Dogmatic Atheism or the Return of the Religious…

John Gray provocatively begins his interesting article “The Curious Dogmatism of Atheists” (reprinted in Friday’s Fin) with the assertion that –

A revival of atheism is a curious byproduct of the September 11 attacks.

We’ve read a lot recently about religion and politics, which I think is a debate we have to have, but not a lot about atheism and politics. Gray’s article confirms something I’ve always suspected, which is that atheism is a peculiarly Western phenomenon, and usually a mirror image of some form of Christianity. Of course, as a byproduct of globalisation and modernity, we now have Islamic atheists like Ibn Warraq.

Among other reflections, Gray makes a point about atheism which I would illustrate by pointing out that (for instance) Atheist Catholics always strongly disbelieve in the Immaculate Conception and Transubstantiation. I would add that Atheist Lutherans (while possibly strongly disbelieving in Consubstantiation) are most likely to be utterly indifferent to the dogmatic theologemes about the Virgin Mary. Atheism too has a history – an interesting one in terms of its interplay with modernity and politics, if as Gray also observes, a rather tedious one in terms of propaganda for dogmatic disbelief. (While the 19th century spawned several obscure ‘churches’ devoted to atheism – we have a postmodern equivalent in Philip Adams’ well-intentioned but rather silly update of the ‘Ten Commandments’ into ‘‘Twelve Lifestyle Choices’.)

In a lot of his recent writing, Gray’s made a point with which I thoroughly agree – a lot of our political narratives and cultural touchstones are secularised dogma. For instance, he argues:

The idea of the end of history, which Marx deployed in his account of communism and Francis Fukuyama revived in his declaration of the global triumph of democracy, is a hollowed-out version of the Christian view of history as a universal moral drama, ending in salvation.

Gray also makes the important point that Neo-Con dreaming (and for that matter any variety of American universalism) is only possible in a culture framed by Christian universalism. The French treatment of Islamic immigrants and the debate there over secular education is also a reflection of the universalism of the French Revolution and a history of anti-clerical secularism, which additionally has a distorting influence on French foreign policy.

Although Christopher Marlowe was famously suspected of being an atheist, there are few mentions prior to early modernity of atheism as a belief structure. Here’s Gray again:

Atheism is not a freestanding worldview. Polytheist cultures may contain philosophies that assert the indifference of the gods – Epicureanism is an example, and others can be found in ancient India and China – but they do not produce atheists, who emerge only in reaction against monotheism. Atheism is primarily an episode in the history of the decline of Christianity, and the idea that there is anything resembling an atheist tradition beyond that limited context is a category mistake.

Where atheism gained its cultural significance and the purchase it still has on our social imaginaries was with the dawning of the Enlightenment. A lot of social-scientific and humanistic disciplines as we know them today are effectively anti-theologies, having their origins in an attempt to overturn theology’s position as Queen of the Sciences. Similarly, the drive to topple God from his throne (or decentre him as a universal referent for all knowledge) is closely bound up with the emergence of freedom as a key political value in Liberalism.

There has been a lot of talk for a while about a ‘Return of the Religious’. Gilles Keppel, an excellent French sociologist and an authority on Islamism and Politics talks of the ‘Revenge of God’. A number of factors are noted – the politicisation of Islam and fundamentalist Christianity, the blurring of the normative church/state separation that is at the heart of Liberalism, the return of religious motifs in popular culture and literature.

I’d suggest, by contrast, that religion never went away. Liberalism, as I’ve argued before, works best in a climate of relative value consensus. Once value consensus is eclipsed by dissensus, religion is a natural point of dissension around which political and cultural agendas cluster.

But for those who are concerned to uphold the normative separation of religion and politics (and I’m one of them) are the only alternatives a flight into a reverse dogmatism (as I think people like Philip Adams implicitly suggest) or a resignation – with Gray – that we need to acknowledge the place of “mystery” in politics? I’d argue for a third alternative – a reclamation of the humanist and critical scepticism associated with that great writer of early modernity – Michel de Montaigne, a wry and ironic but passionate scepticism about all claims to absolute certainty and a resolute desire to subject all dogmas to reflection and argument, including one’s own.

