Penny Arcade’s Tycho on his atheism

I loved Penny Arcade’s comic from December 24. I also loved that somebody quickly sent it to Hemant Mehta and that he posted a link to it on Friendly Atheist (in a post with a familiar title… 😉 ).

Penny Arcade, December 24 2010

The good news just keeps coming — Penny Arcade writer Jerry Holkins, a.k.a. Tycho Brahe, posted his thoughts about the comic which apparently generated so much buzz. Note for those of you who aren’t already reading Penny Arcade: the name Gabriel refers to the alter ego of the comic’s illustrator, Mike Krahulik.

Friday’s strip travelled far and wide, which means that it must have spoken to many people, probably in a way they didn’t like. You might be interested to know that the line which begins the third panel (and thus converts the strip into a barb about belief) is not mine, but Gabriel’s. I would never say something like that to him, ever, let alone submit it for use in a comic. He kicked me out of his house thirteen years ago for suggesting that angels were stupid, and we haven’t had anything approximating a discussion of his particular Lord since. What is the profit in it? I am one of the “good” atheists, which is to say I allow people their nonsense to the extent that they allow me mine.

My mother, though, absolutely – I never let up. When I was driving her home from the airport, I converted my car into a kind of mobile interrogation unit/convection oven with an hour long, wholly inescapable interrogation about the precise theological coordinate of my dangerously gay sister. We talked about the specific definitions of Greek words, why Paul was kind of a douche anyway so who cares, and the extent to which she was abrading the withered twist of a family we have left with this shit.  Fuck yes, I will fight.  But not here, and not about this.  It’s funny that Gabriel is more willing to express what I think than I am, but there you have it.  Mysteries like this course in magic rivers throughout the universe.

All right, I admit it. A bit of my reaction here is a fangirlish squeal of glee when someone I already like turns out to be an atheist. So: squeeeeeee! There. Got that out of my system.

Two other components of this I want to call your attention to. One is Holkins’ insightful take on the whole “don’t be a dick” problem. I don’t fully agree with him, in that I think having an atheist blog is a worthwhile endeavor for me personally; I suppose that doesn’t completely jive with “allow[ing] people their nonsense to the extent that they allow me mine.” But offline, I only talk about religion with people who are interested in such discussions, or people who have made their religion my business in some way or another. (People who don’t want to read my blog don’t have to.) I like how Holkins understands that Krahulik doesn’t welcome religious debate, but at the same time doesn’t care whether his homophobic mother welcomes it. In general, I think the balance that he strikes is a good one.

The other thing, which sort of blew my mind, was that apparently Mike Krahulik was the one who came up with the zinger in the last panel. Krahulik, a Christian, understands on some level that his belief in God is similar to a child’s belief in Santa Claus. It’s pleasant, comfortable, and endorsed by trusted authority, even if it might seem (to an outsider) “fucking ridiculous.” Does this understanding mean that a deconversion is on the way? Or does it mean that we should give up hope of trying to convince people that atheism makes more sense than religion, because even when they understand our arguments enough to make them for us, they’re not able to internalize the consequences?

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  1. I think this is a pretty insightful reaction, though your final comments make me wonder if you’re really approaching the whole discussion in good faith (pun only sort of intended) or with a broad understanding of the issue.

    Example; I was raised in a Catholic household, and though I went to Sunday School (later theology classes in middle and high-school) I didn’t really get an earful about religion at home. I had theology teachers who were stereotypical “fluffy religion” (know the pleasant parts, gloss over the bad) and “grim religion” (know the unpleasant parts and some of the general debates enough to make bad arguments) but I also had teachers who knew the history and the discussions and made an effort to put it in perspective.

    I became a History major in college, after being a Sociology major. I learned about the role of religion in human history, about the debates of the early middle ages (one of my most intense classes was ‘Medieval Church & Empire’ that covered the interaction of politics and the Catholic Church from the collapse of Roman power through about 1400, and one of the texts was nothing but letters and essays by people from those periods arguing over big questions or defending fringe beliefs).

    My wife double-majored in Political Science and Religion (as in, studying the nature/history of Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and several other faiths).

    My roommate for most of college was a lapsed-Catholic theist philosophic logician who once argued persuasively, to a room full of fellow students, that they couldn’t conclusively prove his right foot wasn’t God. He’s now a huge fan of Hitchins and, to a lesser extent, Dawkins even if he finds their work (outside of pure rhetoric) somewhat lacking in substance at times.

    I know plenty of atheists personally, actually like every person on one of my favorite podcasts is atheist (though it only comes up every so often), as well as folks from other backgrounds. At times we’ve hashed things out and gone round the disagreement wheel, but I can’t remember a time since college (7 years ago) that it’s gotten heated.

    My point being not that I am super special, actually I’d argue that I’m only moderately educated on the subject, but that even with all of this information and all of these influences I’m still a practicing Catholic. I still believe in God. I still laughed at that Penny Arcade strip.

    There may indeed be people out there who are religious purely out of absolute ignorance or stubbornness, I’m actually certain there are, but I think that at BEST they are merely a decent percentage. I wouldn’t bet that they’re a majority, though I could be dead wrong.

    Still, you seem (from poking around your site) to have a decent head on your shoulders and I wish you well in supporting your ideas and maybe helping people who would be happier being atheists get there.

  2. Really brilliant comment from Mike above.

    I’m agnostic but learning toward atheism and have (through the all seeing eye of television) been subjected to poor examples of the religious mindset from the get go. I’m in Western Australia and no one in my social circles is remotely religious, leaving me stuck with poor televised examples of people of faith. I an and have been aware of this for a long time.

    It’s a good feeling to know that both sides of the perpetual debate have something to bring to the table. This generally only comes with tolerance.

    Believe what you believe. I may not agree with you but I will always hear what you have to say over a beer.

    If you don’t drink beer though there will be trouble. You know what we Aussies are like

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