Defining Yourself By What You’re Not

If you wander around on the internet for any length of time at all, you find yourself tripping over people criticizing other people. It’s a free internet (for now), and it’s everybody’s right to comment.  And if we put ourselves out there, we are opening ourselves up to criticism.

I’m sure I have my own blind spots, things I  proudly announce about myself which say more than I recognize I’m saying. And maybe the people closest to me are blind too, out of love and acceptance refusing to acknowledge my worst features, so they can’t tell me.

My internet persona is not actually my real self. It’s a haphazard construction of a projection of my self-image. My online persona consists of who I think I am, who I want you to think I am, plus, probably, some of those things I’d be embarrassed about if I could see them.

Sometimes I am puzzled by what people are intentional and proud to reveal. But here too are blind spots.

There are people who are defining themselves, defining their lives, constructing their identities, by negatives. By what they don’t have, by what they don’t do, by what they don’t believe. I’m sure there are lots of examples, but there are two which cross my path often.

Childfree

These are people who base their identities on not having children. That someone has opted not to have children is not that remarkable, and it’s not my place to second-guess anyone’s personal choices. But the people who publicly identify as “Childfree” seem to build their lives around their exemption. They declare that they are not having children ever. They actively do not raise children. Many of them clearly do not like children. They proudly boast of a marked prejudice against a huge swath of the world’s human beings, based on the fact that they are young, and against their parents, based on the fact that they, well… we get scholarly things like these on our FB newsfeeds:

Urge to Be a Mother Decreases with Higher IQ

It’s Pretty Much True: More Parenting equals Less sex

Men’s Testes Size and Parental Involvement

So it’s not enough that they’ve chosen not to have children in their lives, but they must make out that people with offspring are stupider, unhappier, poorer, have less sex and are physically inferior.

It does seem as though the childfree are constantly confronted with kids!  Wherever they go, there are hordes of annoying children.  Their newsfeeds are so packed with other people’s kids they have to use an app to block those posts. Poor things. They seem to encounter a lot more children than I do. Odd.

What happens when the young humans they can’t bear grow up and cross their arbitrary threshold to acceptability? Will the young people shower them with affection? Good planning!

And people are constantly asking them when and why not. Have we forgotten how to dismiss rude people…and move on?

Surprisingly, these same people spend a great deal of time criticizing how people who do have children are doing it all wrong. They are positive geniuses about raising kids; they have all the answers.

I’ve opted not to have dogs. But I don’t build a lifestyle around the absence of a dog, or brag about how superior my life is to dog-owners’ lives, or declare about how selfish or how brainless it is to own a dog. I don’t go on a crusade to make the world agree with my perfect dogfree lifestyle. And I don’t then tell dog owners how to train their dogs, though it does seem as though some could use the advice. (Blind spot alert.)

If these people were truly content and satisfied with their childfreeness, wouldn’t they live and let live, and move on past the child orientation?

I don’t spend all my free time criticizing a lifestyle choice I did not make. I don’t spend time every day looking for web articles on why it’s stupid and harmful to be childless. I don’t join anti-childfree internet groups where we complain to each other about people who don’t have children, and simultaneously about how people without children are doing not having kids all wrong.

I don’t orient my life around the absence of something.

And patrolling the web for thoughts which are in opposition to yours and finding them offensive does seem like a rather negative way to live life.

Atheism: 

A theist: the word itself says anti-belief.  It’s an active and intentional focus on a negative.

If, as atheism poster boy hopeful Bill Maher said…

Atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sexual position.
Atheism is a religion like bald is a hair color.
Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.
Atheism is a religion like health is a disease…”

…then why do atheists spend so much time arguing about God?

If there’s only Absence there, if He isn’t there, why do you concern yourself with Him?  Why don’t you dispense with him once and for all, and go on with your life?  It seems like since you decided to be  an atheist, which you describe as the negation of something, you can’t get your eyes off God. “Atheism isn’t something you practice,” you claim. But you literally cannot stop talking about Him.

Zealous atheists troll Facebook and blogworld, inserting themselves into in-house apologetics debates, commenting on posts where, if they had truly left God behind, they would have no interest. It’s astonishingly obnoxious. It’s very much like if I went out of my way to argue with auto mechanics who were talking to each other, stopping conversation to insist that there is no such thing as the internal combustion engine, and challenging him to prove my car doesn’t run on pixie dust, then ridiculing him no matter how he responds.

