Fundamentalist Atheists

Addendum: There have been some lively comments in response to the post below, but there seem to be misapprehensions that 1) I am calling all Atheists fundamentalists, and that 2) I am defending Abrahamic faiths, or that this blog is about Abrahamic faiths.

This is not so.

First, I am talking specifically about intolerance – when it appears among Atheists. Extremists (who are often marked by intolerance) are found in every group, and Atheists are no exception.

If you are Atheist and tolerant of other people’s religious and spiritual beliefs, then this article is NOT about you.

If you feel it could be about you, well, then try to take home the message of the golden rule, ‘Do unto others as you would have done to you’.

Second, please read “About the Author” And “About Helleneste kai Grammateus” before posting.

Thank you. Now for the post…

The Major religious groups of the world.

Major Religious Groups of the World Image via Wikipedia

I read a new term today: “Fundamentalist Atheists” referenced in KCRW’s The New Atheists.

The label is meant for those who don’t believe in any deity (soft or hard) and view the influence of any religion or spirituality as a threat to reason and science and fight back. They believe that religion inherently fosters ignorance and war and fight aggressively against beliefs in anything spiritual. Theirs is called the New Atheism movement.

I would agree that one can be Atheist and be Fundamentalist about it. One doesn’t have to believe in spirituality in order to be so adamant about that belief (or non-belief if you prefer) to proselytize and show intolerance.

I didn’t have the term for it back then, but I had a friend once, a smart young Brit, who had been raised and educated among like-minded people (Atheists).  He had very intelligent arguments but lacked…a certain compassion and tolerance for those who believed otherwise.  He humilated other friends of mine because they believed in one or more gods and mocked them in a public forum.  He said he felt like Galileo fighting against the church.

I happened to be reading the works of Galileo at the time, and cited passages in which he likened the astronomical phenomenon to angels and other excerpts in which his religious belief was clear.

Deeply concerned, I wrote to him that not everyone who follows a religion or spirituality is fundamentalist, not all of them proselytize. I gave the examples of Buddhists and Unitarian Universalists (my parents).  It is easy to fall into the trap of over-generalizing.

Furthermore, religion and spirituality have great benefits for mental health and community.

He said that Unitarian Universalism is “among the least threatening” of religions. I told him that I was dismayed and disappointed (in a sad but kindly way) by his lack of tolerance. In the end, he said that it’s difficult growing up around many people who think the same way, but good to be challenged, and he was grateful for the opportunity to bridge the gap of understanding.

He is still atheist, and I’m still a theist, but I think we reached mutual understanding and tolerance. I think that’s the only way to approach closed-mindedness, of any variety.

Related Article: Vatican Celebrates Galileo

If you are a Theist, how do you respond to Atheists?

If you are an Atheist, how do you respond to Theists?

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19 comments on “Fundamentalist Atheists

  1. Sean MacDhai says:

    Erich von Däniken, the author of “Chariots of the Gods”, said that researching his work did not diminish his belief in god, but rather strengthened it. He said that he no longer sees god as a petty deity who concerns himself with the politics of one planet, but rather a being whose imagination *is* the entire universe!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chariots_of_the_Gods

    ..and my favorite quote, by one of the atheists’ greatest prophets, Albert Einstein: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

  2. morsec0de says:

    fun⋅da⋅men⋅tal⋅ism (noun) – strict adherence to any set of basic ideas or principles

    Atheism is a single idea or principle.

    So how exactly can one be a fundamentalist atheist?

    Did you, perhaps, mean passionate? Loud? Energetic? Bold?

    • In this context, I’m referring to Atheism when it’s coupled with other ideas like the theory of evolution (Darwin); genetics (Mendel) – both concerning evolution and explaining certain illnesses both physical and mental, and an individual’s development (interaction between genetics and the environment); environmental science; the contamination model of disease; the big bang theory; and other scientific principals and ideas adopted in the place of religion.

      But certainly, added to the rigid adherence to these ideas to the exclusion of others, I am also discussing excessive “loudness” “boldness” (as you say) but also intolerance for other ideas.

      • morsec0de says:

        We also rigidly hold to things like gravity and ’round-earth theory’…don’t forget those. After all, the science for those things is no better than it is for evolution and genetics, etc.