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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James Farrell
James Farrell
2021 years ago

Among other reflections, Gray makes the point that (for instance) Atheist Catholics always strongly disbelieve in the Immaculate Conception and Transubstantiation.

Gray doesn’t say this in the Fin piece: perhaps it’s in the original article. In any case it’s nonsensical. Would someone who has ceased to believe in Santa be likely to go around vehemently insisting that Santa doesn’t live in the North Pole?

Immaculate Conception, by the way, refers to not to the virgin birth but to Mary’s having been conceived herself without original sin. Pardon me if you already know this; most people don’t.

The fact that atheism has been a largely European, anti-Christian phenomenon is hardly surprising, since the Enlightenment occurred in the context of European Christendom.

Not believiing in God is no more dogmatic than not believing in the Easter Bunny.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Mark

I certainly agree wholeheartedly with your closing paragraph. But I would dispute the claim by Gray that atheism “emerge(s) only in reaction against monotheism”. It’s certainly true that atheism has emerged mostly in the West, which has been characterised by Christianity. But, as you otherwise suggest, atheism as a sustainable intellectual position is largely generated by Science, and especially by Darwin and various cosmological discoveries, the net result of which is that one doesn’t need logically to posit a deity to explain the origin or development of the universe. Atheism is therefore a logical/rational conclusion (although not the only possible one) flowing from assessment of the objectively verifiable facts uncovered by Science, not a “reaction against monotheism”.

Of course, some argue that Science itself, as a product of the Enlightenment, could only have arisen in a monotheistic milieu that included the sorts of individualist, questioning strains of thought that came to exist at the time of the Renaissance. But that’s another question.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

James, thanks for picking me up on that. I think that was actually my extrapolation/illustration of Gray’s argument. Having been a holy card winner on several occasions at Confirmation Class at OLR, Kenmore, I do understand the difference between the various Marian dogmas – again, I may have been a bit sloppy in my writing but I was trying to talk generally about various Marian beliefs with a few examples.

I do disagree with you – I think the psychology of this phenomenon is common – Gray makes the point that a lot of dogmatic atheism is stuck at a sort of adolescent level – the time at which people originally rejected faith. It makes sense that if our construct of religion has a determinate context, then our rejection of that construct will be in counterposed terms. I don’t think the Santa analogy holds, as the worldview is much more all-encompassing and being raised religious normally inspires much more emotional affect than hearing about Santa.

Ken, I don’t disagree that atheism is a possible rational conclusion, though I’d suspect that agnosticism is possibly a more defensible conclusion from the same premisses. I’d be inclined to agree also that science also arose from a “monotheistic milieu” – as you say, that’s another debate – but I think it reinforces Gray’s argument. But I don’t think we’re far apart here. I also would suggest that the dissemination of science as a practice and body of knowledge as part of the process of modernisation to non-Western cultures also provides the cultural conditions of possibility for the transmission of atheism as a belief set (not to mention also Western political ideologies – whether Liberal or Socialist).

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

James, thanks again for drawing my attention to the ambiguity in my post which I’ve now fixed – I was writing too quickly this morning and had intended to write something like what is now there – this is something I seem to be very prone to – the fingers on the keyboard run ahead of the brain.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2021 years ago

Mark: I’m willing to concede that certain individuals have a propensity to cling to dogmas, shape their identities around them, and promote them intolerantly. Such individuals are also capable of leaping from one dogma to its ostensive opposite: Trotsyites become neo-cons, beatniks become Muslims, and so on. Out of a sense of betrayal, and of course in same cases personal rancour, they may indeed reserve their most bitter criticism for the doctrines that were previously their most treasured.

But this is the only sense I can attach to the notion of an Atheist Catholic. By contrast, most reflective ex-catholics I know shed their doctrines quite naturally from about the age of sixteen, in ascending order of implausibility, i.e. starting with guardian angels and ending with God himself. We continue to marvel the mysteries of the cosmos, feel no hostility toward the idea of spirituality or group celebration, and still get a buzz out of singing the hymns we learned.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

James, I’d agree about the dogmatism of former strong believers in a body of beliefs morphing into their opposite – the ex-Comm turned Macarthyist informer is another example.

