Introduction

2015-06-10

Welcome to my personal blog. This is my first, introductory post, setting forth the main themes which I wish to explore and why I have chosen them.

Sommaire en français
Je présente non nouveau blogue personnel qui sera dédié à l’athéisme et la lutte contre l’obscurantisme religieux et contre les croyances surnaturelles. Je m’intéresse particulièrement aux façons dont les incroyants eux-mêmes se laissent malheureusement distraire par des idées reçues et des préjugés populaires et agissent parfois contre leurs propres intérêts. Ces distractions sont souvent le résultat d’une mentalité religieuse — surtout l’athéophobie — mais ce n’est bien sûr pas la seule source des erreurs. Vous pouvez aussi lire de mes écrits sur les sites web LPA et AFT, mais dans ce blogue personnel je sortirai parfois du cadre des questions pertinentes pour une association athée.

The principal — but not necessarily exclusive — theme of my personal blog will be atheism and the struggle against religious obscurantism, because these are the issues that interest me the most, as well as concerns directly related to these issues such as secularism, freethought, critical thinking, rationalism, scepticism, humanism, etc. In particular, I expect to devote much of my attention to exposing and criticizing atheophobia in its myriad forms.

My intent is to explore ways in which non-believers often act or speak in ways which are contrary to their own self-interests, because they have let themselves be influenced and distracted by prejudices and pre-conceived notions which are prevalent in society and have distorted their perceptions of the world. Of course, when we are dealing with atheism, the greatest distraction is the unavoidable and all-encompassing religious mentality — the idea that religious beliefs and practices are somehow essentially good and normal, indeed even necessary for morals and ethics, and that harm is done by religion only when it has somehow been debased or misused — a mentality which is ubiquitous in our society and in which we are all awash. In particular, the prejudice against atheism and against atheists — which I call atheophobia — is the most serious of these distractions, causes the greatest damage and therefore must be the first target of criticism. But it is not the only widespread prejudice which compromises the fight against religious obscurantism.

You may be familiar with my writings which often appear on the web sites of the organization Atheist Freethinkers (or Libres penseurs athées) of which I am currently president. Why have I decided to start a personal blog when I can express my opinions through the web sites of that organization? There are several reasons. I expect to express myself here on a wider range of issues, possibly diverging from the field of topics which would be relevant for an atheist organization. I may wish to touch occasionally on more personal concerns. Furthermore, I have a lot to say and I do not want to monopolize the AFT and LPA sites, because other members need to express themselves too.

Many of these personal blogs will be in English. Some will be in French. I will in general not attempt to be thoroughly bilingual. (This is another reason for this personal blog: the AFT and LPA blogs are bilingual, at least always have been so far, which makes them more laborious to prepare.) I do however plan to include a brief summary of each personal blog in the other language.

  1. Atheism is a scientific certainty, beyond all reasonable doubt.
  2. Religion and science are utterly incompatible.
  3. Religiously based morality is in general corrupt …
  4. There is no symmetry between atheism and theism.

The general, mainstream attitude towards religion is that it is basically a good thing, or at worst neutral, and that it becomes truly harmful only when distorted or misused by fundamentalists or extremists. I consider this approach to be completely wrong-headed and dangerously complacent for the obvious reason that any worldview based on a falsehood must have harmful consequences sooner or later. In other words, religion is basically harmful but can be rendered approximately anodyne and inoffensive by diluting it with generous doses of reality. But supernaturalism always remains there in the interstices, waiting to rear its ugly head and make religious belief pernicious once again.

Thus, when writing about atheism and religious obscurantism, I will inevitably engage in much criticism of religion and my approach will of course be anti-religious. However, I do not expect to direct my attentions principally to religious fundamentalism, extremism or radicalism, although those topics are certainly not excluded. Others have already dealt effectively with them and have exposed the intellectual vacuity of such ideologies. My focus will be rather more on how religious attitudes, or perhaps more accurately meta-religious attitudes, are internalized and expressed by those who are ostensibly more moderate — such as so-called liberal Christians for example — and even by those who claim to be our allies in freethought and rationalism but who sometimes betray their own, and our, principles.

