Sunday, April 5, 2009

Arrogant Atheist

This is a term which we have all heard at one time or another. But what does it mean? What are the implications of arrogance in this sense? Are we arrogant? Do we infringe on the rights of others privately held beliefs by challenging them openly?

This is a very difficult question for me.

Recently it was suggested that people close to me feel that questioning a persons beliefs is rude, that asking for a person to explain an idea is insulting, and uncalled for.

I have a very hard time accepting this.

I was raised in the church (although my family was never a very dogmatically driven family) but the single most important lesson that I learned in my childhood was to use the faculties of my intellect in examining the things that I do and in the things that surround me. These critical thinking skills were taught, encouraged and not only gave iron to the words that I spoke but gave me the courage to speak them. This attitude of courageous critical inquiry has served me very well throughout my life and now it seems to fail me.

Why is it wrong?

Is it arrogant?

Is it wrong to question the belief of another in this realm of discussion?

I have thought long and hard about this in recent years and in doing so I examined the evidence.

Lets look at this evidence.
In entering in to any discourse it is first important to understand the parameters in which we can operate. Definitions are needed before we can continue. First, how can we define the attitude of which we are accused of possessing? Unabridged (v 1.1)
defines arrogance as " (an) offensive display of superiority or self-importance; overbearing pride."
Next lets define Atheism. You may see this as needless, but we will talk about why it is important soon enough.
This definition is harder to obtain because of the cultural bias involved in (or against) the term. So we will rely on the entomology of the words meaning from ancient Greek as this will provide the truest meaning without the colouring of hundred of years of atheists being heritecs and ascribing terms of certainty to it. It stems from the Greek adjective atheos, deriving from the alpha privative a -,'without, not', and 'theos', 'God'. So by defintion A-Theism, means without god or a LACK of belief and not a claim of certainty.
Lastly I think that we should define belief.
Belief-"any cognitive content held as true". I use this as the definition because many defintions of it are again coloured by religious context and I feel that this is a definition that wecould all agree upon.

These definitions are important because now we must examine the belief system to which we have placed ourselves in direct opposition. That system being....

Def:"Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing."

Religious faith to be more exact. We have, by responding to the god claim, set ourselves up in opposition to faith.

So now we need to examine the context of the claim of Atheist Arrogance.

This was a much heavier undertaking than I had expected. In researching what atheist arrogance meant in a cultural context I found an overwhelming number of sources. I found literally hundreds of websites and books dedicated to the derision of athiest arrogance.
Where the answer to the question started to become less muddled was when I was reading the cited examples of this arrogance. I will list a few;

1."The insolence of the FFRF marches on as shown in this pathetic example of disrespect.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation in Washington state has asked for and been granted permission to install a plaque in the Washington State Capitol next to a Nativity scene which reads in part:

“There are no gods, no devils, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”"
Is this arrogance or is this equal rights to expression of opinion? If the nativity can clearly show an almost historical certainty in asserting not only the existence of god but the historical veracity of the stories surrounding it, then why is it disrespectful to for "militant atheists" to display their take on religious claims? Shouldn't free speech be available to all?

2. "EDMONTON - Ian Bushfield wants God off the program when University of Alberta students line up in caps and gowns next spring to get their degrees and to remove the reference to God in the traditional convocation speech delivered by the chancellor. (In the speech, the chancellor urges those in mortar boards to use their newly granted parchments for "the glory of God and the honour of your country.")
Is this arrogance? Atheism is currently 19-30% of the population according to the Zuckerman poll of 2005 so why should we be subjected to speeches about what we consider myths or simply have no stated belief about? Surely the faithful wouldn't tolerate an ATHEIST speech. How quickly we forget that freedom OF religion is also freedom FROM religion in order to protect us all (including the different denominations of the faithful)
3. A further example of what the faithful think is arrogant;
"A county government in Wisconsin will no longer open its meetings with prayer, against the will of the majority.The Dodge County Board of Supervisors has traditionally opened their meetings with prayer for years, until newly-elected Supervisor Dean Fuller complained it was unconstitutional. The Associated Press reports board chairman Russell Kottke received a letter from the atheist Freedom from Religion Foundation, claiming prayer is illegal and suggesting the meetings be opened with a moment of silence."
This brought great offense to the faithful who heard of this action to ban prayer in a government meeting. This is a sign of arrogance? To wish that all citizens be free to believe as they wish and to protect those whose beliefs are not congruous with the majority is a display of unforgivable arrogance? This is protection for not only atheists, (for why would an atheist feel the need to pray?) but for followers of other religions whose sensibilities are offended by being forced to partake in prayer to a god that is not their own.

The number one complaint about atheist arrogance however is the complaint that we question god, that we ask for evidence, that we uncover the harms that unquestioning faith causes and ask for justification and it is utmost arrogannce that we think that we are right and that the faithful are wrong. These are our most eggregious crimes. Crimes when placed together with our request for the distancing of church and state (for the protection of all) label us as militant, arrogant, blasphemous and immoral.
When we look at the definitions that we previously deliniated it is true that a picture of arrogance is being painted. Arrogance that flies in the face of questioning or differentiating beliefs. Arrogance that screams offence when asked permission for someone elseto have a free and equal voice. Arrogance that refuses to explain its position and that feels it is rude to even be asked to discuss it. Arrogance that thinks it is right with no hope of being convinced otherwise and accuses anyone who disagrees of being arrogant.
They are right. Atheist arrogance DOES exist, strangely though it is not exhibited by atheists. It is exhibited by the very theists who accuse us of being arrogant.

