BRITISH HUMANIST ASSOCIATION MERGE WITHMUSLIM BROTHERHOOD AND EVANGELICAL ALLIANCE

I read an interesting article in"The New Scientist" this week about what motivates different types of atheists (although I am sure that believers could be placed into the suggested categories with very little adjustment to the qualifications). It was by Jonathan Lanman, a lecturer on anthropology at Keble College. He spent 2008 researching atheism in the US, UK, Denmark and online and found a "great diversity of atheisms, from a lack of belief in God to a lack of belief in all supernatural agents to a moral opposition to all religions." But he was mainly interested in two main groups, those he labels "non-theists" who have a lack of belief in the existence of supernatural agents, and those he labels "strong atheists" (I refer to them on this blog as "antitheists") who are actively opposed to religious beliefs and values.

The international nature of his research allowed him to come to an interesting conclusion regarding why some atheists are easy going and others are militant. Those atheists living in countries where religion has very little influence on policy, such as Denmark, are mainly non-theists. Those living in countries where parliamentarians often still refer to religious values, such as the US, were more likely to be militant in their atheism.

Lanman concludes that this is because those atheists living in religious cultures fear that their secular ideology, that is as important to them as the theology of evangelical believers, will be stopped from becoming the dominant ideology in their countries by religious groups having the most influence. In other words, as in religions, it is fanaticism, fear and lust for power that motivate anti-theists.

Therefore, the claims of many that antitheists are the same as religious fundamentalists seem accurate. The antitheist belief in the complete rightness of their cause and the complete wrongness of opposing ideologies is no different to the same certainty displayed by the ayatollahs, the pope, Tiber swimming Anglican bishops, the Plymouth Brethren and Rowan Williams. And I think we would all be wise to fear and discourage antitheism with exactly the same commitment we give to trying to stop the rise of fundamentalist Islam. History shows us that all fundamentalists will resort to violence to suppress opposition once they have the upper hand in a county. Militant atheism gave us Stalinism. Militant Islam gave us the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. I fear the main reasons why militant antitheists are not, at this time, exploding bombs in our suburbs is because they know they would get caught and punished and that they believe they have a real chance of becoming the big cheeses in their countries, influencewise. However, I also fear that, as in Islam, if atheist fanatics ever started to believe that they are never going to achieve their aims through propaganda we could see them resorting to guerilla tactics. And don't think for a moment that this is not also true of Christian fundamentalists. The existence of Christian survivor groups in the USA should be enough warning for us of what can, and so often does, happen when ideologists think they are losing the battle for the minds of the people.

Fundamentalists of all hues represent only a very small proportion of the population of our planet. Most people just want to live happy lives with as much freedom as is possible in democratic states. It would appear from Lanman's research that people find these aims in life most possible in nations, such as Denmark and Sweden, where the governments have a healthy, and real, disinterest in both religion and secular ideologies, and just get on with the impossible task of trying to please all of the people all of the time and so get reelected. Reasonable believers, reasonable atheists and all those in between, can help such governments avoid cultural, civil war or persuade religionist and antireligionist governments to drop their affiliations to certain ideological groups within their nations, by uniting together against fanaticism wherever it is found. Personally, I don't think mutual respect is going to work on its own in this situation. I think we all need a bit more humility. I suggest the adoption of a healthy agnosticism by everybody, whether non-believers or believers, should be encouraged. None of us can prove that a particular divine being exists or not. If anybody could then we wouldn't be hurling insults and, far too often, explosive devices at each other. Any believer who doesn't live with a real doubt about the existence of that which he or she venerates just hasn't thought about their faith at all. And any atheist who does not accept that there just might be something intelligent guiding the universe can't have read a science book since they were at school. It is uncertainty which will save the world, not sureness.

Comments

BRITISH HUMANIST ASSOCIATION MERGE WITHMUSLIM BROTHERHOOD AND EVANGELICAL ALLIANCE — 49 Comments

  1. And I think we would all be wise to fear and discourage antitheism with exactly the same commitment we give to trying to stop the rise of fundamentalist Islam.

