you a more effective atheist activist? Would you have rather been raised by nonbelievers?
I am quite happy that I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic School. Like it or not, Christianity is a huge part of our culture. So many books, movies, and other parts of life have references to biblical stories. I am very glad that I know them. Catholic school was also important. It really helped to shape who I am. Sitting through religion classes in high school was a very important part of my development. It was there that I really started asking questions.
I am glad that I was raised by believers. I think my atheism is stronger because it was hard for me to reject the idea of god and to leave Catholicism. To make that leap required a ton of thought and strong convictions. I am not sure I would have felt as strongly as I do if I was raised in a non-religious family. That is hard to know for certain, but I certainly have no regrets.
I think it has made me a more effective atheist activist. My problems with Catholicism are where my activistism started, and where much of it is still focused. t wasn’t until later (in college and after) that I learned about other religions. If I was not raised Catholic, I am not sure I would have the inclination to be an activist.
About how much Christ have you eaten during your time as a Catholic? Was he delicious?
I have eaten a ton of Christ, and it is quite bland. From my first communion at age 7 through age 18 (when I went to college) we did not miss a Sunday mass. That is a lot of Christ. I stopped going to mass the day I moved away.
In school you took classes in theology, minored in philosophy and majored in political science. You mention in your “Road to Atheism” post that a class in Creation vs. Evolution was the final straw for your dwindling belief in a deity. With knowledge of science, psychology, philosophy and whatever else you have in your academic tool box, what field of study do you feel is most damning to religious faith?
That is a tough question. It is so hard to separate the different fields of knowledge from each other as I studied and continue to read on them all. For me it was a general knowledge of science and philosophy. In no way could I be considered a scientist, but I do read a good deal on theoretical physics, cosmology, some biology, etc. These fields and others are out there offering or at least trying to offer legitimate answers to some tough questions. Religion just does not add up when juxtaposed to science. I have written on numerous posts and firmly believe that Reason and Faith are not compatible.
Philosophy was important in my life for a few reasons. First, as a young atheist before the age of the internet, it was important for me to see that so many great thinkers were also atheists. They were so inspiring to me. Second, through the works of some of the great thinkers---Spinoza, Hume, Mill, etc I learned quite a bit, and once again religion did not hold up.
The Creation vs. Evolution class I took was offered by the philosophy department. It covered quite a bit of both science and philosophy. Many of classmates left that class with doubts on evolution, for me, religion did not stand up. I very much respect the professor I had, who was Catholic and almost became a priest, for tolerating and respecting mine and other similarly minded classmates.
Your blog generally tackles issues of Church and State. Now that you’re done with church, any chance you’d focus on State? Would ever want to run for office? (Assuming you aren’t already involved directly in politics.)
Church/State issues are very important to me as you point out. I do not have inclination to run for any political office. I can’t see myself doing anything more on just the “state” side of it than I am doing now, which is mostly through twitter. I have some real problems with the Republican Party in its current form, but much of that is tied into religion. The issues that are not religious in nature, such as their economic plans also trouble me, but not enough to be more of an activist than what I currently do.
As atheists, we often talk about the harm caused by religion. What do you see as the primary benefit of religion, if any?
This is a great question. I think the greatest harm caused by religion is the promotion of ignorance. Let me be clear, I do not think that all religious people are unintelligent or ignorant. However, religions promote ignorance by claiming to already have the answers. If we were to follow religion, much scientific study would cease. There would be no need to continue looking for answers to the origins of the universe for example. Stem cell research would end, closing the door on a field that may ease the suffering of millions. Ignorance is promoted through things like abstinence programs and opposition to contraception. Most religions treat women poorly, if we look at the bible alone, women are seen as second class citizens, what an ignorant view. This list could go on and on. In short, religions do not want us to ask the “tough questions”. Taking something on faith means to stop looking for a better answer. Our species is where it is because many people have rejected that idea and keep looking.
We could argue that Christianity was at its strongest during the “Dark Ages”, not a great title. Islam may be at its strongest now…how is that working out for much of the population of the Middle East? The promotion of ignorance really gets under my skin
Who is your atheist role model? Why?
I am not sure that I have one. I really enjoyed the writings and videos of Christopher Hitchens. I admired the fact that he would take on anyone and was such a great writer. I admire people like Jessica Ahlquist who, at such a young age, stood up for her convictions. I admire people like vjack at Atheist Revolution who are activists in a part of the country (the bible belt) where that is really hard to do. There are so many atheist activists out there doing great things it is hard to pick one as a role model, and there are so many others out there like those three examples as well. I admire any one of us who has the courage to speak up and stand by their convictions.
Is there anything that would convince you that there is a god? If so, provide an example.
I would need to see some concrete proof to believe in a god. No proof that is theological, philosophical, or metaphysical would really suffice. Those are all old news and I do not see anything new coming from those fields. I do not see how science will ever uncover a god, but if it did, through the scientific method, through the rigors of peer review, that could do it. I would buy something as simple as a mass prayer actually working to heal someone. I suppose there is a good reason why religions always reject that challenge i.e.—have all Catholics pray to heal a blind guy. If that kind of thing actually worked, I would be willing to rethink my view. In truth, I do not see any of those things happening.