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The name "Atheism" bugs me.

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Mod - this thread probably belongs in another area ... move as necessary.

There's a cable-access type show in my city called the Atheist Forum, where two guys sit at a table, slam on theists, then take their calls. The callers are mostly Christian, and none of them make anything resembling a logical argument. The hosts are inarticulate and indulge in a number of logical fallacies with as much emotional fervor as the callers. Fruitless.

During a break, they advertised their community meetings and showed products that could be purchased from the organization. All of them - t-shirts, mugs, hats, bumber stickers - were negative in nature, written with smug atheist slogans that mock Christians. "Fuel to the fire", I thought.

I have no doubt that the only thing this is effective in doing is inciting anger in the faithful. In fact, the whole idea of "organized atheism" is a bit absurd. I could see maybe a supoprt group for people who are recovering from a childhood of religious indoctrination, but that's not what I see.

I see a bunch of hateful people who aren't constructing anything, just trying to destroy what other people believe.

I have had many friends who were religious, one of whom is now a priest, and I've never been shy about telling them I'm an atheist ... but I always hated the word. It's just negative in nature, and I always had to go on and explain what I do hold as truth.

Anymore I just tell them I'm an Objectivist, that I try to live my life by a solid code of logical and rational thought, rather than relying on whim and revelation upon which to make decisions. Invariably I suffer the "Mr. Spock" taunting, but it's been a better approach than saying I'm an atheist first.

I'm just curious to know,: How do others here handle these situations? What kind of language do you use to encourage people to be curious about your way of thinking, rather than language that offends them right away?

Edited by synthlord
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When my non-philosophical friends and acquaintances, knowing my interest in philosophy, ask me about this area, I reply "I am not religious." However, if they then go on to ask if I am an atheist, I tell them that I am. I don't have a problem with the word, and it's unfortunate that it is offensive to anybody.

Granted, "I am not religious" doesn't make people very interested in what I have to say on the issue. Answering "I am an Objectivist" seems like it would work well to achieve those ends, especially if the person doesn't know what an Objectivist is. A person who doesn't know what Objectivism is wouldn't be offended by its mentioning, and people tend to be interested in hearing a summary of an "-ism" that they have never heard before.

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For a few reasons:

I'm a musician and I work with musicians, and it is this primary interest that brings us together. I do not consider the ones for whom Christianity is paramount anything more than colleagues.

Also, I live in Florida - you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a half dozen people ready to embarrass themselves in public by beating you with Chick's Bible Tracts. Sometimes, if asked about my religion, I grin and provide the Zappa response - "musician". It keeps the torch-wielders at bay, and I get on with my life.

Another reason is that, while I have fundamental problems with their ideas, I recognize that they may never have been exposed to a rational form of philosophy. Before I read Ayn Rand, I was like a lot of people - raised in the church, disagreeing with a lot of it, but abiding by the moral teachings "just in case." When I rejected it, and awoke to logic and reason as the way of life, it took a great deal of time to "detoxify" myself. It was a painful process. Hell, I still find a few stains now and again ...

Christians have a saying - Love the sinner, hate the sin. While not a rational way to deal with the Dept. of Motor Vehicles, it does provide a bit of a guideline for dealing with associates: Just because someone doesn't see the light may only mean that it's never been shown to them.

I'm not going to push people away from me that happen to be religious - unless they offend me. If they do, let's go ... but as long as what's happening in the here and now is mutualy beneficial, I can put aside the rubbing of blue mud into their navels to appease the gods.

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The problem that I have with the word is that atheist, meaning not theist, presupposing that being a theist is the default. The presupposition is not invalid though, because most people do believe in some sort of god. It's sad that one has to assert that they don't believe in a god, and not the other way around.

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It's sad that one has to assert that they don't believe in a god, and not the other way around.

Indeed it is. It's like having to say you're an afelinist in order to communicate that you don't believe that black cats bring bad luck.

However, it is a negative position: it defines it self as not-(something else)

The problem is exactly that although it is a negative position, it has come to be used as if it meant something positive--like, as Christians sometimes say, a person who "hates God." And this is not entirely without justification, as evidenced by the opening post of this thread (and my own experience with some atheists).

So the trick we are looking for is to say that you don't believe in God without conveying the meaning that you are a militant atheist.

