• “New Atheists focus too heavily on criticizing religion without offering anything in its place”: really, what is the substitute for an epidemic?

    So, where is “I found a humanist philosophy that replaced my religion/non-theistic way to meet my needs”?

    One of my favorite authors, Dr Jerry Coyne, recently wrote about a friend of his (a fellow nonbeliever) who raised this complaint about New Atheism:

    The real problem with New Atheism is that while it attacks religion, it fails to provide a substitute. Religion fulfills fundamental needs in people, and unless New Atheists can suggest other, non-theistic ways to meet those needs, it will not be successful.

    This criticism is way too common. Among humanists and secularists it rises to the very top. The late Paul Kurtz said in an interview in 2007:

    Kurtz worries that, even worse, the momentum he helped build toward a less faith-bound world is now overly focused on attacking religion, at the expense of other goals.

    “It’s become fixated in recent years on atheism, the criticism of religion,” he said. “And I think that’s a strategic blunder. Not just a strategic blunder, but a philosophical and ethical one, as well.”

    “Let’s say the atheists are successful, and religion continues to decline, so what do you have, a vacuum?” he said. “That’s really the burning issue in America today: How shall I live? What should I strive for?”

    When I wrote earlier on this subject, a commentator phrased the criticism this way:

    Dawkins barely scratches the surface of what it means to live a life governed by rational beliefs and emotional desires, because he is still largely focused on beliefs only. And the same can be said of atheism/humanism generally. We need leaders who can construct a philosophy of desire (informed by reason). Awe and wonder for the universe is not enough to capture the hearts of Joe Public.

    I find the latter statement offensive and patronizing. Such things are good for us, the elite, but not the unwashed masses.

    So, is this criticism fair?
    I disagree that the New Atheists have not offered anything positive alongside their criticism of religion. There are few people in this world who have done more for public understanding of science than Richard Dawkins. Sam Harris has written a full length book on morality based on collective human well being, and Christopher Hitchens wrote extensively in praise of Tom Paine’s “the Rights of Man”. Criticism of religion doesn’t even form the bulk of these authors’ writing; rather, they became famous for that simply because it is so taboo.
    But supposing that they had in fact nothing to say other than harsh words against religion, how bad would that be?
    Does it make you unpersuasive if you simply tell religious people their beliefs are wrong? Is a replacement faith/philosophy all so mandatory? Evidence suggests otherwise.
    In the recent Pew survey on religion, an overwhelming majority of the ever-increasing religiously unaffiliated people said they were not looking for another religion.

    And in the Public Religion Research Institute study, while people offered many different reasons for leaving religion, curiously, having found a more compelling philosophy was not one of them.
    So the critics’ point is not a valid one. If you agree that religion has an overall negative impact on human society, trying to fight it is a positive contribution. Obsessing with a “replacement” is just a distraction.
    Can we now move on?

    Category: Uncategorized

    Article by: No Such Thing As Blasphemy

    I was raised in the Islamic world. By accident of history, the plague that is entanglement of religion and government affects most Muslim majority nations a lot worse the many Christian majority (or post-Christian majority) nations. Hence, I am quite familiar with this plague. I started doubting the faith I was raised in during my teen years. After becoming familiar with the works of enlightenment philosophers, I identified myself as a deist. But it was not until a long time later, after I learned about evolutionary science, that I came to identify myself as an atheist. And only then, I came to know the religious right in the US. No need to say, that made me much more passionate about what I believe in and what I stand for. Read more...
    • SmilodonsRetreat

      Recently something tragic happened in my life. Before me becoming an atheist, I would have prayed for help.

      This time, it was still tragic and there was still that need to do something, anything to make things better. But there wasn’t anything to do. I consciously decided to not do anything and just relax. Pretty soon (like tens of minutes), I was fine. I was still sad, but it was manageable without having a freakout.

      Maybe prayer and such as that is just a way to pass the time until the body decides to calm down.

      • NoCrossNoCrescent

        Yes, that could be it.
        I have been through very tough times in my life but I am didn’t turn to prayer even though I still sort of believed. I reasoned that no matter how bad things were for me they weren’t as bad as those starving in Africa. So if god didn’t help them, it was useless to pray for help.

    • I think there is something positive to be said for ridding a patient of cancer.

    • Sometimes I agree with the notion that prominent atheists spend too much time negatively arguing theism and not enough time building ethical worldviews.

      But then I realise that before one builds up an edifice, one must destroy the falsity it needs to replace.

      There is also the idea that secular humanism and moral philosophy is not well read enough amongst lay-atheists. And then the A+ movement comes along and attempts to replace stuff that was already there.

