Libby Anne had a somewhat similar religious background to mine and has consequently acquired, like me, an enhanced ability to notice wherever cultish or tribal or fundamentalist types of behaviours and attitudes surface in other (supposedly religion-free) areas of society. Back in March this year and in the wake of the Craig Hicks’ murders of three Muslims she wrote You Can Count Me out of Atheist Tribalism. She writes:
There are a lot of differences between the Chapel Hill killings and the Charlie Hebdo killings, but both demonstrate what hatred and demonization of “the other” can lead to. I would think we should all be able to admit this and condemn it—right? Wrong. I’m absolutely flummoxed by Sam Harris’s insistence that crimes committed by atheists by definition have nothing to do with their beliefs.
I have bolded a section below because it so perfectly mirrors my own experience:
To put it simply, atheists who are quick to blame terrorism committed by Muslim individuals on Islam and just as quick to excuse atheism from any role in atrocities committed by atheists are using a glaring double standard.
Unfortunately, I have a lot of personal experience with these sorts of double standards. I grew up in an atmosphere where Christian atrocities were dismissed through ample use of the No True Scotsman fallacy. In fact, I believed that by definition, a Christian would not commit atrocities, and that if someone claiming to be Christian did so, they must not be truly Christian. It was a very handy way to excerpt my in-group from criticism while eagerly lobbing criticism at everyone outside of it.
I, for one, am not eager to repeat that.
And she concludes — with the same reason I have come to distance myself in recent years from some sort of fan-following of any New Atheist popularizer:
I didn’t leave one tribe, with its demonization of other groups and tribes, ample use of the No True Scotsman fallacy, and insistence on valuing in-group loyalty above all else, to join another tribe doing the exact same thing.
Ashley Miller’s turn
Yesterday, in the wake of Christopher Harper-Mercer’s killing spree, it was Ashley Miller‘s turn. Taking her cue from Chris Hitchins’ book title God Is Not Great; How Religion Poisons Everything Ashley has written Atheist Tribalism Poisons Everything.
Ashley Miller writes for the collective “we atheists”. I don’t feel part of that collective identity because the atheists she is addressing are those whose approach to religion and the religious I have not fully shared.
Her post concludes:
Atheism is a rejection of a belief, but it is not a philosophy or creed. The atheist community online builds up creeds and philosophies in light of that absence. It is reactionary. Many of us have come from environments that were hostile to our non-belief and so we respond with hostility to the kind of beliefs and people who were responsible for our unhappiness. We, like nerds have always done, take refuge in our intellectual superiority to salve wounds of rejection and, in doing so, think other people are less worthy than we are.
We have to let it go. We have to stop thinking we are better than other people just because we know something they don’t — that’s exactly why religious people act the way they do. We aren’t better than anybody and we never were.
I don’t understand why atheists feel any need to “form a community”. Since atheism is “not a philosophy or creed” I see no basis for a community — unless it is in some sense actively hostile towards non-atheists or non-atheism. In other words, unless it is “reactionary”.
One thing my experiences in past religious lives taught me was just how much easier it is to be wrong than to be right. I understand why many people hold firmly to their religious beliefs. I was once one of them and it would be sheer arrogance to forget that.
I am well into reading Pascal Boyer’s book, Religion Explained, a book I purchased about five or six years ago and regret not having started reading sooner. Atheists, or more specifically those identifying themselves as New Atheists who are in reality more anti-theists than simply atheists, who are vocal in their undisguised hostility towards all or selected religious believers, would do better to learn a little about religion and the human reasons for religious beliefs and behaviours. It is all too easy to ridicule the factual wrongness of religious beliefs and the illogical arguments and baseless assumptions — and to feel so smugly superior being a “Bright”. The reality is, though, that such ridicule arises from ignorance about the very nature of religion and what anthropologists, psychologists and others have learned about how it works and where it came from and the functions it serves. The Brights are ignorantly blabbing popular misconceptions. So much easier, it seems, to learn about evolution than it is to learn anything new about human nature.
And so we read about Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher remaining baffled as to why some people think they are ignorant bigots: Richard Dawkins & Bill Maher Still Baffled Why So Many Liberals Think They’re Bigots — Here’s Why.
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