Atheism is Not Enough

March 22, 2010

Bizarro AtheistsLast week, I reported on the problems with contemporary atheism as reflected by press on the 2010 Global Atheist Convention. This is something I’ve recognized for some time — and most recently wrote at length about in a response to some critiques our Share Your Secular Story contest has gotten — and I am glad to see more people noting it. In this spirit, Michael De Dora Jr. of the Center for Inquiry recently released a great blog on the problems with an Atheistic approach to the world and underscores many of the reasons that I do not call myself an Atheist even though I do not believe in God. Among the highlights, he breaks his argument down into five reasons:

1. Atheism doesn’t really say much of anything:

As Robert Ingersoll once said, even if God does not exist, humans still have their work cut out for them. Atheism isn’t enough. This is the first argument against atheism. It is not a philosophy or a worldview, it is a lack of a specific religious belief, and that isn’t enough to carry us forward in any meaningful way.

2. It is short-sighted and too simplistic in its critique on religion:

Atheists tend to view religion as either the problem, or the cause of the problem, even when other problems are apparent. But while theism is a problem, it is not the problem, and while atheism might be correct, atheism is not the answer. As the philosopher Massimo Pigliucci has noted, the larger predicament we face is uncritical adherence to ideology — a problem that spans more than just religion.

3. Atheism is often inherently closed-minded:

The third argument against the march of organized atheism is its tendency toward an angry, uncompassionate line of attack. It is argued that the general approach to the matters taken by, foremost, Dawkins and Hitchens is one of sneering at religious belief, thinking that anyone who believes in God or other religious claims is stupid… there is something to hearing these men speak, and reading certain [parts of] of their writing, that sends the message they have a short temper for religious belief (and the occasional believer). This attitude has trickled down, as well: for their followers, too often pride has led to arrogance — and not arrogance about the specific position on religion, but general intellectual arrogance at that. Yet the problem isn’t necessarily the arguments, but the tone.

4. It is divisive and too limited:

This view of the world divides people rather than bringing them together. This is a symptom of the atheist-centered tendency [to] see the world through religion. It is seemingly as divisive as seeing the world as a Catholic and nothing else. While I am no friend of theistic beliefs, and one could argue dogma and faith are found — and kindled — more in religious circles than anywhere else, focusing mostly or even entirely on theism divides us too cleanly on religious affiliation. Defining oneself as an atheist gives off the impression to those who do not define themselves as atheists that you have nothing in common. There are many good things included in religion (to be sure, they are found elsewhere and many are a product of the evolution of human nature) that cut to the core of human experience — community, fellowship, awe and wonder, a desire to transcend yourself and do collective good. To stand opposed to all religion is to give off the impression you deny these.

5. It does not suggest an alternative belief to religious ideas:

People have the tendency to see the atheist approach as “against” and not “for.” Of course, one cannot debunk or be against anything without really being for something. We are seemingly only able to critique if we have something to weigh the critiqued belief against.

He sums his claims up best near the end: “We need to move beyond and above atheism… it is too empty, too narrow-minded, and too divisive. Instead, it would seem smarter to develop something more comprehensive.” I couldn’t agree more. Atheism doesn’t get at the heart of what I believe — it is merely the notion that God doesn’t exist, nothing more. It says nothing of our worldview. This is why I call myself a Secular Humanist, even though it would probably be fair to say that I hold an atheistic belief about the divine.


9 Responses to “Atheism is Not Enough”

  1. fester60613 said

    I agree that there must be more that unites us – and something more positive – than just our shared disbelief.

    While my outrage at the criminal cover ups of the Vatican’s ongoing salacious misdeeds is at the front of my thought and actions, it is not the religion itself that fuels my anger: rather, it’s the Vatican’s arrogance and hubris – the fact that it claims moral authority when it obviously has none.

    I would turn to secular humanism but surely that is not enough either: considering that we as a species are just as warlike and cruel and hate mongering as we ever have been I cannot subscribe to those isms that worship human effort or reason or even our technology.

    I would turn to technology but that is not enough either: that the blind can see and the deaf hear is fantastic and praiseworthy – and these are perhaps the highest purpose of technology. Yet the unholy trinity of capitalism, the nation state and militarism eats humans continually in the name of economic power.

    I can no longer embrace the cold rarity of existentialism and its pernicious solipsism because it cannot be true – we are connected, we are not alone in the damnation of “freedom”.

    What is left is merely to “do unto others” – to be there for friends and family (chosen or blood) when needed. And yet no good deed goes unpunished.

    Where do we turn? Where is comfort? Where is purpose?

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  4. Colin Shanafelt said

    Great post. I agree with much of what is written here. I think what many people are looking for is a place where people can believe in something and have some connection with the universe without being oppressed by dogma and divisiveness. Spiritual Deism might fill this role. I believe in some kind of indefinable god and feel a divine presence in nature, but I reject all divine revelation, miracles, and magical thinking. I prefer a personal set of values rather than those imposed upon me by a religion. I am spiritual but not religious.

  5. […] from these groups’ attempts to deconstruct religious ideas turned them off. They think it is alienating and innately limited, and I […]

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