This is how I would handle it:

"I am not religious."

"So you're an atheist?"

"I am an Objectivist. Objectivism is a non-theistic philosophy."

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I see a bunch of hateful people who aren't constructing anything, just trying to destroy what other people believe.

That is unfortunate.

How do others here handle these situations? What kind of language do you use to encourage people to be curious about your way of thinking, rather than language that offends them right away?

...I reply "I am not religious."

Ah, but I am "religious"...in my own way :) (Think Howard Roark!)

I'm a musician and I work with musicians, and it is this primary interest that brings us together.

Ouch...I am also a musician. I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to deal with irrational musicians (& being Christian is usually the least of their problems).

This is how I would handle it:

"I am not religious."

"So you're an atheist?"

"I am an Objectivist. Objectivism is a non-theistic philosophy."

That's good.

I personally do this:

"I have no interest in mysticism or the supernatural."

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I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to deal with irrational musicians (& being Christian is usually the least of their problems).
:pimp: Testify!!

(I sell instruments for a living ... one of the big problems is they're broke! LOL ...)

So the trick we are looking for is to say that you don't believe in God without conveying the meaning that you are a militant atheist.

Exactly. While the least of my worries is someone else thinking I'm a materialistic sinner with no heart or compassion, that's how many react to atheist. Maybe it's just me, but the word itself sounds kind of smug.

I work in sales, and I know the value of constantly displaying the positive aspects of my product, rather than focusing on the negative (ie, what it is, not what it isn't). The same principle applies here - someone who's a faithful, loving servant of Christ sees nothing wrong with their beliefs. For an associate to declare him/herself an athiest is a slap in their face ... but to provide a positive alternative, one that is descriptive but succint, is difficult, especially if the other person in the conversation is vibrantly religious, not just habitually living by what they were indoctrinated in as children.

As for "antitheism" ... that sounds more active than simply not believing. I couldn't use that term because it gives me the impression you're on the offensive. Not that you are, that's just what it sounds like.

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:lol: Testify!!

(I sell instruments for a living ... one of the big problems is they're broke! LOL ...)

Right on. & they think it's someone else's problem or fault.

Anyway, it's not your job to convince or conquer the world. You can respond to, reply to & deal with them to the degree they are rational.

As long as they are paying in some form of legal tender & not prayers, hymnals or bibles, everything will work out fine.

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I understand your feelings there. I recovered from a childhood filled with lessons of self-sacrifice, forgiveness, and obedience to ghosts, and for a while (post-Fountainhead & Atlas Shrugged) I felt anger, hatred, and spite at anyone resembling a blind sheep whose mind has been left fallow. I have matured beyond that, though ... live and let die.

But it's the active negativity I find so distasteful. Some of the Christians are hardcore Bible thumping Jesus freaks, yes, and they act in a manner sometimes deserving of the smug responses I see in "institutional atheism". But many others are like I was in my youth - taught that when good things happen it's God's will, when bad things happen He works in mysterious ways, so have faith and it will all work out. They're not to be hated ... or angered ... but shown the right way to think, even if it's only by example. The curious will come around, and perhaps gather the courage to break their bonds.

As for

Umm, you are an Objectivist, aren't you? By religious people's standands, you are a materialistic sinner with no heart or compassion. Besides, why do you care how other people react to the word 'atheist'? It would be their problem, not your's.

That's why I said "it's the least of my worries." Yes, by religious standards I am Satan-spawn ... but I'm not going to incur the automatic distrust and anger that mystics feel for us heathens by wearing my abject disgust of their moral code on my sleeve. Many "Christians" don't know any better - why drive them further to the Dark Side by antagonizing them?

I'm proud to be the thinker I am today, and work to nurture my mind and wisdom. I'm glad to be free from the mystics' code, and I celebrate that. But, the dancing on eggshells is a bit tiring sometimes; standing up with a proud voice and saying "I don't believe that!" isn't as strong or effective as saying "I know this!"

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...the term 'god' is one of the most destructive anti-concepts in the history of human language, and I want it destroyed.

While I can certainly appreciate your passion on this issue, I want to clarify something.

The term 'god' is not a primary. It presupposes a mind that is currently unable or unwilling to think in a completely rational manner. The root problem of someone that tries to place value in that term is irrationality.

