Colin McEnroe Show: Atheism, Agnosticism And The Quest For Meaning

Our panel investigates what - if anything - it means to believe.

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Colin McEnroe Show: Atheism, Agnosticism And The Quest For Meaning
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Colin McEnroe Show: Atheism, Agnosticism And The Quest For Meaning

In Love and Death, Woody Allen's character Boris says: ... if it turns out that there IS a God, I don't think that He's evil. I think that the worst you can say about Him is that basically He's an underachiever.

Apostasy to some, but to others, this is the heart of the question. How can we reconcile almost any notion of God with the cruelties of Nature with famine and pestilence, with slavery and the holocaust?
This is not a question that has just one answer. 
What does it mean to find no comfort in religion, and how many people in this nation are noisily or quietly on the path of atheism? How many others are nestled deep in a long term agnosticism? 
Today on the show, you'll meet both kinds. Atheists are, in 2010, barking a bit louder than they have in the past, urging others to flock to their standard. Agnostics?..Well, how can they even form a club?
Leave your comments below, e-mail or Tweet us @wprcolin




I don't believe in the same god that chion doesn't believe in. That's not to say there is no god or that I am an atheist. Her argument is not so much atheistic as anti-religionist.

Chion Wolf's essay was an

Chion Wolf's essay was an example of yet another creed. The problem with her unremarkable view is that unlike Catholics, Jains, Hindus, Zoroastrians et al who recognize that they are bound to dogma, she sees herself as free of it when she has simply traded one for another. Her smugness and self satisfied tone reminds me of so many fundmentalists' demeanor.

REE lig oN

I am a devil's advocate.In seeing from many aspects of life I have formed the opinion that all the stories,legends and myths that have been passed on were attempts to give people strong focus points as either guidelines or control cues.I myself have used imagery and imagination to focus my energy.Vibes,gut-feelings,deja-vu ...I subscribe. I also study semiotics and semantics and the use of symbols within politics and control.I am not a conspiracy nut or maybe I am(semantics).I believe there is a method to the madness.Hail Santa!

On Accountability

I thought it was a great essay - well thought-out and very well-spoken. Especially the part about accountability, something I also hold close to my heart. We are each of us responsible for our own lives, but it is very tempting to pass off that responsibility to someone - or something - else. Pinning your failures on The Devil or your successes on God (or the other way 'round, if you wish), is voluntarily ceding responsibility over your life. That I cannot abide, and wouldn't ask anyone to do. So brava to you, Ms. Wolf, for maintaining your agency! And, of course, for standing up for who you are in such a public manner.(Oh, and to MaxTheBear: I think you mean "Thank the Invisible Pink Unicorn." Heretic.)

The Triumphal Tone?

"...but the triumphal tone of her explication of her own beliefs, attitudes and values signaled at best a condescending orientation..."
Indeed. Thank the Orbiting Teapot the religionsts don't exhibit such an attitude.

Reply to Anthony

Don't take her comment as saying you are a "misbegotten fool". Perhaps it is more accurate to say you are mistaken on this topic. Hey... none of us is perfect. When religious people make claims to know God they are also calling the rest of us fools... right? It is only fair that this discussion goes both ways.

Ms. Wolf's essay would be

Ms. Wolf's essay would be perfect for "This I Believe." While she is perfectly entitled to her beliefs, I feel she generalized too often, especially by lumping in religion and those who follow religion, as people of superstition.

Colins shoe on Atheism

Wow. Loved the show but I have to say that Chion blew me away. I had previously written her off as a strange girl who had gotten lucky with NPR. She couldn't even pronounce "w". As her pronunciation improved, so, too, did my appreciation for her outlooks and opinions. Her essay today on atheism hit the mark. If I had her talent, I could have written it myself word for word; from the biblical references to the astrological analogies.... Still looking for that next god. Thanks Chion! you have restored my "faith" in atheists. I plan to share the essay with friends.

I don't believe in Chion

I don't believe in Chion Wolf. :)

Chion Wolf's essay on atheism

I respect Chion Wolf's unbelief, but her first-person essay, while nicely crafted, seemed to imply that anyone who did believe in God was a misbegotten fool. No, she didn't directly criticize or mock believers, but the triumphal tone of her explication of her own beliefs, attitudes and values signaled at best a condescending orientation toward belief.
I suggest that if Ms. Wolf were to present her essay in the future, she should drop the humorous bit about how much she used to like the taste of Communion wafers. Her remark didn't offend me, but she should realize that for many Christians, Communion is the central element of their faith. Treating it with disdain, even in a humorous vein, does not raise the stock of atheism.

I live in New Britain.

