I Object! The False Equivalences of Ijeoma Oluo

The headline of this Guardian article written by Ijeoma Oluo certainly sets the tone. The agreeable content therein seems to have been inserted to lend credence to a slew of non-sequiturs. Yes, I agree my atheism does not make me superior to believers. But is atheism really a leap of faith? Hardly. Even the late Christopher Hitchens (drinks be upon him), Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, readily concede, an atheist cannot disprove the existence of god. But rather nature as far as we can comprehend her, and truth as far we can discern it, using science and the humanities – which are yet to produce evidence that comes close to satisfying the adage “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” – renders the sustained belief in deism untenable, to say nothing of theism. To compare belief in a disinterested prime mover, let alone an omniscient and omnipotent deity that interferes in terrestrial affairs, to non-belief resulting from a lack of evidence or indeed, even contrary evidence, is a stupefying leap of reasoning. This argument is straight out of the apologists’ handbook. To investigate the above and still come away with the notion that the claims, and too often murderous convictions of believers, is on equal footing with non-belief is deeply confused. There’s nothing cocky about non-belief, it’s a humble position to adopt in light of the above and it needn’t require debating believers. Debates between atheists and believers, whether online or at events, are (or should be) geared towards combating obfuscation. For example, the bastardization of science by apologists attempting to legitimize their belief (who when defeated invariably abandon ship plunging headfirst into the murky waters of faith), or to highlight the consequences of such beliefs in wider society and challenge religious denialism. The headline is just my first objection.

But atheism as a faith is quickly catching up in its embrace of divisive and oppressive attitudes. We have websites dedicated to insulting Islam and Christianity. We have famous atheist thought-leaders spouting misogyny and calling for the profiling of Muslims. As a black atheist, I encounter just as much racism amongst other atheists as anywhere else. We have hundreds of thousands of atheists blindly following atheist leaders like Richard Dawkins, hurling insults and even threats at those who dare question them.

Look through new atheist websites and twitter feeds. You’ll see the same hatred and bigotry that theists have been spouting against other theists for millennia. But when confronted about this bigotry, we say “But I feel this way about all religion,” as if that somehow makes it better. But our belief that we are right while everyone else is wrong; our belief that our atheism is more moral; our belief that others are lost: none of it is original.

Where are the links for the websites referred to? I don’t deny they exist but examples should be provided if Ijeoma wants to use them to argue atheists are catching up to the faithful in divisive and oppressive attitudes. Quite frankly, she should be ashamed for saying so. Why? In the 21st century (keep that in mind), in Saudi Arabia, Raif Badawai was sentenced to ten years imprisonment and one-thousand lashes, cartoonists have been targeted and/or murdered in democratic societies like Denmark and France, and Bangladeshi bloggers have been hacked to death by machete wielding religious thugs – all for insulting Islam. Atheists have much ground to cover to justify such a charge. One could (as many have) write a book on the divisive nature of religious belief and the way it anchors people to those divisions due to the potential – albeit false – cost of non-belief, namely consequences in the hereafter. Of course I concede atheists are not immune to discriminatory attitudes. As Ijeoma points out, such attitudes stem from human nature. Indeed they must because religion is “man-made”. Prominent atheists, from which Ijeoma claims others take their discriminatory cues, are also humans and therefore not immune to those attitudes either. However the attitudes in question can not be extracted from non-belief. Religion on the other hand – depending on the doctrine – can legitimize or indeed mandate discrimination, and because of what’s at stake – salvation vs. damnation – shedding these attitudes is significantly harder for believers than non-believers. Moreover, the differences between certain religions is an additional – and ridiculous – kind of divisiveness the world could do without. In other words, misogyny, racism, homophobia etc. stem from human nature, religious doctrines contain those attitudes because they’re created by humans, said doctrines are then touted as the work of a powerful creator thereby legitimizing those attitudes, and any resulting doctrines which appear diametrically opposed, adds religion itself to that list.

In addition, any atheist that believes non-belief is more moral than belief is confused about what atheism means. There is no morality attached to atheism. The confusion comes from the following argument: if a believer does good in order to curry favor with the lord and gain a seat in the kingdom of heaven, and an atheist does good for goods sake then the latter is more moral. This is true but it’s not solely applicable to believers and atheists. It’s true wherever motivation matters. Imagine a man has befriended a woman who is going through sincere heartache after another failed emotionally abusive relationship. He provides the woman a shoulder to cry on, he takes her out of her gloomy one bedroom apartment and takes her to the carnival, he buys her dinner and offers her constant reinforcement through support, advice and endless compliments. As a result the woman believes her new friend to be the loveliest man she’s ever met. She even considers making a match for him with a girlfriend who would be perfect! Now imagine he is doing all this to manipulate the vulnerable woman into bed. Is he now less moral than a person who would do all of the above out of pure kindness? Of course he is. This scenario is very plausible and may sound familiar to female readers. How many times have you had a “best friend” that is like your “little brother” comfort you after a bad breakup and then as soon as he feels it’s time, much to your surprise, he puts the moves on?

Faith is not the enemy, and words in a book are not responsible for the atrocities we commit as human beings. We need to constantly examine and expose our nature as pack animals who are constantly trying to define the other in order to feel safe through all of the systems we build in society. Only then will we be as free from dogma as we atheists claim to be.

I am sorry this may be dogmatic on my part but faith is absolutely the enemy. It is by definition irrational. To believe something without evidence. Deciding to oppose gay-marriage, to tell children if they’re born gay they’ll burn in hell, to mutilate the genitals of children, to murder blasphemers and apostates, to deny woman reproductive rights, or indeed basic human rights, or to wage war because your interpretation of faith places the almighty on your side, are all actions done off the back of claims without evidence but which are asserted with the greatest conviction nonetheless. Is there anything more grotesque than that? It’s not exclusive to the religious either. Psychics, guru’s, conspiracy theorists etc. all operate on faith. Although they offer evidence to support their position, faith is their real refuge and it can’t be said enough. Atheists and/or skeptics are not congregating under the same shelter.

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I Object! The False Equivalences of Ijeoma Oluo

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