Atheism vs. Theism 2: Independence from Persons
In my previous post on this subject, Independence in Thought, I discussed a point made by Phillychief in his post entitled Insularity?, where he stated that atheists, by and large, are critical thinkers.
Another point that Phillychief made, with which I agree, is that atheists are not as prone to hero worship and personality cults as theists appear to be. He cites the examples of Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennet, et al, and notes that their positions are scrutinized incessantly. What he implied but didn’t say outright, which I will say, is that much of this scrutiny comes from people who generally accept these writers’ ideas. The critics criticize because they want to sharpen their own thinking skills and also because they want to challenge these writers, and others like them, to put forward the strongest possible arguments for their positions and to articulate those arguments clearly, succinctly and coherently.
I, for example, like Richard Dawkins, and I enjoyed reading The God Delusion. That doesn’t blind me to the fact that the book has some substantive flaws. My atheism does not depend on Dawkins being infallible. Ditto for all the recent flap about Antony Flew – the fact that he shifted from atheism to a deist position doesn’t undermine my atheist position at all. My atheistic view does not depend upon the Gospels according to St. Antony and St. Richard.
Believers today are pressured, via various mechanisms, to leave the heavy intellectual lifting to their priests and pastors and to accept their spiritual leaders’ teachings without raising any, or not too many, questions. In contrast to atheists, who are often as quick to criticize their heroes and allies as harshly as they skewer their foes, theists, especially conservative ones again, frequently get caught up in personality cults. Spiritual leaders are expected, and often believed, to be holier than the average believers sitting in their pews. These beliefs and expectations are unreasonable, but believers can hardly be faulted for holding them, since said leaders are presented by their governing and ordaining bodies as having attained a greater than average knowledge of scripture, as well as habits of holy living, that qualify them for leadership roles. Atheists have heroes, but they usually recognize that those heroes are flawed beings, just as they themselves are.
Atheists are repeatedly dumbfounded at the faithful who continue to believe and follow their leaders long after the latter have been discredited. Atheists honestly cannot fathom how the followers of, for example, Oral and Richard Roberts, or Earl Paulk (to cite fresh examples rather than stale ones), can remain faithful, not only to their religion in general, but to particular leaders, in light of ongoing revelations of malfeasance, moral degeneracy and multitudes of other greater and lesser sins. If they were to think about it for a moment, atheists would realize that they shouldn’t be the least bit surprised by this slavish loyalty in the face of all evidence that argues against it. After all, worship of, and a purported relationship with, an allegedly personal deity is itself nothing more than a personality cult writ large.
One of my reasons for abandoning the theistic mindset with which I was raised, and to which I adhered for several decades, is that theism is not only well suited, but is intentionally designed, to breed dependence and authoritarianism. I find both of these outcomes dehumanizing and unacceptable. In contrast, atheism is especially well suited for cultivating autonomy and distrust of brute authority. These are qualities that enhance rather than degrade human life.
Noting that metaphors are colorful, often revealing, ways of describing reality, I leave you with one question: is it any wonder that theists are referred to as a flock of sheep, and atheists are likened to a herd of cats?