    At the present time, here in the US, my concern for the effects on our society from the influence of militant religious fundamentalists is far greater than my concern about the influence of militant atheists or anti-theists, because I see before my eyes the pernicious results of the successes of the militant religious fundamentalists.

  2. And you twisted my words by adding atheists to the equation which shows that you are either being deliberately antagonistic or that you didn’t even bother reading the post before you rushed to show what a wonderfully tolerant, self-loathing liberal you are.

  3. In my humble opinion calling people militant and likening them to Nazis isn’t a great way to show humility or outreach. Nazism took so much from Catholicism, and Stalinism took so much from general cultism. And you’ll find if you read most “militant” atheists’ writings that few/none of them (not even Richard Dawkins and the like) say they are sure there is no supernatural realm, they just say that it’s very unlikely and at the moment impossible to prove either way, which is exactly why it is healthy to promote questioning and humility. My experience of atheism is that there is much more questioning than in militant theism.

    I heartily agree with your broader point, of course, that fundamentalism of any kind is a massive danger. And I’m with Grandmère Mimi in how fundamentalist Christians in government in the US are threatening everyone (from limiting access to women’s health care to the several who say they absolutely believe in the imminent End Times – no atheist would believe that) But please don’t go equating people just asking questions or entering into debates, with maniacs.

  4. I think what I was meaning is writing articles, blogs, appearing on TV and making fun of people’s beliefs is not militant (even if you don’t like the people doing it). Outspoken maybe, sometimes inept or making others feel uncomfortable, perhaps. But not militant, or even trying to be a call to militancy.
    Beating an old man to death with stones because prayers and Old Testament told you so is militant.

  5. you’ll find if you read most “militant” atheists’ writings that few/none of them (not even Richard Dawkins and the like) say they are sure there is no supernatural realm

    Come now, that’s about as conclusive as the homophobes who insist up&down that they don’t “hate” me . . . they’ll just use their power and influence to make damn sure I remain a second-class citizen, subject to their hetero-supremacist laws.

    I think MP is spot on here (maybe the Nazi analogy was not necessary). It’s the certainty, and the contempt & hatred which flows from it—or maybe the other way around? (that the contempt&hatred which is emblematic of the certainty)—which is the real issue.

    The key is “epistemological humility”. Or, as Einstein (Our Agnostic Hero) put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose, it’s queerer than we CAN suppose.”

    The proper attitude towards the universe is AWE: reverent awe. That does NOT mean suppressing a scientific search for (always provisional) truth, much less imposing a predetermined “Intelligent Design” narrative upon it.

    It DOES mean not treating your brother&sister’s belief about the WHY of it all, w/ predetermined contempt!

  6. …which shows that you are either being deliberately antagonistic or that you didn’t even bother reading the post….

    MadPriest, it shows neither. I was not being deliberately antagonistic, and I did read your post. You may, with validity, question my understanding of your post and opine that I gave a dumb response, but why question if I read the post and my motivation for my response?

    Then you go on to say:

    …before you rushed to show what a wonderfully tolerant, self-loathing liberal you are.

    …which, as I see it, falls into the ad hominem fallacious form of argument.

    Why not make your argument without calling into question the motive of my comment and leave out the name-calling?

  7. In my humble opinion calling people militant and likening them to Nazis isn’t a great way to show humility or outreach.

    I have no wish to reach out to or show humility to fundamentalists. Please read post before commenting.

  8. …which, as I see it, falls into the ad hominem fallacious form of argument.

    No. I am making the point that whenever I have a go at antitheists for having a go at me first, the liberal knee jerk response is to defend the antitheists. But the antitheists are not black and you have never used them as slave labour. They are as capable of standing up for themselves as a fully armed Southern Baptist. For goodness sake, you liberals are the nice guys of religious history. There is no reason to feel responsible for the anger of everybody in the world.

  9. I don’t get why Stephen Fry is in the photo. Is he an atheist/antitheist? I like him. Am I supposed to start mistrusting him? It’s all so confusing.

