I Am Not Looking for a Substitute Dogma


Staks (Dangerous Talk) had a great post recently about how some in the atheist community seem to want to replace religious dogma with some sort of secular alternative.

But lately there has been a growing orthodoxy within our community. People who believe that there is only one reasonable opinion to any given issue and if you deviate from that opinion in only a minor detail, then you are a blasphemous heretic. Of course they would never use those words. But their dogmatic view of reason is little different than the dogmatism of religious believers in my opinion.

I have noticed this too, and I consider it a problem. The moment we refuse to acknowledge that we might be wrong about any given issue, we surrender our claim to reason.

In part, I see this pull toward orthodoxy as an inevitable consequence of the rapid growth of the online atheist community. The more of us there are, the more natural the inclination to form factions seems to be. Once we have established that we are atheists, we seem to want to figure out what kind of atheists others are. But this is by no means an excuse for pushing orthodoxy.

Inevitable or not, I also see this as a disturbing form of hypocrisy. We are fond of reminding theists that they have a right to their own opinions but not their own facts. The same holds true for us. The authoritarian manner in which a few prominent atheists conduct themselves is antithetical to freethought. We do not need personality cults; we need reason. We need to empower individuals to think for themselves.

I think Staks is correct to praise most atheists for our willingness to admit that we might be wrong and that our positions should be expected to change as a result of evidence. I agree that most of us seem to grasp the importance of this. It will be up to us to make sure that those who do not are not going to end up having a louder voice in the community than the rest of us. Given that the louder and more irrational voices usually seem to be the ones we are most likely to hear, this presents us with a challenge. I hope we are up to it.