Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Atheism... sandwiched between two Gods.

I hate to get all meta on you guys... but I experienced a moment of crushing irony today. Possum#2 is working on a Presidential report (no, he's not appraising Bush...*le sigh*). He chose to research U.S. Grant. That's really neither here nor there, except for the fact that it meant opening "the cabinet of wisdom". It's really just a hall cupboard where we store all of our encyclopedias and reference texts. Anyway... he pulled out "G" for Grant. I got to wondering, "what does the encyclopedia say about atheism?"

For copyright purposes, I think it's only fair to cite my source: For the following rant, I will be referring to the World Book Encyclopedia, 2003. Book "A". Page 853.

I don't know what I expected. I had, previously, popped open "volume C" to see what the World Book people had to say about Christianity. There were two or three pages of history. So, I was a bit surprised to open "A" and find that atheism had been relegated to THREE(3), count em', THREE(!!) paragraphs. I groaned. Yes, irony or ironies... in the World Book, atheism is sandwiched between Athanaslus (who gets two freakin' paragraphs...maybe because he's a "Saint") and Athena (what's with the Gods?). Athena clocks in at five paragraphs, with a lead-in to the next page- ATHENS.

I know that the World Book series aims at children. It was a concession I was willing to make when I discovered that the Brittanica (a, in my opinion, superior encyclical) was about seven hundred dollars more than the WB. For seven hundred dollars, the kids can go to the library. Anyway, I digress,...I realize that World Book is kid friendly, but that's no excuse for the atheism article.

It starts out: "Atheism (pronunciation) is the belief that there is no God."
I would ammend that to read: " God(s)." I realize this is petty, but for the love of Pete...we're one sentence in and it's wrong. It continues... "Atheism is the opposite of theism. Atheism is also distinguished from agnosticism, a belief which states that human beings do not, and cannot, know whether any gods exist." Again, technically true... but, somehow the positions aren't defined well enough. It's like a state the obvious contest.
"Atheists argue that God is never encountered in human experience. They believe that nothing in human experience needs to be explained by the existence of a deity. Atheists also reject the arguments that various thinkers have advanced to prove the existence of God."
I think the dig is slight, but there none-the-less. It's subtle, but it's positioning atheists against "thinkers". No note that atheists tend to *be* deep thinkers and/or posit equal arguments for no deities. It presents atheism as a thoughtless position. I don't like that! The phrasing that theists have "advanced" theories to prove God is almost laughable. But,...let's go on...
"Atheists point to the presence of serious imperfections in the world, such as widespread suffering and injustice."
Yes. We do. But, we also present rational and logical arguments. We don't solely base our position on the fact that, IF god(s) exist, then he/she/it/they have really created a society/culture/earth that's FUBARed. It sets atheism up as an emotional position and not a philosophical position.
"They argue that such imperfections show that the world could not have been created by a deity who was perfect in power and goodness."
Again, that's sort of correct, but there's far more to it than that.
"Atheism conflicts with most religions."
... any single religion conflicts with "most religions." That's why there are so many in the first place. And, the phraseology (did I just make that word up?) is subtle, but it posits that atheists are conflicted or agressive.
"However, some forms of Buddhism seem not to assert the existence of a supreme being."
What does that have to do with the price of tea in China? Seriously... it's like a delicate way of saying, "... but, don't worry, they (atheists) might still be religious." What the fuck, Chuck?
"Some prominent thinkers have been advocates of atheism. They include Baron Paul d' Holbach, and Voltaire of France in the 1700's; Arthur Schopenhauer, Karl Marx, and Nietzche of Germany in the 1800's; and Bertrand Russel of England and Albert Camus."
*crickets chirping* You've got to be kidding me. World Book couldn't come up with a few more recognizable atheists for AMERICAN (their target audience) kids? Come on! You're kidding. They couldn't even throw in a token female? Instead, they list people that the average child has never, ever heard of and depreciate the significance of atheism by listing foreign and DEAD atheists. Buddha forbid that they actually list some great American, popular atheists...that might encourage atheism. *scowl*

No wonder atheism is misunderstood and underappreciated. If I were a child who suspected that there was no God, and I looked up atheism/atheist in an encyclopedia, I'd be incredibly discouraged.
I want to pull a Stephen Colbert and put World Book "On Notice!"
How can we, as atheists, particularly American atheists, get crap like this changed? I've already drafted a letter to World Book. It essentially calls out their pathetic excuse for an article on atheism and suggests that they contact an actual atheist the next time they revise their entry. It's a more diplomatic version of what I really wanted to write: "You call that an entry? Bastards! Try actually investigating the subject that you're writing about and quit worrying about offending some fundamental Christian. They're not going to ban the World Book from the school library...and if they did try, then we officially know that the United States is full of over-opinionated jackasses who don't want their kids exposed to truth and the folly of religion." - Smooches, P-Momma

I need chocolate.


proud to be an atheist said...

