Bronze-level articleAntitheism

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Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely soley upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.
Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

Antitheism, also known as militant atheism, is the belief that theism and religion are harmful to society and people, and that 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 theistic beliefs are harmful and should be discarded in favor of humanism, rationalism, and other alternatives.


[edit] In an atheistic context

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.

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 (particularly his own) 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."[1] 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.

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

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".[2][3]

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] Criticism & alternative views

[edit] Marxism

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."[4]

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] 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)[5] 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.[6]

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]."[7]

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Christopher Hitchens on Sean Hannity, retrieved Nov. 25th, 2007
  2. New, Christopher (June 1993). "Antitheism - A Reflection"
  3. Daniels, Charles B. (1997). "God, demon, good, evil", The Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol. 31 (2), June, pp.177-181.
  4. A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, introduction | pub. Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, 7 & 10 February 1844
  5. Hitler Was Not An Atheist by John Patrick Michael Murphy | pub. Free Inquiry Magazine, Volume 19, Number 2
  6. 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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