Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Fundamentalism

Over at Atheist Revolution they are talking about "secular fundamentalism." Vjack suggested that there is no such thing as secular fundamentalism, and sought to provide reasons why.

I rise in defense of his claim. "Secular fundamentalism" does not exist, because "secularism" is the reasonable middle ground between fundamentalist extremes.

Atheist Fundamentalism

Atheist fundamentalism, or the theocratic equivalent, is a possibility. It is not at all impossible to imagine a cabal of atheists banning all religious practice, prohibiting prayer even in private, shutting all the churches, and banning any organization that strikes its leaders as ‘religious.’ There is nothing that will prohibit such a society from requiring teachers to teach that no God exists, that those who are religious have abandoned their senses and are not to be trusted in positions of power and lack any ‘rational’ sense of right and wrong. There is no violation of the laws of nature in an atheist society adopting a national motto of, “We accept no gods” and coercing children into a ritual where being accepted in the group requires a willingness to pledge allegiance to "one Godless nation."

If there was ever any reason to believe that atheists will not engage in barbaric inquisitions the French Revolution and other atheist regimes will forever serve as evidence to the contrary.

So, let us not start with the fiction that atheists can pretend to any type of innate moral superiority. Whether an atheist is moral is independent of the question of whether he is an atheist.

Yet, this assumption will only serve to prove my point, that secularism is the midpoint between extremes. As such, it is unreasonable to classify secularism itself as an example of extremism.

The Middle Ground

To see the problem with this view, imagine a society in which there are two main factions. There is a faction of Arians who declare that no Jew deserves to live and are arguing that it is within their right to kill them all. Against them, there is a faction that declares that no Jew may be killed and that Arians and Jews shall live in a society of mutual respect. The Arian faction responds to this by claiming that those who do not respect the Arian right to kill all the Jews are “anti-Arian” and engaged in a war against Arianism.

Between these two factions, a group of individuals emerge who call themselves moderates. They condemn the Arians who seek to kill all the Jews. They equally condemn those who insist that no Jews be killed. They call the former view “Arian fundamentalism” and the latter “Jewish fundamentalism.” As true moderates, they propose a compromise – that half of the Jews are to be killed, to keep their population at a reasonable number, and that the rest are to be allowed to live at peace. These “moderates” praise themselves for not surrendering to extremism.

What these so-called moderates fail to recognize is that the opposition position to “all Jews should be killed” is not “No Jews should be killed” but that “All Ayrians should be killed.” The view that there should be no killing is, in fact, the middle ground between the two extremes. Those who pretend to be defending the moderate position have, in fact, allowed themselves to be manipulated by the language of one of the two extreme factions – a faction that has managed to convince unthinking moderates that those who occupy the true middle ground are “extremists”.

Or let us take similar example. Imagine a society in which the whites wish to live in a society where blacks are slaves. They are opposed by a faction that says that there shall be no black slavery. In this society, the white slavers oil the gears of a public relations campaign that spreads the idea that “black slavery” and “no black slavery” are both extremist positions. They fuel the rise of a moderate faction that argues for a compromise position. This would be a view that blacks must serve as slaves to whites for six months out of the year, while living as free men for the other six months. These moderates are proud of their position, since they have avoided the extremism that plagues these warring factions.

Again, the moderates in this case have been seduced by a lie. The opposite of “black slavery” is not what the white slavers claim it to be. It is not “no black slavery” but “white slavery.” In this case, “no slavery” is the middle ground. Those so-called moderates who defend “six months of slavery” are not defending the middle ground. They have, instead, allied themselves with the slavers to defend a system of injustice to those who they claim should, out of fairness, agree to be enslaved for part of the year.

Atheist fundamentalism is a possibility. It is no more true to say that the opposite of “theocracy” is “secularism” then it is to say that the opposite of “kill all the Jews” is “kill no Jews” or that the opposite of “black slavery” is “no black slavery.” The true opposite of a religious theocracy is the type of atheist tyranny that I have described above.

Applications

The true opposite of “one nation under God” is “one godless nation.” Secularism, which endorses neither position, is the true middle ground between these two extremes.

The true opposite of ‘in God we trust” is not “e pluribus unum.” It is “We accept no God.” The motto “e pluribus unum” represents the true and moral middle ground between these two extremes.

The true opposite of putting a Christian cross on public land near San Diego is not “no symbol”, but to put an atheist symbol on that land. “No symbol” represents the compromise middle ground between the two extremes.

As Austin Cline at “About Atheism” reported, in the House of Representatives today religious fundamentalists pushed a measure that would have the effect of permitting those who defend Christians to collect legal fees if they should win a lawsuit challenging government actions based on the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment, but would prohibit those who defend atheists from collecting legal fees if they should win a case grounded on the “establishment” clause of the same amendment. This is a “compromise position” much like that between “kill all the Jews” and “kill no Jews” mentioned above, or “total black slavery” and “no black slavery” also mentioned.

