We had another mass murder in America this week, and there’s no way around it: it was by a “none”, someone who hated organized religion, and who described himself as
Conservative Republican, and if he were attending CPAC, we have atheists who’d enthuse about a possible recruit to the cause. But instead, he slaughtered innocent people, so we turn around and pretend his disbelief had absolutely nothing to do with it. It’s all very convenient. If he’d been a Christian we’d all sneer at the hypocrisy of all the believers who’d reassure us that he wasn’t a True Christian™, but now it’s only reasonable that we rationally and calmly divorce ourselves from any responsibility.
I don’t accept that.
I agree completely with Ashley Miller’s point that the myth of atheist superiority is dangerous, and leads to terrible consequences. Even if it isn’t causal, it leads terrible people to do terrible things to achieve that affirming sense of being better than everyone else. It has to stop. And the first step is acquiring some sense of responsibility.
But of course, some of our self-appointed ‘leaders’ want nothing to do with that. It never fails that if you want to see the insufferable smugness of delusional atheists, all you have to do is turn to Sam Harris.
No rational atheist (or “New Atheist”) holds religion accountable for every idiotic or unethical thing religious people do. We blame a religion only for what its adherents do as a direct result of its doctrines, such as opposing gay marriage or killing apostates.
Atheism has no doctrines. It does not demand that a person do anything, or refrain from doing anything, on the basis of his unbelief. Consequently, to know that someone is an atheist is to know almost nothing about him—apart from the fact that he does not accept the unwarranted claims of any religion.
Atheism is simply the condition of not believing in Poseidon, Thor, or any of the thousands of dead gods that lie in the graveyard we call mythology. To that extent, everyone knows exactly what it is to be an atheist—he has simply added the god of Abraham to the list of the dead.
If a belief in astrology were causing people to go berserk—to deny medical care to their children or to murder unbelievers—many of us would speak and write about the dangerous stupidity of astrology. This would not be bigotry or intolerance on our part. It would be a plea for basic human sanity. And that is all that an atheist’s criticism of religious tribalism and superstition ever is.
If you understand this, you will recognize any attempt to blame atheism for specific crimes, great or small, for what it is: A fresh act of religious demagoguery.
Humanity is suffering under a collection of half-assed ethical and moral principles, assembled with no rational foundation but superstition, and with awful, damaging, exploitive rules mixed in with a few good ones. Religion is primitive and lacking in any tools to address deep injustices and correct errors in its formulation. I am all in favor of tearing it down and replacing it with…what? According to Harris, nothing. Atheism has nothing constructive or productive to replace the bad system most people are limping along under — rip it all out and apparently, brute reason can then be trusted to evolve something better.
Never mind that the same atheists who adore the irresponsibility of the idea that their beliefs impose no demands on them are also the same atheists who so detest equality that they spit on feminism; that they so obliviously love their privileges that they scorn the whole concept of social justice; that they are so authoritarian that they rush to the defense of their Leaders with a capital “L” no matter how egregiously offensive their bigotry might be, and any who dare to criticize them are “harming the cause”.
Reason is not enough. Reason can show you the best way to achieve a goal, but if your goal is mass murder, or denigration of women, or the perpetuation of an oppressive hierarchy, it’ll help you do that, too. We need purpose and value and meaning as well, and if a prominent Leader of atheism is saying that atheism doesn’t do that, that’s a declaration that atheism is bankrupt, and has failed totally. It has become a Great Nothing.
That’s not my atheism, though. I argue that the absence of gods gives greater prominence to the interdependence of the human community, and adds greater weight and urgency to the importance of empathy and equality and all those human values — but if atheism is now a label that allows us to nonchalantly disavow responsibility for the actions of those within our own group, perhaps it’s time to disband the whole idea of an atheist community.
But then it’s also clear that my vision of what atheism ought to be is a minority view. The majority are doing their damnedest to confirm the poor opinion the believers have of us.