I’d enjoyed Santa Maria‘s visits on The Young Turks, but had no idea she was an atheist, let alone an out atheist (and recovering Mormon!). Then to see her do a show with other outspoken atheists and not apologize for it: sweet music.
Two big points that I’m glad they brought up were the notion of atheists talking about atheism and atheism not being a choice. Santa Maria explains that when thinking about doing this episode, some asked her if she were going to include the religious on the panel. She didn’t want to have a debate, but rather share atheist views, so no. This actually struck me. So often, there’s this pretense in the media of needing to get “both sides” of the debate, even if there is no debate or there aren’t two sides. I don’t know whether this is that media outlets don’t want to appear biased or what. But I’m glad that Santa Maria’s feeling was that since she wanted the show to be about atheists and atheism, she was under no obligation to get the religious take on that.
The other great point (among many) was that of atheism being a choice. Often, when we describe our cultural struggle, we’re told that it’s not the same as any other civil rights movement (and it’s not the same, but it is similar in some ways) because African Americans can’t change the color of their skin and women can’t change their gender (for all intents and purposes). We, however, can change what we believe. This has always seemed really odd to me as in my case, it wasn’t a question of choosing to believe something. I had chosen to believe Christianity, almost entirely due to the fact that I’d been raised in a Christian home, but once I compared the claims to the evidence, I no longer saw any reason to believe. So it wasn’t like before I’d liked chocolate and now I preferred peanut butter. It was that chocolate had been demonstrated not to exist so I couldn’t pick it anymore.
And the thing that people don’t get is that once something has been demonstrated false or in the very least highly unlikely, it’s really hard to maintain belief in it. Think about it. If someone told you they had a magic ball that they could hold up, let go, and it’d float rather than fall, that’d be a pretty crazy, but amazing claim, right? Gravity does not apply to this magic ball. But then imagine that upon request of demonstration of this amazing anti-grav ball, either the ball’s owner refuses to drop it or does so and the ball falls. In the first scenario, imagine asking the owner why they didn’t drop the ball and the owner becoming defensive and demanding that you simply have faith. Your not believing in the magic, anti-grav ball wouldn’t be a choice in this case. It’d be based on the lack of evidence for the claim made. Or imagine if the owner dropped the ball and it fell. You inform of them of this fact and they tell you that you’re wrong. It didn’t fall. You inform them that yes, it plainly did fall. They tell you that you weren’t really watching or you didn’t have faith. You ask for them to do it again and, as they let go of the ball, you record the event on your cell phone video camera. You play back the footage of the ball clearly falling. The owner says that the cell phone malfunctioned or that you manipulated the image because the ball DID NOT FALL.
In either scenario, it wouldn’t be a choice like the chocolate/peanut butter quandary. It’d be an inability to do what others wanted you to do, due to the fact that you simply could not. Kind of like skin color change. Kind of like sexual orientation change.