The following is an interview with Martin S. Pribble of martinspribble.com. You can follow him on Twitter @MartinPribble.
Have you always been a nonbeliever? If not, what were you before and what was most influential in your change? If so, has anything ever tempted you to believe in a deity?
It depends upon what you mean by "non-believer". As a child I was told there was a God and a Jesus and that we should be thankful to them, but this mostly came from the society around me and my extended family, not from my parents, in the form of prayer at family meals like Thanks Giving and Christmas. My mother an father came from scientific schools of thought, mother studying physiotherapy and my father fresh-water biology, so the scientific method was something they had to employ in their daily working lives. This trickled down to my brother and I as we were growing up. They always supported us to think critically about the things presented to us, and later in life have come out to me as atheists, both independently of the other.
Probably the closest I ever was to a "believer" of any kind was a bit of a new-age hippy in my teen years. Most of this was due to ascribing too much to weight to things like commonality of being human, happenstance and coincidence, and an ignorance of what mechanisms are actually in place when dealing with each other and the world at large. When I learned more about human psychology and the physical sciences, 99% of this was thrown out the window. I became agnostic (always was really), but still hadn't made the logical jump to "atheist" at this stage. It wasn't until I read "The God Delusion" that I gained the courage and insight I needed to become atheist proper. So the journey was a series of small steps, from being told to believe, to being free to explore, to coming to the eventual conclusion that there is no reason to believe in any gods.
In terms of belief in any particular deity, maybe the closest I came was thinking that there was a Gaia or universe god, which was actually the universe itself. Almost deistic, but probably a lazy and disconnected version of such. I became much more rigorous in my questioning as I have grown older.
Everything about your blog screams “well-read”--from the informed opinions within the articles, to the back-cover style testimonials, to the “Reading” tab linking to books you’ve enjoyed. If you could offer one book to a person who is starting to doubt their faith, what would it be and why?
Firstly, thank you for the praise. I really just consider it my ramblings, and am pretty happy that people like to read it. I try to be as even and informed as possible, and I'm glad that this comes through in my writing.
If there was one book for people to start doubting their faith, the best for me would be Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces. While this book doesn't seek to discredit religion per se, it does a great job of showing that the stories of Jesus, Krishna, and any other deity all are rooted in a similar structure, what Carl Jung would call "Archetypes". These archetypes are each very similar in many ways, including the journey these religious heroes and mythical characters take on their paths to enlightenment. It even draws on popular cultural references, such as the journey of Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars series, and even The Lion King, to show that this story structure still resonates with us today as it did with Homer's Odyssey. Once a person has this perspective on these, the most powerful stories in human history, the whole Jesus myth starts to fade into just another story. For me, this book was one of the first that started me on my journey of discovery.
Along with your blog posts, you are very prolific on Twitter. Coming in at over 87,000 tweets, it’s clear that you do more than simply promote your blog on social networks. How do you use Twitter and what kinds of people do you most interact with?
For me, Twitter is a communication tool, a place to promote my blog, to promote ideas, to inform others of breaking news, to ask for references for certain questions I may have for research purposes, and also a place for me to clown around with others and have a little fun. It's an open forum, so anything goes as far as I'm concerned. I get a lot of information about home-brewing, rock climbing, cooking etc, as well as just have conversations with people. I love it.
To be fair, I mostly do interact with atheists and agnostics, though sometimes I find myself compelled to answer some of the more bizarre notions of theists on there. I try not to as it can be annoying for others who follow my timeline, but sometimes I can't help myself. I guess I have a low tolerance for bullshit.
As someone who has taken part in atheist conventions, what would you say is the primary value in attending? Who was your favorite speaker?
I have attended to Global Atheist Conventions, and one convention that was not primarily "atheistic" in nature, but which had a more skeptical bent, called Think Inc. Each of these conventions were great, and I had such fun that I will definitely attend more.
