Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Problem with Modern Atheism

How Irreligion is Slowly Turning into What it Detests

I assure you...we'll get back to this one a little later on.

Last month, Penn Jillette, world-famous skeptic/libertarian/magician/one-time video game character unveiled what he called the “Ten Commandments of Atheism” to demonstrate how “modern culture” has drifted away from the archaic, draconian Mosaic law.

The only problem is, half of his Commandments were pretty much taken directly from the Old Testament, and the other five are just variations replacing a trust in the Abrahamic god with trust in several abstract concepts, like “love” and “knowledge.” Apparently, as much as we’ve moved away from the superstitions of the post-Babylonian era, we really haven’t advanced that much as far as core scruples of humanity go.

Unbeknownst to themselves, modern atheists have some real problems working against them these days, the least of which is the fact that washed-up comedians that look like Batman villains are making asinine statements on behalf of their entire population.

As a non-practicing atheist, I can’t help but look at Jillette’s attempt to iron out a doctrine for secular humanism as indicative of pretty much EVERYTHING that is wrong with modern atheism. As annoying as evangelical Christians can be - and trust me, they can be pretty damned annoying - I think the hardcore non-theists of the modern era are every bit as aggravating and irritating as their hyper-religious counterparts, if not more so.

So, what exactly are the atheistic activists doing wrong, you may ask? In short, pretty much everything, but to be just a tad more specific, five major faux pas that, seemingly, nobody in their ranks has picked up upon yet.

Attention, all ye of little faith: for I give thee wisdom.

PROBLEM NUMBER ONE:
Atheism has pretty much become a religion

According to the dictionary thingy on my word processor software, “religion” is defined as “people’s beliefs and opinions concerning the existence, nature, and worship of a deity or deities” AND “an institutionalized or personal system of beliefs and practices relating to the divine.” The keyword there is “institutionalized,” because atheism, at the current, has gone from being a personal state of disbelief to being a systematized, cultural experience.

At one point in time, being an atheist simply meant that you didn’t believe in a divine being. As such, you didn’t have to buy a membership to an atheism club, or take up social causes pertaining to so-called “secular humanism,” or basically wear your non-religion on your sleeve like some sort of smarmy armband. Basically, you just didn’t believe or support any established religious causes, and that was it.

But today? Amigo, there’s an entire atheist culture out there you have to buy into if you want to be considered ‘one of the elite.’ This means hanging out with other atheists at events that peculiarly resemblechurch services, and canonizing certain figures prominent to the atheist cause, which is not at all like anything the Catholic Church does. And much like religious folk, they ALWAYS feel as if their system of belief is under attack, and they ALWAYS seem to be on the defensive when it comes to discussing their convictions in a public forum.

The odd, cruel irony is that for a lot of modern atheists, their lack of religion is just as important to their personal identity as actual religion is to the holier-than-thou folks. If you attend a skeptics meeting, don’t be surprised if you hear two attendees bickering about whether Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett is more right when it comes to interpreting Darwinian theory, the same way you might hear two fundamentalist Christians arguing over whose interpretation of the scripture is more accurate. The modern atheist response to the industrialization of religion has been the industrialization of irreligion - nowadays, you’ll encounter people that proudly display “Flying Spaghetti Monster” decals on their car as if the mass produced, industrial reduction of their entire beliefs system ISN’T any less pitiable than those guys that have Jesus Fish and Bible verses on the back of their vans.

Long story short, atheism, alike the religions it supposedly detests, has become a social institution, with preachers, sacred texts, official canons, denominational organizations and yes, its own cultural niches the EXACT same way Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and even Paganism has. Modern atheists may say they ain’t religious folks, but they sure as hell seem to act that way about the things they believe nowadays.

PROBLEM NUMBER TWO:
Despite being anti-religion, they still partake of rituals and traditions DERIVED AND SUPPORTED by religious institutions

Let’s say somebody told you they were in support of animal rights. You ask them if they’re vegetarian, and they say no. You ask them if they boycott animal furs, and you notice that they’re wearing leather boots. You ask them what their favorite hobby is, and they say “hunting, fishing, and taxidermy.” As a last ditch effort, you ask them if they’re in support of baby seal clubbing, and they tell you they’re planning a vacation to Alaska next winter, with shellacking sticks definitely going on the carry-on. Although this hypothetical individual tells you that he or she is against something, that same person is pretty much supporting the very industries that are propped up by that thing he or she supposedly detests. Thusly, this conjectural person’s entire belief system is inherently self-defeating.

