Why I am not a Gnu Atheist.

I thought it was a Gnu!

It’s funny how being an atheist gets you cut out of the secret handshake club in the “sociology” of religion. Especially since I know damned good and well that most are just hypocrites who won’t admit in public (certainly not around anyone from Lilly, Pew, or Templeton!) that they no more believe in sky fairies than I do. A heated exchange with a Templeton hooker at a recent conference led me to thinking about which “camp” I’m in…and I quickly realized that I’m not in a camp. I’m a social scientist who studies religion and happens to not believe in gods, fairies, angels or  even a “divine force” or karma or any of that supernatural gibberish. But, just because I don’t believe doesn’t mean that I think my view will become the only game in town.

Further, unlike the “accommodationists” I believe that people who don’t believe in gods need to be confrontational against religious bigotry and hegemony. No, I don’t have to respect stupid fucking beliefs.Religious horseshit holds no inkling of truth, and provides limited and often perverse moral guidance.   It is important to advocate for removing religion from the public sphere in civil society.  Religious folk from all traditions believe in nonsense, and they are responsible for fucking up the planet. Greed and religion are responsible for all of the problems of human life, and they often mix together to really fuck things up. By confronting religion, it will recede. We can remove religion from its place in the public sphere—you should be ashamed to even suggest that we be forced to pray to your gods before graduation, or at the installation of political representatives. You should hide your personal religion under a bushel; and, maybe in your shame–maybe–you’ll see the unwisdom of your beliefs. And, most civil societies will eventually do this, and many have already. But none attain complete secularization.

But, unlike the Gnu Atheists I don’t believe in the secularization thesis, never have, never will. Religion is not going away, ever. Religion is declining in importance for individuals in the United States (finally following Europe and developed Asia), but this will not be a linear decrease into oblivion. I find it fascinating that people who are professional educators believe that we can simply teach religion out of existence. Yes, religion is wrong. Yes, all religious traditions are based on flimsy myth, recently rehashed in each generation to fit the current social circumstances. No person in their right mind would still believe this crap if they had an elementary understanding of accurate scholarship in religious studies—we don’t even need to go into the bullshit truth claims about miracles and creation myths. Yet, hardly anyone bothers. Study the Q project (with a critical eye to the pie-eyed believers in the group)? HA!!! I can hardly get students to understand the basic premise of Weber’s Protestant Ethic—and to maybe write in complete sentences! What on earth would make anyone think that we could eliminate religion? Based on what science? Notably, we have had several “social experiments” attempting to eliminate religion–China, Cambodia, the Soviet Union…None worked, and the mechanisms to attempt to achieve pure secularism were taken from the book of religion! Let’s replicate the inquisition! Great idea, dumbfucks!

I guess when you study jellyfish and fruit flies and shit, the world seems pretty malleable. But, human societies are complicated…which is another good reason to pay attention to the scientific studies in religion rather than dream of an irreligious utopia.


5 Responses to “Why I am not a Gnu Atheist.”

  1. Hagan Says:

    I was hoping for a good rapture post, but this one works just as well.

  2. SteveO Says:

    I love Dawkins’ comment that we’re all atheists. We all share a disbelief in Odin, Zeus, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and other gods. Some of us, though, take it one god further than others.

    What strikes me as quite odd is that all religious give lip service to being kind to each other. But tell someone that you’re an atheist, and you’re met with hostility and belligerence, as if you are a threat to them. Which can only be true if that person secretly doesn’t really believe. Because if he were a true believer, he’d feel sorry and compassion for you, and would try to help you out, yeah? But that rarely happens. Which says quite a lot.

  3. Ted C. MacRae Says:

    Awesome post – awesomer comments!

  4. Aratina Cage Says:

    Believing in secularization theory, or, as you put it, that religion will not go away or decrease linearly, is not a requirement for being a Gnu Atheist. Gnu Atheists are just atheists who “[happen] to not believe in gods, fairies, angels or even a “divine force” or karma or any of that supernatural gibberish” and who “believe that people who don’t believe in gods need to be confrontational against religious bigotry and hegemony”. You are a Gnu Atheist as far as I can tell.

  5. schmielt Says:

    I absolutely agree with everything you said here, especially the 2nd paragraph. However, the argument of at least some accommodationists for “respecting” religious belief is not that it deserves respect or that you owe religious believers respect or serious consideration, but that (deserved) antagonism is actually counterproductive to our stated goals of decreasing belief in religion, due to the neuroscience and psychology showing that people’s beliefs are not changed when presented with counterevidence or criticism. IF that science is true, the thinking of (at least some) accommodationists is that we’d be more successful in our goals of decreasing the sway of religion in our society by being less antagonistic towards religious believers, so as to avoid triggering their psychological defense mechanisms when they perceive the central part of their identity and worldview being attacked.

    That being said, there’s also an argument for not appearing to give any ground at all to religious believers, even from a place of so-called “respect”, or for these more practical, tactical reasons (or any reason at all), so that everyone else (any moderates or “nice” atheists or other observers, whoever) will be acutely and constantly aware of the battle going on and what is at stake, and not be lax in their defense of secular governance. Bystanders need to stop thinking most religion is benign in our society, and forcing this issue to the forefront and constantly and mercilessly criticizing all religious belief helps accomplish this.

    I think the dispute between New Atheists and Accommodationists basically boils down to which of these tactics would be more effective in reducing the influence of religion in American society (both sides’ goal), either through the gradual reduction of the role and value of religion in religious people’s lives, or through the mobilization of bystanders against those believers and their agendas.

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