Atheism 2.0: My Thoughts

I just finished rewatching a video titled ‘Atheism 2.0,’ a lecture on ted.com by Alain de Botton (the first time I saw this video was Sunday morning,at a meeting with a local humanist group of which I’m a member).  De Botton does make some valid points in this lecture–like the issue of religion and atheism need not be as divisive as it is–but I just wanted to share what I thought of it.

De Botton, in this lecture, is addressing a long-running false dichotomy:  the rigid line in the sand between religion and atheism, the one that states that if one gives up religion one also does away with all the nice rituals, the community, and everything else associated with religion. I’m not one of those atheists who subscribes to this or other false dichotomies:  I enjoy community (to an extent; I’m actually one of those lone-wolf types most of the time–but I digress), and, where anything religious is concerned, I like to think I’m capable of contextualizing it, and that I don’t have to be religious to enjoy it; in fact, from where I’m standing, this is one of those situations where ownership becomes a problem.  But I believe it is possible to enjoy rituals, community, and everything else traditionally associated with religion without the dogma–of any kind–and everything that comes with it.

De Botton mentions the atheist community should respectfully but impiously steal things from religion.  Do we really need to do this, though?  And do we really need to say we’re appropriating things from religion–especially since religion appropriated so much throughout its history, and even hijacked what it appropriated?  Christmas and Easter (originally the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox, or Eostar), anyone?

Keeping some of the better aspects of what has traditionally been associated with religion, particularly rituals, may be good for some people, especially those transitioning out of religion.  But do we nonreligious really need to keep the religious stamp on what we do that many still associate with religion, such as Easter potlucks and listening to Christmas carols?  I don’t know if de Botton realizes this, but when he says we should ‘steal things from religion,’ he’s just reinforcing the belief of the religious, especially the zealots, that they own what he’s advocating we atheists adopt.  And that is a problem, since what the more fervently religious claim they own and only religion can give has always been available to the human species as a whole, with or without any faith tradition, religious or otherwise.

 

 

An Old Card Face-Up on the Table

‘Don’t reason in the mind, just obey in the spirit. Satan will attempt to fill your child with worry, reasoning, fear, depression, and discouraging negative thoughts. Satan frequently steals the will of God from us due to reasoning. The Lord may direct us to do a certain thing, but if it does not make sense–if it is not logical–we may be tempted to disregard it. What God leads a person to do does not always make logical sense.’–Joyce Meyer, Battlefield of the Mind for Teens

‘Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.’ –Voltaire

 

I know what I’m about to say in this post doesn’t come as any surprise to anyone who has ever even doubted religion–any religion–and any and all religious claims, but I just felt the need to comment on this particular rehashing of an old religious chestnut, because it gives religion’s game away, and, though recycled and passed off as something new, is still toxic to society–the idea behind it, anyway, which is that we should all just blindly, stupidly follow the leader, especially if we want to be rewarded after death.

I don’t know how recent the above Joyce Meyer quote is, but it’s a rehashing of the old–in this case, Christian–chestnut that anything even remotely resembling skepticism, especially when it comes to the claims of her particular brand of Christianity, is harmful, while keeping the faith–or, if we want to be accurate, being gullible–is a virtue. Atheists like myself are used to hearing variations of this hobby horse, ergo we know that the aim of those who make statements similar to the ones like the above Meyer quote is to gain power over people, and take their hard-earned money, by essentially demanding that they remain gullible.  (I’m well aware of the fact that Joyce Meyer and everything she spews is merely a drop in the ‘galling Christian hobby horse’ bucket, but, I felt I had to comment on the quote which started off this post.)

Meyer, like other evangelists, makes an obscene amount of money from selling her brand of snake oil (I know, I’m stating the painfully obvious here).  Much like marketers and advertisers, she needs to create brand loyalty, and, to do that, she needs to do what marketers and advertisers do–that is, as the saying goes, catch them young and hit them hard, and hit them often; and, much like her fellow evangelists, she needs to keep people gullible, so the money will keep flowing her way. Hey, she needs to maintain that private jet somehow–otherwise, she’ll have to subject herself to the ‘discomfort’ of flying commercially. (I flew commercially to New York City back in May, but seeing as I don’t make the kind of money Joyce Meyer and her ilk make–I actually hover around the poverty line–I guess I should consider myself lucky I was able to get on any airplane at all. But I digress.)  I am well aware that many adolescents, including those from fundamentalist religious families, do tend to question the faith they were raised in; Meyer is apparently well aware of that, too, ergo she makes statements like the one above, and writes tomes like the one mentioned above, in an attempt to nip any critical thinking on the part of these kids, and anyone else, in the bud.  You know, to keep business booming.

But statements like the above Joyce Meyer quote are also disturbing, and even dangerous: People who buy into that kind of thinking can do illogical, and even quite heinous, things, based on nothing more than a belief in something without demanding proof that it’s true. (And you religious zealots out there who may one day read this: Don’t feed me that line that, as an atheist, I don’t have anything to base my idea of ‘heinous’ on–I’ve heard it before, and other variations thereof, and it’s a load of crap. Real morality isn’t based on a system of reward and punishment.) The above quote by Voltaire, I believe, was quite prescient when it comes to the lines spouted by the likes of Meyer–think of every religious sect you have heard of who encourages parents to deny their children much-needed medical care, who encourages people, including children, to bomb themselves and innocent people sky-high, who assumes a ‘blame the victim’ mentality whenever anyone in their ranks experiences any kind of abuse or mistreatment, even if they don’t dare speak of it…the list goes on.  Another example of how, as the late Christopher Hitchens pointed out in his book, god is Not Great, religion poisons everything. And–I’m about to mount an atheist/antitheist hobby horse here–there’s the question of how anyone knows Meyer and her fellow Christian evangelists are serving the right god, and the right brand of Christian god at that.

I leave you with a quote from Marcus Aurelius: ‘Live a good life. If there is a god and he is just, then you will be rewarded. If there is a god and he is not just then you should neither want to, nor should you, worship him. If there is no god then you will have lived a good life and will be remembered by those who love you.’