Is Atheism an Ethnicity?

6a00d8341bf68b53ef014e889bb767970d-150wiCanadian journalist Jackson Doughart has written an article in which he argues that atheism should be considered an ethnicity in Canada.

My initial reaction to the idea was, not surprisingly, negative. But, after reading it, his position seemed fairly close to something I’d endorse. That is, he emphasizes that ethnicity is a cultural, rather than a genetic, phenomenon. In effect, he’s simply pointing out that atheists have certain cultural and personal assumptions that they pass (mostly unconsciously) to their children.

Most atheists I’ve encountered are very resistant to being told that they have any beliefs at all. They’ve insisted on this forcefully enough that even the article claims that atheism “has no actual content; it is merely the rejection of religion”. But atheism is the belief, either metaphysical or existential, that God does not exist. In fact, even the rejection of religion entails a certain amount of philosophical content.

As such, it seems perfectly appropriate to look at the culture of the people who believe that content. As much as atheists are protesting in the comments section, I think it is completely accurate to consider atheism, as much as religion, a cultural phenomenon.

What is strange is the idea that groups of people, that often meet together to express a point of view, have a clear leadership, and even repeat particular phrases and slogans, cannot be seen as a social group. There is no good reason to take that view.

What is going on here, I suspect, is one of the major themes of this blog: that the members of the popular movement of atheism seek to criticize religion without putting their own views up for equal consideration.

This is a very big problem for considering the truth of their claims, as I’ve said in the past, but it is also a problem for the New Atheism as a socio-political movement. They don’t seem to realize that “having a place at the table” (which is what they claim to want) means being understood to be a group of people large enough, and with enough ideological similarity, to be worth considering when making social and political decisions.

As I argued yesterday, then, the New Atheism needs to decide whether it actually wants its stated goals, or is more interested in feeling superior to others by playing the critic without offering any position of its own for consideration.

Personally, I suspect that the survival of the movement will depend on their making the former choice.

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2 responses to “Is Atheism an Ethnicity?

  • John Paine

    Staunch atheism seems more like a religion than many religions. The common juxtaposition I have observed is that Christianity says “It’s not about you,” whereas an atheist says “Here’s how I think it is.” We are all self-absorbed, but in Christ we have hope by focusing on others, whereas with atheism the focus remains on the self. Atheism is inherently limited and self-defeating. In the end, it’s a dead end. If you are an atheist, why even bother to set a Christian straight–what would be the point? That you are concerned for their well being? Really? What could possibly be the basis for that concern? Who would you be serving by arguing?

    • Debilis

      I agree, this is a big issue. As one who thinks that true ethics grow out of a sense of gratitude, I definitely worry about the lack of a source of gratitude in an atheistic view (and hope that I can remember my own reasons to be grateful).

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