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Jun 28 2012

Perfect atheism

Now here‘s an interesting perspective:

A perfect atheist is one for whom god never comes up. They never talk about it, they don’t go to meetings or read books about it, they never use the word “atheist” to describe themselves, and they aren’t rebelling against anything.

They just live their lives guided by internal and external morals and desires, directing themselves towards tangible, terrestrial goals. They find community in friends in their daily lives and online. The big spiritual questions are simply not relevant – they aren’t interested in being a soldier in the war between Dawkins and god. These are the millennial Nones.

I think the writer is guilty of just a bit of band-wagon jumping when he slams Dawkins and Hitchens as old-school traditional atheists. But, that said, there’s something intriguing about the idea of a new generation that finds religion neither right nor wrong but simply irrelevant.

34 comments

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  1. 1
    Jim

    I have a problem for this perfect atheist. How do you avoid god if it is pushed into your daily life? Suppose you are expected to participate in prayer sessions at work, or at family gatherings, or at sporting events, or government meetings? What if you have to choose between politicians whose positions are based on their favorite holy book? How do you respond when coworkers, or strangers in stores ask if you are saved? (I have been in every single one of those situations. Most within the last year.)

    It sounds to me like the person who wrote that article is a theist of the ‘be a good little atheist and just shut up when we trample on your beliefs’ type.

    1. 1.1
      ischemgeek

      ^ This.

      Further, how do you respond when others pry into your religious beliefs? Where I live, it’s a faux pas, but it happens a lot.

      Then you’re in the awkward view of, “Well, do I out myself as athiest or do I come off as secretive?”

      Because for me, lying is not and has never been an option on this.

      Unless I know the person well, I’ll respond with, “I’m not comfortable talking religion at [setting] since I find is usually distracts from [activity]. Maybe at a later time.”

      Some people will press regardless, but if I express my discomfort as above, then I’ll usually be supported if I complain about the person who’s hassling me on it.

      1. peterwhite

        According to a recent survey I live in the most religious country in the world. I often get asked about my religion since there are so many different religions here, even though 80% of the population professes to be Catholic. Usually I’m asked by people I have come to know, even casually. I tell them I have no religion. The next question is always if I believe in God, which I tell them I don’t. I have had a couple of long discussions with one casual friend and the minister of a local church. The discussions are always friendly and I haven’t had any negative reactions so far. Mostly they just have a lot of questions. I get the impression that the entire idea of atheism never crossed their minds.

      2. ischemgeek

        We get all kinds, where I live: From athiests to extreme religious types. Personally, I’m fully open about my lack of religion or god in personal life, but I’ve had reactions range from a “*shrug* So?” kind of apathy to being assaulted and threatened with death and hell at full bellow. Frankly, I don’t want to deal with the uncertainty of where on the spectrum the person I’m talking to is at my workplace.

        Walking around town is one thing: I can just walk away from a wingnut. If I’m stuck working with one… I had that experience once and quit the job after a month because I knew it was quit or get myself fired for talking back to someone who outranked me.

  2. 2
    LJ Briar

    Yeah, I agree with Jim. I just scanned through the original article and then a few posts on the writer’s blog and it appears he’s Catholic. So I can’t help but get a rather self-serving vibe from him suggesting that the “perfect” way to do atheism is to just not say you’re an atheist, and dismiss religion as irrelevant, despite its pervasiveness in many accepted aspects of everyday life.

  3. 3
    Jasper of Maine

    My problem is that it reeks a little too much of the “Why don’t you just sit down and shut up” attitude towards atheists – like when a theist is explaining to an atheist that a “true atheist” wouldn’t bother arguing about religion.

  4. 4
    Konradius

    It doesn’t look that interesting. I’ve got the perfect response here though:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUI_ML1qkQE
    (Greta Cristina’s Skepticon 4 talk)

  5. 5
    Daniel Schealler

    Possibly that could be the end-goal… A world where religion is an irrelevant eccentricity that doesn’t impose on the lives of those who don’t share it might be a worthy conclusion to the atheist movement.

    Note the use of might. I suspect there’d still be some problems, and I’d agree that there remains a fundamental problem with belief in falsehood…

    But still, if that were really the world we were living in, I’m sure that most of us would off finding something else to get passionate about instead.

  6. 6
    1000 Needles

    …they aren’t interested in being a soldier in the war between Dawkins and god…

    This is the same category of dismissal as “I don’t participate in politics,” or “I’m not a feminist.”

    It is spoken from a position of privilege, and it is a refusal to acknowledge the cultural battles that others have fought on your behalf.

    I’m not saying that anybody should be expected to revere Dawkins, Ingersoll, the authors of the US Constitution, the FreethoughtBloggers, et al. However, someone that gets to enjoy living as a ‘perfect atheist’ in a society where religion has been reduced to irrelevancy should, at the very least, appreciate the struggles that so many others have endured to achieve that society.

  7. 7
    BaisBlackfingers

    I always thought a perfect atheist was spherical, frictionless and of homogenous density and electrical resistance.

