Monday, July 18, 2016

How to Write People of Faith when you're an Atheist

The Injustice Gamer saw a tweet of my post "Fisking "How to Write Protagonists of Colour When You're White," and suggested, well, this topic.  At first I thought of how to reduce my brain to that of a "standard" atheist -- well, the public face of one, like an insult-spewing twat like Dawkins, or a snide, sneering Brit like Hitchens. And I figured it wasn't worth it. One of the reasons I am religious is that it's quite obvious to me that there must be a Deity out there (it's called the law of Causality, people, come now), and anything short of the Judeo-Christian God is just too damn small. Any argument I've seen by Hawkins et al to circumvent the existence of God to create the universe just sounds like bat Star Trek fan fiction (Temporal loops? Multiverses? Really, Steve? Really?). To pretend to be so closed minded so as to completely exclude the possibility is beyond my ability.

And, no, for the record, I have never completely excluded the possibility that there isn't a God. It's just that every time I've chewed over that concept, it really turns out to be inedible.

Now, obviously, the presentation of atheists as seen above is unfair. What is above is truly more representative of a species known as the "anti-theist." Not only do they not believe in God, they believe that those who do believe are dangerous. The Oslo bomber who used "Christianity" to mean "Western Culture," and thought that religion was for the weak? Yeah, one of them. I expected him to cry out "Dawkins-hu akbar."

I have found reasonable, truly libertarian atheists to be closer to agnostics -- "I don't care what you believe, can we go on?" I count some of those folks as friends.

But anyway, for those of the anti-theist persuasion who have no idea what a religious person believes, or how they think, let me enlighten you.

Step 1: Unlearn What You Have Learned

Remember the film Inherit the Wind? That was a fictionalized version of the Scopes Monkey Trial? It's usually what anti-theists like to hold up when they like to say that Religious folk are anti-evolution. After all, they put someone on trial for evolution!

Total bullcrap. Any connection between that and reality is purely miraculous. Besides, the textbooks Scopes was using in real life also had some wonderful thoughts on eugenics. I wouldn't try defending those, were I you.

In the long run, take all those generalizations and just forget them. You might want to brace yourself.

This includes obligatory Psycho Preacher #55, Deranged Pederast #09, and of course, foaming at the mouth nut job #69.

Other cliche?

  • Don't make them see miracles everywhere. Read Chesterton's Father Brown mysteries for a model of the theistic skeptic. Or, read The Exorcist and how many tests are required for an exorcism to happen.
  • Don't make them see symbols in everything. Sometimes toast is just toast. 
  • The religious person isn't constantly talking about JESUS!!! or IT'S THE DEVIL!!! 
  • Know the precepts of the denomination or religion you're writing about. A Catholic thinks he's eating Christ; a Baptist thinks he's eating bread.
Step 2: Not Everything Is About Evolution

I don't know what the anti-theist obsession is with evolution. Last time I checked, it was still called "the theory of," not the "certifiable fact of" evolution. Doesn't matter. I'm relatively certain it's right, or near right enough, for the purposes of general scientific inquiry.

But by God, the few anti-theists I've interacted with have a hard on for Darwin, and Lord knows why. One friend of mine insisted that he had hope for me because I believed in evolution, and it was a short trip from there to being a good atheist.

Except here's the thing: The Catholic Church has declared that evolution is not antithetical to Church teaching since the 1920s. Even Pope Pius XII said nice things about it. So did Pope Francis most recently. So, using that same criteria, the Popes of the last 100 years have been close to embracing atheism, because they, too, either believed in evolution, or saw nothing threatening in it.

Here's the thing, atheists, for Christians who believe in evolution, it is merely the mechanics by which God has created the Earth. That's it. Pretty much the same for the big bang. For an eternal being (ie: one that is outside of time) "a day" can be a really, really long time. Which leads into...

Step 3: Not Everyone is a Literalist

Chesterton once noted that there were people out there who spend so much time arguing over the historicity of Adam and Eve that they miss the entire point of the story, which is Original Sin.

My point? It is the same as Cardinal Bellarmine when he said that the Bible tells us how to go to Heaven, not how the Heavens go. Which is a line I think he stole from Augustine a thousand years before him. I could be mistaken.


