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Are You In Your "Intellectual Infancy"?
AC Grayling article in the Guardian, on, among other things, "fundamentalist atheists.":

It is time to put to rest the mistakes and assumptions that lie behind a phrase used by some religious people when talking of those who are plain-spoken about their disbelief in any religious claims: the phrase "fundamentalist atheist". What would a non-fundamentalist atheist be? Would he be someone who believed only somewhat that there are no supernatural entities in the universe - perhaps that there is only part of a god (a divine foot, say, or buttock)? Or that gods exist only some of the time - say, Wednesdays and Saturdays? (That would not be so strange: for many unthinking quasi-theists, a god exists only on Sundays.) Or might it be that a non-fundamentalist atheist is one who does not mind that other people hold profoundly false and primitive beliefs about the universe, on the basis of which they have spent centuries mass-murdering other people who do not hold exactly the same false and primitive beliefs as themselves - and still do?

Christians, among other things, mean by "fundamentalist atheists" those who would deny people the comforts of faith (the old and lonely especially) and the companionship of a benign invisible protector in the dark night of the soul - and who (allegedly) fail to see the staggering beauty in art prompted by the inspirations of belief. Yet, in its bleeding-heart modern form, Christianity is a recent and highly modified version of what, for most of its history, has been an often violent and always oppressive ideology - think Crusades, torture, burnings at the stake, the enslavement of women to constantly repeated childbirth and undivorceable husbands, the warping of human sexuality, the use of fear (of hell's torments) as an instrument of control, and the horrific results of calumny against Judaism. Nowadays, by contrast, Christianity specialises in soft-focus mood music; its threats of hell, its demand for poverty and chastity, its doctrine that only the few will be saved and the many damned, have been shed, replaced by strummed guitars and saccharine smiles. It has reinvented itself so often, and with such breathtaking hypocrisy, in the interests of retaining its hold on the gullible, that a medieval monk who woke today, like Woody Allen's Sleeper, would not be able to recognise the faith that bears the same name as his own.

..."Intellectual infancy": the phrase reminds one that religions survive mainly because they brainwash the young. Three-quarters of Church of England schools are primary schools; all the faiths currently jostling for our tax money to run their "faith-based" schools know that if they do not proselytise intellectually defenceless three and four-year-olds, their grip will eventually loosen. Inculcating the various competing - competing, note - falsehoods of the major faiths into small children is a form of child abuse, and a scandal. Let us challenge religion to leave children alone until they are adults, whereupon they can be presented with the essentials of religion for mature consideration. For example: tell an averagely intelligent adult hitherto free of religious brainwashing that somewhere, invisibly, there is a being somewhat like us, with desires, interests, purposes, memories, and emotions of anger, love, vengefulness and jealousy, yet with the negation of such other of our failings as mortality, weakness, corporeality, visibility, limited knowledge and insight; and that this god magically impregnates a mortal woman, who then gives birth to a special being who performs various prodigious feats before departing for heaven. Take your pick of which version of this story to tell: let a King of Heaven impregnate - let's see - Danae or Io or Leda or the Virgin Mary (etc, etc) and let there be resulting heaven-destined progeny (Heracles, Castor and Pollux, Jesus, etc, etc) - or any of the other forms of exactly such tales in Babylonian, Egyptian and other mythologies - then ask which of them he wishes to believe. One can guarantee that such a person would say: none of them.

Here's a question, related to my next blog post: Why is Scientology, a religion dreamed up by a mediocre science fiction writer, any more or less ridiculous than all the rest of them?

Posted by aalkon at May 7, 2006 11:27 AM

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Well, because they lie, they bilk people out of their money, and they've set up their own society whose primary tenet is that unbelievers are inferior.

Hey, wait.

Posted by: Jim Treacher at May 7, 2006 12:40 PM

Regarding the "Fundamentalist Atheist" question. Quite possibly, this could refer to the "weak atheist" vs the "strong atheist" position. The weak atheist is one who simply doesn't believe in any god. The strong atheist is one who believes that gods do not exist. If the distinction is unclear, it can be better explained here.

Incidentally, I absolutely love that website for it explanation of logic fallacies.

Posted by: Patrick at May 7, 2006 3:27 PM

"Weak" - "strong", merely a matter of linguistic chicanery. If you do not believe in god(s), you don't. Period.

By the way, Hubbard's Hoards are no more ridiculous in that their beliefs cannot be backed up with evidence. They are far more ridiculous in that we know for certain that Hubbard and his followers developed his "visions" over time with an eye toward scraping money off people. We have the texts. This makes the likes of Cruise and Travolta laughable. They believe.

Posted by: Oligonicella at May 8, 2006 7:44 AM

Patrick --

Disregarding Oligonicella's iron-fisted dismissal of the distinction between weak and strong atheists for a moment, do you think there's any difference between a weak atheist and an agnostic?


Posted by: Lena at May 8, 2006 10:59 AM

Lena writes:

Disregarding Oligonicella's iron-fisted dismissal of the distinction between weak and strong atheists for a moment, do you think there's any difference between a weak atheist and an agnostic?

I don't need to disregard Oligonicella's statement "for a moment," since I'm disregarding it permanently. That website was written by an obviously well-educated atheist about atheism. He/she can claim whatever she wants for her/himself. But, like Tom Cruise on the subject of anti-depressants, he/she has no business claiming that for anyone else.

Regarding the distinction between weak atheists and agnostics, yes, I believe there is a subtle distinction, which I will try to explain.

Agnostics believe that the existence of God is unknown and unknowable. This statement says nothing about whether they actually believe in God. Only that they understand that it can't be proven. I understand agnostics to be those who think that the existence of God is a possibility, but don't set any store by it. "There may or there may not be a god. I don't know."

Weak atheists, by contrast, are characterized by an absence of belief in any gods. "I don't believe in God or any other gods."

Strong atheists are adamantly convinced that there is no god. I believe Amy would fall into this category, but that's for her to say. "There are no such things as gods. Never were and never will be."

Posted by: Patrick at May 8, 2006 4:54 PM

If agnosticism is defined as the position that God's existence cannot be determined, or as a personal state of indecision on the matter, then this is perfectly compatible with atheism. A person who is undecided must necessarily lack belief, and is therefore an atheist.

Technically agnosticism is concerned with knowledge, while atheism is concerned with belief. So, if you split your hairs right, it may be possible to be an agnostic without being an atheist. But for practical purposes, "agnostic" and "negative atheist" are synonymous. Few people claim to believe without knowing, or to know without believing.

All the best,

Posted by: GodlessRose at May 9, 2006 4:17 AM

What I reject is the idea that something "supernatural" can exist. If the natural universe encompasses 100% of everything that exists, then by definition there can be no such thing as something existing outside of nature. If there is an invisible man living in the sky who created the world, he is as much a part of the natural universe as I am. And while I might have a question or two for him about whether he knows the cure for cancer, I wouldn't worship him. Worship just doesn't have a place in my life. So in terms of whether God exists or not, I think a more important question is, "Does it matter?"

Posted by: Pirate Jo at May 9, 2006 8:57 AM

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