« Religion Is Like Sex? | Main | Flurry of Freethinking »

January 25, 2006

Has the Great Statement of Atheism Been Written?

But -- and here's another way I do see Bunting's work over of Dawkins as challenging -- what about this claim of hers?

"Atheist humanism hasn't generated a compelling popular narrative and ethic of what it is to be human and our place in the cosmos; where religion has retreated, the gap has been filled with consumerism, football, Strictly Come Dancing and a mindless absorption in passing desires."

One answer: Oh, come off it, all you shrill and panicked meaning seekers! Atheism cannot provide, and has no interest in providing, a new tale of good and evil to replace your fading testaments, gospels, holy books or other bedtime stories.

But we might also take her question more seriously. Has the great philosophical statement of atheism -- not as an alternative religion but as a analysis of life beyond religion -- been written?

Many have expressed what is wrong with religion. (See, for example, Russell or Sam Harris or George Carlin.) Has anyone proclaimed, with the requisite wisdom and gravity, what is right -- positive -- about life beyond religion?

Mill? Sartre? Postmodernism? Derrida? TK?

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at January 25, 2006 6:48 PM


Critiques of religious belief and clarifications of atheism are fine (and important)as far as they go. But religion is based on emotions and the need for meaning, and until those can be addressed in a way that speaks to ordinary people, nonbelief will fail to convince. Neither rational analysis nor philosophy have any value here.

Posted by: Catana at January 25, 2006 7:38 PM

Most people want some 'purpose shaped' concept in their lives to provide meaning. Religions provides the one-true-plan-of-god, which is more or less a toxic idea, but very transcendent. This is provided via the clergy to the masses.

Where else might a 'purpose shaped' concept come from? Perhaps you look for non-religions-clergy to provide you with the plan: philsophers, politicians, professors, authors, etc.

What about forming such a concept yourself? That is what it seems that most non-religious people do. They fill their need of purpose and meaning themselves (collaborating with close friends and family).

So you get countless individuals choosing their own purpose and meaning and don't get large groups saying "We believe in Dawkins, he shows us purpose and meaning" (or Russel, etc.) Exception to the rule: George Carlin prays to Joe Pesci, http://www.valleyskeptic.com/george.htm

The old game was : Your purpose is suffer, and through suffering cleave closer to the church.

The new game is : Your purpose is to find your own meaning of life.

Perhaps in a another few centuries things will have stabilized and there will be standard atheist 'purpose shaped' concepts. But it will take much general discussion to arrive at such a thing, and it has been safe to have widespead discussion about it for only a short historical period, and technology is now changing expectations and purpose and meaning at the most rapid pace in history. We have only seen the first non-religious ideas. utopianism? democracy? communism? objectivism? libertarianism? consumerism? Most of these are very far from workable. Why? Because it is human nature not to understand human nature?

But what we do not have and do not want is to replace "god's plan for you" with anything that has the same shape. We do not have and do not want to replace "the bible" with any other authors's work.

About Bunting's quote, the next line is 'Not knowing how to answer the big questions of life, we shelve them - we certainly don't develop the awe towards and reverence for the natural world that Dawkins would want.'

That line makes so little sense to me that it is painful to read. A big answer is missing, so we are blind to the natural world? Who the hell are 'we' ? Religion claims with certainty to have big answers, and Bunting insults Dawkins whenever she thinks he makes big claims. The whole article is designed to be a hit piece on Dawkins, and was published before any of the readers would have had a chance to see the TV show she rips aparts. I have heard from people who have seen it that Dawkins may be "loud and shrill", but even so, Bunting unfairly uses one person on one show to dismiss atheism and tar and feather all atheists. To turn the tables on her: what if we judged all religious belief and all believers by what Pat Robertson says on his show? Dawkins may be shrill, but at least he is sane.

Posted by: ThereIsNoMagic at January 25, 2006 8:56 PM

For what it's worth, I found that "meaning" in the writings of people like Sagan and Gould and others who open up the wonders of the real world to "lay" folk. Sagan, in particular, was the one who most opened my eyes to the wonder to be had around me if only I dared pay attention.

Posted by: Gregory at January 25, 2006 10:02 PM

The problem is that atheism speaks only to the non existence of god. As an atheist I have values and visions of a better world. But I imagine that other atheist may disagree with me.

As you point out I am an atheist because I believe that the reality of the matter is that there is no god. Frankly if I'm going to go the fantasy route I think I could do better than Christianity.

Posted by: Boelf at January 25, 2006 10:33 PM

Well, there really isn't a 'great statement' about belief, either. These are continually being translated, glossed, revised. They come hedged in with commentary and various feuds -- some bloody -- about interpretation. Beliefs, you might notice, usually requre institutions to enforce them.

Posted by: McKenzie Wark at February 1, 2006 4:32 PM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)