Weekly Rant: Defending atheist fundamentalism?

dogisnotgreat I am sick and tired of pompous and senseless writers like Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning News. He starts his recent dribble thusly:

And how did you spend your summer? Having more fun, I hope, than the English kids marched off to Camp Quest, a five-day atheist camp supported in part by Oxford scientist Richard Dawkins. The idea, Dawkins said, is “to encourage children to think for themselves.” Yes, well, as long as they don’t think well of religion, tykes are welcome to join his herd of independent minds.

This could NOT be more wrong. I’m sorry that religion quite often falls short in the reason department. However, almost every freethinker I know (and I know a lot) would change their mind about a religious claim if it could stand up to the scientific method and basic critical thinking. What percentage of believers can say this? It has to be close to zero. The very nature of faith requires the absence of evidence. Proof would nullify faith, and according to Scripture, without faith, it is impossible to please God.

In speaking about my friends at the North Texas Church of Freethought, Dreher says:

Hmm. One doesn’t quite know what to make of an atheist church. Most people, when they cease to believe in the Easter bunny, don’t hold monthly services to celebrate the non-existence of a peripatetic paschal rabbit. But you know Dallas: We’re so religious that even the atheists go to church. For the record, at their next service, the freethinkers will focus on invisibility. Ah, reason.

I get the sarcasm, but come on Rod, are you really that dim? Are you implying that the only reason people go to church is to celebrate the existence of their god of choice? I think there is a lot more to it than that. Isn’t there also…what’s that word…oh yeah, community?

Letting go of religion is just the beginning for a nonbeliever. We still need to learn about philosophy, critical thinking, and charity. We still need to be inspired and edified. And we are human, so we still yearn for community. Believe it or not, we can also glean a lot from the various religions without having to ingest their superstitions.

Most atheists I know don’t care for religion, obviously, but aren’t angry about it. Not so the True Unbelievers – the Dawkinses and their followers – who prove that you don’t have to be religious to be a fundamentalist.

How does sending your kids to a camp with likeminded children proof of some type of anger? Rod, do you apply the same standard to parents who send their children to vacation Bible school? Are Catholic parents brainwashing and instilling anger into their offspring by enrolling them in catechism class?

Running out of steam, Mr. Dreher rehashes the same tired arguments that the “new atheists” are fundamentalists, evangelicals, militants and lacking the ethical and moral restrictions of religion. Let’s hit these one by one.

First, fundamentalism requires rigid beliefs with NO possibility of variation. While it is human to have pet beliefs, a true skeptic must be willing to submit their views to be tested by evidence, and if they fall short, change them. This is why gravity, atoms, and natural selection, are still called theories.

Second, the word evangelical is tied specifically to the Christian gospel. However, if you want to redefine it as someone who expresses their viewpoint with zeal and passion, what’s wrong with that? Personally, I am very happy and proud of my new belief system. If a football fan is passionate about his favorite team, should they be called evangelical?

Thirdly, I can’t stand when people refer to “new atheists” as militant. When was the last time someone flew an airplane into a building chanting, “Dawkins is great!” When has Christopher Hitchens ever inspired the oppression of women or mistreatment of children and homosexuals? Need I go on? This is a ridiculous accusation.

Fourth and finally, how many times must we listen to people babble on about moral and ethical restraints? People much more eloquent than me have dealt with this issue, so I will be brief. I honestly believe that it is we, the nonbelievers, who have the moral high ground in all areas. Throughout history, every major ethical and social movement was started by either nonbelievers, or believers who went against the religious establishment. Whether it’s slavery, women’s suffrage, medical advancements, the spanking of children, you name it. It isn’t until these things became acceptable by culture that the religious leaders reinterpreted their holy books and determined that their god had always supported such things.

The end of Rod’s article can be summed up with this quote which is reference to political philosopher, John Gray:

The religious sense – of awe, of mystery, of a need for meaning – is hard-wired into our species, which is why Gray, a nonbeliever, identifies a “funny sort of humanism that condemns an impulse that is peculiarly human.” He’s certainly correct to warn that the attempt to repress the religious instinct (as with the sexual instinct) only means it will reappear in some other, degraded form – the operatic pseudo-paganism of the Nazis, say, or the Soviet Stalinist cult, or even, more benignly, the faintly ridiculous idea of an atheist church.

Rod, I agree with you here. I do believe religious sense and awe are hard-wired into our species. However, I can personally testify that they can be embraced and celebrated without having to include Bronze Age fairy tales. We can find inspiration in music, art, literature, and the beauty of the Universe. We can honor traditions and celebrate holidays without the irrational beliefs. We can teach our kids morals and ethics without teaching superstitions. This isn’t an all or nothing scenario.

Artists and poets accused Isaac Newton of “unweaving the rainbow” (Dawkins should write a book about this) when he began experimenting with light and prisms. They said he was taking the wonder and mystery out of life. Why can’t we simultaneously understand how something operates and glory in its beauty? Why can’t we have a sense of “soulfulness” without belief in an ethereal sprit world?

Brother Richard

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  • Mark S.

    "Fourth and finally, how many times must we listen to people babble on about moral and ethical restraints?"

    Usually, when someone is talking about "moral and ethical restraints" they tend to be only talking about the restraints that they personally support. For instance: An atheist and a Christian would both tend to agree that theft or murder is wrong, but when the issue comes to something like premarital sex or homosexuality (anyone else notice a trend here?) the theist will declare the atheist an amoral ethical anarchist out to destroy Western civilization with "moral relativism."

  • Mark S.

    "Fourth and finally, how many times must we listen to people babble on about moral and ethical restraints?"

    Usually, when someone is talking about "moral and ethical restraints" they tend to be only talking about the restraints that they personally support. For instance: An atheist and a Christian would both tend to agree that theft or murder is wrong, but when the issue comes to something like premarital sex or homosexuality (anyone else notice a trend here?) the theist will declare the atheist an amoral ethical anarchist out to destroy Western civilization with "moral relativism."

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