Anti-theism: Why Atheism Is Not Enough – A Reply To Reza Aslan

The Atheist Alliance International Conference (AAI) 2007: Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and Hitchens. If you read Rezan Aslan’s latest article, this gathering had the potential for these speakers to lead a pogrom, taking all steps to eradicate the most dangerous virus imaginable: religion. To think the unthinkable on those that could not be cured from the God delusion.

Five of us young things at the conference were group interviewed by a journalist. She asked us if we would wish religion away, so everyone would be atheists like us. Her face dropped when we all replied no. People had to think for themselves and not have anyone forcing their beliefs on them. It seems the need for atheists to say why rejecting religion with vitriol is not the same as a slippery slope to extermination of people is needed no matter how educated a person like Aslan keeps reminding us. Our contention is religion has given too much cover for such harm, that it needs repudiating not replicating.

Aslan would probably argue us five interviewed at AAI fell into the 85% atheist category,  with the other 15% being “anti-theists” who would use the magic wand Sam Harris mentioned to eradicate religion. Thing is we do not believe in magic wands. In his piece he gives sound bite quote minded material, claiming “militant atheism” is a product of the enlightenment. That then gave birth to anti-theism which then underpinned Soviet society.

Except nowhere does Aslan mention Marxism or Communism as a factor. Which rather denies the bloody revolutionary legacy of Marx. You would think it was all from hating religion – rather than a sociological political power play that was anti-pluralistic in its desire for domination of thought and action of citizens in society in the name of the proletariat. A trait in common with religious fundamentalists wanting a theocratic state.

Just as Andrew Brown did in a previous piece, the aim by Aslan is to bypass communism, so as to lay the massacre of the religious as part of modern atheism hating religion. For anyone that knows the history of Russia, it’s not that simple.

For a scholar, as the article reminds us Aslan is, this will not do. If you actually examine the anti-theism that Hitchens mentions in “Letters to A Young Contrarian”, it is about rejecting the state or society laying any claim on the thoughts, speech and expression of it’s citizens via religion. There is no room for tyranny by atheists or theists here. People are the be all and end all – not chattel for priests or the state to use for their envisioned Utopia. The book is dedicated to the rejection by word thought and deed of communism in Europe, as you would expect by a writer that rejects authoritarianism in all its forms throughout human history. The contrarian should risk living their life as if you are already free.

Religion is never able to lay off how people should live their lives. Insisting no less on penalties that go beyond the grave. Never mind on the living by preventing them from being truly alive. Whether love, laughter, beauty or art religion attempts to lay claim not just to the sublime version (if it allows). They claim authority to regulate human perception to make what should be the broad joy of living into a narrow road. With the brief journey of existence fixed on obtaining the eternal afterlife.

The Old Testament commands genocide against the inhabitants of various cities as the Israelites go for the Promised Land. The concept of child sacrifice plays out in the old and new – Isaac to Jesus with daughters of generals sacrificed in between – as a virtue to redeem humankind. Let alone killing your family members if they think such a faith is not for them in Deuteronomy. While Jesus talks of setting families apart and against each other for he has brought the sword, not peace to humankind. Seriously, you want to claim religion is about peace?

Rape does not make it in the Ten Commandments. Coveting your neighbours property – which includes his wife like his oxen – really does not cover that. The violations of ones humanity should not be dependent on further diminishing them as property. Slavish devotion to it’s words should be enough to put you off such a book, which allows slavery, being the way society should be run.

Even the “golden rule” of love your neighbour as yourself cannot destroy slavery for the early Christians. Rather they are exalted to be slaves for Christ. Clearly we need to move beyond this text as a basis not only for human discourse but living our lives in harmony and peace. Cherry picking is the least that can be done. For I hold humanity is capable to live more morally and ethically now than these holy texts would have us do. The problem is those that do not wish to – the Boko Haram, ISIS, Lord Resistance Army and theocrats of this world  – have plenty of stuff to choose from in the suppression and subjugation of others in these books.

The bible is clearly written not by the hand of God. It is the work of men, with the story telling and ideas of it’s times. That people believe in divine authorship enough to suggest their interpretation should create a theocratic state, is what needs to be challenged. God is not great because he is the product of an osmosis of human emotion and needs. To be feared, loved, sated and praised. Hitchens did not suggest liberating humanity from an imaginary monster by declaring war on religious people.

Hitch stated quite clearly his view of religion – leave me out of it. Let my children grow up without this nonsense pushed down their throat. Do not fund churches and their activities out of my taxes to perpetuate it. To suggest as an anti-theist he, or any new atheist, would promote us towards violence to eradicate religion is a disgrace by Aslan.

In the end, Aslan is repeating the blood libel that atheists will massacre the religious just like Stalin and Mao. Despite mentioning polls that show atheists to be moved by principles of ethics, he cannot help but claim that using language to raise consciousness about the harm of religion literally means behaving like a militant fundamentalist awaiting the call to massacre. It is precisely because of the harm religion advocates, it’s intolerance to difference, the desire to harm non believers in this life or the next, that not only are we against religion but we do not wish to mimic its barbarity.

Atheism as a word just did not explain the danger and harm religion has inflicted on people. Positive or negative atheism as terms do not bring out the total rejection that religion should have anything to do with how society should be governed or considered a civic role to be involved in such a duty. That was why Hitchens used the term anti-theist.

He was for the liberty of people, not for the Gods or texts to control people via arrogant human animals who claim to exercise divine authority. You may believe voluntarily as you choose. The cry of the anti-theist is not to behead the believer, to make atheism the state belief, to prevent religious freedom, build chambers of death, or send out armies to kill religious people.

The battle cry is to leave me out of it, for the sake of a free and equal citizenship to build up that wall between church and state. That universal human rights are not to be denied because religion is claimed to reject it.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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3 Comments

Filed under AAI Conference 2007, atheism, Hitchens, Religion, secular

3 responses to “Anti-theism: Why Atheism Is Not Enough – A Reply To Reza Aslan

  1. K P Spong

    It is always sad to see, when someone falls back on intellectual dishonesty in order to defend religion. Doubly so when the one doing the falling back is a scholar of some talent and intelligence. The oary old chestnut that “Communism was atheist and murderous, therefore atheism threatens blood and mayhem,” is a busted flush. Marxis-Leninism (The God That Failed) is a dangerous philosophy not because it’s atheist, but because, like all utopian ideologies, it is a continuation of religion by another name. To ignore this is to rewrite history. Mr Aslan should know better.

  2. Sean

    It is kind of ironic that you said antitheism does not want to prevent religious freedom. At least that is the vibe I got from other Antitheists. As a Deist I support the separation of church and state; but do certain Antitheists go as far as discriminating and abusing believers just because they believe in a god, or practice their religion independently? I am frustrated and confused over antitheism, because I’ve only heard that antitheism only sees the cons more than the pros in religion and independent belief systems.

    • Undoubted there are people that would reduce religious freedom for others. Though theocrats can be like that just as an atheist can. And there are plenty of ignorant and abusive people.

      For me anti-theism is a rejection of the supernatural involvement of a deity in human affairs, and a positive response to argue against supernatural claims by humans trumping the freedom of others to live their lives. If you watch the video in post, Hitchens expands on that.

      Religion is one thing and people another. It is people being allowed to be discriminatory or abusive because of religion which an anti-theist will oppose.

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