Normativity Part I: The Atheist Doctrine

Normativity Part One: The Atheist Doctrine

Image by Charlotte Best

Spend any amount of time in an Atheist forum and very quickly common themes will become apparent. First of all it would seem to the anti-theist, religion, no matter the relative difference, is all the same. It is typically defined by that which is not empirically provable. The intricacies of the images and the specificity of the teachings in each religious text are only relevant to fuel the fire of their polemic militancy. Second is that, despite the obvious drive to disprove and discredit so much of these writings, there is a strong drive to find and build a narrative of its own for atheism. This, if you think about it, is rather strange.

On the 24th of April this year The Most Rev Justin Welby drew on The Prime Minister’s statement that Britain is Christian. This reignited the debate over Britain’s religious alignment, with many calling for it to be recalibrated as non-religious. However in Mr Cameron’s defence in the 2001 census 72% of Brits answered that they were, in fact, Christian.

But what does this have to do with Anti-theists and Atheists? Well conscribe to this view and it’ll soon become apparent. Historically Britain’s moral standpoint has come from the church. Whilst many would agree that we now live in a secular society, the influence of residual Christian norms on Britain’s moral normativity is still apparent.

If we begin to coax out some of these cultural/religious norms we can soon see the huge underlying hypocrisy in the emerging atheist culture. For example take the role of the church in the local community. Visit any town in Britain and you will find a church. In days gone by the church was the centre of all local activity. All youth projects, all local festivities, all communal projects involved the church. For this group of atheists all this is done through the internet.

It would be foolish at this point not to recognise the problem with this motion. The point is not simply to state that the sole use of the internet is anti-theism, nor is it to say that every online community is in some way emulating Christian tradition. The point is this online community is moving its network away from virtual connectivity and into centres of atheism.

Two British comedians set up what is becoming known as “atheist mega-churches” which have proven popular in the US and Australia. Here, non-believers join together, not in an attempt to discuss their problems with theologies, but to create a community with focussed discussion on self-reflection and science.

Without continuing into a discussion on the role of Protestantism and Martin Luther’s role in directing the populous to a notion of the “self” and the religious empowerment of the individual through a direct relationship with God, it would seem there is much here that is problematic.

On the surface, the critical outsider would have to put into question the purpose of placing this congregation; on a Sunday, the necessity of the creators to generate money to further the movement, and above all the attempt to provide a cultural structure for the non-religious, that is inspired by the structures of religion.

It would be the defence of science that it differs from belief because it tests and investigates its claims. But if the scientist is the facilitator of the alternative to pure rationalism then the atheist is becoming the pilgrim of its findings.

Aside from all that is being done to communalise atheism, there is an overwhelming sense of confusion in the expression of anti-theism. For what about non-belief is intrinsically linked to science? What has non-belief got to do with symbolism? The letter A surrounded by electrons has replaced the cross and the Evolving Fish has replaced the Christian Fish bumper sticker. But more than this, the antithesis has forgotten to properly answer the question; without religion, what is non-religion? These would seem crucial to address if atheism is to become communalised and pose a real opposition to the semi-secularised norm. Otherwise they could suffer the same fate as the counter culture  which became dismantled by consumerism and male chauvinism, two of the many ideals they advocated against.