The following is an interview with Ken, the Arizona Atheist, of The Skeptic Ink Network.
In your past, you found some value in the teachings of Buddism. What would you say to an atheist who dismisses Buddism as just another false religion?
I would say that the atheist is correct. Buddhism is another false religion, at least in certain aspects. I do believe some of its philosophy can be useful and makes a lot of sense (such as their view that it's best to live in the present moment). However, I wholeheartedly disagree with Buddhism’s belief in reincarnation and their concept of “non-attachment.” For a few years I tried to attain this state of “non-attached” living but it proved impossible. When I studied Buddhism formally for a short time I asked two different monks about how to attain this state and I never got a straight answer. I came to the conclusion that their idea of “non-attachment” was a lot of nonsense. I later realized that as human beings it's in our nature to become attached to loved ones and other things. I don't buy their view (as was expressed in one of my books on Buddhism) that if one is able to attain non-attachment you will be able to love something to an even greater extent because you will not be concerned with losing that object of affection. So, basically, I view Buddhism as another false belief system, but at the same time it does have some beneficial teachings.
Was there a particular argument for God that you found, at least at one time, the most convincing? If so, why?”
Yes. When I first began learning about the reasons Christians believe I was somewhat convinced (though still a bit skeptical) by the first cause argument and the argument that near-death experiences and out-of-body-experiences were possible evidence for an after life. I had read a book titled God: The Evidence: A Reconciliation of Faith and Reason in a Postsecular World, by Patrick Glynn and some of his arguments seemed plausible to me in the beginning. The reason, regarding the first cause argument, was because at the time it seemed to make sense. The idea of cause of effect is naturally intuitive and I fell for it. Regarding OBE's and NDE's all of the stories seemed to match what Christians said about heaven and if life force could come out of their bodies what might this mean for the view that humans were merely another piece of matter? Also at this time I took many of these personal testimonies about OBE and NDE experiences at face value, never really questioning them. But after learning more about these subjects during my personal quest to discover the truth about whether or not there was a god I found that these were not good arguments. They were flawed, both logically and factually.
When you were exploring your belief in God, was there any book/film/blog or any other work that you found most influential in your progress to atheism? What was it and how did if affect you?
There were several books, documentaries, and websites. I read Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, as well as the other New Atheist authors. Bart D. Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus was also highly influential. Later on, when I began to have a lot of doubts about religion, I read John W. Loftus' book Why I Rejected Christianity: A Former Apologist Explains, which aided in helping me see the falsity of religious belief. These books influenced me by showing me the flawed thinking of religious believers and the harm that religion can cause. A highly influential website was the Talk Origins Archive where I did much of my research about evolution and creationism. The website was invaluable to me in determining the truth or falsehood of several creationist claims I came across.
Another source were debates between atheists and believers on YouTube. I watched so many of those debates and listened closely to each person's arguments. The non-believers seemed to me to have the edge because their responses made the most logical sense and in most cases their evidence and reasoning were more compelling. This is a large part of how I began learning about all these issues.
Finally, watching Richard Dawkins' documentaries, such as The Root of All Evil, was highly influential in my thinking about religion.
How did the idea to start Skeptic Ink (formerly Skeptic Blogs) come about? What made you want to be a part of it?
Out of the blue I received an email from John Loftus asking if I'd like to join this new network of atheists he was creating. After thinking it over I decided to join. There were a few motivations for joining. First, I thought it would be a fun opportunity to be among some very talented atheist writers such as Loftus and Nicholas Covington, author of the Answers in Genesis Busted blog. I've been reading his blog for years. Second, I was very flattered that such a big time blogger and author John Loftus would ask little old me, who is barely a blip on the radar. That's my perception anyway. Maybe I'm more well known than I think? I was so flattered that he asked I would have felt bad had I said no. A third motivation was being linked to such big names, which would greatly help in giving me and my work much greater exposure.
Who is your favorite influential atheist? Why?
This is a tough one. I don't really have a “favorite” atheist. I think there are many atheists who do an excellent job of disseminating information about atheism and the errors of religious/supernatural thinking. However, when I was a budding atheist Richard Dawkins and the other New Atheists were highly influential. I've read all of Dawkins' books and I've enjoyed all of the documentaries he's done, especially The Root of All Evil? and The Enemies of Reason. He is so eloquent and much of what he says just made a lot of sense to me. He definitely influenced my thinking early on. Other atheists who have influenced me over the years to a degree are John Loftus, Victor Stenger, and Richard Carrier. I agree with many of their conclusions and I think they articulate their positions and their views well. I don't agree with everything they say obviously, especially regarding Carrier, but I think they all do good work over all.
What do you see as the most harmful aspect of religion?
Definitely religion's tendency to inculcate “blind faith” in sometimes harmful beliefs, such as the view that sex is sinful, or that women should be covered from head to toe (which is another expression of the suppression of very natural sexual urges). Religion also often encourages acceptance of other silly beliefs like the occult, witchcraft, and things like this, that have no evidence for them whatsoever. Many times this “blind faith” in a particular belief is held without justification and no amount of evidence will shake them from it. I agree with Richard Dawkins who says that to the religious mind “blind faith” is a virtue and that this belief should be challenged. I think evidence should be sought for all beliefs one decides to hold, and those reasons ought to be carefully scrutinized. And of course, many of the beliefs religious people hold can often lead to certain violent acts, like the murder of abortion doctors.
If you could incorporate any aspect of religion into your life or the life of others without the mythology, what would it be and why? (bonus, how would you incorporate it?)
I have actually already done this with my adoption of several Buddhist teachings when I was a teenager. Even to this day some of the teachings still help me to get through tough times in life. Of course, these ideas (such as living in the present moment) aren't particularly religious. I've heard psychologists advocating such views. As for how I would implement it it was actually very easy. The Buddhist teaching of living in the present moment was probably the single most important idea that I took. When I hit the age of about 16-17 I fell into a deep depression over all of the years of teasing I endured because of my prosthetic leg (I've detailed these events at my blog). Rather than just trying to let it go and forget about it, I allowed the cruel things people said to me to continually reverberate inside my head. Over the years I played back the things people said to me over and over until I began to believe the things they were saying. Through Buddhism I realized a way that I could stop this cycle and over a period of about six months I stopped thinking about all these bad things, and I lived in the present moment. Eventually, these bad memories became more and more faint until I almost never thought about them. That's in a nutshell how I applied that particular Buddhist teaching. Looking back it seems so simple, but at the time the idea seemed revolutionary. I suppose I was just locked into a mindset of self pity and locked into this habit, or pattern of thinking, that I had trouble breaking free from. It took this idea to help me break that cycle.