Heed them.

December 18, 2011

Demilitarize Atheism

 Pictured Above: Armed Atheist, Christopher Hitchens, kicking it with some Kurds.

Born in 1987, my life occupies a unique period in American history. 9/11 happened when I was in 9th grade. The world of adults which I still feel hostile to insisted to me that 9/11 changed everything. I wasn't so sure that it would, but then they made sure that it would, whether I liked it or not. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 happened when I was in 11th grade. I attended a walk-out and protest march in Towson, Maryland. The demonstration was small and I was discouraged by that. (I wouldn't find out until much later on that the worldwide Iraq war protests were some of the largest protests in history) November 2004, when the Bush v. Kerry v. Nader elections took place, I was still 17 and couldn't vote. (That's the only way I can absolve the guilt I feel on behalf of my country) I was shocked when Bush was re-elected.

It was impossible to believe. While I still suspect there was voting fraud(even beyond the electoral college systems existence,) there was more evil at work. The depraved and contrived religious right voting block had been responsible for getting Bush "elected" in 2000, and they showed up in gobs to re-up in 2004, along with those nauseating "independent" voters who voted for Bush again on some ridiculous premise("He's not a flip-flopper!") The religious and the stupid were responsible for this.

This is when I started to interpret my Atheism as something socially important and even revolutionary. The extent of my intellectual position beforehand was "religious people are stupid and brainwashed." That's a fine position, if you're trying to get some blonde female christian classmate to stop telling you that you're going to hell, but not good for debating with religionists on equal terms. After getting out of high school I began to research Atheist talking points and well known Atheist intellectuals past and present. One rose above the rest, in my eyes; Christopher Hitchens.

Hitchens' arguments and debates against religion and fundamentalism were just what I was looking for. It was music to my ears to hear someone of international acclaim debate modern religious figures using his own great knowledge of history and culture. (I always found the scientific arguments from the likes of Dawkins and others to be boring[however true]) Hitchens was a formidable world-class debater against the false claims of religion and it's protected place in society. One thing he never quite convinced me of was anything else that he believed. Namely, that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea.

I'm not the only one. When Atheists aren't psychopaths or soulless objectivists they tend to be humanists; or as the very least, pragmatists. Humanists; or at the very least, pragmatists- can't support crusades and wars. Even in the immediate wake of Hitchens' death,  he was recieving sharp criticism about his support for Iraq and other military conflicts past and present, and rightly so. Most criticism refers to his 'mixed legacy,' since he's such a legend as an Atheist but nuisance as a war-monger.

Atheism is an unusual tradition because there's no way to say that a fellow Atheist is wrong about anything. It's unlike Religion in that there're no texts or traditions to argue over. Hitchens' was a militant Atheist and a militant... militant. The more aggressive takedowns of Hitchens call him and opportunist and an imperialist. I'm not sure they're wrong. I think he saw Afghanistan and Iraq as crusades against Islam. To him it was, as he put it, fighting 'Fascism with an Islamic face.' To his credit, he wasn't picking on Islam disproportionately- he ran his own one man crusade against all religions.

And his militant, but not literally militant, crusade against all religions was the battle I thought was worth fighting, and I meakly tried to fight it myself, by debating young religious people on my friends' college campuses.  Atheism was also a cornerstone of The New Low News Show. In one of our episodes, we confronted the now defunct militant Atheist organization the Rational Response Squad, and came down on the right side of history.

But after a couple of years of fire and brimstone I started to switch gears. The battle against the religious didn't seem as relevant after Hitchens wrote his opus God is not great. It was good symbolic climax, and then I started to think about other things. The religious right voting block seemed to more or less get swallowed up in something else, and the new religion appeared to be hope and change; Obamaism. I was facing new enemies with different false claims and I started to argue for Progressive politics above all else. I was annoyed and angered over the personality cult surrounding Obama, and spoke out against it, but ultimately 'hope' defeated me.

Atheism didn't seem so revolutionary or important anymore. Obama, to his credit, even mentioned 'non-believers' in his inauguration speech.  Obama was a strange enemy- someone who was called a socialist, but was really a financial sector conservative, by international standards. I wasn't sure how I would fight this battle. I found my outlet, eventually, in the Occupy movement. 'What're you guys protesting? The international banking and finance oligarchy which continually exploits the working man and the deprived man all throughout the word? Yeah, I  I could get behind that.'

I was surprised, when I was at the protests, to see dark and light skinned muslims, wearing veils and the traditional garb. I saw Orthodox jews, too. Those were only the religious people I could visually identify. And this is the protest in New York City when 700 people including me were arrested on the Brooklyn bridge. I felt strongly about the Occupy movement and so did certain religious people. I didn't think much of it at the time until I got home and had time to ruminate on the fact.

I had always assumed Atheism to be something revolutionary and extremely important, because of it's implications, and because of the negative implications of religion. I had assumed that every Atheist was an Atheist in the manner I was- a humanitarian, or at least a pragmatist, who wanted to fight the forces of old and evil. It's best summed up in this quote from the wildly unpopular Atheist Madalyn Murray O'hair:

"An Atheist knows that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An Atheist knows that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An Atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanquished, war eliminated."

But that's not the case. Many Atheists are spiteful brats. Many Atheists are greedy. Many Atheists are so 'skeptical' they can't even spare a smidgeon of hope to do something good and righteous. They know who they are. They stay at home, do their drug of choice and get on the internet, figuring that this is their only life, so they might as well enjoy it. I want to to tell them this is their only life, so they might as well use it.

And on the other hand Religious belief is not always a force for evil. The subtitle for Hitchens' God is Not Great is 'How Religion Poisons Everything.' It was only when I had some time away from my Atheistic fervor when I realized that was an imbecilic statement. Religion is make-pretend, obviously, but it doesn't poison everything. I used to revel in a Hitchens quote like "Faith is weakness." You know what? No it's not. Weakness is weakness, and it comes in infinite varieties.

More importantly, courage is courage, and wherever is comes from is righteous. Even if it's not technically factually correct; countless good people use religion as a source for courage or strength. At the risk of contradicting myself, I don't think religious people are bad, in fact; they always seem to appear as if out of thin air when social justice is being demanded. I know that the Atheists personal moral compass is superior to the religionists since the Atheist isn't seeking reward- but that doesn't always translate into doing better(or any) deeds.

I'm not that militant variety of Atheist anymore; I can't be. Martin Luther Kings religious convictions must have and had to play a role in his activism and political progressivism. Interestingly, there were black atheists who were just as committed to the cause(Namely: A Phillip Randolph, Bayard Rustin.) Essentially, I think denouncing political activism just because it comes from a religion, or assuming that  it would've happened anyway- is bad policy. It's better to realize that Religion is but one factor in a persons character and their predilections, and occasionally; a major one.

As Frederick Douglass said:

 "I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong."


  1. Great thoughts, Cobe. I am with you regarding religion: God is not real, but religious beliefs can be helpful or harmful, and the harm they can cause ought to be treated like any other harmful belief. I'm reading The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, which is about the idea that people are afraid of their deaths and protect themselves against the idea of death by attaching themselves to things or people that seem stronger: heroes, religion, government, societal institutions. I think that this is connected to the motto, "No Gods, No Masters": people need the freedom to doubt and even go against authorities that would be contrary to their best interests.

  2. Right on, that book sounds like it would be right up my alley. Chris Hedges has written a book(which I haven't read) claiming that the "new atheists" are just as fundamentalist as their religious counterparts. I wouldn't say JUST AS fundamentalist myself, but they're more so than I am.