The Secular End?

When I was in university, I once shared a three room suite with three other guys. That also happened to be the year that Meat Loaf came out with “Bat Out of Hell II”, and I ended up hearing and really liked “I Would Do Anything For Love”. That got me to buy the cassette — yes, that’s how long ago that was — and listen to it. Now, when I really like an album, I tend to listen to it and only it for a long period of time, from weeks to months. So I probably listened to it for pretty much an entire term. The other people in the suite, well, didn’t like the album as much as I did, and would tease me about it, even going so far as doing a request on the campus radio station dedicating it to me for not listening to it ever again. I commented that if it bothered them, I could use headphones, and they said that just knowing that I was listening to it was bad enough.

This story will relate to how a post by Jerry Coyne relates to ideas of secularism, and what religious people should think is the ultimate goal of secularism, at least as defined by those atheists or secularists who, like Coyne in that post, rail against accomodationism. Coyne says this:

I find it demeaning to try to make ourselves seem REALLY NICE to the American public. In point of fact, we are reasonably nice: at least as nice as believers. So why must we tout ourselves as “The Friendly Atheist” or “The Happy Atheist”? Not all atheists are friendly or happy, nor are all believers. We’re just normal Americans who don’t happen to believe in nonexistent gods.

Making people think we’re friendly and happy will not, I think, do the trick. Atheists are the most reviled group in America, far less likely to be elected to office than are gays, women, or blacks. We’re not going to change that by showing people that we’re “normal”.

So … if atheists act like normal people, and represent themselves as normal people, and particularly as normal people with interests other than, say, opposing religion … isn’t going to get people thinking that they are just normal people who don’t happen to believe in gods? I mean, it seems obvious to me that if you want people to get that atheists are just normal people, the best way to do that would be to represent themselves as being normal people. In fact, it’s hard to me to imagine that there’s any other way to do that. So why is going claiming that that isn’t going to change that impression?

Does anybody really think that Christians will either accept us or, more important, abandon their faith if they perceive us as real people?[emphasis added]

Ah, that’s why. His main goal, the thing that’s most important to him, isn’t, in fact, getting acceptance for atheists. It isn’t having a society where everyone can have their own beliefs about religion — and atheism is a belief about religion, even if it is going too far to call it a religion itself — and live according to them as long as they don’t infringe on anyone else. No, he wants religion gone. And that, then, is why he rails against the accomodationist notion, because while it might be more effective at getting atheists accepted, it isn’t more likely to get people to drop their religion, because it treats them and their beliefs as beliefs that are just wrong … or, at least, just wrong in the opinion of the atheist. No, to really deconvert people you have to be able to lambaste and bully them into accepting that they are stupid for believing such notions.

From this, you can see how this relates to secularism and my opening story. One of the pushes of secularists is that they don’t care if you’re religious in private, as long as it isn’t public or, more sensibly, publicly enforced. But if the goal is to eliminate religion instead, then it is just as bad for those people to know that those people who used to practice their faith in public still practice it at home. As Coyne has made clear repeatedly, he has a problem with faith itself, not just with his having to see it in public or the more reasonable charge of being forced to participate in religious practices that they don’t support.

Now, the fear that religious people have of secularism is that it isn’t just an attempt to remove religious privilege and give all beliefs about religion — including atheistic ones — a fair shot. The fear is that it’s really an attempt to eliminate religion, potentially using state power to do it despite the fact that the right to freedom of religion would preclude that. If secularists just want to eliminate religious privilege, then this is an unfounded concern. But if the same people who say that they just want to eliminate religious privilege also say that they want to eliminate religion … well, then anyone who doesn’t think it right for a secular society to eliminate religion in the name of secularism will have to look very closely at everything they propose to make sure that it doesn’t aim to eliminate religion … even if unintentionally.

It’s clear that a big part of Coyne’s dislike of accomodationist approaches is that they aren’t going to do enough to get rid of religion:

Although I’m not asking Stedman to become more militant, I think his stance on “moar amiability” is unproductive. Which books deconverted more of the faithful, Faitheist or the in-your-face books The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, The God Delusion, and God is Not Great? I think you know the answer.

It can only be judged “unproductive” by appealing only to deconverting if he thinks that that is the most important goal. And he, of course, is free to prioritize things the way he wants. But since it seems obvious that to him eliminating religion and deconverting theists are more important to him than simply finding a way for atheists and theists to live together despite their differences, I am also free to treat him pretty much the same way I treat the fundamentalists who have made it their goal to convert me or others to their own religion: with an air of annoyance and suspicion. Thus, the parallel between at least some Gnu Atheists and fundamentalists seems to hold in at least one way: both of them, at the end of the day, have a main goal of everyone thinking like they do. And that’s not something that I think is a good thing.

One Response to “The Secular End?”

  1. dernostalgischetyp Says:

    “stands up Claps”

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