Are Atheists ‘Obsessed’ With Religion?

thank-god-i-m-an-atheist-t-shirt.american-apparel-unisex-fitted-tee.silver.w760h760For all practical purposes, I am an Atheist. I lack belief in a God (or gods).

It is that, and only that, with which I can confidently say that I share with other Atheists. We’re a diverse group.

While there certainly are trends, we’re all individuals – our only shared ‘rule’ being to think for ourselves. In light of that, our specific attitudes towards religion itself are all placed on a spectrum: from outright anti-theistic to ‘whatever floats their boat‘-ness.

I, personally, am more inclined towards Dawkins’ or Hitchens’ take on it than not. In places, I see religion and superstition causing direct and measurable harm, and I feel that keeping this to myself is unfair – ultimately – to the victims.

But, as Dawkins and Hitchens don’t either (but are misunderstood and misrepresented as doing so), I, when criticising religion, am not criticising religious people just for thinking in a certain way. I may severely dislike particular individuals, but I do not see ‘moderate’ religious people as anything other than a little deluded. In other words: I disagree with the thoughts, but I do not think, necesarily, that the people are stupid or immoral for – as is likely – simply having been born into and brought up within a certain world-view. Plus, many leave their parent’s beliefs behind. Are they absolute idiots up to that point?

My specific use of the term ‘deluded’ should not be taken to be insulting either. It sounds it, I’ll give you that; but there’s simply no other way to express what I feel is an ignorance, whether wilful or not. I also detest the view that, say, those in the Middle-East ‘don’t know any better‘, or that us in ‘The West’ should avoid criticising certain practices in the name of cultural relativism. It’s both patronising and untrue – again for the sake of victims and individuals.

Anyway, before I outline every one of my opinions, it’s worth getting to the point of this post: is talking about these things, in public, an ‘obsession’ of Atheists?

I don’t think so.

There are a few things at play here. The first obvious one is that the view that it is is a misunderstanding. True, some Atheists talk about religion a lot. But, in day-to-day life, with friends, I only mention it if relevant… What, then, makes it relevant?

I think it being in the news is a definite example. This shouldn’t happen:

Person A: “Hey, did you watch the parliamentary debate on same-sex marriage?”
     Person B: “Yeah, what did you think about it?”
Person A: “Isn’t it funny that every single person arguing against allowing it did so for religious reasons?

But, what if ‘we’ do talk about it too much – like cracking jokes when it’s not relevant or wearing T-shirts like the one above? Does that make Atheists ‘just as bad’ as religious folk?

Seeing as that’s an argument that tends to come from the religious folk themselves, I’d wager that it’s a silly one. (Jokes aside) for more than one reason, it’s a misunderstanding. Asserting that Atheists are ‘just as bad’ as the religious for talking about it is like saying that news reporters are ‘just as bad’ as the murderers, rapists, and dictators they talk about. It also implies that, they – the religious people making the argument – are themselves ‘bad’ on their own terms.

Of course, the accusation can come from other Atheists too. They’d see the more ‘militant’ and vocal non-believers as being simply insensitive, while the supposedly ‘militant’ Atheists themselves would probably dislike (yet allow for) the more ‘live and let live’ armchair non-activism of their accusers.

As ever, it’s an issue of willingness to put one’s image of being ‘tolerant’ on the line for the sake of others. Do I criticise Islam, even with a chance that I’d be wrongly labelled ‘Islamophobic’ – or do I happily allow for Sharia courts to be set up in the UK in the name of ‘multiculturalism’? Do I publicly acknowledge the fact that women and children are losing limbs and being burned alive in Africa (and other places) directly because of superstitious and ignorant notions of ‘witchcraft’, or do I falsely rationalise it away as ‘what they do’ for the sake of not appearing too frank?

The list goes on.

What would make these ‘controversial’ thoughts and opinions of mine an obsession though? Here are some definitions of the word:

Is my intellectual and moral opposition of certain beliefs and beliefs systems, compulsive?

It’s certainly not irrational, or unhealthy. In fact, I passionately believe that open, uncensored criticism can only do good.

Do thoughts on religion ‘intrude’ and ‘trouble’ me?

The subject may be troubling itself, but I don’t think the thoughts are.

My point is; the definitions of the word ‘obsession’ tend to be overwhelmingly negative, but I do not feel that a desire to speak for secularism is at all. Plus, the only ‘compulsion’ to do so is external – religion itself, along with it’s devout and relentless minions.

Even if I were to concede that I am obsessed with religion, I’d point out that it is damage done in its name which compels me; making it a healthy one.