Thank you.

Come to think of it, the Catholic Church, I believe, has long ago decreed that literalism is a heresy.

What's literalism, you ask? I'll try to explain. A literalist reading of Scripture is one usually found among fundamentalists. EG: the Bible says the world was created in six days, therefore, it was created in 144 hours. Also, eg, if the Bible says  humans were present at the very beginning of Creation, humans coexisted with dinosaurs.

See also Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Fides et Ratio, using the First Vatican Council's Dei Filius:
Even if faith is superior to reason there can never be a true divergence between faith and reason, since the same God who reveals the mysteries and bestows the gift of faith has also placed in the human spirit the light of reason. This God could not deny himself, nor could the truth ever contradict the truth.
Just because we believe something is true and real doesn't necessarily mean that we believe that it's a minute by minute account.

Which leads to...

Step 4: Christians are Not All The Same.

Looking at some anti-theists, you would swear that every Christian worships under a large tent and handles venomous snakes every Sunday. We have no philosophy, philosophers, no body of real thought, nor believe in the mechanics of the general universe.

It sure is confusing when you recall that Gregor Mendel, who discovered heredity, was a Catholic monk who founded modern genetics. Or that half the craters on the moon are named after the Jesuits who founded them. Or all of the Catholic scientist priests, listed in alphabetical order.

So, a word to the wise, if you say that, for example, Catholics don't do science, check the above list, and then remember we have a blessing for a seismograph.

And I know we started with not all Christians are the same, but not even all religious people are the same.

If you want to bitch that all religious people are uneducated, please look at the history of Jewish intellectuals. Then lock yourself in a room with Simon Schama so he can snark you to death.

In fact, every time you even start to think, "Well, all religious people believe...." just stop. Why? Because, unless the thought is "all religious people believe in something more powerful than themselves, and there is a proper way to worship It," then you're probably wrong.

There is a heavy theme of monotheism kicking around -- there were / are some strains of thought among Greek / Indian believers that the pantheon merely represented many faces of one Being. But even that isn't even consistently represented within Greek and Indian theology.

Yes, while we're at it, please recall that Christianity isn't the only game in town. Because, let's face it, by anti-theists having their attitudes against belief, they also include everyone from Jews to Druids, they just seem to like to pretend that everyone is an evangelical Christian and ignore the rest, or assume the rest will follow if that one falls. Sorry, not happening.

Step 5: Belief Isn't Irrational

Seriously, if you're just going to assume that any believer isn't rational, I suggest you look up Maimonides. Or Thomas Aquinas. Or Heisenberg. Or Pasteur. What do all these philosophers and scientists have in common? They all believe.

Heck, remember the Big Bang? Starting point of the universe? I wonder if Stephen Hawking is so against the idea because it suggests a starting point to the universe, and thus a "who started it" question, but it was also proposed by a Catholic priest scientist. Again.

Step 6: Sex. Religious People have it

Fun fact, if you're new here, a lot of religions encourage sex. Catholic marriage is a contract to have sex.

In fact, studies show that not only do religious folk have more sex within marriage than other people, they enjoy it more. Funny that, isn't it?

Let's just expand it to religious people are also human.

Step 7: Do Your Research

So, how do you write a believable believer? Simple, JUST DO YOUR DAMN RESEARCH. Seriously, if you want Catholic theology, read Thomas Aquinas or his imitators, like Chesterton or Peter Kreeft.

Hell, if you want basic Christianity, CS Lewis' Mere Christianity is a good primer before you research a specific subsection of a belief system.

Ditch your preconceived notions, your stereotypes, and pretend for a few minutes that a believer might not be a horrid human being. Thank you.

Suggested Reading.

Michael Z. Williamson's A Long Time Until Now has an atheist writing a believer. Try it. Take notes. Also, Babylon 5, Passing Through Gethsemane. by a former Catholic, now atheist. 


  1. Last time I checked, it was still called "the theory of," not the "certifiable fact of" evolution.

    Not for nothing, but in this context, that's pretty much what theory means.

