June 24, 2008

Being Pro-Atheist Does Not Entail Being Anti-Christian

I’ve made little secret here about my feelings toward Christianity and the rest of the world’s religions. Religious belief is inherently irrational, and while religion has resulted in considerable good, precious little of it has been unique to religion (i.e., much of the good with which religion has been credited can be and has been achieved through non-religious routes). Worse, the adverse consequences of religion have largely been unique to religion. Plenty of bad things happen would still happen without religion, but the fingerprints of religion are found on many of the most obscene atrocities humanity has committed. In this post, I’d like to ask whether it is possible to be a proponent of atheism without being an opponent of religion. I’d also like to address what may be even more important, the possibility of being pro-atheist without being anti-Christian.

In the sense that atheism refers to a lack of theistic belief, it may seem nonsensical to talk about promoting it. One can easily be a proponent of reason, science, philosophical materialism, education, humanism, and the like. But atheism? Can we promote atheism apart from criticizing theism? Unless we expand the definition of atheism to include one or more of these related notions, the answer seems to be no.

And yet, I have written here extensively about promoting atheism. I even have a “promoting atheism” label for categorizing these posts. The posts to which I apply this label tend to be those that have something positive to say about a broad atheistic worldview that extends beyond the definitional boundaries of atheism. In this sense, they are not really promoting atheism but promoting my particular atheistic worldview, a perspective based on atheism, skepticism, materialism, and other things. A great many atheists accept many of the tenets of this worldview – it is hardly unique – and yet, these other ingredients take us beyond atheism.

Frankly, I am not sure that it matters whether promoting a narrowly defined atheism is possible without criticizing religion. I’ve known few atheists who weren’t also materialists or skeptics. But I’m not sure it matters for an entirely different reason too. It seems to me that the relevant question is whether one can be pro-atheist without being anti-Christian, and to this, I say absolutely yes.

Being pro-atheist is about people. Specifically, it is about promoting courageous people who are not willing to go along with the popular delusion. Being pro-atheist is about standing up for the rights of a thoroughly despised minority. It is about civil rights and social justice.

I am not denying that some atheists are anti-Christian, anti-Muslim, etc. There are certainly anti-theistic atheists, some of whom consider themselves anti-theists rather than atheists. But there are a great many more atheists who simply want the religionists to leave them alone, to stop trying to legislate their particular version of morality, and to end the bigotry. I happily promote these atheists and strive to be one of them. I am most certainly opposed to Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and the like, but I have hope for the adherents of these faiths. They can triumph over delusion as countless others have.

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