09 April 2014

Defining the struggle

The point of this post is one that should ideally need no clarification, but a recent conversation and a couple of discussions on other blogs have reminded me that it sometimes does.

The central conflict in the world today is the massive struggle -- often and accurately called a "culture war" -- between secular modernity and what I call "malignant traditionalism", which consists mostly of militant religion, especially Christianity and Islam.  These religions' historical impact and continuing influence are, I believe, so destructive and dangerous that in the long run our goal must be to eradicate them from our societies.

How feasible that is, and in what time-frame, is a whole complex issue in itself.  My concern here is the risk of the goal being misunderstood by people unfamiliar with atheist thinking.  Religionists like to respond to our every success at getting their boot off our necks by screaming that we are "persecuting" them.  The claim has no credibility, not just because we aren't persecuting them, but because doing so would not serve our real purposes.

A religion is not a group of people.  It's a set of beliefs of the type Richard Dawkins calls "memes", which has in a very real sense "evolved" to take root and spread in its available environment, which is human minds.  I consider a religion a sort of mental parasite which uses humans as host organisms and modifies their behavior with the goal of spreading the religion to others, as parasites in the natural world do.

It's a distinction, however, that not everyone grasps, as can be seen from the comment thread here.  The linked post focuses on the recent decree by the Saudi Arabian regime declaring advocacy of atheism, or any kind of opposition to the regime, to be "terrorism".  An act characteristic of a tyrannical theocracy, but the comment thread itself is dominated by a hysterical and incoherent individual declaring all Muslims to be irredeemably slaves to their religion and calling on them to be "nuked" -- read it for yourself, I'm using sanitized language here.  I actually doubt that this person is an atheist, since one almost never sees atheists using such violent rhetoric, but the point remains.

You can see my responses at the link.  The point I want to emphasize here is that in the war against religion, most religious people are not the enemy -- they are the battlefield.  Yes, some (mostly leaders, such as Khomeini or Ratzinger) are genuinely evil and have to be treated as such -- but in most cases we're dealing with, not an army, but a population afflicted with an epidemic.  This is a "war" more like the war on, say, AIDS or malaria than like a literal war.

We've been fighting it this way for centuries, and achieved a great deal thereby.  Compared with the situation 400 years ago when religion was all-powerful, the Western world has already traveled 90% of the way to a religion-free society.  That was not accomplished by force or violence (even though the enemy has often used violence against us).  It was achieved by using a wide variety of persuasive techniques (including, as I've stressed elsewhere, ridicule) to undermine the parasite's grip on the minds under its dominion, eventually uprooting it or, more commonly, weakening its effects to a nearly negligible level, reducing religion to a mere label devoid of fervor.  With the recent rise of "New Atheism" and its far more aggressive lines of attack, unbelief has proliferated in the United States with astonishing speed, while the Christian Right shrinks and loses ground even while growing more extremist and militant.  A large minority of Americans are now non-religious, while far more adhere to a Christianity so shallow and vapid that it no longer presents a substantial threat.  These persuasive techniques are the only weapons we need.  They are working.

They are working even in places that seem utterly unpromising.  Iranian atheist blogger Kaveh Mousavi explains here how he has had great success at bringing fellow Iranians around to discard Islam and embrace atheism, by showing them how the mushy "moderate" position is untenable.  That's the way to get this done -- the Middle East will be de-Islamized the same way the West is being de-Christianized, and Middle Eastern atheists are in the best position to lead the process.  Crazed rhetoric about throwing nuclear bombs around, or violence more generally, is not just useless -- it's offensively stupid.

Eradicating religion does not mean killing or persecuting religious people any more than eradicating AIDS means killing or persecuting AIDS patients, and for the same reason.


Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

"The linked post focuses on the recent decree by the Saudi Arabian regime declaring advocacy of atheism, or any kind of opposition to the regime, to be "terrorism". An act characteristic of a tyrannical theocracy..."

In Christianity's history, blasphemy and atheism were crimes punishable by death.

It's amazing how so many religions use coercion and death threats to keep their adherents from seeking enlightenment.

09 April, 2014 18:06  
Blogger Tommykey said...

Here in the USA, one of the myths that needs to be discredited is the conflating of being a good American with believing in a god. It's reinforced with having "under God" in the Pledge. A couple of times I educated some friends on Facebook about it by telling them that one of the problems with it is that it effectively says that Americans who don't believe in a god don't matter, regardless of whatever contributions we make to society. Without "under God" the Pledge includes everyone.

10 April, 2014 09:31  
Blogger Tommykey said...

BTW, your comments on the Atheist Oasis post reminded me of something I have been wanting to write on my own blog (but never seem to get around to!) about how the Muslim world in general is in really poor shape and has been contracting for some time. Sudan lost a chunk of territory to a newly independent South Sudan. Muslims in the Central African Republic are being killed and expelled from there. There's the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Some 150,000 mostly Muslims have been killed in the Syrian Civil War, as well as the spillover Shia on Sunni violence in Iraq and Lebanon. This should all be an Islamophobe's wet dream.

10 April, 2014 09:41  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Shaw: Yes, it's almost as if they feared they wouldn't prevail in a free marketplace of ideas.

Tommykey: One of the consequences of accepting the casual killing of infidels comes when inevitably Muslims start branding each other as infidels, due to sectarian differences or whatever. It makes prolonged civil wars in Islamic countries all the more murderous, as we can see in Syria.

11 April, 2014 10:06  

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