      In one sense, I can understand how A+ came about, but in another sense I just think there was a lot of lazy people not wanting to engage in writing and worldviews that were already there.

      That said, I kept well away from the A+ movement so I don’t really know what it was all about. A lot of guff and shouting, by all accounts?

    • Aside from the rhetoric here about an epidemic, I see no reason at all to think one monolithic approach to the problem of religion is the only one. We need all approaches. We need to do whatever works. My own approach is destructive. After all, my blog is called “Debunking Christianity.” But I’m realistic enough to know that we have evolved to be religious by nature. That’s the whole reason religion survives. People punt to divine explanations for random unexplainable events just like we have always done. We see faces and agents behind them just as our animal predecessors did, which helped them survive in the jungles. We don’t need these explanations now with the rise of modern science. So religion is detrimental to our survival as a species in a world with weapons of mass destruction. We will eventually evolve away from the need for religion. In the meantime what should we do if we want to rid ourselves of it? Until we evolve away from the need for religion I see no reason why we cannot wean believers off of it as a stop-gap pragmatic measure, never forgetting the goal. And I see no reason to disparage those who seek to do this.

      Now what can replace religion? It depends. Community. Atheists usually lack a community of like-minded people. That is changing. Ethics. Until recently atheists have not embraced an atheistic ethic, one that applies to the whole planet, including the environment and the concerns of animals. A scientific-based hope. A hope that science can solved our problems. Paul Kurtz tried to fill those needs.

      Paul Kurtz also enlisted other secular humanists in these goals, which included liberal believers. Granted we consider liberals to be enablers, but why not be pragmatic in using their voices to help overcome the fundamentalist believers who seek to run our country? As an example, the democratic party in America has been pragmatic in the last half of the last century by including all minority voices who disagree with the majority, even as some of these minority voices disagreed with the others in emphasis if not in substance. Why not do the same in the atheist community by including us all in our common goal? We need all voices. If not, and if we aim for “all or nothing” we’ll usually get what we want, nothing. That’s the extreme form of the problem we might face if we take a “my way or the highway” approach.

      So I am a pragmatist just like Paul Kurtz. I am inclusive, inviting all people with common interests to share in attacking the fundamentalist majority, even while I think just like you, that liberals are enablers. My goals go beyond these half-steps and compromises though but I see no reason to embrace what we can embrace in our common goal.

      Politics, is after all, all about compromises. And we’re talking about politics.


    • Carl

      Being an atheist all of my life before the so called new atheists started writing books such as The God Delusion and god is not great I felt alone and isolated so the new atheists was like breathing in a fresh breath of clean air. Because before then I thought I was lost in a world of delusion but now thanks to these books and others and the internet I feel part of a great intellectual movement that stands up for science and reason. So those who attack the new atheists must want to live in a controlled world ruled by religion which to me is something I am glad to leave behind.

    • Copyleft

      People embrace religion for multiple reasons. Some need an emotional lift of feeling that someone, somewhere is watching out for them and available to call on for help in times of trial. For some religious people, that support is a god. And many people who reject a religion have learned to stand on their own without a god, and don’t seek out a new faith to replace the old one.

      But others embrace religion for the sense of community and support _among their fellow believers_. And walking away from the congregation does indeed spell an end to that, with nothing to replace it. (At least, nothing automatic–obviously, people can find new communities through hobbies, sports, discussion forums, etc.). And that’s a different type of change.

      In a sense, letting go of God the Imaginary Friend may be emotionally _easier_ than letting go of a circle of friends. And make no misake–if you leave the faith, you will very likely be losing the friendship of those you considered devoted and trustworthy companions. In-group defensiveness and exile of the apostate is very real and sadly common.

    • hardlyever

      With what do you replace a lie? the truth.
      With what do you replace an imaginary friend? a real one – and even, maybe, one that won’t torture you forever when you disagree with him.
      To whom do you turn when you feel your life slipping from your grasp, and can no longer feel the presence of your fatherbrotherspiritfriend? to your father, your brother, and your friends, the real people through whom your god was supposedly working all along.
      With what do you replace a tumor? nothing. nothing at all. go and live. tumor-free.

    • David Harmon

      The simple fact is that religion is a form of brain washing that starts at an early age there for to say we should replace it with something new is just stupid we can survive with out it if you can’t function with out believing in some thing that’s not real you must have mental illness truth is it’s the fear of no after live and not being able to deal with the fact that there is no moor after this live truth is every one would git moor out of there live if they realized that the time they have was it.