Thinking out Loud about Virtual Atheists, part 3

[This is the end, beautiful friend … I swear. And if you’re thinking, WTF you mean part 3? here’s part 1 and here’s part 2.]

Anyway, allow me to return to AbT’s post (again, still trying to restrain my desire to parse it carefully, not entirely successfully I now realize).

Again, religion is simple, by which I take the author to mean, it consists of simple belief. (Admittedly a stretch since for the life of me I really don’t know what the 1st few paragraphs are supposed to mean – but perhaps explication of a few later paragraphs bears this out.)  The contents of that belief – not surprisingly Christian in this case – are equally simple (and one used to have to pay at least lips-service to them before the authorities, as I’ve pointed out already): “God, Jesus, and the Holy Fire Tongue Monster” in AbT’s words. No more than simple because, according to AbT, even the work of Aquinas was just “elaborations on the Christian faith.”

And AbT asserts that “Aquinas was an influential thinker, not because he read the Bible, but because he read nearly everything he could get his hands on, and he then related those ideas he liked (and sometimes even those he came up with on his own) to people through the language of Christianity.”  

The characterization of Aquinas above notwithstanding, AbT believes that all Christian thought (or at least some kind of theology, I guess) is merely (empty) elaboration on simple belief:

It’s amazing, really, how much writing there has been on simple religious matters. This is typically known in fancy-pants circles as “exegesis,” but I like to think of it as “religious fanfiction.” Basically, people read the original and then want to elaborate on it… because apparently thousands of very intelligent people over history have managed to come up with much better ideas than a bunch of uneducated yokels a handful of centuries earlier.

[Let’s leave aside the stoopidity of catching the entire history of Xtn thought under the term “exegesis,” shall we?]

That original is, of course, the bible, the simple foundation of a simple faith. And AbT’s opinion of it is unequivocal (but hardly simple):

Personally, I became quite versed in Christianity the old fashioned way: I read the Bible. I still think it’s impossible to actually read the Bible and still believe everything in it. If you can read the Bible and still think it’s true, I have a bridge to Eden I want to sell you.

Note at the outset that AbT’s approach to the bible is, first, a kind of sola scriptura in reverse (at best; fundie in reverse at worst): simple faith, simple source, simply dismissed with a simple lone reading of the text. That’s fine, I guess, if you want to duke it out with fundies, but who honestly thinks they’ve got all of Xty’s number (never mind Judaism’s) by such means? Well, all atheists great and small think they do (more about that some other time).

But if it isn’t clear already, AbT goes one step farther, beyond the mere assertion of the value of independent reading of a given source (like the bible), beyond the assertion that it only takes one simple reading to trump another simple reading, to the assertion that any reading beyond is dross, or just more obfuscation of the simple truth, farther even.


You don’t need a degree in religious studies to learn more about a religion than the average follower.


Perhaps why most atheists get so upset about the charges that they aren’t experts… besides the fact that many atheists are experts… is because atheists pride themselves on their intelligence, logic, reasoning, and all those other terms for mental acuity. However, the truth is that you don’t have to be smart to be an atheist.

It is bravado, and not intellect, which constitutes the atheist. Atheists may loathe admitting it, but atheism doesn’t take brains, it takes guts.

What to say? We’re not in Kansas anymore? Intellectually (if that word is appropriate here) religiosity is understood by the atheist as “expression,” and the self-evident absurdity of the beliefs that come before it are sufficient to establish the self-evidence of atheism, at least in the face of believers. But, at least one atheist admits that atheism may be constituted, ammiright? Therein may lie a key to understanding contemporary atheist ideology but that investigation cannot really be undertaken here. But from a RLST perspective, we appear to have here an important key to the (what to call it?) reactionary religiosity of certain non-religious actors. And it has not entered the marketplace of ideas completely in good faith, or at least aware of what it’s doing.

