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You've nailed it. For some, atheism is as much a faith system as belief in a god. And for others, it's a cottage industry.

Sarah TX

Let's say I agree with your points. Why, then, shouldn't atheists have 'revivial meetings', if they see a community need and a community desire for them? What's the difference between a religious revival meeting and, say, ComicCon or MacWorld or the NYS Sheep and Wool Festival?

Hemant Mehta, one of the organizers of the Reason Rally, grew up Jainist. I think you'd like his writing.

Lance Mannion

Sarah, funny you should mention it. I originally had a paragraph in here about Comic-con but I took it out because I was afraid people would think I was making fun of Comic-con. And of course there's no reason atheists shouldn't get together to march, rally, sing, dance, listen to speeches, trade stories, and just enjoy each other's company. But this seemed to be something more than that and so I wondered what was the point?

S McCoy

Lance - I hope you'll keep thinking those conflicting, mutually contradicting thoughts. They tell you you're still alive and open to the possibility that there really is a "God shaped hole" in your soul. The atheists you describe are completely close-minded. The very name of their event tells us everything we need to know about their willingness to be reason-able.

Lance Mannion

Btw, Sarah, thanks for the link to The Friendly Atheist. I think you're right, I probably will enjoy his writing. Also, thanks for the link to the Sheep and Wool Festival site. I'm not kidding. When we lived in Syracuse I used to love visiting the sheep and goats barn at the NY State Fair. And did you know I live right across the river from Dutchess County. I get over there regularly. Rhinebeck isn't that far away.

S McCoy, I know a poet who'd say I am headed for "a beautiful deathbed conversion."

C. Adolph

Why the umbrage, Mannion? Your false equivalence to ghosts, vampires, leprechauns, etc. is pretty weak tea. I don't recall many instances of believers in ghosts, vampires, and leprechauns espousing bigotry toward others, torturing, slaughtering innocents, burning people alive, or drowning women for witchcraft.
Believers in gods, on the other hand...
This is why people of reason need to speak up and be recognized in numbers. Two quotes from your link state this effectively:

"People have this notion that atheists are immoral, not trustworthy, unelectable," Mehta says. "How do you change that at such a huge level? It starts by people everywhere just coming out of the closet as atheists."

"We certainly want to let people know, again, we're your friends, we're your neighbors, we're good people," she says. "But I think it's also to our benefit to let people know that we're to be reckoned with, that we're not going to let ourselves be doormats, and that we're mobilized, we're organized, and when people get us angry, we're going to take action."

Now, just because you lack the grapes to fully come over to the obvious (sounds like they still have their fear hooks into you a bit) there is no need to be puzzled as to why others might want a public voice in the matter.
I am what you would call a "militant atheist". When I look around and see the things that go on in this world simply because of people's childlike belief in supernatural hogwash, I feel there is a need to call that irrational shit out on the carpet.
It is absolutely galling to me that, in the beginning years of the 21st century, so many people can remain duped by the greatest bit of hucksterism ever concocted. They have been fear fucked.
And, yes, they are ignorant, deluded, and quite certifiably insane for believing any of it.

Yours in Christ,

Lance Mannion

C Adolph, did I miss a recent auto-de-fe?


This is why Lance is completely and utterly wrong.

And frankly fell alot in my opinion through this demonstration in ignorance and false equivalence.

velvet goldmine

Lance, as usual -- interesting ruminations, gracefully explored.

As for C Adolph: Well, I guess we need militant atheists as outliers in what could be a vital discussion, especially when church and state seem to be getting chummier and chummier.

It sure does make for turgid reading, though.

C. Adolph

Well, no, Mannion. Scant auto-de-fes recently. But, in light of your obtuse riposte, here are some gems from the past few years:

Catholic Church's Sex Abuse Scandal Goes Global
Woman Who Exposed Islamic Clitorectomies Brutally Beaten
Man Accused of Killing 5-Year-Old Boy He Thought Was Gay
Abortion Doctor Shot to Death in Kansas Church
Afghan Immigrants in Canada Found Guilty of Honor Killing
US 'Christian Militants' Charged After FBI Raids

And on and on and on...

Yet, who am I to step on anyone's toes for their sacred beliefs? Torquemada is soooo 15th century. Everyone is much more enlightened now. Just look at these swell fellas:

The Turgid Outlier (h/t Velvet Goldmine)

Lance Mannion

C Adolph,

I thought you read the blog regularly. Then you know what I think of the official Catholic Church and Right Wing Christians. The offenses you list are offenses against humanity in general not against atheists particularly and everybody of conscience and heart ought to band together in horror and outrage and in fact have. But the Reason Rally wasn't really about that, was it? It was about atheist solidarity. Nothing wrong with that, it just looks a little bit like a church forming to me and I don't see why atheists would feel a need for one. Which is why I opened the post with the question.

