Bronze-level articleAntitheism

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Audience member: My question to Christopher is; how you can justify wanting to take something away from people, that gives meaning to 95% of the American people, and replace it with something that gives meaning to just 5% of the American people?
Christopher Hitchens: Hah! Well. What an incredibly stupid question. First, I've said repeatedly that this stuff cannot be taken away from people, it is their favourite toy and it will remain so, as Freud said with The Future of an Illusion, for as long as we're afraid of death - which I think is likely to be quite a long time. Second - I hope I've made it clear that I'm perfectly happy for people to have these toys, and to play with them at home, and hug them to themselves and so on, and share them with other people who come around and play with their toys. So that's absolutely fine. They are not to make me play with these toys. Ok? I will not. Play. With. The toys. Don't bring the toys to my house. Don't say my children must play with these toys. Don't say my toys - might be a condom, here we go again - are not allowed by their toys. I'm not going to have any of that. Enough with clerical and religious bullying and intimidation! Is that finally clear? Have I got that across? Thank you!
—Public debate between Christopher Hitchens and Rev. Al Sharpton[1]

Antitheism, also known pejoratively as "militant atheism" (despite having nothing to do with militancy) is the belief that theism and religion are harmful to society and people, and that even if theistic beliefs were true, they would be undesirable. Antitheism, which is often characterized as outspoken opposition to theism and religion, asserts that religious and especially theistic beliefs are harmful and should be discarded in favor of humanism, rationalism, science and other alternatives.

Antitheistic positions are often erroneously confused for (or strawmanned into) rallying for various persecutory conspiracies against the faithful, including "seeking out and destroying all religion", "wanting to make faith illegal", "forcing the religion of atheism onto everyone" (a suggestion that is not even wrong), and numerous other unfounded fears from the faithful and their apologists.


[edit] In an atheistic context

Some people I know who are atheists will say they wish they could believe it. Some people I know who are former believers say they wish they could have their old faith back; they miss it. I don't understand this at all. I think it's an excellent thing that there's no reason to believe in the absurd propositions I admittedly, rather briefly, rehearsed to you. The main reason for this, I think, is that it is a totalitarian belief. It is the wish to be a slave. It is the desire that there be an unalterable, unchallangeable tyrannical authority, who can convict you of thought crime while you are asleep. Who can subject you - who MUST indeed subject you - to a total surveillance, around the clock, every waking and sleeping minute of your life - I say of your life; before you're born, and even worse (and where the real fun begins), after you're dead. A celestial North Korea. Who wants this to be true? Who but a slave desires such a ghastly fate? I've been to North Korea. It has a dead man as its president. Kim Jong-il is only the head of the party and head of the army; he's not head of the government or the state. That office belongs to his deceased father, Kim Il-sung. It's a necrocracy; a thanatocracy; it's one short of the Trinity, I might add. The son is the reincarnation of the father. It is the most revolting, and utter, and absolute, and heartless tyranny the human species has ever evolved. But at LEAST you can fucking DIE and leave North Korea. Does the Qur'an or the Bible offer you that liberty? No! No, the tyranny, the misery, the utter ownership of your entire personality, the smashing of your individuality, only begins at the point of death. This is evil; this is a wicked preachment.
Christopher Hitchens[2]

Antitheism is a noncomparable term referring to the belief that theism and religion are not only very likely to be invalid and false, but that they are restricting, dangerous, primitive, and offer no unique benefits. Whereas agnosticism and gnosticism address knowledge about gods, and whereas atheism and theism address one's belief in the existence of gods, antitheism addresses the utility and favorability of theistic belief. The resistance of religious moderates against the goals and methods of religious extremist can thus be seen as a relative expression of antitheism, highlighting the inherent rationality of antitheism.

It can manifest in various viewpoints that are highly critical of religion and its origins. A common anti-religious criticism is that theism is pervasive and dangerous to a free society and human progress. Stronger views may maintain that religion must be totally eliminated in order for humanity to achieve its full potential, although attitudes differ on how this is to be achieved. Antitheists take an active, outspoken approach - campaigning against religion and theism, or writing books about the subject.

Antitheists tend to reject the supposed benefits of holding religious and theistic beliefs, such as attaining a greater sense of morality or a stronger desire to commit charitable deeds. Many antitheists, as atheists, claim that this doctrine-based moral compass does not have its origin in any divine book but in human nature itself, and that more secular and pragmatic alternatives exist. While many believers find comfort, joy, and hope in their beliefs, those that reject theism's purported positive benefits claim that they could find equal or greater pleasures and motivations from a more secular worldview.

Additionally, antitheism holds that theism itself is unpleasant. Self-proclaimed antitheist Christopher Hitchens defines antitheism as seeing theism to be an unfavorable thing simply by its own nature, which infringes on one's free will and autonomy in varying degrees. "Such a person [an atheist]," he says, "might very well say that he wished it were true [the existence of a god]. I know some atheists who say, 'Well, I wish I could believe it. I just can't. There's not enough evidence for it' ... I say I'm an antitheist because I think it'd be rather awful if it was true ... you would never have a waking or sleeping moment where you weren't being watched, and controlled, and supervised by some celestial entity from conception until, well, not even until your death because it's only after death when the real fun begins, isn't it? It'd be like living in North Korea."[3] The unfavorable nature of theism is of course dependent upon the theistic beliefs in question, but most antitheists will contend that all theistic beliefs are undesirable, some being more-so than others, and as the existence of any given split between religious moderates and religious extremists show, anyone but the most fanatical literalists hold some degree of antitheistic views.

Other examples which highlight things antitheists find to be unacceptable within the three great monotheisms are the ideas that humans are property of god and that god's authority is unquestionable. If god were to exist with his assumed omnipotence and omniscience, antitheists would still view the concept of eternally binding in utero contracts as being an infringement on free will, especially if it were a lineal curse inherited from a distant ancestor; they would equate this with coercion and blackmail. Many antitheists also fail to see, by what right (quo warranto) god would have ownership of them or be authorized to judge their deeds and misdeeds. They believe that this right cannot simply be assumed just because god has self-appointed it or because god created the universe.

[edit] In a theistic context

It is plain that there is one moral law for heaven and another for the earth. The pulpit assures us that wherever we see suffering and sorrow which we can relieve and do not do it, we sin, heavily. There was never yet a case of suffering or sorrow which God could not relieve. Does He sin, then? If He is the Source of Morals He does -- certainly nothing can be plainer than that, you will admit. Surely the Source of law cannot violate law and stand unsmirched; surely the judge upon the bench cannot forbid crime and then revel in it himself unreproached?
Mark Twain, Thoughts of God[4]

Antitheism can also be used in the context, or thought experiment, of someone who believes that even if a God exists, as described, this does not automatically justify obedience to certain or all demands of a certain religion. Such an antitheist would argue that the existence of God-like beings does not automatically make them the source of morality and, in fact, that such a being, depending on its demands, could even be in violation of it. Essentially, an antitheist is an individual who dares not only to "question religion" but also to "question God".[5][6]

For a theistic antitheist (otherwise known as a dystheist) the idea that God is excused from murderous or torturous behavior against sentient life, by mere virtue that he is powerful, is nothing more than the idea that "might makes right". One could argue that God's exceptionalism is impressive, but not necessarily respectable. God can be seen as a very privileged being that was born into a position of power, but this does not automatically make treating human lives as unimportant or playthings moral. Consider, for example, the human sacrifices to the Aztec deity Huitzilopochtli, or the Judeo-Christian mythology the story of Abraham.

These are notable, because they are not just a "private matter", but in fact are in direct violation of the life of a third person. In every case, the theist would consider the god in question automatically justified in asking such a thing, and has no qualms in taking an action that will bring torturous pain and death to a fellow human. In contrast, an antitheist would be an individual who, even if he had a real angel appear in front of him and tell him to "do that", he would judge the moral merit of the action, and even refuse it if found to be immoral. Such an individual would presumably be motivated by the idea that murder is wrong, and if a god wants them to commit it, then they can do their own dirty work because the individual will have no part to it (in other words, god's actions can be found inferior to a more universal moral system).

[edit] Alternate views

[edit] In a marxistic context

Religion is the opium of the people: this saying of Marx is the cornerstone of the entire ideology of Marxism about religion. All modern religions and churches, all and of every kind of religious organizations are always considered by Marxism as the organs of bourgeois reaction, used for the protection of the exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class.
Vladimir Lenin, Religion[7]

Karl Marx and many other communist thinkers have advocated antitheism based on the belief that religion and theism have always been instruments to keep the proletariat class suppressed. As evidence, Marx often pointed to the collapses and declines of monarchism and feudalism due to religious reforms and shifts in fervor. Marx elaborated that there was a more satisfying beauty and reverence for humanity to be had, not just through a secular worldview but through a growing unity among the working class who would have come to realize and accept this. Marx wrote, in A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right: "The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo. Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower."[8]

The sectarian clashes between persons of more or less the same faith, Marx felt, were polarizing, divisive, and acted as major hindrances to humanity's development. Thus, Marx wrote critiques of religion in which he classified religion as a symptom of a greater economic injustice that was occurring. Marx theorized that once communism became realized, religion would become absent of utility and abolished of the peoples' accord. However, Marx emphasized that it was not necessary for the overthrow of the unfair capitalist system to precede the abolition of religion and that it would be better, if not helpful to the means, for religion and theism to be abandoned beforehand.

