Monday, October 26, 2009

Atheism ain't no faith.

I am reluctant to use the word atheist to describe my own unshakable disbelief, and that's not because I'm ashamed, afraid, or even embarrassed, but simply because it seems so self-evidently true to me that there is no god, and giving that conviction a special title somehow dignifies what it denies. After all, we don't have a special word for people who don't believe in ghosts or witches.

Jonathon Miller

There is a movement afoot in some atheist/humanist/whatever you want to call non believing circles that I find, well frankly, quite stupid.

There are more than a few of my fellow non-believers - fellows only because we don't believe in the supernatural, not because we belong to some international organization of atheists - who feel that as a bunch of people who don't subscribe to any religion of any sort we should still be afforded the same recognition as believers in every aspect of life.

Now, in one sense this is a worth while goal in the political arena. Non-believers should and could run for office, and not be discriminated against for the lack of belief in politics or business. Ensuring equally opportunity for everyone, regardless of religion or non-belief, is a core value of secularism.

However, the stupid raises its ugly head when atheists start to claim that our non-belief is the same as, equal too, or otherwise indistinguishable from religious belief, and therefore should have ALL the same exceptions made for us that are made for the believer.

Case in point: a recent episode of the Micheal Coren Show. For those who do not know, Coren is a writer, tv show host, Christian apologist and polemicist. His show, which covers political and religious matters runs from the mind numbingly dull to the truly interesting depending on his guests. Coren himself is a brilliant debater and few of his guests can match the force of his arguments, even when his argument is full of holes. (I've always wanted to test my rhetorical skills against his.) More often than not, I disagree with Coren. But on this particular subject, I was forced to agree.

One of the subjects of this particular program was religious exemptions for university students - basically students have who religious obligations or a festival or whatever can get an exemption from a professor to take an exam at another date and so on. On the panel was one of Canada's leading public non-believers Justin Trottier whose argument exemplified the kind of massive blunder I am talking about.

To be fair to Trottier, he has done a lot - maybe more than anyone in Canada - to raise the public profile of atheists and encourage us to stand up and be counted and not allow the religious to bully us into silence. But on this particular point, I think he was wronger than two left shoes.

He argued that a atheist student might want to attend say, a scientific conference, and that should be given the same exemption as attending a religious service. Coren, who believes in a privileged position of Christianity in society, said this was nonsense because a scientific conference is not at all the as a religious ceremony. Trottier tried to say that for the atheist it would be - but it ain't. It just ain't.

The problem, of course, is that as an atheist, I have no religious belief in anything. "Faith" in most contexts is a dirty word for me because it implies belief without evidence, which in turn results in irrational decision making which as the potential to cause serious harm. The claim that a scientific conference is equal in the eyes of an atheist to a religious service is barking mad. I, and most atheists I know, do not "believe" in science the way that a Christian believes in a god. I don't have faith in science, scientists, or regard their work as immutable and not to be questioned or challenged. Atheists have no holy books, no devotional requirements or sacraments. Nor do we need or want them!!

A Christian or a Jew or Muslim will have some day or another that they consider holy and according to their faith have to do certain things on said day. I probably consider just about all of those reasons to be irrational in the extreme. Doesn't matter. I don't respect the belief, but rather the right of people to believe. Some allowance in a secular society needs to be made for that.

But for science? For a conference? Yah, no. I have no devotional reason to attend a conference. A student could ask for flexibility and might well be deserving of it. But the fact is there is no such thing as a atheist equivalent of a religious service. And to invent one means one is creating a quasi-religion for the irreligious and implying that science ought to be worshiped - which is just daft.

I have argued elsewhere this is the problem with "atheist churches" - groups that ape a church but slap an atheist label on it. An atheist church is like the vegetarian who cannot admit what his canine teeth are for and so makes fake-meat like food stuffs to stand in for the real thing.

One of the true joys of atheism is that it frees you from the inane and archaic ceremonies of thousands of years ago that make no rational sense. Wine into blood may make for decent poetry, but as a physical fact is completely insane. Nothing drives me more crazy than claims by the religious that I have "faith" just like they do, when the fact is I don't. Not even a little.

We don't need, as Christopher Hitchens has pointed out more than once, to ape the structure of religion, or gather once a week to remind ourselves of the fundamental irrationality of religious faith. I understand the need for community, but it can be done without trying to claim for atheism equivalents for everything religion is. That is, in its way, as foolish as the believer who looks for atheist parallels to their religious belief and ends up using such thick-skulled canards as "atheists believe everything came from nothing" or "atheists worship Darwin." Because do to that would start to make an institution out of atheism and turn it into what those so many theists want it to be - a religion.

Atheism ain't no faith!


Anonymous said...

Well it does seem to require a church though:

Grant LaFleche said...

It does not require it at all. It is just what some people choose to do, and not something I would personally support.

Charlie Wilkins said...

Well said, Grant. A very interesting entry, and a fascinating viewpoint into the whole affair. Bravo.

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