The closest I have ever come to this experience occurred in 2011 in my classroom. I was presenting a lecture on the nature of science. I explained the difference between naturalism and supernaturalism to the students. As an example, I mentioned that belief in any god is an example of supernaturalism. I wasn't referring to the christian god. My reference was to the concept of god in general. I continued on explaining how science works and how it differs in methodologies from other disciplines. A hand went up. I called upon the student expecting a question about science and its methods. Instead the student asked, "Do you believe in God, Mr. Pelton?" I paused, momentarily uncertain how to respond. I then decided there was no good reason to evade the question, so I answered it matter-of-factly "No." The silence in the room
became immediate and palable. Then one apparently astonished female student asked with an sense of disbelief in her voice, "You're an atheist?" I responded "Yes." Her reply caught me off-guard. In a voice of tremendous surprise she said, "I didn't think atheists actually existed." After a momentary pause I assured her with authority in my voice, "Well there are literally millions of us around the planet." I dropped the subject and moved on with my lecture. But it was clear that this young lady and many of the other students had only ever thought of atheists in the abstract or as something akin to fairies or unicorns: apparently to some, atheists were some mythical creature.
I am curious Mark as to why you said that atheism has only one commandment, "Don't be an Asshole"?
And why this as the commandment?
I don't think I would have chosen this as a commandment if I were inclined to burden atheism with any commandments at all, which I am not. But assuming this to be a commandment, I don't think you violated it with the question you asked. It was a perfectly good direct question. The person's reaction is just illustrative of the fact that many christians think any questioning of their belief constitutes being an asshole. As an atheist, if "Don't be an asshole" were our commandment, you could not help but violate it in the eyes of some christians. Your disbelief, I have no doubt,
would be considered evidence of assholery on your part by some believers. They might not use the term asshole, but they would think of you in this way nonetheless.
Frankly, I very much liked your question because it is not one to which I have given any consideration. I suppose God is portrayed as a male because at least the three main monotheistic religions are patriarchal in their structure, behavior and worldview. The truth of this is clearly demonstrated by even a cursory examination of their holy texts.
From: Mark Tiborsky <[address removed]>
To: [address removed]
Sent: Friday, January 11,[masked]:38 AM
Subject: [humanism-174] "You're an atheist?! Never met one before..."
Anyone else ever get that one? A writer from Freethought Arizona relates his story here-
I've gotten that a few times- the most recent was from a nice person I met at an animal welfare event. Had a nice conversation, but I guess I went too far; after saying the "lone atheist commandment" was "Don't be an Asshole" (which the person thought was amusing), I launched into my questioning as to why God is portrayed as a male figure. "Does it have testicles?"
Apparently that was one too far, because the person said I wasn't following the "lone commandment". I smoothed it over somewhat but overall the conversation ended sort of badly.
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