Dawkins On “Militant” Atheism

This video is interesting because Dawkins succinctly explains the political dimension of atheism.

Dawkins’ argues that even though many atheists don’t see it as a political problem (the “I just don’t believe in god, I just don’t go to church, my atheism is not that important to my daily life” arguments), since theists see it as a political problem – it is. To point this out, Dawkins showed a quote from G. H. W. Bush saying “… I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots.” While this was just Bush talking out of his, um, behind… imagine if he had said that about Catholics, Buddhists, Indians, etc. I don’t know how many feel this way about atheists, but if the highest office of the land held someone who talked this way, I would bet on many. Additionally, it goes without saying that there are no outspoken atheists holding high office. All this singles out atheists, effectively, as a minority group which are denied political power, about which the majority hold political views (usually, dislike) – and, ergo, atheists are a political group.

He argues, with some preliminary research, that the smartest people tend to be atheist or agnostic, but since American culture disallows atheists from being elected to public office, the American public are robbed of capable leaders.

He puts it best:
“High office… is barred to the very people best qualified to hold it, the intelligentsia, unless they’re prepared to lie about their beliefs… American political opportunities are heavily loaded against those who are simultaneously intelligent and honest.”

A few minor objections I have with this reasoning or conclusion are:

– Of course not all smart people are atheists.

– What are the stats of theism/atheism correlated with civic-leadership? Surely we want government officials to be smart, but I wouldn’t want a congress filled solely with university professors.

– Dawkins assumes that the “intelligentsia” should be running the country, but more than IQ is needed for those offices (although certainly I wish the average IQ in Washington were slightly higher)

– Dawkins assumes that, unless more of the country becomes non-religious, atheists will have to lie and say they are christian (or something). This is the biggest argument, and it stems from libertarianism.

And libertarianism could be an answer to Dawkins’ problem: if politics on both sides were more constitutionally-minded, the atheist problem would not exist. JFK said “I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President, who happens also to be a Catholic.” If our political culture were true to article 6, section 3 of the constitution, atheists would have no problem getting into office and they wouldn’t have to lie about it. They would simply say – none of your business, I’m running for president, not pope.

From what I can tell, a lot of libertarians are atheist. But libertarianism (and the constitution) is neither religious nor non-religious.  It contains the original, i.e. traditional, “American Values.” It’s something everyone could get behind, and it could even the playing field for atheists.

Richard Dawkins has a keen ability to rile people up and piss people off, which is why his TedTalk on militant atheism is so surprising. Besides his usual, funny, wise-cracks about the follies of theism, Dawkins’ preaching on militant atheism was not outrageous at all – nor was it militant. His basic message was for atheists to stop beating around the bush – stop being polite, diplomatic, or afraid – and come out.
“We need a consciousness-raising coming out campaign for American atheists.” Dawkins makes no call for atheist mobs to beat up clergy, no revolutionary rhetoric is used. Basically he says atheists, be brave, set an example for the other timid atheists, and ‘come out of the theism closet’. If this message is extreme or militant, then the cast of “Queer Eye” is the most militant groups in America today.


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