Saturday, October 18, 2014

On the Humanity of Humans

Dave Duffy read Richard Dawkins' letter to his daughter on the occasion of her tenth birthday, and was saddened by it.  He asks me if I can help him out (provided, of course, that I have the humanity to carry on a conversation).  This is what he had to say:
my reaction (other than being impressed by his English skills), is one of sadness. I wonder if there is some atheist’s equivalent to Christian community for his daughter. Reflecting on a few of my experiences with my daughter: was there a group of ladies that brought over home-cooked meals for a couple of weeks to her mother after she was born while delivering experienced advice about newborns, some advice helpful, some politely dismissed. What about being ten years old and helping out adults on Sunday mornings and Tuesday evenings with rambunctious preschoolers, keeping them occupied while their parents had the opportunity to talk and study with other adults. Is there some atheist’s equivalent to Youth Group where she can sit around, eat pizza and talk with peers about avoiding the ruinous impulses of the current cultural malaise? Is there something like a high-school short term missions to impoverished countries to give some perspective and avoid being another self-absorbed teen? And most important, I don’t understand denying someone a place where God can make Himself known.

So Dave, I'll do my best to help you out, but I'll do it here on my own blog, away from the toxic atmosphere of the trolls and miscreants. 

Dawkins' letter is about epistemology.  It's about how we know things or how we come to believe things.  And I think he offered good advice to his daughter.  But I don't think that's exactly what bothered you.  You seem to be bothered by things that were not said in the letter: about participation in social groups and activities that the church community offers.  And about denying his daughter the opportunity to be part of this community that will instill the beliefs and ideologies that allow God to "make himself known".

Reading your response I am saddened by the profound misunderstanding you apparently have of what it means to be an atheist.  You seem to think that we are devoid of humanity - that our world is cold and sterile, lacking love and beauty and humor, and all the things that make life worth living.  You think that atheists are bitter and angry because they don't share God's love.

I need to tell you, Dave, that somebody lied to you.  None of those things are true.  Here's the truth: we are all humans and we all share a common humanity.  We love and laugh.  We appreciate fine art, music, literature, and food.  We have a shared sense of morality, and we want to live our lives in a way that we see as good or virtuous.  We enjoy the company of friends, and engage in social interaction.

Your mistake is in believing that religion is necessary for any of those things.  It isn't.  All of those things are part of being human.  We are human, whether or not we believe in God.

So don't be sad for Dawkin's daughter.  Her world is not being limited by bad epistemology and false beliefs.  On the contrary, she has the opportunity to use her own intellect and decide for herself what to believe, without being force-fed some ancient ideology.  She can still belong to social groups and clubs.  She still has friends and family with which she can enjoy and share her life experiences.  And she doesn't have to live in fear of eternal punishment for the crime of believing what her own intellect tells her.

Dave, if you'd like to talk more, you are welcome.  We can talk in a calm and civil manner, one human to another.


  1. Mr. Skeptical,

    Yes, I've been lied to. I've been on the earth for quite a few years so I've met lots of lying liars. However, my thoughts on the "atheist community" are a reflection of my experiences and not based on someone lying to me. I won't tell you my life story, but I've had a pretty broad range of experiences with many different people.

    The last time I stayed out of town with friends (to go to a funeral, unfortunately), I stayed with an atheist. He is a brilliant entrepreneur in Silicone Valley and very much human. I have known him for many years.

    So, if you drop the "what you believe is based on someone lying to you" stick, perhaps we can begin the conversation.

  2. "shtick" I mean. Sorry, I do l make a lot of typos. I'm a average guy, so bear with my mistakes.

  3. Dave, this is no "shtick". I was only going by what you said. You did question my humanity. What conclusion should I draw from that?

  4. Oh, I get it. It's perfectly fine for you to question whether I have any humanity. But when I respond, you get all bent out of shape because I said somebody lied to you. I'm sorry. I didn't think that was such a great insult. Certainly nothing that rises to the level of questioning one's humanity.

  5. Dave, I'm sorry to see that you have no intention of conversing with me. As I look back, I can't think of anything that you've ever said to me that wasn't negative or hostile. What a shame. I'm willing to put all that behind me and move forward. I took this as an opportunity to open up a dialog. But you'd rather get indignant over my choice of an expression and walk away. And you're the one who asked me to help you understand.

    I have questions. Like why do you say that your attitudes toward atheists are shaped by your experiences, yet you describe an atheist friend who obviously doesn't fit that mold? How many atheists do you even know? I'm sure you'd realize that we are all humans if you had any inclination to interact with us in a positive way.