A Threat to Us All: Millions Buying into Apocalyptic Religion Pose a Direct Threat to Modern Society

Jan 27, 2015

By Jeffrey Tayler

I would like to thank Reza Aslan.  In his recent Salon rebuttal to denunciations (including mine) of religion put forward by people the media has come to call New Atheists, he resurrects a word the late Christopher Hitchens, now three years departed, used to describe himself: antitheist.  (Aslan even provides the link to a relevant Hitchens text from long ago that is well worth reading.)  Antitheists hold that the portrayal of our world and humankind’s place in it as set out in the foundational texts of the three Abrahamic religions constitutes, to quote Hitchens, “a sinister fairy tale,” and that “life would be miserable if what the faithful affirmed was actually the case.”  The reason?  “[T]here may be people,” he wrote, “who wish to live their lives under a cradle-to-grave divine supervision; a permanent surveillance and [around the clock] monitoring [a celestial North Korea],” but he certainly did not.  The eternally repressive alternate reality concocted by the religious of eons past, if true, would be, in his words, “horrible” and “grotesque.”

Well said!  Speaking for myself, I’m happy to be labeled an antitheist.  Or an atheist.  It makes no difference to me.  The point is, I do not, cannot, believe, and do not wish to believe.  I have never envied people of faith their worldview, never esteemed the ability to consider something true without evidence, never respected as morally superior those who manage this feat of credulity and illogicality.  For that matter, I have never had an experience for which I sought a religious – that is, supernatural or superstitious – explanation.  For Aslan, though, the semantic distinction between “atheist” and “antitheist” is key and intended to discredit those speaking out for rationalism and against religion.

“Not only is New Atheism not representative of atheism,” he writes.  “It isn’t even mere atheism.”  It is in fact antitheism, which he finds “to be rooted in a naive and, dare I say, unscientific understanding of religion – one thoroughly disconnected from the history of religious thought.”  He contends that “atheism has become more difficult to define for the simple reason that it comes in as many forms as theism does” – negative atheism, positive atheism, empirical atheism, and even agnosticism.  He cites an obscure poll dividing nonbelievers into categories – academics, activists, seeker-agnostics, “apatheists” and “ritual atheists,” with the least numerous (and hence ostensibly least credible) being the antitheists, who account for only 12.5 percent.  His conclusion: “the vast majority of atheists – 85 percent according to one poll – are not anti-theists and should not be lumped into the same category as the anti-theist ideologues that inundate the media landscape.”

Just how an atheist’s understanding of religion per se differs from that of an antitheist Aslan does not say.  Neither of them, after all, believe in God.  And is he saying that an atheist’s concept of faith is more “scientific” (and thus presumably more accurate) than an antitheist’s?  Doubtful: Aslan is a Muslim.  The critical factor would appear to be that unlike (upstart) antitheists, (old-time) atheists, at least as he sees it, don’t speak out much about religion.  Presumably, (plain-old) atheists keep quiet and humbly listen to scholars such as Aslan explain away the role of faith in, for instance, the barbarities that assault us daily in news from abroad.  If, however, atheists forcefully advocate their rationalist convictions, they become antitheists and join the negligible 12.5-percent minority of his poll, to be safely dismissed or regarded as an annoyance.


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35 comments on “A Threat to Us All: Millions Buying into Apocalyptic Religion Pose a Direct Threat to Modern Society

  • @OP – Just how an atheist’s understanding of religion per se differs from that of an antitheist Aslan does not say.

    I would suspect it depends on the numbers and classifications of theists in the area or interfering in the atheist’s/anti theist’s life. The greater the understanding of, and persistence of the negative effects of, theism, the more the tendency towards anti theism!

    Neither of them, after all, believe in God. And is he saying that an atheist’s concept of faith is more “scientific” (and thus presumably more accurate) than an antitheist’s? Doubtful: Aslan is a Muslim.

    I think this looks “more Islamic scientific”, than “evidenced science, scientific”!

    In terms of circular theist wish-thinking, agreement with the believer’s dogma, is “more logical”, “more scientific”, “more factual” and more “reasonable” – but only by the re-defined semantic standards of circular faith-based wish-thinking!