I didn’t create a blog for the purpose of arguing with strangers about what I DON’T believe. I don’t believe in Santa Claus, but I don’t spend any time at all talking about Santa Claus. I wouldn’t go around robbing little children of the Santa myth. That would be rude. You see, Santa Claus isn’t there, so I don’t think about him much, and I go buy the gifts myself.

Since Santa isn’t going to bring presents, I take it upon myself to do it instead. Take note non-believers?

The atheists I know pride themselves on their better way of logic and freethinking. To define yourself by what you are not is a lot of things, but it’s not something a thinking person does. It’s something an emotional person does.

It could be that you can’t forget about God because you really do see Him everywhere, and you don’t want to.  He’s like someone with a really big personality who just left the room before you came in. Everyone has been impressed by Him in some way, his fingerprints are everywhere, his jacket is flung over a chair back, his cup is sitting on the table. Some people really love the guy, some can’t stand him, some are trying to ignore him.  But they can’t. It’s the one thing they cannot do with him.

The one thing you cannot do with God is dismiss him. And atheists are the proof.

If you challenge an atheist in this way, he will insist the real problem is not God, but religion– other people’s insistence on clinging mindlessly to the pernicious illusion of a Santa in the Sky. But discuss for a few minutes, and he will invariably return to his anger at God. Always anger at what God has done, failed to do, or allowed. That God who he knows is imaginary.

The atheist’s dilemma: do I forever rail at the Unjust Straw Man, the Disappointing Santa, shaking my fist at the sky; or do I truly dismiss the concept of a Supreme Being and attempt to live my life as though He’s really not there?

Logically, you cannot have both. If you choose to believe He’s not there, then there’s no one to be angry at, and you’re ranting uselessly at the air.  The upside is, you can stop thinking about Him and move on.

If you’re angry at Him, you’ve got to admit he’s there, and you have a different problem to resolve- to work out your relationship with Him. But at least there’s a God!

Either way, you can define yourself by what you are instead of what you’re not.

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22 thoughts on “Defining Yourself By What You’re Not

  1. Wally Fry

    Where have you been when I have been cyberworldly(is that a word? LOL) getting the fire knocked out of me by these guys?

    I am really enjoying reading what I have of your blog..very common sense and up front. I like both of those..thanks again!

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  2. madblog Post author

    Thanks so much! I just discovered your blog TODAY, and I have to say I’m very impressed with your cool, evenhanded and no-nonsense response to those very people.You haven’t been getting anything knocked out of you! I was really enjoying your unflappable demeanor. You’re a boss.

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  3. NotAScientist

    “Logically, you cannot have both. If you choose to believe He’s not there, then there’s no one to be angry at”

    Except the believers who attempt to do things like enshrine their belief into laws. Those people are there to be angry at.

    I’m no more angry at the god they believe in than I am angry at Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter. But if someone tried to emulate that character in real life, I’d have issues.

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  4. madblog Post author

    Can I ask: why are you angry at people who are attempting to live out the belief system which informs their worldview, since they are convinced that the result of those laws are toward a just and benevolent society? And: What better thing should we base our laws upon?

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  5. Wally Fry

    Mad

    The whys of the motivation are such a good question. Why does it matter so much to folks? Even in the statement made by Not a Scientist the question of why comes up. I mean, if somebody wants to act like he is Lord Voldemort in real life…what’s the big deal? Funny, but harmless. At the core of their beliefs, atheists should consider Christians just that..funny but harmless..right?

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    1. Stan Adermann

      Voldemort killed people on a whim. The opposite of harmless.

      To respond to both Wally and Madblog, it really does center on the laws we pass. And while agree that people should strive for laws that fit their worldview, often the rigidity of a religious worldview causes outcomes that are far worse than a more evidence-based approach.

      The best example I can give is sex. Christians typically espouse the ideas that people should not have sex outside of marriage, that we should eliminate abortion, and they sometimes propose eliminating birth control. There has been a continual effort by Christians to establish laws along these lines. The result is the highest teen pregnancy rate among developed countries, along with higher STI rates and higher abortion rates.