Now, let’s flip the script. Are you in favor (meaning that you, as an individual, are likely to support or personally do) any of the following?

  • Get married
  •  Participate in the political process
  • Celebrate or attend a publicly funded parade
  • Attend, support or promote a private college

Well, if you said yes to any, you’re basically supporting a religious cause of some kind. Marriage, as a social construct, is propped up entirely by religious precepts, the same way just about ALL of our modern funerary customs are. Never mind all of the political rhetoric spouted by so many active campaigners, a ton of our democratic “traditions” were culled directly from church doctrine and religious decrees. Every damn holiday you can think of has some sort of religious background - even the really crappy ones, like Columbus Day. Traditionally, the whole idea of private colleges was to instill and promote certain dogmatic policies, when that pesky Constitution sort of makes such attempts at public colleges just mildly illegal. Even so, you’ll encounter scores of atheists that are married, deeply invested in politics, celebrators of holidays or alumni of religiously-founded colleges.

Now, empirical wisdom would say that if you are opposed to a certain ideology, odds are, you’d be opposed to the institutions promoted by that ideology as well. Now, I’m not saying that atheists SHOULD abstain from marriage, or remain politically unaffiliated, or refuse to celebrate Christmas, or not spend money on educational institutes founded by religious nutzoids (and there’s a LOT more of these out there than you would initially think), but if they really wanted to make a point - and not one of those horribly misguided ones they’re known for - it might actually help if they kind of preached what they practiced.

PROBLEM NUMBER THREE:
They’re using techniques and policies pulled straight out of religious playbooks

Academy Award winning Shakespearean thespian Charles Norris once said that he thought “YouTube” was a recruitment tool for atheism. If that’s really the case, then it means the atheist agenda is just now realizing what mainstream Christianity has thoroughly understood since the 1940s - media is one hell of a format for proselytizing.

If you heard Christian music, or watched a Christian movie, or a Christian TV show or even played a Christian video game, you probably recognized it, because the product kept telling you that it was Christian-oriented over and over. Well, atheist activists have decided that this format - the pop-propaganda model pioneered by Eisenstein, really - is pretty conducive for getting out their message, too. Take a look at this YouTube video here. . . 



. . .now, compare it to THIS video, recorded in the early, early ‘90s…



Notice any similarities? Not only are the formats similar, they’re pretty much the SAME damn thing. And that’s not the only media gimmick the atheist-activists are “borrowing” from the religious folk, either.

Youth-centric activity programs? Check.

School seminars? Check.

Really, really spooky and age-inappropriate reading material for the wee ones? CHECK.

Granted, the atheists probably didn’t INTENTIONALLY set out to rip-off Jack Chick or public access programming from 20 years ago, but if that ISN’T the case, it’s probably all the more damning in the long haul. After all, it’s one thing to copy the template pioneered by the people you detest…and it’s a whole other ball game when you do such a horrible job of aping them in the process.

PROBLEM NUMBER FOUR:
They haven’t realized that snootiness is every bit as annoying as self-righteousness

Atheists have a public image of being smarmy, self-absorbed pricks that you want to punch in the face for simply existing. A lot of times, it seems as if there’s so much smugness emanating from them that your first response is to ball up your fist and start serving some hand burgers. Case in point: try looking at this photo of Bill Maher for more than ten seconds without feeling the urge to discuss punch your computer:

Props to some guy named David Shankbone for the photo

When you look at most religions, the communication approach taken by their respective members is almost always open and cheery or closed and vindictive. Whether or not the ambassador is the world’s jolliest Hare Krishna or apparent Buffalo Bills fan Fred Phelps, they’re at least attempting to play up the significance of whatever they believe, which is a sharp contrast to how most atheist activists present themselves and their convictions. As condemnatory as a lecture from Kirk Cameron may be, I would much rather get told I was going to hell by an 80s sitcom star than sit through a wooden Christopher Hitchens lecture or any Amazing Atheist video. Why? Because elitism as a channel to salvation (even if that salvation is completely unfounded) is way more palatable than elitism simply for the sake of elitism. If a religious person preaches to you, it’s generally because they want to convert you to their side of the fence (or embezzle funds from you, whichever seems more appropriate at the time). Conversely, if an atheist lectures you, what’s the point, other than demonstrating just how much better they are than the faithful?

