Way back in April my friend, Peter Cartledge from the Sydney Atheists, contacted me about an idea he had for a new (as yet unnamed) atheist journal. I happily agreed to write an article for it and, at last, Peter’s brilliant idea has become a reality.
Please support the new atheist magazine, Impius (impius is Latin for atheist). I’m sure you’ll find lots of thought provoking ideas within it – and, surprise surprise, you may find that atheists sometimes disagree. That’s a good thing. We don’t need dogma!
My article is called “Accent-chu-ate the Positive”. Here’s how it starts. To read the rest, you’ll have to read Impius.
When Peter Cartledge asked if I would write something for this first edition of “Impius”, I had three questions: Deadline? Word length? Suggested topic? Peter’s reply to the third question set me back on my heels a little. He said, “Anything positive about atheism.”
Peter’s suggestion made me realise that we tend to get so tied up arguing against religion that we sometimes forget to argue in favour of atheism. I think there’s a good reason for that: none of us wants to fall into the trap of being an ‘evangelical’ atheist. As Nietzsche warned, “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.”
With this in mind, our concern ‘at the coalface’ of public debate is, generally, to keep religion from intruding upon our secular freedoms rather than imposing our lack of belief upon theists. We certainly don’t want to become ‘soldiers for atheism’ as our opponents purport to be ‘soldiers for Christ’ – even though we are, too often, vexatiously branded as ‘militant’. I am often moved to explain that our battle is political, not religious; we’re not trying to de-convert believers, we’re just trying to stop their beliefs from colonising our lives and coopting the secular institutions which preserve both freedom of and from religion.
Is it possible to talk about atheism in a positive way without being evangelical? I think so. As Peter reminded me, I began just such a project in “Felons, Ratbags, Commies and Left-Wing Loonies”, the first chapter in Warren Bonett’s The Australian Book of Atheism (Scribe, 2010). In “Felons …” my aim was to make a start at reclaiming atheists’ role in Australian history – “to stake a claim in the nation’s future through reference to the contributions of the past.” It’s a project I’ve continued to work on intermittently, but the diversions of day-to-day tussles with aggressive Christian nationalists too often means I’m involved in fighting against religion rather than fighting for a nation in which the role of the non-religious is fully recognized and respected … [more]