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Why I Am Not an Atheist

January 13, 2013, 8:00 PM

“Atheist” used to mean someone who does not believe in the existence of God.  Unfortunately, it no longer does.

Thanks to Richard Dawkins and his ilk, “atheist” now means someone who is (and acts as if he is) intellectually superior, and who mocks and derides the deeply held and personal religious beliefs of less intelligent others by pointing out how wrongheaded and stupid they are to believe what they believe.

Virtually all of Dawkins’s contemporary examples of how evil, oppressive and destructive religion is come from Islam.  There is no question that Islam is an evil, oppressive and destructive force, but that does not mean all religions are.  In fact, I would contend that, apart from Islam, most contemporary religions throughout the world today are for the most part forces of good most of the time.

Dawkins's major problem is that he doesn’t know Americans and how religion works in the United States.  Americans are by far the most religious people in all of the western industrial world.  And anyone who has lived in and traveled to as many places as I have will unanimously tell you that Americans are the kindest and most generous people on earth.  Although it would be difficult to demonstrate it scientifically, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Americans are the kindest and most generous people on earth because they are deeply religious.

It is not just the opinions of those who have lived and traveled everywhere.  There are actual data.  In 2006 the Reader’s Digest conducted a worldwide survey of residents of 35 different countries throughout the world and reached the conclusion that New Yorkers were the most civil and courteous people in the world.  Late-night comedians mercilessly lampooned the finding, because everybody knows how nasty and mean New Yorkers are.  What they didn’t realize, however, is that the Reader’s Digest’s study was an international one, comparing residents of major cities throughout the world, and New York was the only American city chosen.  So their study didn’t show that New Yorkers were more civil and courteous than people in Charleston or Des Moines (they almost certainly aren’t); it showed instead that Americans – even the meanest and nastiest ones in New York – were more civil and courteous than Russians and Kiwis.

Here’s the best way I know of to express how qualitatively different Americans are in their kindness and generosity.  Every Friday, the CBS Evening News features a segment called “On the Road,” originally conceived of and hosted by the late Charles Kuralt for a quarter of a century, and recently revived and now hosted by Steve Hartman.  In the segment, Kuralt and Hartman feature otherwise unknown ordinary Americans who perform extraordinary acts of kindness and generosity.  The segment has consistently featured one or more such Americans every week for nearly half a century now.  And the NBC Nightly News similarly has “Making a Difference” (now occasionally presented by Chelsea Clinton) and the ABC World News has “Person of the Week.”

If BBC or Deutsche Welle were to produce “On the Road,” it would go off the air in less than a year, because there are not that many extraordinary individuals in the UK or Germany (or anywhere else in the world) for them to feature week after week.  Decent people in other countries pay their taxes, obey the posted speed limits, and otherwise stay out of trouble; they don’t go out of their way to perform extraordinary acts of kindness and generosity as many Americans routinely do.  And I personally have no doubt in my mind that it is because Americans are deeply religious and consider all of their neighbors to be God’s great children.

If you want to know how incredibly good and generous deeply religious people are, I’d recommend the 2007 documentary film For the Bible Tells Me So.  I wish I could be as good and kind a human being as many of the people who appear in For the Bible Tells Me So are, and I am deeply ashamed and saddened that I am not.  I am just as much of an asshole as Dawkins is.

Dawkins tells religious people to their faces that their beliefs are delusional because God in fact does not exist.  It is a scientific fact that God does not exist, so it is not rational to believe in God.  I wonder if Dawkins walks up to random people on the streets of Oxford and tells them that he is more intelligent, better looking, and wealthier than they are.  That would also be scientifically true, but I would consider such behavior to be exceedingly gaudy and tasteless, as gaudy and tasteless as telling the same people that they are stupid to believe in God.

It is ironic because, according to Dawkins himself, I am actually more atheist than he is in the original meaning of the word.  Fellow Big Think blogger Mark Cheney quotes Dawkins as saying “On a scale of seven, where one means I know he exists, and seven I know he doesn’t, I call myself a six.  That doesn’t mean I’m absolutely confident, that I absolutely know, because I don’t.”  It’s funny, because, unlike Dawkins, I absolutely know for sure that God doesn’t exist, as any scientist would.  For scientists, it’s very simple; absolutely nothing exists in the universe, except for those entities for which there is credible scientific evidence for their existence.  So I know for sure that God doesn’t exist for the same reason that I know Santa Claus or Superman doesn’t exist

But I am not an atheist.


Follow me on Twitter:  @SatoshiKanazawa