Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Matter of Religion

Since I already have taken tentative steps into political blogging with virtually no repercussions (unless you count a lack of eye contact and a newfound tendency of my friends to break into a sprint upon sighting me), today I will address the topic of religion.

Wait! It's going to be okay, I promise you, because my inspiration for today's blog, as with most of my great blogs, comes from a story I heard on NPR ("Making Everything Sound Like A Recipe Since 1968").

According to NPR, there is a schism occurring in what may be the world's most controversial belief system: atheism.

As most of you know, I am religious. This surprises some people. As a semi-liberal semi-intellectual, I should either be agnostic, atheist, or my favorite, "spiritual but not religious," worshipping God by sitting in a dewy meadow observing the dawn. Nope. I'm religious. Organized religious. At least three hours of meetings on Sundays, with assorted miscellaneous meetings during the week. But this comes from a deep personal belief in my religion, and though I can't deny it would be much easier for me to say, "I'm going to worship by going to the beach with my family," it wouldn't be my truth, so I have to live what I believe.

I think Atheists, for the most part, are the same. But, as in so many religions, the extreme factions are taking the headlines. Last month's Blasphemy Day (I know, I didn't get you anything either!) celebrations were largely concerned with a major schism within the ranks of the atheist movement: should atheists be accepting of those who are religious, or should they actively insult, condemn, and belittle those who believe in God?

Since I spent Blasphemy Day listening to my 3-year-old say a blessing on each individual Cheeto, I think you know my position on that.

The "New Atheism" takes the approach that religion and religious people should be "treated with ridicule, hatred and contempt," according to biologist and New Atheist Christopher Hitchens. From NPR: "If I said to a Protestant or Quaker or Muslim, 'Hey, at least I respect your belief,' I would be telling a lie," Hitchens says.

This approach is bound to backfire, say some. But others believe this is the way to spread their beliefs the most effectively: "Edgy is what young people like," PZ Myers (biologist and anti-religious blogger) says. "They want to cut through the nonsense right away and want to get to the point. They want to hear the story fast, they want it to be exciting, and they want it to be fun. And I'm sorry, the old school of atheism is really, really boring."

Hey, whatever it takes to get the butts in the seats, right?

But some of the "old school" are very concerned about what this hostility to religion will do to their movement, a movement that was originally about the freedom to believe whatever your conscience dictates. From NPR:

Paul Kurtz founded the Center for Inquiry three decades ago to offer a positive alternative to religion. He has built alliances with religious groups over issues such as climate change and opposing creationism in the public schools. Kurtz says he was ousted in a "palace coup" last year — and he worries the new atheists will set the movement back.

"I consider them atheist fundamentalists," he says. "They're anti-religious, and they're mean-spirited, unfortunately. Now, they're very good atheists and very dedicated people who do not believe in God. But you have this aggressive and militant phase of atheism, and that does more damage than good."

He hopes this new approach will fizzle.

"Merely to critically attack religious beliefs is not sufficient. It leaves a vacuum. What are you for? We know what you're against, but what do you want to defend?"

So, if I may summarize the New Atheism:

Hostile to opposing viewpoints

Completely convinced its viewpoint is the only correct one

Believes that anyone who does not share its beliefs is mentally defective/delusional

Claims to be motivated by spreading the truth to the next generation

Nope, that doesn't sound like religious fundamentalism to me! Oh, wait...

One of the things I sincerely love about my country (United States) is that we ostensibly have the freedom to worship, or not, in the manner we choose. That right in this country has not always been defended, but with the help of many generations of growth and acceptance and the ACLU, I think most of us do all right. So I want to say, Welcome to the party, New Atheists! Because you're already here.

(I promise that everything I talked about today, including Blasphemy Day, is absolutely real. These are all real quotes from this article.)


Kristina P. said...

So, basically, they've formed their own non-religious religion?

Deb said...

That's what it sounds like to me.

The Domestic Flunky said...

Fascinating and very well done, Deb.