Maybe my claim lacks a bit of nuance or has been made a little too strongly – but I would suggest that the influence of a Catholic upbringing persists even if not dogmatically. Hence the phenomenon on the “cultural Catholic”. I still think that an initial socialisation at a young age into a body of belief with an all-encompassing worldview will continue to have effects throughout life despite increasing distance from that belief, and I don’t think that invalidates my argument.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2021 years ago

I have always thought that most Anglican atheists are either Bishops or Archbishops.

Most christian atheists are entering the Uniting denomination judging by their beliefs.

Ken,
Darwin doesn’t challenge any christian belief as God put little emphasis on how he created the Earth rather he concentrated on why and for whom he created it.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Homer, atheism, skepticism or agnosticism is not unusual among Anglican clerics (or it seems, Swedish and Danish Lutheran ones) because of the rationalistic basis on which Anglican theology was grounded (Hooker is interesting in this context) not to mention the pushstart given to secularisation by setting up a state church.

Cameron Riley
2021 years ago

I dont know how the neo-con view of the world necessarily requires religion, to be framed correctly. Their foreign policy is the main sticking point, and that is the aggressive and interventionist use of the military to change other nation-states. Doesn’t have anything to do with religion and everything to do with having hegemony, and using that hegemony aggressively.

The rhetoric the US uses is the enlightenment’s rhetoric. I consider the US Republic the triumph and the end of the enlightenment. When Bush gets up and talks about freedom and liberty it is very Madisonian/Jeffersonian and entirely fitting within the philosophical underpinnings of the US Republic. Bush’s issue is that the rhetoric doesn’t match reality. It is powerful rhetoric none-the-less.

Another aspect of American society is just how religious it is. Most industrialized nations have shed religion as they have grown in wealth and liberty. Except the US. When I was at Montpelier (Madison’s house) in Virginia, the guide went to great pains to explain that Madison did believe in God. When I said, “He was Deist right?” She dodged the question.

The “under god” issue in the pledge of allegiance is an ongoing problem in the US. To a Deist and probably the most important of the founding fathers (other than Hamilton), the notion of a nation being under the eye and guiding hand of god is repugnant.

To match modern American societies desire for religiosity in their lives and government has meant that the founding fathers have been mythologised into wanting religion in their government. Since many of them were young, radical thinkers trained in the enlightenment and science, founding fathers such as Madison saw little need for God in their life or government.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Cameron, it’s really an argument about different levels of causality – and I don’t know how clear Gray made that in his argument. The Neo-Cons are just an example of his contention (which is not original to him or an unusual one) that the Western drive to imperialism (whether 16th century, 19th century or 21st century) and also to remake the world in our own image is a cultural peculiarity of Christian universalism. The contrast would be the lack of any comparable expansionist drive on the part of the Chinese empire – a civilisation based in very different religious, cosmological and cultural axioms. Comparable – because of similar cultural origins – is the phenomenon of Islamic imperialism and expansionism (another universalistic faith).

Really, what Gray is talking about is more like a condition of possibility (in the Kantian sense) or a cause at a relatively deep historical level or several times removed, if you like.

As to the American founding fathers, one should also note the rejection of an established church that happened progressively in State constitutions after the Revolution. I agree with you about their intentions and philosophy, but Jeffersonian Deism and the founders’ particular brand of Enlightenment rationailsm lost the argument pretty quickly – which had a fair bit to do actually with the rapid democratisation of American politics and society after the “Jacksonian Revolution”.

Irant
2021 years ago

It is common in anti-athiest screeds to assume that atheist have some sort of arrested intellectual/spiritual development. I concede there are some (usually militants) that seem childish but I’d argue Gray is throwing out a strawman here. While I may view that fundamentalist christianity is a simplistic, erronous belief that doesn’t meant that its adherents have not given much thought to their position.

I do whole heartedly agree with Mark’s conclusion. I think at the heart of dogmatism (whether it be belief/non-belief) is a fear that one’s convictions are wrong. But we live in a society where flexibilty in how someone views the world is taken for sign of weakeness so I am not hopeful that Mark’s third alternative will be as common as needed.