But, again, I don’t think that I am obsessed at all. I, like so many others, only ever talk about religion when necessary (or when funny), and simple confirmation bias and a selective memory (remembering the ‘hits’ and forgetting the ‘misses’) leads to the false conclusion that we infidels use every waking minute to rant about it. We don’t.

‘But you write a blog about religion!’ – it’s a hobby (and actually about a lack of religion). Get over it.

Carnun :P

‘Tildeb’ has covered some of what I should have said, but forgot to, in the comments below. Check it out.

Did I leave anything else important out? I hope not…

9 thoughts on “Are Atheists ‘Obsessed’ With Religion?

  1. You have left out describing the difference between atheists and New Atheists, which might help explain to some why some of us talk about it so much. New Atheism is not passive like the non believers of old, those who simply did not believe in a god or gods; it is active in that religious privilege in the public domain is met with vocal and constant criticism. That is why New Atheists are smeared all the time with ridiculous labels like militant (as if vocal criticism of privilege was equivalent to armed resistance), strident (as if any vocal criticism of privilege was excessively unpleasant), shrill (as if vocal criticism of privilege was necessarily high pitched), nihilist (as if vocal criticism of privilege was immoral), extremist (as if vocal criticism of privilege were an extreme activity presumably carried out by a few ‘bad apples’) and the host of religious synonyms used pejoratively like fundamentalist and evangelical, to name but a few. New Atheists also understand why science and religion are incompatible methods of inquiry and produce incompatible claims about the reality we share.

    Although the grounds for criticism is rich and plentiful, the battle is still a long way from being won. Furthering religious privilege is always being sought by believers presuming that this is a benefit while assuming and the scope and extent of current privilege is good, right, and proper because it is religious…in spite of compelling evidence to the contrary.

    We find religious privilege in law, education, the military, government policies and programs, medicine, and of course actively interfering in the teaching of good science. There is no tent under which religion doesn’t stick its nose as if it has anything meaningful to add to any and all human concerns. What’s missing from this unwarranted interference is an invitation to dine based on merit. Because religious belief does not, has not, and never will produce one speck of knowledge about reality, the only contribution it makes to discussions in the public domain is to urge people to act contrary to their own best interests. It attacks secularism, for example, which is the fundamental pillar of our rights and freedoms including – it must always be remembered and pointed out to those believers who vilify it – freedom of religion and freedom of expression. These come from secular values and not religious precepts. Privileging religion in the public domain is contrary to the public good and New Atheists take their monumental task seriously enough to keep talking about it, keep advocating for rights and freedoms, keep criticizing religious interference that impedes human well-being. It’s amazing that any New Atheist stops talking so endemic is religious privilege in our societies. But what is heartening is how ever-increasing percentages of younger people – netizens – are moving away from supporting religious privilege and much of this movement can be attributed to the public forum discussions and posts and commentary where the ideas promoted by New Atheists have the greatest public exposure and public influence, which is why this place – the internet – is where religions come to die. And that effect is quite intentional.

  2. if being militant is writing about religion, pointing out its inconsistencies, I will be militant.
    if by writing a blog on religion makes me a new atheist, by all means I will wear that banner.
    if pointing out that Islam is based on credulity just like other religions, i will be labeled Islamaphobic, by all means do so, but i will not stop.
    Good post Carnun and Tidleb’s contribution is awesome

    • Just so. Don’t stop. Be vocal. We can shoulder the name calling because what we do has effect, and this effect is a public good. Our contributions may be very small or they may be very influential, but they show younger people that they can lose their religious belief without losing the quality of their character or the support of others… in spite of what their believing elders might say to the contrary. Every bit helps.

      Thanks for the compliment.

  3. Great postings by Carnun and Tidleb. They made me reflect on my behaviour regarding issues where there is a religious viewpoint taken. For the most part, I see myself as having been a “passive” atheist; that’s just the way I believe, and when I feel I need to voice my opinion, I don’t hide the way I feel. I’ve never backed down on standing up for my beliefs.

    From reading posts on this forum, some people may appear to be “obsessed”, but then this forum is here to discuss atheism and religion. If it was a sports related forum, I’m sure posts would definitely appear to come from folks with an obsession. I guess “Religion” is just one of those “hot” topics.

    Like it’s been stated, an obsession would be something that becomes the main focus of your life. I find too many religious people are obsessed by making most issues, decisions, or situations a religious one. I find myself frequently thinking, “what’s religion got to do with that?”. Religious people often tie so many things in their lives to religion; they think and live the dogma. To me, those people are obsessed with forcing religion into everyone’s lives. Atheists who object, or point out this situation, are just defending their beliefs and the rights of all. I guess you could ask, “who threw the first stone?”. Our freedoms of belief and thought are important ones. We should never stop standing up for these.

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