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It turns out that Religion wasn’t even the Final Boss

March 18, 2012

Over at Atheist Revolution, vjack had a post wondering whether or not the atheist movement has been chasing a red herring. Since the post isn’t really that long, you should definitely just click the link to read it all, but I’ll still repost a snippet:

Suppose that religion is not the central issue at all but little more than a tool, a tool used by the powerful to manipulate the masses

…To the degree that religion is a tool used in this way, one would have to wonder if the efforts of the atheist movement have been futile…or worse. An argument could be made that we have been doing little more than pursuing a red herring. Instead of addressing the central issues (e.g., massive social inequality, a sellout of the media to corporate masters, and really nothing short of the end of democracy), we’ve been focusing on a somewhat trivial distraction. And one could go one additional step and suggest that we’ve become the bogeyman needed by the powerful to make their false drama seem all the more real.

Maybe none of this is true and religion really is the central issue.

This actually reminds me of a post that JSA had at Lower Wisdom (a blog that appears to have vanished off the face of the earth?) about atheist naivete when it comes to “honesty.” Unfortunately, I didn’t quote too much from his article in mine, because I didn’t think that his blog would…stop existing. But I think I can still do something with the quote that I had taken at the time:

My theory is that people mistrust atheists because [they believe] atheists are too naive and simple-minded. The world is built on hypocrisy and deception, and you want leaders and colleagues who are expert at lying when necessary, and who tell the truth at just the right time.

If JSA is right about atheists’ simple-mindedness when it comes to understanding how the world works, then it actually would make sense that atheists are more likely to fall for a red herring — they would see honesty and forthrightness as the way the world should actually work and not realize that hypocrisy and deception is actually a currency that runs through most institutions — religion included, but certainly not to the exclusion of other institutions.

And so, atheists would see religion as the source of much of the injustice, dishonesty, etc., in the world, when really, it is just one form through which these things are perpetuated. It’s kinda like business: some people decry corporations as evil, but the corporate form is just one form of doing business and organizing capital: and if enough restrictions are placed on corporate activities, then that just means that partnerships, LLCs, and other pass-through forms will become more popular.

So, getting back to atheists…it’s like atheists believe in keystone theory, especially when it applies to religion. If you can just get rid of religion, then all other oppressions and marginalizations and Bad Stuffs in society will disappear.

There are a few problems with this. One, as vjack has written on his site, if religion is just a tool, then if you get rid of the tool without addressing the underlying issues, then people will just develop new tools. But secondly, you alienate people who might otherwise be allies.

Let’s put it in a different way:

Suppose that atheists joined together and made some coalition based around positive values and positive actions: e.g., a desire for social equality, democracy, and whatnot. (Let’s not debate whether this is even something that “atheists” should all agree on…let’s just say that, however it works out, that atheists are able to agree on this.)

The thing is, what they will find is that their opponents aren’t easily and neatly divisible into the standard categories. People who “oppose social equality” don’t equate to “religious people” or “theists.”

And it goes both ways. People who are for social equality can include religious people and theists.

…on the other hand, I don’t think it’ll quite be so easy to bridge the gap. After all, I think that a lot of atheists make a few assumptions getting from one area to another. After all, I imagine that a non-negligible percent believes that social inequality or whatever ills exist are so prevalent in our society precisely because people are religious, have “irrational beliefs,” or whatever. So, it’s not that these people are for social equality, but they think that a rationalistic society would be a panacea to all of our ills…If you see a supposedly rational society doing bad things, then that means they obviously aren’t as rational as they supposed.


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One Comment
  1. I like your post. As a theists who generally prefers atheist friends, because I tend to share a lot of values with secular humanists, it makes sense to me that atheists and theists should be working together to further social justice. Also, I agree that atheists sometimes get hung up critiquing religious orthodoxies and overlook hierarchical, group-think in their own political discourse. Of course religious people are just as susceptible to “it’s not me, it’s them” thinking.

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