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.