Can an atheist be a fundamentalist?

by AC Grayling

It is time to put to rest the mistakes and assumptions that lie behind a phrase used by some religious people when talking of those who are plain-spoken about their disbelief in any religious claims: the phrase "fundamentalist atheist". What would a non-fundamentalist atheist be? Would he be someone who believed only somewhat that there are no supernatural entities in the universe - perhaps that there is only part of a god (a divine foot, say, or buttock)? Or that gods exist only some of the time - say, Wednesdays and Saturdays? (That would not be so strange: for many unthinking quasi-theists, a god exists only on Sundays.) Or might it be that a non-fundamentalist atheist is one who does not mind that other people hold profoundly false and primitive beliefs about the universe, on the basis of which they have spent centuries mass-murdering other people who do not hold exactly the same false and primitive beliefs as themselves - and still do?

Christians, among other things, mean by "fundamentalist atheists" those who would deny people the comforts of faith (the old and lonely especially) and the companionship of a benign invisible protector in the dark night of the soul - and who (allegedly) fail to see the staggering beauty in art prompted by the inspirations of belief. Yet, in its bleeding-heart modern form, Christianity is a recent and highly modified version of what, for most of its history, has been an often violent and always oppressive ideology - think Crusades, torture, burnings at the stake, the enslavement of women to constantly repeated childbirth and undivorceable husbands, the warping of human sexuality, the use of fear (of hell's torments) as an instrument of control, and the horrific results of calumny against Judaism. Nowadays, by contrast, Christianity specialises in soft-focus mood music; its threats of hell, its demand for poverty and chastity, its doctrine that only the few will be saved and the many damned, have been shed, replaced by strummed guitars and saccharine smiles. It has reinvented itself so often, and with such breathtaking hypocrisy, in the interests of retaining its hold on the gullible, that a medieval monk who woke today, like Woody Allen's Sleeper, would not be able to recognise the faith that bears the same name as his own.

For example: vast Nigerian congregations are told that believing will ensure a high income - indeed they are told by Reverend X that they will be luckier and richer if they join his congregation than if they join that of Reverend Y. What happened to the eye of the needle? Oh well, granted: that tiny loophole was closed long ago. What then of "my kingdom is not of this world"? What of the blessedness of poverty and humility? The Church of England officially abolished Hell by an Act of Synod in the 1920s and St Paul's strictures on the place of women in church (which was that they are to sit at the back in silence, with heads covered) are now so far ignored that there are now women vicars, and there will soon be women bishops.

One does not have to venture as far as Nigeria to see the hypocrisies of reinvention at work. Rome will do, where the latest eternal verity to be abandoned is the doctrine of limbo - the place where the souls of unbaptised babies go. Meanwhile, some cardinals are floating the idea that condoms are acceptable, within marital relationships only of course, in countries with high incidences of HIV infection. This latter, which to anyone but an observant Catholic is not merely a plain piece of common sense but a humanitarian imperative, is an amazing development in its context. Sensible Catholics have for generations been ignoring the views on contraception held by reactionary old men in the Vatican, but alas, since it is the business of all religious doctrines to keep their votaries in a state of intellectual infancy (how else do they keep absurdities seeming credible?), insufficient numbers of Catholics have been able to be sensible. Look at Ireland until very recent times for an example of the misery Catholicism inflicts when it can.

"Intellectual infancy": the phrase reminds one that religions survive mainly because they brainwash the young. Three-quarters of Church of England schools are primary schools; all the faiths currently jostling for our tax money to run their "faith-based" schools know that if they do not proselytise intellectually defenceless three and four-year-olds, their grip will eventually loosen. Inculcating the various competing - competing, note - falsehoods of the major faiths into small children is a form of child abuse, and a scandal. Let us challenge religion to leave children alone until they are adults, whereupon they can be presented with the essentials of religion for mature consideration. For example: tell an averagely intelligent adult hitherto free of religious brainwashing that somewhere, invisibly, there is a being somewhat like us, with desires, interests, purposes, memories, and emotions of anger, love, vengefulness and jealousy, yet with the negation of such other of our failings as mortality, weakness, corporeality, visibility, limited knowledge and insight; and that this god magically impregnates a mortal woman, who then gives birth to a special being who performs various prodigious feats before departing for heaven. Take your pick of which version of this story to tell: let a King of Heaven impregnate - let's see - Danae or Io or Leda or the Virgin Mary (etc, etc) and let there be resulting heaven-destined progeny (Heracles, Castor and Pollux, Jesus, etc, etc) - or any of the other forms of exactly such tales in Babylonian, Egyptian and other mythologies - then ask which of them he wishes to believe. One can guarantee that such a person would say: none of them.

Read the rest on AC Grayling's website.

Tags: atheism, christianity, fundamentalism, religion

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Replies to This Discussion

Did you read Grayling's opinion on it yet? It is kind of long, but delightfully scathing.
I think Grayling called it abuse as well.
I think people are using the word fundamentalist where they mean fanatic or strident concerning a world view. I certainly automatically think those two words when I picture fundamentalist theist. Some atheist certainly could fit the bill because of their lack of patience with the dopeyness of religion. Some are very confrontational.  My guess is they are trying with the use of fundamentalist to do what they always try to do. They are trying to show both points of view as equal just as they try to do with creationism and darwinism.  It is all part of the "every idea has merit " school of thought.

Just chalk it up to more psychological projection. "It takes more faith to be an atheist" as if faith was a bad thing and not a virtue. "Atheism is a religion" as if religion was a bad thing, not unlike their own (might also explain why so many of them don't consider their religion a religion).

 

Subconsciously they know their shit stinks, so they try to dress it up to look as good as Atheism does in reality while pretending we're the religious nutters. *Shrugs* What can you do? :/

The term "fundamentalist atheist" is an overused insult usually meaning nothing more than that the person accused is not showing fundamentalist religion the respect that it is accustomed to getting. In this sence it is a completely bogus claim.

There is tho, a sence in which, I think, it might have a bit of merit. One of our leading accusations regarding theists is that they routinely make assertians for which they have insufficient evidence at best. It is not built into our worldview as, I think, it is w theists, but we can be guilty of this ourselves somewhat occasionaly. And so in a small limited sence anyway we can be guilty of fundamentalism.

Here are two examples that, I think, qualify. Science is probably our best shot at coming to any truth, but we occasionaly put what can,at least, be considered too much faith in it to solve any given problem. It is at least possible that we will not come up w any technological fix to our problems involving energy, pollution,food, water and so forth.

Also to my mind people who state they are 100% positive there is no god are guilty of simply pulling the same trick as theists, namely coming to conclusions for which they haven't the evidence. And loosely speaking, this could be considered atheist fundamentalism.

It is a supposed defense against the claims of reason.

 

The claim is that atheism is a religion, it is faith in reason, also relies on unprovable presuppositions and is just as dogmatic (ie not rational) as any other religion.

 

Fundamentalist means believing in the fundamentals of the faith. It makes no sense applied to an atheist.

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