Don’t websites or magazines require original content any more? I’m not referring to sites like BuzzFeed that recycle or collect stuff from other sites, but places like Psychology Today that purport to publish original material.
Apparently not. The public, or editors, still seems to have an hearty appetite for atheist-bashing, even though every type of bashing has long ago been exhausted. Yet in a new piece at Psychology Today, “Atheists are fundamentalists too” by Loretta Graziano Breuning, we see the tired and bogus accusations surface once again, and from an atheist-butter (see below).
Breuning is described as “author of Meet Your Happy Chemicals, Beyond Cynical and I, Mammal, and founder of the Inner Mammal Institute. Dr. Breuning is Professor Emerita of International Management at California State University, East Bay, and a Docent at the Oakland Zoo, where she leads tours on mammalian social behavior”. But her expertise on social behavior apparently doesn’t extend to H. sapiens. Have a gander at this shopworn accusation (my emphasis):
The self-righteousness of atheists always surprises me. I’m an atheist myself, but I’m fascinated when atheists engage in behaviors they disdain in religion: the judgement, the in-group/out-group dynamics, and the insistence that others think like us to be saved.
This is human nature at work. The brain is always making predictions about how the world works in order to feel safe. Each brain builds a mental model for doing “the right thing” and avoiding wrongs that could lead to disaster. Atheism thus ends up with the familiar features of religion: community, scripture, priests, and agonizing over sin, shame, and apocalypse.
If you’re going this route, you might as well call politics a religion, and Democrats or Republicans “fundamentalists.” For they engage in precisely the same behavior as do members of any group that adhere to a philosophy, worldview, or set of principles. If you think others are wrong, and try to point out why, that’s apparently both “in-group/out-group dynamics” and “the insistence that others think like us to be saved.” (Does Breuning, by the way, not see a difference between being saved by having eternal life, and being “saved” by becoming rational?) And why does this make us fundamentalists, anyway? Why doesn’t it just make us “religious,” another accusation often leveled at atheists?
But what does Breuning see as our main “fundamentalist” tendencies? In brief (her quotations are indented):
Politics and science are the congregations of atheism.
Lots of atheists are apolitical and not that into science.
Quoting the New York Times makes you right among atheists. You can also quote the New England Journal of Medicine or the Huffington Post, depending on which atheist sect you belong to. These sacred texts are infallible so you can trust them for the righteous truth.
That is pure, unadulterated idiocy Which atheists see those papers as providing dogma? Do atheists quote Ross Douthat as scripture? And who quotes the NEJM or HuffPo as “sacred” and “infallible”? After all, the NYT publishes corrections, but I’ve never seen God do that for his Holy Word. The NYT and NEJM do have one advantage over the Bible, though. By and large what you read outside the opinion columns is true.
You can be a spiritual leader among atheists if you go to grad school and work for a non-profit.
Really? There sure are a lot of obscure spiritual leaders among us!
From the brain’s perspective, meditation is the functional equivalent of prayer.
Really, how many atheists meditate? And when we do so, does Breuning not see that we’re not addressing a divine being, trying to propitiate it, or asking for favors. And meditation may be a functional equivalent in its physiological effects, but it’s surely not equivalent in its purpose.
This is a good one:
Sin, Shame and Apocalypse
America has sinned. Capitalism is sinful. You should feel ashamed of yourself for associating with them. But you can redeem yourself by supporting a non-profit that’s saving the world. That makes you holy enough to look down on those still living in sin in capitalist America. It will all go to hell in a handbasket if they don’t “get it.”
That’s stretching her simile beyond redemption. Again, Breuning seems to either know nothing about religion, or willfully ignores what she knows. In Christianity and Islam, “sin” comprises thoughts and behaviors that determine where you spend eternity. What Breuning means by “atheist sin” is simply “bad human behavior.” And is she not aware that lots of atheists are capitalists, or promoters of capitalism? Ayn Rand is one of many examples.
And here’s the best one:
Separation of Church and State
Atheists want to exclude religion from the public forum. That means excluding all belief systems but their own, which makes sense because they know their position is right on each issue. How conveeeeeenient, in the words of The Church Lady. Fortunately, democracy requires atheists to compete in the marketplace of ideas with all other belief systems.
This is ridiculous. Who among us wants atheism but not religion promulgated in schools and the organs of government? I can’t think of a single atheist who wants that. What we want is simply enforcement of the First Amendment, which Breuning again fails to understand. Virtually all of us want this: no official endorsement or promulgation of belief or unbelief by the organs of government. Unlike the fundamentalist Christians of, say, Lebanon, Missouri, we want a true separation of church and state. Breuning again fails to understand something fundamental: “competition in the marketplace of ideas” is not the same as “separation of church and state.”
If you think atheists behave the same way as fundamentalists, I commend to you the latest article on Daylight Atheism: “Outrageous attacks on supporters of church-state separation: death threats, murdered pets, and vandalized property“, in which Adam Lee gives some examples of all the hatred and violence experienced by atheists or secularists who speak out for the First Amendment. Now do atheists do that to religious people who don’t want a separation of church and state? If Breuning analogy were true, we’d be killing the pets of people like Eric Hedin, Kevin Lowery, or the riled-up Christians of Lebanon, Missouri—or threatening them with death. But we don’t do that. Instead of making threats, we file lawsuits, and write public critiques. The cartoon below has been reproduced many times, but it’s worth showing again:
along with its photographic alternative:
Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Dr. Breuning!
In the end, atheists simply can’t be religious, and can’t be fundamentalists, because those two concepts require belief in the divine, centering one’s belief not on humans, but on the supernatural. Just because Breuning can make tortured parallels between religion and atheism doesn’t mean they’re the same thing. I could write a similar article to Breuning, but substituting “Republicans” for “atheists.”
But Breuning even thinks we have gods! Here they are:
When you were born, your mother was the supreme being. Over time, you broadened that view. If you were exposed to religion, it helped you believe in a power beyond the authority figures in your life. If you were not religious, you found other ways to believe in powers beyond your everyday routine. It’s nice to believe in your own power, but it’s not nice to think of yourself as the supreme being. The human mind is always trying to figure out who to trust, and it’s so hard to find a reliable being that many people end up worshipping Bono, Madonna, Lady Gaga, or Che Guevara.
Does she even have an inkling of the difference between admiring rock musicians (or politicians) and thinking that they have divine powers? Even Dawkins, who many atheist-butters see as the “high priest” of atheism, is not beyond criticism, and atheists at certain websites, in fact, see him as Satan. If people who admire public figures are behaving “religiously,” then that word loses all meaning.
Finally, I’d recommend that Breuning have a look at Anthony Grayling’s pointed and funny article, “Can an atheist be a fundamentalist?” (If you haven’t read it, you should, too.) I love the beginning:
It is time to put to rest the mistakes and assumptions that lie behind a phrase used by some religious people when talking of those who are plain-spoken about their disbelief in any religious claims: the phrase “fundamentalist atheist”. What would a non-fundamentalist atheist be? Would he be someone who believed only somewhat that there are no supernatural entities in the universe – perhaps that there is only part of a god (a divine foot, say, or buttock)? Or that gods exist only some of the time – say, Wednesdays and Saturdays? (That would not be so strange: for many unthinking quasi-theists, a god exists only on Sundays.) Or might it be that a non-fundamentalist atheist is one who does not mind that other people hold profoundly false and primitive beliefs about the universe, on the basis of which they have spent centuries mass-murdering other people who do not hold exactly the same false and primitive beliefs as themselves – and still do?
I’ve put a link to this piece (mine, not Grayling’s) in the comments section of Breuning article.