Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Atheists vs. Agnostics vs. Religionists - Or are they all the same?

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Encyclopedia Britannica
Much has been made recently about the potential dangers of religious zeal and fervor. Though it is not a new subject by any means, as there has been conflict between thinking and believing since the beginning of the written word.

Even before the enlightenment more than 300 years ago, when science began to crush many commonly held beliefs like 'the world is flat' or that we weren't meant to fly, philosophers considered every position that came to conclusions without sufficient evidence to be invalid and delusional while others saw fit to kill millions in the name of God if they refused to believe the way they did.

There was a very pacifist atheist movement that seemed to peak in the '60s, exemplified by John Lennon whose song, Imagine, stated an aspiration for a world where people walked 'hand in hand' and had no religion. That generation seemed satisfied with feeling intellectually superior to those who lived by faith.. These anti-establishment figures seemed to accept 'live and let live' as their mantra.

With the rise of the sexual revolution and drug experimentation, the right wingers worldwide decided they had to act affirmatively, not only within the confines of the church but to re-cross the line into government. The US seemed to be the place where this would least likely happen as there was a strong statement of belief in separation of church and state. But in the early eighties, we saw the rise of a disease that not only inconvenienced the sexually active, but killed them.

People like Jerry Falwell proclaimed AIDS had been sent by God to punish sinners. A thunder on the right made a minority of very loud evangelicals believe they were actually a majority, the "Moral Majority". They convinced enough people in the middle that conservatism was a good idea whether religiously inspired or not. Reagan was elected only 4 years after the fall of Nixon, and though he was nowhere near religious, he traded on the terminology of faith and managed to attract people from both the right and middle.

AIDS was initially thought to be simply sexually transmitted, but soon they discovered it could be transmitted through other means. This factor slightly quietened people like Falwell, but a huge new generation had already sprung forward, reacting to this biological imperative that was perceived to threaten the very continuation of the species. Resultantly, conservative, pro-big business, religious flag wavers, literally swept away a huge Democratic lead in the US legislature which had held since FDR.

If the 60's and 70's were a 'sexual' revolution, the 80's and 90's have been a 'fear' revolution, as the right began to reverse many freedoms and to prevent others from ever coming about from race to reproductive to marital rights. Despite the election of Democrat, Bill Clinton, there was still a deep undercurrent of religiously driven conservatism. But both sides liked Clinton as he sounded like a Southern preacher, but demonstrated his intelligence as a Yale-Rhodes scholar. He and his Yale lawyer wife seemed to be taking America and the world back toward the middle.

His presidency came to symbolize the conflict between religion and thought, values and results. And despite the results Clinton achieved in every category, the prevailing notion that conservatives continued to push was that religious values were more important than social and economic justice.

By this time, the atheists were no longer comfortable with a sense of intellectual superiority, but they began to affirmatively organize and frankly achieved a level of evangelical zeal equal to the religious right, though admittedly in smaller numbers.

With both sides feeling cornered and threatened, politics has become more and more polar. Though strange bedfellows, the atheists and other minorities formed an alliance against well-organized and funded right. The advantage the right had over the left was that there was a commonality of Christianity. Though lacking fervor, they were homogeneous. The right wing had convinced moderate Christians you had to be an atheist/communist /"pinko-fag" if you were voting for anyone other than those whom God had endorsed from the right.

Now with a conservative Christian (in name only) as President, proclaiming a mission to attack the 'axis of evil', in response to what he conveniently considered Christianity vs Islam (and everybody else), the right-wing had the US government there to officially advance their mission.

"You're either with us or against us," became the war-cry for George W. Bush, but it went further than foreign wars but resounded a sense that part of America had been disenfranchised and world opinion had been ignored.

Atheists began to speak with greater zeal than ever. They were angry. Websites and even "churches" of Atheism began to demand equal access to the pulpit. Armed with their heroes, Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan and now, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have formalized their attack. And with the apparent failure of Bush's religious war they are feeling muscular and vocal. Hitchens morphed from a gentle, open minded, concerned academe, to a hell-fire and brimstone evangelist, with the same angry fervor as Bush. Hitchens even resoundingly celebrated the recent death of Jerry Falwell saying, "If there were a hell, Falwell would be there now."

Many atheists now are on a mission to remove what they consider a danger to society, ignorant religiosity. They truly believe we must act now to prevent the Religionists from committing new genocides in the name of God.