This could be through ignorance, innocent error, unwillingness to think properly or even outright evil. But, ultimately, since 'god' is an arbitrary & definitionless concept (& faith a negation) that leaves it up to the person claiming to hold that belief to "fill in the blank". Some people do it with a fuzzy sort of "friendly old grandfather in the sky somewhere". Some do it with a kind of exclusion process "God is that which makes things happen that people aren't responsible for". Some do it with nothing but evil malice intended to rationalize their envy, fear & hatred "God is my excuse for manipulating, hating & even killing other people".

Again, the cause/source is irrationality; professed belief in 'god' is just one possible manifestation/symptom.

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standing up with a proud voice and saying "I don't believe that!" isn't as strong or effective as saying "I know this!"

I posted about this on my site.

People tend to think of atheism as a negative. As in “I do not believe in God” when really, at least as Objectivism guides me, it is more about “I do concern myself only with Life”. By life I mean reality, that which is directly percievable, or which adheres to nature, as I have understood it. The purpose is always to focus on life, always to increase knowledge, and so a total focus on reality is the only clear way I see to live my life to the fullest. Because there is so much to learn here, because things that contradict reality lead only to confusion, to distraction from what is reality. Because that which is not life, is not life, and so is not a concern of mine. That is beautiful to me, and is fulfilling, and at the same time opens up so much possibility I could never be sated. Life is the reason, and suffering and death are unfortunate aspects, but are not the norm, are not to be focused on. That is why I am not religious, because to base a life system of thought on beliefs about something that can never be proven, that is geared towards that which is not life and not reality is placing your focus on death, on dying, on suffering. Even to live in this view is to suffer through imperfect life until you can possibly be accepted to something better than life (!) In my view there is nothing better than life. In my view this is a positive. This is a reason for all things. A standard of value-THE standard of value. I can’t think of anything more positive than that.

My father reads my site so I needed to clarify, esp after my grandmother's funeral. That was my intention-to define my position as a positive.

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  • 4 weeks later...
I understand your feelings there. I recovered from a childhood filled with lessons of self-sacrifice, forgiveness, and obedience to ghosts, and for a while (post-Fountainhead & Atlas Shrugged) I felt anger, hatred, and spite at anyone resembling a blind sheep whose mind has been left fallow. I have matured beyond that, though ... live and let die.

But it's the active negativity I find so distasteful. Some of the Christians are hardcore Bible thumping Jesus freaks, yes, and they act in a manner sometimes deserving of the smug responses I see in "institutional atheism". But many others are like I was in my youth - taught that when good things happen it's God's will, when bad things happen He works in mysterious ways, so have faith and it will all work out. They're not to be hated ... or angered ... but shown the right way to think, even if it's only by example. The curious will come around, and perhaps gather the courage to break their bonds.

Active negativity distastefull?

Christianity is a way of life, a conviction, a philosophy perhaps. But that is not how christianity is declared today. God = good, if I have to believe the common opinion. That's whats bothering me.

I am quite negative when it comes to christianity, because christianity is being spread so active. I am lucky my parents only informed me about religion, not learning into believing one.

What gives christians the right to place a remark if I would wear an inversed pentagram, when I am faced with christian propaganda around me all day?

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Active negativity distastefull?

Christianity is a way of life, a conviction, a philosophy perhaps. But that is not how christianity is declared today. God = good, if I have to believe the common opinion. That's whats bothering me.

I am quite negative when it comes to christianity, because christianity is being spread so active. I am lucky my parents only informed me about religion, not learning into believing one.

What gives christians the right to place a remark if I would wear an inversed pentagram, when I am faced with christian propaganda around me all day?

Okay, I think your logic is flawed. You should not address the rate at which Christianity is spreading (and yes I agree it is scary), but that is not WHY Christianity is bad. If Objectivism was spreading as fast, it would not be bad at all. If people started wearing shirts that say "Capitalism Is The Way!", they would have every right to get mad at you for wearing a "Socialism Forever" shirt. The fact that Christianity is bad has nothing at all to do with how fast it is being spread. It is bad because it idolizes self-sacrifice and altruism. It would still be bad if only one person believed in it.

Zak

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Perhaps I should have said it differently, because by 'active' I did not mean the rate of growth, but I meant the way christianity is spread.

