I can’t say dogmatic beliefs always bugged me as I was your typical non-practising Christian up until the age of about 13. At that age though, soon after my (voluntary) exodus from an Anglican high school, things about religion stopped making sense for me. Whilst I didn’t call my atheist then I was definitely without a religion but it wasn’t until some years later that I came across the identifier. For me the process of becoming atheist was one of mounting evidence overwhelming the scripture that was presented to me as gospel truth, pushing me down a path of rational thinking. Since then I’ve tried to focus much of life on evidence based ideals rather than succumbing to dogmatic ideas.
Since then the atheist movement has come a long way with many on and offline communities sprouting up. For someone like me who grew up not knowing any other atheists it’s been great to know that there are so many like minded people out there. Honestly though it’s not like I had much of a hard time with the idea, Australia as a general rule is pretty secular and someone’s religion is never really a topic of conversation. The only time I was close to some potential trouble was when I was meeting my now wife’s family who were devoutly religious, but even they were accepting of someone who was not of their faith (and to their credit didn’t even try to convert me).
What has started to irk me though is the rise of what I like to call Reddit Intellectuals. Don’t take the name too seriously (I’ve already had a couple long time Redditors take offence to it, but I mean no harm) as it’s not a rule I apply to all Redditors generally. More it’s symptomatic of communities and the group think that they generate, not something that I directly blame on Reddit itself. No the Reddit Intellectuals are those who have taken up the generally held beliefs of the wider Reddit community, usually under the atheist subreddit, as dogmatic principle without undergoing any kind of pragmatic process. For these people the ideas of the Reddit community are simply a straight up replacement for religion, held in the same high regard as believers hold in their faith.
The reason this rubs me the wrong way is because instead of rationally deciding that faith is not for them they are instead adopting someone else’s world view, in essence becoming dogmatic atheists. For me this greatly undermines the principle of the atheism, eroding the idea that we’ve looked at the evidence, decided that religion doesn’t make any rational sense and then left it on our own volition. To just simply “believe” the ideas of atheism means that you’ve put no rational thought into the idea and would just as likely have joined the Church of Cthulhu had they made a shiny website with an active community.
Indeed the problem isn’t just isolated to atheist circles, I could have easily coined the term Wikipedian Intellectuals to the same effect. Any online community has the tendency to generate individuals with dogmatic beliefs that reflect the majority’s opinion and depending on what that community is centred around that will determine what kind of followers they generate. Reddit and Wikipedia are just 2 examples of communities that generate people who believe they’re smarter than others simply because they can look up (or have already read) something on a website. In reality true understanding comes from being able to read those sources and then verify them with others. Just simply reading a site and not doing at least some rudimentary fact checking on it (and for something like Wikipedia that’s incredibly easy to do, they give you the links!) is akin to accepting dogmatic beliefs because you read them in a book that that nice guy at church gave you.
Thankfully people like this are the minority and are relatively easy to weed out once you start probing their knowledge. These communities also tend to be somewhat self correcting as once new evidence comes out that refutes a popular stance the rational actors amongst them will shift their view point much quicker than the dogmatic ones, making their identification quite easy.
Maybe its the engineer in me or the IT professional who’s run up against the saying “because this is the way we’ve always done it” far too often but I find dogmatic beliefs have a tendency to be harmful for both the individual and the group. The Reddit Intellectuals are just the symptom of those who have not developed the critical thinking skills to come to the same conclusions by themselves. I don’t pretend to know of a solution to this but if you find yourself believing something that’s been written on the Internet holistically without verification you might want take a step back. You could be one of the Reddit Intellectuals.
I’m not usually one to newsbot¹ but this article got me thinking in a direction that I wanted to share:
People with strong religious beliefs appear to want doctors to do everything they can to keep them alive as death approaches, a US study suggests.
Researchers followed 345 patients with terminal cancer up until their deaths.
Those who regularly prayed were more than three times more likely to receive intensive life-prolonging care than those who relied least on religion.
The team’s report was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
It suggests that such care, including resuscitation, may make death more uncomfortable.
Just over 30% of those asked agreed with the statement that religion was “the most important thing that keeps you going”.
Let it be known first that I like religion, it does a lot of good things for otherwise lost and direction-less people. It is very interesting to note this funny little bit of science and it does give rise to some interesting philosophical points.
It would seem that believers in religion would at the time of their deaths be more comfortable with the idea of passing onto the next plane of existence. Since they are guaranteed by their faith that there is something waiting for them on the other side that should put their mind at ease.
Or does it?
The time leading up to your death really becomes the ultimate test of your faith. You start thinking about your legacy, how you led your life and what will become of the world when you depart it. Then if that isn’t enough you will then start to think about whether or not you’ve lived your life close enough to the rules that were set out by your religion, and more likely then not all the things you’ve done wrong in that time. Needless to say this would lead to desperation more then acceptance, since you would want more time to reconcile your faults before passing on and receiving your final judgement.
Atheists on the other hand believe that there is nothing after death just as there was nothing for them before birth. If you’re truly in touch with that kind of belief (Atheists have faith to you know) then you know there’s nothing you can do to change it. Although I would postulate that before the point of no return, I.E. before the doctors have tried everything to save you and haven’t said “x days/hours to live”, they would behave much the same as the religious attempting every possible avenue to extend their mortal existence.
It may just be that the religious have more reason to continue living, since they have more work to do before they pass on.
After reading some discussion on this topic someone posted a quote that I’ve believed in most of my life, ever since I left Christianity as my religion:
“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” – Marcus Aurelius
It is interesting to note however the one flaw in this line of thinking. That the Gods and us share a similar line of thought, and our definitions of just and unjust are similar. Therefore, we can only assume (take in faith) that should the Gods be just and you live a good life that Marcus is correct.
¹Since I can’t find a definition for this word, I shall coin it now. Newsbot, when used as a noun, refers to a person/blog/entity that takes a story directly from the news and then takes some or all of the content and posts it on their site/medium with a small amount of additional detail, usually an opinion or drivel. When used as an adjective it refers to the process of hunting down news to regurgitate somewhere else in order to appear that you’re actually producing content, when really you’re just repeating someone else’s hard work and trying to add a bit of flavour. If you can’t guess already I think people who produce newsbot blogs don’t add any value, but that’s another post for another day 😉