That made me curious to check out the encyclopedias from when I was a kid... the word atheism isn't even in there! Can't say I'm surprised though.

1982: Young Students Encyclopedia

Atheist in a mini van. said...

That made me curious to check out the encyclopedias from when I was a kid... the word atheism isn't even in there! Can't say I'm surprised though.

1982: Young Students Encyclopedia

Oh...well, I suppose I should be happy that we've made SOME progress, then. LOL

Anonymous said...

Most importantly, it's a not a belief, it's a lack of a belief.

Paul said...

So rewrite it. Write it the way it *should* read. Send it to them.

ceinwyn said...

That's a pretty good idea. Paul. Of course, you'd be working for free, PM. Maybe P#1 should take a crack at it.

Paul said...


I see that World book is obviously inferior to Wikipedia.

My apologies, I have been forgetting to use my [silentsanta] tag, on my last few comments; which I use to distinguish myself from the other Paul that comments here.
I am the NZ version, in case there is any confusion.

proud to be an atheist said...

Wikipedia is not a credible source though.

proud to be an atheist said...

In the online version of Britannica, there are 6391 words (since I'm not a member, I cannot view the whole thing). Below is what you get for not being a member, which isn't much...

"Critique and denial of metaphysical beliefs in God or divine beings. Unlike agnosticism, which leaves open the question of whether there is a God, atheism is a positive denial. It is rooted in an array of philosophical systems. Ancient Greek philosophers such as Democritus and Epicurus argued for it in the context of materialism. In the 18th century David Hume and Immanuel Kant, though not atheists, argued against traditional proofs for God's existence, making belief a matter of faith alone. Atheists such as Ludwig Feuerbach held that God was a projection of human ideals and that recognizing this fiction made self-realization possible. Marxism exemplified modern materialism. Beginning with Friedrich Nietzsche, existentialist atheism proclaimed the death of God and the human freedom to determine value and meaning. Logical positivism holds that propositions concerning the existence or nonexistence of God are nonsensical or meaningless."

Krystalline Apostate said...

Hey, AIAMV (I hope that's all right) - there's another glaring error.
Voltaire wasn't an atheist. He was more of a Spinozan/Deist sort.
You might like my Profiles in Atheism series.
Also, was wondering if you knew you were on the Atheist Blogroll (via Mojoey)? Which is how I found you.
Or should I call ya MiniVan? Initials okay?

Atheist in a mini van. said...

Also, was wondering if you knew you were on the Atheist Blogroll (via Mojoey)? Which is how I found you.
Or should I call ya MiniVan? Initials okay

Wow. I had no clue I was on a blogroll. I guess I'll have to clean up my act. ;)

Actually, P-Momma or possummomma is a good name. Thanks for reading.

Chakolate said...

Take heart, Possummomma. Nobody buys the World Book any more, they go to Wikipedia, whose article is pretty good, certainly much better than the WB one.

Krystalline Apostate said...

Wow. I had no clue I was on a blogroll. I guess I'll have to clean up my act. ;)
Oh no, please, be yourself by all means.
No 1 even told me I was on the 'roll, until I discovered technorati had all these blog links to me from folks I'd never heard of.
When I discovered I was on the 'roll, I put it up at my site.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

I added you to my links, Krystalline.

Anonymous said...

I would've liked the entire entry to read...

"See Rationalism."

Eamon Knight said...

1982 was when you were a kid? Try my 1965 World Book ;-). "ATHEIST" (not "atheism") gets about one column-inch, sandwiched between ATHARYA-VEDA (see VEDA) and ATHELSTAN (who gets almost as much coverage as ATHEIST). After disambiguating the term from "agnostic", the article then spends its whole last half noting that "atheist" is the label historically applied to those who rejected the local religion (eg: Socrates in Athens, the Christians in Rome).

Sounds like your WB edition is an improvement.

(And why do I still have a 42yo encyclopedia? Because I am constitutionally unable to get rid of a book. It's a pathology, I know....)

benjdm said...

WB is still miles ahead of the American Heritage Dictionary:

1) atheism. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.
...Disbelief in or denial of the existence of God or gods. b. The doctrine that there is no God or gods. 2. Godlessness; immorality.

Erp said...

So what does it have under 'god'?

Atheist in a mini van. said...

Erp said...
So what does it have under 'god'?

Good question. Maybe I'll look that up after the possums have been fed, bathed, and put to bed.