A copy of Christopher Hitchens’ “Hitch 22” lies within grabbing distance, and I long to reach for it and make this another book review. The Hitch “left the party,” as he liked to refer to it, almost two years ago. Hundreds of questions about religion and atheism were posed to him in his apparently brief career as a polemicist on the side of the non-believers. He wantonly spurned the tag of agnostic, and very painstakingly built a coherent definition of atheism and protected it with his honour. I will be content to just give you a brief introduction to the man, and allow him and youtube to provoke and regale you. Christopher ‘The Hitch’ Hitchens was a journalist, polemicist and orator, and in the last leg of his life, a fervent critic of religion. His bestsellers include “God is Not Great” and “Hitch-22: A Memoir.” His arguments and polemics fueled the ‘New Atheism’ movement, and it chugs along ever speedily today as a result of the vociferous voices of him and other notable primates.
An essential task confronting the atheist, before he can begin ideological propagation, is the clearing away of all prejudices and misconceptions, thick as cobwebs, clinging in the minds of all in the grasp of religion.
Atheism is not a Religion
One dangerous notion harbored by religious apologists and censor-prone secularists is that atheism is a kind of anti-religion. In a different definition, this is true—atheism does maintain that orthodox religion is both hogwash and one of the main causes of a lot of misery and pain in today’s world. However, atheism offers you no alternative view to the world that can be as satisfactory or comforting. Atheism is no alternative religion, and it does not tell you where you must put your faith if not in God, Allah, Yahweh, Bhagwan. It is, in a sense, a sense of non-conformity. It is true that most atheists do believe in science as the only way to answer all questions relating to cosmology and genesis. However, in the more contentious arena of morality, atheists, most of the time, are content to personally explore the infinitely interesting answers of philosophy. An atheist is not, for example, a believer in what is now popularly, and ridiculously I might add, known as “the quantum.” This ambiguous piece of physics jargon is what people sometimes think atheists “believe” in. An atheist confesses (usually) that he knows no more than those who say they do. That is perhaps the most vital difference. An atheist may be a physicist, in which case he probably does know more, but the fact remains that atheists, being almost by definition rationalists, don’t think they know the answer. We are resolved to be unresolved, as the Hitch himself so eloquently put it.
Atheism Does not Seek to Abolish Religion
Though abolishment of religion may be a private wish for some atheists, most of them confirm that they don’t mind religion as long as it is kept inside the house, or a place of voluntary worship. Do not, however, bring it to our schools and our children.
Atheism is not Religious Intolerance
Inherent in the idea of democracy is freedom of religion. That much is apparent to anybody. But what is not so easily apparent, but just as implied by this is freedom from religion. This very important corollary is abhorrently violated in most democracies. It is just as important for atheists to provide reasons why they don’t believe in religion. The right to take offense is stretched to its very limits by many religious groups even in Western liberal democracies. It should be held, in my opinion, that the right to critique supersedes the right to take offense, especially when the offense can be easily avoided by not reading the critique. The essential right to constructive or even ironic criticism is something that we should fight for.
Atheism is not Political, except that it Opposes the Politics of Religion.
The atheist argument somehow carries with it the threat of radicalism, even anarchism. An obvious perversion of the atheism concept is that it is somehow political. There is no doubt that several political aims that most atheists harbor can only be accomplished with enfranchisement of the general non-believer community, especially those in the war-torn, religion-prone regions of the Middle East. However, the essential atheist view is purely philosophical. This is one of the reasons why atheists have so far been content to be mute with regard to their belief, or disbelief.
Atheism is not Immorality
It is obvious that morality stems from the human condition, just as religion does. Religion has no right to assert that morality originated from it. In fact, most believers don’t even assert that the moral principles of religions should be strictly, or rather, literally observed. This essential anti-atheism argument, that a man who doesn’t believe is somehow immoral, carries no merit whatsoever, but somehow surfaces first in the minds of even the tamest theists. Sinister truth lies behind this—theism, modern religions, have usurped concepts of good and evil, right and wrong.
The atheist argument is a very logical, rational one. However, if you approach it with preconceived or indoctrinated prejudices, you might as well not approach it at all. There is merit in speaking out for it. This has cost us the valuable support of much of the academic and philosophical community. Many very distinguished atheist scholars have refused to come out and argue, chiefly because they feel propagation is very much against the principles of atheism. But there are many who are “on the fence,” or perched on the precipice of emancipation, and there is much to be gained, and little lost, in helping them. After all, religions do it by right. We offer logic, and not a ticket to heaven. It is fundamental that these misconceptions be set right, for only then can we be set off on our quest for justice, human rights and peace. The argument must be made, the agenda must be announced. We must hawk our disbelief, and do it well.
The ‘New Atheism’ movement gains momentum every day among secularists, and increasingly, a great number of distinguished scholars, including the likes of Professors Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Laurence Krauss, have come out to join the argument. In memory of one of their cohorts, I urge everyone who is ever exposed to the atheist argument to listen carefully, and not faithfully. It makes all the difference.