The atheist holiday

“Organising atheists has been compared to herding cats, because they tend to think independently and will not conform to authority.”

I’m sure most of us are familiar with this quote from Richard Dawkins. I would like to explore what makes an atheist. Are we really a category of lonely hunters that doesn’t even share a common definition of atheism?

By DrL at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)]

By DrL at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D

atheist

I am investigating is if there’s anything atheists might have in common. Anything that would seem important in relation to being an atheist and that we might agree on.

I look at atheism as:

the rejection of belief in the existence of deities, the position that there are no deities or the absence of belief that any deities exist.

Any of these three will do. Whether you call yourself an atheist, new atheist, agnostic, strong atheist, punk atheist or anything else does not bother me at all. Please feel free to disagree with me on anything written here. I would be even happier if you come up with anything to add to this blogpost.

sacred

The first thing that came to my mind was that as an atheist,

I don’t consider anything to be sacred.

I use the word sacred to mean something considered worthy of respect or devotion, especially on the basis of its meaning in a religious context. There seem to be people demanding respect from all of us for certain books, prophets, sacraments (like marriage) and artefacts. Personally, I think respect can only be given freely and I don’t think people deserve to be protected from what they deem to be offensive, either from a religious perspective or otherwise.

SACRED VALLEY INCA'S By McKay Savage from London, UK [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

SACRED VALLEY INCA’S By McKay Savage from London, UK [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D

morals

I found an absolute gem in the “Criticism of atheism” article in Wikipedia:

“For many years in the United States, atheists were not allowed to testify in court because it was believed that an atheist would have no reason to tell the truth.”

This serves to illustrate that as atheists, we need to pick and choose our morals. I think it’s something we have in common and I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s perfectly feasible that a person would choose to be an atheist and a fascist, so I don’t necessarily think atheists have better morals then religious people. It’s just that it might not be such a bad idea to not get them handed to us on a plate, or a stone tablet. I don’t mean to say that religious people don’t think about morals at all. I just like to see people thinking about morals from a perspective of complete freedom. Which brings me to my next point.

freedom to think

Some people grow up in an environment where atheism is not an obvious choice. Ayaan Hirsi Ali says she first encountered a non-religious moral system when she learnt about Sigmund Freud. That made her think. Later, she read  “The Atheist Manifesto” by Dutch philosopher Herman Philipse and became an atheist herself. It’s important to be able to read about atheism, philosophy and different religions. Opportunities to freely discuss ideas would be very helpful, too.

By DeeBritt Schultz - ADH Events staff member [CC0]

By DeeBritt Schultz – ADH Events staff member [CC0]

community

I’ve read Alain de Botton’s “Religion for atheists” and found it disappointing. The idea of painstakingly creating rituals to foster a sense of community sounds preposterous to me. David Brooks said in his New York Times-review that following De Bottons recommendations would be ‘like going on one of those self-improving vacations.’

“(…) we’d be a collection of autonomous individuals seeking a string of vaguely uplifting experiences that might perhaps leave a sediment of some sort of spiritual improvement.”

Atheist holiday, anyone? I must say it doesn’t sound very appealing. What do you think?

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About Pipteinpteron

Catch a falling feather. Don't keep it.
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21 Responses to The atheist holiday

  1. dimvisionary says:

    Nice post. You’ve hit on a number of topics that I’ve been wrestling with lately. Stuff that I want to address on my blog, but haven’t yet found the words. Your point about Freedom to Think hits the mark as one common characteristic of atheists is the rejection of all previous and existing religious ‘packages’, which I think is excellent. The human story isn’t over and accepting one fixed version, especially an ancient one, seems inherently wrong, or at least lazy.

    Your point about community is also excellent. Religion has served a unifying and catalyzing purpose for communities, which is lacking among atheists. Perhaps religion is inherently too structured, too limiting. I could go on and on, but I’ll finish for now with one more thought: Is there a
    natural human religion? Or a natural spirituality?

    • Thank you for your comment. Do you think community is lacking among atheists? I just mentioned it because De Botton seems to think it’s important. If Dawkins is right, it might not be. Like you, I have more questions than answers on this one. 😉
      What are your thoughts on this natural spirituality?

