Atheists Against Atheism

Across this past decade, I have often asked of the air, “What the cock is it with atheism?”. Being nitrogen, oxygen and argon, the air is ill-equipped to answer. As are atheists. I have read their books which do not provide answers as to why I should be bothered actively opposing God. Their unsatisfying explanations include “because humanism”, “people are dying in wars made entirely from religion” and “FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER”.

I wanted to have a little look at how atheists are, in fact, themselves deluded if they believe God to be a force of such foundational importance, He needs enemies. It is my view that He is dead and that atheism is about as urgently needed as a force for cultural good as McCarthyism.

Atheists are attempting to dilute the potency of a force that is already just homeopathic strength.

Now. I do understand that secularism is a decent enough aim. While I don’t think the matter of separation of religion from our public institutions is as pressing as, say, the loss of our public institutions, I can see that it has some merit.

For mine, the greatest threat to what remains of our liberties is not religious moralising but the moralising effects of a global market. And I really can’t see how anyone can see that, say, Islamist soldiers or apparently religious politicians in liberal democracies are not formed and motivated much more by trade and economic conditions than they are by the idea of God.

But, you know, if you want to spend all your time scrubbing the last trace of religion out of everything, go for it. I guess. There are worse hobbies.

Nietzsche was already over atheism and into pony-play a century before you were born

Nietzsche was already over atheism and into pony-play a century before you were born

But I don’t know if there are hobbies more pitiful than the posturing of atheism itself.

Arguments for or against the existence of God are NOT compelling. They are embarrassing. I cringe when I think of Christopher Hitchens, whom I once found very funny, give himself over to the cheap entertainment of formal atheism. He said things that he would not have tolerated from an undergraduate to an audience who slaver for cruelty. An audience who would rather spend their time making easy, easy, easy fun at not-terribly-powerful people for kicks.

“Hahaha flying spaghetti monster” is such a crock. It might feel great to deride the faith of others but if it is done—as it is so often—as a form of intellectual sport, then its participants can only be seen as defeated.

Because, really, the haven’t read the playbook. They don’t seem to know that God is already dead.

It was more than three hundred years ago that God first became unwell. Your basic atheist might know Descartes as a proto-scientist whose methodical doubt was used to “prove” the existence of God. But, the thing is, Descartes had no choice but to come up with that conclusion. If he had published his Meditations—the stuff that accelerated us into an age of Reason—with the thought that God was already dead, then he would have himself been quickly found dead.

Like Locke and other important Enlightenment philosophers, Descartes had to hedge. He had to say, in delivering to the world a shocking new thing like Reason which took its cue from doubt rather than from faith, that God still existed. And so did Locke, the honourary founding father of America. Read Locke. He says that it is no longer supernatural laws that govern the world but natural laws.

This is a monumental shift.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, God began to die. The men who killed him were forced to animate his corpse for a while to ensure their own survival. But this new age, which then chugged into industry, had already started the process of taking those old supernatural laws out of the minds of everyday people.

By the time we get to the middle of the nineteenth century, great thinkers could already see that God had changed in the minds of the faithful. Even Karl Marx was impatient with atheists. In 1842, he wrote a letter suggesting that there should be less trifling with atheism “which reminds one of children, assuring everyone who is ready to listen to them that they are not afraid of the bogey man”.

So in mucking about with God, atheists were reviving an idea that had already died.

By the time Nietzsche arrived and told every fucker who would listen that Good and Evil were things with a history, it had become quite clear that morals were not universal but something with a genealogy. THERE IS NO SUPERNATURAL FORCE, said Nietzsche and he echoed, as great thinkers are wont to do, the spirit of his times. God was just dead, he said. You’d think the atheists would have got the message that their efforts in removing a God that no longer functioned as a reality principle were not needed.

By the time Freud called religion an effect of the unconscious mind needing to deal with the oceanic feeling of being alive, you’d think they might have learned that they had nothing to say.

But, no. Apparently. Despite the fact that there is hard evidence that religion functions as a sort middle-manager for political-economic interests and despite the fact that the greatest minds of the last three hundred years have all observed how God had already died as a thing that influences everyday people, these fucking idiot atheists are still banging on. Still telling the bogeyman that he doesn’t exist.

