‘Atheist’ is a different sort of a label from ‘Christian’ or ‘Muslim’ or ‘Buddhist’ because while the latter three describe people who hold a specific belief systems, being an ‘atheist’ does not.
For example, I can describe one and the same person as a ‘Buddhist’ – which identifies her belief system – or I can also describe her as an ‘atheist’, which does not. Yet, both labels apply to her equally.
Where am I going with this?
I am trying to point out that within ‘the atheist’ movement, people can – in a most general sense – be divided into two categories of ‘atheists’ And, yes – there are many approaches to this, but I am not trying to drag up the old ‘dis-belief’ versus ‘belief in not’ divide, which, while valid, is not what I am after in this particular discussion.
Rather, I would like you to consider another sort of differentiation: into those who disbelieve because they are personally unconvinced/convinced-of-not, and those for whom atheism is simply a part of a larger belief system.
Let’s return to my Buddhist neighbour: her atheism is not due to any expression of individual thought, but because the form of Buddhism she believes in is itself atheistic.
In my never-humble opinion, this makes her ‘atheism’ fundamentally different from that of a person for whom atheism is the end result of skepticism and reasoning. Like I am fond of saying: the means define the end…
Buddhism, however, is not the only belief system which is atheistic.
There are many.
Like Buddhism, some of these beliefs systems are considered ‘religions’, but most would only be defined as ‘religion’ by anthropologists… Still, these belief systems have specific dogmas and people adhere to them, well, religiously.
Say, cultural Marxism pops into mind…
And, by cultural Marxism, I mean that pseudo-intellectual ‘liberalism’ that permeates our halls of higher learning.
I call it ‘pseudo-intellectual’ because the vast majority of the people who espouse it do not do so because they have reasoned things out for them selves, on their own, and intellectualized these conclusions. Rather, they have embraced these views as part of a larger belief system which, in this case, is quite dogmatic.
For people who live in a very religious (theistic) social environment, the journey towards atheism is fraught with self doubt and fear of social ostracism. Expressing their atheism openly is brave and an act of deep individualism.
On the other hand, for people who live in a social environment which is mostly culturally Marxist, holding atheistic views can often be an act of social conformity, because in their sphere of existence, theism is openly ridiculed. Not always – but more often than is healthy…
While both are ‘atheists’, there is a world of difference between the ‘individualist atheist’ (so-to-speak) and the ‘social conformist atheist’.
Until relatively recently, atheists have not organized themselves ‘as atheists’. After all, they don’t form a natural group about a common set of beliefs.
However, a group of people will always be heard more than a few scattered individual voices. This has meant that theistic groups have, for much too long, dominated the social dialogue in our society. It was precisely to balance this deficit that atheists have, in the last few years, begun to get together. To be heard, recognized, and no longer marginalized.
Which is great.
…’atheists’ are composed of all kinds of people, from fierce individualists and of people who are, by nature, collectivists.
These two groups don’t share spotlight very well.
In religious groups, individualism is discouraged and minimized. Not so in the atheist movement – individualism is valued there, so even people who really aren’t open-minded individualists think themselves so…
This is a Humpty-Dumpty type precarious situation.
And the cracks are beginning to appear…
Let me tell you a story about two prominent atheists: P.Z. Myers of Pharyngula and Thunderf00t, perhaps the most famous of the atheists on YouTube.
They got along well, at the various atheist events – for some time.
And while I don’t know where along the ‘individualist to collectivist’ continuum each of them lies, it does seem to me that PZ Myers is much closer to the cultural Marxist dogmatic form of conformist atheism than Thunderf00t himself is.
Thus, a tiff.
Because Thunderf00t’s views on radical feminism are not in agreement with what PZ’s dogma says they ought to be. Or, so it seems to me.
I think that Thunderf00t is genuinely surprised -can’t wrap his brain around it – that when PZ says ‘free to say anything’ and then gets angry that Thunderf00t does, PZ is truly unaware of the depth of hypocrisy he is committing. I suspect that Thunderf00t is much more of a ‘free thinker’, who does not understand that ‘politically correct’ atheists are just as unable to see through their own though-limitations as any dogma-subscribing believers are.
So, how do you tell a ‘thinking atheist’ from a ‘believing atheist’?
I don’t know, really.
But, I suspect that a good litmus test would be asking them about Islam.
While attacking Christian dogma, the ‘cultural Marxist dogma believing’, politically correct atheist will often have trouble treating Islamic dogma equally… In their mind, criticizing Christianity is ‘standing up to authority’ but criticizing Islam for the very same transgressions is ‘culturally insensitive’ and ‘racist’ – never mind that race has nothing to do with a person’s belief system!
Like all attempts at categorizing people, thisone is necessarily highly imperfect. However, the great difference in the very method of reasoning between individualists and collectivists means that even if they share goals, these two groups are necessarily incompatible.
I wonder how future incidents like this will affect the ‘atheist movement’.