A recent study on atheism and agnosticism in the USA has established six categories of non-believers. The newly identified groups are Intellectual Atheist/Agnostics, Activist Atheist/Agnostics, Seeker Agnostics, Antitheists, Non-theists and Ritual Atheist/Agnostics.
There are no atheist missionaries risking their lives to bring science and reason to uncivilized savages. I am beginning to think that this isn’t something we should be proud of. Perhaps this moral high ground is actually cowardice on our part.
The idea of travelling to Third World countries where atheism is equated with witchcraft, where homosexuals are stoned, and women and religious minorities are oppressed, and telling them the god, upon which all their cultural beliefs are based, is a fiction, frightens me too. The prospect of going into low income neighborhoods and knocking on doors to introduce people to deductive reasoning and explain logical fallacies as they relate to religion is terrifying to me. But if we ever hope to free this world and ourselves of this ignorance, isn’t this exactly the sort of thing we should be doing? We often hear famous atheist thinkers saying they are not trying to convert anyone or spread atheism, but if we are not trying to change minds, then what the fuck are we doing?
How do we expect to change the world if we are not on the front lines? How do we expect to free ourselves from the ignorance, immorality, and oppression of organized religion, if we are not willing to be soldiers of reason just as believers rejoice in martyring themselves as soldiers for their deities? They are out there, every day, knocking on doors, handing out their propaganda on street corners, filling the airwaves everyday with their dogma and rhetoric, spreading their delusion. How the hell do we expect to combat this if we are not at least as aggressive with our counter-message? And if we are not willing to take it to such extremes, why bother writing blogs like this one? Why bother writing our books and creating our little organizations and websites?
For the most part, atheism will fail to develop a political voice. Most people simply aren’t interested in a combative atheism. European history is peppered with wars that were fought over religious beliefs, and the modern response has been to sideline discussions about religion and to secularize political discourses. Previous generations openly committed themselves to Christianity – but the decline of religiosity will thus not result in open commitments to atheism in the political arena.
Atheists who want to fully replace religious rituals face an impossible task: Their rhythms would have to be as lasting as the rhythms of Christianity. Atheists would have to find a way to bridge the gap between cosmic timescales and universal history on one side and the individual and experiential horizon of everyday life on the other side – and they would have to make this bridge non-ephemeral and, thus, ritualistic.
But maybe atheists don’t mind. Their focus is a clear demarcation between religion and politics, and their agenda is the limiting of religious rhetoric in public discourse. Modern atheists care about politics, but they don’t seem to be too keen on nurturing new rituals.