Wednesday, October 31, 2007

How Atheism Can Lead to Religiosity

By Joseph Kellard

A Boston Globe feature article on the growing number of "non-believers" in the United States-well, at least among our youth-actually gives a glimpse into why many Americans are instead finding God.

Both the non-believers highlighted in this article and its author, as illustrated by his reporting, show why assorted non-believers (atheists, agnostics, humanists, secularists, etc.) cannot unite around their *non*-belief and "free thought."

Atheism, of course, is not a philosophical system. Philosophically, it is simply a rejection of God on metaphysical grounds (although, I realize, some atheists are such on emotionalist grounds), which leaves wide open what non-believers believe in otherwise-thus, atheists run the gamut from Objectivists to nihilistic-anarchists (the emotionalist type).

What's noteworthy is that the article describes today's humanists as having roots in such non-believers as Hume, Marx, Nietzche and even Ayn Rand-but "align themselves with more recent proponents of ridding society of God," including Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan and Kurt Vonnegut. Of course, the problem here lies in lumping Ayn Rand in with the likes of Marx, implying she is a passé atheistic forbearer rather than the still under-recognized philosophical innovator that she is.

Also note that among the young non-believers that the author quotes, most make appeals to "science" while saying nothing about moral values and where they derive them rather than from God.

"I oppose any ideology that motivates people to ignore or deny scientific evidence, especially when that evidence is crucial for improving people's lives," says the president of the Tufts Freethought Society.

The author does explore the moral values of one non-believer, Greg Epstein, the focus of his piece, who wants his ilk to go beyond denouncing religion, and denying the existence of God, so that they can focus on what unites them. So what unites them? Well, when Epstein defines humanism, he calls it a "philosophy of life without supernaturalism that affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment aspiring to the greater good of humanity."

Further, Esptein finds this maxim inspiring: "Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness."

After reading the article, I concluded that within a decade or less, Epstein will likely be preaching socialism somewhere, perhaps at a religious congregation. I can hear it now: "Workers of the world unite…"

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Copyright © 2007 Joseph Kellard


Anonymous said...

At first I thought that this recent burst of pro-atheist sentiment was a good thing. But now I'm beginning to sense that its something of a superficial fad. As you say, it is just a reaffirmation of a denial of a negative. No positives are being presented. And also, I think it could backfire to our detriment. This atheist "movement" is being done in a very angry and emotionalist way. Pitbulls like Hitchens (even though I like him sometimes) are really only preaching to the choir and he turns off a lot of people, some people who are searching for answers. This could push people back to religion as they see nothing but seemingly nihilistic atheists tearing down everything in sight.

John Kim

Joseph Kellard said...


Thanks for your reply. Yes, no positives--at least no substantive positives--are being presented by today's atheists. As I write in my post, atheism is not a philosophical system--it's simply the denial that a God exists, on metaphysical grounds. So then what does the atheist value? That's where Ayn Rand fills the void most effectively, because her philosophy provides a whole system of thought, from metaphysics and epistemology to ethics and politics--none of which is based on the supernatural or mystical, but rather a reason-based identification of man's nature.

Militant atheism is emotionalist; often times you will find that people who call themselves atheists aren't such, at least not a metaphysical grounds—they’re actually agnostics, in part, because they cannot even say they are certain that a God does not exists, they leave some room open for the “possibility” because, at root epistemologically, they cannot say anything is certain. The emotionalist atheists may reject God, but sometimes it's based on some psychological issue, such as an irrational hatred for any authority figure--and yet this same person will go on to accept some other supernatural phenomenon, some undefined “force” that’s “out there,” which, of course, is essentially no different the so-called concept of God.

As to Hitchens, I've heard from so reliable sources that in his recent book, God is Not Great, he does a good job of demonstrating, on metaphysical grounds, the irrationality of religion’s many supernatural-mystical claims. Unfortunately, he too does not come to as nearly a rational alternative as a substitute for religion. From what I've seen elsewhere, he has a fundamental disregard for Ayn Rand, and this, in my book, is an enormous mistake. To not even mention her in such a book, when he is well aware of her, is unacceptable. (I’ve written a recent post on this matter that you may want to read.)

This kind of atheists, more than the militant-nihilistic atheists, is probably, in the long run, more likely to push people into religion. That’s because any reasonable person knows the militant atheists have nothing to offer; but when they encounter atheists like Hitchens, they simply get misguided into philosophies that don't "work" any more than religion does—some of which are just as mystical as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc.