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Why Religious Believers Are So Desperate for the Atheist Seal of Approval

Many religious believers are intent on getting atheists' approval for their beliefs. If you're hoping for that -- don't hold your breath.

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I'll stop here for a Fairness Moment. Yes, most atheists understand that different religions are, you know, different. And I'm one of them. We get that some religions do more harm than others; that some religions are more out of touch with reality than others; that some religions are more grossly contradicted by hard evidence than others. (We understand, for instance, that theistic evolution, while having no good reason whatsoever to believe it and in fact being flatly contradicted by a mountain of evidence, isn't quite as outlandishly bonkers as young-earth creationism.)

Some of us -- and again, I'm among them -- will even say that, if the only religions in the world were the tolerant, ecumenical, moderate and progressive forms of religion, we wouldn't care all that much about it. We'd see it about the way we see urban legends about alligators in the sewers and whatnot: just another silly mistaken idea that some people are mysteriously attached to. We'd still disagree with it, we'd still argue against it if you asked our opinion... but we wouldn't be devoting time and energy to building a community of people who don't believe it, or to persuading people who do believe it out of their beliefs.

And, of course, we think you have the right to your beliefs. Absolutely, passionately, without question. We think your beliefs are full of beans... and if anyone tries to use force or violence or law to stop you from believing it, we'll sock them right in the jaw. Or at least vote to get them out of office.

But for majority of atheists, that's the most you're going to get out of us.

We don't believe in God. Any god. Not Pat Robertson's, not Osama bin Laden's -- and not yours. That's what it means to be an atheist. If we were impressed by your religion and thought it had real merit, we wouldn't be atheists anymore. Asking us which religion is the least harmful or the least out of touch with reality or the least contradicted by reason and evidence... it's like asking which of the Bee Gees is the least annoying. They're all annoying. And all religions are harmful, out of touch with reality, and contradicted by reason and evidence.

And... okay, this next bit is going to sound a bit harsh. But frankly, we don't think your religion is even all that interesting. We've seen it before. You may have an odd little twist on it that we're not familiar with, and we might be somewhat curious about it. But the apologetics and theodicies and defenses are all depressingly familiar. I've been blogging about atheism for many years now, and it's been a very long time indeed since I've seen a defense of religion that I've never seen before. (The Argument From Tigers was the last one. And it didn't exactly provoke serious searching of my non-existent soul. Mostly it provoked months of gut-blasting hilarity.)

In fact, in the years that I've been writing about atheism and debating with religious believers, I've actually become more confident in my atheism. I've become more confident because I see the same bad arguments for religion over and over and over again. And over. And over. And over yet again. Sometimes I think that if I see the argument from design one more time, or the God of the gaps, or "different ways of knowing," or "you can't disprove it with 100-percent certainty, therefore it's reasonable to believe it," or Pascal's freaking wager, I'm going to have an aneurysm. Whenever I see someone make an argument for religion, I still have moments of wondering, "Is this going to be the argument that convinces me?"... but those moments are becoming shorter and shorter every day, to the point where I'm measuring them in nanoseconds, and every day my hope that I'll see something surprising dwindles just a little bit more.

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