10 January 2012
This morning I idly tweeted that ‘atheism gets more like the Tea Party every day’ and linked to the of The Reason Rally, ‘the largest gathering of the secular movement in world history’. Responses ranged from ‘bollocks’ and ‘what a load of cobblers’ to the slightly more reasonable ‘What? For holding an event?’ and Theists hold gatherings too, you know. Some attend them every Sunday.’ Perhaps the most relevant were the sarcasm of Steven Nash – ‘Oh those crazy atheist extremists! How dare they try and force rationalism, science and reason on the rest of us!’ – and this from John Furlong – ‘Atheism is a concept, not a movement’.
It’s not much of a concept – it exists solely as a negation – but Furlong is right to say it is not a movement. Or rather it shouldn’t be, but, of course, it now is. Militant atheists – henceforth know as the Dawks – do seem to believe that they should ‘force rationalism…’ on the rest of us. The Dawks do this on the basis that religion is a particularly harmful human habit. Since communism, the bloodiest belief system in human history, was militantly atheist and very much a product of the ‘rationalist’ Enlightenment, I find this argument hard to follow. Perhaps it is belief itself that is under fire, but, since we don’t know everything and cannot predict the future, we couldn’t function without beliefs of some kind or another, so, again, the argument becomes unfollowable.
since we don’t know everything and cannot predict the future, we couldn’t function without beliefs of some kind or another
I think the problem is a confusion in the minds of the Dawks over the words ‘atheism’ and ‘secularism’. Atheism is the conviction that God does not exist and may legitimately be advanced as an argument. As a cause, however, it has become intolerant and as much of an absurdity as anything advanced by theists – hence my comparison with the Tea Party. The Dawks are at their most absurd – and cultish – when they claim their belief is a sure sign of high intelligence, calling themselves The Brights, a label derived from Dawkins himself. The point is that atheism is emphatically not the same as secularism which I take to be the belief that liberal society should not be organised according to specifically religious principles. It is perfectly possible, therefore, to be a religious secularist – Christ, for example, was when he said ‘Render unto Caesar’.
I can see that being a Dawk makes more sense in America where religion can become oppressive, specially when candidates like Rick Santorum are circling, but, even there I find the idea futile and irrational. Religious oppressors – Christianists as Andrew Sullivan calls them – are being blasphemous in Christ’s own terms and they should be dealt with as such.
For the record, I, because I don’t know everything, am an agnostic. What could be more ‘rational’ than that?