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An atheist (me) has a whinge about (some) other atheists

March 4, 2013

The main topics I’m going to whinge about are these: misogyny, accommodationism, and attempts at creating an “atheist alternative” to supposed benefits of religion. This is a bit tangential to the main focus of this blog, but as I label myself an atheist I want to put a couple of things on the record.

Before starting I want to say that this is not an “atheist blog”, but a blog run by an atheist. As the blog name suggests, the primary aim is to oppose the use of spirituality as a cloak for exploitation of believers. I think people should be safe to explore spirituality without being used, abused, financially ruined or killed. Spirituality and religion are things for serious and honest exploration, and I think people should be able to explore and experience them as safely as possible. This blog is my contribution to that aim. 

I acknowledge my atheism mainly to avoid misunderstandings. I assume — and as will be seen below, I differentiate myself from some other atheists in this regard — that non-atheist readers will not be particularly bothered by the fact that we disagree on some things!

I will briefly say why I label myself an atheist. (Sheesh, this is getting long winded. I’ll get to the point eventually, I promise!) ….I don’t see any reason to believe that any of the information I have received from others about God is true; and after a decade or two of exploring meditation and ruminating on the subjective experience of consciousness, I can’t find anything in my inner world that compellingly deserves to be called “spiritual”.

Atheism for me was not born of bad experiences with religion or spirituality. In fact I’ve had largely quite valuable experiences with spirituality. Socially I know a lot of believers of one sort or another, and I felt part of some kind of “community of spiritual seekers” for a long time, and it’s this feeling that motivates this blog. There are however, three main areas of disagreement and even disgust that I have with the current popular incarnation of atheism.

The first is a tendency towards — at times even a gleeful and sadistic commitment to — misogyny. I don’t want to discuss that further here. It is being dealt with within the atheist community (including, thankfully, by two bloggers featured on my blog roll), and I just wanted to make it clear that I’m disgusted by it. It has made me seriously think of disassociating myself from the term atheist completely. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, you don’t want to find out. If you are looking for evidence that it’s not religion but male weakness, infantilism, sexual fear, violence and stupidity that causes misogyny, you’ve just hit pay dirt. I will not link to any of it.

The second is what’s been termed accommodationism, in which atheists condemn other atheists for supposedly being intolerant, merely by expressing their views in public. I call this the “don’t upset granny” approach to atheism. Certainly there are situations where decorum should be upheld or words carefully chosen, but such situations usually only involve grannies. Public discourse among consenting adults is most certainly not such a situation.

Accommodationists often talk about the need for finding “common ground” with religious believers, but in doing so sound patronizing towards the faithful. As if they expect that the average religious person will instantly collapse in despair if they encounter the idea that God doesn’t exist. Guys, just because you’re completely convinced of your intellectual superiority and invincible rhetorical prowess doesn’t mean that everyone else is too. No need to pull your punches with those spindly arms, I’m afraid.

Even more stupidly, accommodationists often pronounce that “religion and science are compatible” or “evolution is compatible with a belief in God”. Now there’s a nasty trick to play on believers if ever I’ve seen one! — Believers, if you want to keep your belief that God created man, stay away from anything concerning evolutionary theory okay? Seriously!!! Some people can do the mental gymnastics that allow them to defuse the time-bomb of scientific understanding, but don’t try it unless you are highly disciplined in the arts of sophistry and compartmentalization. Evolutionary theory, if you understand it properly, is poison for religious and spiritual belief. That is one thing you can believe Creationists about!

Alternatively, you could just say that your faith is your faith and you’re not concerned with clearly defining your beliefs and squaring every jot and tittle with science; and therefore you also feel no need to feel threatened by science or oppose its conclusions or its pursuit.

Just as foolishly, accommodationists have failed to recognize the true common ground between atheists and believers: civil rights. Religious freedom and freedom of speech is common ground for citizens of all faiths and faithlessnesses. Accommodationists would do better to spend their time encouraging the religious to join us atheists there. Secularism is rarely seen by the religious for what it is – protecting religious people from other religious people!

The third thing that some atheists do that I don’t like is trying to replace the things that have been lost through the loss of religion. Atheist cathedrals, atheist emotional support groups, atheist ten commandments etc. (I’m thinking of Alain de Botton for example.) It’s ridiculous. By all means organize, meet, form groups and support each other etc, but trying to compete with religion is stupid. Religions regularly sell themselves out by trying to cater to human needs in order to promote themselves and maintain the power and privilege certain individuals have won. Atheists don’t need to try it. The atheist movement has plenty to offer in the fields of ethics, human rights, secular charities, and other things, but there’s no need to try and fulfill the private personal needs of atheists. What’s next — atheist rock?

While I do think that it’s worth trying to develop some kind of philosophy for living, I don’t think that such a thing grows all that naturally out of atheism. More importantly, I don’t think that people who are good at seeing through the deceptions and delusions of religion will necessarily be particularly wise in other areas of life.