C.L.
C.L.
2021 years ago

Interestingly, the religious liberty document promulgated by the Second Vatican Council was very much an American enterprise. John Courtney Murray figured prominently. One aim of Dignitatis Humanae was to disestablish the notion that Catholicism in Europe (or any religion anywhere) should enjoy special favour by the state. This was considered to be some uniquely New World (and inherently American) wisdom for the modern world.

It’s ironic that Europe culturally disestablished Christianity of its own cultural volition anyway and that the religious liberty leaders were from what is now the last European culture in the world in which Christianity is so closely linked to politics and governance.

I read The Faith of George W. Bush a few months ago. I was taken aback when the author told the story of how Bush the Elder got in real trouble with powerful pentecostalists because he – a non-demonstrative Episcopalian – wouldn’t say he was “born again.”

I suppose one can speak of dogmatic atheism, especially if it – or its culturally ancillary baggage – imitate the normative proselytism one associates with Christianity. It’s not as though atheists seek converts outwardly like televangelists. More importantly in the modern era, moral relativism, situation ethics and postmodernist hand-wringing about truth are indeed taught, handed down and used to influence public policy.

There is more than a mirror-image of religiosity there and more than a little dogmatism displayed by the hierarchs of the New Religion when challenged.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2021 years ago

Three quick points, Mark:

1. It doesn’t make sense to reject a basic proposition, e.g, that God exists; and then expend effort in refuting a subsidiary proposition, e.g. that God is a Trinity, or that Mary was conceived without original sin. Unless you’re a bit mad.

2. In his famous debate with Fr. Copleston, Bertrand Russell defined an atheist as someone who beleived the non-existence of God could be demonstrated. But the non-believers to whom this definition applies could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand, so it’s not a useful definition. What most atheists mean by the term is that they have not encountered persuasive evidence that any sort of God exists. This is a simple default position, not a dogma.

3. Paul Sheehan has a set-piece that he recycles at random intervals, arguing that the opposition to Bush and his evangelical supporters is motivated by atheist bigotry. If I reacted strongly to your post it’s because it seemed to echo that theme, however faintly. It feels like a variant of the anti-American, anti-semitic stuff that’s been going round lately, although this is probably the last thing you intended. It’s hard enough work trying to argue a case about politics or religion without having to first fend off charges of prejudice.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

James, yes, but if the doctrine of the Trinity has been drummed into you at an early age and you think it’s easy to pick logical holes in you’re likely to seize on that as a bit of a dogmatic destruction job. It’s easier than proving the non-existence of God (not that I think that makes any sense).

No worries about vigorous debate – you’re spot on that I’m totally at odds with Paul Sheehan and not at all of the opinion that atheist bigotry is at the heat of the opposition to Bush.

CL – the other irony is that John Courtney Murray is now deeply out of fashion and that the curial maneouvring and the backlash against Dignitatis Humanae after the Council led to a continued push to intervene in secular politics. There are faint echoes of this in current Spanish politics.

Thanks, Irant, for a thoughtful comment. I’m also not sanguine about the likelihood of my third alternative succeeding but keep on plugging away.

Graham
2021 years ago

I’ve come to regard that atheism, or rather, secularism, was the next logical step after the Reformation (hence, as James Farrell points out in the first comment, it’s rather a European phenomenon); after all, if one no longer accepts the interpretation of the gospel according to the Vatican, and want to figure it out for yourself (remember why Gutenberg’s Bible was so controversial), one can hardly be blamed if they’ve managed to figure out that the whole shebang is just a cute fairy tale. Involving lots of blood.

(Of course, the UCA doesn’t do exclusion, so I do turn up at the church at Xmas, just to make Mum happy, I guess.)

On the other hand, becoming dogmatic about it seems pretty counter-productive. Active proselytising, for any creed, tends to piss most people off and often invokes a reactionary response.

Also, atheism often gets confused in the minds of detractors with paganism or Satanism, to the point where they get their arguments in a tangle and end up making themselves look even sillier.

