There appears to be a growing number of people converting to skepticism and atheism in recent years. My concern is that the ‘bankrupt’ values of Christianity are just supplanted with the ’empty’ values of materialism.
The atheism and skepticism being adopted mainstream, in my opinion, isn’t properly justified: it’s simply because religion is inconvenient. There are no values to bolster the atheism, no justification to support the skepticism, no emphasis on understanding, reason, learning, mind. It’s just the best way to accommodate a nihilistic relativism. And I’m referring to the mainstream movement, the cultural phenomenon of suddenly self-identifying as a skeptic or atheist after reading one Dawkins or Hitchens book because it was a NYT best seller.
But perhaps that the average atheist does everything I questioned (read, reflect etc.) Suppose they do more than the average christian does. Studies show that the more educated you are the more likely you are to be an atheist, so I must question whether this phenomenon is simply the result of peer pressure or conformity. Perhaps being an atheist for an inspiring number of people is a product of thinking critically, logically etc. It may be that these atheists can have moral codes and strong beliefs grounded in a hope for humanity (not nihilistic).
Could it be that a lot of the surge is because there is more discourse about these issues and that it’s less taboo? We also understand a lot more about natural day-to-day phenomenon that at one time seemed supernatural. It may not be the case that people are necessarily better at thinking critically overall, but they most certainly have the tools to think more critically about religion and their place in the world now more than ever before.
But why do people think atheism is preferred or justified? What does it mean to be a skeptic? Do people (new self-proclaimed atheists) understand how science works or why its methods justify its claims? Why science is ‘good’?? Or why it is better than Christianity? Does science provide any values? Explain how to live? Do these mainstream atheists know any more about justification of atheism than the justification of Christianity they gave up? Do they know anything about their history? As a country? A world? Their ancestors? Do they read any of the humanities seriously? Philosophy? English? Classics? Economic theory? Do they read at all? What are the reading? Pop or mainstream garbage that’s mass-produced, perpetuated and fed to them? Only the myopicly interesting, the narrowly fascinating, astigmatically entertaining? Do they know the arts? Know the significance of art? Historically? It’s impact on our culture?
Do these self-proclaimed skeptics know what logic is? What sound arguments look like? Do they know what man is? Do they know who or why they are? Do they know the relations between themselves as an individual and others in their community, state, country, culture, or in relation to other cultures? I would say, no, most generally. Or not to the satisfactory extent they should to be any more justified in believing in atheism and skepticism over religion. There seems to be an absurdity to the the mainstream trends of atheism and skepticism that are just as absurd as Christianity or any other religion they gave up. Though I would like to think so, I am not convinced that this movement is a result of a more intelligent, better read, more cultured populous. Actually, I would love to think so, but given what I observe, their habits, how they spend their free time, I can’t let myself be persuaded.
I don’t believe we have a generation culture that is anymore critically adept at thinking than the past. I believe these skeptic and atheistic trends are more of a product of our emphasis on relativity, of values or perspectives, and the respect we owe to tolerate such perspectives, than because we’re any more knowledgeable or thoughtful as a culture. I may be gravely mistaken, but most atheists I speak with can give me reasons why Christianity and religion is intolerant and oppressive and dangerous, but they can’t provide much justification for why their position is sound or correct or justified. On the contrary, they usually provide cliché responses derived from their teachers or textbooks or the history channel, much like people similarly repeat their pastors and priests or the religious texts. They don’t provide any more justification for why their reasoning trumps that of any other reasoning.
Our culture, our emphasis on tolerance and openness is great, but as a culture I don’t believe we’re taking advantage of its value. Instead it seems convenient, or allows for a nihilistic relativity, an “anything goes” mentality where all is equal and free. But I believe such values embodied in freedom and equality provide us with the vital ability to progress to a higher plane of consciousness and living than the past afforded, not simply accommodate all perspective irregardless of whether they actually contribute to this progress.
But what values are being replaced? Christianity not only offers a world view, an etiology, it provides many important values that allowed our culture to progress, puritanical values and ethical values, most of which are necessary for progress, for guiding action, although there are arguably just as many that hinder it. But in replacing Christianity, specifically its values, what will take its place? What values will allow community and a uniform drive for enlightenment or higher understanding and action?
