Can atheism save humanity?
On the Huffington Post’s religion blog on Thursday, Andrew Schwartz, a graduate student of Union Theological Seminary, posted a piece titled “Where Atheism Stops and Religion Begins.”
The title given on the Facebook post was “Can Atheism Save Humanity?”
The basic gist of the blog is that atheism, as it rises in popularity, needs to replace religious institutions that provide welfare to the needy and in times of disaster, but atheism is apparently incapable of doing this at the moment.
The New Atheists love proclaiming that religion is dying. It’s a claim that is hard to argue with. Religion is certainly on the decline all across the world. The “nones” (i.e. those who hold no religious affiliation) rank as the third most popular religion in the world, trailing Christians and Muslims respectively.
I really hate the term “New Atheists,” for reasons outside the obvious that it is mostly used by theists and other critiques as a derogatory term. There is nothing “new” about atheism or the recent rise in atheism.
The only thing that could be considered as “new” might be that atheists are finally standing up for their rights and fighting against the persecution and discrimination that they deal with on a daily basis around the world.
It is true though that religion is slowly dying and that atheism and an overall secular life style are on the rise, at least in the Western world. I’m glad Schwartz has come to terms with that. More religious people need to understand that, but some think that means that their rights will be taken away, which is obviously nonsense. Their superiority and greater status in society will be eroded away to a place of equality, and maybe even their influence in American politics, but not their rights.
This is a huge cultural shift and, as many prominent atheist thinkers would suggest, a necessary paradigmatic change in human history. What I find disconcerting, though, are the holes being left in the fabric of society as we see the institution of religion retreating.
As an example: when Hurricane Sandy devastated the eastern Seaboard, it was the synagogues, mosques, and churches that served as bases of operation for the Red Cross, #occupySandy, and other aid organizations. Religious communities quickly rallied their members to come out and aid the victims of the storm in a capacity that few other organizations could muster.
Even when atheism replaces theism as the predominant religious view, it’s not as if churches would be the only places that could be used for communal activities or in cases of disaster.
There are plenty of secular community centers that could easily be used. Public schools are often used as it is during times of disaster.
Schwartz then back peddles that comment a little.
This is not say that the non-religious did not show up in force to aid those affected by Sandy. Far from it. It was an amazing response across the board yet that response was certainly undergirded by and maintained through the willingness of faith communities to open their doors, their homes, and their lives to those who found themselves without.
That might have to do with the fact that there are so few atheists in America, about 5-10% depending upon who you ask. There aren’t that many community centers for us, because we are such a small portion of society. Yes, that number is much larger than Jews and Muslims combined, but we’re a segment of the population that left (or were never a part of) religion and the community that it offers.
Religious organizations have the community centers that atheists simply don’t have, but that’s not the fault of atheists.
Being an atheist in America can be social suicide. Many atheists are disowned by their families and cut off from their friends, all or many of which probably went to the same church.
There simply are not many, if any, atheist community centers in North America. There are places that atheists use to hang out, but often those are already billed as community centers that anyone can use.
Then again, there is an “atheist church” in London, England. I wonder how that will be used during disasters. Probably not all that different from a church of mosque would be, and as more people become atheists and some of those atheists start to seek out the community that religion offers, more “atheist churches” and community centers for atheists will start popping up around the world.
Or, let’s consider the food bank and soup kitchen systems in America. I live in Harlem and almost every food bank or soup kitchen is run by or through a local mosque, church or synagogue. The faith community provides the physical space, the staffing, and often times the funding. This is not to say that those associated with a faith community are the only ones working at or hosting services for those in need. Again, far from it. What I will say, though, is that faith communities account for a large part of these services and many of our brothers and sisters in life would go with far less in life if it weren’t for churches, mosques and synagogues.
Or, let’s consider that a large part of the funding for religious (and secular) charities come from the federal government.
According to Mother Jones, “Catholic religious charities alone have received more than $650 million” under the Obama administration, which I actually think is a travesty and a huge waste of money.
That money should be going towards actual welfare and actual social programs that actually help people. Many religious charities will either preach at the people they are helping or only help those that are religious.
The Salvation Army is a great example of a religious charity that does not deserve our money. They are adamantly anti-gay and even threatened to close down their soup kitchens in New York because of certain anti-discrimination laws in that state.
It is dangerous and facile to argue as many prominent atheists do that the decline of religion and the rise of secularism will somehow extinguish the devastating fires of systemic oppression and/or institutionalized racism/sexism/homophobia that are often associated with religions who appeal to an andro-centric God.