[edit] Criticism

[edit] Anti-atheism?

There is, perhaps, a word missing from our lexicon to describe those who would be outspoken against atheism on similar grounds, in that they would find atheism unpleasant if it were true and a nonreligious worldview to be toxic. This sentiment exists among some theists, who claim that a life without a higher power would be meaningless and therefore unpleasant if it were true. Some also claim that being nonreligious would leave one with a skewed sense of morality or without one entirely. They may argue this by claiming that Hitler's supposed atheism, and Stalin's, Mao's, and Pol Pot's atheism were the sole reason for, or at least a contributing factor to, their crimes against humanity. They may even point to their antitheistic attitudes as being their motivation for suppressing religious freedoms and slaughtering not only the faithful, but everyone in opposition to them.

Many atheists will argue that these individuals (with the exception of Hitler, who was not an atheist)[9] did not commit these acts due to their atheism, but did so out of totalitarian and tyrannical motives. Regardless of their personal views on religion, they acted to suppress all opposition and, while doing so, favored state atheism. Atheists and theists alike were killed by these regimes for any number of offenses.

What they're also saying through this argument is that atheism - the nonbelief in deities - is a catalyst or cause for immoral acts. This is akin to saying that wrongdoings of people who do not believe in unicorns can be attributed to their nonbelief in unicorns, especially if they commit wrongdoings against those who believe in unicorns for believing in unicorns. Certainly there is no room for other explanations encompassing human behavior, such as simply being a dick, or in the case of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, power-hungry, totalitarian dicks.

No the more true comparison, is that it is akin, to killing people who do believe in unicorns, because you don't like people to believe in unicorns. This is, of course, a component of most antitheists, the dislike of people who believe in unicorns and other fabled creatures like gods, fairies, and other creatures for which there is no evidence.

[edit] Militant atheism

The term "militant" atheism is often used as a pejorative to antitheists and strong atheists alike. It finds its origin in the spur of atheism during the late 19th century and has been applied as a slippery slope term for antireligious persecutions. Many modern writers with a strong atheistic or anti-religious stance are accused of militant behavior because of their direct criticism of religion. The term itself is a form of political framing and demagoguery by use of the word "militant". In reality, there is nothing threatening or hostile about it. Modern atheism is certainly more outspoken. Some might even say that it's evangelical. But it's important to understand that a majority of atheists and antitheists do not want to forcefully abolish religion or peoples' right to exercise their freedom of religion. Religion, theism, and their encroachment into government and public affairs are well within the rights of atheists and theists alike to debate, criticize, and discuss. That more and more atheists are choosing to do so, and that modern atheists are very vocal and often proselytizing, does not make it militant. In short, you will never see 10,000 atheists throwing pipe bombs into cars and buildings, rioting because a Danish cartoonist furnished a blank piece of paper, though you may find them mass rounding up religious individuals and punishing them and/or attempting to "rehabilitate" their beliefs for which there is no apparent evidence.[10]

Agnostic scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson has made arguments against the "energy levels" apparently found in some people who would be called "militant atheists" suggesting that religious iconography is a part of the culture and does not actively seek to abolish it. In the same interview he stated "I can't agree to the claims of atheists that I'm one of that community. I don't have the time, energy, interest in conducting myself that way [referencing iconoclasm in antitheist groups]."[11]

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. YouTube - Best of Christopher Hitchens Arguments And Clever Comebacks Part 1 (12:05)
  2. YouTube - Hitchens vs. Hitchens - "Religion: A Celestial North Korea"
  3. Christopher Hitchens on Sean Hannity, retrieved Nov. 25th, 2007
  5. New, Christopher (June 1993). "Antitheism - A Reflection"
  6. Daniels, Charles B. (1997). "God, demon, good, evil", The Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol. 31 (2), June, pp.177-181.
  7. Lenin, V. I. - About the attitude of the working party toward the religion (Collected works, v. 17, p.41) (Accessed on 2006-09-09)
  8. A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, introduction | pub. Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, 7 & 10 February 1844
  9. Hitler Was Not An Atheist by John Patrick Michael Murphy | pub. Free Inquiry Magazine, Volume 19, Number 2
  10. Pospielovsky, Dimitry. Soviet Anti-Religious Campaigns and Persecutions: Vol. 2 of A History of Soviet Atheism in Theory and Practice, and the Believer. New York: St Martin's Press; 1988. ISBN 0312009054.
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