Thursday, September 15, 2011

Keith Jensen: Common Misconceptions About Atheists [Guest Post]

Keith Jensen, my brother Keith is a comedian, a husband and a dad, but most of all he is someone who wants to make the world a better place.  Oh, and he doesn't believe in God, but I will get him eventually.

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I jokingly offered to take over some of my brother's blog duties while he's away. Jokingly because I am the atheist brother. In fact I'm not just an atheist but I've become a bit of an atheist spokesperson through my involvement in a The Coexist? Comedy Tour, a multi-faith (and no faith) comedy show I put together with a good friend of mine, Hindu comedian Tapan Trivedi. John of course took my joke at face value and gave me a deadline right away, because he's like that.

I would like to use this opportunity to address some of the misconceptions that Christians have about us atheists and agnostics. Christian is a very broad term, and please know that I am aware that I'm writing this for a forum that is read mostly be progressive Christians, people who I often find I have much in common with, not always the case when I'm amongst my fellow atheists. I don't think that ALL Christians hold the misconceptions I address here but in my every day interactions with religious people, mostly Christians, these ideas about who I am, how I live and what I believe as an atheist come up again and again.

We left the faith because of problems and hypocrisy in the Church.
I've had this one used on me, and even attributed to me in a book, by folks who feel like they're being very broadminded and empathizing with us as they work to build a better church, one that would no doubt bring us back into the fold. Well, I can certainly criticize many Churches but I did not leave the religion I was
raised in because of any church. When I was a Christian I was all about having a relationship with God and Church was secondary. I left due to my own intellectual doubts and this is the case with the majority of Atheists I've talked to who were formerly religious.

We reject religion because we want to live our sinful lifestyle.
Oh man, I wish this one were true. Sex, drugs and video games, oh yeah. The truth is, I'm in a 17 year monogamous relationship and for the last three years, a state sanctioned legal marriage even. I don't do any drugs that my doctor doesn't insist I do with the exception of coffee. No alcohol, no white sugar. I don't consume meat or dairy. I do listen to rock and roll and I do look at what some would call pornography but I'm very picky about it. In other words, my life is way to boring to be called sinful lest we risk that lusty word becoming watered down.

The question I'm always asked is “Where do I get my morals from?” Where do you get yours? Christians subscribe to many modern ideas about morality that are not in the bible, or at least weren't seen to be found there until recently. To me all morality is citizenship. I try to be a good member of the groups I am a part of. I am a father, a husband, a brother, an artist, a Sacramentan, a Californian, an American, a Human, an atheist, a comedian. I want to feel good about my contributions and about what I've consumed or taken from this world while I'm in it. And this world is everything to me. It's the only thing that I am confident
exists so I value and treasure it. Same goes with this life, mine and yours. From my perspective, it's the only one we got.

I could go on all day and it's a subject I find fascinating but the real point is, for whatever reason, we aren't amoral people. We make great neighbors. We have compassion and love and those things tend to make one want to do unto others as they would have done unto themselves.

I had a pastor tell me that before he was a Christian he would've walked over a dying man rather than stop to help. That does not represent an atheist that represents a sociopath.

We have as much faith as religious people. 
This one comes from the agnostic vs. atheist discussion and the fact that MOST atheists including Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Chistopher Hitchens, describe themselves as agnostic atheists. We don't KNOW that there is no God and I'm sure you're all tired of our many silly examples of other things we are equally unsure of (Flying Spaghetti Monster, Russells's Tea Pot, Invisible Pink Unicorn) but the point, eloquently made by Bertrand Russell who I'll paraphrase here, is that we are only as agnostic toward current Gods as we are, and as you are, toward the Gods of Ancient Rome, who also can't be proven not to exist. It is more technically accurate to say we are agnostic it is more practically accurate to say that we are atheist. So no, I don't have faith that there is no god, I just possess no belief whatsoever that there is. Confusing? Yeah, semantics is like that. The important thing to me on the definition issue is, you can disagree with our use of the word atheist, but since we are the ones describing ourselves with it, remember our definition when discussing our beliefs with us. I spend an awful lot of time having beliefs assigned to me and then being asked to defend said beliefs.

We're Angry!
To quote the great Elvis Costello “I'm not angry!” Angry people are loud. You notice them first. The atheists you notice are loud and angry. Most of us are nice people. Most of us have friends who are religious. Most of us, like most people, get angry about certain things and it may be when we're addressing those things that our paths are most likely to cross yours. I try very hard to stay polite and civil when discussing issues pertaining to politics, religion, etc. I'm not always successful but I'm not a particularly angry person and if you met me at a party we could probably have a good laugh while discussing how insane we found each other to be.

We eat babies.
Um... okay, you got us there. We do in fact eat babies.

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Keith Lowell Jensen is a comedian and filmmaker. He is currently touring the west coast of US in support of his most recent CD and DVD release, Cats Made of Rabbits. His website is He needs an editor badly.

1 comment:

Linda Ryan-Harper said...

You forgot to address the myth that atheists make terrible lovers and will go straight to hell (although, if Dante is correct—some at least will end up in the coveted First Circle of Hell). Militant Atheists will end up seated at the Banquet for the Devil where they will be toasted by Satan himself. Cheers, my good fellow!!