Tuesday, 23 September 2014
The Real Nature of New Atheism
I read a fantastic article in The Atlantic a few days back, which detailed how a moderate christian group is doing a study on college atheists, to try to understand what leads people away from religion and into atheism. They’re doing it with a religious goal in mind of course (though they claim that their goal is to “bridge the gap as gently and respectfully as possible”), but that doesn’t exactly invalidate the nature of what they’ve found.
And what they found was fascinating. You see there that almost all the young atheists interviewed would CLAIM that they came to atheism through a process of “logical deduction”, reason, science, etc. Ie. that it was a pure and objective intellectual analysis that has led them to conclude that they can not only state a lack of belief but make a positive statement of disbelief about the existence of any kind of supreme being.
In practice, though, the foundation discovered a common median pattern among American college-age “New atheists”:
1. they had gone to church as children.
2. They felt somehow unsatisfied with their church experience. In many cases, they had experienced some kind of very positive early impression only to later encounter some kind of frustration with their particular church.
3. They felt the “answers” their churches offered weren’t sufficiently profound.
4. Many of them expressed profound respect for ministers who took their religion seriously (and were, conversely, disillusioned by people in positions of authority in their church who seemed shallow).
5. Almost all of them left their religion between the ages of 14-17.
6. Almost all of them had some kind of key emotional incident that occurred at the time they left their religious institution behind.
7. They cited the Internet as a main source for discovery about Atheism.
So, in short, this article presents what I’ve been saying about New Atheism for quite some time. Namely, that these sorts of aggressive atheists are not actually people who have “thought things through”, they’re people who have had an emotional experience that led them to react negatively, not to god, but to organized religion, and more often christianity, and very often a specific type of christianity they were brought up in. They try to hide behind science, but what they’ve had is clearly a “conversion experience”, and for emotional reasons they have chosen to embrace an irrational statement of positive disbelief to make up for what they now think of as previously-irrational belief.
The thing is, these experiences, or at least points 1-6, are something that would very much fit my own history; and indeed, by the time I was 16 I was a staunchly avowed atheist. As it turns out, I outgrew that. I came to realize that my it wasn’t that I was now sure or could be sure that god didn’t exist because he didn’t personally take care of making everything nice for me; and that really my problem was not that “religion is stupid and pointless”, but that the particular religious environment I was in was stupid, it was one that encouraged shallow thinking. I didn’t want to reject the spiritual, I wanted the profound experiences that I felt cheated out of by a milquetoast church that was full of sleepy not-really-practitioners or mindless-bigots and answered to a bloated corrupt temporal hierarchy. So after growing up out of exoteric religion, which is mostly dumb, I grew up out of atheism too, which is just as dumb; and then I discovered the spiritual virtue of being able to say “I don’t know”, followed by “but I’m going to try damn hard to find out, and I won’t take anyone else’s word for it”. Instead of abandoning god, I abandoned belief, which is the barrier to Truth (and this of course includes the “god” of my beliefs, along with everyone else’s). It strikes me that New Atheists have abandoned the God of their childhood sundays, but have clung steadfastly in the best of late-adolescent fashion to the God of Their Own Beliefs, re-labeling him as “science”, when he’s anything but.
Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Poker + H&H’s Beverwyck
(originally posted June 18th, 2013, on the old blog)