I actually agree to a certain extent.
Even if religion were to totally be extinguished, not all of the world’s problems would suddenly and magically go away, as if religion is the only source of the world’s problems, even if it is a major contributor to them.
There are atheists who don’t believe in gay rights, women’s rights, minority rights, sex positivity, environmentalism, secularism (believe me, they exist), and other things that would make the world a far better place for everyone.
One could chalk this up to religious mindsets and paradigms that have been too far engrained into the minds of certain people that left religion, but simply doing away with religion would not solve all of our problems instantly.
The new ideology of this age certainly is atheism. There is no arguing that…
Actually, there is some arguing with that, because atheism is not an ideology! Atheism just means that people don’t believe in the supernatural. That is all.
Generally speaking, that also comes with a healthy respect for science and maybe some social liberalism (but as I mentioned earlier, there are nonreligious people who are not in support of socially liberal ideas), but there is nothing inherent in atheism except for not believing in the supernatural. That is all.
The new ideology of this age, if one could call it that, is secular humanism. THAT is an ideology and belief system, not atheism. Yes, most atheists are secular humanists, but one must not conflate the two. To think of those two things as synonymous is purely ignorant.
It might not be as ignorant (or offensive) as thinking that atheists are all Satan worshipping, baby eaters, but it’s still ignorant, or at least a little misinformed.
…so, as the fresh new ideological mainstay, atheism must be prepared to assume, and improve upon, the positions once occupied by religious institutions. Or, if not occupy, then replace with new institutions that service the needs of society that government and private enterprise simply are not willing and/or are not capable of holding.
Again, I actually agree with this. One of the weak points in the atheist movement is community, for some of the reasons I mentioned earlier, such as the fact that simply being an atheist in certain communities is social suicide. In the age of the internet, people think that online socializing might be enough to fill our basic human need to be social with others, but it is not enough.
In-person socialization is needed if the atheist community wants to thrive. This is not to replace religion as a dogma or ideology, but merely to fill that human need.
I do know of atheists and other nonreligious who will go to church simply for the social aspect of church. Atheism needs to do that too.
Conventions and conferences do this, so do more local meetup groups, and there are tons of these throughout North America. Heck, I’m in charge of the Secular Student Alliance at the University of North Texas and a key organizer for the North Texas Secular Convention.
It is easy to cast aspersions at the predominate institutions in power but it is a very different thing to replace them with a viable and functional alternative that covers the needs of society.
I agree, but again, we are doing that. Atheists do have viable and functional alternatives to religious institutions, in both the fields of charity and community.
There are now entire organizations dedicated solely to philanthropy, charity, and disaster relief. The two best examples are the Foundation Beyond Belief and Atheists Giving Aid. A more local one for me, one that I have volunteered for in the past, that has gained national attention in the atheist community is Dallas-Fort Worth Atheists Helping the Homeless.
All of these are great organizations that I highly recommend people volunteer for and donate to.
And as atheism rises, as more people become atheists, more of these organizations will pop up, and sooner or later, they will be able to offer a secular alternative, if not outright replace, religious charities and organizations.
Atheism cannot simply be about setting individuals free. It needs to address the deep suffering of society and take aim at dismantling the socio-economic structures that privilege the few while oppressing the many.
Atheism has nothing to say on socio-economic structures. Atheism is not a religion. It is not an ideology. It is not a systems of beliefs or way of living. It is just believing that gods do not exist. Please, understand that.
The fight for the oppressed and the impoverished, both emotionally and economically, is what most of the world religions are predicated upon.
Even IF that were the case for “most of the world religions,” it certainly is not the case today. Christianity has turned into a business, not an engine for social change.
Many preachers and pastors in America are living lives of luxury while much of their congregation are the real impoverished ones. An example of this would be megachurch pastor Ed Young of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas, who makes over a million dollars a year, while the church gets tithing from its congregates by playing videos of children with cancer and how with help from the church the family was able to keep it together (while at the same time never thanking the doctors that actually saved the girl’s life).
Atheism has nothing to say about this. Secular humanism and liberalism might, but not atheism.
Yet, the fervor for change among most of the faithful seems to have cooled and the rivers of change have grown stagnant. As evidenced above, there is still amazing work being done but that work is now struggling to survive.
So, there’s still amazing work being done by the religious and most of it comes from them, but now they’re “struggling to survive” somehow?
Please, I would like some evidence for this claim. Schwartz never links or cites anything to back up any of his claims, which are vague as they are. The one citation in the piece is a quote that Schwartz uses to try to be deep without saying much of anything at all.