The currency may be different, but the payment plan is the exact same. The religious have “holiness” and corner the market on “faith” and “virtue”, while the atheistic claim “reason,” “logic” and “knowledge” as their own intellectual property. One side says you can’t be A unless your with them, and the other side says you can’t be B unless your on their side. Clearly, one side is completely annoying and egotistical…and what do you know, so is the other one, too!

PROBLEM NUMBER FIVE:
…THEY’RE HYPOCRITES. 

...told you we'd get back to it.

Atheist-activists accuse religious folk of doing all sorts of dumb, illogical, offensive and dangerous things all the time. They criticize the religious for promoting their convictions as part of their civil personas, and they chastise them for bringing their spiritual beliefs into political affairs. They yammer on and on about how religion stifles free expression, and leads to the repression of both knowledge and liberty, and how it forces individuals into herd mentalities. And then, there’s all of the death, mayhem and destruction that organized religion has caused.

All of these accusations, I agree, are completely and absolutely valid assertions. The only problem? You can say that atheism, as a cultural practice, has done “all of the above,” too.

If Mel Gibson and Tim Tebow are ass-hats for emphasizing their religion in regards to their public image, then how is it that Seth MacFarlane and Joe Rogan aren’t equivalent ass-hats for promoting their irreligion as central aspects of their public image? If Michelle Bachmann is a dingbat for bringing her admiration of the apolitical gospels into political discourse, then isn’t Ron Paul also a dingbat for bringing his admiration of the apolitical Ayn Rand novels into political discourse?

Never mind the fact that both Christianity and Islam played major roles in the expansion of literacy throughout Europe and the Mideast during the Middle Ages, and that religious institutions supported and even bankrolled numerous scientific and technological projects that expedited human knowledge across the globe throughout history. Nor should we note that just about EVERY revolutionary figure in the 20th century - from Gandhi to MLK to Malcolm X to Cesar Chavez - were all people firmly rooted in specific religious movements. Oh, and about that whole religion equating death and misery thing?

The Soviet Union, China, Germany and Cambodia - combined - killed damn near a quarter of a billion people last century. And all four of those regimes implemented national policies that made religion - all religion -verboten within their respective boundaries. So if you hear something rumbling in the background, it’s only a blackened pot saying something to a charred kettle right about now. 

Which is EXACTLY what John Lennon wanted, right?



So with all of that out of the way, what’s my final bit of advice for the godless in the 21st century? My advice, I suppose, would be to stop caring so damn much about what you don’t believe in. If the religious are a bunch of kooks and mongoloids for placing so much emphasis on what they believe, what does that make a person that places just as much emphasis on what they DON’T believe? Atheism is just a perspective, and that’s it. It’s not some cultural obligation, and it sure as hell isn’t the primary qualifier regarding one’s merits of a human being. I don’t believe in any god, nor do I think that any religion is promoting anything that even remotely resembles a true vision of reality. But at the same time, I genuinely do not give half a poop if someone does believe in a god or supports some religion, because I - gasp - don’t place a weighted emphasis on religion in regards to how I perceive the world and human beings in general.

You know, just like atheists used to.

2 comments:

  1. A group of like minded people with shared interests a religion does not make. The things you list in order to define atheism as a religion are all things that have nothing to do with the definition of religion. Taking donations, having parties, having organized groups, etc., aren't qualifiers for religions.

    As far as atheism having "preachers, sacred texts, official canons, denominational organizations," I don't think those words mean what you think they mean.

    "its own cultural niches the EXACT same way Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and even Paganism has." Even though you capitalized it, I'll assume you don't actually mean "exact." Christianity has thousands of denominations. Some Islamic denominations kill each other. I'm less versed on Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, but you didn't draw any actual parallels, you just asserted it, so I wont worry too much about that.

    There's plenty of points I didn't cover, but your article is riddled with unfounded and ridiculous assertions that would take hours to sift through properly.

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  2. The thing that you have to understand Jimbo X is that God doesn't exist through religion. Therefore, just because you don't follow a religion doesn't mean that you don't know God. Just like how religion restricts liberty and knowledge (the word itself means 'to bind and restrain'), atheism does the same because they refuse to understand concepts like spirituality, metaphysics, meditation, true psychology (study of the mind in relation to the soul) and the acceptance of a higher power NOT rooted in religion.

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