At least atheism isn’t the dirty word in Australia that I get the impression that it is in the USA, where in many parts there is an active prejudice against atheists, so most tend to label themselves with the weasel words “secular humanist” or “unitary universalist”.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Graham, in fact the logical conclusion was indeed made by some in the Radical Reformation – including the predecessors of the Unitarian Church. I’m indebted to R.J.W. Evans’ The Making of the Habsburg Monarchy for the information that Transylvania had the first, and possibly last Atheist reigning prince in Europe.

Amanda
2021 years ago

I am curious about what (if anything) he bases his claim that Sept 11 resulted in “a revival of atheism.” A bit of googling turns up not alot. Any ideas?

Norman
Norman
2021 years ago

As someone who first began to worry about the alleged existence of the Christian God while I was an Infants School pupil in the 40s, I’ve long been fascinated by what people COULD believe. As a long standing indifferent agnostic, I’ve come to realise it’s simply that we feel a need to “understand” what’s taking place outside our body; and it doesn’t matter so much WHAT our personal lifebuoy is, as long as we have one. That’s why so many no sooner cast aside blind one set of blindly held set of beliefs, than they accept another.
Sometimes this leads to bitter denunciation of the past, sometimes it appears to cause amnesia, as with Federal Politician Jenny George, who apparently can’t even remember past links with the Communist Party.
So whenever we’re criticising the manner in which others are blindly “fundamentalist”, it does well to remember most of us tend to be that way on something. It’s just that we “know” we’re so right on it that we couldn’t possibly be acting in precisely the same manner as those with whom we disagree on issues where they’re so patently not as “correct” as ourselves.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Amanda, in the article he writes:

The causes and motives of the suicidal assaults on Washington and New York are not fully known, but for unbelievers they were acts of self-destructive terrorism that no secular mind could commit. With the retreat of Christianity in Europe, it may have seemed that unbelief was also in decline. In the event, unbelief has been given a new lease of life by a savage reminder of the persistent intensity of faith.

He doesn’t develop the point in the body of the article but concludes as follows:

Discussing the September 11 attacks at the start of the series, Miller commented that only people who believed they would survive bodily death could have committed such acts, involving as they did the certainty of death for themselves. It is a curiously innocent observation, leaving out of consideration the secular fanatics – communists, Nazis and others – who, without ever doubting that death is the end, were ready to die as well as kill for the cause. A contempt for life – one’s own and that of others – is not the exclusive privilege of religious believers, and in the 20th century it was more commonly found among adherents of secular faiths. After the disasters of the 20th century these secular creeds went into a steep decline but, with the emergence of a virulent form of fundamentalism, a moribund tradition of evangelical unbelief has undergone a revival. Happily, the atheist revival depends for its vitality on the primitive religiosity to which it is a response, and when that sputters out we can look forward to being rid of unbelief as well.

Amanda
2021 years ago

Yeah, I read the article. I even read it again. I still see no evidence for such a revival and suspect he is just using it as a convenient hook on which to hang his general thesis.

Call me one of those souless sceptics, I’d like to see some data. I’d take an anecdote or two to start with. The American Atheist website and other sources online report church attendance rose after the attacks and then settled back into normal levels. God knows those atheists don’t get too many free kicks, you’d think they’d be trumpeting any great social change in their direction.

I find the article (and Gray in general, from what I’ve read before this) too top heavy with generalisations and grinding axes to be much help.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Yeah, Amanda, that struck me too – I’d also like to see some evidence. I think what Gray is on about is just using s11 as a hook for his argument (which he repeats in his recent books) about the problems of progress and the perils of secular ideologies. In his book Al Qaeda and What it Means to be Modern, he makes the claim – with which I’d agree – that Islamism is a product of modernisation, but there are certainly other authors who support that claim with more evidence and sustained argumentation. Gray’s call for an openness to mystery in politics is I think a slightly incoherent one (there’s a sense in which I’d agree with him but one very far from what I think he means) and I was really using his piece as a starting point for some reflections of my own on religion, atheism and politics – the real point of my post was in the last para. Gray has some interesting ideas and I find him a provocative thinker – but more for the thoughts he stimulates than the quality of his empirical analysis, which is certainly open to the critique you make.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

This isn’t the same John Gray who wrote that truly stomach-churning self-help book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, is it? If it is, that would certainly account for the sweeping generalisations with no evidence to support them.