Most, I tend to believe, would agree that the nihilistic or “anything goes” mentality is harmful and present in atheism today, and that’s something they get a lot of flack for. Many hope for a kind of humanist “faith” that has a combo Kantian-utilitarian twist. But that seems to be asking a lot. Could the “ignorant masses” handle that thinking? Can we have faith in human reason? Can we love thy neighbor without being told to do so in some superannuated religious texts? Many believe we can all be inspired by human achievement and have a faith in the utility and power in this construct of human understanding that is bigger than us, and all the extraordinary things humans can do and have discovered and all the exemplary individuals who exist and have existed to inspire. Do we need a god for this? Does intellectual refinement or a push towards “civilized” living really ground us in something other than base, brutish impulse? Perhaps scholasticism, religion or theism did not civilize anything. Perhaps it is this will-to-power and a better than thou art mentality or goal did that.
If atheism, skepticism, or whatever is supplanting religion is to be taken seriously there needs to be a more cohesive idea of what direction the human race should be going. People need to “give a shit” and self reflect, but they can’t unless they are comfortable doing so. They don’t care to care. It seems that, for the poor and down trodden, or because of them, atheism won’t work.
I suppose what I am fearful of is a cultural regress that disregards the historical tradition for understanding, for better living, for man and mind. A regress that overlooks thousands of years of study in the pursuit of understanding man, his free imagining mind of infinite possibilities, as well as his relation with the world and others. It seems our culture does not appreciate the traditions that provided us with these democratic luxuries that hold the individual mind, the self-reflective consciousness, as the highest aim for understanding and progress, luxuries such as freedom, equality, autonomy, etc. I am fearful that this regress will take us to barbarism, where sensuality, instinct, passions, and the like are the rule. I feel that I observe this manifest in our culture with our emphasis on the material, the sensual, the pleasurable; this overlooks thousands of years of intellectual refinement, of cultivating the mind, refining the passions to function through thoughtful reflection, sound reason and expression, instead of brutish impulse, emotional living.
But I feel that there is a serious responsibility that comes with freedom, equality, etc. And I believe that this responsibility is not being realized. Atheism, skepticism, and critical inquiry most generally, requires work in my opinion; it’s not a convenient label, it’s not a religion that just accepts what you’ve been handed as unquestionably true. It’s not what’s popular or accepted. It’s a serious position that, in my opinion, needs sound and thoughtful justification.
And what of this will-to-power? We all have, as did great thinkers in the past, our subjective perspectives of consciousness, of the good and understanding, but, in my provisional opinion, they were accommodating to other perspectives, they tried to synthesize other veins of thought, other historical traditions to render a higher more complete understanding. They did this through dialogue, discourse, dialectics, and careful study of their culture and history, as well as its relation with other cultures and their histories. So long as their pursuit for understanding and refinement was selfless, as far as that’s possible, they were not megalomaniacs who wanted the world to think as they did. That, I believe they realized and appreciated, would lead to the opposite of their aim.
I suppose that’s my problem: There’s needs to be a cohesive idea of a general direction for humanity, or at least our culture, that is accommodating yet very clear in its aim. But, as I mentioned, this requires critical and thoughtful reflection and “giving a shit”.
So what of Plato’s philosopher king to guide the ignorant masses? The philosopher king idea was, in theory, pretty magnificent. Could it be that, for atheism to work, we all need to be philosopher kings? Or at least impress others so much that we function as their gods? This idea sounds cult-ish, and it sorta makes me cringe at the possible tyranny of thought that could result if improperly applied, but there is something reasonable to having great thinkers, selflessly devoted as a civil servant to asking the right questions and solving societies problems. As we observe time and time again, people are too unreliable to do so on their own. “Let someone else tell me what to think and do, etc.” Religion is easy, and since the weak are supposed to inherit the earth, everyone seems to buy into it, even the weak or poor or disadvantaged.
But more importantly, regarding our most significant societal needs, it is necessary that we possess a culture that reflects as a whole and give a shit collectively, like the Greeks embodied to some extent at one time. Leaving it up to the philosopher kings is probably no better than leaving it up to the politicians or priests. What is required is elevating the collective consciousness, the public awareness. But this lack of self-reflection, lack of critical thought, lack of culture and knowledge and self-understanding is, I believe, a result of a cultural malaise rather than a problem inherent to individuals, or the poor or disadvantaged. Our culture has misplaced values, i.e. materialism that fuels sensualism rather than mindful reflection and reason that fuels understanding. We value things more than ideas. Matter more than mind. Or so it seems
We might be closer to knowledge than in the past, but having the luxury to reflect on this stuff either requires money (you’re comfortable anyway) or being humble (you’re not pissed others are “above” you) or bona fide enlightenment. It’s inarguable that the internet is transforming things. But for all the good it does and can do, the Internet can be just as debilitating. How do the majority spend their time on it? Entertainment more than self-improvement. But I’m generalizing again. Perhaps, regardless of whether people spend more time bullshitting online, they’re spending more time doing ‘productive’ stuff, or at least being exposed to more views than their neighbors or the church Parrish hold. But that may be far to generous.