      • dimvisionary says:

        What are my thoughts on this natural spirituality? Difficult to organize, that’s what they are. Frankly, I’m obsessed with the common ground among humans. We haven’t been playing these games with science, religion, myth and spirituality for no reason. We are tiny, temporary creatures that find ourselves on a rock wizzing through space with a boatload of questions. Our psychological confrontation with the Other and ourselves has taken a myriad forms. A natural sprituality would have to be current with our scientific world-view, valid emotionally and psychologically, and useful in creating peace and social cohesion. Like I said, difficult to organize.

  2. Bastet says:

    Well written…the only thing I’ve ever been wary about is getting sucked into an “atheistic” religious mode…it makes me shivver! Richard Dawkins has as usual hit the nail on the head…meow…thanks for your thoughts a good starting point for reflection! 😉

    • Meow to you too! Thank you for your comment. I see what you mean about the atheistic religious mode. There are many things that look attractive from the outside and religious from the inside, somehow 😉

  3. makagutu says:

    Since we live in atheistic universe, any day can be a holiday unless holiday means holy-day then I don’t want because in the days gone by some days were so holy you couldn’t laugh 😀

    • Thank you for your comment! I like the idea that for atheists, any day can be a holiday. I also think most of us have got more holy-days than we need. 😉

  4. violetwisp says:

    Another thought-provoking post! I think it’s natural for humans to look for groups of other humans to identify with and spend time with – people that share similar hobbies, interests or beliefs. Even if they’re not initially into whatever group they gravitate towards, the comfy feeling of ‘groupness’ can encourage them to more strongly self-identify with their chosen group. Football supporters are the perfect non-religious analogy. They are passionate and united for no good reason. I guess atheists tending to clump together is just part of the natural human instinct to form and be part of groups (or a herd).

    • Thank you! I really love your take on football supporters: passionate and united for no good reason. I’ll be waiting for an occasion to use that one 😉 For the herd mentality, maybe that’s not our best feature as humans. Or my view is temporarily distorted by football supporters. Somehow I think the internet is a great place for atheists to meet: maximum freedom.

  5. David Yerle says:

    Well, I feel completely represented by everything you say here. And I also find the idea of ritualizing atheism to be a little silly: it would be like playing charades, really. I think atheists already have places to find each other: most science conferences are packed with atheists, for example. We probably don’t need more. If we did make an atheist “congregation” I think it would make more sense to just invite relevant intellectuals and have discussions about stuff. Though I don’t see why we couldn’t let non-atheists in.

    • Thank you. Science conferences seem to be great places to meet atheists. I remember seeing Jerry Coyne on youtube saying that the National Academy of Sciences (in the US) had a 93% atheist membership. (Actually, the percentage went up with each step on the educational ladder.) As for having an atheist congregation – I’d see no reason to require anyone to commit to any view beforehand. 😉

  6. john zande says:

    Excellent post! Every day is an atheist holiday, as Noel said 🙂 I think as far as congregations go we should avoid it at all costs. Atheism is the default position and as such there’s nothing to celebrate.

  7. Interesting points…

    I noticed some Atheists go to ecumenical churches for the fellowship. They don’t miss religion, but they miss the community.

    I haven’t read de Botton’s book, but the idea is nice. There are some nice things in religion and it may be good to look at it from a “what can we take” approach. I’m not sure if you read an article I wrote a while back on a meeting with the spiritual naturalists in which this question was discussed and met with some contempt… Yes, I’m getting dangerously close to plugging an article in your comments — sorry!

    The idea of God or A God can be an attractive one and in some sense, I can sympathize with it as a yearning or personification for all that is beautiful. In fact, the idea of God as Ground of All Being or only that which can fulfill (with all our seeking being a shallow attempt to find ultimate fulfillment) is something I find attractive. Whether or not I believe such a thing exists is another matter, but I definitely sympathize and think it can be an idea that can do much to improve one’s happiness, at least psychologically.

