Sunday, 8 December 2013

The 'Nightmare' of an 'Atheist Utopia'

I just read a piece in the Guardian by Antony Loewenstein.

An atheist utopia? Talk about a nightmare

Now that's a pretty intense article title.
Too often aggressive atheists, perhaps rhetorically competing with the most militant religious fanatics, argue that religion is a disease that needs a cure. They are wrong.
Well, it's nice that the atheist's aren't being called militant in this article. We're just aggressive -- opposite of docile. We've seen it a lot in the press lately, it's the kind of silent, pensive, nodding atheist many religious writers seem to yearn for these days.

But here's the twist, Loewenstein is himself an atheist.
A dangerous trend has developed in the last decade with the advent of the "new atheism" movement – it often states that people in business, politics and entertainment should avoid discussing religion, and how faith affects their lives. According to its proponents, belief is pathetic and tired, anti-intellectual and predictable. Anybody who follows the Qur'ran, Bible, Torah or other holy book should "grow up" and stop following the teachings of old, bearded men from a time when women were little more than ornaments and baby makers.
I'm not sure where Loewenstein gets this from. As an atheist, I aggressively encourage all people in business, politics and entertainment to discuss their religious beliefs and how they affect their lives in the greatest amount of detail possible. It's really the only way I can know what sorts of delusions they entertain as reality. Then I can assess just how dangerous they may really be to society should they, say, form policy or be responsible for educating future generations of children.

Anyway, I guess Loewenstein has me pretty well described when he says that proponents of this new atheism consider belief as pathetic and tired, anti-intellectual and predictable. But, I would contest that last adjective. Religious belief is anything but predictable and comes out differently in all of its varied manifestations.

Shockingly, I believe that anyone who follows these holy books should indeed stop taking them seriously, and the two reasons Loewenstein gives are valid ones. However, I do not think it's a simple matter of growing up - since the sort of intense brainwashing a religious upbringing often entails cannot be escaped with maturity. Religion dwells in an irrational, immature place. It often takes decades to unravel painfully with intense thought and introspection.

Luckily, -- and I think Loewenstien and I would agree here -- very few people really take these books literally. In fact, the less literally you take them, the more reasonable you become.

According to Loewenstein, I am a bigot -- because I think believing in the claims of these ancient holy books and in ghosts and spooks in the sky is ridiculous and potentially harmful. It is apparently hateful and bigoted to challenge the truth claims of the religious.

And although he does seem to see religion as sometimes standing in the way of progressive political change, he has a solution.
All these concerns are valid: religious views must not influence governmental decisions about abortion, reproductive health or gender parity.
Argh... but, Antony, they do.

And there is nothing at all you can do about this.

We continually see religious politicians who do nothing but complain about how they are being forced to leave their religion at the door and they refuse to do such a thing. They complain that this is forcing religious out of the public sphere and the encroachment of the secular religion. They assert over and over again that it's impossible to disentangle their beliefs from their policies. Many are doing everything they can to restrict access to abortion, reproductive health and suppress gender parity.

Let's not forget marriage equality.

Don't overlook undermining science education.

Then there's global climate change.

How could religious belief not influence government decisions? Please, I'm curious to know.
But too often aggressive atheists, perhaps rhetorically competing with the most militant religious fanatics, argue that religion is a disease that needs a cure. Taking comfort or lessons from religion is a perfectly legitimate way to live life. Private atheism is as harmless as quietly praying in a church, synagogue or mosque. New atheists are always quick to forget that some of the finest advocates for human rights and justice are religious believers.
Forgive me, Antony, but as an atheist, do you believe in gods? What I mean is, do you think that the truth claims of religions are true? Because I know that many religious people know in their hearts that what they believe is True and are not afraid to tell atheists that they are sorely mistaken in their disbelief.

With that said. I believe it's only logical, sincere and compassionate for someone to attempt to cure those who are, for lack of better word, deluded into believing something that is not true. Although, the stakes are perhaps not as high on the atheist side of the equation. There is no Hell for the believers to burn away in forever if they are wrong in their belief -- so I do not see it as an imperative (unless there is physical or mental abuse involved).

And I wholeheartedly agree that taking comfort or lessons from religion is a perfectly legitimate way to live life. I like Greco-Roman mythology and have used it in such a way. As an atheist, there is also nothing stopping me from doing the same with the Bible.

If only this were an accurate portrayal of most religion! Is this what Loewenstien thinks religion is?

I have yet to meet anyone religious, in my circles at least, who merely takes comfort or lessons from their holy books or mythology. They are not inspired with the Hebrew stories of old like so many strains of Virgil' Aeneid or Homer's winged words in his Iliad. They really believe this stuff.
Private atheism is as harmless as quietly praying in a church, synagogue or mosque
And other than wasting time, quietly praying in church is harmless. In my experience, this is not what most atheists have a problem with -- although they reserve the right to tease and ridicule. It's everything outside of the pew that compels atheists to find their voices.
New atheists are always quick to forget that some of the finest advocates for human rights and justice are religious believers.
Which new atheists? No doubt some of the finest advocates for human rights and justice are religious believers. Perhaps I might entertain some possible causation if I didn't also see so much religion being used to advocate the human rights abuses and injustice in this world.
The ideal secular nation is one where people of all faiths, or none, believe that everybody is encouraged to not feel ashamed of public displays of faith. The richness of humanity, after all, lies in the desire to avoid sterility and uniformity.
I'm surprised he didn't work the word tapestry in there somewhere.

I'll remember this the next time someone laughs at my FSM holy garb. What exactly does this mean?

Does it mean we cannot point out that, for example, that the idea of a man translating golden tablets found in his backyard using a magical rock and a hat appears to be complete nonsense without being thrown in jail? Does it mean we cannot poke fun at believes that are patently impossible or ridiculous without fear of what exactly?

Does it mean all beliefs are equally true?

Perhaps we can all become adults and not scream like a baby and lash out violently like a child when someone else doesn't believe our own pet mythologies or cherished beliefs. How about this for a new secular utopia?

And can we please stop using this media-generated term new atheists?
“This crime called blasphemy was invented by priests for the purpose of defending doctrines not able to take care of themselves.”  ― Robert G. Ingersoll
I do not believe that the Bible, when properly understood, is, or ever has been, a comfort to any human being. Surely, no good man can be comforted by reading a book in which he finds that a large majority of mankind have been sentenced to eternal fire. In the doctrine of total depravity there is no "solace." In the doctrine of "election" there can be no joy until the returns are in, and a majority found for you. ― Robert G. Ingersoll


  1. Great responses, it really does seem weird to have an atheist make these kinds of arguments. I see these types of things from the religious all the time, but it seems they just want to shut us up so they can go about their business unhindered. It's puzzling to me why an atheists would agree.

  2. I actually love pedants. Thanks for the comment! Please continue correcting me whenever you see something wrong!

  3. I know that it's not as grave, but isn't this more or less the same thing as what led to the equal access rules in the US South. The systematic denial of services to people based on race or religion?

  4. This kind of article is happening over and over again now. I just saw another where the writer is talking about atheists "supporting religions". I hope to write my comments about that one soon.

  5. Yet they can because it's private property. Free speech only applies to government restriction. You have no right to free speech using another person's property against their will. A church is entirely within their rights to keep you from getting into the pulpit and delivering a message they disagree with. You can, of course, put up your own billboards and the city cannot restrict your ability to do so, following the proper laws, because of what you'll say on those billboards.