Printed: 2019-12-06

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies





IEET Link: https://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/dvorsky20120515

Why Humanists Need to Make the Shift to Post-Atheism

George Dvorsky


Sentient Developments


http://www.sentientdevelopments.com/2012/05/why-humanists-need-to-make-shift-to.html

May 15, 2012

I’m getting increasingly annoyed by all the anti-religious propaganda that litters my Facebook newsfeed. Look, as a fellow humanist and atheist, I get it. Organized religion is a problem on so many levels that I don’t even know where to begin. I’d be the first person to say that something needs to be done about it and I’m delighted to see atheism become normalized in our society and culture. But seriously, folks, what are you hoping to achieve by posting such facile and inflammatory material?

Who are you speaking to? Are you doing it to make yourself feel better? Or do you really feel that through this kind of mindless slacktivism that you’re making a difference and actually impacting on real lives?

It’s time to put these toys away and consider the bigger picture. Humanists need to start helping people make the transition away from religion, while at the same time working to create a relevant and vital humanist movement for the 21st century.

The intellectual battle against religion has already been won — and a strong case can be made that the victory came at the time of the Enlightenment. The struggle now is to find out why religion continues to persist in our society and what we can do about it. I have a strong suspicion that posting pictures of silly church signs isn’t helping.

For those of you who have been part of organized religion, you know how hard it is to break free. I’m one of them. Compounding the inner turmoil and cognitive dissonance is the problem of breaking free from the in-group. It is not easy for people to just pack up and leave their communities, nor is it easy for them to face the inevitable backlash from their families. The thought of leaving religion can be completely debilitating on so many levels. Posting a rabid comment or image on your Facebook wall isn’t going to help anyone get through this. In fact, all you’re doing is re-enforcing a tribalistic urge and alienating those most in need of help. These actions can only serve to stratify and polarize the lines even further.

Instead, what I’d rather see are more focused efforts on understanding how and why religion continues to spread, and what kinds of interventions and approaches are most effective at helping individuals move past it. There’s been amazing work done in this area by such thinkers as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, both of whom subscribe to the meme theory of religious propagation. I myself have argued that religious fundamentalism is a kind of disease and that religion works best by dictating the reproductive processes of its hosts. I’d like to see more work done in this area as we work to improve our cultural health.

In addition, we need to figure out the best way to pull religious people out of their situation. This is probably the most difficult challenge, and there are no easy answers. I’m a staunch believer in education and the idea that we need to equip children at a young age with the powers of free thought, critical thinking, and skepticism. We can’t make decisions for others, but we can give them the tools to help them make the right decisions for themselves. More radically, for those deeply entrenched in fundamentalist religions and cults, there’s always the possibility of deprogramming. The trick is to start the intervention.

Lastly, I’m hoping to see atheists move past the religion bashing and start thinking about more substantive issues. This is what I mean when I say post-atheism. It’s time to set aside the angst and work more productively to help those who need it, while working to develop a world view and set of guidelines for living without God. It’s unfortunate and tragic that so many humanists have equated the movement with atheism, while completely forgetting their progressive roots.

Humanism is about the betterment of all humanity and the contemplation of what it is we wish to become. It’s about taking control of our own lives in the absence of divine intervention. And it’s about taking responsibility for ourselves and doing the right thing.

This is where our energies and attention needs to be focused. Not in ridiculous Facebook timeline posts that serve no one.

Who are you speaking to? Are you doing it to make yourself feel better? Or do you really feel that through this kind of mindless slacktivism that you’re making a difference and actually impacting on real lives?

It’s time to put these toys away and consider the bigger picture. Humanists need to start helping people make the transition away from religion, while at the same time working to create a relevant and vital humanist movement for the 21st century.

The intellectual battle against religion has already been won — and a strong case can be made that the victory came at the time of the Enlightenment. The struggle now is to find out why religion continues to persist in our society and what we can do about it. I have a strong suspicion that posting pictures of silly church signs isn’t helping.

For those of you who have been part of organized religion, you know how hard it is to break free. I’m one of them. Compounding the inner turmoil and cognitive dissonance is the problem of breaking free from the in-group. It is not easy for people to just pack up and leave their communities, nor is it easy for them to face the inevitable backlash from their families. The thought of leaving religion can be completely debilitating on so many levels. Posting a rabid comment or image on your Facebook wall isn’t going to help anyone get through this. In fact, all you’re doing is re-enforcing a tribalistic urge and alienating those most in need of help. These actions can only serve to stratify and polarize the lines even further.

Instead, what I’d rather see are more focused efforts on understanding how and why religion continues to spread, and what kinds of interventions and approaches are most effective at helping individuals move past it. There’s been amazing work done in this area by such thinkers as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, both of whom subscribe to the meme theory of religious propagation. I myself have argued that religious fundamentalism is a kind of disease and that religion works best by dictating the reproductive processes of its hosts. I’d like to see more work done in this area as we work to improve our cultural health.

In addition, we need to figure out the best way to pull religious people out of their situation. This is probably the most difficult challenge, and there are no easy answers. I’m a staunch believer in education and the idea that we need to equip children at a young age with the powers of free thought, critical thinking, and skepticism. We can’t make decisions for others, but we can give them the tools to help them make the right decisions for themselves. More radically, for those deeply entrenched in fundamentalist religions and cults, there’s always the possibility of deprogramming. The trick is to start the intervention.

Lastly, I’m hoping to see atheists move past the religion bashing and start thinking about more substantive issues. This is what I mean when I say post-atheism. It’s time to set aside the angst and work more productively to help those who need it, while working to develop a world view and set of guidelines for living without God. It’s unfortunate and tragic that so many humanists have equated the movement with atheism, while completely forgetting their progressive roots.

Humanism is about the betterment of all humanity and the contemplation of what it is we wish to become. It’s about taking control of our own lives in the absence of divine intervention. And it’s about taking responsibility for ourselves and doing the right thing.

This is where our energies and attention needs to be focused. Not in ridiculous Facebook timeline posts that serve no one.


George P. Dvorsky serves as Chair of the IEET Board of Directors and also heads our Rights of Non-Human Persons program. He is a Canadian futurist, science writer, and bioethicist. He is a contributing editor at io9 — where he writes about science, culture, and futurism — and producer of the Sentient Developments blog and podcast. He served for two terms at Humanity+ (formerly the World Transhumanist Association). George produces Sentient Developments blog and podcast.

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