Is Atheism On The March?I’ve been looking for articles on atheists and atheism from the Watchtower Society for a while now, and I was always disappointed that they didn’t have much to say. They continue to pick on evolution, of course, which many people associate with atheism. But why not atheists? Aren’t we the cool and happening boogiemen of the day? Plus, more ex-Witnesses turn into atheists than with any other group studied so far. With this and the so called rise of new atheism (not my phrase) in the media, you would think the Society would have something in at least one Watchtower or one AWAKE! every year. But you’d be wrong. I was pretty bummed about it … until Cofty at JWD was kind enough to post a link to PZ Myers web site, which addressed an upcoming article in the AWAKE! magazine, called, “IS ATHEISM ON THE MARCH?”

For other ex-Witnesses turned atheists, this might be a bitter pill to swallow. Me? All I feel is hunger … a hunger for more. Waitress, can we have another, please?

Here’s a quote from the article’s first paragraph. NOTE: If your doctor doesn’t recommend you engage in strenuous laughter, turn away now!

Called the new atheists, they are not content to keep their views to themselves. Rather, they are on a crusade,“actively, angrily, passionately trying to persuade the religious to their point of view,” wrote columnist Richard Bernstein.

Told ya.

Best I could do on short notice. Hey, at least mine’s funnier than the original!”

I’m not sure how we should interpret these lines. Is the Society complaining about a group of people on a mission to convince others that their way is best? I try to give the Society’s authors the benefit of the doubt when I can1, but if the first line isn’t strong enough to suggest that they are complaining about outspoken atheists, the second one ought to be.2 So I think we can all chuckle at the painful irony of it all with a clean conscience. Next month, they’ll be griping about Mormons who knock on their doors.

Even agnostics are in their sights, for these new atheists allow no room for doubt. To them, there simply is no God. End of story.

More irony? Yes, the new atheists are so unlike the Society, which asserts that it is Jehovah God’s one and only true religion, that its leaders were appointed by him and should be obeyed even when they’re wrong, and that all other religions are demon inspired or simply man made. No doubts there either. Well, at least atheists are in good company.

This reminds me of an article I mentioned a while back where an agnostic went on the offensive against atheists by writing an article for Slate Magazine. Maybe now would be a good time to point out a few things about atheists and agnostics in general.

1) Many atheists also regard themselves as agnostics. This seems to be a tough one for many people to swallow. In case readers here are confused by such terminology, I will write an article later that covers it. But for now, try to understand that many atheists do not see agnosticism as a middle position between atheism and theism. We often see it as something else entirely, where Christians can be agnostics or atheists can be agnostics. For those who don’t understand what I mean, you can learn more at the footnote.3

Bizarrely, when you look
for atheist and Jehovah
on the web, you get a
shot of this babe. Thought
I’d paste it here in case
you get bored. It’s sure
helping me.4

2. Whether the attitudes of men like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris “allow no room for doubt” or not is debatable. I don’t always agree with them and sometimes I cringe at their approach when they make their points, but I also realize that they are engaging in public debates and appearances about atheism. Throughout most of human history, atheists tended to keep their views to themselves as if those views were unworthy of entering the public discourse. The new atheists hope to change that. I think that anyone who isn’t prejudiced against atheists in general should concede that this is a good thing

3. One thing should be made clear that the AWAKE! article hasn’t made clear: many atheists are far from extreme in their views and are more than happy to let others believe whatever they want. It’s not as if all atheists are as in-your-face as the so called new atheists. And even the new atheists aren’t that extreme. I’ve yet to hear Hitchens or Dawkins suggest we turn into suicide bombers or blow up any abortion clinics. And even if they did, I doubt any atheist who wasn’t mentally disturbed would answer.

By the way, if spokesmen like the new atheists were kind, forgiving, and always respectful of religion to the point of being deferential, do you think anybody would listen? Would they find themselves doing interviews on Fox News or The Daily Show, spreading their message to the masses, as they do now? Or would they be overlooked in favor of juicier stories? If so, their efforts would have no impact on awareness whatsoever. And awareness, I think, is the most positive thing they are achieving for atheists everywhere. They are forcing people to remember that atheists are out there and that we should get a voice a too. Sure, they’re doing this by being controversial … which is the only way anyone gets anywhere with the media. Once we pass this hurdle, atheists will start appearing on sitcoms as the quirky friend everyone loves to hate. Then we’ll get our own cable channel. It’s inevitable. Don’t fight it people.

