I’m Having Second Thoughts About Being An Atheist

Now don’t get me wrong; I haven’t had an epiphany or earth-shattering change in my way of thinking. And I don’t intend returning to the religious fold any time soon, or ever. I’m merely considering that maybe attaching the label, Atheist to myself is not exactly such a good thing. Allow me to explain…

Over the last month or so, I’ve been having a debate with some guy (I will just use his first name, Daniel) on Atheist Nation, over the “ideology” associated with Atheism. Atheist Nation is a closed/members only group for Atheists, but Theists and in fact anyone are welcomed as members. Our debate concerned the apparent degeneration of Atheism into just another patronising, arrogant and self-important ideology which had slowly assumed the mantle of intolerance that Religionists display so proudly. Daniel went on to assert that world-famous authors such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens were fanning the flames of intolerance and zealotry in Atheists by their “hypocritical” criticism and condemnation of religion and its followers. Daniel maintained that by insulting all Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc. collectively we were stooping to the same level as any unthinking, uncritical, religionist. Daniel, by the way is an Atheist, but actually prefers the term skeptic which is also favored by Michael Shermer, founder of The Skeptics Society and editor of Skeptic magazine.

The point, which I admittedly, at first failed to come to terms with, and which, Daniel was trying get across in often lewd terminology, was that religion itself was not the problem, but the ideological thinking behind it, more specifically the uncritical, dogmatic and irrational approach to reality by the adherents of religions. Atheists it seems, were being led to believe that religion itself was abhorrent because of the centuries-old antagonism and strife between the various religious faiths, and the despicable fundamentalist behaviour of many of its followers.

Daniel also pointed out that Dawkins equates Atheism with superior intelligence and thus relegates it to an elitist world-view, but I think this is a bit harsh on Dawkins. I am confident that Dawkins’ sincerity is beyond reproach. However, the insinuation remains and the best defense I can offer on behalf of Dawkins is that it was certainly not intentional, and he should not be held responsible for an individual’s interpretation of his work. What is important here is that this should serve as a warning to Atheists; that they, in their interactions with Theists, should be careful of giving or creating the impression of intellectual superiority, and a smug attitude.

It’s also true that Atheists and Theists face the same problems and challenges every day; we just deal with them differently. Instead of coercing Theists into adopting new “tools” for dealing with reality, we just need to make them aware of the choices and let them decide for themselves. I still however, favor the use of (respectful) dissonance to stimulate or provoke a change in thinking in Theists, but not in any way that could be construed as proselytizing. I know Daniel wont like it, but I don’t think it is that hard to do this, without succumbing to the behaviour described earlier.

I had this idea all along that Atheism was going to save the world; that we (Atheists) were going to save the religionists from themselves. But, we were going about it all the wrong way; by succumbing to near-fundamentalism ourselves. I now see how we Atheists could indeed become that which we were trying so hard to irradicate. It’s hard to believe that this could be true, but if I apply the critical, rational thinking I advocate, then I have no choice but to accept that it could be so.

So back to the label of Atheist. When accosted by a religionist, will I be able to just say “I’m just a skeptic, I lack a belief in God, the burden of proof is on you.” Or will my perverse desire to “kick some ass” come to the fore? Time will tell.

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16 thoughts on “I’m Having Second Thoughts About Being An Atheist

  1. Lenny, as a confirmed theist, I will say that neither you, nor any other atheist, should feel ashamed to use the word atheist to describe yourself. Intolerant and indeed elitist self-described “New Atheists” like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and P. Z. Myers et al are giving a bad name to atheism with their high profile public religion bashing but most atheists are not like them. You should be no more ashamed about calling yourself an atheist than a Christian should be ashamed of calling him or herself a Christian simply because fundamentalist Christians give Christianity a bad name. In fact I distinguish intolerant militant atheists like Richard Dawkins et al from their more moderate fellow atheists by quite justifiably describing them as “fundamentalist atheists” or, when they clearly are elitist atheists. . . Atheist Supremacists. In fact I know of some moderate atheists who are now starting to make that distinction because they are embarrassed by the dogmatism and intolerance of militant atheists like Dawkins and Myers. You and other moderate atheists might even get a chuckle out of my transforming of Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘The Major General’s Song’ into ‘The Atheist Supremacist’s Song’ 😉

