Saturday, November 04, 2006

So That's What Atheists Are Calling Themselves?

I AM AN ATHEIST. I have no use for religion in my life. My personal view is that most organized religions seduce, hypnotize, and destroy. Evangelism and fanaticism offend me. Others may worship as they please or eschew same, to the extent in both cases that it does not infringe the rights of our fellow citizens.

I do not ally myself with other atheists. I find some of their writings interesting, but I am not, by nature, a joiner of movements. I do not introduce myself to people as an atheist, because I feel opening conversations with religion is offensive, even in the case of a lack of religion like my own. I prefer to say, if pressed, "I'm not religious." I guess in Dungeons & Dragons alignment terms, you could call me a true neutral. Just leave me alone and I will do the same.

I have read atheist websites and blogs in the past, and I have an interest in reviewing some recently published books on the topic, to see if my misgivings are accurate, but from the excerpts I've scanned, they all seem like they define themselves aggressively by what they are not. In my ear, this sounds very much like office gossip. You know the tenor of this talk. Dysfunctional coworkers build their shared identity and solidarity by airing and attacking what they hate in a common office enemy. I agree with atheists' distaste for the abuses of organized religion and the self-delusion of the fanatic. But in the low rhetoric and anonymous character of the Internet, it begins to read like one-upmanship in pursuit of a party line.

In other words, like a religion.

As I say, I don't evangelize my atheism to the point of self-identifying as such. So when I read that some atheists are using the term Bright to indicate their embrace of naturalist, secular enlightenment and reason, I shook my head in pity. It's become another buzzword, another forward base from which to launch partisan attacks and to which they might retreat for backslaps and toasts after scoring a self-perceived logical coup against The Other. I object to the need for a title, an ingroup, and an Other. Absolutely, the abuses of those obsessed with a theist worldview on the Bill of Rights, the freedom of ideas, and the advance of science must be tracked, exposed, and reversed. But all this term Bright represents to this cynic is just another spoke on the wheel of religions, just another tower from which snipers might fire.

As a master text of healthy skepticism regardless of religious predilection, Monty Python's Life of Brian is looking more and more prescient.

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