I came across Andrew Schwartz’s piece on where atheism ends and religion begins and I kind of had to disagree with him on this.
The New Atheists love proclaiming that religion is dying. It’s a claim that is hard to argue with. Religion is certainly on the decline all across the world. The “nones” (i.e. those who hold no religious affiliation) rank as the third most popular religion in the world, trailing Christians and Muslims respectively. Historically, we’ve never seen anything like this. Atheism was in vogue back in the Enlightenment era but despite all the efforts of Auguste Comte and his peers, it never gained traction. Religion was too imbedded in the culture and was the best answer to all those pesky questions about where we came from and what we are heading towards. Today, atheists are armed with the answers Darwin gave and a modern metaphysics that allows them to confidently argue against religious rhetoric and comfortably say that there is no god.
Atheism is not a religion. It has no rules, no regulations and no beliefs as such apart from one. That there are no gods out there and this belief is due to a lack of any concrete evidence about the existence of any god.
A Muslim is an atheist to the Christian god and vice versa.
And religion was never the best answer to anything. It was an answer that required the ignorance of it’s questioner. The questioner must be ignorant to the way the world works if he can acccept a “god” as a explanation for how the universe works. And if you think about it, a god raises more awkward questions.
Darwin merely explained how a “force of nature” worked. His work while remarkable is as fundamental in creating the world we know as gravity. Darwin explained how humans grew crops and how we bred animals and how nature “bred” us. He eliminated humanity as a magical entity and provided a rational natural method for it’s existence.
This is a huge cultural shift and, as many prominent atheist thinkers would suggest, a necessary paradigmatic change in human history. What I find disconcerting, though, are the holes being left in the fabric of society as we see the institution of religion retreating. As an example: when Hurricane Sandy devastated the eastern Seaboard, it was the synagogues, mosques, and churches that served as bases of operation for the Red Cross, #occupySandy, and other aid organizations. Religious communities quickly rallied their members to come out and aid the victims of the storm in a capacity that few other organizations could muster. This is not say that the non-religious did not show up in force to aid those affected by Sandy. Far from it. It was an amazing response across the board yet that response was certainly undergirded by and maintained through the willingness of faith communities to open their doors, their homes, and their lives to those who found themselves without.
The Red Cross is a humanist organisation. It’s a product of secular and indeed “atheist” values. Atheists don’t seek the destruction of religion as much as you think. Most of us think religion isn’t a great thing but happily get along with religious people. More than religious people get along with us.
It’s rather sad that we see a double standard where secular charity is simply ignored while religious charity is lauded. This is a major problem in many parts of the world where the quality of theological charity isn’t up to scratch and where “missionary” workers are not selected on logical criteria and are often woefully out of depth and more interested in flogging Bibles than providing any real change to the people they “help”. Not all missionaries like this but there are sufficient to leave a bad taste.
People helped each other irrespective of religious faith. In the USA, the atheists are still minorities and most atheists who do charity work are part of bigger secular organisations. And I fear that the author has simply not realised that when most atheists do charity work we don’t do so under a big giant A. You may have been helped by an atheist and you wouldn’t even know it.
Or, let’s consider the food bank and soup kitchen systems in America. I live in Harlem and almost every food bank or soup kitchen is run by or through a local mosque, church or synagogue. The faith community provides the physical space, the staffing, and often times the funding. This is not to say that those associated with a faith community are the only ones working at or hosting services for those in need. Again, far from it. What I will say, though, is that faith communities account for a large part of these services and many of our brothers and sisters in life would go with far less in life if it weren’t for churches, mosques and synagogues.
And many atheists support organisations such as Planned parenthood which provides sexual healthcare or are big supporters of progressive measures which mean that people don’t NEED soup kitchens and food banks as much as they are given money in a sufficient amount to live on.
And many atheists work at these. Remember. In Real life I don’t waggle the atheist flag. If people ask I don’t lie about my lack of faith but most people would never guess that I am not Hindu.
