Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ethical Atheism; A+

There's been some discussion over on FTB about trying to spin a new atheist movement off of the current one; drawing parallels with feminism, it's been likened to "Third Wave". The first two waves were about staking the claim; this one is going to be about cleaning out or own closets. After a discussion (I'll admit, I was not part of), the name Atheism+ was determined, with A+ as the shorthand, for the movement.

For what little it's worth, I like it.

Not only do I get an H+ now, I get an A+, too.

Or maybe I'm an AH+, or a HA+, since my transhumanism is more important to me than atheism - after all, it's hard to build your person and schema around something that doesn't exist. So instead, I'm putting my faith and my belief in the future, and in the advancement and progression of the human species. I don't think we'll have AI Gods anytime soon - although if we do, that might be nice, for a certain value of "nice" - but as a species our best hope for the future is technology and progression. Therefore, I'm Ha+ (there was a chemical joke in here about being a positive ion of Hahnium, but apparently, the IUPAC decided that Dubnium is a better name. Java rejects this, because Dubnium is underlined in red. Of course, so is IUPAC.)

One of the geneses of this movement was the collective of misogynistic assholes that gathered around the atheist movement; snide, dickish, and moronic, these are the guys on Reddit and other internet cesspools. These are also the guys on Dawkin's forum, who deny the existence of racism and misogyny and, if you pull out all of the references to God and the attacks on evolution, don't sound any different than say, the Free Republic.

Well, any new movement has it's own manifesto. This is the first time that I've seen the manifesto for the A+ movement; creating a document that all members of the movement will abide by.

So here it is, in all it's glory.

These are the key points:

1. Promoting reason, critical thinking and science
2. Promoting atheism over supernaturalism
3. Promoting natural compassion and ethics
4. Promoting inclusive, caring atheist groups
5. Promoting fair and just societies
6. Promoting secular government
7. Promoting local, national and global solidarity
You should read them all, but being as negative as I am, I'll just have to touch on a few things that I disagree with (because c'mon. It was inevitable. This is like herding cats).

Number 2 is concerning. I don't want to promote atheism over supernaturalism. It's done wonders for me, but that does not mean it'll do wonders for someone else. I think of religion or non religion as being like a drug of choice; drugs have different effects on different people. On person can take a drug and feel great, and another person that same drug and suffer all sorts of side effects or allergic reactions. I don't mind getting it out there; I don't mind letting people know that, yeah, we exist.

If it said "Promoting atheism" then, sure. I'd stop here. Letting people know we exist is promoting it, and that's cool. I don't mind telling people I'm an atheist if they ask. It surprises a lot of people.

But it doesn't. "Promoting atheism over supernaturalism" - I'm assuming that this means all other religions regardless what religion we're talking about here. This is like promoting one drug over all the other drugs, regardless whether or not it works for people.

This is my one complaint; everything else on that list I can throw myself behind completely. Everything else I'm been working at since I started this blog and before that. I'm all for the promotion of critical thinking, and teaching critical thinking, and I'm all for giving science a larger role in society, throwing more money at industries, and getting the government more involved in biotech research, genetics, and other fields, so that way their discoveries and creations cannot be patented and are available to the public (because, well, just as Monsanto about how patented genes work). A just society is a society where I don't have to worry about being judged for being transgender, or where my friends who are gay are treated like the ordinary, functioning members of society they are, rather than outcasts. A secular government keeps everyone safe, regardless of faith or non-belief; I made a commenter earlier today on my facebook slamming the stupid meme that's being passed around stating "your rights come from God". No, they don't. A secular society keeps "rights from God" from getting intermingled with "rights from government" - especially when the very same dumbasses promoting this stuff are supposed to be the government (A government of the people, by the people). I'm kind of wary on national solidarity, but local and global solidarity I can support.

It's that one point that rubs me the wrong way.

Well, there's that and then this:
Religion has corrupted building fair and just societies. As ethical atheists, we should promote fair and just societies. We should each do this as individuals, and some atheist groups may also choose to do so collectively. We can each share this goal while having different specific ideas about how best to pursue it.
This is true. But it's also helped in fixing them.

Paging Dr. King, Jr. Paging Dr. King, Jr.

That is indeed a group of Quakers over there, yes, they were some of the original abolitionists - you know, those people who thought slavery was bad and needed to stop.

There are people who use their faith as a launching pad into positive social change. The Universal Unitarians, for instance, or other mainstream, left-leaning denominations. Hell, the leader of the Freedom From Religion Foundation is an ordained Lutheran Reverend, last time I checked. The Baha'i faith is one of the most progressive faiths out there (but last time I checked, they were having a little group with gays). And that's without getting into the neo-pagan and Wiccan groups, who almost without fail are left-leaning, socially progressive, and use their faith as a launching board into it.

How can something hurt, but at the same time, help?

