June 18, 2019 | 75° F

FINNERTY: Atheists can express beliefs, but need to mind their manners

Opinions Column: Waxing Philosophical


Being an atheist is not easy. Experiencing firsthand the perils of that awkward family dinner or compulsory church service, I’ve learned in my time that the nonbeliever ought to just grin and bear the familiar rituals and conversations. However, and as social media often provides, one inexcusable act is when an atheist provides false information in support of her belief, solely for the purpose of berating others.

Sure there are some memes that warrant a share, such as the meme depicting Jesus during the resurrection, with the sly quote underneath, “Help me you idiots, the aliens are taking me.” Of course some may find the latter image offensive, but it is more for the laugh than any attempt at dissuasion. I will admit that early on in my atheism, as I believe the case is for many, I was militant in my newfound worldview, but through time and conversation I’ve realized that while my religious objections weren’t going anywhere nor were the beliefs and feelings of others.

So scrolling through my social media feed, which as of late is full of political happenings and pictures of either animals or soy lattes, I see a friend’s post about the Bible. “Fair enough,” I thought to myself, and decided to see some of the comments. One in particular stood out. A meme, pretending to be scholarly, supposedly listed facts about Jesus of Nazareth and the Egyptian deity Horus. An Egyptologist I am not, but I felt I knew enough about the classical world and ancient language to see that this meme was complete malarkey.

Perhaps it wasn’t the absurdly false meme that made me irate, but rather that it was being pushed as an example of why Christianity is false. Good grief! As if a pseudo-historical comparison could disprove an entire religion! Anyway, after making room for both my ego and my studies on the comment chain, I rattled off some discrepancies I had with the piece. I explained that Horus did not raise anyone named “El-Azur-us” from the dead and that namely, that name is entirely fabricated and most of all a pseudo-Semitic and what seems to be Arabic, hybrid. Disgusting!

To make matters even less desirable, I was after my statement accused of being a Christian and having no proof of my belief. Obviously this person had no knowledge of myself or the topic, but instead of pulling a Wittgenstein and remaining silent when a proposition held no merit, I retorted my actual position and called out their pseudo-intellectualism. Following that, a Wiccan proceeded to challenge me on his belief and the prowess of mother earth and some nonsense about ancient secrets. My time, it seemed, had come to depart from the conversation amongst buffoons, like some ill-fated "Monty Python" sketch.

Atheism is not an assured means of intellectual rigor nor does it grant superiority in regards to a correct worldview. I’ve debated many theologians alike and have even been stumped on occasion. Civil discourse is the only efficient means of relating personal belief and experience without either offending or being offended, as with the previous Wiccan fellow. Ultimately manners will be the best method of ensuring one the opportunity to understand others.

I sometimes wonder if it is a lack of education that brings about such idiotic fervor among people. My grandfather, a somewhat religious yet reserved man, once told me to beware of those who know they are right (such words still sit heavy with me and haven’t failed a single observation of mine). Francis Bacon once wrote a few years before his death, “A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.” Plato and Aristotle, it seems, would have been much better educators than any meme.

Overall I’d like to remind the nonreligious that regardless of God’s existence, the facts still stand and gratuitous memes and pestering the faithful are not only wrong, but entirely rude. No matter your skill and knowledge base, internet trolls from both sides and somewhere in-between, will always be there to prod and provoke. My advice, do not be the troll! A good student always seeks to understand the position of others, even when that born-again friend talks about the red heifer and the second coming or the energy of some chakra purported by that one Buddhist girl you like conversing with. Stay classy atheists, pick up a book every now and then and leave the memes out of it!

Jonathan Finnerty is a School of Arts Sciences junior majoring in classics and philosophy. His column, "Waxing Philosophical," runs on alternate Fridays.

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Jonathan Finnerty

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