Monday, March 2, 2009

A Cogent Criticism Of New Athiesm

Via BoingBoing:

In politics, I think there are two competing motivations for voters to support a cause publicly. One is to influence the majority to agree, to make changes that you believe in, and the other is to distinguish your opinions as superior to most other peoples'. These two motivations generally cause people to act in similar ways, but I've found some "tells" that reveal the underlying elitist motivation:

* Leaving up losing campaign stickers and signs long after the election is over. (I passed a Ron Paul window sign today...)
* Dressing and behaving at political demonstrations in a non-respectful way (partying, trying to "shock people out of their complacency," etc.).
* Saying that it requires superior knowledge or compassion to arrive at the views you hold.
* Saying that it makes you "uncomfortable" or "scared" that a group you don't identify with actually agrees with your view.

Under a democracy, the elitist motivation is self-defeating: If your true aim is to distinguish yourself from the masses, you really don't want your side to win-- your aim is better served when more people vote the other way, and then you can be disgusted with most peoples' stupidity and wash your hands of responsibility.

Very, very, very true. This goes for Atheism (which is the focus of this article), but also for artistic aesthetics, and for politics. This article is spot on. But later on he says:

I think closeted atheists who participate in other religious activities are the future of atheism. They know that prayer feels good without a needing brain scientist to tell them, and they know you don't need God to want to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and provide homes for the orphaned. What if they simply stopped reciting the words that they didn't agree with during religious services, without calling attention to it? In many places I don't think they would be kicked out or turned upon and beaten just for that.

Really? Excuse me? That seems like the most backwards... I can't even put words to it. But imagine if that's what he was saying about closeted gays. Oh, you don't have to make a big deal about being Gay, just don't mouth the words that you disagree with.

As many of the commenters pointed out, the real answer is simply to steer clear of religion and of noisy atheism as well. You don't need to pretend that you're religious, but you don't need to get on a bucket and scream. The difference is that Atheism is not a political party in a Democracy--it's not a political movement. It's only the elitist Atheist who sees their goal as the conversion of all the heathens.

I love to talk to my friends about religion--especially, oddly enough, my Catholic friends, who seem to have the most complex relationship with their religion. (The people whose religion is simply "I've let Jesus into my heart" doesn't give me a lot of complex ideas to grapple with in my atheism, but the complexities of the saints, angel/demonology, witchcraft, church history etc. does).

The false opposition that this article puts forward is that there are only two choices:

1) Elitist, evangelical atheism.
2) "Big tent," populist atheism.

Now, the problem with the "big tent" is that in creating a big tent, you dilute the ideals involved. If you're having a political movement, that's a good thing, because moderation is best for governance of crowds. But if you're talking about personal beliefs, that's a bad thing. Your own beliefs need to have integrity in your personal life, and it's in public life that you need to navigate your way into the crowds.

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