You atheists are more fundamentalist than we Christians, because you spend more time believing what you believe than we spend doing what we do
(overheard on ZM radio this morning)
The Sunday ritual of going to Church proves this wrong for starters. Even you only wake up an hour before Church you spend that hour living in fear of reaching the end of it still in bed and in a similar state to the one in which God brought you into the world. Then when you turn up to Church (inevitably late) you spend another 10 minutes debating whether to actually perform the walk of shame past the disapproving stares of the Greypower officials at the door (in Greypower terms, being late to something is a sin akin being an Asian homeowner) or whether to take your holy communion in the form of a ‘quiet prayer’ over eggs benedict and a flat white at the cafe down the road. Even if you decide on the latter you’ll probably spend every mouthful of hollandaise rationalising that you’re respecting God more this way.
Still, even if her actual words don’t make much sense in the combination she uttered them, you can still sort of understand what this lady on the radio meant. Because most religious types spend a lot less time ‘believing what they believe’ than atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris do writing books and making speeches about atheism.
In recent years a rather dubious term has been applied to this latter category of atheist, that of ‘fundamentalist atheist’.
Fundamentalism is a Christian term of course, and doesn’t particularly translate well to the beliefs of atheists. Christian Fundamentalism started in the 1920s as an actual group of Christians who believed in the ‘fundamentals’ of the bible. These fundamentalists were so narrow-minded they refused to acknowledge other Abrahamic religions such as Judaism and Islam as even being related to Christianity. The original fundamentalists then would probably be horrified to find the term for their movement now being routinely used to describe Islamic terrorists (The phrase ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ originally came about from a phrase American journalists used – ‘similar to fundamentalism’ – to help explain Iranian religious beliefs to American audiences during the Iran hostage crisis), let alone atheism.
But to paraphrase one atheist: atheism has no fundamentals, that’s the point.
Then again, the use of the term ‘fundamentalist atheist’ is not really an attempt at accuracy. Rather it’s an attempt at the schoolyard epithet ‘I know you are, but what am I?’.
Or put more simply: You say I’M a fundamentalist?! Pfft, YOU’RE the fundamentalist (P.S. YOU farted!)!
Why do religious types feel the need to do this? I suspect it’s because they’re attempting to sum up their frustration with a particular type of really really annoying atheist. And in that you can have some sympathy with them. As any person who has ever gotten into a fight with their romantic partner can attest, there’s nothing more annoying than somebody who:
A. Is correct
B. Knows they are, and goes on about it all the time
The truth is there is no real argument against many of the criticisms Dawkins, et. al have against religion because religion was our first attempt at philosophy, human rights, and law – among other things. As such, the actual written examples of it are likely to be as embarrassing at our first essay about axolotls at primary school.
Still, it was our first, and there are many who are sentimental about that sort of thing. Doesn’t mean they’re crazy, doesn’t mean they’re child-abusers, doesn’t mean they’re homophobes.
It also doesn’t mean this sentimentality has a place in public policy debates that proper grown-ups are having of course, but it’s also not worth anybody’s time being annoying about it either.