I tend to think there is a

I tend to think there is a force that runs things, call it whatever you want, as a scientist, I think of it as the energies behind chemistry, or physics... there is energy, we can measure it, it has to come from an ultimate source. Recently I ended up in a brief confrontation with a fundamentalist Christian, a fellow scientist, who was profoundly offended by the fact that I argued that each religion has it's place in history, and you have to let people believe what they were raised to believe, and that you can't say that one person is right and another is wrong, when the core of all religions is similar. Of course she rejected this, and later pulled me aside to let me know that Jesus was God, the only God, everyone else was false, and that this was the foundation of being a Christian, and that she couldn't be my "friend" because I didn't agree (granted we were NOT friends in the the first place). It was then that I realized that she was profoundly insecure. So much so that she has to reject anyone that openly questions what she believes. So insecure that without this anthropomorphous "God" she is totally LOST. At first I was angry with her for being so narrow minded and closed off. Then I realized that this insecurity was probably an inherited anxiety disorder, as she was raised by a mother that was also a fundamentalist... from there I felt nothing but pity. I appreciate this open discussion- thank you!! I wish the people that could most benefit from this kind of open discussion were capable of having it- as compassion and acceptance is supposed to be such a large part of religious practice, and this could teach them a thing or two about it.

In closing, I love this quote: "To be truly atheistic, not just agnostic, you have to take the nonexistence of God on faith." - L.M. Boyd

Martin, as you wish! :D it's

Martin, as you wish! :D it's been added to the play list in this episode page. :) Thanks!

to day show

can you post Chion Wolf essay. Thank you

E-mail from Amy

I was born to intellectual parents who called themselves Jewish Atheists who do not believe in organized religion. And that "Judaism is not a religion; but a way of life." Even so, they sent me to the Teferes Israel when I was six in order to learn about Jewish History. Within three weeks my parents were asked to talk to me about my overly inquisitive behavior, which was having a negative effect on the other students or, just take me out altogether. Really, this happened. Basically I did believe in God, I don't know why as one would think that such a young child naturally believed as her parents. My perceived problem was that I asked too many questions about Eve, the apple, the serpent, how two people created an entire world of humans, etc., you get the drift. But I never questioned the existence of God. However that was the end of my formal education of Jewish History.

Today I consider myself a Spiritualist, which to me means one who trusts there is a higher power that could be God, Jesus, an Energy force, a Vibrational Being, or an Alien from another galaxy or dimension. We strive to spread love, light, and positive energy/vibrations so to help all living creatures and any other matter made of atoms, energy and/or cells live in a balanced and peaceful world. Each of us is one tiny part of a whole and as such we ourselves are carry God within our beings. There is no religion in this in my view because we operate individually or in small groups (as compared to organized religion) on a physical level, while knowing we are interconnected spiritually with all other beings.

So what does that make me?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

E-mail from James

Good Day,

Loved Chion's essay, thanks.

Atheists and foxholes:

If there were a God, men wouldn't be in foxholes.

E-mail from Marilyn

Hi Colin. I am a female atheist, age 47. I have been an atheist since age 15, and before that I was one but didn't really know it in terms of the rational choice, the reasons I believed what I believed.

I do say that "science is my religion" but only for answers to they why's of questions about life, the universe, and everything (such a great phrase from Douglas Adams!) not for morality. The university doesn't seem to care anything about the morality of things, only about chance.

How to be moral without religion? Of course I am not void of religion, I was brought up in our Judeo-Christian society which I'm sure has greatly influenced what I think of as moral. Moral is a feeling on the inside. It is about coming from love and compassion, two things which science does not have. Only humans have it. And it's hard work.

As to whether religion saves people that otherwise would not be saved: No matter how one comes to love and accept, it will lead them to the ability to live an authentically decent, moral life. Religions can and do keep this path from people as well as put them on it, so it can't be that god or religion sis right or wrong, but some path or process that does the job.

I am amazed at how many people are almost offended when they find out I'm an atheist. I don't understand how these "go to church once in awhile," "abuse others because it makes themselves feel good" people think *I'm* the bad one!

E-mail from Josh

You mentioned Unitarians earlier in the show. I was raised a Unitarian Universalist in Hamden, CT in the 1970s and 80s. Now I serve as a Unitarian Universalist minister at our congregation in Manchester, CT.  We don't raise/teach our kids to believe in God or not believe in God. We do our best to make them aware of how the world works, how to assess human nature, how to make good decisions, how to act morally. We also try to educate them about what other religions teach. We don't indoctrinate. We don't offer dogmas. We don't threaten punishments. Some of our kids grow up to be atheists. Some grow up to believe in God. Our job is to affirm them and support them in their spiritual journey.
There are many paths.