  10. I like him. Unlike Cathy, I do watch QI. But he is one of Dorkins’ smug brights and uses humour to belittle Christians. Now, I can do that because I am a Christian. When an antitheist does it I regard it as no different to an Englishman telling a joke that relies on the false assumption that all Irishmen are thick to get a laugh. Heck, I’m uncomfortable with all those blonde jokes you Americans find so funny. Christians are not inherently less clever than atheists. The antitheists in England have a deliberate policy of trying to equate stupidity with faith in order to make faith unattractive to people who think that they are clever but who are not quite clever enough to think very deeply for themselves. As this is a lie they should be treated with the same contempt as any other liar.

  11. Oh, and all the people in the photoshop are representative of a type. I’m not restricting my bile to just them as individuals.

  12. “The antitheists in England have a deliberate policy of trying to equate stupidity with faith…”

    Believe me, darlin’, it’s not limited to England by any stretch of the imagination.

    Remember, one of my coworkers calls all members of any religion – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, pagan, etc – “stupid”.

    BUT he also claims he talks to dead people. So he does believe in a “supernatural” realm.

  13. Oh I was thinking of is he more an atheist or the more active anti-theist type. That was my question.

    I suspect Fry might fall into the “anti-theist” category, because he is a smug git. 🙂

  14. Yes. He is always turning up to do a turn at the comedy shows the antitheists put on to make faith look stupid. These events are antitheist versions of tent crusades or Billy Graham rallies without the respect for people with differing views that Billy Graham always had.

  15. I like QI very much but one night he started in again on “religionists” and I decided it was one crack too many. I decided then that I wasn’t going to give him my viewer “vote” any longer.

  16. The ones that slay me are the ” I’m spiritual but not religious” types.

    What the SBNRs really mean is “I don’t like Christianity” but they don’t want to appear bigoted, so they use the word “religion” as a substitution for “Christianity”. I’ve run into a lot of this among New Ager types. Ugh.

  17. You have integrity, Cathy. I like that in a woman. Heck, you’re getting more and more English everyday and you already have a plummier accent than me 🙂

  18. Thanks, Mad One. I’m not so English I can do the special Anglican voice yet, so I think you’re still ahead on that one 🙂

  19. I find myself hoping that Stephen Fry attempts the Anglican voice and that God subsequently smites him with a plague of boils and possibly locusts.

  20. I don’t even know what QI is. I think (which is a dodgy position in itself) I shall continue to like Stephen Fry. Which should put “paid” to the occasional troll who likens us denizens of OCICBW…to sycophants, I hope. OCICBW…

  21. As I keep saying, I like Stephen Fry. Heck, I’m pretty good at still liking people who go out of their way to upset me. Look how long I’ve been friends with Grandmère Mimi!

  22. RE: MP @ 20:56

    Hey, there’s a Viking over here that definitely agrees with you on that, and there’s no admonition to “turn the other cheek” in HIS holy text. 🙂

  23. “History shows us that all fundamentalists will resort to violence to suppress opposition once they have the upper hand in a county.”

    Here’s hoping they don’t get the upper hand here in Leicestershire, then!

  24. I believe Mr. Fry has already been subject to a plague of boils and “locusts” but it was from that saucy little trick he picked up in the East End…

  25. I think it is unlikely we’ll see bombs from the current crop of atheists because most of them would be converts out of Christianity and usually a “nice” type of christianity at that. I think you’d need to see a few generations of atheists with no roots in christianity before you’d see the violence. At the moment they are just the snobby ramjets you see in all sorts of clubs and associations.

    OCICBW

  26. “snobby ramjets”?

    I like that! Actually my iPhone just coined a new word. (should read comment before pushing send).
    What I meant to say was “snobby wankers”!
    But I can see a connection. Wasn’t Roger Ramjet a wanker?

  27. MP, there is reason to fear the sort of U.S. Christian fundamentalists who consider it unfortunate that the majority currently opposes the death penalty for lesbians, gays, etc. These are people who resent the concept of democracy, who frequently affiliate with overtly racist groups, who would consider Jews, atheists, Episcopalians, and women not worthy of citizenship.