  8. 8
    Michelle Elliott

    Jim is right of course, AND this “approach” also leaves no room for the atheist who is fascinated by religion as a psychological, sociological, organizational or historical phenomenon, or is intrigued by its economic, medical, cultural or political ramifications. In fact, it is nothing more than a reflavoring of the old “If you don’t believe in God why do you talk about him so much?” red herring.

  9. 9
    wholething

    If that is a perfect atheist, then it can only exist in a perfect world where everyone is a perfect atheist. Until then, a good atheist must push back until everyone is “enlightened”.

    1. 9.1
      Synfandel

      Agreed. This is not a description of the perfect atheist. It’s a description of life as an atheist in a perfect society. Wouldn’t we all love to be in that situation?

      1. Deacon Duncan

        There, I think you’ve pinpointed exactly what made me smile just a little when I read the original post: that glimpse of a pleasant (if utopian) vision of tomorrow.

  10. 10
    mikespeir

    Oh, ideally, maybe. Not in the real world.

  11. 11
    Mer

    That describes my Mom to a T :)

  12. 12
    Mike N

    I think what they’re describing is the goal, and we’re not there yet.

    With any luck, this will be everybody’s default position within a generation!

  13. 13
    vel

    seems like one more attempt to try to convince atheists to sit down and shut up by attempting to define what a “real” atheist is.

  14. 14
    Dave

    If religion had null negative influence on the persons life then yeah. A lot of people get on with their life for the majority, with no concern for the debate. There is however those % instances where it impinges in varying degrees of harm/negativity and why shouldn’t someone be vocal then? It’s tantamount to asking atheists to be doormats for the sake of ‘getting along’.

  15. 15
    anteprepro

    Ugh. Same old schlock. Apparently it is fine to be an atheist, as long as you are an atheist because you are completely indifferent to religion and never so much as hint at the fact that you:
    1. Are onfident that atheism is right and/or any given religion is wrong.
    2. Have actual reasons for disbelieving in god(s).
    3. Think religion isn’t just a matter of opinion and believe religion is not a good thing.

    The only acceptable atheist is a quiet atheist. An apathetic atheist. One who wants everyone to live and let live, and doesn’t see god belief as wrong or religion as problematic. One who is ignorant of the fact that True believers actively discriminate against atheists and spew slander/libel about atheists. Or one who simply doesn’t care, because they don’t identify as “atheist” so they shrug it off. The ideal is apparently an atheist that mirrors that same shallow, thoughtless acceptance of a belief that you see in the standard sheep (except atheists sure as hell better not bleat about it the same way!). The perfect atheist is an atheist who believes based on faith and, unlike those other people who believe things on faith, refuse to share or spread those beliefs. I guess I must apologize profusely when I say that this sounds far from perfect. The only way it is perfect is that it makes the lives of True Believers much easier.

  16. 16
    BecomingJulie

    A perfect atheist is one for whom god never comes up.

    Welcome to everyday life here in Britain!

    It’s actually a real surprise to discover grown-ups with imaginary friends.

    1. 16.1
      Clare

      Yes, in day to day life Britain appears pretty secular & it is true that I assume most people I meet are athiest/agnostic/areligious (don’t know, don’t care) or ‘traditional’ CofE. The last one means they were brought up within the Church of England, attended services at school, have church weddings/funerals/christenings & describe themselves as Christian but when asked ‘so, you believe Jesus was the son of god & died to save your sins’ answer ‘err, well, I’ve never thought about it.. Um…..’.

      However, Britain is still to some extent a theocracy because CofE Bishops sit in the House Lords & state schools have to have some form of Christian worship…..

      Anyway, I was the perfect atheist until I was about 7 which was around the time it dawned on me that there were adults who believed this stuff . Then I became interested as to why (40 odd years later I still don’t understand it) & it remains pertinent because of those people who think their belief should dictate how I lead my life.

  17. 17
    Marnie

    Pfft, this is a bit like saying “a perfect [racial group] is one who never brings up racism”.

    You know what? I don’t talk about zeus because no one is knocking on my door asking me if they can share his good word with me. I don’t talk about Ra because no one is trying to explain to me how Ra doesn’t like same sex marriage thus we should make laws limiting the rights of same sex couples.

    I only have to say I’m an atheist because people ask me what my religion is or what church I go to, or because there is an assumption that I hold some sort of religious belief.

    We don’t need to change atheists, we need a society that accept the majority religious group bullying everyone else.

    But you know what? I have no intention of being someone else’s ideal of a “perfect atheist,” any more than I have an interest in being the “perfect woman.” I shouldn’t have to aspire to other people’s standards that way and it says a lot more about the writer he thinks atheists should care.

  18. 18
    Kevin

    When everyone is an apatheist, then it’ll be OK to advocate that.

    Not now. Too much religious privilege.

    When the last church is converted to productive use and the last preacher finds a real job, then we can talk about this utopian state.

    Until then, there are barricades to be manned.

    1. 18.1
      lafranceprofonde

      Couldn’t agree more Kevin. There certainly still are barricades to be manned.

