But I’ve found recently that I am not nearly as anti-religious as I once thought. Despite deciding in middle school that I was a staunch atheist, I went on to major in religion, a topic I found fascinating while rejecting the premise on which it was founded. I reflected on the appeal of religion, and why it is that I don’t believe in god while others do, and furthermore, why others believe in all varieties of god. I came to what seems an obvious conclusion: all human beings are capable of conceiving something greater than themselves, and therefore this ability must be a biological gift, perhaps a gene-mutation seized upon by natural selection that has allowed humans to be so successful.
There are two questions at play here. One is about the supernatural and the other is about culture. Religion traditionally incorporates both elements, and the part that generally gives atheists pause is the requirement some religions make to believe in invisible, unprovable, supernatural entitites. I don’t believe you have answered the why about that in this piece and, indeeed, it’s a rather immense question.
The next iteration of our collective imagination must be even bigger and more expansive than the current variety. As much as an atheist may deny it, what they’re advocating isn’t the abolition of religion but rather a broader human decision to invest in a new vision of what is greater than us, something is even more inclusive, but scratches the same itch.
I firmly believe this new iteration of “religion” is not only possible, but already evolving. Not only are fewer people identifying as religious in the traditional sense, but communications and travel technology have shrunk the world in a manner that creates more exposure to others and fosters the tolerance that naturally follows.
As an atheist and a Satanist, I have to disagree with your perspective on atheism. An atheist isn’t advocating anything at all. An atheist is just someone who doesn’t believe in supreme beings. It is not any sort of ethos, and an atheist need not take action or advocate anything based on his or her non-belief in supreme beings. Atheists need not believe in inclusivity or investing in new visions of things greater than us. They could be nihilists ready to see the world fall apart.
New Atheism, to draw a distinction, very much is advocacy, in that it aggressively opposes religion and supernaturalism, painting them as deleterious forces that need to be eliminated. New Atheism is politics, much as religion is politics.
Regarding new iterations of religion, I am a member of The Satanic Temple. We very much are a religion, bound by shared beliefs and values. We have an ethos that springs from our mission and tenets, as well as religious iconography and rituals. Our beliefs and practices are founded on reason and empathy, and, as such, we require no supernatural entity to lend authority to them. We are an atheistic religion, and we’re not the only one.
I do agree that we at The Satanic Temple, as religious people, do believe in something greater than ourselves, as our religion would have little purpose without such vision. This can be seen in our mission statement:
The mission of The Satanic Temple is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people. In addition, we embrace practical common sense and justice.
If a world guided by benevolence, empathy, practical common sense, and justice is not something greater than ourselves, then I don’t know what is. If humanity is to have a future in the cosmos, it will have to get past the fear and hate that presently underpin a great many of our endeavors. Perhaps it is that I care about this at all that makes me religious.