Atheism. What are you, Atheism?
Unless you have had your theological head in the metaphorical sand these past few years I am sure that, like most people, you will have noticed a sharp rise in this thing called Atheism. Or perhaps more accurately New Atheism. But just what in the name of Christ is this ‘New Atheism’? Is it a religion? Is it just a movement? Is it a new social minority? Is it a passing fad? What are you indeed, Atheism, and whence have you came?
You Internet dwellers who just happen to be reading this blog will likely be familiar with TheAmazingAtheist (guy, other than Ray Comfort, who fucks himself with bananas and who pours oil over his wretched micropenis), Thunderf00t (thanks for all the fish), AronRa(Meatloafs ugly twin) ZOMGitsCriss(wow, just wow), Matt Dillahunty (and his delightful talkTV show The Atheist Experience), Richard Dawkins(renowned author and evolutionary biologist as if you didn’t know), FreethoughtBlogs, PZ Myers(man with a beard), Bill Nye, Lawrence Krauss, Christopher Hitchens (RIP), James Randi (a brilliant, brilliant sceptic) and his Educational Foundation, Penn and Teller(big brash loud guy and his human pet. A bit like Bob Hoskins and Jet Li in Unleashed), Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett (AKA Father Christmas), Ricky Gervais and Stephen Fry (ex-Boyfriend of Hugh Laurie from House). Perhaps you are also familiar with the British household celebrities and ‘out’ Atheists that are Derren Brown: wizard extraordinaire and Jimmy Carr: comedian awfulaire.
The above was just a handful of famous celebrity Atheists that I could name off the top of my head. The shrewd of mind and quick of eye amongst you will however have noticed that there was a more than generous smattering of people who have become famous because of their Atheism. These types are riding the crest of the wave of New Atheism. And why not, hmm? Why the chuff not? But that is rather beside the point for now. We are first looking at whence this New Atheism came (you’ll recall my earlier usage of ‘whence’ as a gentle reminder that this was one of the themes we will be exploring), and we’ll be looking at the effect of this tsunami of godlessness upon whose waves our new Internet idols are surfing.
I have one word for you – The God Delusion. This was another Richard Dawkins lunge at the heart of religion – an all out and explicit attack – not his first, but surely his magnum opus. No holds were barred. You could see the rudiments of his academic position on the matter being formulated in an earlier work – The Selfish Gene – but TGD (The God Delusion: abbreviated, for brevity of course) was merely one of a slew of Atheist books released around the mid-noughties. Other titles include Sam Harris’ The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, Christopher Hitchens God is not Great and Daniel Dennetts Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, amongst others. The noughties did indeed see an explosion of Atheism, surely spurred on by the apparently religiously motivated September 11th terrorist attacks in New York. All of these books, and Penn and Tellers TV show, proved to be seminal works, spawning as they did countless New Atheists. The main limelighted protagonists in this attack on religion are not themselves new atheists (that is, their atheistic views are long-held), but they are ‘New Atheists’.
This new, militant, atheistic offensive that endeavours to score as many goals, land as many blows to the head and body of religion as it can. It’s no longer a personally held position – it wants to kill religion! And it is recruiting. It wants YOU!
That’s right kids, it is out to convert or de-convert you as the case may be, armed with a Holy Trinity of Science, Logic and mockery. A devastating arsenal, I’m sure you’ll agree. But who can wield such weaponry? Mockery is easy enough. Mockery is the baseball bat of these weapons – anyone can swing it. Its a crude bludgeoning tool. No real skill involved. Logic though… Logic is a far more intricate weapons system. It is the jet fighter – it requires deliberate and intensive training to be able to fly it properly. Science is not really a weapon as such, it is more the policy for which one goes to war and the warring parties own Rules of Engagement, if you will – much like Christianity is for Christians. It is the seat of power of a number of the war lobbyists. And so, on to the ranks.
The Internet is a wash. Awash with New Atheists. You can barely turn anywhere without seeing the same old tired arguments being peddled out by Christians and Atheists alike. Of course, I acknowledge that it is perhaps reasonable to expect them when you mainly frequent places that host Atheist and Christian content, but still… Gets tiresome after a while. If the political masters of New Atheism are the so called 4 Horsemen and co (sans CH), then TheOfficers of this New Atheist Army are undoubtedly the Youtube Atheists and Freethought Bloggers. Read the roll of honour below:
TheAmazingAtheist, Thunderf00t, Matt Dillahunty, PZ Myers, Richard Carrier, Jen McCreight, Pat Condrell, Lee Lemon, TheThinkingAtheist, NonStampCollector, cdk007, FFree Thinker, AronRa, Potholer54, ProfMTH, C0nc0rdance, ZOMGitsCriss, TheColoredAtheist…
The roll of honour is an order of magnitude longer than the names listed above, but you get the point – there’s millions of ’em! And they have ALL at some point in their careers peddled out the Flying Spaghetti Monster Arguments or claimed that they don’t believe in Santa or the Tooth Fairy or that we cant’t disprove that there isn’t a celestial teapot orbiting the sun or that they are open-minded, but not so open minded that their brains fall out or that religion is responsible for most of the deaths in the world and can make good people do bad things, or that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, or that if it isn’t falsifiable it should be discarded, or everybody is already an atheist we just go one less, or that they know Lawrence Krauss personally, or that any claim contrary to science is “bullshit” (like the name of the TV show), ad nauseum.