      Meanwhile it’s been shown that comprehensive sex education will delay kids from becoming sexually active, reduce both disease and pregnancy and reduce the abortion rate. I think everyone would prefer fewer abortions in the world, but the inability to find compromise leaves us in a state both unfunny and harmful.

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      1. Wally Fry

        Stan

        Thanks for replying. I should have read the Harry Potter Primer I guess…Ok we don’t need to act like Lord Voldemort. On the other hand…the comparison suffers some..as the average Christian is not killing people on a whim.

        Your views on law have some validity. Nobody wants a state religion…me especially. But honestly to draw a correlation between the problems you laid out ant the fact that Christians have opposed certain things and the fact that they exist is weak. If those things you said had all become law then maybe..but just because people try?

        Even if what you said was true…then what you should oppose is the establishment of laws based on religion. But the question is why is there such opposition to the very existence of God generally and the very existence of Christianity in particularly? Not the laws it may want to create..but it’s simple existence in the world?

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  6. madblog Post author

    Hi Stan. As you’ve often hear, you are entitled to your own opinion but you are not entitled to your own facts. First, let me get the most specious out of the way. There is no legislative effort by anyone anywhere to “eliminate birth control”. That is an assertion which is so outrageous that one ought to suspect its accuracy even if it fits nicely into one’s political worldview.
    Monogamous marriage and the traditional expectation that sex is best within marriage is not a new right-wing agenda-driven perversion on societal consensus; it is the established, the traditional, the norm…the one that worked very well for societal stability for as long as it was maintained. It’s not we the faith-based who are shooting the cannons at the foundations of the castle, it’s we the faith-based who are guarding it. The subversive push to throw it out and replace it is the work of the change agents.
    Virtually all evidence that I’m aware of shows that our Big Abortion-backed public school’s version of sex education drives UP teen pregnancy, STDs and abortion rates. Etc. Might I suggest that there are agenda-driven “news” sources out there, and that we all ought to fact-check often?
    Are you referring to the rigid worldview which created abolitionists; or established the idea that education was for everyone, no matter their class or economic position; or built virtually all hospitals in overseas countries; established virtually all long-standing institutions of higher learning, including Harvard and Yale; or originated the classless society? Or the rigid worldview that (almost exclusively) adopts discarded and disabled children; that sends missionaries to the remotest places in order to provide clean water, or to provide stoves in place of smoky fires which shorten lifespans by decades, and myriad other humanitarian efforts? Are you referring to the Salvation Army, Food for the Hungry, Samaritan’s Purse, Compassion Int’l?
    If you want a paradigm-shifting look at the real nature of Christian influence, please pick up a copy of The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization by Vishal Mangalwadi. It’s not going too far to say that without the influence of the Christian worldview, we would be living in a very different world indeed, one not bothered by ideas we take for granted such as the equal and intrinsic value of each human being. (That last one is one of those things we Christians are fighting FOR, against the change agents–remember abortion?)
    Sorry but I have no patience with the old saw that Christian influence is harmful.

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    1. Stan Adermann

      The many attempts to declare personhood for a fetus often target types of birth control which are labeled abortificants (usually incorrectly). Plus with Hobby Lobby, companies are no longer required to cover birth control for women. This is not an outright ban on birth control, but these are legal maneuvers to restrict it.

      The question about whether sex is “best within marriage” has no bearing on whether people outside of marriage will want to have sex, and whether they should be armed with knowledge of how to prevent pregnancy and STIs.

      I got my facts straight from the NIH. Your own facts are in question.

      If you want to trot out all of history, you will find both good and bad examples of Christian influence, like most groups. But Christians have had a particular obsession with sex. And in the US where Christian influence has had particular effect on our sex education system, we’re reaping the rewards in higher pregnancy rates while other less Puritan countries are faring much better.

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3194801/

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      1. madblog Post author

        I’m not sure how we got here, Stan, and I’ve got no interest in repeating myself or following you down rabbit holes. You report living in a Puritan America, where religio-right wing groups nevertheless need to be stealthy in order to “attempt to restrict” the killing of small human beings and it’s WE (the Christians) who are obsessed with sex. The picture does look a little over-excited, wouldn’t you admit?

