Toxic Atheism: Don't Put Your Lips On It!
October 22, 2012 6:18 AM   Subscribe

Chris Steadman, in Salon Magazine, argues that the problem with New Atheism is that it's too militant and uncompromising. If atheists refuse to engage with and respect the religious like he does, Steadman claims, we'll never realize "our shared potential to overcome the false dichotomies that keep us apart."

"I was not naïve then, nor am I now, to the atrocities committed in the name of religion around the world. I do not pretend that religion has not played a sizable role in a great many conflicts since people first began to conceive of it, or that it does not do so today. Historically, religion has been at the center of many atrocities — this is an undeniable, important fact. But I also know that at various points in history religion has been an enormous force for liberation [sic]. Religion has changed, reformed, and revolutionized the world, and it will continue to do so as long as it is central to the human story."
posted by Fritz Langwedge (19 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: This thread seems to be the Same Old Argument about atheists vs theists and not even done in a particularly interesting way. If we're going to have a discussion we've had a hundred times before it might be better to have more than a single GRR Salon post about it to kick things off. Thanks for understanding. -- jessamyn



 
What a remarkable and original argument that hasn't been made a million times nor posted to literally every discussion website a thousand times!

Seriously, what does this add to any discussion that isn't already there? It's not even a new argument- hell, it's not even significantly a rephrasing of literally the most common position on the topic.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:29 AM on October 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


He touches of science at the end, but he is teeing up a false dichotomy at the expense of secularism. It's not atheism vs theism per se.

Hardline Christians and Muslims particularly are particularly anti-science, anti-education and anti equal rights. The dichotomy is not militant atheism vs theism. It is progressive social liberalism, masquerading as atheism vs hardline theism, masquerading variously as religious freedom or conservative family values.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:31 AM on October 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


He had a bad experience at a meetup and so all these people are doing it wrong? And there's only one correct way to do it, and he knows what it is? Okay.

p.s. I'm not an atheist but some of my best friends are!
posted by rtha at 6:32 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think it really matters what the atheist's goal is. An atheist who's trying to rally other atheists into a community of their own will act quite a bit differently from one who wants to engage and educate theists. That's true no matter what -ism you're an activist for. Right now, I'd argue atheism still needs to coalesce into a base before moving to an educate/engage strategy.
posted by tyllwin at 6:32 AM on October 22, 2012


The dichotomy is not militant atheism vs theism. It is progressive social liberalism, masquerading as atheism vs hardline theism, masquerading variously as religious freedom or conservative family values.

I'm not sure I'd quite agree - I think it's more like "fundamentalism vs. diversity".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:33 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Irreligion is the real new atheism, and by far the more powerful atheism, in the sense that the opposite of love isn't hate, but indifference. People whose parents never attended church, and whose grandparents were last in church on their wedding day, are no more concerned about the divinity of Christ than they are about the divinity of Odin and Zeus, and would be just about as easily persuaded of the latter as the former.
posted by MattD at 6:34 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


The real question is whether religion has caused all these historical events (positive or negative) or just been used to justify what people would have done anyway because of their material interests and other non-religious dynamics. Note that both scenarios are completely consistent with people saying (and even believing) that they're doing things in the name of religion, but the underlying causality is completely different.

Robert Wright made the case for the latter -- that religious doctrine changes based on the facts on the ground, rather than vice versa -- in his book The Evolution of God, and I've never heard an adequate response to that from the "New" (=anti-religion) atheists.

As an atheist who's not anti-religion, I'm not especially bothered either way. But I'd think the likes of Dawkins would engage with this question more.
posted by pete_22 at 6:35 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think you can find a couple of image macros both in support of and against this position over at /r/atheism. By "a couple" I mean several thousand. By "can find" I mean "you can but don't bother, go do something worthwhile instead".
posted by Pyrogenesis at 6:35 AM on October 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't care what these atheists do in the privacy of their homes, but why do they have to flaunt it in my face?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:37 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


false dichotomies

Magic is real or it isn't. That's not a "false" dichotomy. I have zero interest in "educating" or converting anyone, but it's a fundamental disagreement about reality, but we see the impact of these different world views in more places than just meet-ups.
posted by spaltavian at 6:37 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


He had a bad experience at a meetup and so all these people are doing it wrong? And there's only one correct way to do it, and he knows what it is? Okay.

