Is Fundamentalist Atheism real?

This is a term we’ve used here on the SDMB and I laughed when I saw it in an article on the Huff post. One by RJ Eskow who criticizes those who loudly propose the elimination of religion, and one by Cenk Uygur who criticizes RJ. Both an entertaining read with decent links and emotionally telling responses.

I’m with RJ on this issue. I understand the feelings against religion and I fully support beliefs being challenged. When those beliefs have a negative impact on the lives of others then we have a moral obligation to challenge them. The idea that the world would be better off without religion is a claim unsubstantiated by evidence. Some smugly tout there own logic and reason and trot this concept out as if it were an obvious fact. IMO that shows arrogance and hypocrisy. They are embracing a belief without evidence in much the same way the believers they love to criticize do. The meme that believers are stupid is another example that seems ludicrous.

It seems to me that the issue has as much to do with emotion as it does with objective facts. Calling believers fools, morons, idiots, seems just as useless as cries of heathen, infidel, and blasphemer.

So, is fundamentalist atheist a legitimate term? RJ also uses Militant Atheist in the article title. I think it is.

In a related issue. What do you propose is the is the best way to challenge beliefs that have a negative impact on others?

I don’t think we can deal with it on a factual scientific basis although that is one tool. I think if we truly hope for progress we need to try and understand the emotional attachment and deal with that as well.

I think it’s a perfectly fine term, although I like Militant Atheist better: “Fundamentalist” implies a belief in inerrancy in a text, I think. Maybe fundamentalist atheists have a belief in the errancy of the text (omnerrancy?)

And yes, calling believers fools is as useless as calling nonbelievers heathens.


Mainly a matter of style. IMO. I’m all for cutting a long, complicated debate short by asking my adversary “Please prove how your beliefs are supported, other than by your personal, subjective testimony.” This often gets called “rude,” because I’m not really interested in discussing and glorifying someone’s witnessing. If that’s all you have, finally, fine, but please don’t get me in a whole muddle of theological fine points supporting your subjective take on things. You’re content to belief in something without evidence, and that’s fine with me. I may not want to discuss it at length with you, but you have a perfect right to believe in whatever you like. (I’m not obliged to show a whole of respect for your belief system either, as you are not obliged to show enormous respect for belief systems you consider a lot of hooey, either.)

This atitude gets called “rude,” “Dismissive,” “arrogant,” “Obnoxious,” etc (and, yes, “Militant”) yet is the same attitude we all take for granted around here when discussing almost any other assertion contrary to fact: first , show me how your thought process makes sense in a rational world, THEN we can discuss the fine points of your assertion. The burden of proof is on YOU to show me how X (or Y or Z) exists–if you can’t get there, I’m entitled to display boredom or dismissiveness with your further thoughts about “X”

The truly difficult problem with religion is that it is quite reasonable to take the view that significant parts of it are wrong, whatever form it takes. However significant parts aren’t.

It is simple arrogance to reject it wholesale, as though generations of people as wise and live as us were fools and dupes. No, the debate if you wish to be sensible must be which parts of religion to reject and which to respect.

Would you have said the same to Baal-worshipers in Mesopotamia in 500 BC?*

*note to nit-pickers: years and place a WAG, and irrelevant to point I’m making.

Sevastopol, could you specify what you mean when you say “significant parts of it are wrong/significant parts aren’t”? I’m taking it one of two ways, either you seem to be saying “there are parts of religion that are right, therefore to be an athiest at all is arrogant” or “there are some things about religion that are reasonable, therefore to reject that a religion can be correct at all is arrogant”. I’m guessing it’s closer to the second, but the way it’s worded I could be wrong.

And that point is that you’re trying to poison the well of discussion by labeling your adversaries’ position “arrogant” from the get -go. You should know better than to assert that a belief’s credibility has anything to do with the sheer numbers, or percentages, of people who believe it. Something’s true if it’s true, not because people believe it’s true.

Well, hold on, here. There are two separate points that can be discussed:

  1. Is atheism the objectively true description of the universe?
  2. Are some behaviors made in the advocacy of atheism inappropriate behaviors?

Be careful not to mix them up. I think the OP is addressing the second point; the first point is one for a different thread, unless you would argue that, in the advocacy of an objectively true viewpoint, there can be no inappropriate behavior.


RJs article has close to 300 comments now. Some good. Some just venom.One suggested the term Evangelical Atheist was more appropriate. Interesting. Someone who actively tries to convince others , “you’re beliefs are wrong and mine are right”
The fundamantalist I see more as “I’m right. I’m sure of it. I won’t consider any opinion that doesn’t agree that I’m right”

It ranges from annoying to offensive when those who constantly proclaim their reason and logic prefer to spend time craping on others rather than looking at their own unsubstantiated position.

I feel the same when those who like to throw “praise Jesus” around don’t make any effort to actually love their neighbor who may not believe as they do.

