Atheist Fundamentalism

Contrary to those who defend it, atheist fundamentalism exists. It does seem to be on the decline the last few years – at least in the media – but it does clearly exist. The characteristics that we usually claim define Christian fundamentalism, Islamic fundamentalism, or any other religious fundamentalism, are alive and well in some atheist circles: unwillingness to consider that they could be wrong, strict lines drawn between the in-crown and the outsiders, judgement even against the more moderate (ie less aggressive) forms of the same worldview, assuming a few very precise beliefs to be true and then extrapolating from there, etc. It is this attitude that I refer to as fundamentalism in this article. I know there are some more technical definitions for Christian fundamentalism but that isn’t my point here.

From an old ad campaign. See this post for context:

Richard Dawkins is clearly the worst in my experience. He is a brilliant biologist. Of that I have no doubt. Unfortunately, he is also a terrible philosopher but keeps trying to be one anyway. I read God Delusion. Some sections were very good, namely when he stuck to science. Other sections were very bad, namely when he criticized Christian philosophical arguments for the existence of God. I shouldn’t even be able to write it as I did because he is not really criticizing Christian arguments for the existence of God, at least not on any philosophical level. He is criticizing really bad strawmen of Christian arguments. Fair enough, some Christian teenager probably said something like that to him once in an angry email. But it just is poor scholarly character to pretend that these are the kinds of arguments which lead Christians to believe as they do. Did he not understand the real arguments? Or was he deliberately trying to make a mockery of Christians to reinforce his fanbase via strengthening the us vs. them mindset? Either  way, it is the exact same mindset that we see regularly in fundamentalist religious groups.

In this story, a young woman explains how she went from follower of the New Atheists to Catholicism.  Many atheists and even many non-Catholic Christians are probably reading that and thinking that it is ridiculous. Catholicism even more than other forms of Christianity has the unfortunate idea attached to it that it is irrational and people only subscribe to it because they were brainwashed as children. Personally I do think that it is actually more coherent – at least internally – than most forms of Protestantism, but that’s not my main point.

My main point is this: just like fundamentalist Christianity drives a lot of people away from even its moderate forms, fundamentalist atheist drives a lot of people away from even its moderate forms. The author of that piece had been wholly convinced by the New (Fundamentalist) Atheists that there was no possible way that anybody else could be right. She had even encountered some of the same strawmen arguments I mentioned above and bought into them wholeheartedly.

But then a crazy thing happened: she dared to consider other opinions for herself. She actually looked at what other worldviews were saying – firsthand from the best of their writers, not via strawmen taught by her leaders – and she discovered that it wasn’t nearly as crazy as her leaders had made it sound. In fact, it actually made more sense to her than what her New Atheist leaders had been saying.

Clearly this doesn’t happen for everybody. My point is not that Catholicism is objectively more rational than New Atheism. My point is simply that fundamentalism, of any stripe, is not helpful. It doesn’t matter which worldview the fundamentalist approach is defending against all those other people who are clearly inferior. Sure, it does often keep a lot of people who don’t want to think for themselves around, but such attacks on people who don’t agree with you is not attractive, even to most of those who do agree with you. More importantly, it isn’t making our world a better place. I know the New Atheists aren’t bound by teachings of Jesus like love, but most of them do still think that love, kindness, peace, etc. are good guidelines for life. The Fundamentalist forms – again, of any worldview – is not loving. So to fundamentalists of all stripes, I implore for you to have a change in attitude.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

  • jcmmanuel

    You make some good points here. Fundamentalism has all sorts of labels and is found across “the gap” of faith. PS. Thank you for making me discover the Megan Hodder case. (I posted a longer comment on the page you’ve hyperlinked in your blog).