    1. In science there are theories (how) and laws (what) and they do pretty much both mean "this is a fact". The issue with evolution and the theory of evolution is that it's applied to origins and we don't have some separate thing that we call "the theory of origins". People end up talking about different things using the same word and that usually ends badly.

      It might be worth noting that pretty much any time "theory" is used in liberal arts or "studies" it means "the preferred filter though which all data is viewed"... enough to drive science types nuts.

  2. A writer on social media asked what kind of punishment a nun would give an orphan in her orphanage that didn't believe in God, or something like that. I replied she wouldn't punish the kid, and then I asked what order of nuns she belonged to. The writer was like, "Nuns have orders?!? I didn't know that!" Yeah, bud, there are different kinds of nuns.

    1. How many google searches would it take to know that nuns have orders? I would know that even if I only ever read romance novels.

      Sometimes my mind just boggles. I try to imagine some similar blind spot... I know that there are various groups of wiccans and pagans. I might not know what they are, but I know they exist. I know there are dozens of sects of Muslims. I might not know what they all are, but I know they exist. I simply assume that in any religion this is true. I bet it's also very true in professional atheist groups, people follow this guy more than that guy, etc.

    2. Wow ... that just hurts my brain.

  3. Interesting. This past saturday happened to be when SFDebris reviewed the "monkey trial" episode of DS9.

    And he also made some jokes about hollywood's cliche religions.

    1. P.S. Also, SFDebris has reviewed the mentioned B5 episode too:

  4. Nicely done.

    I'm usually amused by how adamant atheists are about evolution. My response at this point: I wasn't there, nothing can be reproduced and therefore proven. I believe God made stuff, I don't know HOW, and it really doesn't matter. Do I think the Biblical explanation perhaps a bit more likely? Yes, but it's mostly about how man and the world is fallen.

    1. Exactly. Not to mention, well, sorry, the Catholic church has said that evolution is NOT antithetical to the faith or the bible back in the 1920s. But the anti-theists just want to assume everyone is a fundamentalist.

  5. Ah, but I enjoyed that. Mind you, I'm closer to your "reasonable, truly libertarian atheists to be closer to agnostics -- "I don't care what you believe, can we go on?"-type than an observant practitioner.

    I mentioned to my brother that I have questions that I expect I can only God to answer after my (premature at any age) demise. He did respectfully point out that the game doesn't work that way - which he knows that I know.

    The point that too many atheists missed in their allegiance to their religion, is that physics cannot be used to resolve issues of metaphysics any better than a saw can be used to hammer. Unfortunately, those that write about religious characters too often resort to a cheap caricature rather than the fundamental beauty that can exist at, for example, communion.

    Meanwhile, the religionist of science, confident in his/her understanding of the universe, feels that hectoring others on theories postulated as facts is both reasonable and necessary. Reasonable is open to debate. Necessary, no, unless one is so unsure of one's own position as treat every variant belief not aligned with one's own as heretical. That is what I observe all too often in the ranks of the "rational" atheist.

    Next week I'll travel to visit my parents, both of whom are traditionally religious. I'll do to church with them (and my wife.) While I don't believe, I can admire - and will, both my parents and my wife, who do.

    When I write, I make my characters live their true lives - not what I expect, but what they experience, inner world and outer. Honesty requires at least that much. So do the readers.

    1. Reasonable is always welcome. Lord, is it welcome.

      Eh. Questions after death means you're at least thinking, and -- I conclude -- you're at least *trying.* Last time I checked, you get points for trying. I think it's covered under "baptism of desire."

      THANK YOU. I don't know why physics people try to do metaphysics. Though if you want to look up someone who does both, look up Father Stanley Jaki. Why? Because he has PhDs in philosophy and physics. Yes, he's an intellectual badass.

      Sigh.. yes, hectoring others.... Yeah. Dawkins is a fan of that. At least with Chris Hitchens, was was a snarky bastard to EVERYBODY. Hitchens also has some personal issues with religion that was so deep-seated that I really felt sorry for him.

      Good luck with the parents. And I look forward to seeing what you write.

      Be well.

  6. Those Jesuits! Zipping around the Field of Arbol founding craters everywhere!

    1. Yeah, I know, right? Can't escape Jesuits ON THE MOON. Heh.


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