What we have here is evidence that those who claim that their religion gives them particularly keen moral insight are incapable of recognizing and applying basic principles of fairness and justice. If they had that insight, then they would be making this argument instead of me. Instead, we have a case in which faith has blinded some to justice, and once again been the foundation on which a monument to injustice is constructed.

Yet, in spite of this, it remains the case that secularism is the true middle ground – the true moral ground – between these two extremes is to have the same attitude towards a government that declares, “In God We Trust” that one would have to a national motto that ways, “We accept no Gods.” True justice says to view “one nation under God” with the same contempt that one would have for “one Godless nation,” to view a government-sponsored Christian symbol the same way that one would view a government sponsored atheist symbol, and to give Christians and atheists equal protection under the law.

A truly just person would defend secularism.

A truly just God would demand it.

7 comments:

Bryan said...

Excellent post.

Laid out a point to this argument that I had taken for granted without truly considering.

W. Harper said...

Excellant analysis. I have often wondered if the battle between religious fundamentalists and atheist fundamentalists, viewed from the psychological perspective of projection, is not about the fundamentalism-not the existence or non-existence of god. Each side is projecting it's denied, unconscious fundamentalism onto the other. I certainly enjoyed reading this article.

Hellbound Alleee said...

I would go ahead and defend individualism then, in that case. It looks to me like a case against collectivism, and belief systems. Any collective has beliefs, and a system.

Chris said...

Excellent post. And let me, as an open and sometimes confrontational atheist, say right now that I do *not* want the atheist tyranny you outlined. While I think many religions are, to put it bluntly, lies, and harmful lies at that, I do not think they should be legally banned. Partly because it is a violation of individual rights which I consider important, and partly because if there is a needle of truth in any particular haystack of lies, mistakes and random crap that just accumulated over the years, legally banning the whole haystack will take the needle with it.

We, as a species, have an excellent method for separating truth from falsehood. It is called reason (or, alternatively, science). We should apply it to everything and pay attention to the results, and discard beliefs that are discredited or insupportable. We shouldn't ban them, but rather, recognize that they are wrong and people who believe in them are mistaken. The most useful and productive remedy for mistakes is education: teach people how to think critically about their beliefs and how to examine evidence and determine its credibility, and any position that isn't supported by adequate evidence will wither, without any need for violent attack. It is only viewpoints that can't win a debate that must replace the debate with a war.

Sometimes, of course, people do take evil actions which may be because of their false beliefs; 9/11 is the most obvious example. Beliefs that are both false, and likely to lead to harm, are dangerous and I believe that working to discourage them is the right thing to do, but I'm not so arrogant in that belief that I want to codify it into law.

W. Harper: I don't know where you live, but it seems obvious to me that the U.S. contains no perceptible number of atheist fundamentalists; that while the position Alonzo describes is theoretically possible, essentially no one actually believes or advocates that. Therefore, claims that Dawkins or PZ Myers or whoever is a "fundamentalist atheist" are a misnomer based on a misunderstanding of what fundamentalist atheism would *really* mean. And furthermore, it seems that that was a large part of Alonzo's point and that you missed it completely.


P.S. I hope you address Hamdan v. Rumsfeld - I haven't read the full opinion yet but it looks like there may be a lot to talk about.

decrepitoldfool said...

I'm not sure the word "fundamentalism" necessarily contains social coercion of nonmenbers. Strict Amish sects are fundamentalist (as they conceive it) and have no designs on reforming society.

But as "fundamentalism" is commonly used, it does contain that idea so I suppose you could speak of any stripe of fundamentalist when referring to someone who wants to force the rest of society to march to his drummer. Maybe we need a good word for that tendency, though. Coercionist? Because not all Christian "coercionists" are really fundamentalists.

I'll have to think about that a while.

beepbeepitsme said...

Religious Fundie VS Religious Fundie

http://beepbeepitsme.blogspot.com/2006/07/religious-fundie-vs-religious-fundie.html

I agree.

It is difficult to place a case for "secular fundamentalism".

Can someone make the case that secularism, which embraces "pluralism", is in some way extreme, or fundamentalist?


Secularism is the concept that many different religious beliefs can be represented in the one society. It, by necessity, requires the separation of church and state as many relgious beliefs cannot be fairly represented if one is seen to be more worthy than the other.

2 major religions have difficulty in controlling their desire for dominance. (christianity and islam)

These 2 religions act more like faith-based corporate monopolies as each tries to gain more political and economic power than the other.

beepbeepitsme said...

“Any hope that America would finally grow up vanished with the rise of fundamentalist Christianity. Fundamentalism, with its born-again regression, its pink-and-gold concept of heaven, its literal-mindedness, its rambunctious good cheer... its anti-intellectualism... its puerile hymns... and its faith-healing... are made to order for King Kid America.” Florence King