Laughing Heathens

Atheism doesn't have to be so angry. Just look at Democritius and Santayana.

By Michael Lind
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For a long time I assumed that atheists had to be angry. Growing up in Austin, Texas in the 1970s, I would listen to two broadcasts on Sunday night: one from an African-American church and one from Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who had made my hometown the center of her American Atheist Association. The cadences of the preachers were the same, and the services alternated sermons with readings. But there were no songs in O’Hair’s atheist sermon, and the tone was one of barely-controlled rage.
“Why do the heathen rage?” The quote from Psalm 2:1 used to appear in ads by Protestant fundamentalists placed in the University of Texas student newspaper. Madalyn Murray O’Hair was one raging heathen.

Like O’Hair’s creed, the evangelical atheism of Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens and others is best understood as a counter-Christianity or counter-Abrahamism. It is defined by what it is against, Abrahamic monotheism, and it fights the enemy by adopting its tactics (and, in the case of O’Hair’s atheist church, its very organization). The very term “atheist” defines the belief system in terms of what it opposes. The philosopher John Gray has even described “evangelical atheism” as a new form of fundamentalism.

At the risk of using the “no true Scotsman” fallacy (no true Scotsman generalizes about Scotsmen!), I would suggest that no true atheist — make that ethical naturalist — lives in a state of perpetual smoldering outrage at the silly beliefs of other people.
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Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.
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