I suppose it’s simply because of what mainstream media and culture perpetuate, and I may be taking that as a reflection of our cultural values and priorities. Maybe it’s not and simply a reflection of capitalism, but I may be finding it difficult to make a distinction It seems right to say that this materialism and greed hinders mindful thinking. It also seems right that Capitalism is a major part of it. Though, perhaps it is “human nature” that’s to blame. What is success? Possessing and dominating? Is this biological? While this is another debate, I’d like to think, to a large extent, this is the case.
But I don’t think that the will-to-power necessarily is the primary impetus of humanity’s progress. I believe it was another, selflessly distinct ‘drive’, or “will to understand” man and mind, as embodied by very few individuals throughout the ages. The will-to-power manifests quite naturally and beautifully in autocracies and dictatorships, but I’d argue these are hardly periods of humanity’s growth. Quite on the contrary. But I may be mistaken.
I agree that the will-to-power is most likely responsible for the capitalist’s contributions to humanity. But the corollary, in my opinion, isn’t to the benefit of humanity as a whole
Maybe short-term, maybe for few, but not long-term for everyone. I think I’m being too Pollyanna. I feel like these dilemmas are what Plato and all the other thinkers have contemplated for all time. However, with technology and semi-universal access to
so much info, I think the environment may have changed in an incomparable way to the past.
I’m just unsatisfied with how I observe people and our culture handle or deal with these values of freedom and equality. People seem to take them for granted, like they are inherent in everyone, but I don’t believe people are necessarily free and equal. I believe that this comes with work, with education and refinement and understanding. It’s not something we already possess, it’s something we must acquire, an expectation to be realized. We have a responsibility to earn freedom, earn equality. It may sound crazy, but I believe if we don’t work to realize and understand them, we’re more animals. How can someone be free if they don’t know what freedom is or looks like or behaves? What a free mind or consciousness undertakes, reasons or contemplates? We don’t inherently possess freedom or equality, but we all agree to grant it to each other (ideally) when we form a society because the alternative is “fucked up”.
A slave is a slave because he is born a slave, believes himself to be a slave. He never challenges his condition because he doesn’t know to think differently, isn’t acquainted with any alternative. It is an impoverished state of mind, a deprived state of being. And I believe that our cultural consciousness is exactly that: impoverished and deprived. But when it isn’t realized, when we take it for granted, at what point do we realize, or are capable of recognizing, that we’re neither free nor equal? (I may be being too harsh, too critical, too general and uncharitable, but I’m experimenting with these ideas)
Perhaps this occurs when we look at what other people have or control and are like, “fuck.”(Wall Street protests?) I think this is a growing sentiment, but even though people may be able to identify incongruities I’m not sure they know how to articulate the issue collectively. I’m not sure if they can articulate the fundamental problems without looking and pointing and grunting in vague mass protests. And I’d probably argue that those people may be part of the problem, may be creating or contributing to it. But I have to think more on this point.
Perhaps in a generation, when it gets bad enough, when people are forced to consider these ideas and understanding out of necessity, we’ll witness an awakening, a revolution of sorts.
I guess I’m not sure how you change things any other way. A lot of ignoramuses certainly join in and act all silly because they desire to be a part of something larger than themselves but don’t know what they’re doing, but I like to think the ideas behind them are solid. I would probably go so far as to say that there seems to be an intuitive injustice that even the most ‘undeveloped’ mind could pick up on by simply observing the inequality in light of our cultural democratic tradition. But I’m also fearful that this will simply lead to socialism, that the correction will be a superficial remedy that allows passive unreflecting sensual thought but saves equality. That the knowledge of a problem without the understanding of a why will cause more problems when we attempt to fix it. I’m also fearful that we’ll be high jacked by demagogues, by soothsayers, and end up even less free. Is it wrong that I think these scenarios are unavoidable? That’s not to say we can’t strive, but do I really think 300 million people can get their shit together in our lifetime?
I guess I believe in the power of influential leaders to cull the social consciousness from its stupor, to awaken it, to appeal to higher good and better living. But I may be being Pollyanna again. Think of the Gandhi’s, the MLK’s, the Socrates, etc. But this leader would have an unprecedented, monumental task like never before. It may be far too big of a task for any man, even a Jesus. I guess similar, crazy things have happened in the past, but definitely not on this scale. As far as I can tell anyway.