Tuesday, July 15, 2008


A disgruntled milquetoast atheist has this to say of antitheism:

The new atheism has made its challenge, then. And here is my answer. I don't believe in God, in any meaningful way. I am not a Christian or a Muslim or a Hindu or a Buddhist or a Jew, or whatever else you will. In questions of public policy I feel religion has no place, and rational discourse has to rule. I don't want religious artifacts in the public square, I don't want creationism taught in public schools, and I don't want any religion privileged in any way by government. I am, in most every way that matters, a natural ally of atheism.

But atheism has expelled me. It has expelled me because it has in its heart contempt and loathing and fear of the other. So I reject it. I don't reject all atheists; many atheists are uninterested in ridiculing the religious-- they simply want to be left in peace, and not have religion forced on them or on the law. That, to me, is a principled atheism, and one I am happy to coexist with. But this new atheism, this anti-theism, has only contempt at its heart, and I reject it as thoroughly as it has rejected me.

I respectfully disagree.

In a nutshell, when faced with something evil, the proper reaction is revulsion and contempt.

In my opinion, milquetoast atheism (which is happy to let religion perform its daily evils upon us) only holds any validity if you accept as your fundamental premise that religion is ultimately innocuous.

As I have written about on this blog for months now, in my opinion, religion is NOT innocuous. It causes untold amounts of suffering and subjects us to evil acts every day.

As an antitheist, I believe that religion deserves our contempt. If this has the effect of "rejecting" people that are fine with tolerating religion, then so be it.

Update: Dealing with the precise subject matter of the atheist-in-question's remarks, I don't see why he/she thinks they are being rejected from the broader atheist movement.

As noted in this post, an atheist is "Someone who denies the existence of god". Antitheism goes one step further, generally being defined as "Active opposition to the belief in the existence of a God". From this, we can see that antitheism is a smaller subset within the larger construct of atheism.

Based on the above, the broader atheist/non-antitheist movement would be (and likely is) happy to have the writer within its fold. It's the antitheist subset that would not be comfortable with the writer's dangerous religious apologism.


Freddie said...

How have I apologized for religion?

Monitor said...

Sorry, I should have been more specific. "Apologism" for me isn't per se an active defense of a position, it is also the taking of a position that implicitly takes up the validity of the defense offered by the active defenders of such position.

If one operates under the premise that religion is innocuous, one is accepting the position of the religionists and choosing to simply let them be.

I happen to disagree of course. In my view, religion is terribly evil and is used every day to justify and actively visit upon us much suffering.

Freddie said...

Indeed. Religion has been the source of incredible suffering and oppression throughout history, though (contra Christopher Hitchens) I do think religion has done some good. All I can say in regard to this is two things: first, again, the question of the propriety or wisdom of what PZ Meyers wrote is a separate one from the various evils of religion, if you ask me. Obviously these are connected. But I think people tend to get caught up in the relative question (is angry/rude atheism worse than the crimes of religion) and in doing so ignore the absolute question (is angry/rude atheism fair, principled and useful).

The second thing I would say is that I struggle as many of us do with the appropriate way to judge religion as a whole through the lens of the (frankly hideous) failings of religion. I do believe that there are many religious people and religious adherents who live righteously, and who let others alone. I'm in favor of letting them alone in kind. I don't think religion is innocuous; but I think there are religious people and religious communities that are innocuous. As far as how to adjudicate what the limits of religious expression should be, I think it's the same limit that we impose on any other group or individual: the right of the religious to swing their arm ends where my nose begins. Religion should have no extra latitude in our society than any other institution. But when people leave others alone, they should be free to operate more or less as they please.

Monitor said...

Thanks for the great reply. To your first point, I agree. The debate over the merits of religion are definitely different from someone sneaking into a religious service and stealing a sacred religious object.

To your second point, I disagree that there is much in the way of "religious people and religious communities that are innocuous". This would get us into a huge discussion of the aggregate subtle evils of religious moderation (for example, sexual repression in religious communities leading to gay teen suicide, STDs, unwanted pregnancies, etc.) that this site is dedicated to. My main thesis is that we non-religionists all too often get distracted by religious fundamentalists and the evil that they cause and forget about the much larger heap of evil caused by the more innocuous-seeming religious moderates. I beleive that this distraction leads many of us to give moderate religionists the benefits of the doubt and "just let them be".

I don't believe in officially stifling religion in any way but I am a firm advocate in giving them no quarter intellectually. They loathe atheism and non-believers nearly as much as anything else. The least we can do is return the favor.

Freddie said...

"I don't believe in officially stifling religion in any way but I am a firm advocate in giving them no quarter intellectually."

I understand and respect that position and though I don't think we'll ever agree, I do think we can have mutual understanding. Thanks for your thoughts.