Tuesday, November 8, 2011

After Atheism

Paul Wallace wrote article titled Atheism is Doomed in Religion Dispatches.  It is a response to the Christian Piatt  article: Why Religious Fundamentalism Can’t Last .  Wallace’s central point is that New Atheism is a response to the rise in global fundamentalism.  That the two systems of belief are mirror images of each other and that they are the last desperate cries of dying worldviews.

“But religious fundamentalism is not the only branch attached to the dying vine of modernity. So too is the rigid scientism of the so-called New Atheists. Their sound and fury, dependent as it is on that of the fundamentalists, is more recent. It also cannot last.”

No argument from me on the first point.  Five minutes searching the term “New Atheism” will no doubt yield the 9/11 attacks to Sam Harris The End of Faith narrative.  Organized religion inspired an attack so severe that it traumatized an entire nation and gave birth to two decade long wars.  Suddenly blasphemy was a lesser evil and people began to have a platform to say out loud what many of us had been thinking but were too polite to say.  

My bone of contention is the placing of New Atheism as the polar opposite of modern fundamentalism.  These two philosophies cannot be reduced to faith vs reason.  Soul vs science (the rematch!)  I agree that NA and fundamentalism spring from the same existential questions but They are not two sides of the same coin.  Fundamentalism is usually characterized by its dogmatism.  Wallace argues that New Atheists have a dogmatic loyalty to science and that this is a conceit.  Science is humble.  It has to be because the method demands that the best theory is only as good as our ability to invalidate it.  A scientific theory, like a faith claim starts with an explanation about the universe.  From that point they diverge because the theory needs to be tested and doubted.  It needs a survive a trial by fire.  Utility outweighs ideology...eventually.  
Its not about atheism.  Atheism is just a scientific conclusion.  In most cases it is just the term I use for word economy.  I am biracial, but I often refer to myself as black.  This is not due to some unconscious need to chose a race, it is just easier because most Americans are white.  If I am talking about my race, it is usually in the context of my identify as a non-Caucasian.  An atheist is not all that I am.  It can’t be.  To believe otherwise would be to distill my identity to what I am not.  Sure, I am a New Atheist.  Maybe even an atheist apologist.  But inverse fundamentalist really doesn’t describe me.  I welcome new ideas and opposing viewpoints.  You cannot be dogmatic about trying to dis-prove your own hypothesis.

This movement of which I am a part,  this blog, this global discourse is first and foremost an intellectual pursuit.  I am a cog in this unholy machine for a good reason.  As an atheist I am able to examine the human condition as it presents itself; not squeezed into the box of theism with a list of answers begging for corresponding questions.  Religious apologists love to say that atheists are rejecting theism as a means to understanding the world  because we don’t like where it leads.  I hear this in my conversations when people imply that I am missing the intrinsic value of faith.  I recognize the value of theism in examining the human condition.  It is the most prevalent social construct  in human consciousness.  I think it is so important  that I study it, well...religiously.    I also believe that the only way to view theism objectively is through the lens of atheism.  Becoming an atheist was not a destination.  It was a necessary step to my own personal development.  I am a student of existence.  Reason does not have that visceral quality that keep the WBC out in the cold to picket a dead soldier.  Maybe New Atheism is burning too hot to sustain itself.  It doesn’t matter.  This is post-theism.  It is anything but doomed.  For the record, there will always be fundies too.  Don't say I didn't warn you.


Anonymous said...

Very nice post. I read some things I will use in my own discussions. Thanks for sharing.