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Is Atheism an Intellectual Luxury for the Wealthy?

Chris Arnade wrote an interesting article in the Guardian with this title.  I'm fascinated because Chris is an atheist who worked on Wall Street and then became a photographer of homeless people in the South Bronx.  He reveals the humanity of his subjects and their beauty amidst the brokeness in their lives.  In his conclusion he reveals his startling thought:

They have their faith because what they believe in doesn't judge them. Who am I to tell them that what they believe is irrational? Who am I to tell them the one thing that gives them hope and allows them to find some beauty in an awful world is inconsistent? I cannot tell them that there is nothing beyond this physical life. It would be cruel and pointless. 

In these last three years, out from behind my computers, I have been reminded that life is not rational and that everyone makes mistakes. Or, in Biblical terms, we are all sinners. 

We are all sinners. On the streets the addicts, with their daily battles and proximity to death, have come to understand this viscerally. Many successful people don't. Their sense of entitlement and emotional distance has  numbed their understanding of our fallibility.

Soon I saw my atheism for what it is: an intellectual belief most accessible to those who have done well.

 http://www.alternet.org/belief/atheism-intellectual-luxury-wealthy?page=0%2C1

I read the article reposted on Alternet, where he gets hammered in the discussion boards for defending the "silly crutch" of religion.  Since I worked in a homeless shelter, I saw a kindred spirit in this atheist who could see everyone's humanity, so I posted this reply:

 

I was a program manager for homeless programs for 8 years and saw profound and beautiful faith of people bearing painful lives, brokenness that started very young. Thanks for giving voice to them, in words and photos. The faith of many people would not stand up to my own seminary-trained reasoning, but this faith often helps people move forward in recovery and healing. What people need most to move on from the shelter was hope. I could offer programs and life skills groups and job training, but if there was no hope, it did not matter. If an intellectually inconsistent and confused faith gives hope, helps people love and carry on, who am I to knock it down? In truth who among us really is totally consistent?  

Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke at my church last Spring and someone skewered him about supporting production of parts for the F-35 fighter jet in Vermont while claiming to be against wasteful military spending. Bernie basically said, "Bingo, you got me. Some tech companies in Vermont also make military-related stuff. But I'm tired of people saying, 'I can't support you, Bernie, because I only agree with you on 99 percent of the issues.' Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."  

Logic and reason is not always the best test of a human being. I'm going to be religious here for a moment and quote that crazy, confusing book called the Bible. "By their fruits you shall know them." (from Jesus in Matthew) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Apostle Paul to the Galatians.) Whether you are a Christian, atheist, Muslim, or anything else, if you embrace this kind of life, my heart is glad for it.


Bill Maher and Michael Moore just don't get progressive religion...

Michael Moore and Bill Maher are still missing the point. Many of us are both liberals AND Christians or Jews or Muslims. We do take on the extremists in our sermons, and feed and house the homeless, fight for GLBTQ people, and yet Bill continues to paint all of us with the same brush. Maher's critique of Islam paints Malala Yousefzai, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, with the same brush as ISIS. Neither Moore or Maher seem to get that many of us act for love and justice BECAUSE of our religion.

Here is Moore's full defense of Maher's argument with Ben Afleck:

By Michael Moore (@MMFlint)

Bill Maher is a friend of mine. He stood up for me when I was attacked after my Oscar speech (given on the fourth night of the Iraq War, a war Bill publicly opposed while 70% of the country, including the majority of Democrats in the U.S. Senate, supported it), and I stood up for him when ABC fired him and cancelled his show when he attempted to stop the hysteria and fear-mongering after 9-11 -- resulting in the Bush White House publicly ordering him to watch what he says -- or else. When Bill got his HBO show, he went on a 7-year tear against the Bush administration and became one of our most unapologetic and unrelenting voices against the insanity being shoved down our throats. 

I, for one, am glad there's at least one top comedian who isn't afraid to say the word "capitalism" or give credence to the good of socialism.
You may not agree with Bill on everything. Yet I'm guessing you love it when he goes after the Uterun Police/Protectors of Child Rapists (also known as The Vatican), or when he brilliantly satirizes the crazy Christian Right which has controlled much of our politics for the past 33 years. I certainly do. 

But when Bill goes after Islam, or crazy people professing to be Muslim, we grow uncomfortable. Why is that? Because when he bravely ridicules and attacks Christian assassins of abortion doctors who cite the Bible as justification for their evil acts, we heartily applaud him. But when he mercilessly stomps on Islamic assassins who cite the Koran, we grow uneasy. Why the switch on our part? Is it because Bill doesn't just stop with the Islamic assassins -- he thinks anyone who follows the Koran is a bit nuts? Or the Bible or the Talmud or the... you name it. He thinks it's all coo coo for cocoa puffs. 