Amanda
2021 years ago

Oh absolutely I’m behind the hopes in your final paragraph — we can only dream. I think “passionate scepticism” is a lovely phrase. I will follow up the de Montaigne link, thanks.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2021 years ago

Ken
no, the two John Grays are like 60 IQ points apart. That’s gross libel to confuse the two! This is the British John Gray, a Professor at the LSE (I think) who has written countless tomes on classical liberalism, Hayek and Isaiah Berlin. He does have a tendency to be flitty, going from Hayekian to Burkean Conservative to now some of post-modernist ironist,.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Jason’s right – I compared Robert Manne to John Gray in a previous thread – he’s moved ideological positions a few times – in his Burkean Conservative phase, he was disgusted with Thatcherism and started writing pro-Blair articles for the press in 1994. He’s Professor of European Thought at LSE.

Amanda, you have to read Montaigne’s Essays: they’re beautiful reading!

Norman
Norman
2021 years ago

Although religious belief per se may not have been the basis of September 11, I’d suggest that there’s an enormous body of data available which indicates that semi-identification with a religion can lead to people blindly supporting a cause. There are other factors at work, but ther’s a feeling of “connection” with members of that group which provides the basis for their actions.
One of my workmates, a sincere member of the Rightwing Catholic junta controlling the N.S.W. Labor Party genuinely felt he was fighting to bring justice to his fellow Catholics. Understandable, even if I disagreed with him — but he didn’t believe in God, and was amused that anyone could, and he wasn’t even Irish. This sort of sociological catholic has increasd in numbers over the years, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find there are even greater numbers of sociological muslims out there.
Belief in a God may help some take actions which lead to their death, but obviously as someone has pointed out already — and you don’t have to be a Nazi or Communist fanatic to do it. In both the World Wars, Australian troops, in general, were far less likely than their U.S. counterparts were, to believe in a God up there who would be on their side and waiting for them. This didn’t stop the Australians showing a greater willingness to face death, even if they were only doing it for their mates, and not a God who was omniscient, omnipotent — and all loving?

Gaby
Gaby
2021 years ago

Hi Mark,

A belated happy New Year to you.

Thanks for pointing this piece out. I found Mr John Gray’s article one of the stupidest pieces I have recently read. If this is the standard of debate about atheism among theists, then atheism has nothing to worry about.

A vituperative polemic untouched by reasoned argument. But then what can one expect from such silly theses as his about atheism and belief in a god or gods.

I agree with James Farrell in the comments thread.

The characterization of atheism as an “unbelief” is revealing, as opposed to a belief in the non-existence of something. As is the peppering of the piece with pejorative epithets such as “extremely dogmatic”, “need for certainty”, “fixation”, “parody”, “anxious obsession”, “adolescent credulity”, with all of whose applications I would vociferously disagree.

What really made me laugh (out loud) was his claim that an atheist tradition and an atheist morality are “category mistakes”! Really? He is a philosopher isn’t he?

The less said about sheeting home to atheism all of the horrors of the 20th century the better.

Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

And a happy new year to you, Gaby.

Gray’s argument is flawed in places and overly polemical as you highlight but I still defend the view that atheism in the West is largely a reaction to Christianity and therefore an “unbelief”.

Gaby
Gaby
2021 years ago

Isn’t “non-belief” better? I’m not sure what an “unbelief” is.

Atheism, in its provenance, may have been a reaction to Western theism, but so what? It has now left it far behind.

And anyway, I think the onus in argument is on the theist to advance cogent reasons in support of belief. Otherwise I may be believing in a chimera.

Finally, contra Gray, theodicy is not the “central question” in religion for an atheist. The non-existence of gods is. It very likely is, however, for a Western theist, especially of a Christian flavour given postulations of omni- potence, science or beneficience.

Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Gaby, unbelief in the sense that it’s a specific reaction to the culturally hegemonic belief in the Christian God. Logically, atheists could be completely disinterested in the Christian God, but in practice they tend to argue against particular aspects of Christian belief rather than against abstract theism. Atheism as “non-belief” will I think gain ground as the number of people indifferent to religion or never raised in a religion grows.