By the very definitions that we established in the beginning it is the believer who is arrogant.
An offensive display of superiority or self-importance? Overbearing pride and self importance is displayed in every offence felt by an atheistic word, every attempt to call an atheist immoral simply because their opinions differ, in every public prayer that is forced on us with no regard to the belief of its audience, in the making of every claim that theirs is the only belief that needs no reason or evidence and mostly in the hatred that is directed towards those who deny their god claim.

Is there any other "cognitive content held as true" that the holder would espouse an ireful response to the question of why? It is the height of arrogance to place their belief above reproach and as the ONLY belief system that can't be challenged. In a society that is free to challenge, political, social, economical, philosophical, parental, and psychological beliefs why is the ecumenical system the only one that is immune to this skeptical inquiry? The reason lies in 9 letters;

In any other area of discource if you made a claim to certainty you would be burdened with a very heavy responsibility for evidenciary justification. With the arrogant, they feel that this is beneath them. They need evidence or justification and if you disagree then you are immoral, arrogant, militant and seek only anarchy. Clearly this is the arrogance of which we sought.

We force our beliefs on a defenseless crowd who isn't interested? This is a common complaint and we now look at why we speak up in defence of reason.

Religion is forced on us in every phase of life.

Song-"God is great" -What if God were one of us? -Joan Osborne
Euphemism- "God bless you" -for sneezing
Patriotism-"God keep our land" -Oh Canada
Swearing-"JESUS CHRIST!!! or GOD DAMMIT!!"
Landscape- There are churches and garish steeples omnipresent in every corner of every city
Grief- "God took him, it was in gods plan"
Sports-"God was on our side tonight"
War-"God is on our side"
Politics-Prop 8, nuff said!

I could go on and on, but the point is that we are inundated with religion every minute of every day. Is it really so arrogant to ask to have a voice of our own without being branded? It is exactly BECAUSE religion is so arrogantly placed in our every day lives that we feel lost in the face of it. It is because we see how it hurts people and because we know that we have no right to question, it is because of the science that religion exists to refute that we feel that reason needs a voice.

But what about within the confines of their own rules? Could they be a victim of their own dogma in that religion should be unquestioned?

“But sanctify the Lord God in your heart, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15)

God commands the faithful to give defense when asked for evidence supporting their belief. Do they obey?
Those who accuse us of arrogance are beyond their own god's dictates in this. Their arrogance is so great that they disobey their own tenets and their put their own salvation at risk by refusing to justify belief because of the offence the feel because there are those who disagree.


Maybe there is a the key to this question that we haven't yet examined. When we look at this again with a clear eye and an open mind we may find that arrogance is not at the root of the problem.

When someone claims 100% certainty, there is a calm that accompanies the certainty of that belief. A calm that belies that all struggle to search for truth is over. A calm that can't be disrupted by anything but frustration in that others may not be able to see the truth that you have struggled in your search to see. A calm, contentment and peace that comes with knowing the answer. Do you get offended when someone asks you how you know that 2 plus 2 is 4? Do you feel the sweaty palms of uncertainty after you have solved a quadratic equation? Do you call those who disagree with you arrogant when you have proof to back your conclusion? Do you get angry when others wish to discuss how you came to such a wonderous conclusion if the facts are at your command?

I would think that we can all agree that the answer to these questions is a resounding no.

Is there another emotion that we can atttribute to these negative responses?
Is there a description that might more fully fit someone who lashes out when questioned, who finds offence in those who disagree or ask for evidence, who refuses the dictates of he who offers salvation for suplication?

I can see more clearly now, that there is.


Fear to be asked to explain the unexplainable
Fear to defend the indefensible
Fear to have your world view shaken
Fear of being wrong on such an important question
Fear of admitting complicitude to the harms with which faith has plagued the world
Fear of having to examine decisions made under that assumption
Fear of what life without that belief might be

Until now, I didn't realize that Atheist Arrogance was a description from theists for the embodiment of their own fear.

Don't worry theists, we are afraid of faith too.


  1. I have to agree with you as far as I have read this. If I wasn't headed to work would finish it.

  2. The irony of saying that atheists are arrogant is the fact that the people call us arrogant atheists are the same people who proclaimed some book written a few thousand years ago about a zombie saviour, smacking around women, selling your daughter to slavery, etc, without any concrete, or for that matter, circumstantial evidence of the book's validity to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth and if you say other wise god will smite you. Cool. When do they start putting on the jack boots and the black uniforms and marching on France?

  3. Good post Jay. A lot of theists do however believe that freedom of Religion definitely does not mean freedom from religion, and in any voluntary sense of the word I agree.

    Absolute freedom from religion would mean that no one could be subject to seeing a church on a street corner, or a Priest Walking down the road, and that would be a kind of totalitarianism that I could never condone.

    Where we do have a right not to be assailed by Religious dogma and trappings is in the public realm, by which I mean any and all governmental, political, and social events, programs, edicts and occasions of a purely secular nature and purpose.

    I'm old enough to remember being forced to stand for the lords prayer in school. I have also been ordered in the span of my military career to attend religious services. That is definitely not what was meant by freedom of religion.

    Interestingly enough both of those abuses occurred after the repatriation of the Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms listed freedom of religion as a central tenant. Even though the preamble to the CCRF itself states "Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:" Imagine placing the "supremacy of god" before the rule of law in a legal document... Well I guess old habits die hard and the religious majority is not afraid of using the apparatus of government to enforce its majority position, which in a democracy means 51% get to make 49% shut up and stop being arrogant. ;)