Essay:How Atheism Becomes Religion

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The consistent claim of those opposed to secularist and humanist ideological coordinates being manifested in the public spheres of government, education, and the greater social infrastructure generally is defined by the supposition that Secular Humanism itself is a defined set of beliefs, a religion on it's own accord. This especially comes forth within the context of the American debate over faith. The Supreme Court has expressed sympathy for Religious Humanism and other non-theistic faith traditions, but this is a case of one step forward and another back. On the one hand, Humanism has official protection in law as a sort of religion; by contrast, the entire thesis of Humanism is un-religion, that belief in the goodness not of God but in Humanity will bring us as a species closer to world peace.

Making matters more problematic, the tendency, particularly among so-called 'New' Atheists, to revert to a fundamentalist zeal akin to that of the Southern Baptist Convention (and with just as much racism and misogyny) is something to be certainly wary of. The zeal and outright bigotry of those followers of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins who decry Islam without minding the behaviors of the CIA towards Muslims over the past six decades not only makes Atheism look awful, it encourages radicalism by those who are (rightfully) offended by the sheer stupidity that comes out of the mouths of these 'scholars'.

This is not a new phenomenon, and should be accorded the contemplation of another famous Atheist's writings. Sigmund Freud wrote in his Totem and Taboo that man has a psychological tendency to create fetish-objects, totems, which carry symbolic and ritualistic significance. The ability to create new totems is quite easy, and is the underlying principle of the 'Higher Power' concept in Twelve Step Programs like AA. Totems themselves only exert a tremendous amount of psychological power, a power generated by the eye of the beholder, but this psychological power can be so convincing, miracles can seem to appear before whole groups of people who are hypnotized by the totem in question. The power of suggestion and hypnotic tendencies which result from prayerful adoration are tremendous, and whole volumes of stories about weeping statues fill entire library stacks across the globe. Whole cultural mythos, such as the Lady of Guadalupe, have evolved from these totems. In the Guadalupe case, it was adopted by Latino workers in California to protest labor injustices and became much more than just an image of Mary.

In the example of Communist and Fascist personality cults, it was merely a case of switching around a few images. Note that the Western Germans utilized many more three-dimensional totems as opposed to Eastern Soviets, whose major imagery of Stalin was through portraiture. This itself harkens back to the Iconoclast Dispute of the Early Church, when the debate over idolatry extended to whether painting ikons was acceptable in comparison to statues. In many ways, the cults of Hitler and Stalin merely engaged in a 1-for-1 replacement act, not striving from the religious artistic norms at all but merely putting them through a certain sort of lens which affirmed their respective philosophical coordinates.

This is of course the challenge of not becoming a 'religious' Atheist. The act of un-believing is not so simple as saying 'oh, I don't believe what I've always felt was a rather absurd fairy tale about Sky-Bully'. The entire corpus of Western literature itself, until perhaps the 1800's, was fully linked to an implicit ordering of the world along theocratic lines. Only the American and French Revolutions broke this cycle, and the shockwaves still are affecting the Western society. For a simple example, just contemplate the CULT OF THE RATIONAL BEING, the un-Church that the French created to replace Catholicism, complete with a new-style calendar that re-named the days and months. By all accounts, the French Revolutionaries renounced Catholicism, but they never could shake their own cultural religious habits. To engage in a blatant nihilism about all religious thought ever contemplated, to wipe the slate totally clean, is not just dishonest, it is impossible. Man cannot un-learn habits that easily, and the 'religious' New Atheist who claims he has done so is a liar.

The newly Free-Thinking might best engage in a line of inquiry which not only contemplates but critiques and acknowledges the failures of the Atheist and Free-Thinker historical legacy. Also, engagement with the Holy Books for the poetry they are is worthy of any scholar, particularly in expanding the linguistic and communication skills. Also, perhaps Kurt Vonnegut or Isaac Asimov would be worthy supplication for those seeking enlightenment.