More from the AWAKE!

“Religion poisons everything,” says one leading atheist.5 Moreover, that ‘poison’ is said to include religious beliefs in general, not just extremist views. Core dogmas, say the new atheists, must be exposed, abandoned, and replaced by rationality and reason.

To further point out the differences between atheists, I should state my own opinion about this one. I think it would be nice if we abandoned core dogmas–certainly things that I regard as superstitious or harmful–but I’m not sure that it’s within reason to insist that they “must be exposed, abandoned, and replaced by rationality and reason.” For better or worse, we humans need some delusions to get through our day. We’re built this way. The thing is that while some delusions are truly helpful, others can be harmful. We just need a mechanism that helps us lose the harmful ones. Most people don’t seem to have any, or only have ones that work poorly.

I certainly wouldn’t want us turning into Vulcans of Star Trek fame, or dispassionate zombies who merely do as they’re told. (No jokes about life at your former Kingdom Halls, please. We’re already thinking of our own, so what would be the point?) Back to the AWAKE! article:

Which side do you think time will vindicate? While considering the matter, ask yourself: ‘Is belief in a Creator intrinsically harmful? Would universal atheism make for a better world?’ Let us consider what some respected scientists and philosophers have said about atheism, religion, and science.

Dudes, seriously…when was
the last time a bunch of atheists
got together and started
protesting like this?

Golly, I wonder which way the Society will swing on that one. You’ll have to wait until my next post to find out! No spoilers! I’d hate to ruin the surprise. In the meantime, let me try to answer the questions the authors posed.

1. Which side do you think time will vindicate?

Since the signs that Armageddon is getting closer are actually diminishing and humanity seems–overall–to be doing better than ever in the past, I’d bet on my side. The atheist side. But then, I’m an atheist. What did you expect?

2. Is belief in a Creator intrinsically harmful?

That’s a tough one. There are decent arguments both ways. I guess it depends on what the creator you happen to believe in wants. Then again, we could ask the same thing about atheists. Is a lack of belief in a creator intrinsically harmful? Only if you’re a nutcase and the only thing holding you back from killing others is a fear that you’ll be punished by the creator. Both questions seem to imply that we need more information to give a real answer, but as they stand, I would say no–belief or lack of belief in a creator isn’t intrinsically harmful. It’s all the other stuff linked to that belief or affected by that disbelief that we should be worried about.

That’s it for today class. Let’s see what shakes loose in the Society’s next article, “HAS SCIENCE DONE AWAY WITH GOD?”

Spoiler alert: Unless you live in a country … or a town … that has no churches, Kingdom Halls, or mosques, or etc., the answer’s probably no.

NOTE: This is part of a series of posts about the this issue of the AWAKE!





Followed by:

Conclusions On The Articles About Atheism

The Watchtower Society’s Writing Style: Their Literature’s Most Effective Techniques

  1. I’m being totally serious here. Don’t give me that look!
  2. They may be quoting Bernstein there, but they also make the words their own by quoting them inline.
  3. An agnostic Christian is someone who doesn’t believe that God can be proven or disproven absolutely (which is what agnosticism is), but they still believe in God’s existence fully. Thus, they are both agnostic and Christian. An agnostic atheist would also believe that God (or gods generally) can’t be proven or disproven absolutely, but they still wouldn’t believe that any exist. Hence, they are agnostic atheists, which most of us–including most of the new atheists–are.
  4. Babes in lingerie are neat.
  5. Christopher Hitchens, I think.

About The Atheist Geek

The Atheist Geek is a former Jehovah's Witness turned secular humanist. He's a lifelong sci-fi geek and a writer wannabe.
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14 Responses to From The AWAKE! Magazine: IS ATHEISM ON THE MARCH?

