Big Tent Atheism?

Boing Boing guest blogger Paul Spinrad has issued something of a challenge to activist atheists.

Firstly, he offers up this insight:

In politics, I think there are two competing motivations for voters to support a cause publicly. One is to influence the majority to agree, to make changes that you believe in, and the other is to distinguish your opinions as superior to most other peoples’. These two motivations generally cause people to act in similar ways…

I think this is a useful thing to think about – are you passionate about a cause because you want to see the cause be successful? Or do you simply enjoy identifying yourself with the cause? Spinrad clearly thinks most atheists go for the identity:

With religion, I think atheists have the same dissonance going on. If they really think the world would be better off without religion, they shouldn’t hate religion and call believers fools. Any successful new belief system must appreciate the beauty of what it’s replacing and strive for backwards-compatibility. If Matthew 1:1-16 hadn’t explained how Jesus’ lineage fulfills the prophecy in Isaiah 1:1-5, it wouldn’t have gotten where it is today.

Hmmm… First of all, let’s make clear for the umpteenth time: atheism is not a belief system. It is not a religion. Atheists aren’t interested in replacing religion. To confuse this is to misunderstand the mission of the new atheism. In fact, the assumption that atheism is a belief system — and that everyone just must have a belief system is exactly what the new wave of atheist activism is attacking.

So when Spinrad asks:

Do you think that most of humanity is A) hopeless and doomed to kill each other because of their stupid religious beliefs, or B) capable of coming to and benefiting from your views?

For my part, I can emphatically answer B. Humanity is fine. The problem is the societal norm that everybody is allowed an arbitrary “belief system” that is based on nothing and requires no defense. We can get over this. We will get over this. And we will be better off when we do.

In the meantime, if atheists seem unusually angry and dismissive, there are plenty of good and valid reasons for that — no snobbery required.

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