September 24, 2015

Secular Faith and Dogma

Faith by Karl Bitters (1910) IAS WI000332
Faith by Karl Bitters (1910) IAS WI000332 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Most atheists speak out against religious faith and dogma. This should come as no surprise, as we have plenty of good reasons for doing so. And yet, it is important to realize that faith and dogma are not exclusive to religion or to religious believers. There are secular versions of faith and dogma that have the potential to be every bit as destructive as their religious counterparts.

When one thinks about secular faith and dogma, it is easy to recall some of the more divisive examples we have seen among atheists. These come to mind because many of us have been directly affected by them; however, they are far from the most troubling examples of secular faith and dogma.

Think of the damage done by certain political ideologies (e.g., fascism, communism). Consider the manner in which proponents of certain secular socio-political perspectives share many of the worst attributes of religious fundamentalists (e.g., a willingness to demonize those with whom they disagree, close-mindedness, lack of skepticism, a desire to suppress the expression of ideas they regard as dangerous). The problem isn't religious faith and dogma; the problem is faith and dogma.

When I wrote the tagline for Atheist Revolution back in 2005, I placed "breaking free from irrational belief" before "opposing Christian extremism" even though I think it was fair to say that my focus was on the second of these two things. Back then, "breaking free from irrational belief" primarily meant the irrational beliefs associated with religious faith. Over the years, I would gradually recognize that this is not enough. Religious faith and dogma need to be opposed but so do their secular forms. Today, "breaking free from irrational belief" is much broader than the irrational beliefs associated with religion.

When I write about subjects like outrage culture and political correctness, radical feminism, or the behavior social justice warriors, I am opposing secular forms of irrational belief. Even valuable ideas can be held for irrational reasons. When I write about freethought, critical thinking, skepticism, and reality-based education, I do so out of the conviction that these are important for everyone and not only for religious believers.

As you may have noticed, I have been paying more attention to secular faith and dogma lately. My reasons for doing this include my boredom with religious nonsense, my desire to avoid hypocrisy by making sure that I am willing to address the problems among secular as well as religious individuals, and my growing concern with some of what I see from the left (e.g., the willingness to suppress the free expression of ideas they find objectionable). I'm far from ready to abandon religious faith and dogma as subjects worth addressing, but I recognize that I spent years focusing almost exclusively on these subjects. I can no longer neglect their secular counterparts.

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