The Religification of Atheism

This post is going to be a bit different from my usual feeble wonderings, observations, and (let’s face it) whining.  My husband brought something to mind the other day that I’ve been noticing a lot lately as well.  He spends a lot of time on Reddit, a wondrous magical place filled with serious news, silly gifs, and the occasional crude reference.  Okay, it’s filled with crude references.  Anyway, he noticed that posts from the Atheism section were reaching the main page quite often, posts glorifying atheism as the logical path, the unprejudiced path, the only intelligent path.

This post is not an attack on atheism.  I know a fair few atheists who I think are wonderful people, and I think freedom from dogmas can lead to freedom from prejudices and clearer, kinder thinking.  That being said, I feel that as the atheistic community grows and ages, it’s forming its own “religion” of sorts.  A religion complete with prejudices and pride.

I feel that atheism or agnosticism is just as valid of a choice in belief as any other established religion.  However, one of the downsides to this (and again, other established religions) is that within a community of similar beliefs, we grow prideful.  Surrounding ourselves with sameness, we grow complacent in our belief that we have chosen the Right Path, that everyone else is, indeed, an idiot for believing what they choose to believe.  A number of my friends in college were either atheists or agnostics, and I sat through many a conversation about how ridiculous, dumb, and narrow-minded religious people are, with the occasional “I mean, not all of them, obviously, but come on…” thrown in, perhaps for my sake.  But mostly the comments were similar to: “Look how dumb and ignorant these religious people are being.  They can’t see the merits in any belief other than their own.  Good thing we don’t belong to a religion that has these prejudices.”

The most positive thing about atheism, I thought, was that it could free you from the preached scorn for and fear of other religious beliefs.  However, the more I listen to atheists speak, the more often I hear this scorn, and even this fear.

Living in Scandinavia right now (Sweden at the moment, where apparently the rate of atheism is about 85%), I’ve been feeling a bit meek about my own religiousness.  Andreas has mentioned that he’s a bit nervous to bring it up at job interviews, not that he normally would, but the conversation goes something like this:

B (for boss): So why are you living in Malmo?
A (for Andreas): My wife and I moved here because Denmark has stricter immigration rules and she can’t live there with me
B: Oh, where is your wife from?
A: The US.
B: How did you meet her?
A: We were volunteering together at Louhelen Baha’i School
B: What’s Louhelen Baha’i School?

Anyway, as a member of the Baha’i Faith, I feel it’s a bit unfair.  The Baha’i Faith promotes independent investigation, which means  we’re supposed to look into the writings (of the Baha’i leaders as well as the holy books of other religions), and think deeply about what we truly believe.  The Faith also asserts the coexistence of science and religion.  While this may seem impossible to most, and is difficult to sort out, I think the basis for this teaching is to be open-minded.  To find balance between the spiritual world (religion) and the physical world (science).  I think what has attracted me the most to the Baha’i Faith is how heavily it demands thought. I realize that this is what we are supposed to do, in theory, as perfect Baha’is, and because we’re individuals, not theoretically perfect spiritual beings, we fail (probably quite often).  But this teaching has always comforted me, knowing it’s fine to have doubts, ask questions, and look deeply into issues instead of just accepting everything we’ve been taught since we were children.

I feel sometimes that atheists and agnostics believe that religion is a school of dogma, where our beliefs are ingrained in us at an early age and we are taught to stop considering, and stop thinking.  I know that sometimes it can be, but I just feel that that judgment is more than a little unfair.  By discounting all religions on this ground, I feel that they are being just as narrow-minded as they often accuse other groups of being.

I don’t hope that they turn back to the religions they abandoned in the first place.  I’m not saying “Look, my religion doesn’t do that.  Come, join MY religion, it’s the best!”  I guess I just hope that the free thought and open-mindedness that helped them choose atheism or agnosticism as their path sticks with them.  I just hope that they don’t become a solid, compacted group with just as little vision and thoughtfulness as the groups they can so easily criticize.

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4 thoughts on “The Religification of Atheism

  1. I agree almost completely! A couple things, though: first, there’s an easy fix for the interview situation. Simply say, “We met while volunteering at a conference center” (or something like that). There’s no need whatsoever to mention that it’s a religious place. If the interviewer pries and asks what kind of conference center it was, they’re not being a very good interviewer. Also, there’s a HUGE difference between “religious people are dumb and narrow-minded” and “these religious people are using their beliefs to cast judgment upon others in situations where religion should have no bearing” (i.e. gay marriage and contraception), or, in other words, “the way these religious people are ACTING is dumb and narrow-minded”. A lot of the frustration non-religious people have with religion is the extreme actions it can cause in its followers, like suicide bombings, abortion clinic bombings, etc…not simply that religious people believe something that they don’t, which is kind of how you made it seem. I think struggling with other peoples’ beliefs and with thinking your way is the best way is also completely human and natural, not that it’s an excuse, but it’s understandable and takes a good deal of strength to overcome. I agree that all beliefs/religions are equally valid as long as they don’t cause harm to others and remain personal.

  2. Excellent post, Zeta! This has been a thought on my mind a lot lately, and the two “sides” it’s creating. So much trouble and strife is created when people become stringent and unrelenting in their thinking, no matter what that thinking happens to be, and they stop listening and understanding anything else. I have so many good friends who believe differently than I do (and all over the spectrum), and often, I have better and more enlightening conversations with them because we talk about things and discuss our points, find common ground, and find an ability to understand even if we don’t agree with each other. It honestly gives me hope that I try to keep in mind when I read the news.

  3. (From the boyfriend)
    I agree with the things you’ve said here almost completely. I think that the reason atheists occasionally group together, forming their own sort of “religion” is partly due to the ostracism, and, to some degree, persecution that they’ve faced for their beliefs. What drives a person to become an atheist or agnostic is that desire to be free from dogmas, to be open minded, and to think for themselves, but they are so often ridiculed for that belief that they retaliate by placing judgment on religions (not saying that this is OK, just my view point on why it happens). I would also like to mention that, of all the religions I’ve ever encountered, the Baha’i faith seems to be the exception to the dogmas that so often plague religions, and I think that is a very positive thing, but it is the exception, not the rule. Also, you’re an excellent writer, and I enjoyed reading your views.
    (From me)
    What he said, plus, thank you succinctly for putting into words what I’ve been struggling to formulate in my brain for the past three months.

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