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New Atheism: Missing the Point

There was a time when I not only sympathized with the so called “New Atheist” movement, but considered myself  a participant in it. Some time has passed since those days, and I like to think that I’ve matured a little, grown beyond that, and I now no longer consider myself a supporter of the movement. There are probably a lot of fellow atheists, and many Christians who wonder why I have dropped that crusade (for lack of a better word.)

The answer is one that, while simple, will need some explaining. I am still for secular government, for science, and for progress, but I no longer support the movement that is led by folks like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris or the late Christopher Hitchens. There are good reasons for us non-theists to reconsider what our goals are, and if this movement is the right avenue to reach them by.

So without further ado, here are my reasons for abandoning the New Atheist movement:

1. Tell me what you are, not what you’re not.

Telling me that you’re an atheist doesn’t actually tell me a whole lot about you. It doesn’t tell me what your philosophy is, whether you’re an existentialist or a materialist, or an idealist. It doesn’t tell me if you support the Austrian school of economics, the Chicago school of economics, the Marxist classical school of economics or any other school of economic thought. It doesn’t tell me if you’re religious or not. Yes, contrary to the beliefs of many atheists I’ve had discussions with lately, being an atheist does not exlude being religious. Atheism simply means “Absence of god(s)” That’s it. You can be an atheist and be a Buddhist. (I am actually). You can be an atheist and believe in ghosts. (I don’t actually.) You can be an atheist and a Republican Party member. (I’m not of course.) You can be an atheist and be opposed to gay marriage, abortion, and be a huge supporter of American imperialism. Many atheists are all of that. You can be an atheist and be damn near everything but a theist. Being an atheist doesn’t make you rational, it doesn’t mean you respect real science over pseudoscience, it doesn’t mean anything. So tell me, who are you, what DO you follow or accept in philosophy, science, religion and other categories? Just telling me that you’re an atheist is not really that helpful.

2.  Attacking religion: Atheists can be ignorant too

I saw some rather disconcerting arguments on Facebook recently. A group of atheists kept using the words “theist” and “religion” interchangeably. This is entirely wrong. Theism is the belief in gods. Religion on the other hand is not necessarily anything to do with gods whatsoever. Take Zen Buddhism. It’s a religion, yes, but it has no god, tells its adherents to question everything, and upholds science as truth. Or you could take Unitarian Universalist churches as an example. There are many people who don’t believe in deities who go to those churches for community, tradition, fun and to support their position of social progress. Religion doesn’t mean theist. It never has, and it never will.

I’ve also seen many atheists group all religions together, as if Buddhism had the same problems, history and culture and way of life attached. Atheists are obsessed with the Abrahamic religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Any other religion like Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Shintoism, or whatever gets all grouped together with no thought whatsoever for any culture, tradition or way of life. Atheism has become yet another Eurocentric crusade to “free” the poor savages from their bondage. It is becoming a missionary business, and this needs to stop. Which brings me to my next point:

3. Atheism and Libertarianism

The infamous hypocrite Ayn Rand was an atheist. She believed in self gratification at the expense of everyone else. She believed in being a dick, basically. She also apparently believed in preaching the creed of greed while also taking money from the government, hence her hypocrite title, but I digress. My small point here is that the hatred against Islam for example, has led to a strengthening of imperialist action against those people. It has encouraged racism, xenophobia, and war. Christopher Hitchens once used to be a communist. He ended up being a right of center liberal who supported the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. He, like many other atheists, supported imperialism. Many Ron Paul supporters who advocate for libertarian corporate control are atheists. Many people are atheists, and I don’t automatically stand in solidarity with those who are atheists. Like I said at the top of this post, telling me you’re an atheist doesn’t tell me who you are, merely what you’re not.

4. New Atheist Ignorance

Finally, the new atheist movement is wrong because it ignores the real facts about human history and where we are in the world today. It smashes religion like a crazed man, while ignoring the positive aspects of religion. It attacks all religious people as anti-science buffoons, while not taking the time to address its own short comings in critical thinking. It focuses on Western religion, and lumps all the myriad religious traditions of the world into one group. It ignores the reason why religion exists, and instead of fixing the reasons why people are driven to dogmatic religious belief, or fundamentalism, it maligns both the religious liberal and the fundamentalist alike with no discerning. It can’t admit that it likes the beautiful chants of the monks, the majesty of the Cathedral, or the rich tapestry of religious literature. Why must an atheist hate religion? I am an atheist, but I love the work of John Milton. I am an atheist but I love listening to Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”. I am an atheist, but I can appreciate the beautiful Muezzin song that calls the faithful to prayer. More atheists doesn’t mean a better world. Less religion doesn’t mean problem solved. We are intertwined with our religious and cultural background, and I think that we can appreciate it as part of who we are, without giving up critical thinking and science.

The reason that religion exists is the same reason why any cultural phenomenon exists. It is there, at least originally, to solve a problem. If that problem is not remedied, the religion, or other cultural phenomenon will remain. Why does religion exist? Marx knew why, and he knew that it wasn’t that complicated. Here, I’ll let you read what he said:
From Marx’s Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right:

“The profane existence of error is compromised as soon as its heavenly oratio pro aris et focis [“speech for the altars and hearths,” i.e., for God and country] has been refuted. Man, who has found only the reflection of himself in the fantastic reality of heaven, where he sought a superman, will no longer feel disposed to find the mere appearance of himself, the non-man [Unmensch], where he seeks and must seek his true reality.

The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself.

It is, therefore, the task of history, once the other-world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world. It is the immediate task of philosophy, which is in the service of history, to unmask self-estrangement in its unholy forms once the holy form of human self-estrangement has been unmasked. Thus, the criticism of Heaven turns into the criticism of Earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.”

Don’t attack religion. Attack the reasons why religion remains. Attack injustice, poverty and exploitation. Whether or not someone believes in a god is inconsequential in the long run. That my friends, is why I am no longer a supporter of the New Atheist movement. It divides, it doesn’t bring together. Join me in the fight for real justice, hand in hand with Muslims, Christians, non-religious, Buddhists, Jainists and everyone else who has a yearning for political, social and economic justice. Thank you.

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One thought on “New Atheism: Missing the Point

  1. I’ve just recently started reading your blog…this piece gave me goosebumps. You had me at, “Atheism has become yet another Eurocentric crusade to “free” the poor savages from their bondage. It is becoming a missionary business, and this needs to stop.” – Thanks Tim.

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