Oh, it's simple. Religion is a social tool. That's all it is. And as a tool, it's neutral. It has no bearing, good or evil, and can be used for either purpose. Yeah, there's a lot of unsavory things that happens in those holy books, but as we've seen, people will pick and chose what they want to believe. A liberal Christian or Muslim can ignore the nastier parts of their book, or look at them as artifacts from a darker, more ignorant and less progressive time (you know; the era the Religious Right is working like hell to drag us back to). Or they accept them, but see them for the hideousness that they are (I think something along the Tuskegee Airmen experiment, for those of us who embrace science). At the end of the day, it's part of the thing that makes their brain work in the way it does; it's not "corrupting" them. They'd be entirely different people without. Dr. King, Jr. is proof that not all faithful are bad. Ayn Rand is proof not all faithless are good.

It's a tool.

Part of why it seems religion has corrupted society is because the tool itself is in corrupt hands. Just like liberal Christians or Muslims can discard, ignore, or acknowledge and regard as offensive relics from a less enlightened time, there are those who embrace them and see them as "proper social policies". These people are authoritarian personalities almost without fail; they have a very limited grasp on morality, can't deal with the complexities of adulthood and every day life, and constantly look for the simple and easy way out, as opposed to thinking critically and acknowledging that no, problems don't have easy solutions and yes, they will require you to work, to meet people halfway, and accept people who are not like you as people. When in their hands, religion becomes a tool of oppression.

Rand is what happens when these same people move beyond religion and adopt new tools. Mao is what happens when these people get into power after moving beyond religion. Pol Pot is what happens when they take the same 7:50am shuttle to Alternate Reality X that the Religious Fundamentalists take every day to get to work.

There are men who realized (and they are men. The women involved may have realized this too, but almost universally, men, who are white, benefit from it) that they can make a lot of money and get a lot of power by using this tool and wielding it over the authoritarian crowd. That's why you get things like "Biblical literalism". You get "morans" who believe the dirty gubbmint's gonna take their Medicare, and you end up with men like Gordon Gekko and Boy Wonder Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, appealing to the hard right authoritarians who eat this stuff up, cranking out busted religious metaphor after busted religious metaphor for these people to absorb.

Their brains were not trashed by religion. Their brains were trashed before they got their hands on religion. They couldn't accept the complexity of life. Their limited personalities wouldn't allow it; they couldn't deal with how complex things were, and their staid, hidebound personalities make them inflexible to change and unyielding before any force accept nostalgia. Every subsequent generation has created people more and more insulated; embraced in the envelope of their "faith", which is really more of a series of political slogans and Bible quotes wrapped together to form a splint that's then tied around the brain so tightly it beings to trigger hypoanoxiation in the tissue.

I understand there's a need for every new group to create an "us v. them" situation. It seems kind of counterproductive, but that's not at all the case. It's vital for a group that's forming to create this distinction, because it can help that group form it's own identity (that's who they are. This is who we are, and we're nothing like them, but that doesn't mean we can't work with them). The problem is when the group stalls out and gets stuck at that "us v. them" mentality (c.f. the TEA Party; that's who they are. We're not them, and we never will be them. Notice a step is missing; they're defining themselves totally based off of what their enemies are not, rather than creating their own distinctive identity. The TEA Party has a distinctive identity now, but it's as overweight old White people on government-paid for scooters holding around misspelled signs while wearing bicorn and tricorn hats with tea bags hanging from it. I'm sure this isn't the impression they want, but it's the one they created, because they never bothered to work with their own identity beyond, "We're not them"). I can empathize with the hostility towards religion; shit, I'm up to my eyeballs in in crosses every day. I can't go anywhere without seeing them - literally. I simply cannot. There's a church on every corner in my city; almost as many as their are Rite Aids or Dollar Stores. And I have to listen to some of my Christian friends complain about how persecuted they are because we managed to get the city to remove a Cross from public land, when they have everything else going for them. Oh yeah. I understand the whole "We are not religion, religion can go fist itself".

But I'm not short term. I'm a long term thinker. I'm probably thinking longer than my own lifetime, but someone has to look far ahead. Eventually, there will be equality. The arc of history skews towards it. I recognize and understand the anger against religion. I, however, do not promote it, and I don't like the whole "us v. them" when "us" is are people who are faithless and non-believers (a very small percentage, at that) and "them" happens to be the rest of the world. Don't mistake this as cowardice to not right for the right thing - I just don't think that trying to promote atheism over supernaturalism is a worthy expenditure of resources and time. Rather than trying to replace supernaturalism, why not work closely with those believers on the left, to help undermine the authoritarian religionists?

I dunno. I agree with everything else. I feel like I'm being a pedant or a tone troll, but I just don't think that promoting atheism over anything is a worthwhile expenditure. It's not going to help, and it's a Sisyphean task that's best avoided all together. I mean, I can see the value and social responsibility of promoting something over something; for instance, equality of over bigotry. That's worth while. That can demonstrably make society a better place. If it was promoting atheism over bigotry then oh hell yes. But it's not. It's linking supernaturalism with something bad, when really, the only thing bad about it are the personalities of the people involved, and if you removed supernaturalism, they'd just turn around and find something else to justify their bigotry and staid hideboundism with, or some other tool that their leaders could manipulate them with (once again, take a look at Ayn Rand). Why not rely on our friends and fellows on the left, who've shown that they can use the tool responsibly, to try and show the religious rightists how to use it responsibly, too?

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