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  7. Stan Adermann

    Wally,

    You’ve described my views correctly, it is about religious-based laws. And I’m not against religious-based laws if they can be shown to have merit outside of their religious basis. But lets say you want to outlaw shellfish based on Leviticus 11:12 and I think it would be bad to wipe out the shellfish industry. I’ve got a few options:

    – I challenge your interpretation of the Bible.
    – I challenge the relevance of the Bible.
    – I challenge the validity of the Bible.
    – I challenge the premise that there is a God.

    Because of your basis for the law, I have to go from arguing the merits of the law to challenging your worldview. I’D REALLY PREFER NOT TO. But when every argument about the merits of the law are met with “God says it’s an abomination,” what choice do I have?

    Those of us who don’t want Bible-based laws face this daily. Personhood amendments, abstinence-only education, restriction of health services, attempts to replace science with religion in public schools. There are those who would love to see a Christian theocracy in the US. So here I am, challenging people’s worldviews, one blog comment at a time.

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    1. Wally Fry

      Stan..we sort of agree LOL. Just clarifying. I didn’t say Bible based laws are wrong. I said our constitution bars a state religion. There is a difference. I would never want a state religion, because history has shown that the true church can become corrupted that way. Enough said there.

      Our morality, like it or not, is based on something…and it’s something more than ideas we have created in our “evolved” minds. Law has a moral basis; our law has a moral basis. Do I believe God provides the moral basis? yes..yes..and more yes.

      Example…”personhood ammendments” Look…to me that’s a no brainer. Abortion is just wrong and non justifiable, period; and, yes my view on that is driven by the concept that I consider life to have been created by God, and therefore valuable to God.

      I certainly don’t propose replacing science with religion. I would never call for science to be silenced; sadly Christians are being called to silence themselves.

      The constitution..remember that one? Not only does it forbid the establishment of religion…it also forbids the outlawing of them as well.

      Mostly, I just wanted it noted that we SORT of agree LOL..God bless you, my friend.

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      1. Stan Adermann

        I do agree with much of what you said. And I understand your perspective, even on abortion. There are pro-life atheists, although I admit I am pro-choice. I will not say your perspective is wrong. I think we agree that it would be better if no abortions occurred. Where we differ is that I can’t agree it is always better if the child is brought to term, but let’s set that aside for the moment.

        – If abortion is outlawed, women still seek abortions. Unfortunately, they sometimes die from it.
        – Giving people good information about what causes pregnancy and how to prevent it reduces unwanted pregnancies and the abortion rate.
        – Giving people access to birth control reduces pregnancies and the abortion rate.

        Christians could work together with others to save lives, including unborn ones. We’re talking real people, real lives. But on mainly religions grounds, Christians have refused to go along with any approach that doesn’t outlaw abortion entirely. Isn’t it better to save one life if you can’t save two?

        BTW, even the Bible has instructions for a form of abortion, in Numbers 5:11-31 where we see that fidelity is more important than the life of the child. So the Biblical perspective on abortion is not necessarily cut and dried.

        I’m not ignoring the comment about silencing Christians, but I would avoid muddling this line for the moment.

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        1. Wally Fry

          Again thanks Stan…I guess LOL. . The overall context we see is God considers every life sacred..period..before they were even formed in the womb. The passage you quoted is far from accepted universally in the light in which you quoted it..sorry.

          Cooperation rocks..no doubt..but not at the expense of clearly committing a murder as God Sees it.

          By they way..I genuinely appreciate your considered approach here…I mean that.

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  8. madblog Post author

    Stan: I’m not wanting to be rude or dismissive. I tend to want to limit my efforts in discussion to the topic of the post and it’s getting pretty far afield. While the issues you introduced are related tangentially, we could be discussing for weeks with no real result. The issues deserve more than my distracted holiday-prep-stressed mind can give right now.
    Not to be flip, but you do realize that, by arguing these points, you’re confirming at least one of my points, right? 😉
    Have a peaceful holiday, and Merry Christmas.

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    1. Stan Adermann

      You know, for some reason I genuinely thought this was Wally’s blog. Apologies for that.

      You’ve made several points and I’m not certain which you’re referring to, which is an indication we’ve both ranged a bit. So I will just say Merry Christmas.

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