On the web you will rarely see atheists making arguments for religion in any form, but it occurs to me that we may have been looking at from an unhelpful perspective.
In general it is a good premise to assume that atheists not only lack faith, but lack a capacity for it that believers have. Perhaps there is something in the makeup of an atheist mind that short-circuits the capacity for agency recently posited by evolutionary anthropologists , or maybe we are just rebellious independents who got tripped up over the blatant hypocrisy of our childhood congregations.
We are surrounded by believers on a daily basis. Perhaps they are family, or friends, or even office coworkers we get along with but don’t necessarily like. Whatever the circumstance may be we are faced with a daily challenge of second guessing what might upset them, or else having to ease ourselves around their sensitivities. Rational debate with them is seldom productive, other than to provide a cheap thrill by upsetting them from time to time. For the most part we like them, or at least want to get along with them.
For we who have experienced a conversion out of a religious environment either from personal epiphany, or simply because it never fit and our life circumstances allowed us to stay away there may be a lingering astonishment as well as resentment that such beliefs could be held. Accepting religion as a necessary institution is not an easy matter.
It is possible to rationalize the concept of “needing” belief in the same sense as one does the concept of “needing” shelter or sustainable when housing and food are possessed, but the majority of us will not experience that need personally and deeply. Even the indigent in the United States have ample resources to obtain at least a hot meal at night if they want it. If we interact with people that have had those sorts of needs however, it becomes apparent that it can drive one to irrational or desperate actions.
Is the need for belief in something a physiological requirement for them? Perhaps there is a is a greater tendency for fear in these individuals and their need to be fearful makes them an easy mark for a system that focuses that fear on a supernatural narrative and provides a peace which allows them to function. Without study it is mere speculation.
Like a domesticated flock most of us are corralled by the priests among us. We fear a state of existence outside the flock and are willing to blind ourselves to the nature of our reality. Indeed do not missionaries seek to place themselves as the patriarchs of the new converts? Are not primitives, or the poor and desperate provided for in exchange for an implied obedience to a set of values and social taboos that place the the evangelist in a state of authority?
This need not be a religious sort of subjugation; Alcohol Anonymous’ 12 Step program indicates that belief in a higher power is necessary for control of one’s cravings, and that the individual is weak an unable to do anything of their own accord. This more or less excuses the person if they slip up, while the use of peer pressure keeps them in line as they aren’t supposed to lie to their buddy.
It is similar to the institution of religion which seeks to place the adherent in a state of humility in order to prescribe behavior. Focus the fear of the inner-voice, or agency detector on a mystical plausibility and then provide secret knowledge to overcome it. This tendency is exploited – perhaps knowingly – by those who wish to guide society by their will… Is a behavior disruptive this guidance? Call it sinful and prescribe outcast status on the violators, and the congregation will more or less conform.
Nationalism, Environmentalism, and even broad conceptions such as Liberalism or Conservatism are fixed in place by their own sorts of priests. The Sierra Club advertises with emotionally manipulative images that provoke us to care about the world and to give them money to do something about it. Fundamentalist secular believers commit outrageous acts to “punish” us performing actions which they oppose – releasing pharmaceutical test animals for example as protested by Animal Liberation Front activists.
Rush Limbaugh extorts obedience to Conservatism through his radio show where he describes foreboding imaginings of life in an America where liberal ideals are in the majority. In his view, and based on economic evidence he is correct here, taxing citizens and businesses to provide welfare is detrimental as it penalizes producers for their success, while it does not inhibit non-producers for their lacking contributions. Successful and or productive individuals will reduce their output to a level which is approximately “fair” to them, or they will go elsewhere and seek to prosper.
On another channel Rachel Maddeaux extols the virtues of being publicly ashamed of our government’s decision to engage in yet another conflict. While there was an acceptable amount of political and legal justification for escalating an armed conflict in the Middle East, it was perhaps not the wisest decision by the Bush Jr. administration to invade Iraq. Had the national sentiment at that moment not been in a militant nationalist fervor, it is entirely possible that conflict would have been far more limited, or avoided altogether.
Put the secular congregants of either personality in the same confined space and watch a new level of Holy War begin.
Are some of these beliefs so wrong? If they were founded on reason and rationalism would dogmatic adherence to these good sorts of beliefs be less valid or valuable than a conscious one? Is it possible to have a system of dogma that is not counter productive to reason and knowledge – a sort of neutral unthinking that is not required to step outside comfortable boundaries while at the same time resilient to the effects of fear-mongering?
Religious believers may become hostile or passive aggressive when their world view is challenged. Environmentalists, New-Agers, and Alternative Medicine adherents may likewise turn hostile when confronted with the absurdity of their beliefs. They mean well and may earnestly believe but are mislead and armed with dogma against reason.
What is obvious is that atheists have not quite figured out this game. We don’t understand the deep emotional attachments to ideals, and because we are not willing to accept an unfounded premise without testing it we are far more likely to accept new information and change our minds. We adapt better to the changes in our modern environment, but we are also more likely to suffer from catastrophic failures of our discoveries when unexpected consequences strike.
Many goodhearted people are not able to master an understanding of the scientific method or make an evidence based conjecture. Those same people may be on the front line of a disaster providing aid and comfort to those in need not only because their faith tells them they should do it, but because it provides something for them- they feel good doing it. The majority of internet atheists do not address this tendency, though it is wonderful to see an atheist outreach campaign – The Atheist Community of Austin.
While there are certainly more criticisms of religion by the internet atheist set than one has time to read each day, what has the atheist community offered them as incentive besides invalidation and scorn? It is because of this that atheists remain marginalized and have to constantly justify themselves or provide a legal defense.
I challenge the Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harrises out there to provide a compelling argument as to why the vocal face of atheism must remain critical.
Since atheists have the same need for support, social connection, and community that other humans do, why not develop a set of principles that can be substituted for many of the religious taboos that elicit similar behavior, and provide a community in which these can be practiced? Provide an institution of social reinforcement, supportive community, and primary needs fulfillment which can be used to solicit the belief of the masses to accept principles of rationalism and if not an understanding of the methods of reason and science, at least a belief that the process is good and beneficial. It is necessary to provide them with a charismatic Sheppard that can give them assurances against their doubts.
We are humans. Information and technology is our evolutionary adaptation against selection. We have a duty to do all we can to mitigate the destructive effects of religious intolerance, and preserve the values of reason from the minds of secular mystics seeking salvation in primitivism.