To continue a thought I had the other night about religion and atheism. I’ve been thinking about how atheism needs religion (I’ll clarify this later) but religion does not need atheism.
It’s really a pretty straightforward concept. Atheism is the lack of belief in a deity, nothing more. Atheism isn’t ‘something’. It isn’t a thing, it isn’t an ideology, a code or a way of life. It is purely the lack of belief in a deity. You could compare atheism to afairiesm, aleprechaunism, aunicornism or ateapotism. Yes, atheism is a little ridiculous, just like the other four I mentioned. It’s ridiculous in that we’ve given something, that really is nothing, a name and we have built something around it. People do not go around calling themselves aunicornists even though practically everybody you know is an aunicornist.
If religion did not exist, atheism would not exist. If you had a 100% secular world, you would find that there were about as many aunicornists as atheists in that world, which is to say none. Atheism only exists in response to the pressure exerted by religion in everyday life. You would find that if a certain group of Believers in Unicorns had to take control of a world power, China for example, there would be an explosion of Aunicornists and an immediate rise of Aunicornism over night in response to this.
Atheism needs religion to exist. While true, that statement is a little misleading. It makes it sounds like atheism is dependant on religion while it is really a reaction to religion. Atheism does not want to exist. Atheists do not want atheism to exist. Atheists do no want to be atheists. If religion had to cease to exist today, few, if any, atheists would care that the ‘group’ commonly labelled ‘atheists’ evaporated with it. Atheists and atheism exist purely to counter the unnatural influence that religion exerts on society. Exactly what the influence is, may be debatable, but any group who goes so far out of their way to stifle the teaching of science, to warp the facts being taught to children, control the politics of nations, to support slavery and discrimination against woman definitely must be considered an influence on society.
This is the reason it is so difficult to organise ‘atheists’ into anything that resembles a group or society. Atheists as a group and in general, have almost nothing in common; not any more than any random group of people do. I have been active on IRC for over a decade now (I even met my wife on IRC) and I know many atheists who spend their days online. One would think, then, that there would be many busy #atheist channels, but there aren’t. There are many channels chock full of atheists but they are not primarily focussed on atheism. Atheism is not an uniting concept outside being a force to balance religion. Atheists are scientists, programmers, artists, designers, soldiers, pilots, firemen, biologists first, and atheists second. This is why you will find a science channel like #pharyngula full to the rafters with atheists but not one single person in #atheist.
The problem with atheism is identical to the problem with religion. It does not change. The christian religion has not changed a lot in the last 2000 years. Sure, the finer points have changed, people have made their religion fit what works for them, instead of fitting what their religion requires of them. Christianity is great in that way. Throw out the bits you don’t like, keep the bits that you do, bend the rules when they don’t suit you but the fundamentals haven’t changed (compared to judaism and islam, christianity is a veritable chameleon). The lack of change is pretty much the same with islam, hinduism and most other religions (more on why god doesn’t talk to us any more another day…).
It’s a problem because there are only so many times that one can debate a point and still keep in interesting. You hear the same arguments, time after time because religion isn’t coming up with anything new. Perhaps I should rephrase that into almost nothing new. Intelligent design was a valiant effort to give some credence to a scientifically bankrupt idea but all its proposals have been refuted ad nauseam. Generally speaking, few atheists are amused by these arguments for more than a couple of years. Some more than others, I guess, because some people argue for a living and so enjoy the debate. The majority of us just want to program and talk about programming (illustrative) and get on with it. Don’t get me wrong, just about any atheists will take up the argument if challenged, will fight the ludicrous ideas that try to invade society and state. But that doesn’t mean we want the argument to be what our lives are about.
I have a suspicion that even Richard Dawkins would rather be just a biologist than a biologist and an atheist. So would PZ Myers I would think. I have no doubt that neither would miss the label of ‘atheist’ if religion had to disappear tomorrow and atheism with it. It’s interesting to note that there are virtually no atheists who’s primary purpose is to be an atheist. There are no atheist ‘priests’ or ‘pastors’ who’s only function is atheism. It’s always something else, and atheism.
Religion, however, does not need atheism. Sure, atheism is useful to religion from time to time apparently. To be fair, I’m not sure how myself, but since I read it on the internet, it must be so… Religion does not need atheism because religion is inherently its own opposite. As atheism is to religion, so one religion is to another. If every atheist in the world had to disappear over night, the religious would be able to teach lies in the science class unopposed, the christians would go back (not really back, per se, continue would work better) to fighting the muslims and the muslims would go right on killing the hindu’s and each other. This is the point that the religious seem to have trouble understanding. Religion is, inherently, its own contradiction. It is the question and the answer. None is true and that is inherently demonstrated by the existence of the others.
Atheism needs religion, but we’re only atheists under duress, we would rather only be what we otherwise are, people.
The Inca deity Urcuchillay was depicted in the form of a multicolored llama.