So in other words, PRR, nothing is real but what can be objectively measured? When, then, will you quit your job teaching literature, which is nothing but subjective evaluation of written work, and actually take a job doing honest work?

Yes, that was snide, and getting personal. But it makes the point that there is room for subjective experience in reaching conclusions about what data are relevant evidence.

I have no interest in proving anything to you by appeal to objective evidence. I’ve been given instructions on how to “witness” to you about my faith, and it consists in how I live my life, how I treat you, etc. – not in what appeals I can make to a collection of writings and to the testimonies of long-dead persons whose relevance, factuality, and very existence we may be at odds about.

If you want to get into a long and detailed discussion of Biblical criticism, what elements are to be read in accordance with the standards for what genres, and what conclusions we can draw from their contents, that would be fine. I’m not wedded to any of the miracle stories, I think Paul was subsconsciously motivated by his legalistic Pharisee past far more than he would have cared to admit, and I’ll be the first to cede the point that there is very little objective reportage of the sort one might expect from a decent newspaper or broadcast news outlet anywhere in Scripture.

To me, however, there’s a nice neat line drawn in the sand: People who can form different opinions on debatable issues and respect the right of others to disagree, and people who are insistent that their perspective is the only right one, and suitable to be forced down the throats of others willy nilly. And with regard to religion, there are people in both categories on each side of the line. It’s your privilege to hold what beliefs you choose, including the one that all supposed supernatural explanations of anything are the veriest bullshit. It’s your privilege to be offended by people offering such explanations as if they were “real.” It is most emphatically not your privilege to be demanding that people who hold different beliefs than you be shut up and not permitted to express their views. Regardless of whether you’re a fundamentalist Christian or a militant atheist.

I can’t resist this.

What about Tinkerbell ?

On a more serious note, there are things that exist, but only because people believe that they exist - the absence of chaos brings about material changes.

I’m not addressing the OP here–I’m addressing Sevastolpol’s attempt to poison the well by beginning with the assumption that those who disagee with him are inherently arrogant by dint of their disagreement.

In any discussion of “Does X exist?” you must begin with “the answer has not yet been clearly demonstrated,” meaning that those who argue that X does exist are obliged to make their case. By labeling those who want to start at this point as “arrogant” is clearly skewing the debate from the get-go. Play fair, or don’t play at all.

In other words, hate the bullshit, not the bullshitter? :slight_smile:


You use a lot of "must"s and "obliged"s. Folks can have the discussion however they like. If someone tels me that they believe X exists, instead of starting the discussion where you tell me I must, I’m a lot likelier to start it at, “Huh. Why do you say that?” For Xs that are currently unproveable, I’m a lot more interested in why a person has concluded that X is true than I am in having them convince me that X is true.

And that, I think, is where the arrogance can creep in. If folks want to have a discussion about their own personal experiences, but you insist on turning it into an adversarial discussion in which only empirical evidence is acceptable, then you’re showing contempt for the discussion they want to have, showing almost a blindness toward what they want. That can come across as arrogant.


I hate to get into this but since you brought it up, it’s complete bullshit to teach literature, or any form of art by making subjective assertions. I may say, “Doesn’t this resonate with you?” when I discuss a poem I think is fabulous, but any student is free to say. “Uh, no, it doesn’t do a thing for me,” and I’m bound to show that student respect. I can argue how intricately the poem was constructed, or how subtle and far-reaching the imagery is, or anything I like, but I can’t make the student like the poem if he doesn’t care for it, and I can’t punish or dismiss him if that’s how he feels, so long as he looks at it seriously and undertands what’s objectively so about the poem.

Challenge one of them.

Actually, I think I used exactly one “must” and one “obliged.” So: challenge either one of them.

“Atheist Fundamentalist” is a contradiction in terms. The word “fundamentalism” (as it is applied to religion) is defined by a strict adherence to a particular sacred writing or doctrine. It doesn’t just mean “devout” or “militant.” It denotes a specific relationship to a doctrine or writing, not strength of belief or attitude towards non-believers. You can be a zealot without being a fundamentalist and vice versa. Since atheism has no doctrine, there is no way to be a “fundamentalist” about it.

There are atheists who could rightly be called “activist,” “militant,” “zealous,” etc. but “fundamentalist” is the wrong word.

Indeed. Imagine you were leading a discussion on a poem and you said, “I think this is Shakespeare’s most powerful sonnet about death,” and a student responded by demanding you provide evidence for the assertion that this was his most powerful such sonnet. Whenever you tried to move back to your original point–your response to the poem–the student dismissed it as irrelevant and not worthy of discussion, demanding that the only thing that could be discussed was your assertion that it was his most powerful sonnet. Wouldn’t that chap your ass something bad?

That’s what I see a lot of atheists doing. Sure, there are Christians whose discussion is the literary equivalent of saying, “This is the best sonnet ever!” Confronting them with a demand for evidence is acceptable. But there are plenty more–e.g., Polycarp–who are discussing their responses to poems, so to speak. I don’t see you responding to those Christians appropriately.


Very well put.