October 9, 2017

Do Atheists Have a Version of Clearing the Planet Like Scientologists?

Church of Scientology Big Blue Los AngelesI hope this post is not misread as either a defense of Scientology or a critique of atheists. I'm not aiming for either of these things. After my recent post about whether we might ever see the sort of criticism we have seen of Scientology aimed at the Catholic Church, I've caught up on Season 2 of Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. While doing so, I found myself thinking about what Scientology refers to as "clearing the planet." As silly as some of it sounds, I think that many atheists should be able to relate to such a desire.

If I understand it correctly, "clearing the planet" means something along the lines of eradicating war, crime, and other social ills, as well as replacing many of our destructive tendencies with more rational ones (at least, those Scientologists might consider more rational). I think many atheists have our own version of this. Most of us would like to rid the world of god-belief (although we often disagree about how this should happen) and replace it reason and critical thinking. It is quite common to hear atheists talking about ridding the world of delusion and helping others embrace reality. Maybe we have our own secular version of "clearing the planet."

Of course, I think many atheists recognize that we are up against far more than god belief. Even if all the major world religions disappeared tomorrow, we'd still be left with superstition, magical thinking, confirmation bias, tribalism, and all sorts of other human flaws. Ending god belief or organized religion isn't nearly enough. Even if we could somehow cure ourselves of religious thinking (which is something that plenty of atheists still do), we'd still have plenty of other cognitive biases to address. It is hard to imagine that this sort of planet clearing is even possible.

I'd like to think that the sort of goals most atheists have are more realistic than what Scientologists say they want to accomplish. We probably aren't really going to "clear the planet" of anything (except its fossil fuels). We aren't going to successfully rid the world of religious belief anytime soon, but we can do our part to promote reason, critical thinking, freethought, secular public education, and the like. In these ways, we can continue to make progress. We don't need to dress up in pseudo-naval uniforms to do it either!