Monday, March 1, 2010

Atheism and Points

These are the non-demands of atheism according to Freddie:

The point is that atheism compels you to nothing. It does not ask you to serve. There are no sacraments and no sacred duties, no commandments, no elect to bow to and nothing forbidden to avoid. This is a virtue both in loftier philosophical ways (non serviam) and in the simpler graces of free time and free travel. Contrast this to, say, the apocalyptic and bellicose rhetoric of Christopher Hitchens, who writes as if atheists have some duty to oppose religion. The absence of belief and the absence of duty are symmetrical qualities.
Glimmers of what's wrong with this enumeration of atheism's non-demands begins in its first words, "the point is," which are followed immediately by words to the effect that it's a realm without norms, rules, goals, duties, party lines, or other forms of points.

It's useful to separate out the terms: what is the point for atheism the liberation movement? What is the point for atheism the philosophical position? What is the point for atheism the political constituency? What is the point of atheism as a gadfly, as a contrarian spur -- as a source of institutional, scholarly, literary, historical, artistic (etc.) revisionism? Atheism as a null hypothesis? Atheism as a moment of personal calm between religious conversions? Atheism contains multitudes, and no one "point" necessarily governs them all.

Freddie agrees, then disagrees by ridiculing those who pursue their own points. He continues:
An atheist convention! A bunch of people sitting around not being religious! People brought together by their absence of belief in something! Spending money to hear speakers talk to them about how they can better be not-something and not-believe in the not-deity! Several fun-filled days thinking about God because you don't believe in him and think he's a jerk!
Some effort to collect a schedule of speakers and topics in this convention would have answered the sneering questions lurking amid all these exclamation points, but as easy as that might have been, it would have violated the spirit of concern-trolling.

It's probably futile to answer a question posed in self-evidently bad faith, but here goes: there is a sense to being "mad at" a god whose existence you deny. The anger at god is the anger at the propensity to construct apologies for the world's indifference, disorder, and injustice. Those who celebrate a perfectly just and loving god need to show their work in detail or stop the charade, because they're trifling with actual human longings. To rage at god is to rage at the world's unmet needs, glaring imperfections, egregious injustices, and the discourse that glosses over these.


Serah B. said...

Well said.

Dale said...

Serah, thanks! I appreciate your stopping by.