Jim Wilson relates a story from his life:
Years ago, when I was a young Atheist still forced to live in a small town with my rather religious parents I befriended a couple missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They were quite friendly and gave a friend and me someone to talk to about issues we generally were not able to discuss with our families. It seemed they were always willing to come back so long as you did not tell them not to. Eventually, this became a bit much and they started appearing at inopportune times and becoming more aggressive. This was at my friend’s home. Later, they started visiting me at the home where my parents and I resided. They were always easy to talk to and though I did not believe any of the things they told me or take the whole exercise seriously at all, I did not mind their visits so long as they were infrequent.
Eventually, my father became annoyed and said to stop having missionaries make appearances in his home. They were of course from what he deemed a heretical domination of Christianity and he disliked their presence. My more recent attempts to converse with LDS or Jehovah’s Witness missionaries here in Tucson have tended to be more short lived as these missionaries were more quick to dismiss me as a lost cause possibly doing the devil’s work.
In a recent phone conversation with members of my family, the topic of these Mormon missionaries and their futile conversion attempts came up. At least one family member told me that looking back they would rather that I had become a Mormon than remain an Atheist. The logic was that as a Mormon I would at least still be following the Christian God albeit a rather unconventional version of it. Apparently, in this case there is a willingness to over look their beliefs that Mormons are non-Christians heretical or whatever else. Apparently, belief in a heretical version of the Christian God is better than no belief in any God. That way, I may not be on right page but at least I would be on some page.
I have to wonder how far this logic extends. Would my family members rather me be a Jehovah’s Witness, a member of Westboro Baptist Church, or some sort of charismatic Christian who speaks in tongues and handle’s venomous snakes? Is it better to be part of any idiosyncratic brand of Christianity than being an Atheist regardless of the associated baggage? What about Judaism or Islam? At least then I would still be following some version of the God of Abraham. Does it matter that to many Christians, Islam is seen as a force of destruction and perversion of scripture? Is it still preferable to have a son who is a Muslim than an Atheist? How about Scientology? They at least believe in some sort of supernatural realm.
For me, being an Atheist is the only intellectually honest option. Until evidence for the existence of something is presented refraining from belief is the only responsible position to take. This is true for claims of God’s and Leprechauns. I would like to think my parents would prefer me an intellectually honest skeptic than believe something that is a blatantly false version of the God they worship. They are all blatantly false as best I can tell. Being an Atheist does not require tithing, devoting my life to a specific church hierarchy, engaging in activities like holding pit vipers, speaking in tongues, or promoting bigotry while picketing soldiers’ funerals. It has no baggage associated with it and leaves me free to decide things for myself without deference to any authority. I cannot see why someone would not prefer this for their children than some absurdly nonsensical faith.
I see skeptical neutrality as something to be admired rather than something that is castigated and demonized as atheism obviously is (ref: the May 21st blog entry). Doubt is not a bad thing and a little healthy skepticism is a far better thing than the gullibility that is needed to accept any of the world’s major religions. Why do believers see belief in obvious nonsense as commendable so long as it is packaged with some subset of their own beliefs?