Acting against one’s own best interests is an extremely widespread phenomenon, so common as to be banal, and it is especially common when dealing with religion and irreligion. There are women who embrace misogynistic ideologies — for example any woman who willingly wears an Islamist veil. There are gays who willingly support homophobic religions, or who support currents such as some variants of “moderate” Christianity which have in recent years toned down their homophobia but maintain the life-denying worldview which gave rise to that prejudice in the first place. There are non-believers who foolishly participate in the denigration of atheists or atheism as intolerant or dangerous, thus implicitly denigrating themselves. There are those who claim to support secularism but oppose it in the very place where it has a serious chance of being formally adopted. As widespread and banal as these behaviours may be, they nevertheless remain irrational and must be criticized.

I define “religion” as supernatural religion, i.e. always including a belief in supernatural agents or phenomena which inhabit or emanate from some hypothetical — indeed, fictitious — domain beyond our real, material world. There are other definitions of religion but they only serve to confuse the issue. The issue is supernaturalism.

Finally, since my principal topic of discussion will be atheism from an anti-theistic perspective, I conclude by summing up some of the basic underpinnings of my point of view. These are NOT assumptions. Rather they are conclusions which are already well established in numerous books and articles which are widely available. If you have not yet grasped any one of the following points, then you will not understand my blog because you have not done your homework.

  1. Atheism is a scientific certainty, beyond all reasonable doubt.
    I am not talking about absolute certainty here, as religions often do. I am referring to a very solidly based conclusion which is falsifiable but has never been falsified. All theisms and supernatural hypotheses have been found to be completely baseless.
  2. Religion (i.e. supernatural religion) and science are utterly incompatible.
    This can be seen as a consequence of the first principle. Or it can be derived from examining the concepts of faith on the one hand and philosophy of science on the other.
  3. Religiously based morality is in general corrupt because it is based on false supernatural beliefs.
    Morality is a product of our biological and cultural evolution as human animals. Theistic morality is a corruption and perversion of that natural morality. It is thus a gross understatement to say that religion is not necessary for morality; indeed, it would be more accurate to assert that the abandonment of supernatural beliefs is a prerequisite for moral maturity. Religious believers are capable of acting ethically in spite of their supernatural beliefs, to the extent that they set those beliefs aside and do not allow them to interfere unduely with their behaviour.
  4. There is no symmetry between atheism and theism.
    Anyone who claims that atheism is a kind of religion or faith is either ignorant or intellectually dishonest, and probably both. Any attempt to put atheism and theism on an equal footing is as ridiculous and unethical as putting the victim and the perpetrator of a crime on an equal footing by claiming that both are equally guilty. Theism is an insult to human intelligence. Atheism is a refusal to accept the nonsense which is theism.
    (There is however one and only one context in which equality is appropriate: when dealing with human beings; i.e. in order to respect freedom of conscience of all persons, atheists and theists deserve equal treatment before the law. But there is no equality or symmetry between the ideas of atheism and theism.)

Next blog: “Secularism Betrayed, Part I

7 thoughts on “Introduction”

  1. 5. Religion offers beyond reality pleasures and threatens beyond reality punishments. Naturalism offers hard earned rewards and inevitable struggles. It is surprising atheism is making as much headway as it is. Modern people must be slightly more stoic than their parents were.
    Is ‘David Rand’ a pun on ‘Ayn Rand’?

    1. No relation to Ayn Rand. She was a Russian immigrant who adopted the name “Rand”. I was born with it. She was a laissez-faire capitalist. I am not.

  2. “is either ignorant or intellectually dishonest, and probably both”

    Probably not “both”, since the two are rather exclusive of each other. This is the kind of pitfall that should be avoided when one is trying to engage intellectually-oriented folks (eg. many atheists and secularists). Exaggeration can be good, senseless exaggeration cannot be good. Set your bar higher; perfect spelling, excellent grammar and never-failing common sense are your new BFFs.

  3. If you think that ignorance and intellectually dishonesty are mutually “rather exclusive” then you must believe that wilful ignorance is rather rare. On the contrary, I think it occurs rather often, especially in matters of religion. For example, a person who claims that atheism is “just another belief” or “just another religion” is probably wilfully ignorant, i.e. they choose not to investigate further and prefer to remain ignorant. The arguments against such an opinion are very strong, while the arguments for are similarly weak, so the person is dishonest in the sense that he/she refuses to make the small effort required in order to investigate the issue.

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