Aim higher, atheists

Modern people can be so weirdly literal. And by no means are they all fundamentalist religious types.

I have known many atheists and I have come across a great many atheists. The first rule of atheism is: talk about religion. The second rule: dispute the Bible. The third (possibly the second, actually): tease and argue with fundamentalists, mostly in absentia, especially they most objectionable and uncouth ones.

Yes, now that they don’t have to worry themselves anymore about the literal truths of the Bible that all the fundamentalists believe in—phew—I get the impression many self-congratulatory atheists like to spend a whole lot of their intellectual time insisting the Bible isn’t literally true and is in fact full of falsehoods and absurdities (and in doing this, feeling intelligent and perceptive).

Well, first of all: no kidding, the Bible is not literally true. Have you ever tried to read other mythology literally? Ovid makes a poor science or history textbook, but that’s a similarly insipid point.

We can rest assured that whoever refuses to accept such a painfully obtrusive lesson must have a personal attachment at stake, or simply won’t because a contrary painfully-obtrusive lesson was hammered into them already by their parents and church, and brainwashing works the first time.

Either way, if “freethinker” atheists have the opportunities to think about and discuss anything they like, it seems dopey to spend time telling the fundamentalists that material which millions of people have already come to view as allegorical since the Middle Ages is—*gasp*—not literally true.

Whether they’ve rediscovered how to be as concerned with literal meaning as fundamentalists, or how to keep pace with fundamentalists, or how to keep having a ‘conversation’ with fundamentalists instead of moving on, I’m not sure that congratulations for “free thought” are in order quite yet.

You’re simply not past religion and done with it until you regard reading the Bible as no more threatening and offensive to your own mind than reading ancient Greek, Norse, or Chinese myths. In fact, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that quite a few intellectuals got past their own religious instruction and obstruction by reading mythology and literature more widely, as Jung did, and realizing that not only is belief subjective, but there is more depth to be found in religious interpretation than Christian theology has to offer. In the process of graduation to move beyond religious obsession, agnosticism with less to prove and more to learn seems the freest stage, not (as some atheists think) some weakly-resistant intermediate stage.

If instead the atheists’ concern and reason for so much adversarial attention is merely and truly over what fundamentalists will do with their dogmatic beliefs (as many atheists would claim) , they should be spending some time telling the hundreds of millions of Hindus that their authoritative texts aren’t true; they should logically also be dispelling the doctrines of fundamentalists of all kinds, in the orthodoxies of science and politics as well as religion, wherever free and open thought is denied and the consequences are great.

Instead, the trending atheism today is yet another species of missionary fundamentalism by a Chosen People who are zealous to prove they are not at all like the believers.

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7 responses to “Aim higher, atheists

  1. Finding things you don’t like about atheists does not mean that there is a God, which is the basic issue in dispute between atheists and theists.

    • Err, ostensibly yes, but my post was neither about the defining dispute nor concerned with the (non-)existence of God. I took it for granted readers would already know what atheists are, and I could address something more interesting and relevant to intellectual life today than an issue already debated to death which cannot be resolved by argumentation, logical proof, or scientific evidence. The habits and similarities of atheists to certain theists are more on point.

  2. The issue I am concerned most with is those people who *are* reading the bible literally, and using it to attack science education and sexuality, amongst many other things. When someone acts upon their beliefs in a way that affects me and things I care about negatively, then that’s when I start to care. Presumably this is what you mean when you say “aim higher”.

    Caring about someone’s beliefs only because they are “wrong” is sophomoric. It does become more of a grey area when you think about the effect they have on their children though, even if there are no external negatives.

  3. It’s been my experience that no one reads the Bible as literally as atheists. A particular narrow minded, persistent and pervasive, black and white thinking permeates the atheist world-view generally but it really comes together when talking about Christian Scripture.

  4. I don’t care about these strategic issues. I prefer truth and subtance.

  5. “When someone acts upon their beliefs in a way that affects me and things I care about negatively, then that’s when I start to care. Presumably this is what you mean when you say “aim higher”.”

    As much of a concern for me as the religion of others’ impinging is that a great many intellectuals and creative people are wasting their time and effort on unworthy pursuits, and furthermore (because we reflect what we do) internalizing a combative and territorial mindset, which is far from the more open-minded mentalities of creativity, meditation, thoughtfulness, or wisdom. I am making an related critique to one of Nietzsche’s in the 19th century concerning Christianity; the diversion or waste of “spirit” was of concern to him and it’s a concern to me.

    It is understandable, to take your point, to be concerned with beliefs infringing on others. This is one reason to uphold and insist on religious freedom for individuals, and on total freedom of speech, with the tolerant and civil encouragement at a cultural level of *feeling free* to speak (and think), and exercise open minds—without which culture freedom of speech becomes reduced to a matter of law, which will be constantly eroded without cultural support.

    With regard to education, the problem cannot be resolved as long as a central, public education system is forced upon all; there must always be such disputes over the control of the curriculum and methodology by any and all interested parties and factions, as surely as it would occur if there were an official state church. This point applies to what schools inculcate about politics, civics, [other debates in] science, etc. as well as hot religious topics. (And besides, public schools in general provide an awful and unambitious education, but that’s another discussion.)

    Unfortunately, I see all too few atheists applying themselves constructively to these issues. Many even believe that forcing secular views on others is desirable which inevitably leads (and has led) to backlash and religious militancy with regard to public policy.

  6. Speaking as an atheist myself, I don’t talk about religion other than as to what one can learn from it, or dispute the Bible, though I do quote the KJV on occasion. Nor do the many other atheists I know do any of the things you mention.

    It is true that there are some high profile disputes between well-known atheists, such as Prof. Dawkins, and religious fundamentalists in which these subjects come up – and then they come up because the other parties do believe these things literally, or profess to do so at any rate. If someone is denying evolution e.g., the scientific community in general (atheist or not) will intervene.
    But as soon as Dawkins et. al. are speaking to any non-fundamentalists, be it European clerics or other atheists these things are no longer an issue. Then only the effect that religion has on our lives and our society is discussed.

    I can only conclude that your personal experience with atheists is very different from the general one. Perhaps the atheists you know are either recent “converts” or they are surrounded by fundamentalists themselves?

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