Now What? Atheism Beyond the Question of God

By Chris Mooney | November 10, 2010 8:15 am

I’m off to So Cal tomorrow for this event at Pomona College:

Although the number of American non-believers has doubled in the last twenty years, and the number of young atheists has quadrupled, atheists remain politically and publically underrepresented. Pomona College, for example, which has one of the least religious student bodies in the country, does not have an atheist organization on campus. The atheist movement is coming together, but despite significant developments it remains fractured. Some atheists seek allies with other minority groups and even liberal religious believers. Other more militant or “evangelical” atheists reject any such alliance and seek the destruction of religion itself. Today’s atheists have moved beyond the question of whether God exists. However, a number of questions are still left unanswered: what is atheist morality? Is atheism political? Should atheists ally with other minority groups, or even religious people? Should atheists organize as a group at all? Is atheism a social movement? How should atheists move forward? Please join the Pomona Student Union for a panel discussion confronting these questions and more.

The Speakers:

David Silverman: President of American Atheists, author of the NoGodBlog and host of the Atheist Viewpoint television show
Chris Mooney, writer, author of three books including the New York Times best seller The Republican War on Science and the new book Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future, co-author of the blog “The Intersection,” and contributing editor to Science Progress
Hemant Mehta, author of I Sold My Soul on eBay and the Friendly Atheist blog, and member of the Board of Directors of the Secular Student Alliance

We’re going to try to record this for Point of Inquiry….

Comments (12)

  1. Dunc

    However, a number of questions are still left unanswered: what is atheist morality? Is atheism political? Should atheists ally with other minority groups, or even religious people? Should atheists organize as a group at all? Is atheism a social movement? How should atheists move forward?

    I see they’ve missed the most pressing question of all: “Are we making a massive category error?”

    Atheism is merely the lack of belief in gods. It has exactly as much relevance to these issues as whether or not you wear a hat. Replace atheism / atheist with hat-wearing / hat-wearer and tell me how much sense those questions make.

  2. Dunc — those questions make sense because many people who self-identify as atheists are actively pushing many of those issues under the atheist banner.

    Atheism is a social movement (or a miscellaneous collection of uncoordinated tiny social movements) as much as it is a semantic definition. As such, insisting that semantic arguments are the be-all and end-all of discussion about atheism misses the point.

  3. Dunc

    Only in America…

  4. Jim

    Atheists are people with beliefs, just like any one else. I think these questions build us up a little too much because most atheists simply do not care about any sort of organized movement; if we did, there would be one.

    Maybe I’m wrong, maybe we will organize and go around the world educating people about our beliefs, but to be quite honest I do not think that any thing of the sort will happen on a large scale.

  5. @Dunc

    “Atheism is merely the lack of belief in gods. It has exactly as much relevance to these issues as whether or not you wear a hat. Replace atheism / atheist with hat-wearing / hat-wearer and tell me how much sense those questions make.”

    Exactly. It’s not just in America though. Unfortunately they’re gone now, but Richard Dawkins’ website used to have all kinds of interesting forums, with mostly British inmates. One of the threads was about the supposed link between atheism and veganism. H. L. Mencken must have been turning in his grave. If we don’t watch it, we’ll be sucked into what he used to call the “Uplift” in spite of ourselves.

  6. Bobito

    Religious beliefs, atheist or otherwise, should be private and not have any influence on politics. We all know the trouble we are in due to religion in politics already. Why add another group to the mix? So we’ll have another “religious” organization that gets directly tied to political policy?

    Where does that leave someone that is an atheist but believes abortion should be controlled or likes guns?

    Flag waving is a big problem, we don’t need more flags, we need the flags to go away!

  7. Although the number of American non-believers has doubled in the last twenty years

    Statistics like that always make me think someone is spinning the numbers.

    Like the claim that Religion X is the “fastest growing religion in the world”, it can either be read as bragging (Look at how fast people are converting to my belief system) or, more likely, as an indication that very few people actually belong to the group in question.

  8. karin

    Though atheism holds only one meaning, those that are atheist, such as myself, would love to be involved in a movement that holds not only a educational structure about atheism but, also pronounce today’s moral issues and how we as atheist are concerned about said issues. Bringing these concerns of these issues to the forefront is the best thing to do. Otherwise, mis-understanding of whom we are will continue.

  9. vel

    “what is atheist morality?” There is no one morality for all atheists. Get over it with the idea that every atheist has to agree.

    “Is atheism political?” Only to the point where it wants to keep a theocracy out and religon from being forced on people.

    “Should atheists ally with other minority groups, or even religious people?” For what purpose? To keep religion out of gov’t? Sure.

    “Should atheists organize as a group at all?” In so much to prevent religion being forced on anyone.

    “Is atheism a social movement?” “How should atheists move forward?” See above. Atheists don’t have that much in common other than keeping religion out of people’s lives who don’t want such primitive superstition ruling things.

  10. Chris

    Ironically, atheists organizing in such a manner (group think phenomena – united by common cause/philosophy) resembles the religious mind set. If atheists become organized and have celebrations, such as celebrating the winter solstice in place of Christmas (with similar traditions to Christmas), then what’s the difference between atheists and religious folks? Atheism essentially becomes a religion once organized as such. All that is required to be considered a religion is essentially a place to gather amongst those with a shared philosophy and legal government approval. For example, the Universal Life Church includes those of all religions, including atheists:

    http://www.themonastery.org/?destination=aboutUs

  11. Jon

    I found an interesting series of interviews for Dutch television with Jurgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, Karen Armstrong, and John Grey (who I hadn’t heard of). The short introduction is in Dutch, but almost everything else is in English:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGlyDmURNFg

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IHXQ_YPNkY

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvHN-F96O-o

    I still haven’t heard any serious New Atheist responses to Habermas or Taylor.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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