Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dethroning Christianity

I posted my previous blogpost on Twitter, and received a response from an atheist commenter with a link to an article saying that most Christians do believe literally in the articles of their faith.

Did I mention Christianity in my previous post? (Feel free to read it again to check.) No, I did not. So why do atheists want to take Christianity (or indeed Abrahamic religions) as the norm for religion? I thought they wanted to dethrone it from its prominent place in Western discourse. Some news for you, atheists and Christians alike: religion is not synonymous with Christianity.

The notion that all religion is predicated on belief is a 19th century one, promoted by Christians and colonialists who wanted to discredit other religions, or insisted on seeing them through the lens of Protestant Christianity. This process is well-attested in the academic literature on the subject.

Karen Armstrong (if the New Atheists bothered to read her work properly, instead of relying on soundbites) is right -- belief was not always the most important thing about religion. It may have been the most important thing in Christianity for a great deal of its history; and indeed Western Christianity is rather well-known for murdering people for having the "wrong" beliefs. Though that behaviour gradually came to be regarded as uncivilised after the burning of Michael Servetus and other Unitarians.

In Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Paganism, Unitarianism / UUism etc there are a number of different schools of thought, giving rise to different practices and enjoying different mythologies. These different schools of thought co-exist happily and do not denounce each other as heretics. Nor do they take their mythologies literally.

There are many Christians who happily accept that they are not the only or the top religion, and who enjoy living in a world of pluralism where people of different faiths and none can learn from each other. Fortunately they are growing in numbers. Sadly, the New Atheists have either not noticed, or have wilfully misinterpreted the phenomenon. And they also don't get other religions, assuming that all religions must think theirs is the only truth and take their mythology literally. Funnily enough, not many New Atheists have studied the sociology of religion, or anthropology, or any other subject which might lead them to a more nuanced and accurate view.

New Atheism is so dim that it's no wonder many atheists and non-theists turned with relief to Atheism 2.0.

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