The Idea of an Atheist Movement is Nonsense

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by Neil Godfrey

I have some disagreements with PZ Myers but I also have some ironclad agreements, such as his post back in mid-March:

I ought to be getting used to atheists embarrassing me

He concludes (with my own emphasis)

You want to defend the skeptical and atheist community? We’re going to have to face up the fact that the popularity and persistence of terrible people who wave the banner of atheism has already compromised us, and realize that when some of our ‘heroes’ go further and commit sexual harassment, that doesn’t mean that they’re exceptional, but are perhaps more representative than we like to admit. At the very least, we have to recognize that being a misogynistic scumbag does not disqualify you from claiming to be an “amazing” atheist.

Further, that so many atheists insist that no moral stance can be assigned to atheism means that the awful people can not be repudiated as atheists; we can do so as individuals, as human beings, and as humanists, but the lack of any principle but “there is no god” in atheism means there are no grounds for forswearing or dismissing these people within the atheist movement.

So what’s the point of the atheist movement? There is none. It’s killed itself.

Agreed. So when theists mock “angry atheists” I cannot deny that many atheists deserve that charge.

The idea of an atheist movement gives those atheists who do not welcome a tribalist or group mentality are going to be embarrassed by those who do.

Some will say, But hey, look at the encouragement the atheist movement has given to atheists suffering persecution in places like Bangladesh. My reply is that such people would find encouragements in any atheist author in the West or anywhere else. I did not become an atheist because of any “atheist movement” and I suspect the same is true for many others.

An “atheist movement” seems to me to invite a tribalist mentality with all the negatives and intolerant attitudes towards outsiders that that brings.


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9 thoughts on “The Idea of an Atheist Movement is Nonsense”

  1. When I look to associate with “like-minded” people it is much more likely to be golfers or wine-drinkers. The closest thing I can think of to hanging with those who don’t believe in a god is my hanging with those who don’t believe in Trump (as a qualified president) regardless of the varietal of wine we prefer. I do provide minimal financial support to the Freedom From Religion Foundation as does a Seventh-day Adventist friend of mine. We both agree that freedom of religion must mean freedom from religion in the public sector and that is a cause worth fighting for. From what I can see, those who come together under the “atheist” banner tend to do more fighting with each other than for each other. Count me out.

    1. Exactly my impressions, too. Yes, a Freedom from Religion movement is something I could support, too. The idea of a separation of Church and State can be supported by not only atheists and agnostics but many religious folk, too, as you point out.

      My observation is that atheist movement type folks focus on the illogicality of religious beliefs but that, I suspect, is little more than a flexing of “mind superiority” over outsiders. A serious interest in religious belief would seek to understand why people embrace beliefs that are not logically valid.

      To focus on the intellectual facet of the question strikes me as a demonstration of tribal superiority. It does more harm than good, overall, I suspect.

  2. Wherever two or three are gathered to promote an idea, there is a movement for that idea. We’re not going to get rid of tribalism, in ourselves any more than in anyone else. It comes with being human. But by recognizing it and accepting it, we can avoid certain mistakes that it leaves us prone to commit.

    I sometimes say when I’m debating believers that I’m less interested in promoting atheism than in promoting the kind of thinking that led me to atheism. Critiquing Christian apologetics or defenders of Jesus’ historicity just happens to be a convenient way to do exactly that.

  3. Hi Neil, I signed up for Twitter and evidently Twitter knows I have an interest in what you write. Have not checked in for a long time so I’m not following the discussion. That said, I’ll offer some of my views.

    I agree that ‘atheist movement’ means freedom from religion. But religion is just a language and languages change and evolve and move around. Science is a language of experiment and sensory verification, and religion is a language of experience and non sensory verification. IMO they are both valid. No contradiction. Both can be ‘experienced/experimented with’ and ‘believed’ in.

    IMO we are all individual players in a creative play, and my word for ‘god’ is ‘creative-spirit’. The essence of creation -plus free will- is what makes us ‘God’s children’.

