A Manual For Creating Atheists is the title of a book I purchased this week on Amazon. It was published in 2013, authored by Peter Boghossian, a philosopher professor at Portland State University. He even has a class on atheism, and I came across the syllabus online that skeptic.com published. I have only just started reading it, but I want to share some quotes and comments held within:
Boghossian wrote, “One of my students asked me if a person could be rational and go to church. I responded, ‘Can one be rational and sing songs? And read poetry? And play games? And read ancient texts? Of course. One can do all of these things and be rational.’ Religion is not necessarily an insurmountable barrier to reason and rationality. The problem is not that people are reading ancient texts. I read Shakespeare with my son. I don’t, however, think that Iago, Hamlet, and Lear were historical figures. I also don’t derive my ultimate moral authority from Shakespeare’s works. I don’t want to kill people who have rival interpretation of Shakespeare’s plays. Nor do I attempt to bring Othello into decisions at the ballot box.” 1
Boghossian wrote, “There is perhaps no greater contribution one could make to contain and perhaps even cure faith than removing the exemption that prohibits classifying religious delusions as mental illness. The removal of religious exemptions from the DSM [DSM stands for The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and is published by the American Psychiatric Association as the reference text for psychologists.] would enable academicians and clinicians to bring considerable resources to bear on the problem of treating faith, as well as on the ethical issues surrounding faith-based interventions. In the long term, once these treatments and this body of research is refined, results could then be used to inform public health policies designed to contain and ultimately eradicate faith.” 2
Boghossian wrote, “The original title of my lecture was, ‘Jesus, Muhammad, the Tooth Fairy, and Other Evil Creatures.’ However, the organizer of the event politely asked me to tone down the title. I submitted the following, which was accepted without question: ‘Jesus, Mother Teresa, the Tooth Fairy, and Other Evil Creatures.”3
Boghossian wrote, “Just as the body is exposed to toxins so is the mind. Faith is an unclassified cognitive illness disguised as a moral virtue. Each of us dreads the thought of becoming ill, and we take whatever measure necessary to regain our health. No so with the faith virus. People infected by faith feel gratitude and appreciation for their affliction.”4
In Chapter 9 of his book, Boghossian covers what he calls Containment Protocols. These are ways he suggests to contain or eliminate the Christian faith. I will touch on his list of eleven briefly below.
1. Use the word “faith” only in a religious context. – “…when the faithful are pressed on the definition of faith (when they’re shown they can’t and don’t really know Jesus performed these miracles), they usually retreat to the words ‘hope,’ ‘trust,’ and ‘confidence,’ abandoning knowledge and certainty.
2. Stigmatize faith-based claims like racist claims. – In the short term, one specific verbal technique to help contain faith-based justification is through the ‘Adult Table’ response. One can sit at the Adult Table if one has evidence in support of a position… Those at the Kids Table can talk about anything they’d like, but they have no adult responsibilities and no voice in public policy.”
3. Parrhesia [asking for forgiveness for what you say]: Speaking truth in the face of danger. – “Be honest. Be direct. Be blunt. Be unapologetic. Don’t complain, apologize, or mumble in the defense of reason. Don’t tone it down or talk baby talk. Never say, “I’m sorry but…”, or “Forgive me for saying…” or “You’ll excuse me for mentioning…” Instead, tell people exactly what you think and why you think it. Take a punch and give a punch.”
4. Stay Informed. – If you haven’t read their books already, I’d start with the Four Horsemen and Michael Shermer (I suggest beginning with Harris and Shermer and ending with Dawkins and Dennett)….If you must buy one of [the Christian Apologists] books buy it used and support a local bookstore, this way the author doesn’t receive any royalties. (Excellent advice actually, this is exactly how I purchased A Manual For Creating Atheists.)
5. Contribute. – If you don’t become a Street Epistemologist, you can still make a contribution to reason and rationality. If you’re an organizer then create groups to raise money or help established , reputable organizations like the Center for Inquiry or the James Randi Educational Foundation.
6. Experiment and publicize. – Develop and test your own strategies to fight the faith virus. Consider publicizing your particular contribution in an appropriate medium: books, magazines, YouTube, fiction, documentaries, plays, editorials and letters to the editor, songs, art works, etc.
7. Form academic-community partnerships. – The high school and university systems should be used as reason and rationality incubation chambers. One of the ways to do this is through the formation of academic-community partnerships. Individual teachers, professors, and entire departments can reach out to organizations like the Skeptics Society, the James Randi Educational Foundation, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, the Center for Inquiry, the Secular Student Alliance, Project Reason, or other well-respected organizations.
8. Treat faith as a public health crisis. – There are groups, institution, and organizations…(e.g., Alliance Defending Freedom, Alliance Defense Fund, American Center for Law and Justice, Christian Legal Society, Christian Law Association, National Legal Foundation, mega and micro-churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, etc.). I want to be clear that I’m not advocating making faith illegal, in the same way racism cannot be made illegal. I advocate conceptualizing the faith problem from a public health perspective and designing interventions based upon this model.
9. Financially cripple purveyors of faulty epistemologies. – A key containment protocol is to financially cripple any institution that propagates a faulty epistemology, starting with the most egregious perpetrators: religious institutions…Once these organizations are financially compromised, their reach and power will be greatly diminished. (He goes on to list goals to financially cripple faith-based institutions.)
10. Create skeptical (atheist) children.– Many children from religious households abandon and do not regain their faith. And, if trends of belief in God continue to plummet, both social acceptance of atheism and the number of atheists will continue to rise.
11. Remove religious exemption for delusion from the DSM. – It is crucial that the religious exemption for delusion be removed from the DSM. Once religious delusions are integrated into the DSM, entirely new categories of research and treatment in into the problem of faith can be created. 5
Are the above comments a cause for concern? They should be! Other bloggers have had some concerns about his book. Randal Rauser had a quality blog post about Boghossian and hate speech. Thinking Christian.net has published a brief on his book that will be worth reading. I think Tom Gilson has one of the best Christian blogs out there. You can download it for free. Tom has another article on the Strawman arguments Boghossian uses. Finally, Tom was interviewed by Greg Koukl not long ago. The interview is in the last hour of his 3 hour podcast. I have been listening to Greg Koukl for about 2 years now and have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge in apologetics from him, and his website str.org is a wealth of knowledge.
I encourage you to share this post with others. Be aware of the disdain some atheists hold for Christians and their efforts to marginalize our faith. But more importantly, research the claims of Christianity and the evidence for it and be prepared with an answer.
“…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” 1 Peter 3:15
1. Boghossian, Peter. A Manual For Creating Atheists. Durham: Pitchstone Publishing, 2013. Print.
2. Ibid., 222.
3. Ibid., 223
5. Ibid., 210-221