Atheism: Not a Church, Not an Ideology
I was recently engaged in a very tedious discussion with some feminist, Marxist troll who kept insisting that atheism is an ideology. He asserted this based off of the beliefs, writings, and lectures of recent so-called ‘New Atheists’, which include the late Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. This has begun to bother me so I am going to address it briefly. Atheism is not, can’t be, and never was an ideology unto itself. It is a stance on one particular issue; that being the existence of a god or gods.
First off, notwithstanding the New Atheists’ fervent and generally cogent defenses of empiricism, secularism, and critiques of faith, their ‘ideology’ as it were, is not so much centered around atheism as it is on the practice of everyday empiricism. Atheism is simply the logical extension of an ideology that encourages empirical methods as a means of ‘knowing’ and drawing conclusions about cosmology and ontology. Their expectation that people apply this to their religious beliefs is a ramification of their more general doctrine on empiricism’s application to everything knowable. So anyone who makes atheism the point is merely mistaking the general for the incidental.
Further, it is only due to the arbitrary name, New Atheists, that people have this misconception in the first place. None of the aforementioned men coined the term and several of them, as I recall, have rejected it. There is nothing ‘new’ about their atheism. Atheism, as a stance, has existed for some time. And during that time many people have been outspoken about it. Harris, Dawkins, and the like, are hardly pioneers in this regard. They are, however, particularly out-spoken and effective orators and writers on the subject and it is this that has warranted their celebrity. Atheism itself would scarcely be so radical were America not crippled by such a forceful religious grassroots population and so riddled by multifarious and deeply-rooted religious communities. These are the factors that have made atheism the ostensive core of what is really a call to a more heuristic approach to life’s mysteries.
Atheism is actually incapable of becoming the center of any ideology because it doesn’t extend beyond its sole assertion. It is unaccoutered by a moral philosophy, rituals, or hierarchy, and makes no attempt at explaining anything. It only asserts that there is no god or gods. The ‘why’ of the matter is left to the atheist to describe. An atheist can justify their atheism for many different reasons – there is nothing inherent to the title itself that implies any standard explanation. This is similar to many other titles we may use to describe our professions, personalities, or positions. Being an extrovert, engineer, or mother does not explain why one chose to become these things, it only outlimns what they are.
Religious critics of outspoken atheists often attempt to accuse them of being dogmatic and like the very religions their attacking. This is amusing for two reasons. Firstly, because it admits that religious dogmatism is socially obnoxious and toxic. In addition, it accuses atheists of being the very thing that religious critics are so offended they are not. It is both facile and facetious to translate passion and justified confidence into dogmatism – the difference here being that the supposed dogmatism found among atheists (which is really just the certainty of truth) is grounded in the substance and consistency of their claims, while true religious dogmatism is utterly without place, especially since before believers have proven anything they’ve already asserted their infallibility. In other words, atheists can substantiate their assertions while believers can’t. It is this that often unites atheists into a bloc the religious mistake for a kind of church.
I wager it is the above that has made atheism seem ideological in the eyes of the religious, because this one stance rejects and thus offends so many actual religious ideologies. Making it appear ‘equal’ to them, and thus assailable, is the best redress they have. Further, because atheism is not an ideology, but merely a stance, opposition must perforce turn it into one so it can be effectively combated. They can’t defeat atheism’s assertion on its own terms so they have to invent straw-men.
But more than this, it also denudes the ignorance that many believers live in, whether that ignorance is about physics or biology. Religion is very often a free pass to remain intellectually indolent. Why learn about genetics and evolution when you have your trusty Bible?
The most vociferous critics of the non-existent New Atheist movement expose only the great insecurity of religion and its adherents. Despite having always possessed great power and representation and support in just about any country, no matter how great or small, they portray themselves as besieged by a horde of godless bigots, sated by nothing but their blood when really, all that is requested is the capitulation that believers are talking out of their assholes. It is, however, a common practice of the mighty and the privileged to whine about unjust treatment when being asked to play by the rules.