Beware of Secular Fundamentalism or Dogmatism

 

By Jeff Wismer

 

January 2007 

Have you been called a Secular Fundamentalist or Secular Dogmatist lately?

 

Some idealists out there, like RJ Eskow, would like atheists to think that there is a dangerous movement of secular fundamentalism and secular dogmatism that the world needs to beware of.  Is that true?  More importantly, does it make sense to use those type of descriptions or labels?

 

Here's a recent article that might shed some light on this recent labeling of atheists...

 

Christian Science Monitor

 January 04, 2007 edition

 http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0104/p13s01-lire.htm

 

“Growing religious influence in the US government has led some nontheists to take positions some describe as 'secular fundamentalism.’”

 

“They undermine their own case by writing in a language that suffers from many things they say are true of believers - intolerance, disrespect, extremism," says Alan Wolfe, a professor of religion at Boston College, who is a secularist and author of several books on American religious perspectives.”

 

“New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, calls for a truce: "We've suffered enough from religious intolerance that the last thing the world needs is irreligious intolerance."

 

I think we're all familiar with the FOX News style of handing out a memo of "talking points" to their news directors and conservative friends and then everyone repeating verbatim what was given to them.  It seems that the idealists of the world got together and made some "talking points" of their own on how to handle the surge of popularity of atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.

 

Such is the rantings and ravings of RJ Eskow...

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rj-eskow/dear-cenk-uygur-dont-le_b_38063.html

 

I think these two lines sum up RJ Eskow very well:

 

"So, even though I have a problem with organized religion, I'd rather attempt to reform it than to try eradicating it."

 

"Idealist that I am, I still believe we can all work together - you, me, that priest, my Mom, even Richard Dawkins if he's willing - to fight fundamentalism and religious extremism and build a better society."

 

 You could see all of this coming from a mile away couldn’t you?   See what happens when we try to have too much fun…you know like organizing, helping the community, and pronouncing our existences to the world.  I know it's not even like we tried to run for office or something incredible and extraordinary as that would be for an atheist.  I sure the idealists like Mr. RJ Eskow are saying why can’t atheists be like the homosexual…oh wait bad example.  Why can’t atheists be like the Wiccans…oh wait another bad example…well why can’t atheists be like the Adamites (Another religious tradition whose followers made a point of taking their clothes off in the name of their God)…at least they’re cool, in the literal sense, and creative.  More creative than RJ Eskow anyway.

 

Speaking of being creative, how creative is the label that we’ve been given…Secular Fundamentalists, or Secular Dogmatists.  I’ll analyze:

 

SECULAR

According to Wikipedia, Secular means: This word derives from a Latin word meaning "of the age." The Christian doctrine that God exists outside of time led medieval Western culture to use secular to indicate separation from religious affairs and involvement in worldly (or time-related) ones. This meaning has been extended to apply to separation from any religion, whether or not it has a similar doctrine.

That seems about right to me.  Then again it’s not like we hide from that term, and it’s not like we use it all the time right?

 

The Secular Web is the world's most comprehensive website devoted to the promotion and defense of a naturalistic worldview, the view that our natural worldview on the Internet.  (http://www.infidels.org/)

 

The Council for Secular Humanism Web Site provides timely information concerning the activities of the Council for Secular Humanism and also acts as a general educational resource on secular humanism. Please select a topic from the navigation bar on your left, or the drop-down menu above, for more information.  (http://www.secularhumanism.org/)

 

The Secular Coalition for America is the new Washington-based lobbying organization for atheists, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheistic Americans. Our mission is to increase the visibility and respectability of nontheistic viewpoints in the United States and to protect and strengthen the secular character of our government as the best guarantee of freedom for all. (http://www.secular.org/)

 

FUNDAMENTALIST

According to Wikipedia, Fundamentalism is defined as: Movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles. 1. (sometimes initial capital letter) a movement in American Protestantism that arose in the early part of the 20th century in reaction to modernism and that stresses the infallibility of the Bible not only in matters of faith and morals but also as a literal historical record, holding as essential to Christian faith belief in such doctrines as the creation of the world, the virgin birth, physical resurrection, atonement by the sacrificial death of Christ, and the Second Coming. 2. the beliefs held by those in this movement. 3. strict adherence to any set of basic ideas or principles: the fundamentalism of the extreme conservatives.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines fundamentalism as a usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism.

 

Ok, so if I get this right, Fundamentalism is based on some type of principles that are written down some where.  And it’s in opposition to secularism so I guess that’s a contradiction in terms.  I don’t know, why would someone use a term to describe an oppositon to secularism, on secularists?  That might confuse a great many secularists, and fundamentalists as well.  Anyway, getting back to something being written down, I think there is term that describes something like that….mmmmm….

 

 DOGMATISM

According to Wikipedia, Dogma is defined as Dogma (the plural is either dogmata or dogmas, Greek δόγμα, plural δόγματα) is the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, ideology or any kind of organization, thought to be authoritative and not to be disputed or doubted. While in the context of religion the term is largely descriptive, outside of religion its current usage tends to carry a pejorative connotation — referring to concepts as being "established" only according to a particular point of view, and thus one of doubtful foundation.

Meaning an older term that atheists might recognize and be able to relate to a little more succinctly is the term Militant Atheism.

Such as describe in this article:

 

America: Atheists throw down the gauntlet

 By Richard Bernstein

 Published: January 2, 2007  

http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/01/02/news/letter.php

"Here on the first days of the year of our lord 2007 it seems awkward to talk about a Godless world, but the fact is that in the waning months of 2006, a kind of militant atheism was making itself felt across the land."

There were two best-selling books declaring belief in God to be a kind of mass delusion, and a harmful mass delusion at that, occasioning a vigorous and often angry response from many people who believe the repeated announcement of the death of God to be wrong, spiritually deaf and dangerous.This situation gives rise to a New Year's prediction that 2007 will see an intensified war of religion in America, or, perhaps more accurately, a war of the religious against the irreligious, and why that should be happening just now is an important sign of the times, a reflection of our moment in history."

"Atheism as a necessary attribute of civilization — religion as the opposite of civilization — that argument is being stated more assertively and is being welcomed in some quarters more warmly now than at any time before. What is going on? One conclusion is not so far-reaching. It could be simply that there's a market for just about anything in this country — whether atheism or psychic channeling. "

"The two movements are almost entirely dissimilar, of course, with Christian fundamentalism engaging in no violence or threats. "

Bottom line, I think atheist need not concern ourselves too much with the diatribes of a few idealists...rather concentrate on something more meaningful and that is being careful of absolutism.  According to Wikipedia:

ABSOLUTISM

Absolute truth (also known as 'absolutism'), the contention that in a particular domain of thought, all statements in that domain are either absolutely true or absolutely false

Enlightened absolutism, a term used to describe the actions of absolute rulers who were influenced by the Enlightenment (eighteenth and early nineteenth century Europe)

Moral absolutism, the position that there are absolute standards against which moral questions can be judged, and that certain actions are good or evil, regardless of the context of the act

 

Absolutism is a problem umong any and all communities in the world, and if any group is good at self-governing themselves, then this should always be looked at and discussed.