Now, we have both sides screaming at each other and the middle looking for an escape. Moderate Christians came back toward the middle and elected Democrats and began to exhibit tolerance for those with whom, in some cases, they differed spiritually. Meanwhile, now there is a resurgence among atheists who separate themselves from the extremists among them by calling themselves "agnostic" (not-knowing).

Please watch these films to get a sense of where Dawkins began and where he is now.

The premise in this introductory chapter, SLAVES OF SUPERSTITION, of a British TV series, ENEMIES OF REASON, is that society appears to be retreating from reason. Apparently harmless but utterly irrational belief systems from astrology to New Age mysticism, and clairvoyance to alternative health remedies, are booming. Evolutionary biologist Professor Richard Dawkins confronts what he considers an 'epidemic of irrational, superstitious thinking'. He considers 'the dangers the pick and mix of knowledge and nonsense poses in the internet age', and passionately re-states the case for reason and science.


Here, Dawkins asserts that belief in a god is irrational and inflicts great harm upon societies. BBC's Jeremy Paxman interviews Professor Dawkins about "The God Delusion".


Most recently, Hitchens' celebration of the death of Falwell. Watch as Hitchens demonstrates what EXACTLY Jerry Falwell is and stood for, a malevolent bigoted bully:


Most have seen plenty of examples of extreme religious zealots, so I will avoid supplying examples of the hatred expressed by those who profess love in all religions.

However, often misunderstood and mischaracterized, there are many peace-loving Muslims. This film, THE COLLAPSE OF ATHEISM is presented by a highly cross-denominational Turkish Muslim, Harun Yahya and is one of a series of religious films. However, this one should not be mistaken as evangelical in that it simply offers one of the most reasoned presentations of creationism and a long series of debunking of what through time, have been accepted scientific principals.



Ray Miller said...

Your site contains many thought provoking articles. However, many of them are based on flawed premise.

BEAJ said...

I have to blog about this. Ray, you are correct, the premises here are almost totally flawed.
I'm an atheist, and a very vocal one, who realizes the war in Iraq is a cultural one, not a religious one. It is the West against Islam. It was bound to happen. If not Iraq, it would have been somewhere else by now.
I will blog about this post sometime today.

Anonymous said...

Having read several of Dawkins's books and having viewed the first episode of THE ENEMIES OF REASON, I must agree with him on several points. As my own mother struggles with the final stages of Parkinson's Disease, I find his comments on religion's negative influence on medical and scientific progress especially poignant. Retarding or outlawing research to combat AIDS, Alzheimer's, and other deadly diseases can hardly be called a "harmless" side effect of delusional or superstitious thinking.

I must disagree with the lack of porportion in the generalization implied by your title ("...Or are they all the same?"). While some atheists might be better organized and/or more militant than others, my own experience has been that many atheists and agnostics tend to be independent thinkers and/or loners. Consequently, they are less likely to join or coalesce into large organizations and movements or to follow those organizations' leaders for sustained periods (as religious followers have done even in the face of evidence that contradicts their 'faith'). Thus, atheists have a long, long way to go before one could reasonably equate them with the Christian Coalition or the [so-called] Moral Majority and other well-funded and fanatical right-wing 'machines'. I doubt that it's the case that a majority of atheists are even moving in such a direction.

Editor said...

It is interesting that many Atheists defend themselves with the statement that they are non-confrontational, or basically "loners" yet they have huge cyber congregations and at this moment, two of the best selling authors are Dawkins and Hitchens, who serve as their spokesmen. The result is that they stand together as soldiers, no different than religionists. I say this, while separating Atheists from Agnostics.

What's interesting is the Eastern Religions get along with each other and with those who claim no faith quite well. It is only as we move West they begin to clash with our religions, i.e.-India/Pakistan-The Kashmir conflict and all that.

But it seems the problem is not so much religion itself but evangelism and polarity that is at the core of Western society.

We have committed to a model of dialecticism (Thesis Vs Antithesis leading to Synthesis) but the result is rarely compromise, but simply a winner and a loser. The West considers competition the fount of progress. Thusly, our religions reflect an often destructive evangelical zeal.

In the East their model is the yin-yang, in which all forces swirl and intermingle while maintaining cohesion and flexible form. And their goal, as a source of progress is harmony.

Beaj says he is vocal about his Atheism; this is clearly an intent of persuasion and evangelism. He says other's premises are flawed without any follow-up, much like religionists, as if his opinions are facts. This is a belief system without a basis.

As for one anonymous comment, that he doesn't like the title implications. This backlash is no different than the religionists, as to simply question something get the hair up on their neck.

