Does Atheism Need a Makeover?

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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?

"Um...we don't?"

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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Atheism is void of content

The trouble with formulating an atheistic response to the theists worldview is that by it's very nature atheism is an empty philosophical position. We do not have a fairy story.

We were heading in the right (secular) direction in this country until the advent of globalisation and ensuing influx of Muslims. Now it seems that the government in its well meaning attempt to be tolerant and inclusive has just stoked up the fires of religion in this country once more. Kenan Malik got this spot on (From Fatwa to Jihad).

We need something tangible and a practical alternative to promote. Most people don't understand or care about science any more so we can't blind them with that. It is also a tricky subject to sex up. Personally, I find science fascinating and my dad was always very positive so I think that made all the difference for me as a youngster.

It's all about choosing rational explanations over faith and science is the pre-eminent method of doing that. One look through the Hubble telescope tells us that the universe is far more majestic and mysterious than all of our holy books put together. Science FTW.

great piece

Fantastic stuff Mark.
If we take any position in life though, it will always be contrary to another. But I agree, it would be good to promote atheism through what it supports instead of what it opposes.

A vision to get behind?

How about P Z Myer's?

If we want a signifier for the human condition, imagine the culture we would live in now if, instead of a dead corpse on an instrument of torture, our signifier was a child staring in wonder at the stars. That's representative of the state of humanity, too; it's a symbol that touches us all as much as that of a representation of our final end, and we don't have to daub it with the cheap glow-in-the-dark paint of supernatural fol-de-rol for it to have deeper meaning. We atheists, contra Eagleton, have aspirations, too; aspirations for humanity in all the meanings of that word. But we also expect that those aspirations will be built on reality.

(From his critique of Terry Eagleton's book "Reason, Faith, and Revolution)

A vision

Oh, I like that very much...the child staring at the stars. Now there's a positive image.