And no, I don't think anyone can say christianity is bad, for it is a conviction. And I like to point out that in my (opinion) it should stay a conviction, not a reference for good and evil.

Though I do not agree on self-sacrifice and altruism, that does not make these things bad, right?

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  • 2 weeks later...
And no, I don't think anyone can say christianity is bad, for it is a conviction. And I like to point out that in my (opinion) it should stay a conviction, not a reference for good and evil.

Though I do not agree on self-sacrifice and altruism, that does not make these things bad, right?

If someone holds as a conviction that it's perfectly fine for them to murder and/or torture you whenever they feel like it, is this bad or not? Same thing with Christianity, self-sacrifice, and altruism.

Things are not good or bad because you think they are. They are good or bad in reference to an objective standard. The objective standard being: Does this serve to further and fulfill the requirements of man's life?

In reference to this objective standard, Christianity is HEINOUSLY EVIL.

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  • 2 months later...
While I can certainly appreciate your passion on this issue, I want to clarify something.

The term 'god' is not a primary.  It presupposes a mind that is currently unable or unwilling to think in a completely rational manner.  The root problem of someone that tries to place value in that term is irrationality.

This could be through ignorance, innocent error, unwillingness to think properly or even outright evil.  But, ultimately, since 'god' is an arbitrary & definitionless concept (& faith a negation) that leaves it up to the person claiming to hold that belief to "fill in the blank".  Some people do it with a fuzzy sort of "friendly old grandfather in the sky somewhere".  Some do it with a kind of exclusion process "God is that which makes things happen that people aren't responsible for".  Some do it with nothing but evil malice intended to rationalize their envy, fear & hatred "God is my excuse for manipulating, hating & even killing other people".

Again, the cause/source is irrationality; professed belief in 'god' is just one possible manifestation/symptom.

I usually say, "I'm a rationalist" or something of the sort when asked if I believe in God. I am bothered that the word "atheist" does appear to assume that one has to have an opinion as to whether God exists in the way a man or a rock exists. I think it's important that the concept of God be shown clearly to be entirely nonsensical. It's not as though one is asking, "Did Robin Hood or King Arthur or Homer exist?" Robin Hood could have existed. It's perfectly easy to see how King Arthur could have actually reigned in the Dark Ages. We just don't have enough facts to come to a definite decision about the matter. But it's incomprehensible to me how anyone could think that some fuzzy and illogical concept such as God could have any reality to it. So calling oneself an "atheist" almost seems to me to admit that God might exist, but doesn't. And that's quite wrong.

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So calling oneself an "atheist" almost seems to me to admit that God might exist, but doesn't.  And that's quite wrong.

No that would be the definition of agnostic. Atheist means that one doesn't entertain the notion of any theist anti-concepts.

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No that would be the definition of agnostic.  Atheist means that one doesn't entertain the notion of any theist anti-concepts.

Hmm. Seems to me "agnostic" means that you don't know whether or not God exists, not that you deny that he does. I don't think atheism does any more than deny that God exists. It doesn't go far enough because it allows the possibility that he could exist if circumstances were different, or even that he did exist once but does not now. For instance, Nietzsche said, or had Zarathustra say, "God is dead". I object to that because it implies that God at one time existed. Rational men should be able to see that the entire concept is not a fit subject for belief or opinion.

And of course I realize that N was being cryptic and epigrammatic, referring to "belief in God" and "God" as the same thing. But to imply that "Men no longer believe in God" and "God has died" are the same thing is to torture words beyond necessity.

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  • 1 month later...

A few points....

1)

Atheism IS indeed negative, it is the lack of a belief in god.

I am a critical, explicit atheist. Explicit means I believe that there is no such thing as god, and critical means I can defend my position philosophically.

2)

Since atheism is the lack of belief, you still need something to believe in. What is that you hold to be most important? Reason? Science? That is what you should emphaze, when having conversations with theists. Then point out that they are mutually exclusive.

For example: I like to say: "I don't believe in god, I believe in human beings." or "I don't worship god, I worship the power of the human mind." etc.

3)

Agnosticism is not a very good position to hold. It's like saying, "Well, I see the sun rising everyday, but I'm going to say that I'm still not sure about the existence of the sun." Or, "Since I have no proof that pink magic elves did not create the moon, I'm going to suspend judgement on wether or not pink magic elves created the moon." Agnosticism is straddling the fence.

