The Church of Atheism By Dhruv K. Singhal
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
“You would be hard-pressed to find any atheist who would assert with any kind of certainty that “God does not exist.” The vast majority say god is unknowable, irrelevant, and itâ€™s “His” followers who we need to worry about.”
That sounds like agnostics, not atheists.
atheÂ·ist Listen to the pronunciation of atheist
: one who believes that there is no deity
The key word is "certainty." As you know I consider "belief" to be less than worthless. Perhaps we need a new term.
Even hardcore atheists like Dawkins acknowledge the lack of certainty and the impossibility of negative proof. By that measure, there are really no atheists, only agnostics.
Maybe we could look at it in terms of probabilities. An agnostic might give a 50/50 probability to the truth value of the phrase "God exists." An atheist would be more like 99.999999/0.0000001. But certainty is impossible.
Thanks for this piece, Black Sun, though I have to admit that it ain’t easy to read this guys diatribe which continues to feed the religious with more ignorance for their stance.
I would have to ask what one’s definition of God is. If it is the literal conretized deity and his litany of dastardly deeds… for me, I will say with certainty: there is NO GOD… no way… no how. Perhaps that makes me non-scientific.
But if you are labeling the profound nature of the human criatura and all of nature around which obviously defied the reigning cognitive understanding in past eras and of which we are just now getting a toehold on… and naming THAT as god…. then yes, I am a believer in GOD. Jung named this as the Self… which I like because it suggests the ‘transcendent function’ = the creative, integrative, healing function in the psyche that unites the opposites….. is housed within ourselves and other selves. Yes, thus, god is enacting itself within us all of the time, and thus the projection… God lives!
To me this dialogue is the crux of the issue and why the twain shall never meet. For if I am having these powerful internal transformational experiences generated by my psyche, and am framing these experiences in the imagery and theology of religion… I am going to fight you to end of the fact: God lives!
Its tricky stuff because people are really attached to these archaic images. We need to find a bridge. And I thing Jung is a good start…. though its still tricky when people want to know what happens to ‘them’ when they die. Becoming part of the great collective unconscious is not what some people want to hear!
So I think the discussion always needs to be conscious of what the individual is defining as god. The religions of the world obviously are into the concretized literalized version… and thus, to their face I will proseltyze with great zeal… THERE IS NO GOD!
ClintJCL, I present to you the latest and greatest in atheism: Agnostic Atheism! Wait, there’s nothing new about it: it is the position that pretty every atheist who is not engaged by quasi-religious organizations or philosophies holds.
I think that there is no such thing as a god, but I don’t know so, so I am an agnostic atheist. Blacksun is too, and so is Dawkins, and so are, I strongly suspect, msot of the atheists you hear about these days.
hmmmmmmmmmm… I’m getting lost in this discussion… and not sure what the point is of differentiating between ‘agnostic atheist’ and just good old plain ‘atheist’, which according to webster’s definition is: a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.
so… are we redefining the definition of atheist? god? what the hell? and yes, what about hell?
agnostic is altogether different: a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience.
This sounds like what you are all now describing yourself as… not atheist.
So… two very different definitions for two very different nouns.
I am curious about this bewixt and between stance the three of you seem to be taking…. along with Dawkins and Mar. And please… what are you labeling as god?
The problem is that the word “atheist” has been taken to mean a person who espouses as TRUE, not LIKELY that there is no such thing as a God or gods. This is a historically imprecise statement, because usually atheism has been a reaction against some existing religion or religious power structure. Most religions seem to argue with each other and define their gods differently. Since humans have an anthropologically established natural tendency to worship gods, and to create them if they don’t exist, atheism has been comparatively rare in history. It has increased dramatically since the Enlightenment.
Theists like to use the impossibility of negative proof to shift the proof-burden. But they rely on the common cognitive error that any unsettled question has a 50-50 chance of being true. This is almost never the case. This stance favors proponents of unlikely truths by making it seem as if their claims are equally rational. But it’s a rhetorical device and therefore inherently dishonest.
If you asked my opinion, I would tell you there is definitely no god. I mean no fucking god at all. No chance, no way. But it’s just my opinion, and unprovable. So I have to allow the philosophical escape hatch that some supreme being exists and has not yet been discovered. But this has the same probability as Russell’s Teapot, a famous thought experiment you should check out.
ah… thank you, Black Sun, for clarifying this issue for me. So I am hearing that these are the rules of philosophical debate, and thus to be pc, we must not cross certain lines. No wonder I am challenged by these more formal forms!
Thanks for the link… love the teapot image! how fun… and how furious that somehow we have to ‘act as if’ we are playing a serious game with those who are blatantly manipulating the rules for their own con. I appreciate you and others knowing the game as well as you do… so you can flush foxes like Singhal out of the brush and expose him for what he is. Keep it up!
And…. we all must keep it up.
Agnostic means sitting uncomfortable on a fence.
It means I am not sure that god exists, I am neither sure that he doesn’t exist.
An atheist takes a clear stance – Unless you can falsify my hypothesis that god as an entity is unlikely to exist, I see no reason to deviate from my default position that the believe in god is an irrational choice.
The certainty is a certainty to the same extent that evolution is the the process by which species develop. Unless this theory can be falsified, it is the default theory.
The hypothesis of the existence of a god relies solely on a circular argument – god exists because “his” creation exists. Nothing to falsify, nothing to test.
This has nothing to do with the idiotic claim of “evangelical atheism”, a moronic term that could only have sprung from a very confused mind that cannot grasp the crystal clear demand for evidence before I rationally believe something to be true. Rational belief is belief based on evidence, but amenable to changes if new evidence suggests a revision is appropriate.
DHRUV K. SINGHAL = douchebag!
My advocating the removal of tax exempt status, ridiculing belief without evidence, and disrespecting texts, iconic paraphernalia and the the multitude of mans ideas about God, or Gods…
Doesn’t include preventing people from gathering, or practicing ceremonies, or interrupting those rituals. It doesn’t include locking up churches or taking away religious text and iconic paraphernalia and burning it. It doesn’t include torture. It doesn’t put into law the practice of religious belief and ceremonies as illegal activities, one can be prosecuted for.
If you honestly think you are a victim of intolerance and bigotry because someone was critical, or even ridiculed your belief system, then you are worthy of the title douchebag.
Dhruv K. Singhal, what a whiny little bitch.
I could go on and on, but it seems that Mr. Singhal has substituted a hefty thesaurus for even the least bit of research. His argument amounts to what I was able to muster with about seven beers in me when I was BS’ing with a guy in a bar reading the God Delusion. Then I actually read the God Delusion. Your argument here is a great help in articulating what I “know” and what I “believe.”
“the secularist philosopher, Richard Dawkins”
Well that would really piss him off. Dawkins is a biologist, an atheist and not one to place much weight on philosophy. He is a radical empiricist or at least he was the last time I checked.