New on IHEU: Atheists Aren’t That Terrifying

Tonight, I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve had an essay published on a new forum: the website of IHEU, the International Humanist and Ethical Union, an umbrella organization representing humanist groups all around the world. It’s titled We’re not that terrifying – A response to “Atheism Has Failed”, and in it I respond to Jonathan Sacks, the chief Orthodox rabbi of the U.K., who frets that atheism is destroying Western civilization as we know it. A big thanks to IHEU for offering me this opportunity!

Read the excerpt below, then click through to see the rest:

He seems to be saying that one kind of totalitarianism can only be defeated by a different kind of totalitarianism; that human beings can’t be trusted to be decent and honorable on their own, and that to vanquish the religious fundamentalists who march in lockstep, we must learn to march in lockstep ourselves and surrender our beliefs and desires to some authority figure who will tell us how to live. It should be obvious to every historically literate person how this would go wrong. No matter how benevolent or well-intentioned that authority might initially be, that kind of power corrupts quickly, easily, and inevitably. Before long, we’d be the mirror image of what we set out to oppose.

Continue reading on IHEU…

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Guest

    Excellent essay.

  • Joe Barron

    Religion may or may not be a foundation of society, but Sacks is wrong in predicting that a society will necassarily collapse if eveb one of its foundations is udenrdimed. Human beings are infinitely adaptable, and societies change all the time. Slavery, for instance, used to be a foundation American society. It basically built this country. Our entire economy and way of life depended on it. Yet we did away with it, and the sun still shines.

    Excellent essay, btw, Adam. I do get so tired of being blamed for everything that’s wrong with the world today.

  • Steven Carr

    ‘ I do get so tired of being blamed for everything that’s wrong with the world today.’

    Don’t worry. It is only in this Sacks article that atheists will be able to dominate the direction society is heading.

    Atheists will soon go back to being a small insignificant minority, as soon as religious people want to play up their importance by telling us just how many billions of religious people there are in the world.

  • Errant Endeavour

    ‘This is what always happens. The moral advance comes first, triumphing over ferocious religious opposition, and then when enough time has passed for memories to fade a little, religion is given the credit for it.’

    This is something that I found interesting, and I wanted to comment on it further. I, and I’m sure many others here, have heard religious people say something along the lines of ‘we’re finding new ways of interpreting the bible all the time’ or ‘it keeps offering us new morals to live by’ or (in justifying previous Christian beliefs in immoral practices) ‘we were just interpreting it wrong. The bible is inerrant, very advanced, and it’s our fault that we didn’t see the truth – that slavery and such is wrong – and not the bible’s.’

    On that last one I was playing a little fast and loose with the quoting. I’ve never actually heard someone who’s religious explicitly say ‘we were wrong’, but that’s the overall effect of the statement.

    The point that I’m taking a very circuitous route in getting to is that I think the bible – and perhaps all religious texts – can be said to be examples of a type of Forer Effect. For those of you who don’t know, the Forer Effect is a statement about a person that is very broad in its scope, but is written in such a way that it appears to be specifically written for the reader. In actuality, the broadness allows it to apply almost everyone who reads it (Derren Brown’s book Tricks of the Mind has an example, and some amusing anecdotes on its efficacy). Psychics and Media are quite fond of using this in their cons. I’m starting to think that the bible is just one such thing. It uses very broad language that can be interpreted in a number of ways, and includes a vast and varied amount of principles that people can take or leave as they see fit (sort of like throwing buckets of paint at a wall and letting people find the face in the mess). And, thanks to the wonders of human psychology, people tend to only remember the ones that strike home. In this way, to bring it back to Adam’s quote, people go to read these religious texts with their own principles already in place, and find their beliefs backed up by the scripture and then say ‘it’s in the buybill!’ (Sorry, couldn’t resist). And then caste their religion-tinted gaze to previous advances in morality and social justice and say ‘religion made it so’.

    Anyway, that’s enough of my ballyhooing. Rather excellent essay, Adam. I thought it was superbly written and admirably disproved Sacks’ points.

  • L.Long

    We have been watching people in general (most religious) and we have many say that with gawd you would out there killing and raping.

    I doubt that is true but it is true that they do not like to think and make decisions. It scares the Bjesus out of them. So the church becomes the thinker and the sheeple follow, and they are content. Atheist and their related types scare the piss out of them not because we slam gawd but because we are reminders that many people can think and don’t necessarily fear to die, don’t fear hell and are not that attracted to heaven.

    And science is the same. Read the buyBull-follow the rules-be happy, there is a whole lot of brain power there. But in science you again have to THINK, reason, work at it, study….really hard schite, ask any scientist or wannaB scientist.

    So I think he is right, if you want to eliminate the totalitarianism of the church you will need to supply a new totalitarianism for the 85% or they will be attracted to someone else’s totalitarianism.

  • L.Long

    Sorry the 1st line is ‘without gawd’

  • Michael

    It’s possible because despite what is generally believed the Bible isn’t just one text, but a collection of many, among which some clearly disagree. In fact I’d say particular books may also have been written in response to previous ones. That offers people a great deal of contradictory opinions by definition and they can therefore find something in support of their views. In my opinion it’s the textual equivalent of a Rorschach inkblot.

  • Frank Key

    Yep, right on. Religion will continue to be a necessity for the 85% who could think of life without. Most of my religious kinfolk cannot think of the idea of there being no God. Its existence is an assumption that goes as deep as the unspoken acknowledgement of their sex or a beartbeat. The alpha personalities who think might could live without religion but the sheeples could not. Taking religion away from the sheeples would destroy civilization as we know it.

  • DavidMHart

    Maybe ‘taking religion away’ would destroy civilzation as we know it – the countries that have officially banned religions and instituted some other utopian dogma have not tended to be pleasant places to live – but have you any evidence at all that giving people enough education and critical thinking skills to reject religion for themselves is likely to be disastrous, and if so, why are places like The Netherlands, Scandinavia, Japan, Canada, Australia etc not cesspools of misery and chaos?