That's what I thought too. It seems like Stedman thinks the religious should be judged by their virtues, while the nonreligious should be judged by their vices. I mean, by the vices of nonreligious people who probably only exist in anecdotes.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 6:40 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem with atheists respecting the beliefs of religious people because it supposedly helps the religious people to be nice is that they use the exact same set of beliefs to intimidate and discriminate against non believers and drive science out of the public sphere.

Here is the bargain I'll accept: religious people stop talking about religion and I'll stop talking about atheism. Because quite frankly I'd love to stop thinking about all the things I don't believe in. It's a huge waste of energy.
posted by empath at 6:43 AM on October 22, 2012


A relevant line of argument (though not necessarily one I agree with word-for-word--I don't ask theists not to discuss their religious beliefs with me, but if they do they should be prepared to hear that I do not share their belief.):
Here’s the answer is to what theists and atheists can do together: secular work. If you’re really as committed to working together and finding common ground as you claim to be, then you have to concede that the common ground is found in nonreligious conversation. You don’t have to relinquish your beliefs to have that conversation, you just have to not include them. That’s the point and the problem. The “middle ground” for an atheist and a believer is not actually somewhere in between: it’s where the atheist already is.
Luke Gyure, quoted on J.T. Eberhard's WWJTD blog.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:43 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, those quotes from people at the party sound stilted enough to have been pretty embellished, if not made up. “Wasn’t it wonderful how intelligent the panelists were and how wickedly they’d exposed the frauds of religion? Weren’t they right that we must all focus our energy on bringing about the demise of religious myths?”
posted by pete_22 at 6:44 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


The real question is whether religion has caused all these historical events (positive or negative) or just been used to justify what people would have done anyway because of their material interests and other non-religious dynamics.

I agree with you in that the content of the dogma is trivial; and in a sense, largely a matter of fashion. Jesus rather than Mithras is an accident of circumstance.

However, the rejection of the rational that allows religion is a different story. Whatever you want to call this kind of thinking- faith, supernatural, spiritual, irrational, magical- that impacts society in ways that the cosmetic differences between creeds do not.
posted by spaltavian at 6:44 AM on October 22, 2012


Robert Wright made the case for the latter -- that religious doctrine changes based on the facts on the ground, rather than vice versa -- in his book The Evolution of God, and I've never heard an adequate response to that from the "New" (=anti-religion) atheists.

To pick some random but current American examples, I don't care if legislators are voting against abortion, gay marriage, and the teaching of evolution because they truly believe God said to or because they're just scared of giving up what they know. Sponsoring legislation that encourage ignorance and fear is wrong and bad.

And it's not as if anyone is going to persuade these guys that they're not really doing God's work - they'd vote for this stuff even if they didn't believe in god!
posted by rtha at 6:45 AM on October 22, 2012


are no more concerned about the divinity of Christ than they are about the divinity of Odin and Zeus, and would be just about as easily persuaded of the latter as the former.

I fail to see how indifference about religion makes one malleable towards any religion. If we don't convince people that there is no God then they'll accept any God? What sort of logic is that? Maybe some sort of atheist baptism and confirmation is needed?
posted by three blind mice at 6:47 AM on October 22, 2012


Pope Guilty: " Seriously, what does this add to any discussion that isn't already there? It's not even a new argument- hell, it's not even significantly a rephrasing of literally the most common position on the topic."

The face of atheism in the modern world and especially to fundamentalist theists is 'New' Atheism. He was an evangelical. He's probably never come into contact with those arguments, or has just seen them dismissed out of hand as not worth discussing.

Perhaps he's even a Mefite. Those attitudes are prevalent here, too.
posted by zarq at 6:47 AM on October 22, 2012


I don't care what these atheists do in the privacy of their homes, but why do they have to flaunt it in my face?

If you didn't keep peering in their bedroom windows, you wouldn't have this problem now, would you?
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:48 AM on October 22, 2012


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