4)

"Atheism: The Case Against God" by George H. Smith is an excellent book. It totally smashes any credibility a theist may claim to have.

5)

I used to think that all religions are evil. I still know that they are fundamentally flawed, but I can't deny some of their benefits. As much as I'd like to see a world full of atheist objectivists, I've seen lots of cases where religion, such as Christianity, gives people the strenth to lead productive lives. Sure, it's at the cost of their philosophical principals, but those people generally don't care about their knowledge fundations anyways.

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A few points....

1)

Atheism IS indeed negative, it is the lack of a belief in god.

I am a critical, explicit atheist. Explicit means I believe that there is no such thing as god, and critical means I can defend my position philosophically.

2)

Since atheism is the lack of belief, you still need something to believe in. What is that you hold to be most important? Reason? Science? That is what you should emphaze, when having conversations with theists. Then point out that they are mutually exclusive.

For example: I like to say: "I don't believe in god, I believe in human beings." or "I don't worship god, I worship the power of the human mind." etc.

3)

Agnosticism is not a very good position to hold. It's like saying, "Well, I see the sun rising everyday, but I'm going to say that I'm still not sure about the existence of the sun." Or, "Since I have no proof that pink magic elves did not create the moon, I'm going to suspend judgement on wether or not pink magic elves created the moon." Agnosticism is straddling the fence.

4)

"Atheism: The Case Against God" by George H. Smith is an excellent book. It totally smashes any credibility a theist may claim to have.

5)

I used to think that all religions are evil. I still know that they are fundamentally flawed, but I can't deny some of their benefits. As much as I'd like to see a world full of atheist objectivists, I've seen lots of cases where religion, such as Christianity, gives people the strenth to lead productive lives. Sure, it's at the cost of their philosophical principals, but those people generally don't care about their knowledge fundations anyways.

I think the opposite to Objectivism isn't god, it's faith. Rightfully condemning that condemns all gods and religions.

Those "benefits" that you speak of are a credit account on reality they cannot repay. They may lead productive lives today - but someday, without foundations for them based on reality they will self-destruct.

Someday - YOU will be the "Radical" that they must control.

You can show them a better way - but don't ever underestimate the destructive power of faith - whether it is in a goverment system's ability to build a levee or a man's decision to fly a plane into a building it always cost more than it's worth.

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3)

Agnosticism is not a very good position to hold. It's like saying, "Well, I see the sun rising everyday, but I'm going to say that I'm still not sure about the existence of the sun." Or, "Since I have no proof that pink magic elves did not create the moon, I'm going to suspend judgement on wether or not pink magic elves created the moon." Agnosticism is straddling the fence.

And this is a prime example of one of my main issues with Objectivism. It's what I like to call "Subjective Absolutism." The idea that you can so concretely state something you can't prove, because you've decided so. Do you know that there is no God? I'd agree that the proof is on the theist, however, to make a statement of fact that there is no God, and not even entertaining the thought that there might be, is rather arrogant and self defeating. Personally, I think there's no God, because I see no proof, however, I wouldn't blindly claim that this is fact, I would entertain the notion that this is possible. It doesn't contradict that A is A or that existence exists, it's just existence exists from/with/by God. Defining absolutes based off only what you know, is inherently flawed, as you can't know everything, so you're Absolutes are wrong, because you're not factoring in everything. You can make educated guesses, and use what you know from reality, but in the end, your never right, in terms of what is as opposed to what you think is. Of course, your only measure is self, but to create Absolutes, is rather silly.

I find this kind of thinking rather limiting. There's a contradiction in Absolutes, sure you can be wrong and change your way of thinking and agree with the new Subjective reality, but that doesn't change the real reality, only your perception. Setting limits on possibilites, is rather naive and down right silly. Just because you think something isn't so, doesn't mean its not.

