Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The “New Atheist!!” pejorative: An activist’s badge of honor

Chris Stedman is a “Humanist Chaplain” at Harvard University - an oxymoron in my opinion. He purports to provide guidance (non-spiritual I assume) to secular students, akin to the guidance a Catholic, Protestant or Jewish chaplain might provide to their spiritual flock.

Mr. Stedman is a self described “faithist.” He wrote a book by the same name.   That’s a pejorative term he claims some atheists use to describe non-believers who feel a kinship toward believers, seeing them as people whose beliefs are worthy of respect; down playing the differences between non-believers and believers; ignoring for all he’s worth the uglier side of religion that historically has been and currently is a blight on humanity, instead preferring to focus on issues we have in common.  I never heard the term “faithist,” but if my synopsis holds water, then “faithist” equates to “Uncle Tom atheist.”in my parlance. I prefer the latter as a more succinct descriptor.

Mr. Stedman eschews the attitude and activism of  “New Atheists.”  Apparently that term, which I have heard bandied about by religionists as well, is meant to describe any atheist who decries religion inspired injustice or religious intrusion into our lives; or combats believers efforts to breakdown the “wall of separation” or claim it to be a fraudulent concept.  It includes any atheist who doesn't sit still in the face of attempts to impose Creationism into public schools or a religious test to be a science teacher; or who initiates a law suit when the school permits the name Jesus to be invoked in prayer or on school banners, or the ten commandments enshrined on a public building; or who pushes for equal space when a nativity scene is erected on public property.  Any atheist who thinks the world would be a better place with the demise of religion.

To Stedman (is it Reverend Stedman? Father Stedman?) these things make atheists unlikable because it points out our differences with those religionists who feel compelled to promote blatant attempts at history revisionism, the dumbing-down of our schools, and out right proselytizing for a “Christian Nation.”  It makes us look bad to the Christian majority. It irks them.  He doesn't like that.

In short the “New Atheist” is different from the plain old atheist because we won’t step off the curb and cast our eyes down when confronted by religious violations of the constitution and common sense. 

We won’t shuck and jive and shuffle our feet when the Christian Taliban passes laws declaring non-belief in god’s role in ensuring the security of our nation a crime punishable by imprisonment (Google “Kentucky God Security Law). 

We won’t stay quietly in the closet anymore when believers proffer their scripturally supported belief in non-science, reproductive rights, or who can marry who in a secular nation.  You know... like the “New Blacks” (AKA “Those Uppity Nigras”) who wouldn't ride on the back of the bus.  Or the “New Gays,” (AKA “Militant Faggots") who won’t sit still for being the target of  homophobes.  Or the “New Feminists” (AKA “Femin-Nazis" according to Rush Limbaugh) who won’t have their reproductive rights dictated to them by misogynistic old Christian white men.

But there’s nothing new about atheism. What’s new is the dwindling power and influence of the Church over thinking people.  What’s new is we no longer have to fear Inquisition, torture, imprisonment, execution or expulsion from the community.  We no longer have to pretend to be believers to earn a livelihood, or stay alive. What’s new isn't so much the atheist activism, as it is the loss of power, influence, and threat of retribution that religion and religionists have enjoyed for 1700 years or so.

Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899), Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), Madelyn O’Hare (1919-1995) , Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011),  Dawkins, Harris, along with thousands of other open and in your face atheists past and present who refused to roll over - all were, it seems, “New Atheists” to Stedman and those who wield the term at atheists like an exorcist wields a bottle of holy water at his victim  

Never mind that the very people decried by Stedman  are the very people to whom he owes his open non-belief and his very position at Harvard.  Without their activism he’d still be in his closet and wouldn't be pandering his “I’m not like THEM, I’m one of the good heathens” to his believer bedfellows. 

There’s nothing new about me being an atheist...been one since my late teens.  But if you want to tag me with this inventive term coined by religionist’s in fear of their dwindling influence and numbers, and picked up by accommodationist non-believers to ingratiate themselves to those who’d happily enslave him to their belief system, then feel free.

