Sunday, January 1, 2012

What American Atheists Can Learn From Europe

In Europe, fundamentalism is rare. Not as rare as I’d like it to be, but still rare. Biblical literalists are laughed at. The fight against fundamentalism, one might argue, is already won over here.
Except that it isn’t. People are still irrational – they’ve largely turned from religion, but only to find pseudo-science and “spirituality”: horoscopes, homeopathy, traditional chinese medicine, weird forms of supposed "buddhism" tailored to the needs of those who are middle-aged, well-off and bored, and a wide selection of other new-age-hippie-shit. The majority of people here might be non-religious, but they're still far from being critical thinkers. Many still actively fight what they perceive as the "cold" naturalistic worldview, which they perceive as lacking in beauty and mystery.

Even though religion has largely been recognized as out-dated, people still need some values, some ideals to live their lives by. While religion slowly degenerates, it does seem to leave a gap. Religion has been (successfully) brought to its knees, but no viable alternative was presented to the people. Humanism has failed to step up and fill the void, failed to catch the attention of those who are looking for an alternative, who still seek ritual, celebration, community.

Our culture is distinctly influenced by the Enlightenment, but there is no formal acknowledgement of the values that are the basis of nearly all western constitutions and legal systems. Now that is a mistake that need not be repeated in the US – here we still have the chance. Fighting against religion is not enough, because people who stop being religious do not by default become reasonable - They just substitute one superstition for another. To win the fight, we do not only need to make people turn away from fundamentalism, but towards a culture of ethics, art and science - of compassion, tolerance and reason.


  1. I love this post because I recognize it so much. In the Netherlands, we coined a word for this: "Ietsisme" which translates to "Something-ism".

    It is an undefined belief in whatever sounds spiritually positive. My mother is an example of this; she's into many different pseudo-scientific stuff like Effective Micro-organisms (look it up, it's ridiculous) which are baked into these porcelain beads that should be put in every water reservoir in the house to clean the water... somehow. So I ended up finding them in the dishwasher, washing machine, bathtub, coffee maker, boiler, steam oven, steam iron, kettle, vases etc.

    I tried arguing about it in all ways; how organisms can, per definition, not survive any process that embeds them into porcelain. How those organisms wouldn't do good anyways. How the effect would have worn of if it had been there at all. How the research done on this was bogus.

    Sometimes she will say that I can't possibly know that because I'm not a scientist. Often she doesn't care about whether it's real. She openly admits that she WANTS to believe it, because that will make her happy. And this is just one of the many bits of nonsense she believes in.

    I love her to death, and that makes it all the more painful to see her gullibility exploited in this way.

    1. (humanist hug) lol I feel your pain here in Los Angeles.

      I'll start using that term- "letsisme"

  2. Extremely Relevant:

  3. Sure.

    Well and also, do not discard rituals, and do not discard spiritual practices out of hand. Meditation can be extremely beneficial to a lot of people, and rituals obviously fulfill a deeply rooted human need.

    The question, from my perspective, is not whether a certain practice stems from a metaphysical system, but whether it contains implicit metaphysical claims.

    Like, for example, meditation itself does not make any claims. When you read up on buddhist meditation, you'll delve into a world of metaphysical claims, though. But that doesn't make meditation bad, and neither does it invalidate its benefits - it just means that you might want to test the practice, but leave out the metaphysical beliefs.

  4. Oh, and another comment: one of my absolute pet peeves - "believe me, you have chosen your parents before you were even begotten".

    Uh. Ok. Great, let's go with that theory. Obviously, this implies that there is some spirit independent of the body - then how come all thoughts and feelings seem to be correlated to changes in the brain? Why would spirits choose to somehow create this correlation? Just to fool us (i.e., themselves)? And HOW would they do that?


  5. got it ( i think) - preach alternatives, not just "drop your crazy beliefs!"

    agreed X10

    here shiny and grasping things circulate more than anything, so those who yell at and dis preachers get attention-which is microscopic in comparison to the attention our celebrities get. (tear)