But what atheism can do is provide some good boundaries. A philosophy of living should be amenable to reason and critical thinking, (which are good guides but poor motivators in my opinion).

Atheism also holds a vitally important lesson for spiritual believers and anyone who wants to develop a philosophy for living: don’t include magical claims about the nature of reality in your spiritual beliefs! You don’t need them. And every magical claim any religion has ever made has eventually been overthrown by science. (Don’t take it personally, guys: exactly the same thing happened to the vast majority of scientific theories too. It’s not because your ideas were religious, but because they were wrong. And it’s not science’s fault if you painted yourself into a corner.)

A good philosophy of life comes from life experience, reflecting on life experience, from noticing that some things inspire or touch you more than other things, and learning value and keep in touch with those things in a way that doesn’t suffocate them. Atheism won’t teach any of that stuff, nor did it ever set out to.

Posted by Yakaru

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6 comments

  1. Well said.

    Secularism is rarely seen by the religious for what it is – protecting religious people from other religious people!

    I think this is a big point that a lot of fundies feel threatened on. They also tend to be short-sighted in their big tent theocracy efforts: If they did manage to establish their religion in the government, they’d end up turning on one another to favor their particular denomination above all others in the name of ideological purity.

    Moderate believers are more likely to live and let live, and that’s pretty much what religious freedom is about. We’ll have our disagreements, but they won’t descend into barbarism.


  2. I think one of the main reasons why the Catholic Church was so quick to formally align itself with Hitler was because Catholics in Germany had been seriously disadvantaged and persecuted by powerful Protestants like Bismarck.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kulturkampf


  3. When looking into blogs and sites that involve people sharing comments and everyone learning things from each other(at first for general skepticism), it seemed many of the posts critical of religion involved fierce cases of misogyny. I remember back then considering the possibility of a real connection between the two. But you’re right, ‘religion’ however it is defined, is not the cause of misogyny,horrible faults within some men are.


  4. Maybe I should provide a link to make it clear exactly the kind of thing being referred to.
    http://dubitoergosum.net/2012/07/23/friendship/

    Bronze Dog is also one who has been especially vocal in opposing this. I’m just kind of dumbstruck by it. It was a conscious decision of mine to label myself an atheist rather than a secular humanist or something. I thought (and still think) the term atheist has a clarity about it that other terms don’t have.

    I assumed it was inherently more effective at campaigning for human rights than religion is. Christians who oppose discrimination and quote the Bible to support their position inevitably find bigots quoting the Bible back at them, and find themselves reaching for Enlightenment values instead. Atheists don’t have this problem. Or at least I thought. I really didn’t expect to have to clear this kind of thing up within the atheist movement.


  5. Nearly everyone (I suppose) makes an improper remark or joke sometime. If it´s on the internet the perpetrator should go back and admit their mistake, apologise, and edit / correct / delete the offensive aspect.

    Complicating matters, on the one hand the words mean less than deeds, but words of a person can be a better indicator than deeds of what is going on in a person´s mind or better indicator of how a person thinks. It is rather more difficult to assess what a person is thinking than to comprehend what a person is saying or recognise what a person is doing. That is particularly relevant to some frauds, they say something or act in certain way, while not in the mind believing themselves: hence the fee-for-service quacks and healers who once they get sick themselves rely on conventional cancer treatment or whatever.

    I have wondered a couple of times if the so-called virgin Mary gave her consent, or did she know what was happening at the time, or was it the same syndrome as something that happens in Samoa and is known to anthropologists as surreptitious rape ?

    God (sic) the father, son and holy ghost takes incest to a transcendental (if rather sick, unhealthy) level.

    P.S: To give my answer to a hanging direct question (which I did not answer at the time because I was too busy responding to other issues, and because I thought the answer should have been self-evident):

    By defining “spirituality” as meaning “donations to the church in the form of money or goods” I meant the catholic clergy was corrupt in the sense that it betrayed (subverted) the sacred meaning of the word in order to collect profane, material possessions.


  6. Yeh, the devil is in the details, one might say….

    Historically, the Christian church won enormous political power through having a clearly worked out philosophy and using it as an instrument for binding alliances and persecuting opponents. Nowadays of course it’s the opposite – many hate being asked to clear up the distinctions or state clearly and unequivocally where they stand. That seems to be the main complaint against books like The God Delusion or God is Not Great.

    And all too often, in my opinion, both Christians and the aforementioned accommodationists forget that if if Christians just practice their religion privately and use it for personal guidance and inspiration, no atheist has any right to bother them. In fact we should (and for the most part I believe would) defend their right to that freedom.

    For me, as soon as someone talks about their religion in public it ceases to be religion and starts being politics. They can do it, sure, but no special status and no special rules.



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