Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fundamentalist Atheism is a Lie

The Accusation of Fundamentalist Atheism: Smoothing the Theist's Cognitive Dissonance

If there is one thing that really annoys me about writers and bloggers (*looks in mirror*) is ‘masturbatory writing.’ I define this as writing that is fluent, it seems to work, it may even be good, but Zod damn it— it seems empty and self-congratulatory. "Look at me! I can put extravagant sentences together in extravagant ways!”  *fap fap fap fap...*

This rant is brought to you by a piece from Religion Dispatches entitled In Praise of Mary Magdalene. Every other paragraph seems to end in a kind of ornate, literary non-sequitur. It’s all very “hipstery.”

I will say nothing about the writer’s unspoken assumption that Mary of Magdala even existed. I won't point out the projection that she represents "activism" while arguing against projecting anything on to her. No, I just want to focus on this gem:

“If there is a path beyond belief and beyond atheism—which, after all, is but another form of belief, and lately a rather fundamentalist form to boot—Mary Magdalene walks that path.”

*pinches bridge of nose*

I also won’t even challenge the “atheism is a belief” thing. I’ll grant the writer that, though I doubt we mean the same thing. With apologies to my fellow atheists that fall into the “atheism is simply a lack of belief in god(s). Nothing more” category…I’m going to go big here: I do not believe in god. I actively do not believe it. There. Done. We can move on from that now, yeah? My teeth-grinding is just getting started, however. I have noticed that Religion Dispatches’ writers have a tendency to fall into the “fundamentalist atheism“ trap that conservative theists parrot. This is why I have a special dislike for many so-called “liberal theists.” They should know better. They do not.

Even if I concede that my atheism is an active disbelief in god(s); this atheism can still be no more “fundamentalist” than, to use the old adage, my not playing baseball is “fundamentalist not playing baseball.” This is a labored point, I know. The mistake from religionists on the atheism claim is to try and categorize this disbelief/belief into that same realm as their belief in whatever god they adhere to. I reject the god concept out of reason, evidence (lack thereof), and the logical improbability of—quite frankly—the clear of immorality of such a being while supposedly being perfect.

Fundamentalism is strict adherence to any set of basic ideas or principles. We all know what fundamentalist religion looks like (I am not talking about “extremist” religion which is threatening and violent. That is different). Fundamentalist religion manifests itself as strict belief and adherence to scripture even when that belief is provably false. Even when that belief is silly. Creationism comes to mind given my most recent post. Liberal theists are generally not seen as fundamentalist and in truth they generally are not. At least not in the details.

No, they think it is silly to believe the world was created in six days 6,000 years ago. They see the clear impossibility of a man gathering two of every animal onto a boat and the clear lack of any evidence whatsoever of a global flood. They are rightfully horrified at the various commands to discriminate against fellow humans or even kill whole ethnic groups. They will, however, stop in their tracks when it is pointed out that there is also only cursory and flimsy evidence to suggest that Jesus ever existed. Their feathers are ruffled when it is shown that contemporary historians that are often cited are decades after the fact if not centuries. They get downright irate when it is pointed out that the resurrection story doesn't make sense and is not "proof" of any human named Jesus' divinity; should he have existed. They will turn on a dime, when the skepticism and questioning of faith gets a little too close to home. They will, eventually, call to question the morality of atheists. Challenge them enough and it happens. It just takes longer.    

So, how does one become a fundamentalist atheist? What strict adherence to non-belief is there? What deluded belief could I have in my rejection of a supposed god that cannot be bothered to do anything that would be apparent or required? Outspoken atheists do not adhere to some nebulous and nefarious “fundamentalist atheism.” Indeed, it simply because we are outspoken that we get labeled as such! We are to be quiet. Not speak up. Conservative theists call us angry, hateful, and bigoted and the liberal theists sneer at the conservative invective. But when the criticism gets too close to home the liberal theists turn around and throw the same accusations. Calling someone “fundamentalist” is a type of religious language and religious accusation and one the religious are familiar with. It is false in our case. We atheists are not fundamentalist. We do not strictly adhere to the disbelief in god anymore than a disbelief in unicorns or floating teapots in orbit. Show me the evidence and, like Tim Minchin says in his poem Storm: “You show me that it works and how it works, and when I’ve recovered from the shock I will take a compass and carve ‘Fancy That’ on the side of my cock!”

It would be easy to change my mind. How easy is it to change the mind of a religious adherent; conservative or liberal? Who’s the fundamentalist?


Anonymous said...

All Minnesotans are Lutherans, even the Atheists, for it is a Lutheran God they don't believe in.

Anonymous said...

This post doesn't make much sense. It seems you are writing about a ton of different, non-connected ideas and only devoting 2-4 sentences to each separate point.

Saige Verbena Morada said...

Atheists can be fundamentalist. Not in the traditional sense, but there are atheists who promote the elimination of religion and promote a world free of religion and commonly demonizes religion and the religious.

These atheists are very illogical and other atheists should not be judged by their actions.

In short, in my opinion, there are atheists who mirror the fervor of theists when it comes to promoting their lack of belief.

But is fundamentalism the correct term to describe it? Probably not

Steve said...

I think you are conflating "fundamentalism ", "evangelism" and "militarism  
To promote that people should reject blind acceptance of unprovable claims, to think more rationally, and to end suffering that is inflicted by religion is not fundamentalist. Whether or not you agree with the goal, the action is more closely related to evangelism*. Why? Because atheists are not advocating for the forced elimination of religion. There are no "miltarist" atheists looking to jail, exile or kill those who refuse to give up theism. At worst, we want to talk you out of it. This is no different that the methods all religious people, especially Christianity and Islam, use to gain congregations or followers.  These are rights that the religious enjoy. To prosteltyze. Spread the Good News. Even moderate and liberal religions do this. They have that right. Do atheists not have the same right to speak up? To state our opinions? To challenge the status quo of faith? 
There is nothing "fundamentalist" about that. That is simply being on a level playing field. Anything less is suppression of thought and discrimination. 
*Now, I should note that I am not drawing too close of a parallel to actual religious evangelism because a) there is no penalty, natural or supernatural, for rejecting our points, and b) atheists aren't asking anyone to believe in something that is clearly irrational or dangerous to the believer or others.    

The7ofSwords said...

There might be atheists who hold extreme positions, but not fundamentalist atheists ... by definition, really.

There might be fundamentalist skeptics, though. That worries me a bit. By that, I mean people who simply reject things out of hand because that's the "skeptical position" or even worse, will somehow take it upon themselves to decide who is and isn't a "skeptic" based on one statement that seems not to fall in line with what they believe skepticism should be.