A religious believer recently expressed the view that “New Atheists” seek to eliminate religion. The way it was phrased made me think that the religious believer thought that atheists were planning some kind of Nazi style eugenics to hunt down and murder all religious believers. This of course is ridiculous and yet many religious believers think that this is what “New Atheism” is all about.
First off, I object to the phrase “New Atheism.” There is nothing new about being a vocal critic of religious bullshit. There is nothing new about standing up against the injustices committed by the religious in the name of their deity and with the use of their holy books as justification. “New Atheism” isn’t some kind of atheist fundamentalism either. It is just a label used by the media to demonize atheism. In the same sense, there is also no such thing as “militant atheism.” There are not gun wielding atheists ranting and raving about shooting religious believers. The most strident atheists just write blogs and books and criticize religious holy books in a completely non-violent manner.
That brings me to my next bone of contention. Second, none of the so-called “New Atheists” have advocated for the elimination of religion by force or violence. Any Christian who believes that is confusing atheism with… Christianity! Yeah, I went there. Christianity has actually hunted down, tortured, and murdered non-Christians and even other Christians for not believing the exact same thing they do. That happened. In contrast, “There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.” – Sam Harris
What atheists like me advocate is not eliminating religion through violence, but rather eliminating the influence of religion through education. As it turns out, religious believers tend to be somewhat ignorant of their own religions and of other world religions. Hell, many are just ignorant in general. Just last week, I had a Christian tell me that there is more evidence for a historical Jesus than there is for Abe Lincoln. I pointed out that we actually have a photo of Abe Lincoln, but the religious believer didn’t seem that impressed. I don’t know, I kind’a think a photograph of someone constitutes “more” evidence than the anonymous scribbling’s of people who wrote at least 30 years later and who largely contradict each other. Plus, I am sure Lincolns bones are still in the ground while Jesus’s bones have been magically whisked away to Heaven.
My point here is that many religious believers believe some pretty ridiculous stuff that has been shown to be… less than accurate. Many insist that prayer works and yet when prayer has been tested under scientifically controlled conditions prayer has not dramatically improved the situation. In some cases, it did improve the situation slightly and in other cases, it actually made things worse. Mostly, prayer didn’t do much of anything one way or the other. Still, every few years some religious group will try to test it again in order to try to prove what has already been shown to be false multiple times.
Education, as it seems, is more than just presenting facts. Apparently, we have to get religious believers into a state of mind where they can think critically about those facts and analyze them for themselves. No, I am not advocating torturing them and forcing them to get into that frame of mind. I am talking about just continuing to point out the ridiculousness of their beliefs until they finally realize it for themselves.
Then there are the naysayers who claim that religion will always exist or that religion isn’t going anywhere so why bother fighting against it. Well, that’s a pretty negative attitude. There is no doubt in my mind that there will always be people who believe ridiculous things on insufficient evidence. So what? There are still people who believe that Elvis is alive and well and working at a nearby Seven-Eleven. No matter how much evidence I present to someone that Astrology is bullshit, there will always be people who rely on their horoscopes to guide them through their lives.
I don’t expect religion to be eliminated, but I do hope that we can get to the point when people will laugh at the religious assertions religious believers make and actually demand evidence. Then we won’t have government officials using ancient holy books to justify modern legislation. Churches will be little shacks with neon signs offering confessions for $10 and prayers for $5. For $25, you might even get yourself a sermon. Religion will be the Astrology of the future.
Will this happen tomorrow? Probably not, but it will happen. The theological arc of history bends toward atheism and in the last few decades, that arc has bent quite a bit. The internet is changing everything and atheists are beginning to organize. The question isn’t if religion will become the Astrology of the future, but when will it become the Astrology of the future? I think that day may be sooner than people think and I will continue to work toward that day.
- A World Without Religion (skepticink.com)
- Christian Fear: ‘Atheism Becoming the National Religion of U.S.’ (patheos.com)
- Tim Keller on Suffering (skepticink.com)
- The Proper Thinking Christianity Deserves (skepticink.com)
- ‘How Can You Not Love Christmas’ (skepticink.com)