Fundamentalist Atheists Exists. And they Believe in God.
‘So this “God”; is he in this room right now?’ – Psychiatrist to Marge Simpson
This morning, staring into the internet after a thick bowl of protein porridge and a tepid, grey coffee, I came to articulate what I have long deemed my innate gripe with Atheism and (more often than not) what I would umbrella ‘performative’ Atheists: Atheist Fundamentalism. It seemed rational enough, at this early hour, that if we could coin the terms ‘religious fundamentalists’ and ‘fundamentalist terrorists’, that those occupying (and not without noise) the a-theistic ground surely could not be completely devoid of the structural elements of their antithesis. After all, there can be no A-theism without Theism.
So after a quick search, cold-coffee at hand, it turned out that I was way behind in the times and not only was ‘Fundamentalist Atheism’ an already widely coined term, it was also one now deemed a critically ‘snarling’ false label which ultimately, as one particular article explains, did not exist. This troubled me not least on a personal level as I was so sure that my inclinations of bias, namely against what I have often experienced as Atheistic vehemence, had subconsciously developed from an informed theoretical framework which had thus culminated in my understanding of their actions as expressive of an innate ‘fundamentalism’.
It was under such pretensions that I was drawn to Austin Cline’s article entitled ‘Fundamentalist Atheists, Fundamentalist Atheism: They Don’t Exist’. And whilst I had the utmost intention of performing a close-reading of the article – un-raveling the unsaid and investigating the provided links in depth (not to say I did not read the article in its entirety) – Cline provided in no less than his first three lines the the very reason which led to my interpretation of Atheism as ‘fundamentalist’ in the first place, arguing that:
‘The label is problematic because there are no essential “fundamental” beliefs for an atheist to be “fundamental” about.’
And it is upon this seemingly irrevocable premise (proposed without any further theoretical justification) that he bases the further elements of his argument which are set entirely adrift should we unwind this single mooring rope, one fastened by a half-hitch at best. Here it is also important to remind ourselves that any un-justified statement provided as a ‘given’ is of the most problematic kind; they scream ‘naturalised’ ideologies, those of the order which avoid interrogation by the unattested assertion of their own, singular ‘truth’. Subsequently, they are politically dangerous if left un-challenged.
With the term ‘fundamentalism’ often taken no further than its etymological origin as an effort to enforce strict adherence to a particular religious doctrine, we fail to acknowledge the ultimately political implications that the organisation toward such an adherence produces. After all, what does Atheism challenge that is worth-while if not the political and social influence and implications of religious movements with a key goal being the complete secularisation of government? I would hope not be so ignorant and demeaning of their organisation as to assume the function of their efforts as merely to disprove creationism and the existence of a transcendental deity(ies) for the sake of an ontological “one-up”. To do so would be to undermine one’s credibility as a political force, to reduce oneself to empty heckling and (to quote Austin) an atheist who is ‘quiet, meek, and obsequious.’
At this juncture I would assume that many (not least Austin) would look to bring to my attention ‘militant’ atheism as the more apt term for the active political forefront of the secular movement, not the ‘slur’ of an imagined ‘fundamentalist atheism’. I would have to challenge such an assertion again, however, and emphasise (though he scorns the proposed synonym) that not only is there no longer a distinction between fundamentalist atheism and militant atheism, but there never has been. This is not least due to the impossibility of discussing the effects of ‘fundamentalism’ in today’s political climate without the determining issues of debate consisting of either the social effects of religious ideology (inextricably a political concern) or ethics concerning politics ‘proper’. To paraphrase: if you propose to overturn and eradicate the political and social effects of a given doctrine (religious or otherwise) your ground as opposition immediately propagates its own ideology whose principles will ultimately take on a doctrinal substance themselves.
And so to defuse another potentially volatile term: whilst the connotations of ‘doctrine’ for many still hang heavily toward a ‘corpus of religious dogma’, we cannot eschew such a codification of beliefs as wholly the property of religious movements. And it is here that I come to my most prominent proposition: the taught principles of atheism, their position and instruction and the knowledge they espouse which they desire to teach not only constitutes a system of belief in itself (their doctrine), but (most significantly) is one which simultaneously requires a belief in religion as a substantial political force in order that they may place themselves in opposition to that force as ‘solution’. Essentially, we see how ‘doctrine’ becomes wholly political.
The core ‘fundamental’ of atheism, then (the primary principle or ‘rule’ on which it is based), is the belief that there is no transcendental Deity and that therefore, by Aristolean logic, that those who do believe in such a God(s) do so wrongly. And it is from this basic premise, one irrevocably necessary to define one’s position as an atheist, that the resulting ideological principles of the atheistic movement become their fundamentals and that the desire to implement such fundamentals on a political level – ‘Challenging Religious Faith’, as is the tagline of Atheism UK – are propagated by Fundamentalist Atheists who are willing to support their beliefs with militant action.
Ultimately it is of a matter of necessity that atheism (both as a political category and personal belief) relies on its antithesis, religion, in order to legitimatise its own position. And in order for this volatile relationship to function (for atheism to be able to develop and reify its system of fundamental beliefs by which it presents itself as a force of opposition) it systematically requires the atheist not only to believe in the social and political ‘problematic’ of theism as the very materialisation of the oppositions’ ‘abstract’ belief (essentially an atheist’s belief in the belief of theists as manifest in the very real effects of their ideological influence) but also, by necessity, in the existence of a God as the very locus of these manifestations. For what greater ‘proof’ of God is there than the very embodiment of ‘His’ ideology as a tangible social and political force? Just as the abstract, transcendental concept of ‘nation’ gains substance through the collected belief of individuals who consider themselves to be its people, ‘God’ becomes a very real force as the centripetal ideology of religion performed and propagated under ‘His’ name.
Not only do atheists hold no incredulity toward the beliefs of their theist counterparts (they are ‘very real’ beliefs), they recognise that the socio-political products of their religious ideologies can be countered only with equally a-theistic fundamentals. As a result, the impossibility of challenging the ideological force of a doctrinal belief system without firstly acknowledging the ‘very real’ substance of its belief (in order that it may place itself as opposition) and secondly proposing one’s own doctrinal system of ideology as “usurper” is realised. And in order for a new ideology to gain in social influence and (most significantly) become politically successful, it requires both the recognition, understanding and wholehearted belief of many in accordance with its atheistic fundamentals.