The idiot’s guide to atheism

I recently watched a Youtube clip by a fellow called Stephan Molyneux or something like that, a clip titled “Why I Was Wrong About Atheism”. It was the first thing I’ve watched by this Molyneux, I don’t know anything particular about him and stumbled on it by chance, but I sure hope it isn’t representative for the rest of his stuff or we shall often disagree. Mr. Molyneux managed to say something that bothered me, and since it was similar to other stuff I have heard from other people I thought I’d  explain a couple of things for people who need it explained to them.  

Molyneux spoke of how he thought atheists have simply switched god for big government and went on ranting about Obamacare and other things not belonging in a clip with that title. I got the same feeling when hearing this as I got a few months ago when listening to Cenk Uygur run his mouth about Sam Harris.

Uygur said something about how a “real atheist” would criticize all religions equally. Molyneux quickly made it clear that he meant leftists, and not atheists. In the United states these groups often correlate, but we are dealing here with exact definitions and not just noticing patterns. Both Stephan and Cenk try to attach all kinds of things to the concept of atheism, as do other people, but atheism is a very simple and limited concept that doesn’t include that much. To describe a person you usually have to use at least one other word, be it humanist or socialist or libertarian or vegetarian or nationalist or whatever.

To clarify this simple and limited concept for people who say things that annoy me I have come up with a clever analogy. It may seem far-fetched at first, but bear with me, I’m convinced it makes sense.

Consider the idea that Napoleon Bonaparte had three cats named after famous ancient Roman leaders such as Caesar, Sicero etc. Now imagine a historian who, having studied the writings left behind by Napoleon’s contemporaries, reaches the conclusion that Napoleon had no cats. That person then does not believe that Napoleon had three cats. Now imagine instead a person who simply finds it improbable that a great leader would have three cats based on some prejudice about cat-owners, that person also does not believe that Napoleon had three cats.  Finally, a person who has never considered the idea that Napoleon might have had cats does not believe that Napoleon had three cats.

The point is that all of these three hypothetical people can say that they do not believe in in the three cats, even the last one since belief is active. Now exchange the three cats for some sort of divine consciousness, and you have an atheist. So take a person, any person, and go over a list of all know religions, asking the person for each one if he or she believes in it. If the person never answers yeas, and hasn’t made up a personal theistic religion, then that person is an atheist. That’s the entirety of it. Words such as “leftist”, or for that matter “agnostic” (that’s for you, Cenk) do not belong in the same discussion as the word atheist, they are answers to different questions. What Molyneux and Uygur did was like being asked what your favorite brand of ice-cream is and answering Batman.

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3 responses to “The idiot’s guide to atheism

  1. The problems of paying credence to someone like (Stefan) Molyneux are many. He considers himself a philosopher, but has no credentials in that area, and an author, though he’s only “self-published”. His fame rests on a podcast, and his main area of focus is libertarianism, not religion or atheism. A convert to atheism, he tries to link his personal mix of anarcho-capitalism and Ayn Rand to his rejection of his former religion. It’s an unstable weld.

    • Yes, while I myself also have certain libertarian inclinations, Molyneux seems to be somewhat of a stereotypical philosophical libertarian theorist trying to approach politics from first principles in a way that doesn’t take into consideration that policy-formulation is rarely that neat. It gets dirty very quickly. This is of course just a first impression of him, I have only seen a couple of his clips so far, but this is the impression I got. The whole “you’re a statist or you’re not, I don’t wanna recognize nuonces”-shtick.

      • I had a Black Studies teacher in high school who absolutely insisted everyone’s either a militant or an uncle tom. She also didn’t believe there was such a thing as a pacifist. Hard class to pass. I really dislike black/white dichotomies. I’m definitely all about the nuances.

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