Stepping out of this thread and into others I've read, I'd like to add that this type of thought also applies to other parts of Objectivism. Judgement is a fine example. I see a lot of people throwing around the word "Evil". Evil's a strong word, it has a rather mystical connotation to it. "Evil" is an Absolute type of word. Saying something like, I think that man is immoral, unethical, or his character is flawed is one thing, but saying he's "Evil" is rather presuptious. It assumes everything from only your perspective. Do I judge people? All the time. When I see someone's character or his actions clash with my beliefs, values, life, whatever, I disassociate myself from that person, and let them know what I think about that. However, I don't run around calling them "Evil", because I don't know their "true" motivation, the entire situation, etc. I can learn as much as I can, but that's just for my own benefit. That doesn't make the person "Evil", even if I think they have malicious intent behind their actions. You can't know everything, and so you can't label it as Absolute. Well you can, but I'd have to disagree.

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Those "benefits" that you speak of are a credit account on reality they cannot repay. They may lead productive lives today - but someday, without foundations for them based on reality they will self-destruct.

Someday - YOU will be the "Radical" that they must control.

You can show them a better way - but don't ever underestimate the destructive power of faith - whether it is in a goverment system's ability to build a levee or a man's decision to fly a plane into a building it always cost more than it's worth.

I struggled with religion for a few years before finding Objectivism. I never fully accepted religion, because I somehow knew that it would require a betrayal of myself. At the time I did not know the nature of this betrayal.

I was not talking about myself or about extreme cases such as terrorists. I was thinking about my friends, many of whom are both engineering students and Christians. Many times, I've tried to convince them that they are mutually exclusive (science and religion), but they don't listen because they are Evaders as Peikoff explained. But I have known most of them for a long time and I hate to see them like this. How can I show them the "account on reality they cannot repay?" They are very good at convincing themselves that certain things fall under science, and others under god.

And this is a prime example of one of my main issues with Objectivism. It's what I like to call "Subjective Absolutism." The idea that you can so concretely state something you can't prove, because you've decided so. ...

You can make educated guesses, and use what you know from reality, but in the end, your never right...

Stepping out of this thread and into others I've read, I'd like to add that this type of thought also applies to other parts of Objectivism. Judgement is a fine example. I see a lot of people throwing around the word "Evil". ...

Objectivism does not require infallibility. This would be quite detrimental to Objectivism, since no one is infallible. The whole point of having epistemology is to give us guidelines on figuring out what is true and what is false.

"Good" is what promotes human life, "evil" is what destroys it. Thus, many beliefs that many people hold are evil. Personally, I have not called any one evil, only actions and beliefs. Now that I think about it, people like Hitler and Kant are evil, since their life's work is overwhemingly evil.

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The idea that you can so concretely state something you can't prove, because you've decided so. Do you know that there is no God? I'd agree that the proof is on the theist, however, to make a statement of fact that there is no God, and not even entertaining the thought that there might be, is rather arrogant and self defeating.
Your argument based on the sin of arrogance is irrelevant. It is arrogant to assume that god might exist, without compelling evidence for it. You also misunderstand the Objectivism argument, which has two parts. The first is that discussions of the existence of god are pointless and at heart anti-intellectual because of the utter lack of reason to believe in the existence of god, in any version of the concept "god". There is no limit on the number and nature of nonexistent things that you could claim "might exist", and it is intellectual arrogance to claim that god has a special claim on our attention. In lieu of evidence, god deserves no attention at all.

However, the other part of the argument, one which is not actually applicable to certain concepts of god (such as Indra) is that god cannot exist, because his nature is impossible. God is a contradictory concept. This is not just a "blind claim" as you purport, but rather a recognition that the existence of a being who is outside of "mere" existence is a contradiction. The claim that there is a god is a denial of existence -- it says "A is A, except when it isn't".

I find this kind of thinking rather limiting.
Which particular parts do you find to be unfairly restrictive? That there is existence? That existence implies identity? Assuming that you don't accept those axioms, then I'm supposing that you think that there are things that exist without having any nature. Is that correct?

In general, I think you don't understand the concept "absolute" and how it, as you are using it, does not apply to Objectivism. What you really seem to mean is that all statements should be prefaced with a meek dislaimer, such as "Given what little I know, and only going by arbitrary definitions that I've been socialised to accept without question, I think I might say that this is a rock; but that's probably a mistake". Objectivism rejects non-axiomatic absolutes. It also rejects intellectual cowardice. I think it's the latter part that you're confusing with absolutism. Either that, or you object to the claim that existence exists, and it has a nature.

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