We talked about this here:

http://troppoarmadillo.ubersportingpundit.com/archives/008085.html

Gaby
Gaby
2021 years ago

Mark, I’m not sure I understand the significance of your point.

Again, I think the core argument atheism has with Christianity is about the existence of a god. On arguing about other aspects, I’m with James Farrell: atheism winning this one renders other arguments about theological niceties moot. About the same ontological interest as the number of angels who (which?) can dance on a pinhead.

By the way, the url doesn’t take me to a page.

Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Gaby, just that atheism manifests itself differently whether it’s an indifference to religion (something I’d argue is a relatively new phenomenon) or whether it’s actively posited against a particular religious belief.

The link works for me. Here it is again just in case:

http://troppoarmadillo.ubersportingpundit.com/archives/008085.html

The entry is called “The Tribe of None”. You could find it by looking under “religion” as a category in the archives.

Gaby
Gaby
2021 years ago

Mark,

I’ve had a think about your last reply and I think we have to disagree on this one. I just can’t see the significance of the distinction you are making or perceive the differences in atheism’s “manifestations” against monotheisms. Atheism may have manifested itself differently historically, but there is no necessity to this or need to restrict it to such historical contexts.

This goes with denials of Gray’s views that atheism “is not a freestanding worldview” and that it emerges in reaction against monotheism. His claim that polytheisms can’t or don’t produce atheisms just leaves me puzzled. Is this just an historical or empirical claim or something deeper? Ken Parish in the thread above has already picked up on these points.

Reasons in support of atheism work against mono and poly flavours of theism.

Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Gray’s claim is an empirical and a historical one – atheism developed largely in the West after monotheism took hold.

Gaby
Gaby
2021 years ago

Mark,

Given the context and tenor of the remark, my reading is that Gray is trying to make something more out his point that “atheism” needs an oppositional monotheism. It is vague what this is.

If so, then his argument strikes me as a “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy.

Further, aren’t all of these traditions interweaved? Didn’t Christianity originate as a sect of Judaism? And Islam develop in consciousness of the other religions of the “Book”? Why aren’t there similar “oppositional needs” here?

Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Yes, Gaby, I’m not defending Gray’s argument holus bolus. As I said above, I really just wanted to use him as a jumping off point for some reflections on dogmatism.

Fyodor
2021 years ago

Interesting point, Gaby. I don’t know of any monotheistic faith that didn’t arise from a polytheistic environment, i.e. monotheistic religions evolved from polytheistic religions.

So if atheism follows monotheism, and monotheism follows polytheism, does that suggest atheism as the ultimate evolution of historical immaterialism?

Ga
Ga
2021 years ago

Mark, yes I can see that but I suppose that is one of the things I am reacting against. That atheism is a “secularized dogma” or a “mirror image” of Christianity. I’m struggling with this idea.

Fyodor, I think you are right. The ultimate disappearence of the multiplicity, but simultaneous oneness, of the Godhead into nothingness and non-existence.

Fyodor
2021 years ago

The Advaita Hindus would agree, and say the next step along from monotheism is monism, i.e. God and the universe are one, with no dualist distinction.

It’s interesting that the Hindu monist view of cosmology beginning with a state of “being-unbeing” is reminiscent of quantum theory. It could be that the Hindus had it right 1000 years before Jesus popped up in Johnny Arab-land.

Gaby
Gaby
2021 years ago

Interesting connections, Fyodor.

Possible right conclusion, but for wrong reasons.

Rafe
2021 years ago

It looks as though I had better come to the rescue and kill this thread:)
Actually I am sorry I didn’t have time to get into this discussion the first time around.
The really interesting thing about the psychology of belief (as opposed to the arguments for and against the existence of deities) is the way that it leaked out of religion into modern science by way of the two major rival schools of epistemology – Rationalism and Empiricism. The result has been a kind of “true belief” approach to science which has created a lot of confusion about the way that one can support scientific theories. For example the ‘true belief’ approach is exemplified by David Stove’s attack on Popper. This has played into the hands of the creation scientists. The appropriate attitude, which in some circles is called critical rationalism, is summmed up in the last para of Mark’s introduction.