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Ask An Atheist: What motivates you to be a contributor with Spokane Faith & Values?


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What do you want to Ask an Atheist? Submit your questions here.

Q. What motivates you to be a contributor with Spokane Faith & Values? As an atheist, has interfaith dialogue been a valuable experience in your life? What is your experience with other atheists including themselves in this endeavor?

A. Another excellent question.

I do believe that most people, regardless of their beliefs or lack of them, are pretty much OK folk if you get to know them, and that there is a “circle the wagons” mentality that can come into play whenever people with deeply divergent worldviews interact in relation to those views, as everyone starts defending their polar fortresses rather than trying to find common ground. I have also found though that the most truculent people I have met over the years don't fall into any simple category of believer or nonbeliever, which suggests to me that something deeper is going on with individuals than just where they sit on the religion/athiesm (or any other) spectrum.  Some of the most head-buttingly obtuse people I have ever met have been fellow atheists, and some of the dearest people I know are people of faith.

There is a concept I have developed that helps me sort some this mystery out, that I've dubbed the “torturcan” mind (Latin for turtle): people who have a knack for being not able to think about things they don't want to think about, and are functionally impervious to contrary evidence.  It developed because of my investigating the creation/evolution debate, as I had to figure out why some otherwise very bright and accomplished people could hold such untenable positions when it came to how life developed or regarding the history of Earth, and I realized the concept had broader implications, cutting a swath across what some people think are simple divides (intelligence, politics, religion).

I have, for example, got a few startled looks from some of my liberal atheist friends when I have noted that an example of a liberal Tortucan would be Noam Chomski, though I've also got some knowing nods too, as they discovered that they were not alone in having quesy feelings about how “reasonable” the verbose activist Chomski can be.  Anyway, anyone who wishes to explore my views on this Tortucan matter can google the word “tortucan” and a lecture video I did back in 2009 for the Kennewick Freethought Society will come up on Youtube.  I talk awfully fast in it though, and a written transcript of it is available at Panda's Thumb.

What do you want to Ask an Atheist? Submit your questions here.


Jim Downard
Jim Downard
Jim Downard is a Spokane native (with a sojourn in Southern California back in the early 1960s) who was raised in a secular family, so says had no personal faith to lose. He's always been a history and science buff (getting a bachelor's in the former area at what was then Eastern Washington University in the early 1970s).




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Paul Susac
Paul Susac
10 years ago

I’d like to chime in here too. I’m not a “contributor” in the sense of being a person who has a column, but I do feel that the discussions here are valuable, and I’d like to say why.

Spokane faith and values is a venue for talking about faith and values. As an atheist I care about these things. Many people seem to think that being an atheist means not HAVING values (this is a common bias in my experience). But in fact it is my values that inform my atheism.

I have a value of personal integrity and intellectual honesty. This means that I believe that I must be honest with myself about who I am, and about what I do and do not know, and why I know it. It is this value that has destroyed what little faith I was brought up to have. If I am honest with myself, I must admit that I don’t know who wrote the bible. I must admit that I don’t know if God exists. I must admit that the story of Genesis is completely inconsistent with observable facts about the world. I must admit that I cannot imagine how or why the torture and murder of one person (or deity) 2000 years ago can somehow “pay” for my moral failings.

Given these truths about myself, I cannot ascribe to faith, so I am an atheist. It is my value of honesty that destroys my faith. These and many other insights emerge out of my decision to keep my doubt foremost in my mind. Often this view of the world requires courage. Being aware of my uncertainty can be quite scary.

But faith or no faith I find myself living in a society where most people perceive the world differently than I do. So I find myself both fascinated and obligated.
• I am fascinated because people’s beliefs (while weird in my view) are a great window into understanding the person, and I like understanding people.
• I am obligated because as a person with a value of honesty, I often find people who are driven by faith to behave in ways I find morally objectionable. I wish to dialogue with those people in such a way to remind them of their own responsibility to doubt their own beliefs. A certain mind is a closed and dangerous mind.

So there you go. That’s why I do this.

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