Monday, October 26, 2009

Fundamentalists and antitheists

This post by Andrew Sullivan got me to thinking. I think there's a somewhat lazy tendency in religious discourse to divide atheists into camps of atheists and antitheists, with the former being more friendly godless types and the latter being the angry, religion is bad people. But I think this tendency is fundamentally wrong in a number of ways, not the least of which is that it doesn't take being an atheist to admit that religion can bring out the worst in people--it just takes a history book and common sense. (Of course, it shouldn't be controversial to say that religion can bring about great things as well as bad--the Renaissance and the Enlightenment both sprang from what I would characterize as progressive religious movements. But moving on...)

My experience has indeed been that godlessness (and I use the term neutrally) exists on a spectrum, with many different attitudes extant on the topic. Some nonreligious people are interested in religion and find things to like in the idea, others quite the opposite. However, I think that the people generally called antitheists can't be viewed independently of the fundamentalist resurgence with which their rise is directly related. Antitheism is a counterreaction to religious fundamentalism, in much the same way that fundamentalism is a reaction to the inescapable changes wrought by modernity. Mainline religion and mainline atheism often aren't driven by such strong reactions to externalities, but the more radical exponents of those groups are driven to extremes by a feeling of helplessness in the face of scary changes in society and life.

And I think that concern about mingling sports and religion showcases something of a cleavage between the two groups. Antitheists seem, to me, to be the types of people more worried about this sort of thing, just like fundamentalists seem to care more about putting the Ten Commandments up in front of courthouses. Both of those groups, in my experience, tend to see their struggle in a sort of zero-sum apocalyptic grudge match for control over the culture, while mainstream religioners and atheists seem more willing to just let it be and get on with their lives, albeit with some concerns. Many atheists blanch when parallels are made between them and religious people, but I do think there are some undeniable parallels, and I think that both sides of the religious debate seem, upon closer inspection, to be more nuanced and complicated than the other side might think.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.