Amy said...

It has become a sad world, as our Christian population is allowed to control so much of our world. Isn't there separation of state and religion? My opionion is, if religion has a play in politics, then they should pay taxes. We have not always had religious freedom. Our country started out with CHRISTIAN freedom. The Christians have oppressed all other religions since their beginning. It wasn't until 1957 that the anti-witchcraft laws were repealed, and more sad, until 1978 that our Native Americans were allowed religious freedom. I have had the opportunity to find a religion that I love, yet until recently, I didn't know it existed. My religion is not allowed to proseletize (sp?), in other words, to go spread the word. Until then I was just non-religious. Could it be that many of our athiests haven't found their niche in their sense of spirituality? I would recommend visiting . Also, with the pie chart, I didn't notice any reference to the Pagan religions. If you compile a list of all the nature-based religions under the umbrella of Paganism, you'll find a large number of the world religions fill this category. Religion is a personal choice, and I believe what works for one, is good for that one. Please don't bash anyone else for their beliefs, it's not nice, and it's not godly. As long as one's preference doesn't hurt anyone else, leave it as a personal choice. In my research of my religion's history, I read somewhere that Christianity will become a minority religion by 2040. I don't have any personal offense to Christians, just their oppressive behavior as a whole. Their's is not the only "True" way to Creator. May all the oppressed be allowed religious freedom, and the non-religious find some form of spirituality they may be seeking. Blessed Be

Anonymous said...

I believe it was Harry Truman who said, "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen." A self-professed "critical thinker" and editor would do well to heed his words.

Unfortunately, Dear Editor, you appear somewhat thin-skinned for one with such a public voice and forum.

Despite your attempt to downplay the iconoclastic "loner" role of many atheists (see Freud, Marx, Nietzche, etc.) you target Dawkins, who, far as I can tell, does not purport to represent any particular organization, but only to speak for himself as a lone voice of Reason against the massed 'armies' of the ignorant and superstitious. Ironically, come to think of it, as a lone voice crying in the wilderness, Dawkins might resemble an actual (?) biblical prophet more than he does our latter-day religious politicians.

But to elaborate, because this is not a minor distinction: I do not support Dawkins because we share the same 'religious' beliefs. Rather, I support him because, epistemologically, he makes sense to a person who espouses the rational/scientific ways of knowing about our world. And, if/when I determine him to be incorrect, I am free to disagree and go another way. This kind of intellectual freedom [integrity?] is a 'luxury' few religions afford their adherents. While religion can only offer unsubstantiated beliefs [or beliefs so trivial that they could be confirmed or denied without reference to anything 'spiritual'], reason and science offer ways to substantiate, expand, explain, and organize whole systems of substantiable beliefs.

But to underscore just how lame, numerically speaking, the central assertion of your original ("...Or are they all the same?") comparison truly is, please consider: While census figures indicate that somewhere between 20 and 30 million U.S. citizens consider themselves non-religious (atheist, agnostic, humanist, etc.), the combined membership rolls of 'official' organizations such as American Atheists, the American Humanist Association, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, etc., appear to comprise considerably fewer than one (1) percent of all non-religious Americans. (I, myself, currently belong to "none of the above." But, then, I think I mentioned that we aren't the best joiners or followers.)

You do raise an interesting point, however, regarding which religions are the least tolerant of other faiths: The least tolerant religions are monotheistic. In fact, a monotheistic relgion is only 'theistic' with respect to its own god, the one it deems to be the "one true," "one and only" god, while it is 'atheistic' with respect to any god(s) in which its adherents refuse to believe. In polytheism, by contrast, there is always "room for one more" [god]. The more the merrier, eh?

Finally, a wise young atheist once said, "I am agnostic with respect to knowledge and atheistic with respect to belief." By this, he was differentiating between what he does/does not know and what he does/does not believe. This is a distinction I have rarely heard from any religious person other than, perhaps, someone schooled in liberal theology or philosophy -- the kind of person who, ironically, after attending a mainstream Christian seminary, might call himself or herself "agnostic".)

Janet Saklad said...

I have only recently found my way onto this sight, and I am not quite sure why I did. I read the article and did find it cohesive and fact driven yet, in my humble opinion, somewhat misdirected.
The truth is what we are all truly inspired to find and adopt. It really doesn't matter what we humans call ourselves, whether athiest, religious, or agnostic, for the truth remains steadfast despite our unawareness and misinterpretations. We can label God, Our Father in a million different ways in many different languages and it still does not change or deviate from the truth. God is Truth. Truth is Knowlwedge.
Awareness, love, forgiveness, and faith lead us to an awakening into the real world, anything less will keep us grounded on this earth.
The enlightenment of every single being is the final miracle.
Janet Saklad

Anonymous said...

