27 April 2008

A Bad Idea for Atheists

Here's an article about atheists trying to bond with one another and form societies or, god help us, "churches" in order to affirm their commitment to something rather than their mere opposition to the idea of gods. In my opinion, such efforts defeat the purpose of atheism, which is (or ought to be) as much the overthrow of dogmatic systems in general as the outgrowing of belief in supernatural powers. Any moves in the direction described in the article only add ammo to the popular line of attack that atheism is itself a "religion" as defined by doctrines hardened into dogma.

Any atheist or anti-theist or merely aggressive agnostic who can't deal with merely being against something is in the wrong vocation. The whole point of the exercise is to be a dissident, a freethinker -- to be against groupthink or any other form of accepted wisdom. Merely saying "no" to what is wrong should not be disparaged. It's an essential activity in any democracy. When a bad policy is proposed, it should be opposed because it is wrong in itself, not just because you propose something else instead. It may trouble some folks to be told that they "believe in nothing," but I suggest turning that on your accusers. If they tell you that you believe in nothing, tell them that they do, too, if you get my meaning. Once those people become convinced, as many seem to be already, that atheists are actually proposing some sort of alternate "religion," they'll only harden their hearts that much more against your message.

By all means, atheists and other freethinkers should have support networks, committees of correspondence, chatrooms, etc. But each freethinker has an obligation to the integrity of his or her own intellectual development. My hope is that people reject the religions of Abraham and all similar societies not because they've read a popular book, or because atheism has become trendy, but because they've managed to figure things out for themselves based on the evidence readily available. To some extent, it may be a lonely intellectual journey, but maybe it should be.

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