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  • 3
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    Excellent article. Very well written. Couldn’t agree more with Mr. Tayler. I feel that Reza Aslan is doing the world a disservice with his weasel rhetoric and intellectual dishonesty. He also seems to have mastered the art of dodging hard questions. Weapons of mass distraction…



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  • I must have missed something. “Millions Buying into Apocalyptic Religion Pose a Direct Threat to Modern Society”. Is that covered in the full article ? I haven’t read that yet, and may not, given the lack of connection with the title, so far. Don’t you just hate it when the title is not addressed at all until much later in the document ?



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  • OP sub-title: ‘We must no longer ignore the propagation of apocalyptic fables that large numbers of people take seriously’

    I haven’t read the full article

    Tayler’s article is like the construction of a Weaver bird nest, it all makes sense at the end, and well worth it.



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  • Todays new from Utah, United States.
    Utah parents who killed selves, children feared apocalypse.
    SPRINGVILLE, Utah (AP) – A Utah couple and their three children who were found dead in their home last fall overdosed on drugs after the parents told friends they were concerned about a pending apocalypse, authorities said Tuesday.

    Police also found old letters from the mother to a Utah man in prison for killing family members in the name of God, murders that were chronicled in the 2003 John Krakauer book “Under the Banner of Heaven.”



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  • I’m an atheist. I’m also an anti-religionist. I still don’t know what an “anti-theist” is. How can one be “anti” anything one does not believe exists?



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  • Also in the news over the last few days, a ‘popular preacher’ of Islam was released after raping, torturing and murdering his 5 year old daughter because he believed she was not a virgin.

    Taken by itself, you would say the man was mentally deficient.

    Taken as a part of an Islamic Nation with laws based in the religion, we have to generalize because apparently this is the status quo there. Men get away with murdering their own children and merely pay ‘blood money’ to the mother for the loss of their child.

    And yet Aslan seems to have this notion that rooting out ‘religious laws’ from society in favour of logic and science is perverse, aggressive and ‘evil’ in some way.

    You will also note that Aslan fails to wade in on these issues preferring to look at the ideal between his ears rather than the real laws followed by the faithful.

    And we have not even touched upon the ‘aversion therapy’ used by religious groups who encounter homosexuals or a variety of other topics.



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  • 11
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    Anti-theism does not equate anti-god.

    Being an anti-theist means being vehemently or militantly against theism which is belief in a god or gods described by scripture and the dogma entailed by the said scripture. An anti-theist is motivated by the conviction that theism in all its forms is a man-made delusion and a scourge for humanity.

    An atheist is simply someone who entertains no belief in a deity or deities.

    All anti-theists are atheists but not all atheists are anti-theists.



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  • The only thing that Aslan did well was to give us a good description of the Jewish Temple in “The Zealot” it exposes the scam that the Sanhedrin was running on the poor Jews back in the first century. The same scam that they are running today, for that matter. The more cash you give, the closer you are seated to the Bema. Aslan falls on his face in any discussion with Richard, Sam, or any other well read Athiest.

    As for Anti-Thiest/ Athiest, they are the same thing. Not to beat a dead horse, but ALL so called religious people are atheists in respect to the thousands of gods that they do not worship that have the same thing in common with theirs. No evidence whatsoever.

    The main subject of this post being the “End of Days” fanatics, I am off topic. To that end, there is the self fulfilling prophecy to be aware of, should some fanatic get access to thermonuclear weapons. Religious freaks like Muslim, and yes, Christian fundamentalists could push the big red button to bring their dreams of an eternal club med with a sadistic manager to fruition.



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  • Ah, Azlan, whose deceit extends to himself and anyone within reach of his spurious words, anti-theism is at least as old as theism. In his horse-blinder view of history, he conveniently ignores what Epicurus (or Carneades) left us millennia ago – Is he neither able nor willing (to prevent evil)? Then why call him god?

    A clearly anti-theism statement against an intervening deity.

    So Azlan’s good little “atheist” is one who never questions religion anywhere in public (the behaving silent majority of nonbelievers?), but anyone who ever utters a word against irrational myths is anti-theist? I am of the latter classification.

    Good article.



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  • Theism by itself has nothing to do with religion, dogma or scripture. It is merely a philosophical position as harmless as atheism. It is not the scourge of humanity because you can’t get any moral guidance from believing that some kind of god-like force exists. You can’t even know if this deity is “good” (whatever good means). Only when you add politics, money, power, and/or religion to theism can it become dangerous (just the same as atheism minus the whole religion part).

    By the way, perhaps people should say they are anti-theism instead of anti-theist/s. That way you avoid the whole “how can you be against something that doesn’t exist” thing as well as literally being against the theists personally (unless you actually are). You can be against a belief in something you yourself don’t believe exists.



