I’m not here to talk about the great aspects of religion


By Frederick Sparks

I’m especially not here to talk to black people, an important target audience of mine, about how great religion is, and specifically, how African-Americans took a religious paradigm that was a significant factor in justifying enslavement and encouraging complacent acceptance of a repressive status quo and flipped it into a liberation theology. That narrative is already ascendant within my target community.  How Jesus has been good for black folks is still largely un-debated, and those who have debated it in the past have had their words whitewashed in historical revisionism or wholly ignored. I and others are here to provide a much needed counter narrative.

And as much hoopla and prominence as the new atheist movement has received, it’s still not the ascendant narrative generally.  So I view many of the critiques of new atheism with a mixture of bemusement and annoyance, in part, because I think some of the critics are simultaneously pissed they didn’t write the End of Faith or The God Delusion first, while at the same time owing whatever attention they receive to the very phenomenon they critique; because of course where would they be without defining themselves in contradistinction?  Wouldn’t it be just as easy to proselytize the ecumenical atheist vision of “interfaith” cooperation without tearing down other atheists?

Those of us who are atheists/secularists and interested in issues of social justice (many of the bloggers here on freethoughtblogs) are fully aware of and engaged in the struggle to bring these issues to the forefront of the “secular movement”, facing resistance from those who think such subjects are not in the purview of skepticism, or those who feel that raising issues of race, gender or class inequality is too “political” and risks alienating those neoconservative neo-libertarians who might otherwise be attracted to the conversation. We are fully aware of the need to provide avenues of community support that religion at its best provides.  And we don’t appreciate accomodationist straw man construction that ignores our efforts and awareness, particularly when the straw man constructors turn victim when called on their intellectual dishonesty.

Comments

  1. F says

    You cover a lot of ground in just three paragraphs. Just the third paragraph by itself, really. That one is suitable for framing (no, not that kind of framing).

  2. says

    I want to say thanks for that last paragraph. In partcular

    “Those of us who are atheists/secularists and interested in issues of social justice”

    They ARE separate things.

    “….to the forefront of the “secular movement”

    It is NOT an atheist movement. That is to say that new atheism is new only in that it’s not historical yet. Atheism hasn’t changed much in thousands of years save for the fact that we know more about the world now. There is no atheist movement for all the reasons that there is not a movement for people that don’t eat spinach or turnips.

    “We are fully aware of the need to provide avenues of community support that religion at its best provides.”

    But that doesn’t mean church v2.0!

    I think we are often seen as negative because we have no positive cause, no movement really. What we have in common is a disregard and repulsion to religion, it’s more ardent adherents, and the damage the combination does to society. It’s hard to put a positive spin on that unless you can shine a negative light on religion. Granted, the faithful do a grand job of this all by themselves but it does not seem to have positive or lasting effect on other believers.

    • Stacy says

      We do have a positive cause. It’s a commitment to reason and to philosophical naturalism.

      And there’s no reason not to apply their insights to social relationships and the fight for social justice. Skepticism doesn’t have to be limited to disproving the existence of chupacabras for the two millionth time.

      • says

        Ok, I’m an anti-theist for 20+ years and even I have no clue what you just said. Commitment to what?

        Did you just say that religion has social insights? Isn’t that much like claiming that Hitler’s Germany had insights to population growth problems? Yeah, Godwin and all that, but seriously, why does anyone want to emulate religion? The ONE thing they know how to do is control people who don’t want to think for themselves. I strongly recommend against this model. To my way of thinking you’re saying that just because we don’t believe in gods we still want to be sheep so we need someone to lead us in social and political interactions. Lets just shitcan all that thinking for yourself stuff… right?

        Atheists emulating religion = cognitive dissonance + shock + mockery + sadness.

        A heroin addiction is bad but what you are saying is that you want one but you’re going to call it ‘working out’ instead.

        • Phledge says

          I think what Stacy meant was the application of reason and naturalism to social problems. That makes sense.

          • says

            Stacy makes it sound like you can be an atheist without the commitment mentioned. You make it sound like this only recently makes sense to you.

            If you don’t believe in supernatural bs woowoo, a ‘naturalistic’ approach to life is all that you have left. It’s not even an option as far as I can see. Sort of like saying you don’t like fatty, rotten, and nutrition-less foods, so on a positive note you’re committed to healthy foods. Yes, there are other options like non-participation (fasting and not thinking etc) but superstitious supernatural woowoo bs – either you believe it or you don’t. There is no halfway on that one. No, agnosticism is not halfway. Agnostics think they can not participate yet side with woowoo bs believers when confronted by atheists and anti-theists.

            Atheism is not a world view, not a cause, not a movement. You can be racist or bigoted and still be an atheist. The only way that it can be perceived as positive is if you show that not being an atheist is negative. That would be the ONLY time it has a positive connotation. And believers are right. The very fact that I call myself an atheist or anti-theist does in fact mean that I think believers of all stripes are wrong and deluded. It’s not an option. I was once wrong and deluded. I know there is no option for middle ground.

            BTW, the middle ground for working on societal ills between believers and non-believers is for all to act in that societal regard as though they were non-believers. Only in this way is there no person trying to push their beliefs on others.

        • Stacy says

          How the hell did you get all that from my words?

          I was reponding to what you said, here:

          I think we are often seen as negative because we have no positive cause, no movement really.

          I replied that we do have a positive cause: the commitment to reason and to philosophical naturalism. How did you decide from that that I said anything about religion at all, let alone that I think it has special social insights?

          Skeptics, “New” atheists, and secular humanists are all trying to promote critical thinking. We think it’s the best way to figure out what’s real and what isn’t, to solve problems in the world.

          This isn’t some “default option” that magically happens when you stop believing in god. It takes work to think critically.

          All the major writers of the New Atheist and Skeptic movements have talked about this. If you “have no idea what I’m saying”, read Carl Sagan. Or Dawkins. Or Harris. They discuss it in detail.

          That has nothing to do with us having a religion of our own.

          Stacy makes it sound like you can be an atheist without the commitment mentioned. You make it sound like this only recently makes sense to you.

          If you don’t believe in supernatural bs woowoo, a ‘naturalistic’ approach to life is all that you have left. It’s not even an option as far as I can see.

          Of course it’s an option. There are plenty of people who don’t believe in God but aren’t particularly committed to reason. Being an atheist and “not believing in supernatural bs woowoo” are two different things. Ever heard of the Raelians?

          • Stacy says

            Yes, thank you, Phledge. I meant the application of reason and naturalism to social problems. I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear. (Though I honestly think myatheistlife should’ve taken a hint from the chupacabra remark and realized my “their” referred to the reason and naturalism I mentioned in my first paragraph, and not to religion.)

  3. Sheesh says

    Big thumbs up from me. Very well done.

    Liberation theology drives me up the wall because the contradiction is right there in the name. How do people not see it? [Brain explosion] Theology of the monotheistic sort is nearly always authoritarian (I can’t think of an exception where the god in question isn’t omnipotent and just sort of makes suggestions or participates democratically or something). We’re told there’s a ruler of the universe, a Lord, a Father, a Master, etc. — how is that compatible with liberation?

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