Lance Mannion

Also, C. Adolph, you seem to have at least one thing in common with the second kind of atheists I describe: you don't seem aware that there are believers who aren't Right Wing Christians or authoritarian Catholics.

But, thanks for bringing up Torquemada.

Lance Mannion

Hello and welcome to new folks looking to leave a comment. You may be wondering why your comment hasn't appeared. Just a note about comment policy. First, comments are moderate and I reserve the right to edit for language and to not publish comments that are designed to inflame or throw off discussion or sell stuff without my permission. Anonymity is respected and protected provided you provide a valid email address (which will not be published)so I can check that you're a real person and so that you take responsibility for your comments.

Here's a fuller accounting of my comment policy.


Here's something I learned in college, a Catholic college, at which I "lost my Faith." In a philosophy class, we read a survey of Existentialists, written by J.P. Sartre. In it, he claimed that Heidigger was an atheist. Pish tush, said the professor. He was no such thing. He never argued for or against the existence of any divine being. Like certain British Logical Positivists, he chose a position that is called 'non-theistic." The question of whether a God, or gods exist is meaningless. There is no evidence to support either position. So why bother arguing about it? It's pointless.
I have held that position ever since, quite happily. If someone asks me, "What happens when you die?" I answer, "You die." You may say something clever as you exit, or simply go "TA-DAH!" But that, I believe, is that. I have a moral code, which does not differ signifigantly from that of liberal Christians. "Be thou not a dick!" sums it up. I just don't expect ice cream in the afterlife.

But when those of us who are denounced by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum for our non-beliefs, either one of whom might become president (Hey, ya never know!), it's time to take a stand. And if certain atheists seem strident, well, that's just too damned bad.

Atheists are not all in lock step about their beliefs, whether it's politics, literary taste, or favorite sports team. But the Reason Rally, awkward as bits of it may have been, was a way of saying "Here we are. And there's a lot of us."
No, there has yet to be an auto da fe. But if it makes our stomachs turn to hear "killers in high places say their prsyers out loud," we will say so, loudly and often.

S McCoy

Lance - me thinks maybe you planted C Adolph to prove your point that atheism is a religion -- complete with all the self righteousness, judgementalism and superiority that Christ came here to oppose. But alas, I don't blame him....if we Christ followers were actually more like Him instead of like the pharisees, perhaps the militant atheists wouldn't be so hard hearted.

Ken Muldrew

The problem with agnosticism is that it kind of misses the point of why people have gods at all. The point being that these are specific gods, with known attributes. At least some attributes are known, even if they accompany a hugeness and magnificent power that is beyond the believer's ability to imagine. A religion based on a god like Spinoza's is of no possible use to anyone, and therefore, of no account.

It becomes much easier to be an atheist when you take these specific attributes into consideration. Some Catholics believe that their god talks to the pope. A ridiculous notion. Most people will have no trouble deciding that they do not believe in that particular god. They don't know, of course, but they have a fine appreciation of nonsense when they see it, and the god who talks to the pope falls into the bin of non-belief. It's just more trouble than it's worth to determine a degree of plausibility for something so unlikely. So one becomes atheist about that particular god.

But not all Catholics think that their god talks to the pope. In fact, if you were to rigorously question a selection of Catholics, you would find that their precise beliefs about their god differed in many respects. And so one might find with each of these gods a particular bit of nonsense that forced one to choose atheism with that particular god. Even believers are likely to be non-believers for many, many different gods, even though they believe in their own particular god. Atheists agree with them on all the other gods, they just take that one extra step of not believing in the particular god of that particular believer as well.

Now refined and moderate believers will proclaim that these specific attributes are just anthropomorphic distractions, that there is an essence of godhood that they all agree with. But if you push them on specifics (e.g. the events portrayed in the Gospels for Christian believers) then they either brush everything off as analogy, metaphor, and the like (in which case they become as irrelevant as Spinoza) or they eventually reach an impasse where their god becomes defined by particular attributes.

One could easily express agnosticism about Spinoza's god (and the spineless essences of the academic believers), but one could also just as easily express agnosticism about whether a stainless steel refrigerator belongs in a residential kitchen. At least the latter has some practical application (though it's a matter of taste, it is, at least, a *matter*). At the end of the day, it's easy to be an atheist for all gods that matter, and pointless to care about any others.

