My Atheism Will Not Save the World

After working professionally in the atheist movement, something about my passion for the cause dwindled. This happens a lot to me — I take on a given subject as my profession, and I subsequently grow disillusioned in said subject. Something about a thing becoming one’s job can spoil it.

But after putting aside theatre a few years ago, I rediscovered my love for it, and now I find all the opportunities to return to it that I can. I once worked on behalf of electoral reform, and though I eventually felt saturated by it, I now recall why it was so important to me, and my desire to see major reforms to our electoral system has been rekindled. Etcetera.

But this has not happened yet with the atheist/secularist movement. I still feel very strongly that theism and superstition are dangerous and silly, but I can’t live and breathe the atheist culture like I once did. I never visit the major blogs anymore, I rarely blog on the subject myself, and on the whole I find myself rolling my eyes at 90 percent of the online content generated in the atheist/skeptic genre. Yes, yes, I get it, a literalist interpretation of the Bible is stupid. Agreed.

Don’t we have anything to talk about after that?

Not much, it seems sometimes. The last time the atheist culture crept back into my attention was during the risible “elevator-gate” hubbub, and that was mainly because it included some unforgivable bile-throwing at my Bespectacled Blog Twin. This was not what I had signed up for.

What had I signed up for, then? As with almost any field I dive into, it is usually with the quixotic hope that it will save the world. Fix elections, give people the gift of great art, elect progressive candidates, etc. In this case, I wanted to save the world from dangerous beliefs, from the imposition of those beliefs in every corner of our lives.

But we aren’t getting anywhere.

So this has forced me to reexamine what I really believe to be the core issue. Is it really that theism and adherence to astrology is the problem? Of course not. It’s the mindset that brings so many people to those belief systems, whatever it is about our civilization that makes it fertile for a kind of foolishness that is nearly universal within the species.

Sam Harris is perhaps the only figure of which I’m aware who is beginning to get to that core, and that’s why he continues to be cited on this blog despite my waning interest in the greater atheist movement. He may have captured my feelings in his infamous speech to the Atheist Alliance International conference a few years ago, in which he admonished the movement’s members to stop referring to themselves as atheists, and to simply devote themselves to “destroying bad ideas” wherever they appear.

But that’s not quite enough. Bad ideas need to be destroyed, but we also need to do something about whatever it is about us that allows those bad ideas to flourish to begin with. I don’t want to say that the point is to eradicate all “irrationality,” because I feel it implies a doing-away with explorations and indulgences in intuition, feelings, and art in their appropriate contexts. It’s something deeper than bad ideas. It’s about our brains and our culture, nature and nurture, and how they create the conditions for these bad ideas.

The bad ideas? Sexism, racism, xenophobia, bigotry, unfettered capitalism, the celebration of ignorance, and any institution, philosophy, or myths that form the foundations for oppression and suppression. How do we stop whatever makes those?

Getting the word “God” out of our national motto isn’t going to do it, as embarrassing, excluding, and absurd as that fact is.

I desperately, passionately want to see atheists treated as equally valued members of our society. But even if we get there, I don’t know what to do about the rest. Not yet. But that would be a movement I could join, that would be a blog I’d keep up with.

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