      • Morsecode-
        Good points! And yes, we do. But again, in this context, I’m discussing more than just rigidity of personal belief, but a lack of respect and tolerance towards others.

      • Kaye says:

        I think that morsec0de misunderstood the argument you made here, judging by his subsequent comment. Let me try to clarify this, as I want to live in my happy little world where trolls don’t exist.

        Fundamentalist Atheism has an ideology. As far as I can tell, it maintains:

        (1) The Divine does not exist because science has proven that its existence is unlikely. Anyone who believes in the Divine is thus engaging in a specific type of insanity.
        (2) Christianity is a very typical example of how every religion in the whole wide world operates.
        (3) Religion is the source of many of the world’s problems. This is often justified by the behavior of Christians and Muslims towards people who commit “heresy.”
        (4) Religious groups are being intellectually dishonest when they state that they accept respected scientific theories such as evolution, the Big Bang, and the anthropic principle. This is because they insert a divine presence somewhere that has no factual basis.
        (5) The world would be a better place with no religion.

        Western New Atheism’s arguments react primarily to the Abrahamic faiths, as most writers don’t have enough firsthand experience of other religions to say anything accurate about them. In fact, Western New Atheism seems more like a very radical Abrahamic religion than a true secular philosophy.

        Hellenic Polytheism doesn’t say anything one way or the other about science — it’s up to people to reason things out for themselves, and the Gods aren’t going to hold our hands. We’re not kindergarteners, after all. Our faith is also very compatible with humanism, and if an individual refuses to hear the call to arms on human rights issues, it’s due to their personal failings and is not the failure of the religion as a whole to make the person in question motivated. People are not sheep.

    • Sean MacDhai says:

      To mince semantics and pick apart the definition of words misses the point of her post =/ Words change and flow with society. The word fundamentalism used to only apply to Protestant Christians in the 1920s. Now however it can apply to more.

      You gave a single definition of the word, without source. If you pulled that definition from the wiktionary, then you chose the fourth definition (verbatim) because it best fits your retort. The etymology of the word speaks of reducing any belief to a rigid fundamental tenet, which actually *could* apply to Alexandra’s post. Let me explain…

      I think that it belittles atheism to say that it is a single idea or principle. Atheists argue against superstition and miracles and magic. They believe that humans should take responsibility for their actions, and not blame god. They believe that humans should solve their own problems, and not look to a deity to save them. Atheists have no proof that these things do not exist, other than the fact that a teapot doesn’t circle the sun. It is a philosophical debate that atheists attempt to make scientific. A fuller definition of fundamentalism is to reduce a set of beliefs to a single rigid tenet, which you are kinda doing by saying that all atheism can possibly be, is a lack of belief in deity.

      🙂

  3. Labrys says:

    Sadly, I know some of these atheists. I point out that militant believers in ANYthing….deities or the lack thereof open the door to abuses. I do see their point that the loudest, most violent members of any religion do seem to end up being the noticed ones. It is not believe or disbelief that create war, suffering, and intolerance—it is the idea that one’s own belief system must be impressed upon others.

    I, for one, do not find my own theism comfortable or helpful. I would be a happy atheist if my own mysticism did not persuade me that deities are real. But I don’t believe in forcing belief either way on others; I am big on every path being pursued in solitude. For to me, religion is what ceremonial magicians and theosophists used to call ‘white magic’: the relationship between a person and the God(s). What like minded folk share is their choice. Nobody has any business forcing it on those who do not share the interest or ask the questions.

    • My thoughts exactly.

      I’m very private when it comes to my personal gnosis of deities and well as my spiritual beliefs, but if someone is curious, or open-minded, I may go into it.

      This past weekend, we had my parents over for dinner and my mom commented on the Greek statues we have in our livingroom. She said that I “seem to have gone from eastern to Greek”. I answered her indirect question and said that I follow the ancient Greek gods now and my husband follows the Norse – not pushing our beliefs on her, but making a statement about myself and answering her question.

      She replied by saying that she believes in all the gods, but at this time, likes the Hindu gods best but feel that all gods are “All One” (as I mentioned in About the Author, she’s a Unitarian Universalist Minister).

