Does Atheism Need a Makeover?
One of the most frequent criticisms of secular humanists and atheists is that we define ourselves in the negative - by what we oppose. In some ways it's the reason for this site's existence - the BBC's main defence of their "No Nonbelievers on TFTD" policy is the claim that atheists/humanists will use the segment as a platform to mock or attack religion (and Richard Dawkins, Teapot bless him, didn't help matters with his rabidly anti-religious diatribes when given a trial run at the slot).
It's an argument that's difficult to dismiss. In a world where organised religion and its diluted derivatives pervade popular culture and popular morality, where promiscuous, coke-addicted rock stars finish concerts with "God bless!", where the major news organisations are largely controlled by (publicly) religious neocons, it's pretty fair to say that we are defined by our rejection of the beliefs that a sizeable proportion of the world take for granted. So how do we find a positive voice and identity?
Some would say we don't need to, because have no evangelical obligation to convert others to our point of view, and atheism is a naturally dominant ideology which doesn't need our help to spread. But religion is a powerful machine - if you subscribe to the Dawkins memetic view of religion, it has evolved to be the most efficient parasite in the infosphere, exploiting every possible vector of attack to seize control of minds and reproduce.
And the fact is, religion is a great sell - a devout Christian can stand up and say "We believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross to save us and rose from the dead to return to heaven, that God created us, watches over us and punishes or rewards our actions, that one day Jesus will return again and remake the world, and that we can have all our sins washed away by believing in Him".
What have we got?
Religion clearly isn't going to disappear anytime in the near future, and most vocal atheists agree that the pervasiveness of organised religion in the world is a force for harm. So do we need to find a new, positive identity for ourselves, a more marketable image, a vision to get behind? Or does any attempt to spread our viewpoint just ally us to the principles we oppose?
Mark Hewitt is a writer, techie, foodie and philosopher. You can read more of his work at http://www.silverknife.co.uk
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