Saturday, November 11, 2006

Atheism Rebranded

Lately I have begun to wonder if the apparent rise in religiosity has been but a chimera. At first one begins to speculate possible reasons for it's growth. Perhaps it is a response to this rapidly changing world in which people feel more insecure and as a result find solace and meaning in that which gives them stability and comfort. Maybe it's a conspiracy of the powers that be to mollify the masses making them easier to sway through their media maelstrom.

I have mostly given up on the idea of Progress (with a capitol P). I identify less with Hegel and more with Nietzsche on that matter so it shouldn't be surprising to find that we as a species can easily revert to supernaturalism. There is no guarantee that we will continue to develop our understanding in a progressive manner. The forces of will, politics, domination and exploitation may find their paths smoothed by a population that believes and obstructed by a population of unbelievers.

Still, I can't help but come back to that notion of progress. One could consider that the recent and fervent rise in fundamentalism is really just a last gasp of that world-view as it inevitably comes to its conclusion. There is a dialectical framework that is attributed to Hegel (you could say it should be to Kant or Fichte). It is the notion of the triad wherein an idea or thesis brings about its opposition or antithesis and finally leads to a truer understanding or synthesis.

I'm not sure about the synthesis part but this could be an instructive way to view the forces at work here. Atheism is the thesis that has brought about a strong reaction of its antithesis manifested in fundamentalism. These are processes that could take decades or centuries to unfold. One could say that the Enlightenment was really the thesis of naturalism and that it has been waging war with it's antithesis of supernaturalism ever since. I would say that the paradigm is more like a pendulum than a triad. It swings to one extreme, then the other, then back again. We have been lately at the supernatural end of that sway but it is heartening to see signs that we may have already reached that pinnacle and are about to make our way back the other way.

One sees it in the books, documentaries, and even blogs that have taken up the cause. In a clever marketing move, some of the people driving this cause have taken a play from another group ostracized by the religious establishment; the gay community. That community took a positive descriptive and used it to refer to themselves. The word gay is upbeat and doesn't stand in opposition to anything except maybe the word unhappy. The word atheism on the other hand is a negative descriptor and stands strictly in opposition to something, namely theism. So atheism or naturalism has been rebranded as Bright.

But a pendulum eventually comes to rest at a balance. It will have to arrive at a balance I believe and not at one side or the other. There have been attempts to carve out this space lately. People like Deepak Chopra and the makers of What The Bleep Do We Know have tried to reconcile science and religiosity but judging by their efforts we have a long, long way to go. The motivation to understand is at the heart of both sides of the pendulum's sway and that is what should not be overlooked.

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