I am just going to say it again: religion is no longer an organising principle or force. It is simple a means to convey and conceal more powerful ideology.

Now, I will say that atheism has had some accidental value. When the Four Horsemen (Dennett, Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins) started their millennial roadshow, some people started considering the basic and crucial thought that there are ideas that influence our behaviour; that there are central organising principles on which our everyday transactions are predicated.

The bright ones went on to read backwards in time and then syntheise theories for themselves about how power works. The bright ones went on to see that Hitch was out to whore his erudition in the years before his death.

The dumb ones went on to say “haha flying spaghetti monster” and fund videos that, presumably, will go on to say “haha flying spaghetti monster”.

Atheism actually annoys me now so much more than faith. True faith, as much as I don’t have it. is now something that is a radical act. Honestly, I think someone trying to live their life in a truly Jesuit way, for example, is pretty good compared to the way most people live their lives.

I am personally not a foundationalist of any sort. I do not believe in God or gender or the primacy of language or the “human spirit”. I believe in struggling to find post-humanist ethics and to revive the good parts left of Reason and in shifting power to make a more pleasant world for the people doomed to live.  And central to this sort of necessarily messy thinking is that power, like hope, is everywhere  that certainty isn’t.

Power is wielded most effectively by true cynics. If you think those truly powerful conservatives who declare their their faith in God chiefly because they have faith in God, you are quite wrong. For powerful cynics, God is a convenience. And religion is a means of legitimising power.

That’s all it is for the genuinely powerful, though. If it were not religion, then it would be another handy organising principle. And in many cases, it is. Think about the current horror in Australia’s detention camps; here, religion is not used as a means to justify horror. Instead, we are told that Rational Policy, the mutant descendent of Cartesian thought, is a way to explain horror.

Reason, like religion, can function as a rationale for power. And in attacking religion or reason, all we are doing is attacking the rationale. Not the power itself.

I have written these thoughts down quickly and I am unsure if they will be of any use. But please, at least, understand that my shambolic account of atheism as impotent is based in some reading on the matter and perhaps before you think about committing yourself to donating to it or believing that AWFUL nonsense about secular humanism, you should maybe read and think as well.

Most of the great books on the subject are now freely available online. Because people wrote about the death of God so long ago, all of these books are now out of copyright.

And so, let’s abandon the old idea of atheism, too. It is a useless protest to a bogeyman well past his expiration date.

 

27 comments for “Atheists Against Atheism

  1. Mal
    February 21, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    You know if you simplify things there is no such thing as an athiest. An athiest says categorically there is no such thing as “God”. In reality the athiest can no more disprove the non-existence of God than the religious person can prove the existence. The end result is the best we can be is Agnostic to the whole concept of a supreme deity.

    Just a thought

    • February 21, 2014 at 9:20 pm

      Sure. But I am really interested in moving beyond using reason to argue for God when I think it is about time that we question reason.
      Also, I think it is entirely possible to not even entertain the thought of a foundational being. One of those rabid atheists would knock this argument down in five seconds. That is, we could equally say that there is no way to prove my head is not made of cheese. Therefore, we all beliee and don’t believe equally that my head is made of cheese.
      This is just sort of logical gymnastics.
      I would say that if you are interested in arguing for the existence of God (and I am absolutely not) then you should use faith. Because this is the point of belief. And actually quite radical.

      • Mal
        February 21, 2014 at 10:20 pm

        It is through faith the religious element would claim God exists but that is no higher level of proof than the athiest saying I have seen no evidence of God so therefore there is no such thing. To that existentialism has a lot to answer for. Nobody is omniscient hence my argument remains the best we can hope for is agnosticism

        • February 21, 2014 at 11:18 pm

          I understand. And it’s funny. But I am really uninterested in Sophistry; especially where the God no God thing is concerned.
          It really is about the moral thing, for me, and why people feel the need to fight the influence of God. Whether or not He exists is not the question for me.

