What I want as an atheist

I’m slowly cleaning out my list of “things I’m meaning to respond to” from when I was sick. One of them was a post by Andrew Sullivan titled “What Do Atheists Want?”, which links to and quotes from this longer post by Anthony Pinn at Religion Dispatches. Here’s the part Sullivan highlighted:

What is the basic concern – the destruction of religion? Or, more specifically, the destruction of the poor patterns of thinking, communication, and practice supported by theistic religion? Does the development of human societies that are reasonable and more progressive require the end of religion or simply the containment of its most harmful dimensions? It’s the latter that matters most.

My answer: my goal for the next, say, 25 years, roughly the time frame on which my generation will be running things, is for religion to die out to roughly the extent it has in Western Europe. I think that’s a reasonable goal. Hell, it may be underachieving. As I wrote last September:

A recent Pew survey found that, “young adults [in the US] ages 18-29 are much more likely than those age 70 and older to say that they are not affiliated with any particular religion (25% vs. 8%).” Even worse news for U.S. Christianity is the Barna study that found, “91 percent of young non-Christians and 80 percent of young churchgoers say present-day Christianity is ‘anti-homosexual.’” Given increasingly tolerant attitudes towards gays in the US, that’s an epic PR disaster for Christianity.

At this point, I think it’s more or less a given that Christianity is going to become marginal as a force in public life in America. So maybe it’s better to say my goal is to speed this along. To see if I can get the 25%ers among my generation to be bolder about their lack of religion. To turn the 25% into an even larger number.

Also, I don’t think I have to change society for my efforts as an atheist writer to be valuable. If I can get just a few more people to see through religion’s nonsense, it will have been worth it for me.

I’ll ignore the idiot editor’s comments about the billboards, but I do want to comment on this:

Traditional, theistic religious traditions to not fall prey easily to logic and reason. In fact, the extreme examples of fundamentalism and evangelical thinking find attacks from non-theists an indication of their spiritual prowess. Ritual and theological structures insulate them from attacks on their most fundamental beliefs and practices.

Fundamentalist theology — the type atheists and humanists most typically attack — actually feeds off resistance and intellectual critique; these traditions runs contrary to reason and logic, and there is little hope this will change. This type of theologizing is a prophylactic against thinking: faith trumps reason in such cases in that reason is perceived to be the arrogance of humanity.


A word of advice to atheists and humanists: deconstruct theistic models of religions—and expose the illogic and destructive thought and practice by those that have done so much graphic damage to human existence; but don’t be delusional concerning the outcomes of such effort.It might be cathartic for atheist and humanists to broadcast their disdain for religion, but it does little to shake the theistic world. Only those who already harboring doubts fall prey to such attacks.

Sure, that’s true as far as it goes. Criticizing religion only works if the your audience starts off with some minimal level of open-mindedness. But that minimal level of open-mindedness isn’t as rare as you might think. There’s no shortage of people who are raised as fundamentalists but manage to eventually leave religion behind entirely. And few of them report doing it alone. I believe what I do really can make the difference between freeing someone’s mind and their being lulled back to sleep by a fraud like William Lane Craig.

  • pipenta

    The criticism is important. There are people, children, awash in a sea of brainwashing, who are choking on religion, who would dearly love a way out if only they knew it was there. Many of us who came from a religious background had to crawl out, to escape, on our own without assistance. Even a tiny thing, an indication that they are not alone, that they are not the only decent people in the world who doubt the craziness, is of great worth.

    I don’t think we can ever make religion go away. People are determined to believe. I have a friend from college who comes from a very wealthy family. I saw him a couple of years back and he was telling me about this wonderful psychic who had agreed to take him on only after a few years of his trying. Well, it was pretty clear to me she only took him on after research indicated he came from money. And that research allowed her to spin a convincing performance for him. When I, as politely as could be managed in such a conversation, pointed out the many holes in the story and the likelihood of her being a con artist, he couldn’t put a stop to the conversation fast enough. He found the lies comforting, but thin, oh so very thin. He had to push away doubts. Filled some kind of need he had for sure. It’s a wonder he doesn’t have a cluster B wife. But maybe he does. I never met her.

    But people want magic, they look for it and can even find it in a burnt taco.

  • mikespeir

    “But that minimal level of open-mindedness isn’t as rare as you might think.”

    This is true. Rain will eventually wash away a mountain. You just need a lot of it. Most Fundamentalist/Evangelical/Pentecostals aren’t stupid and they aren’t as impervious to the evidence as they often seem to be. Keep pouring it on and more will seep in than appears to.

  • Denis Robert

    Isn’t it pointless to respond to someone else’s blog on your own blog? Have you contacted either Sullivan or Pinn, and directed them to this response? If not, then it’s not a response, it’s simply you using someone else’s post as a launching pad for your own musings. I’m fine with that, and I happen to agree with you, Chris, but in my view it would be more helpful if the original authors were engaged in the conversation. I for one would be very interested to see what Sullivan or Pinn make of your counterpoint.