The Atheist Revival
(Image proudly stolen from Boing Boing, no idea who they stole it from.)
Being the forth of July and all, I wanted to blog something appropriate about the occasion, so during my morning read, I went out in search of suitable editorial content in the hope of finding inspiration for something of my own. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but what I found (today being a Sunday and all) largely centered around efforts to link patriotism and religion. There were a few good pieces about the Declaration of Independence, the significance of the Roland Emmerich foray into patriotic disaster porn, and even something vague about Washington crossing the Delaware. Meanwhile, in their liberal caprice, CNN announced that one in four Americans could not accurately name the country we declared our independence from.
Nothing like waking up to ninety percent of the rest of the country re-declaring war on you for oppressing them. Many might opine that there is absolutely nothing left to say on this subject. After all, this has been going on for ages, now, with no fundamental consequence save the minting of a few slogans and a few cultural backwaters voluntarily making themselves a little more ignorant. I can’t even remember the last time I was subject to an inquisition or had someone throw a stone at me. You really can’t blame anyone for declaring the issue dead and withdrawing.
Except that this year, there is an introspective trend emerging that recommends re-examining how atheists should be proselytized. One or two even go so far as to suggest that perhaps the best way to accomplish this is not to proselytize them at all.
I, for one, must applaud the sentiment, not because the progressive religious element is doing a better job of avoiding being drown out by more conservative elements, but because in re-examining their approach, they’ve demonstrated how completely incapable of change religion really is.
So once again, I find that I can do absolutely nothing, declare victory yet again, and sit back and watch while theism continues to dismantle itself.
Nowhere is this more apparent than when theists bemoan the ineffectual proselytizing of the so-called “New Atheists”. In documenting a debate he’d had with Christopher Hitchens, a writer I greatly admire but whose opinion of the subject has never interested me, I found myself indulging a moment of schadenfreude as he described how much shorter his line was at the post-debate book signing than the mellifluous Hitchens. The sense of loss was palpable, not because he’d failed to match wits with a man who had groomed himself to play word-games with theists but because it never once occurred to him that the difference might as easily have been accounted for by the fact that he was a rabbi, and thus part of a religious minority, or that he didn’t share Hitchens’ name recognition. No, he’d lost because he hadn’t persuaded a significant share of those who had attended without the slightest interest in being persuaded.
Of course, if the theists had truly intended to win the war on atheism, they shouldn’t have invented the concept in the first place. But there’s no telling them this.
Nor is the source of theistic angst with the subject, much less recent obsession with atheism, difficult to pin down; the irreligious are the only segment of the population experiencing any growth, and its rate of growth eclipses even the evangelical mega-churches. But the notion that one can win this war by simply increasing the degree of pressure brought to bear against atheism is like suggesting that wars can be one merely by the will to engage them indefinitely.
Fallacy of definition is not a strategy.
One cannot force another person to perceive the divine, only to encourage them to lie about it if applied in sufficient quantity. In this regard, theism is not an asset, but a liability. If the divine exists to be perceived at all, then there is no specific requirement to its apprehension, any more than any other reality.
This is why, as an atheist, whenever I encounter someone in the process of doubting their faith, I encourage them to pray or meditate on the subject until they arrive at an answer. Stripped of the baggage theism contributes to these endeavors, I know precisely what the ultimate result will be.
And later on, I’ll blow some shit up, eat a hot dog, and declare victory. Again.