  2. LollyWillowes
    February 21, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    Thanks for setting out your thoughts on this Helen. If I understand you correctly, my take is similar. As I see it, what atheism and religion have in common is certainty. What you describe here as cynicism is uncertainty, the embracing of doubt: accepting that there are things we do not know. Both theism and atheism can be fundamentalist. They Know. Agnosticism, in contrast, does not know. It embraces doubt (a useful position to start from if you want to find stuff out.) What I find scary (and blinding) is certainty.

    In one of her novels Ivy Compton-Burnett described a character as ‘a passionately religious woman, whose religion consisted in unbelief’. I think she nailed it.

    • February 21, 2014 at 9:26 pm

      Well, cynicism is a form of power. I think that by acknowledging that cynicism makes people powerful, we can perhaps borrow it as a tool to understand power.

    • February 21, 2014 at 9:27 pm

      But YES. Certainty terrifies me.

  3. KapnKaos
    February 22, 2014 at 1:18 am

    Nowhere is it written in stone that atheists are totalitarians who “know” there is no god, and agnostics are open-minded sensible peeps who embrace doubt. That’s nonsense. Most ppl who call themselves agnostics are just fence-sitters who don’t have a clue what’s going on. The real deal is that atheists just lack belief in god, and agnostics just concede we cannot know for certain that there is no god (it is pretty hard or even impossible to 100% disprove a lot of shit). So it’s totes kewl to be an agnostic atheist, in fact that’s basically the position that any decent understanding of science and philosophy puts u in.

    Having said all that tho Bog help us modern hip-atheism is so boring, & what a total facepalm.

    But I am more sick of the religious garbage that still goes on. Christopher Pyne was on the JJJ the other day saying he’s comfortable with religion in schools. Fuck that. Just fuck it. Enough already. As Helen notes, none of these pompous pricks like Pyne, or Howard, or Abbott believe any of this religious nonsense, it’s all about the power. Just like it is with most of the brazen God-mongering dissembling arseholes that litter the political landscape of the USA. So, sure, teach different cultures and history and by all means give a quick overview of the basis of different religions, and teach the kids very clearly that it’s all a load of shite that ends here. Religious beliefs are false. Schools must not teach, as true, things that are false. If falsehoods are being rammed down ppls throats, schools should be teaching people not to swallow. Religion should be finished. Done. Gone. Existing only as a historical and cultural curiosity. I’m sick of it being taken seriously.

    I think we should have a “Scientific Bible”. Something small, and pithy, and nice, that doesn’t get too bogged down in details, but lays a solid foundation. Something we can give to everyone, even the idiots, to help them make sense of the world. An evolving bible that changes slightly over time as we learn. We know enough that we could get a pretty good 1st draft down now. Stephen Fry can do the audiobook, and I know some nerdy geeks who can do a smartfone app for the kids. Someone start an indigogo or a pozible and do it, fuxache.

    • February 22, 2014 at 2:37 am

      The world is complex and will not be adequately described by a small book.
      Especially not one to which Stephen Fry contributes. Funny guy. Bright guy. Completely lacking in any account for the world that does not exceed “We should all be nice”. Basically, he’s a Christian stripped of God. There’s nothing wrong with being nice. But it won’t solve much.
      As far as science goes: I love penicillin. But like most people in the world, I have no real understanding of it. And anyone who says they do is a liar; unless they are a scientist. My position om science is, by necessity, faith based because, like most people in the world, I don’t even understand Newton. Let alone the centuries that come after him.
      So the rationalism of science might benefit me as an individual. But it is not an account, even if I understand everything in the scientific world. of anything but science.
      It doesn’t explain economics. Or the self (which is yet to be understood in any way by science). Or love or hate or horror. So we really need to stop saying “HEY SCIENCE” as an antidote to stupidity. Science is a great thing but it explains only natural laws and not human ones.

      • KapnKaos
        February 22, 2014 at 5:11 pm

        But one of the great selling points of religion is… they’ve got this book see. With all the answers u need in it. So a little scientific bible might fill that niche! With a few colour(!) pictures and lots of hyperlinks to wikipedia for more details – it’d shit on the bible/koran. As long as it didn’t lead people to believe complete utter garbage, it’d be a massive improvement.