Rebecca Clayton

I studied evolutionary biology in grad school, and, periodically, when opposition to teaching evolution in the K-12 curriculum flared up, we were expected to rally 'round Darwin's flag and discredit those crazy religious folks. Departmental loyalty demanded an expression of contempt for religion.

Now, I'm down with the Nicene Creed, although I don't pretend to understand it. (I feel the same way about chaos theory and relativity.) I didn't appreciate my major professor demanding an expression of non-faith. On the other hand, the anti-evolution people (like Rick Santorum) have an economic motive for a worldview that says the earth is 6000 years old, climate can't change, and the Rapture's coming any day now. That world view indicates there's no need to conserve natural resources, protect nature for future generations, or refrain from wholesale pollution of the environment. Let's make all the money we can, and wallow in it, for tomorrow never comes.

I guess I'm trying to say "A pox on both their houses," which probably explains why I live at a ridge-end on Droop Mountain, and don't go out much. Thanks for your thoughtful essay!


Recently I worked with a bunch of Serious, Self-Identified Atheists videotaping a ballroom dancing convention at an airport hotel near San Francisco, and when I asked the very smart, strange woman who had hired me through a friend why she was an Atheist, her response was sort of fascinating. "It's like being born gay. This is who I was from day one, it's not a reaction to my parents or my personal background, it's because I've found the entire religion-based world I was born into completely insane."

I've been looking at atheists differently ever since meeting her. Even though they can't help but look like a cult/incipient religion because they are so reactive, the Atheists have a serious political and philosophical point of view.

I don't agree with that philosophy, by the way, since I see god left and right in the world at every glance, but I admire their courage and sense that something is deeply wrong, antiquated and absurd with the our inherited religion-based belief systems.

Ian Welsh

I'm an agnostic, which is to say, I don't know, and I know it isn't knowable, and therefor I don't waste a lot of time on it. Who cares if there's a God? As for life after death, I'll find out one way or the other sooner than I like, I expect.

But I certainly do dislike militant atheists. Almost as self-righteous as the fundies they hate, and oh so sure that being an atheist makes them "brave" and "smart" as opposed to as obsessed with God as any fundy down on his knees.

Religion's just another ideology, and they all require belief in metaphysical entities, like liberty, or free markets, or rational actors, a historical dialectic, or an ID. They've always been with us, and they always will.


"This is pure opinion on my part, but atheism, I think, is not simply a non-belief in a deity or a divinity. Atheists, I think, don’t care that God or a god or the gods exist and don’t care that they don’t care, and in fact, hardly even think about the fact that they don’t care. And they don’t care if you care about what they believe or don’t believe. It’d never occur to atheists, true atheists, to try to prove to you there’s no God or explain why they don’t believe or even think to tell you that they don’t believe. In fact, I’d doubt the word of any self-professed atheists who felt the need to profess their non-belief the way born-again Christians feel the need to profess their belief."

I don't understand at all why you think this. What does how vocal or quiet a person is about their atheism (or christianity or buddhism, etc.) have to do with what category of belief/non-belief they fall?

I've been confronted by very vocal christians in very public places and I know many christians who have never spoken to me of religion at all. I doubt any of those folks would say they were more or less christian because of it. I'm an atheist, but I've never been to a rally - I'm just not a joiner. But I'll freely admit to being one if asked and will engage in vigorous conversation if the other party is willing. Does that somehow make me more of an atheist than Richard Dawkins? Why?

And this bit is way too easy:

"Human beings can make a religion of anything. There are atheists among whom atheism is treated in a way that is in practice religious. For one thing, there are practices. There are approved beliefs or rather statements of non-belief, sacred texts, special observances, a pantheon of heroes that reminds this lapsed Catholic of a communion of saints. I don’t see any signs of a priesthood but there are preachers."

I don't (nor do I know any atheist who does) believe The God Delusion is any way 'sacred'. There's a vast gulf between The Bible and The End of Faith that you're trying to bridge with pithiness and baling wire. If you're talking about the Origin of Species, I don't "believe" in that either... I don't have to, it's actually true (in most respects and for the technology of the time).

There's a false equivalence here that I think you could apply to any medium-sized group of people... bridge players, baseball fans, protest movements, etc., etc. Sure, we refer to these things as "religions" sometimes, but not in a literal sense as you're trying to do to atheism. I just don't buy it.

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