  19. 19
    Robert B.

    Being a “perfect atheist” strikes me as like being “color blind” with respect to race. Or maybe it’s more like being the sort of gay person who’s private about it, and doesn’t do anything crass and confrontational like holding hands in public.

    I’m suspicious of anyone who wants the underprivileged to be quieter.

    That said, a culture where ignoring religion really was a natural, common thing would be quite nice. As people have said, atheists wouldn’t talk about religion so much if it wasn’t so pervasive and powerful.

  20. 20
    Skepticali

    >>A perfect atheist is one for whom god never comes up.

    This describes my wife. Doesn’t care, not interested, thinks people should focus on their personal responsibilities,finds the subject uninteresting, is one of the most ethical people I’ve ever met. I envy her in a lot of ways.

    I still think the thought that magical thinking enters into the public arena, and negatively affects efforts to advance knowledge, improve people’s lives, preserve liberty, and maintain civility, is a threat that needs to be met effectively, and ultimately rendered obsolete.

  21. 21
    a miasma of incandescent plasma

    Creationism in public school science classrooms.
    Climate change denial on the basis that god said you can do whatever the f^&# you like.
    Government endorsing religion on the national and local levels, violating 1st Amendment.
    Systematic denial of contraception and family planning health care due to religious dogma.
    etc…

    Without Dawkins, et al. these current fights would be even more challenging than they already are.

  22. 22
    Qwetzaqwetal

    Not a ‘perfect atheist’, but a good description of an atheist in a perfect world. Likewise, in a perfect world, there would be no advocates for equality. Because they wouldn’t be necessary. Sadly, since this world is vastly imperfect, it would be foolhardy to act as if we were in a perfect world, since our actual world has lots of problems that require different responses, as many upthread have said.

  23. 23
    DVD Bach

    I’d love nothing more than to forget all about religion. Republicans have chosen to make that difficult for me.

  24. 24
    Birger Johansson

    We have millions of perfect atheists in Sweden. Yes, religion really is that irellevant.
    (smugly logs off, goes on beginning of vacation)
    :-)

  25. 25
    Ysanne

    The big spiritual questions are simply not relevant – they aren’t interested in being a soldier in the war between Dawkins and god. These are the millennial Nones.

    I guess by the big spiritual questions this guy means the big questions of the human existence, basically the reason we have philosophy in the first place.
    I don’t see why the refusal to take the easy way out by making up some invisible supernatural entity means that I also shouldn’t even think about and discuss these highly relevant questions.

    I’m one of the people for whom god would never come up if there weren’t people who are trying to push on society (and thus me) their idiotic ideas that boil down to “my story about God says X so that’s what everybody has to do”. Actually, if those people kept their God-based arguments to themselves, I’d be more than happy to agree on leaving any arguments that hinge on the existence or non-existence of a god out of the discussion.
    But the way the world is, I’m certainly not going to leave the important questions and decisions of our world up to the religious.

  26. 26
    klatu

    A perfect atheist is one for whom god never comes up. They never talk about it, they don’t go to meetings or read books about it, they never use the word “atheist” to describe themselves, and they aren’t rebelling against anything.

    They just live their lives guided by internal and external morals and desires, directing themselves towards tangible, terrestrial goals. They find community in friends in their daily lives and online. The big spiritual questions are simply not relevant – they aren’t interested in being a soldier in the war between Dawkins and god

    This actually describes a whole lot of “Christians” where I’m from. Irrelevance of religion does not make it dissappear. Not when it’s already found a cozy spot to hide out. In the back of people’s minds.

  27. 27
    Tige Gibson

    I have always listed my religion as none, but I am an active none. None could imply “no preference”, but that would be more specifically expressed as “any” than none, as in whatever you got is fine with me. Whatever is not fine with me.

    So what I see here is clearly the genuine arrogance we typically see in self-professed Agnostics®. Andy Morgan, using his blog “Millennial Faith”, is a Catholic covertly attacking atheism under the Agnostic® banner of “let’s all just get along”.

    Reading Morgan’s blog, it is very difficult to see what his agenda is, but that is a dead giveaway. He’s not pushing anything. He doesn’t want to offend anyone. It is a classic Agnostic® position.

    “Oh hey look I believe in science! Look, atheists, it’s possible to be a Christian and believe in science! Look, Christians, it’s possible to be a Christian and believe in science! So atheists, you are wrong, now stop being mean to Christians! And Christians, never mind, I see nothing.”

    For Agnostics®, the perfect world is one with equal measure of good and evil, except they believe the only true evil is not simply letting go of the issues and getting along. Well, guess what, one side always wants the other side to give up the issue, so their side can claim victory. Anyone who acts like an Agnostic® even if they don’t claim the title are playing for one side, the dominant side. They can’t really claim the middle because the middle always falls to the dominant side.

    Agnostics® are the sort of people who did nothing while Hitler took over Germany and Europe. History documents them in their own words as “seeing nothing” just the same as our friend Andy Morgan here “sees nothing”.

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