    http://emersonavenger.blogspot.com/2008/07/is-richard-dawkins-very-model-of.html

  2. Lenny – I have to agree that some of these “New Atheists” as they are called, seem to be going to extremes and come across to me as somewhat arrogant. I have read recent books by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens as well as Sam Harris. As a fairly new atheist myself, I don’t consider myself anti-religion, though I am anti-fundamentalism, and that applies just as much to religious as well as non-religious and atheist fundamentalism. Form myself, I prefer the term secular humanist, or just non-theist.

  3. The problem is that you cannot change anyone’s mind. They have to change it themselves. I would argue that A-theism, is merely a disbelief in God. Nothing more, nothing less. There is no need to save the world or the religious. Stop trying to convert anyone and just be yourself. Belief in God is not about rational thought, and as such can not be swayed by it. Just do what you need to do for you, and don’t worry about anyone else. Leave proselytizing to the zealots. Live your own life happily without God, otherwise you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to argue with ignorant people all over the spectrum. That’s my two cents.

  4. Hi Robin, although I find your beliefs a “bit strange,” your reworking of G & S’s The Major General’s Song is hilarious.

  5. textnotspeech

    “Belief in God is not about rational thought, and as such can not be swayed by it”

    To my great chagrin, I have discovered the truth in this many times.

  6. Russ, I think you are making one helluva mistake if you think I’m another Antony Flew. I’m still very much a non-believer. I, in no way, whatsoever associate with your views on Intelligent Design or your religiously-tainted views on Atheism, for that matter either; my post wwas merely an announcement that I wish to become a better person, but not through religion.

  7. I never confused you with professor Flew. I only attempted to demonstrate that true scientists draw different conclusions on this issue even when looking at the same evidence.

    There are currently only two possible explanations for the existence of the universe and life. The overwhelming evidence against the universe and life having come about by accident is causing many in the scientific community to reconsider their position.

    http://discovermagazine.com/2008/dec/10-sciences-alternative-to-an-intelligent-creator/?searchterm=multiverse

  8. Russ, I’m sorry if I seem to come across as arrogant, However, your position on the existence of life and the universe are untenable. Your statement about many scientists reconsidering their position is a crock of lies, and you know it. An insignificant minority of scientists hold the view that you are potulating. The vast majority are still looking for the real answers, and will continue to do so. Your god-did-it hypothesis is a cop-out and an insult to true science and scientists.

    • Hi Russ, one word: hogwash.
      Declaring that god exists, does not make it true, and the fact that an Atheist declares such, does not impart any more authority to its efficacy or truthfullness than anyone else.

  9. Atheism is NOT a belief. Religion is. There is a fundamental distinction between the words “knowledge” and “belief”.

    Atheist – “Descriptive word used to identify people who require more than belief to commit to an idea, only in respect to one idea, the existence of God.”

    Atheism is not an ideology.

    Its a response.

    Like ” There is no Easter Bunny”

    Thats why Atheists are elite.

    Just like people who don’t believe in the Easter Bunny would be, if millions went looking for eggs.

    Atheists do not declare.

    They do not declare that God does not exist, just like they don’t declare that pigs can’t fly.

    Pigs can’t fly.

    Its only in the minds of people who think that pigs can fly, that people who point out that they don’t fly, have an ideology of sorts.

    • Hi JP, I was trying to address the perception that the atheist movement is starting to take on the same ideological characteristics as religion. Although, as you rightly point out, it is not an ideology, we need to pay attention to the fact that it is being construed as such by the religious fraternity. It is thus incumbent on atheists to desist from any behaviour which borders on ideological characteristics such as fundamentalism.

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