    There is a fringe violent militant Christian-white-straight-male supremacist movement out there, in the form of militias, “Patriots”, Stormfront-type neoNazi networks, anti-abortion networks of the type that provide safe houses, money, and other aid for men who succeed in murdering doctors, “Christian Identity” white-supremacy groups, etc.

    There is no such thing as an American proven-militant atheist group not organized around white supremacy.

    The only thing to fear from American atheists is boredom.(And how!)

    Vocal atheism is usually a reaction to over-reaching religion trampling on the rights of groups of people, or on the rights of the atheist involved. I don’t see American atheists actively proselytizing at the ground level UNLESS they are promoting a book, have been schtupped as a child by a priest, have been consigned to damnation as a believing child or teen and continue to hear the same hate from their former church in adulthood, or have had a congregation or denomination actively seek to deny them basic autonomy. The average American atheist just wants science classes to teach science, government to operate using utilitarian reasoning and not sectarian belief (for example, not fighting wars in order to bring about the Second Coming oops Rapture), wants to be considered a full citizen, and wants to be allowed to refrain from lying (compulsory religious observance).

    Don’t listen to the cries of “persecution” made by many American megachurch preachers and other professional Christianist pundits and some Catholic bishops. They want to avoid public questioning of their acts and also provide “cheap grace” to their flocks by telling the congregants/ listeners that the average Christian pew-sitter is “persecuted” and thus are sainted martyrs.

  28. Amen, and amen, and amen, Nancy P.

    But the antitheists are not black and you have never used them as slave labour. They are as capable of standing up for themselves as a fully armed Southern Baptist.

    MadPriest, that is a red herring, which, as I’m sure you know, is also a fallacious form of argument.

  29. It is always unwise to trust a fundamentalist. No matter what their fundamentals appear to be, their true belief is in hate, fear, and death, whether their own or others’. Fear is, in my opinion, far greater a problem than Pride, far more deadly a sin – it is the parent of all the destructive emotions and acts.

    Anti-theists of the Dawkins stripe are, at heart, self-loathing fundamentalists, fearful that God doesn’t love them as they’ve not gotten what others have and so God can’t must not! exist, and if you say He does, you’re a threat.

    This isn’t about atheists, as MP points out; I’ve only ever had one self-identifying “atheist” come to my blog and abuse and threaten me, and that person regularly tells me I should commit suicide and that it’s because I’m criminally insane that I believe in God. This same “atheist” claims membership to a political group dominated by Christian fundamentalists and thinks of a former right-wing president as “god.”

    Some how, I think that someone has a very small, illusory, angry god – but it isn’t me.

  30. OK, I know I’m late to this party, but I have a small nit to pick with:

    “‘non-theists’ who have a lack of belief in the existence of supernatural agents…

    In my mind, a strict definition of non-theistic can, indeed, include the idea of God as “the ground of all being” rather than as a personal divine being (i.e. the Magic Sky God). See, for instance, the writings of Paul Tillich.

    Non-theism and atheism are not the same thing…

  31. There is no god. I don’t believe in god or Jesus or Mohammad or Buddha like I don’t believe in the Easter Bunny; it’s not something I base my life on.
    I don’t feel the urge to torch churches or synagogues or mosques but I do smile when someone gets a communion wafer or a Koran and does something nasty to it; it’s the iconoclast in me.

  32. Someone posted at my blog and feels I’ve unfairly misrepresented them, so, I should clarify that my exact words were “This same “atheist” claims membership to a political group dominated by Christian fundamentalists”, which, let’s be honest, right-wingers are, whether Republican or Libertarian or just unthinking.

    I do stand corrected both on “it’s” – thank you; I corrected the post – and the fact that the word with which they describe their right-wing hero does not necessarily mean “God,” but someone to whom you are subservient and bound to.

    As to the rest, well, cyber abuse is still abuse! I’ve shared some of the more amusing posts from my blog – email notifications, you know – with others here, and still have many of them saved, and they concur that it is abuse, if not a sort of cyber-stalking. Perhaps a more established authority could clarify.