Fundamentalism. Not a word I ever expected to hear in connection with atheism, other than by those who don’t know any better or by those who do know better but wish to be provocative. Atheism can’t lead to fundamentalism as it has no doctrine. Atheism has no principles, no practices, no rituals and no dogma. It is simply the absense of theistic belief.
Unfortunately I have now revised my opinion, I think it is now correct to refer to atheist fundamentalism. It might not be strictly accurate, all the above applies, but I do think it is descriptive. I say this in light of a video I have just watched from Coughlan666. I’m not generally a Coughlan fan, his videos are not my cup of tea and I am not subbed to him. In fact I stumbled across his blogtv on one occasion and got booted out by him. So, credentials established, I’m not a Coughlan groupie.
In the video Coughlan reads out a number of messages he has received from atheists since he posted this video attacking Pat Condell, and quite frankly it’s disgusting. I’ll just quote a couple:
“Who the fuck is this junkie piece of shit, fuck off and die”
“You need help, you backstabbing piece of shit c**t”
“I’m from the UK, and one day I’ll find ya, and when I do I’ll slit your throat. Fuck off and die.”
Death threats? Backstabbing? These messages and threats show several things clearly. They show devotion towards youtube users, thunderf00t and Pat in this particular case. that looks very much like religious devotion to various godheads. They show a complete inability to empathise with another point of view. They show total disregard for another persons opinion and they show a complete inability to think rationally. They scream out lack of tolerance. Disagreement is fine, free speech is actively encouraged. But death threats because you don’t agree?
Incidentally, Pat has been on the receiving end of similar treatment since his video saying he was voting for UKIP. Indeed that was the reason Coughlan made his vid in the first place. Here’s Pat on the subject , so this isn’t all one way traffic. It seems that many commenters can’t deal with the fact that you might happen to disagree with them, but disagreement is not the subject here. Devotion to users is.
The devotion is not directed to the points those users raise, not to particular subjects or to particular videos, but rather to the users themselves. And the one thing that seems to unite these commenters is atheism. Atheism might be a lack of a position, but these people are united by that atheism. When/if fundamentalist behaviour emerges from that group I feel it is correct to call it atheist fundamentalism. The atheists making threats against the likes of Coughlan are guilty of the same crimes that they laud Thunderf00t and Pat Condell for fighting against.
There seems to be a notion amongst some that atheism implies rationality. We know that theism is irrational, but some commit a logical fallacy of presuming that the rejection of one irrational belief makes one a rational person. It does not, much as the holding of one irrational belief does not make one irrational.
I’ve never been a fan of the “atheist community”, a collection of individuals founded on a lack of belief. A much better notion would be the critical thinking community and indeed that is how I would refer to the League of Reason. If this episode is to teach us one thing I would argue it should be that the conclusions someone reaches, important though they may be, are only as valid as the process that the person went through in order to arrive at the position. Atheism might be the only rational position to hold, but you can hold the position for irrational reasons and it does not preclude you from being irrational and intolerant on all other issues. Atheism can, then, be irrational.
I must ask how one arrives at the conclusion that a death threat is an appropriate response towards someone who made a video, rude though it may have been, to disagree with a fellow video bloggers content? Which part of that can be considered reasonable behaviour? Do these people think themselves rational and reasonable? What do they hope to achieve, and how do they differ from fundamentalists of any other persuasion?
In my dealings with theists my ultimate goal is usually to free them from the stigma of religion, to free their minds from the controlling influence that is the doctrine of their own brand of faith. I have long been of the opinion that the best way to do this is to teach critical thinking. Rather than demonstrating the absurdity of the positions religion takes, I prefer to help the person come to that conclusion themself by getting them to address their own beliefs in an unbiased way. These events have only strengthened my conviction that this is the correct approach. The messages sent by atheists here shows clearly that atheism is by no means a guarantee of rationality and is evidently not a sign of tolerance. Atheism might be the rational position, but you do not have to be rational to be atheist. Teach rationality, teach critical thinking, teach tolerance.
I once read that the best advert for your own way of life is yourself. Live the way you would wish others to be. The backlash towards Coughlan for his video here has highlighted that a good number of atheists are not even close to critical thinkers, and has strengthened my view that a “conversion” to atheism should never be the goal when discussing religion with theists. A far more appropriate goal would be critical thinking, with atheism an emergent property.