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  • I can’t speak for Mr. Aslan but as for me I’m against fundamentalists of all types: including atheist fundamentalists. Anyone who wants to denigrate all people of faith is IMO not significantly different than a Muslim fundamentalist or a Christian fundamentalist.

    As usual Chomsky said it better than I could, Harris and friends and you are as irrational and believers in dogma as any fundamentalist religious fanatics. The question is a bit rambling but Chomsky’s reply starts at about 2:30: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zt9QCAUPPeY



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  • 18
    Jonathan says:

    Just wondering, because I keep hearing about it: what’s a “fundamentalist atheist”? 🙂

    I mean, it’s a negative position. I don’t believe in god. I can’t be “fundamentalist” about it, because there’s nothing more fundamental than my position, and nothing less fundamental which involves actually being an “atheist”. Sure, I’m an “agnostic atheist”, but that’s logically identical to being an “atheist” (ie. if any proof of god existed, I’d change my mind).

    Maybe you just don’t like people speaking their mind? Maybe it’s the fact that people have the audacity to point out that other people are claiming things for which they have no evidence that you object to? If so, why?

    Or maybe there’s something I’m missing? I’m open to correction…



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  • I have always found Chomsky crass here. It looks no better now.

    I’m against ideologies of all sorts. Pre-solutions to specific problems-yet-to-be is a nonsense. I find ideologs of all stripes underperform as problem solvers. In my experience a much higher percentage of atheists are anti-ideolog to some extent, Hitchens notably sloughing off his youthful formulaic socialism.

    Hitchens, proud to be called brother to the Sunni Kurds in their fight against the tyranny of Islamist forces is at odds with Chomsky’s “fundementalist atheist” view of him. That doesn’t mean he can’t be mistaken in his views for quite other reasons. Chomsky is essentialist and reducing of complex motivations in others too often. His broad brush is uncannily like that of a dogmatist sometimes.



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  • Jonathan Jan 30, 2015 at 2:45 am

    Just wondering, because I keep hearing about it: what’s a “fundamentalist atheist”? 🙂

    “Fundamentalist atheist” is a term used by theists and apologists to describe people who won’t be persuaded by their mystical rubbish, and to describe anti-theists who criticize the flawed “faith-thinking” and the damage it does to humanity.

    It is basically a psychological projection of their own closed minds coupled to a “moderate in the middle of a false dichotomy” fallacy.



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  • Nor will I take lessons on essentialism from Aslan. His Islamophobic net is as wide as he can make it. Some leading atheists have their essentialist moments (coughsHarris). More often they are more careless in their talk than their thought.

    He is no friend of nuance.



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  • The fact that he says many things I agree with doesn’t excuse the maddening essentialism and false equivalences in this interview. The faults are still as those identified within the OP.



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  • The forum rightly displays the facts and the falsehoods for us to pick and choose. Aslan’s assertions I find have a preponderance of the latter. There are no points in the Young Turk interview to make me disagree with the OP or indeed, Red’s Chomsky clip.

    Whilst I’m here I must also declare as an anti-theist. Despite finding some religions/religious sects mostly harmless, one or two admirable, the very ideas at the heart of the mainstream religions are, for me, repellant, in reason and aesthetics.

    The universe made parochial. Poetry brought low.

    Were atheists wrong I would still be an antitheist theist.



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  • For what it’s worth I think the roots of all religion date back to our ancestral beginnings on the plains of ‘Africa’ when curiosity about life and ‘creation’ required explanation. Primitive tribal solutions were ‘hijacked’ by Shamans and over millenia became the farcical power struggle for supremacy of ‘my Fairy is better than your Fairy’. Thank God my parents told me not to believe any of it 😉



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  • James Jan 29, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    Theism by itself has nothing to do with religion, dogma or scripture.

    Really???

    definition of theism by The Free DictionaryBelief in the existence of a god or gods, especially belief in a personal God as creator and ruler of the world.

    This sounds very like religion to me!

    It is merely a philosophical position as harmless as atheism. It is not the scourge of humanity because you can’t get any moral guidance from believing that some kind of god-like force exists.