The biggest value for me in attending these conferences is the exchange of ideas. Not only during the talks, but between and afterwards also. The people I've met at these events continue to be friends long after the event is over, and some have become very dear to me indeed.
Thus far my favourite speaker has been Sam Harris. He's somewhat of a hero of mine, because he openly challenges people's views on certain aspects of human existence, and is so calm, so poised when presented with the likes of William Lane Craig or Deepak Chopra. He manages to call people out on their inconsistencies and incongruities without resorting to being rude or losing his cool. I was lucky enough to see him speak at the recent Global Atheist Convention here in Melbourne, where he made the bold move of showing a group of 4000 atheists that meditation had some merit, by example no less. I don't agree with everything he says, but he is probably the most intellectually honest speaker of his kind today.
As atheists, we often talk about the harm caused by religion. What do you see as the primary benefit of religion, if any?
I don't think religion has any benefit to society at large. I think the positive elements that religion could offer are all too easily taken advantage of by those who are given a special place of privilege within the religious ranks. We see this again and again, in everything from abuse claims by the clergy, to the evangelical ministers of mega-churches, to the political sway of imams in the Middle-East, to the "war on women" being waged in the USA. What could be positive, the sense of community and having a place of refuge from the ravages of the outside world, has been usurped by divisiveness and opportunism, and this I feel will be the ultimate downfall of organised religions.
The benefit I do see is the one felt by the believer on a personal level. Some people are quite fine to believe within their own lives, regardless of any cognitive dissonance they may feel when their beliefs are questioned. It's true that it allows people to get on with their lives, especially in situations where they've lost a loved-one. It's easier for the griever to believe that they will be with their loved one once again in heaven, than to deal with the pain of the finality of death. I've seen this in my own life, in family members etcetera. For me however I'd rather know reality than kid myself into some kind of comforting delusion. To quote Carl Sagan "For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."
Who is your atheist role model? Why?
I don't really have a single role model. As I said, I really admire Sam Harris, but I don't always agree with him. I often look to the women of the movement for views that I might now see as often being shown by the men of the atheism. Harris, Shermer, Hitchens, Dawkins, PZ Myers, and then some of the less "atheist" atheists and agnostics like Steven Pinker, Geoffrey Robertson, Carl Sagan, etcetera. I know so many women that inspire my work; Monica Salcedo, Emily Dietle, Greta Christina, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Soraya Chemaly, as well as many whose words are less well known. If I didn't have so many topics to talk about in the spheres of religion and belief, I would undoubtedly be a full-time feminist activist. But when it comes down to it, I take the things I like from whomever I like. I don;t really follow any one person's ideals to a tee.
Is there anything that would convince you that there is a god? If so, provide an example.
That would be a difficult task indeed. If a being came out of the sky and proclaimed in a booming voice "I AM GOD!" and then proceeded perform miracle after miracle, I'd still be skeptical. This about it, if you were to go back to the day 200 BC and produce a box of matches from your jacket, the people of the day would think it was magic. The third of Arthur C Clarke's laws states "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." I would think this were the case if any sentient being were to proclaim itself to be God. The problem of proving god is first that the idea of a creature being required to create the universe is so unbelievable in the first place that I would find my skepticism would take precedence over any notion of a god.
The only way i could see it happening would be by involuntary brainwashing or mind-control. It is always possible that an advanced technology could have worked out a way to control the minds of the masses, and could use this to their advantage. It is quite feasible that such an advanced civilisation could see that enslavement of the entire human race, using concepts designed to fit within already existing human archetypes and belief systems, would be a relatively easy feat. I mean, people already willingly believe that a magical dead carpenter can bend reality enough to make his face appear, for nor reason, in the melted pieces of cheese in a piece of toast, so imagine how easy it would be to conquer the earth with the level of gullibility we already show.
The other way I may come to believe a god exists is through brain injury or trauma. I don't think that in my current state of understanding of the universe that any other possibility is feasible.