David Sloan Wilson, one of two new editions to scienceblogs, has a seven part series called “Atheism as a Stealth Religion”, by Erin Johnson. The title makes me roll my eyes, but it has seven parts, and if it has worthwhile or insightful criticism of atheists, I’d like to check it out and respond in turn.
Here we go:
The new atheists hate religion for causing between-group conflict and especially for its wanton disregard of the canons of rational thought. Yet, both of these problems extend far more widely than religion.
How long can people be “new atheists”? Another 5-10 years? 20? I can’t wait to have been a “new” atheist for 20 years or so. Kind of a blessing really, even as I age my atheism will still be “new”.
Of course irrationality extends beyond religion. All being an atheist means is not believing in deities. Get as many self-identified atheists as you can together, and all you will really be able to say about them is what they don’t believe. If the world was a saner place, “atheism” wouldn’t even be a word, any more than one needs to be identified as a heliocentrist or aheliocentrist in ours today.
The vast majority of atheists turned away from their given religion, so why is it such a big deal for them to voice their criticisms of it? There are all sorts of irrationality, supernatural or not, but few as persistent or large a problem as religion (political ideologies can be quite toxic).
Ayn Rand and her crappy “objectivist” nonsense might still sell thousands of books a year, and fleece thousands more from their money to chase some literary fiction, but they don’t insist on shitting their “philosophy” into as many schools, government buildings, and as much public property as possible. They don’t bankroll political campaigns to take away gay’s rights, or seek to ruin children’s education in the name of their god.
It is humbling to contemplate that the concerns typically voiced about religion need to be extended to virtually all forms of human thought. If anything, non-religious belief systems are a greater cause for concern because they do a better job of masquerading as factual reality. Call them stealth religions.
I agree with the first point. Atheism alone really doesn’t require rational thought or even critical thinking. You could not believe in deities for the same reason others do believe, because their parents told them so when they were young. For many though, atheism is really the result of trying to think in a more rational/skeptical/humanist/critical way. It is trying to get away from the errors and pains all forms of irrationality can bring about. Thinking about religion may have been the point of entry for many people who call themselves atheists, but that is just a launching pad for where to go next.
Johnson says the “new” atheists show many hallmarks of what he calls stealth religion. This is illustrated by using book titles (and subtitles). The points the authors actually make in the books mentioned are not the polarized us-and-them views put forward by the likes of fundamentalists.
Johnson also talks about fundamentalist religions portraying a world in which much “factual realism” is sacrificed for “practical realism” (if I am using the terms right), and how “at least some” versions of atheism fare no better. I agree again, and also that many “versions” of atheism (say, Bill Mahr) are still prone to large errors, irrational thought, and everything else. If anyone thinks not believing in deities makes them fully rational, they’ve fucked up.
And finally, Johnson can associate religion with humility, but that would be wrong. Astronomy and Cosmology teach humility better than most religions could ever imagine. What passes for humility in most religions is a kind of self-negation, declaring oneself to be worthless BUT for god. All this on top of the amazingly self-centered and arrogant view put forward by many religions that mankind is the whole point and center of the universe. What humility!