This one has been sitting in the queue so long that I don’t remember exactly how I came across it. I just remember that Mr. Hand has said something profound…and misguided.
A while back, I changed my religion. I used to be an Atheist. Now, I’m an Evolutionist. It isn’t that I’ve suddenly started believing in non-existent beings. My position on things metaphysical is essentially unchanged. I still uncategorically deny the existence of any deities. I still think that people who believe in deities (or just one deity) are incorrect in their beliefs. However, I’ve realized that that particular infection with an erroneous notion isn’t an especially damaging one. This is a kind of cheerful state of affairs. The simple fact is that belief in a deity is simply not even vaguely important to any of the things that really do matter. (emphasis mine)
In a sense, Mr. Hand is right. (Not what you might expect a God-blogger to say, right?) Believing in a deity (of whatever sort and/or multiples thereof) is not especially damaging to anyone provided that the belief doesn’t inform the way a person lives (and that the belief is in fact incorrect). You might refer to this as “functional atheism”. Instead, what really matters are the specific beliefs that one has about the supernatural being(s) in question.
Without any appeal to some kind of authority, Mr. Hand says that “Being mostly nice and often thinking carefully are important.” In order to keep things moving, lets agree and say that these two things are important. Who exactly should a person be nice to and what precisely should that person think carefully about? There are some in the world who believe that the deity to whom they belong requires that they should only be nice to other believers. Conversely, those people do not believe that it is important to be nice to non-believers. Furthermore, there are some people who believe that the deity in question is pleased whenever they are not nice to unbelievers. In fact, some people believe that their deity is pleased whenever its followers kill unbelievers. And so we have an example of how belief in a deity generally and specific beliefs about that deity are “especially damaging”. After all, I’m confident that Mr. Hand would agree that killing people who do not share one’s beliefs is not being nice.
I’m also confident that Mr. Hand would agree that the killing of “unbelievers” is not the product of careful thinking. However, I would disagree. In fact, it is my experience that we deists have to do some very careful thinking to either justify our un-nice actions or to execute them. This is particularly true of those deists who believe that their deity will distribute some kind of reward or punishment at some point in the future based upon their actions; such people tend to think very carefully more than merely often.
Obviously, what people believe about God, god and/or gods is more than vaguely important to the two things that Mr. Hand says are important, that matter. Consequently, we can guess that such belief (erroneous or not) is important to other things that matter as well.