  1. Truth Be Known says:

    You and Mr Myers really crack me up with your attempt to make it look like the words from your first quote out of the Awake article belong to the Awake when, after all the highlight and color of what you only want people to see,low and behold,the name of the owner of words,Mr Richard Bernstein,a New York columnist. Now come on,you guys can do better than that.

  2. We did do better than that.

    1. I finished the quote with “wrote columnist Richard Bernstein.” I’m not sure how much clearer I could have made it than that.

    2. I think the article makes it more than clear that the authors agree with Bernstein in principle.

    3. Haven’t you noticed that the Society often uses this practice of quoting others whenever possible to make its points? It’s easy and safer to simply quote another to make your point for you like this. When critics call you on it, you can simply say, “We were just quoting that other guy! Don’t blame us!” In reality, the Society did nothing to separate itself from this opinion in the article and clearly agreed with Bernstein. That shouldn’t insulate them from comments on the opinion they’re espousing.

  3. JWForum says:

    Regarding the point of how rarely the Watchtower and Awake addresses the top of atheism, the Society’s chief aim is to educate on spiritual matters not on general science. The Awake however does regularly publish articles addressing the wonders of the physical universe and the diversity of life on earth.

    • That wasn’t exactly my point. I had merely observed that the Society doesn’t address the topic of atheists or atheism very often, despite our being in the news so much of late. Nor do they seem to write articles that are intended to reach out to us or convert us. Many ex-Witnesses turned atheists suspect that they have no idea how to approach atheists in this way.

      In other words, it was only an observation that I mentioned in the post. I’m not sure why you mention science, as we’re interested in other topics too. (Some atheists are atheists for reasons other than science.) But as I pointed out later in the post, as a publishing company, atheists aren’t the Society’s intended audience. Jehovah’s Witnesses are.

    • B.W. says:

      Well yeah. The Watchtowe and Awake Magazines are filled with religious content and the WBTS wouldn’t publish alot of pro-science stuff due to the fact they are old-earth creationists. Sure the Awake! magazines may publish articles on the wonders of the physical universe and of the diversity of life on earth but that doesn’t mean their information is ‘accurate’. I wonder why the never address the issue of the Jewish and Christian bible’s clear support of slavery?

  4. Tak says:

    Hahaha, keep writing! I love this stuff.

    I lived in a JW household for about three months as an exchange student and learned all I needed to know about their little cult. I nearly converted until I had a moment of clarity where I realized that I wasn’t thinking of joining them because it was true but because they had filled my head with NOHING but their viewpoints and the only way to feel accepted among them was to regurgitate their dogma.

    Afterwards I even did a paper for a psych class on cults and cult mentality. I always challenge them when they come to my door now, especially when they’re with children. Usually they tuck their tails between their legs and slink away.

  5. jomak says:

    haha, just last week two Mormons came to my door with this Awake magazine in their hands to warn me that Atheists are on a crusade to spread Atheism. I told them “You mean they’re going to come knocking on my door and pass out their propoganda?” Then closed the door. The sad thing is the irony was probably completely lost on them, of course I bet it wouldn’t have been lost on most atheists crusaders. I’m personally not an Atheist, but I am a reasonable, logical Agnostic. Those crazy Morons!

  6. Ty says:

    “I’m personally not an Atheist, but I am a reasonable, logical Agnostic.”

    Are you under the impression that those are dichotomous positions?

    I myself am both agnostic and atheist. They are not mutually exclusive. They are, in fact, positions taken on two totally different issues. One is an epistemological position. The other is a statement of belief.

  7. “I’m personally not an Atheist, but I am a reasonable, logical Agnostic.”

    I’m also an agnostic atheist. Or at least that’s how I see myself. There seems to be some disagreements over terminology among different people on these issues.

    Many people–including me–grew up with the understanding that atheists are absolute in their belief that there are no gods. Most modern day atheist that I know do not use the word atheist this way. Instead, we see atheism as a broader term the means a lack of belief in gods. That means we draw a line between theism and atheism at belief; if you belief in any gods, even in a vague way as many moderate believers do, you are a theist. If you are not a theist, then you’re an atheist. There is no middle position (which I will explain further down.) So when most of us refer to atheists, we’re actually talking about agnostics, nontheists, and all that.