        Sure science has trouble with economics and psychology and so on, but it’s not true that science can’t explain any human laws. It can explain some, and in future will explain more. It’s never going to explain the popularity of justin bieber tho is it. Weird.

        Ok well anyway i agree a stupid little book won’t solve much but i do think we’d be making progress if we eliminated religion once and for all. Make it impossible for ppl to use the excuse “because god”. Force ppl in power to come up with justifications that make at least some sense and have some basis in reality.

  4. jon
    February 22, 2014 at 7:01 am

    Maybe I’m missing something. Atheism just means “not believing in a god”. You don’t believe in a god? You’re an atheist.

    I’ve yet to see any evidence of a militant atheist movement of the kind to which you’re surely alluding. No one has ever been killed, no wars have ever been started, because two people who both didn’t believe in god disagreed about the nature of the god they don’t believe in. Dawkins has written a couple of books, which you’re either free to read or free to ignore or free to tear up and burn in the public square. Try doing that with a Koran in Saudi Arabia.

    You’re looking at this through the lens of Australia which is, despite the best efforts of Howard and co, still largely secular. Do some reading of some blogs by American atheists (that is, Americans who happen to not believe in a god), and you’ll see that in other parts of the world the situation is different. Nearly 50% of Americans believe humans were created less than 10,000 years ago. Maybe that’s just a harmless delusion you might say, but it leads people (some of whom have actual, real, power) to make decisions based on that delusion. How could global warming be real? God wouldn’t have made such a mistake when he created the world for us.

    Organised religion is deeply ingrained in US culture. Not to mention the middle east, where I think you’d have trouble finding anyone who would agree with you that god is dead – you’d be more likely to have your head chopped off for even daring to suggest it. This is not caused by the economy.

    Religion is evil because it makes otherwise rational people do irrational and illogical things. And it’s self-perpetuating, because they teach it to their children. In white middle-class Australia you might be ok with the idea of children learning a few bible stories at school, but the true ramifications of religion affect the whole planet at a much deeper level then you seem to realise.

    • February 22, 2014 at 11:14 am

      Please consider my thoughts. Don’t just react to them. And PLEASE don’t tell me to read blogs by atheists!
      There are many other ways to form a view of the world than through the eyes of someone that thinks God is a central enemy and that it is NOT property underscoring divisions in America.
      It is NOT religion that “makes” people do things en masee. It is, in fact, economic conditions that produce most of the bad things you invoke.
      As an exercise, try to think of a war in the last millennium that was NOT motivated by property or trade.
      And this false equivalence. Atheists aren’t responsible for killing people therefore they are okay? Spare me. Aren’t you atheist guys all about smashing logical fallacies? FFS, it is not either/or. Helen: would you like a middle ages version of religion with death OR am intellectually unsatisfying night out with Dawkins (Who, by the way, is a great scenting but a terrible philosopher).
      People do not die from religion. And that you are focusing on this and not the genuinely powerful things in the world is itself a kind of delusion.

      • Staninbrunswick
        February 22, 2014 at 8:49 pm

        ‘People do not die from religion.’ ?

        9/11, and 25,000 jihad attacks since then.

        • February 22, 2014 at 10:24 pm

          you really didn’t read did you?

          • Staninbrunswick
            February 23, 2014 at 1:11 am

            Well, I thought I read an opinion piece that was laced with statements I didn’t agree with. Was ‘People do not die from religion.’ meant as sarcasm? I understand that you’re trying to make a point about what’s important, and I see that you’re over the recent popularity of atheism, but you can’t make a statement like that without being pulled up over it. In fact, religion DOES kill. It also prevents our PM from allowing two women to marry. It also causes bombing of abortion clinics. It is the cause of almost daily attacks on innocent people and the cause of gang rape and honour killing, not to mention women’s secondary place in society. To me, they’re good reasons to promote atheism and to fight for separation of church and state. Or, we could be like Arizona.

    • KapnKaos
      February 22, 2014 at 5:48 pm

      The militant atheists are out there. They had a conference in australia a year ago or thereabouts, flying in from all over the world, it was cray. Must’ve been the greatest back-patting event the country has ever seen. ‘Do u believe in god?’ ‘Not a bit good sir/madam!’ ‘Good to hear it. Hold still while i pat u on the back… Well done you!’.

