I often hear religious people (and even some non-believers) say that some atheists are as bad as religious fundamentalists. In some cases, they say atheists are fundamentalists.
Is there any truth to these claims?
There is no doubt that there are some noisy, illogical, poorly-mannered atheists out there. I can understand how some believers might get frustrated when encountering them on the Internet or in person.
However, the same can be said for religious people.
Being ill-mannered, crude, rude or even abusive, doesn’t mean the points they are making are incorrect, either. Their mannerisms might not encourage believers or non-believers to engage in conversation with the other side, but that also doesn’t mean that the point they’re making is wrong and should be ignored out-of-hand, simply because you didn’t like the delivery style.
For example, I find that many theists point out that Dawkins and Hitchens are strident and rude at times. Depending on your perspective, this might be true. For arguments sake, I’ll concede the point that both Hitchens and Dawkins can be strident and rude – that still doesn’t mean you can ignore the arguments they’re making. Pointing out you don’t like their delivery style, isn’t the same as rebutting their arguments.
As for whether or not atheists can be fundamentalists, Austin Cline points out:
Far too often, the word “fundamentalism” is used as short-hand for unreflective, unquestioning dogmatism. People are considered “fundamentalists” if they are rude, uncompromising, and committed to absolutist positions. This is not an accurate or fair understanding of fundamentalism: it misrepresents fundamentalism as an attitude or personality type rather than a type of doctrine and it is unfair to fundamentalists, not all of whom are described by this sort of attitude.
The term “fundamentalism” originated in American Christianity when The Fundamentals: A Testimony of the Truth was published between 1910 and 1912. This 12-volume set of books outlines the “fundamental” beliefs which were supposed to be required of all Christians:
- The infallibility and inspiration of Scripture.
- The virgin birth of Christ and the Deity of Christ.
- The substitutionary death of Jesus Christ for sinners and the blood atonement.
- The bodily resurrection of Christ and His visible return to earth.
- A judgment of the saved and lost followed by a literal heaven and a literal hell.
If fundamentalism is primarily about the promotion of “fundamental” beliefs, it’s not possible for this to be applied to atheism because atheism has no beliefs, much less “fundamental” beliefs. Atheism is the absence of belief in gods, nothing more and nothing less, so there is nothing “fundamental” for atheists to “get back to” in order to achieve a more pure or original atheism.
Finally, I fail to see how atheists are behaving as poorly as religion and religious institutions. Sure, Hitchens and Dawkins might be rude at times, but they aren’t doing things like:
- Kidnapping school children, raping them, and converting them to Islam
- Declaring religious people terrorists because of their religious faith or lack thereof
- Trying to silence any criticism with the use of worldwide blasphemy laws
- Caning women for being gang raped
- Targeting homosexuals with hateful propaganda
The list can go on and on. It can be added to on a daily basis.
Hitchens and Dawkins might be guilty of rudeness. Religious institutions are guilty of human rights abuses around the world. I hardly think the two can be fairly compared. Being strident and passionate about your subject isn’t even close to committing a human rights abuse.