      I replied saying, “Yes, I believe in all gods, but I feel closest to the Greek gods at this time, just as you feel closest to the Hindu gods.”

      This is the way my parents taught me to talk about religion. Non-confrontational, but exploratory and self-reflective. I wish everyone took a moderate course, for the reasons you pointed out. : )

    • Sean MacDhai says:

      One of the problems with atheists is that they lump all of the theists in with the extremists of the organized religions. It is a rigid, narrow minded view that does not accept even the slightest possibility that things may exist in the universe that we cannot explain with our current rudimentary understanding of science. Rather than go tease fundy Christians at creationist museums, why not do something positive for the community like volunteer teach, or work at a woman’s shelter.

      • “One of the problems with atheists is that they lump all of the theists in with the extremists of the organized religions”

        Careful there, Sean, you’re lumping atheists together too with that phrasing. ; ) Do you mean that you’ve noticed a tendency in some atheists to lump all theists with extremists of organized religions?

  4. 1minionsopinion says:

    Okay, but this goes both ways. There are atheists who seem overly cruel and belittle anyone who believes in a god and seem to thrive on the mockery more than the message atheism is trying to get across.

    Others deride the beliefs and what those beliefs do to the people who have them, what cruelty gets a free pass because a pastor did it, for example.

    Some atheists just want to make the point that religions exclude and torment others based on things they can’t control, like homosexuality.

    Some atheists focus on education issues, or political issues, or health issues.

    No matter what good point atheists might try to make, there will be rivals on the faith side disrespecting us, our right to have a voice at election time, and lack tolerance for our way of life and sometimes condemning it completely.

    Why? It doesn’t make any sense to judge us all based on an ideology rather than an act.

    It doesn’t make any sense for atheists to lay blame on every religious person for things their church has done, either. But each one of them maybe needs reminding of the past once in a while, in the vain hope that some of them will figure out how to rise above the sordid history and transform their faith into something that really will benefit society instead of drag it back into the dark ages.

    • Yes, it does go both ways, there are extremists in every group. I think we’re in agreement that it’s important to individualize people and not lump them together for good or ill. As you say, it’s important to be critical of acts, not ideology.

      On your comments like, “what cruelty gets a free pass because a pastor did it, for example.” and “Some atheists just want to make the point that religions exclude and torment others based on things they can’t control, like homosexuality.” Keep in mind that there are religions (and spiritualities) that don’t have a hierarchy, an organized structure, doctrine, or dogma.

  5. Mike Crahart says:

    The Fundametalist Atheists I’ve encoutered repeatedly make the same errors.

    They appeal to science and point to the lack of any scientific evidence for the existence of Gods.

    This is a genetic fallacy called the appeal to a false authority.

    Materialistic empirical science is not an appropriate authority on the ontological reality of spiritual beings.

    http://www.fallacyfiles.org/authorit.html

  6. Evritos says:

    I don’t even think it’s possible to force anyone to believe in one thing or another. Even in countries where there is a theocracy, you still have portions of the population who have differing beliefs. The reality is that belief or lack of belief is un-enforcable in an objective sense. I cannot make you believe in my gods, and you cannot make me believe in your theism or atheism. So, what we are talking about here is fundamentalist behavior. The tendency that some people have to try and impose their views on others. This kind of behavior simply goes against the natural state of things in my opinion which makes it a futile pursuit.

    Neither side can objectively prove or disprove their views, so its not about belief or no-belief. Its about mutual respect as human beings.

  7. deukal says:

    It seems fundamentalists in my opinion seem to always relate other beliefs and opinions to their own.

  8. Really there are two kinds of Atheists. There are the ones who, deep down inside, are really Pagans. And then there are the ones who, deep down inside, are really Christians.

    Fortunately it is easy to tell the difference: historically Atheists were primarily concerned with attacking Christianity. Anyone who fits that description is the type of Atheist who is really a Pagan.

    But so-called “New Atheists” take traditional Atheist arguments against Christianity and misapply those arguments against “all religions”. Ironically this demonstrates that these “New Atheists” are really just Christians. Or if you prefer, they can be thought of as the Christians evil twins. Basically these “New Atheists” are just reinforcing the Christian view that we all have only two choices: Christianity, or nothing.

    Apuleius

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