  5. Carlene
    February 22, 2014 at 7:12 am

    Your views are as usual most interesting & thought provoking.

    Atheists to me appear obsessed by God. If, as expressed elsewhere, they put some of this energy into focussing on the real evils of our world it would be more useful

    It has been my experience that those individuals who truly try to lead their lives based on their belief in God are equally distressed & disgusted by the ‘in the name of God’ posturing by the religiously, economically & politically powerful. They do not think this power is motivated or driven by belief in God. They particularly object to the moral high ground taken by such people which insults their belief more than anything else could.

    I find the demand to ‘prove God exists’ of some atheists every bit as stupid as the demand for an immediate alternative as a response to I don’t think this is working. Starting to wish I could give ‘God’ as an answer

  6. Stefan
    February 22, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    F*** yeah! Oh Helen, you keep on saying all the things I want to say to my facebook friends, but don’t because some of them are actually friends. The spectacle of Dawkins & Hitchens & all their slavish followers attacking fundamentalist ideas that were out of date in our society 200 years ago is akin to watching 30 minutes of a grown man kicking a puppy across a room, & actually contributes more than anything else to those beliefs reviving by making them feel persecuted for their righteousness.

    • February 23, 2014 at 11:20 pm

      I am afraid we are just going to furiously agree.
      Protesting the idea of God in the current era is a bit like protesting the influence of those newfangled postcard the kids are so mad on sending.

  7. Cathy
    February 22, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    Oh Helen, you’re so damned good. Nothing more to add. You said it all.

  8. koko
    February 22, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    The 3 biggest killers of the 20th Century were Hitler (invented his own religion (appears to be based on Norse mythology with a splash of the operas of Wagner); Stalin (hated religion especially the Jews) and Pol Pot , an atheist who hated anyone who could read/write. As a Pom who grew up in England in the 70s my sympathies were with the IRA because they were fighting for equality in eduction and jobs (but they were Catholic in a Protestant dominated society so it was called a “religious war”). As a (fairly) new Christian I’ve come to accept that for reasons of history, ethnicity and politics we don’t agree on what being a Christian means. But the fundamental faith is “love God, love your neighour” (neighbour being everyone else on the planet ((and others when we find the 12 legged purple/green people from space)). Cxn I prove God Is. No, but I have faith. Can an atheist prove there is no god? Nope, but they have faith. Can I respect an agnostic (ie. don’t know, don’t care). Yep. At least they’re honest. BTW. miss you in BigIssue.

  9. Liam
    February 23, 2014 at 12:55 am

    Thank you for a beautifully written piece, it describes me perfectly!
    I’m going to forward to my wife who shares all the same frustrations with my atheism as you.

    I guess I don’t take my position too seriously, I’m comfortable not believing in God.
    I’ve come to that position over more then 4 decades of life and I’m comfortable with how I’ve come to that position. I don’t feel my beliefs are faith based, I’d be totally fine being proved wrong about the existence of God, but I don’t have any ambivalence about my beliefs.

    I have to say I find almost all theistic and anti theistic writings to be quite boring.

    As for organised religion, I do regularly feel frustrated by it’s proscriptive and prescriptive methods and that their belief system is so often put forward as some sort of “truth”.

    I agree that a lot of actions taken in the name of religion are simply about power but I disagree with you when you say, “religion is no longer an organising principle or force”.
    There is one issue which I constantly struggle to reconcile using the cynical/power paradigm you describe and which to me highlights why I have no objections to those who commit to the rejection of religion.

    Why is the the Catholic Church so resolute in its refusal to allow it’s adherents to use contraceptives?

    This organising principle has led to countless millions of people dying all over the world from AIDS related illness.
    For many other reasons this policy has caused untold misery around the world.
    The social consequences are heart breaking.

    I can’t understand how this directive of the Catholic Church can be used advantageously from a power perspective.

    It would seem then to be purely ideological, or faith based, and therefore needs to be confronted at a faith based level.

