February 15, 2014

Gnu Atheists - the gnu fundamentalists

Sorry, or rather, "sorry," to a Facebook friend like Dan Fincke, but it's not just liberal Christian theologians who call Gnu Atheists a new version of fundamentalists. It's also many of us non-Gnu Atheists who have no desire to be "in others faces" about our atheism or otherwise emulate some of the group psychology, sociology, and even psychology of religion that fundamentalists do.

Dan does acknowledge that, in a good piece here.

That said, my post has a different angle than his.

I've said before in various spots that I regard Gnu Atheists and Christian fundamentalists as mutual tar babies. And, I'm far from alone. Philosopher Albert Camus said that a certain variety of atheists (the "antitheist" that Fincke used is perhaps even more apropos) need to have a god to rebel against.

That said, like most things in life, the Gnu Atheist vs. Plain Jane Atheist (or intra-atheist "Nones," if you will) differentiation isn't two polarities, but rather two ends of a continuum. I wouldn't consider Dan as far to the end of Gnudom as, say, Jerry Coyne or P.Z. Myers, or Chris Hitchens from whom he used the antitheist term. And, I wouldn't put myself as far on the Plain Jane end as Mr. Faitheist, Chris Steadman or people like him.

I would, though, put Dan on the Gnu side of the continuum, scoring a fair degree above (or below) the 50 midpoint, while I'd put myself as far on the other side.

The issue with Gnus and fundamentalism is exacerbated (and, I use that word, not "compounded," VERY deliberately) by the Atheism Plus movement. The best parallel from the Christian fundamentalism tar baby I can think of is fundamentalists who also insist you have to speak in tongues as part of your fundamentalism.

And, Dan, I wouldn't be so virulent at times in my take on Gnus if y'all would just find a way to excommunicate Plusers. But, I don't think most of you want to do that, let alone not being able.

Anyway, another difference is that we Plain Janes (excepting the Faitheists, who have their "branding" to do as much as Gnus) aren't out to convert anybody. We just want to be let alone to be nontheistic in peace. If we see a First Amendment issue that needs addressing, we'll handle our protests via the ACLU, or even that "accommodationist" group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

A couple of Gnu-defenders, one in particular, on Massimo Pigliucci's blog asks why my animus. I already mentioned part of it -- the Pluser storm troopers. And I use that deliberately too.

Beyond that, but related to it? A lot of Gnus, including Gnu leaders, don't know philosophy that well. (Dan, whether it relates to being less than hardcore Gnu or not, is an exception.) Most also don't know religion that well, or in tar baby syndrome, simplistically boil it all down to fundamentalism. Dan, per your Facebook and blog post about liberal theologians, there's your answer right there.

But, you might claim, "Not all Gnus are like that! It's a stereotype."

No less of one than Gnus, on average, make of religion in general. If the shoe fits, wear it, even if it pinches.

And, that relates to the final angles.

If you're really about evangelizing non-atheists, or just marketing atheism better, y'all still aren't remembering the old cliche: "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." (You catch more yet with bullshit, but that's for another blog post.) By all means, continue!

And, related to that, some of you, namely the American Atheists President David Silverman, kind of give atheism a black eye.

Good example? Chris Hedges, who doesn't distinguish between Gnu and other atheists because of some rough treatment he got from some Gnus, and now blasts atheism in general. Yes, that's partially on him for not being more discerning, but it had its starting point with Gnu Atheists.

You may still catch a few flies with vinegar, but you're sure to drive them away with sulfuric acid, you know?

Well, maybe you don't. Or maybe you don't care.

Gee, the parallels continue. Now we're almost into Rev. Fred Phelps territory.

See both of you sides in the funny pages.


But I don't want to end there.

Behind the matter is that not all of us atheists make atheism so central a focus of our lives.

That, in turn, is why I mentioned "atheist evangelism." There are non-Gnus who are also serious about it, like Chris Stedman and his merry band of Faitheists are very much into this, and with honey rather than vinegar.

But that's why Faitheists aren't the best example of the other end of a continuum from Gnus. Maybe we need to update the idea of a continuum on this issue to three corners and sides of a triangle or something.

I'm no more interested in being an evangelist for Faitheism than I am for Gnu Atheism. (Regular, long-term readers of this blog know that I'm no more a fan of Faitheism than Gnu Atheism, too.)

At the same time, atheism just isn't that much a part of my life as it is for Gnus (Or, maybe, than for Faitheists, either.) And, occasional blogging on the wrongs of hardcore Gnus aside, being a Faitheist, or Plain Jane Atheist, counterweight, just isn't that big an issue to me, either. Liberal politics, third parties, classical music, St. Louis Cardinals baseball, environmentalism and counterfactual history all rank higher.

And, there are plenty of others of us who are "nones" inside the world of atheism. 


In hindsight, there's probably one other thing that distinguishes true blue Gnus from the rest of us, and that's a denial that life is in some way tragic.

Note that I did NOT say that life is meaningless without religious structure, or a belief in a deity or higher power.

I said that life is tragic. And, I've heard/read several Gnus reject this.

But, as philosopher Albert Camus and astronomer Steven Weinberg both know and have affirmed, life IS tragic. Exquisitely so. Gnus who fail to accept that, to me, exclude themselves from the tradition and flow of true humanism.

But, back to Dan's main thrust. A lot of Gnus, when they don't lump fundamentalist Christians (and this applies in spades to Muslims) with the more liberal types, often "demand" that the more liberal types "denounce" the rest, then overlook how much they do.

Well, when I blog about Gnus, it's usually a "denouncing," and for similar reasons.

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