Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Church of Atheism

I've been observing an increasingly disturbing trend lately. Atheists are forming organised groups. They're showing signs of fundamentalism - acting privileged, entitled, superior, rude and harassing religious people online.

To Begin With

I've written before on the futility of belief, and why non-belief is logical. However, these are my personal views, and I hold that imposing these views on anyone else in wrong. Also, it would be wrong on my part to expect everyone else to adhere to my personal views. Just because I see a way of life to be logical or rational doesn't mean everyone has to hold to that view. It is fine for people be irrational, even purposely so, as long as they're not hurting anyone else.

Take religion for example. Religion is irrational, yet it's OK for people to be religious. It's their personal choice. Should religion be encouraged? No more than any other form of irrationality is. Should religion be protected? Of course not. Ordinarily, a state has no part to play in the religions or personal belief systems of it's citizens.

Which is why I'm growing uneasy over this new type of militant atheism, an atheism that people subscribe to like an actionable belief system, rather than merely a philosophy or a personal set of viewpoints. An atheism that has loyal followers who are beginning to resemble religious fundamentalists, ready to defend their atheist leaders and core principles, ever ready to preach to those disinclined to listen. 

We need to guard against this new type of militant atheism.

Atheism Does Not Need Fundamentalism to Work 

I think religion will eventually die out when people see there's no point in taking things on faith, when they realise that the concept of belief itself is pointless. This will happen slowly over time. The number of people who associate with non-belief increases each year. 

Arguments that rationally undermine the concept of belief have been around for ages. These arguments form the foundation of atheism and do not need patron saints like Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins, or their lapdogs to defend or promote them. 

Militant Atheism is Really Harmful to the Cause

As a rationalist, I have to say that men like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins actually do more harm to rational thought, simply because they rarely indulge/d in any. 

Men like these may occasionally present their ideas logically, but spend more time asserting their superiority over religious people, insulting them, being rude, acting superior and generally just being assholes, that they alienate not just religious people, but the fence sitters as well.

Hitchens in particular was adept at using rhetoric and hyperbole, side-stepping any attempt at debate with humour that reinforced his own one-dimensional points. That his original arguments made sense by themselves is beside the point. The point is that he used the same arguments in contexts that rendered them irrelevant. 

For example, in this debate with Shashi Tharoor on freedom of speech, Hitchens shuns any attempt at engaging in actual intelligent debate. He seems incapable of looking at the world and questioning it in any way that doesn't allow him to spurt his crowd/ratings-friendly one-liners at every opportunity he gets.

Now, as a result of this, two things happen.

One, you give your detractors more ammunition to work with. You are going to be seen as someone who changes the subject and avoids debate, preferring narrow mindedness instead. 

Two, you alienate all those people who want to be on your side, who genuinely care about intelligent debate and an exchange of ideas, and make a mockery of their time.

Groupism is Bad

A true rationalist is interested in debate and an exchange of ideas. That's not what I'm seeing today. I'm seeing people who under the guise of enlightenment, take great pleasure in forming a clique and shoving their non-belief down religious people's throats. 

This is dangerous because, as we've seen in history, any type of groupism has potential to go very wrong. The moment like-minded people get organised around an idea, the potential for disaster is present, especially when that idea revolves around persecution of supposedly inferior beings. 

This is the same kind of groupism that we've seen in religious groups, and we all know the kind of violence it can lead to. In fact, groupism isn't confined to religion. How many millions of people did atheist governments in China and the former USSR kill?

This sort of 'lynch mob' mentality is exactly what happens when you have people eager to belong, to be part of a group, to be part of a movement, something greater to themselves, so that they have meaning in their lives. You see this kind of tribe mentality in all sorts of groups.

On Intelligent Atheism

Is it surprising then that it manifests itself in atheism too? To me it is, because I never imagined any kind of rationalist movement as a kind of cult, which is what it has turned into. 

Rationalism is all about being an open minded skeptic, friendly, ready to engage, open to new ideas, discussion and debate. And let's not forget our humaneness too. Despite all our rationality, we must respect other human beings for their views, whatever they are, even when they decide to be irrational. Their reasons are their own.

I don't see this kind of respect for other human beings in new atheism. If you're not constantly spewing hatred for religion, you're the enemy. If you don't agree with Dawkins or Hitchens, you're the enemy. Atheist fundamentalists cannot grasp that you can be a staunch atheist and still disagree with these so called 'experts'. 

This kind of 'seeing the world in black and white' mentality while ignoring the grey areas is exactly what leads to groupism and possible violence, and is antithetical to the healthy debate that rational thought encourages.

No Excuses

The main excuse of atheist fundamentalists is that their harshness is merely a response to injustices wrought on the world by religion. To which I say "Phooey". 

Granted, the influence of religion is far reaching, and much needs to be done to reverse this. But that does not mean you shove your ideas down people's throats. That doesn't make you any better than the people you're trying to put down. 

And it doesn't accomplish anything. If anything, it makes it worse. Most people dislike non-belief being forced on them as much as they dislike religion being forced upon them.

So in summary

Believe what you like, and keep it to yourself. 
Engage in healthy debate if you feel like it and find the right people to talk to. 
Hear people out and seriously consider what they're saying.
Think and reason logically. 
Be objective. 
Fight for your rights and the rights of others. 
Fight to halt and reverse the dangerous influences of religion.
Support the freedom of religious expression up till the point where it infringes on your rights.
It's fine to hold up a mirror to the absurdity of religion or any irrational thought process to demonstrate how absurd it is, especially when provoked. 
Don't be rude.
Don't end up like one of them.
Keep your individuality. The moment you join a group, you sacrifice a piece of your individuality for a group identity. Be aware of this.


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