    I don’t think theist beliefs are at all harmless, when we consider the actions they motivate their believers to carry out – believing actions to be “morally guided” by holy books, Imams etc!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-31056086



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  • There are multiple definitions of theism. The first is more broad, simply meaning the belief in the existence of god/s. The second can be construed as something closer to monotheism. The free dictionary definition just so happens to include both in the same sentence (as do many other sources). Theism in the broad sense of the word is the antithesis of atheism (and was the definition I was working with in my initial comments). Also, if theism and monotheism are the same, then why have two different words for the same definition?

    The broad definition of theism cannot be the basis of a religion because it is not specific enough about what god is like. All one can say is “some kind of god/s exist” and nothing more about right and wrong. It is for this reason theism in the broad sense cannot be dangerous. It is dangerous when it becomes theism + something else.
    The BBC article is referring to Islamic Monotheism which in its non-liberalized form is most certainly dangerous.

    Perhaps we need more specific terms than what philosophers have made so far. Although, the man who coined the term theists stated it as “strictly and properly called Theists, who affirm, that a perfectly conscious understanding being, or mind, existing of itself from eternity, was the cause of all other things”. It really isn’t specific enough to be the basis of a religion in this definition either and it doesn’t define what perfect is. Frankly, I haven’t found a satisfying definition of what god is that isn’t based on here-say (from theists, atheists, theologians, or philosophers).

    sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theism (and sources contained within)



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  • 31
    AtariBaby says:

    So you equate religious fundamentalists, people who oppress women and homosexuals and nonbelievers, with this thing you call “atheist fundamentalists”– who do what, debate loudly? Make sarcastic tweets?

    Chomsky writes interesting radical political essays with an intent to be shocking. He is hardly the overruling voice of rationality.



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  • There is probably some truth to the whole shamans hijacking the religion. It doesn’t seem religion is the problem as much as greed is.



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  • Atheism can’t be fundamentalist. Theism (if defined as merely believing that some kind of god/s exists) can’t either. Neither give instruction on how to live. However, atheists can be fundamentalist (or I suppose radical is a better word) in other beliefs they hold. Since they don’t have a book which tells them what to believe when it comes to ethics, economics, politics, etc. they have to look elsewhere.

    That is what confuses people. It is not atheism but things like totalitarianism, radical social darwinism (and eugenics), and state quasi-religions which make atheists themselves dangerous (take Stalin and Mao for example, atheists but not evil because of atheism). It can be argued that atheism can lead to certain dangerous philosophies that theism most likely won’t lead one toward, but theism offers its own unique possible evil paths one can take.

    It is like saying driving automobiles are bad because it opens up the possibility of getting in a car crash. Just because one position can lead to something wrong doesn’t mean the original position is wrong (atheism or theism).



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  • James Jan 30, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    The broad definition of theism cannot be the basis of a religion because it is not specific enough about what god is like. All one can say is “some kind of god/s exist” and nothing more about right and wrong.
    It is for this reason theism in the broad sense cannot be dangerous.

    I think that defined this way, it is simply too vague to pin down specific dangers.

    Frankly, I haven’t found a satisfying definition of what god is that isn’t based on here-say (from theists, atheists, theologians, or philosophers).

    Gods which have material properties, or make claims of material interventions on Earth, are refuted by science.
    Hence theists retreat into the vagueness of shuffling ethereal semantics, or the “gapologists” perpetual charge into the unknown, to try to keep their mysteriously hidden gods, fitted up with some credibility beyond the advancing frontiers of scientific knowledge.

    It is dangerous when it becomes theism + something else.

    That is why when debating theism, it is important to have theists define which specific gods and god claims, are being discussed.
    Trying to refute vague, slippery, undefined terms, with shifting meanings , is pointless and impossible.



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  • In response to Alan4discussion’s comments above, I agree that definitions should be clear and agreed upon. It is extremely annoying (for me at least) to find all these definitions and positions poorly defined at times within philosophy and even some have more than one definition. I apologize for assuming everyone knew what definition I was working with. 🙂 I tend to do that more often than I’d like to admit.

    I personally use the broad definition of theism since it can include not just monotheism, deism, etc., but also more interesting positions such as misotheism which definitely has a different view of god than the traditional omnibenevolent one.

    Anyway, when it comes to a god which intervenes in the material world, I don’t believe science has necessarily refuted that. However, a naturalistic explanation can always be provided no matter how improbable it may be. At that point I suppose it comes down to whatever explanation makes one most comfortable if/when both (while most likely not of equal improbability) are very lacking in hard evidence. This brings to mind Hitchens’ definition of antitheism being also someone who is glad god most likely doesn’t exist (or something to that effect).



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