    I’ve heard of some people who consider themselves agnostics who get seriously ticked off by this. If that’s your reaction, I don’t know what to tell you. It is a legitimate definition of the word atheist, which can be found in books and good dictionaries. (Note that some dictionaries don’t include all the possible meanings to all words.)

    The word agnostic doesn’t seem to really belong as a middle position, though that’s what many people tend to think it means. Agnosticism is simply the belief that you can’t absolutely prove or disprove the existence of any gods. Since atheism is simply a lack of belief in gods, how that can be a middle or “on the fence” position? That definition is already included in the definition of atheism, too.

    I think it’s reasonable to say that the term agnostic can be applied to Christians, atheists, or Muslims who believe that gods cannot be proven or disproven absolutely. In other words, you sound like an agnostic atheist to me if you don’t believe in any gods but also think they cannot be proven/disproven with certainty. I agree with that position and am also an agnostic atheist.

    Some people are agnostic Christians because they believe in God but don’t believe he can be proven/disproven with absolute certainty.

    Do you see where I’m getting at? Agnosticism isn’t in the same line of thought as atheism or theism. It’s another category unto itself.

    You can still technically call yourself an agnostic.

  8. Ty says:

    Yes. But I find the use of the word ‘agnostic’ to mean ‘non threatening atheist’ annoying.

    Like we’re doing religious people a favor by patting them on the head and saying, “Hey! You might be right!”

  9. Indeed the Watchtower society’s publications are not produced to reflect what is currently popular in the media or to deal with topics as they rise in popularity but to highlight God’s Kingdom as the hope for mankind. The AWAKE does the same although it of course seeks to deal with wider issues that may be of interest to its readership.

    Various aspects of creation are regularly featured in its pages and indeed even in the article here discussed the issues related to what some refer to as “New Atheism” are only used as to introduce the question of whether their position is a reasonable in the light what we see in the universe and the natural world around us.

    • Many of us are former or current Witnesses, so we are very familiar with the literature’s mandate. Still, one would think that the Society wouldn’t be above using today’s headlines where appropriate.

      I take it you are responding, in part, to some of comments about the Society not talking much about atheism or atheists in its publications? As an atheist and ex-Witness, that is naturally something I take note of. When they do talk about atheists, they tend to get some facts wrong and generally make the same mistakes other religious groups make. Naturally, I tend to take notice of this as well. Especially when one of my in-laws repeats those mistakes back to me.

      That might give you some idea of where I’m coming from with those comments. 🙂

    • B.W. says:

      Yes, the Awake! magazines due publish articles on issues of interest to it’s religious readers. I think the Atheists position is reasonable in the light of what we see in the universe and in tha natural world around us. I don’t believe in your god’s ‘kingdom’ as the ‘hope’ for mankind, personally. I see ‘Jehovah’/Yahweh/Allah as a false god like all others personally. I also don’t much care for the Jewish and Christian texts endorsement of slavery which I believe must be acted on if you take the text literally.

  10. TenaciousD says:

    This was a great post! Although I’m not a Christian I do collect AWAKE! magazines because unlike its ‘sister’ publication Watchtower, Awake! always has some great non-secular topics (with just a dash of religious context in them), while I avoid the Watchtower magazines like the [insert phrase here]! (No offense intended BTW)

    As for the question: Is belief in a Creator intrinsically harmful?, that is a really great well worded question, it doesn’t mention which God or Creator, which can make some feel compelled to feel bad about not believing in God even though which God is never stated. 😉

    And every time I hear the word ‘Armageddon’, I always remember the Heaven’s Gate debacle and wish people would stop using that word in a religious context. And don’t even get me started on the second coming, I’m sure lots of people died of old age by just hearing that phrase waiting for ‘the second coming’.

    Oh and the Question:Which side do you think time will vindicate? Well from the way I see it, it could take another 1000 years or more to get the result to that question ( 😉 ) (IMHO) Are will willing to wait that long? (And don’t tell me its just around the corner 🙁 )

    For now I must retreat into my bomb proof bunker awaiting the end of the world. 😉

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