For a while I’ve had a growing conviction that atheism, in it’s modern day form (as espoused by militants proponents such as Dawkins) is in fact a religious movement, bar the belief in the divine and supernatural. I will one day collate the reasons why I believe this, but for now here’s an important one.
In reading Albert Einstein’s biography by Walter Isaacson, the chapter “Einsten’s God” provides some answers to the question he was plagued with again and again by adoring fans who wanted to know if he believed in God. Here, in this chapter, lie some quotes by Einstein that articulate some of what I’ve been sensing about the New Atheism (religious) movement:
The fanatical atheists are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who – in their grudge against traditional religion as the ‘opium of the masses’- cannot hear the music of the spheres.
You may call me agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth.
That last quote is telling. Einstein raises two important points about understanding atheism as a religious movement. Let me deal with the first one.
‘The crusading spirit of the professional atheist.’ In my experience, militant atheists are crusaders for their cause, which is potentially saying something more than they are evangelists. Evangelical atheists want to liberate us religious folk from our delusional ways. Crusading atheists do same but with a venom in their sting. They try to convert not by means of logic and appeal, but by derision and ridicule. In other words, persecution. Now, one wonders how effective they would be if they realized that mocking someone about a belief is THE most ineffective way of getting them to abandon that belief?
The distinguishing mark between your average atheist and one gripped by religious fervour is their intention to get into your head and convert you. I mean, if you don’t believe in a God, why spend so much time arguing against a God? This paradox possibly adds some light onto how some atheists mis-associate themselves i.e. they are probably more antitheists than atheists?
This brings me into Einstein’s second point, the reason why people becomes professional atheists, ‘whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth.’
Pain is a massive motivator for action. For example, children who suffer at the hand of abusive parents or perpetrators sometimes go on to become counselors and psychologists. Why? Well, to aid in the healing of such wounds in other people. It’s a legitimate motivation.
The same is true for some (if not most) atheists.
Indoctrination is their wound. They are offended that they were forced to believe in a God that they now purport to realize, doesn’t exist.
Now, being offended by indoctrination is a legitimate beef to have in some respects. People believe in some very strange things due to indoctrination. But, there’s a difference between Christian indoctrination and education, and I wonder how many atheists have perceived education (which allows for a dissociation from that knowledge) as indoctrination? But, I’ll also admit that there are legitimate cases of indoctrination that are just plain wrong. I’m in no way defending indoctrination here, but merely suggesting that a subjective assessment of what is or isn’t indoctrination is problematic.
And so, the combination of a (often unconscious) crusading spirit and liberated fervour leads to a potent mixture in today’s New Atheists.
Again, one is lead to believe, based on personal experience, that these atheists are not interested in freeing us from our delusional ways for the sake of our own health (as the psychologists I mentioned above do), but more for their own righteousness. That is, they are more interested in converting us in an act of proving themselves right, than caring for what we believe.
If atheists actually gave a damn about who we are, developed some of that ‘healing touch’ and showed us how the freedom they bring will make us better people AND improve our lives, they may be more effective crusaders.