    I think we human animals who have free will and a sense of creativity, are globally struggling with how to language the divine. We will never agree (and how boring and against the creative spirit that would be!) but the struggle to a new language for the divine is never in vain.

    So, yes, the Christian Bible is literally the ‘word of god’, but every book in all times and every utterance and etc etc produced by human-divine animals is also the ‘word of god’. The Creative Spirit is playing with – and WITH! – us. We get to choose which words we will actually listen to and which words/ideas we reject.

    Being an American, I find the issues around US President Trump vastly entertaining. If ‘entertainment’ is what gets us americans involved then so be it. IMO Donald Trump is a master con-man who is now, for the first time in his live, out played and his fall will be good for us all (that is we, not the billionaires class). Part of the ‘creative play’ going on all over our beloved planet. xxooK

    1. Hi Kat — glad you signed up for Twitter (though I don’t consciously use it myself: it just sits in the background and sends out notice of posts — both mine and Tim’s — from here).

      So you would be counted among the 9% who “believe in some higher power/spiritual force” as per the recent Pew findings? Key findings about Americans’ belief in God The question can draw us into some dark foggy voids, I think. Would it be terribly reductionist to suggest your idea of god is poetry or even “simply” metaphorical imaginings?

      But I am not an artist so your Muse does not confide in me.

      1. LOL, just read the Pew findings. I have no idea how I would answer if asked. Maybe “Please define God”, or “I do not ‘have faith in a deity’ – don’t need to since I know we are all pieces, connected pieces of the ultimate divine creative nature of the universe”. Not sure how Pew would note that down.

        As to other Americans, I know there is a huge rift. My personal close friends will think-feel-see-hear-smell-sense-taste-intuit in a similar way to me. But I do know that if one takes deeply religious concepts into another language, like simply visual language or musical language, those languages will speak directly to people who feel that they have no way to communicate with someone they disagree with culturally.

        I guess I have some sort of muse, but what I’m talking about is discovering (remembering?) by DIRECT EXPERIENCE that we are actually all each other because we are all playing with – and WITH – creativity and curiosity and love. Those are my trinity, creativity, curiosity and love. The entire created universe exhibits those qualities, look at black holes or how vines grow.

        So I ask myself “why is the universe?” and the answer I get is ‘to play’. I know I learn best when I am playing. I learn about myself and I learn about others and objects, paint, processes, and how to set a table properly so that any guest I have in my home feels at ease and can let loose. Not too loose tho. The saddest thing is to come across a person who has unlearned how to play. Often restrictive reductive and fundamentalist religion (the power brokers of the powerful religions – yes, politics) will intentionally oppress a person’s ability to play and thus their direct connection to the trinity. Kat

  4. Neil, Tim or yourself should do an article ripping apart the recent Pew research report on peoples believe in God. From the article I read, it was easy to see they got the results they wanted form the questions they ask. As to Katherine, she sounds to me more like a learned, thinking person who would not be in the 9 percent according to the Pew Poll.

  5. The idea of a “theist” movement is also nonsense. In order for a movement to be successful, there has to be some sort of common activity or moral framework that binds them together.

    Theists, just like atheists, the world over, have no other things in common other than belief/non-belief in god. It’s why groups were never formed around theism per se; it was always some religious context that united theists. It always took much more than “do you believe in god” to form a group that lasted the test of time.

    1. In my understanding ‘thies’ does not = religious. For example, Buddhism is a non-theistic religion. They have the idea of ‘skandas’ (hope I spelled that properly) or translated into english ‘aggregates’ or better yet simply ‘heaps’. I’m a painter and spent years painting heaps. The idea is if you take away one thing from the heap (like, heaven forbid, eyesight) then the Buddha Mind is still there. Keep taking away from the heap until there is absolutely nothing left. THAT is the essence of the Buddha Mind and it/we are still there. K

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