Now I’m not saying that their points aren’t valid or correct. But I am saying that it is not their own points they are making. The majority of their arguments have been learned by rote so much so that you can almost predict what they are going say with a spookily verbatim accuracy that would give you a very good chance, should you choose to apply, of successfully claiming Randi’s million-dollar prize. And that is just the Atheists who have their heads above the parapet… the followers and fans of these second-tier New Atheists are even worse! There has possibly never been a more vitriolic group of people since the Westboro Baptist Church. I am referring to the anonymous mass of Internet users of course. Those whose heads are not above the parapet but lurk in the murky shadows of the Internet. There are 3 main sources that I personally have come across where these types can be found. Youtube comments section, Yahoo! Answers Religion and Spirituality section and the subreddit r/atheism. What do these types do? They insult. Sometimes they are even bold and unashamed enough to declare that they are in fact intellectually superior to their non-atheist counterparts. That their Atheism actually makes them better than, superior to, any others. And yet, when told that Atheism is a religion or pressed on the matter they will quickly claim that all Atheism is is a lack of belief in a god and nothing more. They often want to have their cake and eat it.
The fact is that Atheism in the modern day is an identity. People use it to identify themselves. For some (read lots), it is their most defining characteristic. For some it is a full time, paying job. For others it is an all-consuming hobby or passion. True Atheism would be nonchalant in nature. The concept of god and religion just wouldn’t figure, wouldn’t be on their radar. In that sense I know plenty of true Atheists. But Atheists who embrace the term Atheist, who say that they had to ‘come out’ as Atheist (as though there are actual parallels with homosexuals), are of course identifying as part of a group. A subset of society.
But is it a religion? A system of life, a system for living?
That is the question. And the answer?
Well, the answer is ‘yes. Kind of’.
Atheism is becoming a more well-defined thing by now. It has its own almost universal symbol – a stylised letter ‘A’. Why might a nothingness, a lack of belief, need a logo? I think we can by now discard the notion that New Atheism is simply just a lack of belief. But what about systems for life and living? Well, New Atheism is a young movement and is still finding its feet and voice in the world. Even so, we have seen sects of the Atheist movement branch off and try to redefine what it should mean to be Atheist, such as the Atheism+ movement. This is the point at which religion succeeds where Atheism fails. Religion has the trump card of being able to invoke something much greater than oneself – a central authority much higher than any human authority – as a reason for moral behaviours and meaning, whereas Atheism is just fellow humans trying to convince and persuade other fellow humans that they should all behave like this, or that.
Atheism tries to rely on a moral consensus rather than a moral prescription. But, as we all know with humanity, no one wants to wilfully subordinate themselves, much less their entire moral outlook, to a mere fellow human and there are as many views as there are people, so although Atheists may try to draw out moral absolutes by logic, deduction and inference, ultimately they will still be trying to garner the agreement of the masses who may or may not share their logic and values. As democracy and well, just existence in its entirety shows, when you state one case, take one position, there will be a necessary counterweight.
So within Atheism, if the claim is made that all Atheists should also reject the utility of a society modelled on Darwinian principles, there will be an opposing camp saying that they should adopt it. If the claim is made that Atheists should adopt feminist issues also, there will be those who say that they should adopt men’s rights too. This is called schism and it is only possible when you have a group of people who are formally recognised and bound together by some characteristic or another. So long as Atheism is a community and not just a personal lack of belief, so long as you identify with other Atheists, you will want the group to think as one. When that inevitably doesn’t happen then you divide and multiply like bacteria. Like Christian denominations.
Although Atheism is not really a religion, it is definitely developing along religious-type parallels. And could that ever not be the case? It wants to ultimately fill the niche void that religion currently fills. It wants to replace religion. It wants to do away religion and give alternative answers to the questions that religion tries to answer. It wants to have the same function as religion has – that of providing you answers to the deepest questions. It can’t just rip your moral compass right out from your heart though, can it? It can’t just sweep the existential rug from under your feet though, can it? It would have to refit you with a new moral compass, a new reason for how and why to behave as a human and how to treat others. It would have to fill all the holes that religion fills and has filled for eons. In that regard, it is religious. And you can see within the Atheist movement itself and by the behaviours of these New Atheists that the organised, group morality and group truth is a natural, unquenchable yearning of humanity.
Within their own community they have their own prayers, their own mantras, their own dogmas, they proselytise, they want the world to think as them. It is the same impulse that can be found in any group of people – Muslims, Mormons, Jehovas Witnesses, Activists, Occupiers, Marxists. And every group of people believe in their thing, and every group see themselves as distinct from those other ‘weird, cult like’ groups – “it’s weird and dogmatic when THEY do it, but when WE do it, its not even dogmatic, its just plain old truth. They’re simply idiots if they can’t see it.” Atheists are merely another of these groups. The innards are the same, the principles and essence are the same as any other group you’d care to mention – its just the clothes, the exoskeleton that is different. Different words are used to impart the same essential, underlying meaning.
So give it up New Atheists! For the love of God…