Its standard-bearers swarm across oceans and mountains, propagating a vitriolic doctrine of bigotry and intolerance like a biblical plague. It inculcates its devotees with a fanatical certainty in the verity of its dogma and the simultaneous disdain for all alternative dogma. Of the great religions, only Christianity and Islam can rival the enthusiasm of its proselytizing efforts.
The name of this creed is evangelical atheism. Now, atheism is certainly not a religion, and the phrase “evangelical atheism” certainly appears oxymoronic. But we have witnessed in our time the rise of a virulent strain of atheism championed by Bill Maher, the comedian and star of Religulous, the secularist philosopher Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, and their often indignant ilk. For all its schooling and pretense of intellectualism, this godless vanguard unknowingly adopts the very aspects of religion its leaders passionately lambaste and turns atheism into the kind of evangelical ideology it opposes.
But in reality belief in God does not require a divorce from science. It simply requires faith in something that cannot be proven. After all, the logic of religious apologists, though circular, is correct in insisting that God’s existence cannot be disproved, either. Atheism, as opposed to agnosticism, therefore, requires faith as well. By scorning faith in God, Maher is simply scorning beliefs that he does not share but cannot rebut. Surely this sounds familiar.
Posing a challenge to biblical or Koranic literalism has some merits, for such a belief requires a significant rejection of empirical reality. But the ridicule of the beliefs of all religious people, literalist and otherwise, is bigotry, and bigotry reinforced by proselytism.
One would be hard-pressed to find anything more explicitly religious than the use of the language of proselytism itself, exemplified by a page on Dawkins’ website, titled “Converts Corner.” Granted, if one were to ignore the comically narcissistic objective of this blog, whose sole purpose is to allow proselytes to stroke Dawkins’ capacious ego by recounting how his book “converted” them from their religious faith, one could defend such efforts by pointing to their foundation in logic rather than faith. But this contention would only hold true if Maher and Dawkins were proffering agnostic uncertainty in place of evangelical certainty.
Blah, blah, blah. Pseudo-intellectualism at its finest. Literally sophomoric–since Singhal belongs to the Class of ’12. Aside from misrepresenting both Dawkins’ and Maher’s positions, Singhal also seems to misunderstand the word “proselytism.” Dawkins is a professor who writes and sells books. He also schedules debates and media appearances like a good academic should. Maher is a comedian with a long-running commercially successful TV show. Both these men use persuasion and evidence–not guilt–to sell their message. Proselytizing involves not just speaking, but also fund-raising and a measure of fearmongering. Isn’t this the basic message religion peddles? “Come to my church…donate money to me…or else…”
Ridicule of unexamined and unsupportable beliefs is not bigotry. Would it be bigotry if I ridiculed someone for believing in a flat-earth? No. Especially not at an institute of higher learning.
A bigot is defined as “a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance”
This just doesn’t apply to atheists. Atheists are universal in their rejection of unproven beliefs, not people. You would be hard-pressed to find any atheist who would assert with any kind of certainty that “God does not exist.” (previous article) The vast majority say god is unknowable, irrelevant, and consider that it’s the actions of “His” followers we need to worry about. It’s specific behavior that defines the problem with believers, not group membership. God’s followers have opened themselves up to ridicule to the degree they’ve suspended rational thought and replaced it with dogma. If the shoe fits, throw it.
If a believer who also embraces science and some form of rationality enjoys going to church as entertainment or for social interaction–the same way I enjoy going out to a concert or movie–I have no beef with them. Neither, I’m sure, would Maher or Dawkins. There might be a major split in the believer personality, and we all might wonder how they reconcile what they do during the week and on Saturday nights with that guilt-inducing church service they attend on Sunday morning. Nevertheless, it is their right to enjoy that mode of entertainment or pathos if they so desire. Some get off on horror, some sci-fi, some comedy, and the believer seems to get off on guilt and ritual. Far be it from me to judge–beyond saying it’s just not my thing.
The people I fear and despise are those who take those same puny myths literally, and want to see them written into the law for the rest of us. Towards those kind of fundamentalists, I confess I am mercilessly intolerant. And I’ll never apologize for that. They are a danger to freedom, and they must be stopped in their tracks.
The main problem believers have with forceful atheists is not their stridency, but that they exist at all, and their arguments have gained some traction. There’s no nice way to tell someone their cherished worldview makes no sense. But believers already know they’ve lost on the merits: Faith as a position already concedes to a lack of rationality. It even vaunts this deficiency as virtuous. Since it’s impossible to mount a reasoned defense of faith–it would be a contradiction in terms–believers have to resort to ad hominems against the “virulency” of atheists.
This doesn’t represent a credible or coherent argument, but rather is a form of reactionary apologetics. If they were honest, believers would concede their problem is with the very existence of atheism, not how atheists conduct themselves. One wonders how such a weak ad hominem argument would hold up if the proportion of believers to unbelievers were reversed. It doesn’t matter, you can’t seek safety in numbers. A writer for the Harvard Crimson should know better than to flog this most banal religious bluster by parroting this line of spurious reasoning.
Update: The author of this article is now a successful plastic surgeon in Boston, and associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School. I cast no aspersions on his current capabilities. But I still wonder if he’s had a chance to reconsider his youthful rhetorical excesses against atheism? –Sean Prophet, September 2022