Note–This piece is a follow up to Conflicts With Atheism Part 1: From an Indian-American Mom Raised Atheist. Read it here.
Get ready for an unpopular opinion:
Many atheists have the following (perhaps subconscious) attitude: “I was born into a religious family. I was wise enough to see the error in religion. Furthermore, I’m very intelligent, thus I know that belief in god(s) and religion is irrational, superstitious, and unscientific. I am so glad that I was able to see the light and extricate myself from the idiocy that is religion. Bravo, me. If only everyone could be so enlightened, the world would be a better place.” Yes, I know, this is a hyperbolic generalization and doesn’t apply to all self-identified atheists. Forgive me for expressing for the first time an admittedly nasty yet omnipresent feeling.
While most may not realize it, many atheists have a superiority complex. And yes, I know this subject has been explored to the point of exhaustion, especially when it comes to the Richard Dawkinses of the world (even South Park tackled it in a hilarious yet dystopian episode.) Nonetheless, I’m in a rambling mood. So here it is, folks. A non-exhaustive list of problems with atheism from the rare and curious specimen that is a 30-something American mom raised atheist by former Hindu Indian immigrant parents:
1. Condescending attitudes toward non-atheists and religious people. While I vehemently agree with atheist promotion of ideals like separation of church and state, civil rights, and a secular system of education for all, these ideals are not uniquely atheist! I know atheists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and others who passionately support these objectives. The remainder of the items on this list all tie back to this problematic superiority complex.
2. Seeing atheism as the only belief system compatible with embracing scientific consensus. Contrary to popular notion, being a scientist does not exclude one from
holding religious beliefs. There is an erroneous idea, especially in secular American society, that scientists are necessarily atheist while religious folks prefer to teach creation in public schools and go to country music festivals and hoe downs on the weekends. Yeehaw. This is nothing but a caricature. For just one example, see this story on a study of scientists and religious affiliation presented at the 2014 AAAS conference.
3. Viewing atheism as a perpetually unadulterated belief system immune to ideology. I’ve repeatedly heard that atheism is not dogmatic. The American Atheists define atheism as nothing more than “a lack of belief in gods and supernatural beings.” Yes, atheism at this most purist level is not dogmatic. Yet the very same organization also endorses tenets that seem like the seeds of dogma.
The American Atheists describe themselves as follows:
“The only common thread that ties all atheists together is a lack of belief in gods and supernatural beings. Some of the best debates we have ever had have been with fellow atheists. This is because atheists do not have a common belief system, sacred scripture or atheist Pope. This means atheists often disagree on many issues and ideas. Atheists come in a variety of shapes, colors, beliefs, convictions, and backgrounds. We are as unique as our fingerprints.”
While they assert their non-groupthink individuality, they simultaneously embrace collective objectives and achievements including:
-“ to develop and propagate a social philosophy in which humankind is central”
-“ Held atheist conventions and gatherings throughout the United States, including “Atheist Pride” marches in state capitals”
Do you see the inconsistency? Promoting a central philosophy, holding conventions, and organizing marches seem like hallmarks of a cohesive ideological group. Moreover, to say that atheists are “as unique as their fingerprints” is to imply that members of any given religion are homogenous, and therefore inferior. Here’s that pesky superiority complex again.
4. The notion that atheism is a panacea. Yes, wars have raged for centuries over religious disputes, or clashes between religious groups. Still, it’s wishful thinking to believe that a world without religion would be a peaceful place. Also, the implication is that only religious beliefs hinder scientific and technological progress. For example, stem cell research was hampered by the religious right. Yet scour your list of friends, family, and acquaintances, and you may notice that anti-GMO and anti-vaccination proponents are also often atheist. Atheism does not make us impervious to pseudoscience or hindrance of progress.
5. Belief that raising children in religious doctrine is harmful, and therefore parents raising children atheist could not harm their kids. This is the last on my list yet definitely not least. Parents make parenting mistakes, not religions or lack thereof. People are entrenched in the mire of human nature. Atheism doesn’t free us from that mire. Atheists assert that a child isn’t born Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc.; s/he is coerced into a belief system at a non-consenting age. I’d argue that the same applies to children raised purely atheist. Any parent who deigns to interpret a yet unknown mystery in absolute terms is indoctrinating her child.
I must stress that I am not nor will I ever identify as religious or as having faith in deities. I won’t get into the myriad problems with religion, because it’s been played out and continues to play out among my circle of liberal, skeptical, like-minded folks. Let me assure you my fellow atheists, we haven’t won the enlightenment prize. Let’s not assume that the negatives of religion apply equally to all religious people. Let’s not become complacent and allow atheism to roll down the slippery slope of human nature into the hellfire of doctrine and condemnation of otherhood.