    It appears that it will take a much larger effort than anything that the atheist movement could ever summon to change this institutional mindset and I assume that if it ever is changed (there have been some positive signs) it will only come from within (probably to protect it’s own power base).

    I applaud anyone, atheist, agnostic or theist, who can hasten the decline of an institution which promotes such destructive policies.

  10. February 23, 2014 at 11:04 am

    Well put. So much bizarre focus while meanwhile the great god Mammon continues to rape the world. Fuck.
    Focus your efforts somewhere helpful, people.

    I find it frustrating that lots of atheists generally skim the surface of the history of belief in a god. They take the most ridiculous examples of a religion – southern evangelical American Christians for example – and conveniently use them for the whole. They take the explainable laws of the universe as evidencei for the lack of existence of God when that explainability is the bedrock science is built on and was once considered to be evidence FOR the existence of God. They define the terms of the argument and then castigate God for not showing up within those terms and then dismiss those who do believe as not getting it. When faith and belief are in an entirely different pool altogether. Their snap judgment of thoughtful, intelligent people who happen to believe has the same tired feel of missing the point as those Christians of culturally-appropriated Christianism have displayed down through the ages. It’s a frustrating thing about us people, how much we want to condemn everyone else from out of our own small perceptions. I guess that snap judgmentalism comes from defensiveness from living in a cuntish culture. If the world wasn’t quite so artificially dog eat dog there might be larger turning circles for us all to be able to own our shit a little more and give others the benefit of the doubt.

    I’m sad to hear about your mate Charlotte. It’s a hard place to stay stuck around in. I wish it wasn’t so.

  11. Lola
    February 23, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    What you’ve described is a false dichotomy. It’s not ‘all about power/property’ and therefore ‘not about religion’. Most of the world’s troubles are about both, together. Religion sustains power, and vv. They both meet a need in the other. The powerful say ‘Believe this, it’ll meet your need to have faith in something’ and religion says right back to the powerful: ‘I’ve coded your power structures for you, if people believe in this stuff, you can control them’. It’s a win/win. Look at Islam for a generally destructive and backwards way of exerting power over people. Terrify people into believing (and specifically, without question), and they’ll support your medieval power structures, outrageous wealth distribution, and general commercial incompetence among the majority, who end up staying poor and not threatening the rich. Saudi Arabia is the best example of this symbiotic religion/power approach in action.

    • February 23, 2014 at 3:58 pm

      I just wanted to urge a view seeing religion less as a central force for power and more as something that can be (but not always now necessarily is) as a means for concealing power.
      The claim that religion is equal to capital is a bold one, IMO.
      And sometimes, religion is actually a radical force for resistance.

      • Lola
        February 23, 2014 at 6:51 pm

        Yep I think you’re exactly right that religion conceals power, and I would argue the more directive the religion, the closer its relationship to power. Islam in Iran is another good example. It is both the raison-d’etre of the Islamic Republic, and its religious head is the unquestionable authority on all matters temporal and profane. In a less state-sponsored way, the Taliban exploit religion for power quite successfully, merging Muhammad’s teachings with the creation of a new caliphate. Christianity comes in so many forms, from the highly directive to the more Anglican ‘it’s a personal thing’, but at its heart it has co-opted capitalsm and the concept of owned property pretty well. ‘It’s OK to be rich, but, if you feel like it, and you don’t have to, could you please give a little to poor people? Then God will love you more’. But still, compared to Islam, it’s a far more private affair, and consequently I don’t think as directly linked to power structures, apart from the occasional whacko-bumpo example (Abbot’s banning of RU485).
        Re the claim on capital and its relationship to religion, there’s an interesting hypothesis that Islam’s tenets are part of the cause of stunted economic growth in Islamic countries. The banning of interest prevents risk-taking by owners of money for example. Very specific inheritance laws restrict owners of capital from allocating it where the want after they die. Woman only get 50% of the male entitlement in a will, thus protecting a family business within the clan (the vast majority of family-owned companies do not grow to become big businesses). There’s a fair bit of literature on this. Waffle over!

        • February 23, 2014 at 11:12 pm

          There’s an argument that “development” itself is a flawed concept.

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