I’ll wear “New Atheist” with the same pride I do “Godless Hell Bound Heathen” -  as a badge of honor, a symbol of strength of conviction, a testament to my reason.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps you should read the book first.

Dromedary Hump said...

Hmmm... Or you could give us your review of his book right here and show me the error of my ways.

Yes, as though reading Pat Robertson's books would give me a deeper appreciation for his mindset and perspective.

I've read a couple of rather extensive interviews. Doesn't leave much to the imagination vis-a-vis where he's coming from. Plus, the concept of Humanist Chaplain, in and of itself, and by definition, is an absurdity.

But, if you will send me a free copy, I'll lend it some serious consideration.

AC Chronicles
po box 222
Alstead, NH 03602

Dromedary Hump said...

Here, Anon...see how your review compares to this one.

Not exactly a rave that makes me want to run out and buy it, nor one that contradicts my perspective of Stedman's positions.


Carl said...

Good article Hump Stedman is coming to the University here in Minnesota I won't be attending for I have pride in being a out and proud atheist and won't bow my head to no theist.

Dromedary Hump said...

Thks, Carl.

Stedman was a fundie evangelical before coming to Uncle Tom Atheism.

I imagine its hard for him to make the complete break, if only from a social acceptance perspective, and his acomodationist position is symptomatic of that...IMO.

Anonymous said...

I don't like the term "atheist" as I am just someone who never bought in to what was being sold. Maybe I'm a "browser" or a "window shopper" or maybe I had to walk through the religion store to get to McDonald's. Makes me "traffic", I guess. I don't know, help me here.
Lost in Definitionland

Anonymous said...

Well written. Nice job.

I think many "new" atheists are anti-theists. Stedman et al talk as if anti-theism is a negative thing. If you're an anti-theist you're anti-ignorance and anti-indoctrination.

Anti-theism is pro-reason, pro-reality, pro-lucidity.

Dromedary Hump said...

Anon..no reason to label yourself anything you don't want to be labeled.
But if you're still "browsing" for a belief, it sort of negates your being an atheist anyway, doesn't it? ;)

Gristle..thanks. Yes, I think that about defines where he's coming from.

Chatpilot said...

Great post Hump! I guess that I would be considered a part of the new atheist movement as well. Society in general has been a slave to the church for long enough. Any group who has wanted rights did not get them till they spoke up and stood up for what they believed in. In my case what I don't believe in. I simply see religious beliefs for what they are; delusional lies and manipulative deceptions. I feel that with the same right that believers have to blow their horns out in public about their silly beliefs, I too have that right to expose those beliefs for what they are.

I don't pull punches and I don't back down from anyone. Why should I be ashamed for shedding my former ignorance for knowledge and clarity of thought?

Dromedary Hump said...

Thanks, and Ditto.

It has been demonstrated in history that no great movement has ever made inroads, never changed the course of human events, without head on confrontation. Given the observable and measurable inroads the Freethought movement has made there is no turning back. To do so is, in my opinion, is weakness.

Women suffragettes didn't accommodate the misogynists. Abolitionists didn't accommodate the slave owners. Gay rights activists didn't accommodate the homophobes. Freedom Riders and inter-racial couples didn't accommodate the racists. On the other hand the Jews of Europe never took an aggressive posture toward anti-Semetism. I think there is a lesson there.

The last great bastion of religious power in the Western world is here in the US, and resides with a very vocal and committed core. It knows it is fighting against the tide, and it is scared. To show weakness, to accommodate, to change the course of the movement would be, in my opinion, retrograde activity. But then again, I'm an anti-theist.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I am not going to bow down and play nice. I'm not only fighting for my rights but also the rights of my daughter.

I enjoy reading your blog. Keep up the great work!

Todd Pence said...

Great article, as was its 2009 companion piece on "Uncle Tom Atheists". Chris Mooney, Roy Speckhardt, Michael Ruse and the late Paul Kurtz, this is you we're talking about.

Dromedary Hump said...

Thanks Todd.
Albeit, Mr. Kurtz likely won't be acknowledging your attribution.