Posts Tagged ‘Stealth’

Atheism with Stealth, part 2

November 4, 2009

In the second part of Atheism as a Stealth religion, Johnson takes up the unfortunate task of responding to the many wildly off-base comments that pop up, on most all lively internet discussions. Most of it is entirely beside the point, or re-explaining things for people who have trouble reading.

There are a few things worth commenting on, though:

Is the New Atheism a movement? Some readers objected to having atheism called a movement with designated leaders. For them, atheism is just a bunch of independent thinkers who refuse to be herded. That might be true for atheism as a whole, but can there be any doubt that authors such as Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, and Sam Harris are trying to start a movement?

If New Atheism a movement, its a granfalloon. The only thing that seems separates “new” atheists from the “old” atheists is the gall some have to actually say something once in a while. The horror.

I am sometimes chided for criticizing the books of the New Atheists as if they were scientific tomes, when in fact they are designed to attract the attention of the general public in the crowded cultural marketplace. … If the new atheists are not basing their claims about religion on the best that science has to offer, then they are part of the problem. My complaint about the New Atheism is that it is based on bad science

Criticism is a good thing, especially when it is pointed and insightful, or points out a weakness in an argument. Shitty criticism earns replies of its own. I’ll have to look up Johnson’s reviews of the books of “new” atheists, but I’m gonna stop if I read the word “shrill” about the God Delusion.

But new atheists not basing their claims of religion on the best science has to offer? Say what now? Isn’t it alright to criticize religion whenever it sucks? Hardly week goes by without me coming across some terrible story popping up which was enabled, fueled by, the product of, made much worse by, or could only arise in conditions created by — religion. You don’t need top science to point that out.

Atheism based on bad science? This is a strange idea. Not a whole lot actually flows from not believing in god, except that there….aren’t gods (Penn Jilette does a “This I Believe” that has a good take on moving past that simple fact). You don’t need science for that. It does help that, whenever religion has made claims about the universe, science eventually proves it wrong.

So atheism, that is new atheism, is based on bad science, which makes it a bad kind of atheism – atheism that is a religion (of loudly criticizing religions….) based on bad science. Well then. At least if that was true, new atheism would still be ahead of the old desert dogmas, which aren’t based on science at all.

It seems like Johnson’s definition of “stealth religion” is simply too broad (even though Johnson does explain that the definition was clear, because it’s written right there. See it? Clearly says, it clearly says clearly).

stealth religion as any belief system that distorts the facts of the real world … for the purpose of motivating a given suite of behaviors

This definition is given for the purpose of including all belief systems that distort reality in the discussion. But then are we going to say all belief systems that distort reality are religions? Does that mean religion is essentially distortion?

This definition could include so many non-supernatural twistings of reality. Is White Supremacy a stealth religion? What about plain ole sexism? Some people have elaborately constructed systems of the many ways women are inferior to, and less valuable than, men. Does that count? What about people who think gays are inhuman? Both these things are often given the full backing of supernatural belief systems, but they are only divine fuel to the fire. A “new” atheist can still be a sexist, racist, homophobic asshole, and none of those stealth religions will conflict with his or her disbelief in the supernatural.

This brings me back to the whole “new” atheism problem. You can call the writers of a few books that struck a chord with people a few years back as the leaders of movement, but it seems like an attempt to dismiss the unexpected response they got. Books about god not existing? You don’t say! At least no one will read them, pray tell.

I could be wrong, but much of the criticism of “new” atheists seems to be saying, one way or another, to shut up. I hope this is all not some long winded way of doing that.

But! All that said, there are still five parts to go, so hopefully there is some good stuff ahead, now that some of the stupidity has been addressed.

Religion is a Stealth Atheism

October 28, 2009

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!