I have, when I'm on Bill's show, told him there are far more examples historically of the death and destruction that Christians have brought to the planet, from the Crusades to the Inquisition to the wiping out of Native Americans to the Holocaust. But he points out that, in truth, the Jesus followers seem to have taken a break lately in their genocidial lust -- and that the debate should be about the present; i.e., which religion is now doing most of the terrorizing?

Though I would maintain that it is still the Judeo-Christian West whose armies and banks and institutions keep much of the third world under a heavy economic boot, resulting in a lot of hunger, suffering and death, Bill asks, "If I draw a cartoon of Jesus in a dress, will Christian leaders issue a call to assassinate me?" 

I can't speak to Bill's drawing skills, but it's safe to say that in the USA he can draw whatever he wants. In fact, other than those murdered abortion doctors, a hundred bombed or ransacked Planned Parenthood clinics and a few people like me, there are not many activists or artists who have to worry about Baptists blowing up their homes. Sinead O'Connor was not beheaded for beheading a photo of the Pope on NBC. Your middle name can be 'Hussein' and you can still win the state of Virginia if you're running for President. 

Sure, I can make a daily list of all the horrible things so-called Christians still do in this country. Rarely, though, do their actions involve decapitation.

But if you're a Dutch filmmaker who makes a movie about violence against women in some Islamic countries, or if you're a Danish cartoonist who draws an image making fun of the Prophet -- well, you are then either shot to death or you are now in hiding.

So if Bill is taking the same exact position liberals usually take whenever we see free speech being threatened, or women being abused or people forced to submit to fundamentalist dictates, why then is he facing any criticism for speaking out against these wrongs? When Christians do these things we speak up -- loudly. So why not speak out when Muslims do it? 'Cause it's none of our business? Isn't it?

I think I may have a couple answers as to why some liberals are uncomfortable with Bill's humor when it comes to Islam:

1. We have witnessed, since 9/11, Arabs and Muslims in this country undergoing huge amounts of prejudice, bigotry and sometimes outright violence. This sickens us (as I know it does Bill). So we are extra sensitive to what sounds like, as it goes through the liberal filter in our ears, any "anti-Arab" comments. We don't want to hear anything even remotely anti-Muslim. But we have to be careful that this doesn't stop us from listening to legitimate criticisms about things that go on in the Muslim world. I just think that, due to our illegal actions (invasions) of the past decade, our government lacks any moral authority on this and should be forbidden from any attempts to "fix" those problems. 

2. Liberals are intensely fed up with these two wars against mostly Muslim populations (not to mention the indiscriminate drone strikes on at least four other nations). And now the party that won the elections last Tuesday would like a war with Iran. An ignorant American public was manipulated with fear and lies to start and maintain the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars -- and that manipulation continues today in order to justify things like the mass spying by the NSA on our entire citizenry. When the Cold War ended (25 years ago today in Berlin), the defense industry went berserk with worry that their salad days were over. A new enemy was needed. Arab terrorists fit the bill perfectly! Not only has the defense industry since thrived, a whole new fake industry has arisen -- the Homeland Security behemoth. As our infrastructure, our freedoms and our middle class vaporize, billions are spent as a grossly out-of-proportion response to a few shitty disasters. 

So we liberals don't want to hear another word about an "Islamic threat" or some non-existent Iranian nukes or... or whatever! We know we're being set up to get behind another war effort, another arms race, another diversion intended to make the point-one-percenters even filthier rich -- and the rest of us distracted with false fears and hatreds. 

I don't even know if I want to see Jon Stewart's new film about the Iranian who was unjustly imprisoned. WHY not? It's a true story! It happened! But the liberal panic button says this film will be used in ways to pump up fear of Muslims. At the very least, it will be the first thing Jon Stewart has done that the Republicans will like. So does that mean he shouldn't have made it? 

Two weeks ago on Bill's HBO show, he had on the wonderful Palestinian writer Rula Jebreal. They had a good and testy back and forth (Bill often has Muslims who disagree with him on his show, like the great Ben al-Afleck). Rula was giving it to Bill pretty hard, but when he paused and asked her if he were a Muslim, living in certain Muslim countries, and he walked into the Men's Club one day and announced he was now a Presbyterian, would that be ok? She paused, and then said "No."

Comedy is and should be a dangerous business. Those comedians who play it safe are far less interesting, less funny and, frankly, are often boring. Those who are willing to take their comedy to the Line That Shall Not Be Crossed -- and maybe step over it from time to time -- are the ones we are drawn to. But in order to encourage them to take those chances, we have to give them some leeway, give them a break when, in our mind, they've crossed that line. To not do so is to encourage them to go toward the bland, the passe and to the non-offensive. Those comedians like Bill Maher who are willing to take the risk of being the court jester -- saying the things that the rest of us are often thinking (or wish we were thinking) but are afraid to say -- should be supported, not silenced. 

Michael Moore