This invites the question then of how atheism constitutes itself in terms of the reaction against expression. Of course, anyone who’s read anything from The Meaning and End of Religion to The Ideology of Religious Studies realizes that religion (or any religion) defined as a system of concepts or beliefs whose veracity is open to debate is one of the legacies of Modern Western thought. It’s informed European religion since the Reformation and atheism since the Enlightenment. And, most importantly for my purposes, it’s run through the academic study of religion since scholars from the European colonial powers made a concerted effort to understand non-European religions.

Leaving aside the question of the legitimacy of ‘religiosity as expression’ (at least as characteristic of religion across all times and places; and though it’s not really, uh, legitimate to do so) I hope I’ve established that Western atheism, especially contemporary atheism, is one of the bastard spawn of this understanding of religion. Now, the RLST ‘religiosity as expression’ approach usually entails the bracketing off of the question of the veracity of the truth-claims within religious systems; in part this is meant to insure an objective, and especially, a sympathetic reading of religion (forgetting for the moment all the scholars in all sorts of RLST fields who are indifferent to truth claims or try to engage them in philosophical good faith). In the face of reactionary atheism (redundant, I know) an emphasis on this mode of analysis is no longer either intellectually or politically tenable for the discipline in the main. Simply put, a World Religions approach is fundamentally useless and indefensible. ***Somewhere in here is the germ of the review essay on Prothero’s Religious Literacy I’ve been meaning to write.

I suppose now that I’m obliged to explain ‘religiosity as constituted’. Certainly I intend to do that, but you’ll forgive me if I don’t here: I’m trying to wrap up this rumination, and to be honest, I’m still not sure how to go about that. But, clearly I must bring this (or something like it) to bear on an analysis of contemporary atheists, their image of religion, and their (anti-)religiosity. Obviously there is an agenda in this (and insofar as there is this makes me a reactionary – though I hope consciousness of that is worth something), but I hope it’s clear enough for the moment that a means removed from a World Religions apologia is required. This serves the agenda to be sure, but more importantly (I hope you’ll agree) it serves to make possible some honest understanding of the ‘New Atheism’ and to move thought forward in the face of the increasingly tedious (to me at least) Manichean contest between religiosity and irreligiosity. Alas, this exercise has not really gotten me much closer to my thesis, but I guess I am thinking about it a little more clearly now. We’ll see.

[Fin. Thanks for coming out.]


  1. Bret Alan said

    Not a very fair interpretation of what I wrote… at least that’s my take on how you characterized what I wrote. I suppose if I read my post the way you did, I would think I’m ignorant, too.

    I think you should know, though, that I didn’t wake up one morning as an atheist and decide to read the Bible to disprove it. I was a believer, then I read the Bible. Then I struggled with the implications of what I read for a few years, and I came to a difficult decision.

    Also, hostility is not a very attractive color on you.

    • jackrroo said

      How is it not fair? Hostility is not attractive on me. Are you serious? You’ve done little besides prove the argument or demonstrate its significance.

      • Bret Alan said

        You show a marked ignorance of very basic words I used, like “typically,” and you proceeded to put words in my mouth, like saying that “AbT believes that all Christian thought (or at least some kind of theology, I guess) is merely (empty) elaboration on simple belief,” and this in the same sentence where had to qualify this baseless remark by exempting the very clear example of my respect for an undeniably Christian thinker.

        It is clear that you did not read my blog post in any attempt to understand what I was saying, but instead sought only to… what? Make yourself feel better? I can only speculate, but I am certain you did not have any interest in what I meant, only in how you might make what I wrote sound through shoddy misinterpretation.

        Most importantly, though, your analysis of what I wrote demonstrates a clear lack of elementary reading comprehension. I’m beyond unimpressed, and feel a bit sorry for you. Please don’t feel insulted, as that isn’t my intention, but I suppose I expected a more intelligent response than you were capable of presenting. Kind of wasted my time reading it, to be honest.

        I probably won’t be checking your blog again, so if you would like me to read any replies (and I wouldn’t feel imposed upon if you do want a discussion), I suggest you either e-mail it to me or e-mail me a link to it ( Feel free to ignore or criticize me at your leisure, though, whether you would like me to read it or not.

  2. jackrroo said

    You should’ve been flattered, Bret, and have left it at that.

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