11/8/09

Atheism 2.0

Plain or movement, plain or movement. I keep asking myself where I fit into Ophelia's classification of atheists.

If I were a "plain atheist," I guess I'd have be quietly skeptical, and not especially interested in the subject of religion.  That can't describe my attitude, considering that I have written a book about the good life that delves into the role of religion in our lives (among many other topics).

To be a "movement atheist," I'd have to be "overt unbashful explict," she says.  Check.  But I think I'd have to be more than that. I'd have to share the goals of people like Benson, Dawkins, Harris, etc.  One of their goals is "the end of faith" (to use the phrase that titles Harris's book).  But I don't have that goal.  My book takes a position about religion that can be summed up in two words:  not necessary.  But don't rearrange the words. I reject the view that says: necessary not.  While not necessary, I argue that there are some ways in which religion can help people live better lives.

If I were doing the classifying, I think I'd have three categories.  Atheism 1.0 (Ophelia's "plain" atheists): these people put no energy into denying the existence of God, like I put no energy into rejecting astrology.  Atheism 2.0: open unbelievers who (for various reasons) aren't working toward (or even hoping for) the end of faith.  Atheism 3.0  (Ophelia's "movement" atheists): working toward or at least eager to see the end of faith.

Atheism 2.0 represents the view of a variety of people, including psychologists like Jonathan Haidt and Martin Seligman. They are openly atheists and write about religion, but they write about the benefits of religion, and I very much doubt they're hoping for, let alone working toward, the end of faith. I think it's also the view of people like E. O. Wilson and Chris Mooney who are primarily focused on goals like preventing global warming and protecting endangered species.  They are too busy working with religious people as allies to be aiming for "the end of faith."

As to the supposed "schism" between atheists... There are substantive differences between atheism 2.0 and 3.0. It's inevitable that atheists should debate each other as well as debating "outsiders."  This is no different from different kinds of Catholics, or Jews, or Democrats, or animal rights activists, or Africa specialists, or health care experts, debating each other.  Ho hum.

9 comments:

amos said...

I would categorize myself as an atheist type 1.0., for what it's worth. We type 1.0 atheists at times don't understand what the fuss is all about.

backoffscience said...

How about a 4.0 (or is that 0.0?) - you don't believe in god but think we should make the most of our capacity to live by massive, deep stories, and you think the quality of the belief should be judged on the quality of the life. That the faith based life, like the novel or the film, is a creative thing with vast potential (if we just learned to use it better).

Ophelia Benson said...

Well the two weren't meant to be exhaustive - they were a simplification for the purposes of an article answering a particular question, an article with a 650 word limit - a limit which caused me to drop 'for convenience' from the 'let's call this one plain atheism' bit. The article was always going to be about a binary, because the question was about a schism - though of course I could have answered by saying it's not that simple, there are multiple schisms, etc. I think I did imply that, but that's all.

Your 3.0 isn't really right though. For one thing I agree with "there are some ways in which religion can help people live better lives." For another thing it's not the end of religion (or 'faith' - and I'm assuming that's how you're using faith there, as a synonym for religion) I'm working for or eager to see - it's more the taming of it and above all the much more robust and unembarrassed public discussion of its truth claims. (If on the other hand by 'faith' you mean faith as a way of justifying truth claims - that I would like to see the end of. If by 'faith' you mean the valorization of faith as a way of thinking - ditto.)

E. O. Wilson and Chris Mooney who are primarily focused on goals like preventing global warming and protecting endangered species. They are too busy working with religious people as allies to be aiming for "the end of faith."

Hmm. I don't think Wilson and Mooney are very comparable. That's partly because Mooney is not 'too busy working with religious people as allies' to spend lots and lots of time calling 'movement' atheists names that imply they are violent and that explicitly say they are 'extreme' and marginal.

Jean Kazez said...

Yes, I see you weren't trying to exhaustively categorize all atheists, but I got to thinking a third category was really needed to capture the two sides of the supposed schism. I guess some of the critics of "movement" atheism are just "don't care" atheists, but some are vocal, explicit, and feisty--but just have different things to say about religion than movement atheists. So--atheism 2.0.

OK, I simplified when I said movement atheists are aiming for "the end of faith"--Harris's title got the better of me. But that's not completely off the mark, I wouldn't think. I don't know how else to draw the line between overt atheists like E. O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins except in terms of what they're working for/aiming for.

I put E. O. Wilson and Mooney in the same category because their dominant concerns are environmental, not theological. Clearly, Mooney is more interested in criticizing movement atheists than Wilson is.

Ophelia said...

I guess some of the critics of "movement" atheism are just "don't care" atheists, but some are vocal, explicit, and feisty--but just have different things to say about religion than movement atheists.

Hmm. I'm not sure that's right, actually - that doesn't seem to describe the critics of 'movement' atheism who actually exist. The ones who are vocal, explicit and pugnacious are movement atheists, and it's the being vocal explicit and pugnacious that is the object of criticism.

Jean Kazez said...

I think the critics you are talking about are not defined just by an "absence of belief" (as you put it when you describe the plain atheist). They actually write explicitly about the non-existence of god. All active explicit atheists don't have the same goals, values, and priorities. To my mind, that's what makes some movement members and some not.

Ophelia said...

Well fer sher there's plenty of territory between 'plain' atheists and full-bore 'movement' atheists. That was one way of sorting them in order to say one thing.

Faust said...

Good stuff. I really liked Ophelia's article. At first I thought "uh-oh, taxonomies of atheism?" But on reading it I think this is a good way to move the dialogue forward. There are a lot of interesting spaces that open up in conversations between atheists. Much more interesting than conversations between hard core religious types and hard core atheists for one thing.

I think expanding the taxonomy as Jean suggests is also a good idea.

Anyway I have nothing to add except props all around. Too busy to add any attempts at insight :)

Jean Kazez said...

Love the concept of a "full bore movement atheist." It brings to mind power tools and such.