Organized religion divides people into holy camps-"My God can beat up your God"--
Shutter the churches for ten years-lets all take a deep breath. Hold on to your donation,life will be richer.

Judy Laurel said...

This was a very well balanced piece and tied in several socio-historical factors to round it out.

It amazes me to hear the Atheists in particular react in such a semantic, knitpicking fashion as I thought you were rather fair to them.

It seems that any comparison of the argumentative, confronational style of religious extremists to atheists, is met with insult.

As one with an open mind (an Agnostic if you will) I find it just as offensive for someone to anonymously attack one who puts his name on his words. Frankly, I see no difference between Hannity and Hitchens. And Dawkins, well, he is clearly on a mission as well, promoting a certain way of thinking and calling anything else "delusional". I have read all his stuff, and I can honestly say he is no more open-minded and objective than Billy Graham; both nice guys but evangelists nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

This was actually a thoughtful, well-written article. Of course, atheists are always ready to defend their relentless criticism and open hostility towards anything remotely religious, but doesn't this intolerance put them in the same camp as those people they criticize. How are we to find peace if we can't find commonality.

Anonymous said...


I had the same concern. Critical thinking (vs. the merely judgemental) would imply some sense of proportion. I think this article was devoid of such. Even worse, it serves to create confusion and uncertainty in much the same way as cigarette companies befuddled the public about tobacco products and cancer or hired guns for the oil and coal companies are now attempting to misinform regarding global warming and climate change.

BEAJ said...

I wrote a rebuttal to this. Duly Consider removed my last post that linked it I believe.
It is not SPAM but a sincere criticism of the false premises presented by Duly Consider.
Here is again. I'll be very disappointed if he deletes this comment too.

Cosmogenes said...

The video about the end of atheism is nothing but baseless propaganda.

- First it begins by confusing Communism, a political ideaology, and Darwin's theory of evolution, a scientific explanation of a natural phenomenon perfectly acceptable by e.g. the Roman Catholic Church, with "atheism".

Then it continues with a presentation of the obsolete "Big Bang" and "Anthropic Principle" hypotheses, totally ignoring modern cosmology and theories such as the Plasma Universe and the Multiverse.
Finally without a shred of evidence to the contrary, it continues to deny all the current evidence from genetics and paleontology to declare that Darwin's theory has been somehow refuted.
The program is simply a compilation of lies and denials of scientific knowledge, simply asserting that somehoe modern science supports creationism, masqueraqding under the pseudonym of "Intelligent Design".

Editor said...

Good point, Cosmogenes. It clearly was an argument whose success was based on the suppression of relevant facts of current science. It seemed as if the structure of their argument was:

Some things once considered as scientific fact were indeed wrong, therefore science today is all wrong.

This is severely flawed, as all scientists know the difference between theory and fact. Darwin never suggested HIS theory of evolution was a fact. However, as Sagan says, evolution itself IS a fact. The details are yet unproven.

Of course, all this leaves questions no religion can ever answer and that is, "If God...Who created God?"...

Even attempting to answer this, is foolish. Frankly, asking the question is foolish knowing it cannot be answered.

BEAJ said...

The question is posed as a rebuttal to theists who say that the universe must have been created by someone/something, in order to try to get theists to think "why is God needed?"

Anonymous said...

The reductio ad absurdum of Intelligent Design is this: Those who purport that complexity entails an intelligent designer are forced to confront this gambit: Either (1) "God" created everything that exists; "God" did not create Himself/Herself/Itself; and, therefore, "God" is not something that exists OR (2) "God," being of sufficient complexity and intelligence to have created simpler, less intelligent things, must have been created by an even more complex and intelligent being and cannot, therefore, be the "supreme" being that monotheists claim him/her/it to be.

In their attempt to suport their own brand(s) of monotheism, ID proponents are, in fact, inadvertently arguing for polytheism [to the extent that ID's central premise, that complexity entails an intelligent designer, will always require one more, higher-level "God"...and one more after that... and one more after that...].

Not to treat this topic too humorously: Do you suppose that, in such an infinite 'chain of command' as Intelligent Design might imply (if only it were true), Christ might actually have turned out to be a corporal!

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