These are only two examples and they in themselves are not the point I am trying to make. The examples above embody a larger spirit that I want to lift up, a spirit that is embedded, albeit often lost and forgotten, in the world’s religions that compel the faithful to serve and love with abandon. Many of my friends who have transitioned from being religious to being atheists speak of the deep existential peace that it gives them. This is huge and nothing to be argued with. Anyone who has found themselves on the despair side of Sisyphean struggle knows just how sweet it is to find the calm on the other side. But contrary to the hyper-individualistic tropes fed to us by American culture, I would argue that finding the calm is only first step. The second and more important step is feeding that calm, peace, joy, and positivity back into society. Whether that is done through mentoring or activism or lobbying or some other form of praxis is immaterial. The point is to take the good and disseminate it as much as possible.
They also compel people to hate with abandon too… Lest we forget the same loving people who run soup kitchens may be the people throwing foetus dolls at women at abortion clinics.
And simply not believing in a god doesn’t turn you into a heartless arsehole. It just means you don’t do stuff because people
It is dangerous and facile to argue as many prominent atheists do that the decline of religion and the rise of secularism will somehow extinguish the devastating fires of systemic oppression and/or institutionalized racism/sexism/homophobia that are often associated with religions who appeal to an andro-centric God. If religion has completely failed us then we must ask ourselves what we are doing to assuage and correct the course of history. Because truly, if religion is the pariah that weighs society down, than the atheistic antidote must match — if not exceed — that which it is correcting.
The argument we have here is not that religious people are capable of doing “good things” but why on earth must we associate belief in a non-existent being as an essential part of doing good things. Are human beings so incapable of behaving properly that we must forever fear a celestial bogeyman? I say no. We can be good without a god irrespective of what gender he is biased towards. Wiccanism isn’t a superior faith because it believes in equality of women, it’s still a superstition.
And yes, we did create something. It’s called secular values. It’s campaigned for better treatment of women, GLBT and against racism. It’s the entire progressive movement that is unaffiliated with religious groups. Again, just because it’s not dripping with Dawkins doesn’t mean it’s not a product of the rejection of religion.
The new ideology of this age certainly is atheism. There is no arguing that, so, as the fresh new ideological mainstay, atheism must be prepared to assume, and improve upon, the positions once occupied by religious institutions. Or, if not occupy, then replace with new institutions that service the needs of society that government and private enterprise simply are not willing and/or are not capable of holding. It is easy to cast aspersions at the predominate institutions in power but it is a very different thing to replace them with a viable and functional alternative that covers the needs of society. Atheism cannot simply be about setting individuals free. It needs to address the deep suffering of society and take aim at dismantling the socio-economic structures that privilege the few while oppressing the many.
Atheism is an old ideology. The original Christians were prosecuted in Rome under charges of Atheism themselves.
To point out how silly this statement is? The world’s biggest medical charities are the Red Cross and Medicin Sans Frontier and both are secular and humanist in ethos.
While religion has always been about maintaining socio-economic structure and are a method of getting people to “accept” the oppression. Marx didn’t call religion a “opiate” because it was just addictive. He also did it to point out that it deadens the masses to real paiin which they tolerate.
The fight for the oppressed and the impoverished, both emotionally and economically, is what most of the world religions are predicated upon. Yet, the fervor for change among most of the faithful seems to have cooled and the rivers of change have grown stagnant. As evidenced above, there is still amazing work being done but that work is now struggling to survive. There needs to be an infusion of new life and new fervor, things that are found in abundance amongst the New Atheists. It is time that we evaluate how we are going to collectively move into history and what our legacy is going to be. In the words of Muriel Rukeyser, “If we are free people, we are also in a sense free to choose our past, at every moment to chose the tradition we will bring to the future.”
Really? That may explain why the “most Muslim country on the planet and the spiritual home of Islam” effectively trades in human slavery brought about by the import of South/East Asians to work as labourers and house workers for incredibly small wages based on fooling them through a lack of understand of exchange rates”. Or how about the usage of tithes and a denigration of education to keep many american christians “poor and uneducated”? Or how Hinduism’s caste system is still rife today.
The only thing I will say is this. Atheists who do charity need to be visible or else people will simply assume that we do not do any charity. That only religious people get together and do things. That even if we do help secular charity, people will simply assume we hold religious beliefs. We need to stand up and be counted.