‘How to tell if you’re an atheist.’
Dennett starts by describing a rare condition called Anton’s Syndrome. A type of anosognosia whose sufferers are in denial of their total blindness. That’s right. Blindness denial is an actual neurological dysfunction - albeit very rare and not well understood. Dennett likens this form of vehement denial to so-called theists who are showing the hallmarks of atheism but refuse to outwardly (or inwardly) declare their non-belief. He refers to his own research with Linda LaScola on ‘Preachers who are not believers’ and the online ‘Clergy Project’ forum to assert that many people (including people working in religious positions) are living this kind of lie and one apparent commonality is their ‘reluctance to call themselves atheist’. The following line of questioning might then be directed at people who call themselves Christian (in particular).
Do you really believe Jesus was the son of god?
Do you really believe that god intervenes in human affairs?
Do you really believe that prayer works?
Do you really believe that god is on our side?
Do you really believe that the universe needed a ‘creator’?
If you answer ‘no’ to any or all of these questions then you just might be an atheist and you should seriously examine these symptoms!
According to Dennett, many ‘non-believing’ clergy find it so daunting to leave their jobs and start new lives due to an array of complex personal/family/community issues but perhaps one reason that they stay is to atone for their own hypocrisy, in a role that they know they can do some good for others. Whatever the case for individuals, it seems evident that the nature of religion is changing rapidly.
Dennett then supposes that since religion has always thrived in an environment of ignorance, in our current age of transparent information it cannot survive like it once did. Easier access to knowledge, ‘arms children against (religious) propaganda’. Education of comparitive religion is already underway in Quebec schools.
And given that religious creeds have traditionally needed to be housed ‘under a thicket in a swamp shrouded in mist’, impenetrable to rational questioning, the approach atheists should take in the discussion is ‘don’t ask - tell!’