    • Thank you, BR. I’ll check out the post you mentioned. By all means, feel free to plug your articles on this blog. It could only improve standards. 😉 On a more serious note, I feel hesitant to use the word god, but I can see how it could be appealing in the sense that you mention here. In fact, I read tonguesandwich’s article on Nietzsche’s Übermensch this morning and from what he writes, I surmised it might indeed be possible to see god in oneself. I’ve just never looked at it that way.

  8. Being an atheist (and agreeing with the definition you’ve posted), I’ve found that a lot of my fellow atheists question just about everything, don’t need a herd to feel comfortable and tend to be smart and cosmopolitan. We also have vastly diverging interests but some facet of science seems to be fairly common.

    However, we all know that none of these are guaranteed, just from the dust-ups about “atheism plus” and misogyny. 😛

    • Thank you for your comment, clubschadenfreude! Smart and cosmopolitan, no less. It did make me a bit sad not to be able to include full equality for women in that post. To me, that would go really well with a freethinking, atheist perspective. But as you say, it’s not guaranteed.

  9. miltownkid says:

    I recently categorized myself as an atheist who believes in gods (blogged about it). I personally think an atheist church is an excellent idea, but it doesn’t need to be about ritual and the sacred. Just a community to come together and discuss ideas about consciousness, who and what we are would be enough.

    I actually think Daoism and Buddhism (at it’s core, minus the deities some religious branches have included) are a pretty good basis for an “atheist religion.” I was actually brought up in an atheist/agnostic church (Unitarian) and it was a really nice experience.

    I actually think most atheist kind of stunt their growth by believing that there is are no gods is the “final act.” Digging deeper, many atheists seem to be stuck in practically the same fiction as theists. When one starts peeling back the layers, one sees that belief or disbelief in gods holds little bearing on a more essential question: “Do you exist?” On the surface it seems ludicrous to even ask but when one sees that “your” self was created by a series of events that “you” had no control over and eventually was exposed to language and culture which created the idea of you (similar to the idea of gods) one should be prone to serious examine the question of “Who am I?”

    I think atheist churches could be centered around ideas like this, without ritual or systematic approaches. What’s more atheist than the first line of the Daodejing:

    The way that becomes a way is not the Way.

    I would love to have a “church” to go to to discuss these ideas (but maintaining a blog and leaving comments on the blogs of others is an OK substitute for now. 😉 )

    • Thank you for your comment. You have an interesting view. I know a little bit about buddhism and almost nothing about daoism, but I see your point in them being good candidates for an ‘atheist religion’.
      I also think being an atheist doesn’t in itself answer any of the fundamental philosophical questions. “Who am I?” remains whatever your religious or non-religious beliefs are. And it’s always good to discuss that with others. Personally, I really like blogging. I can read posts and comments, think about them and react. In a discussion, there’s often more of a hurry to put your five cents in and it’s less advisable to check with wikipedia before answering. 😉
      Thank you for your Daodejing quote. I’ll look into that.

  10. bird says:

    Thanks for your stimulating post. Have you heard of the Sunday Assembly, an atheist church in London? Here’s a short description by the founders (couched in a New York Times feature on whether atheism can be a religion): http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/01/22/is-atheism-a-religion/at-atheist-church-in-london-no-faith-required

    I was interested in what you said about one aspect of your own atheism being that you “don’t consider anything to be sacred.” I’m a second-generation atheist—I hardly even consider it an identity; “god” has simply never been on my radar. So what does it mean that I would definitely describe, for instance, a virgin redwood forest as something that’s sacred to me? Or that I would describe an artistic or musical masterpiece (perhaps even a religious one!) as sacred? Something for me to ponder…

    • Thank you for your comment and for the link. I had not heard of the Sunday Assembly but I will look into it.

      About things being sacred: I chiefly meant this in relation to things that are supposedly sacred in a religious context. As such, it would not be applicable to a virgin redwood forest. On the other hand, coming from a zen tradition (in a non-religious way!) we sometimes try to look at things from the perspective that either nothing is sacred or that, and I do mean this literally, everything is. In that sense, a minefield would be sacred. I find it an interesting philosophical exercise. 🙂

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