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Wednesday 28 June 2017

Thank God for the Atheists?

Posted in: Features
By Craig Young - 3rd September 2007

An atheist poster
Positive atheism is primarily about removing the tyrannical effects of unquestioned religious philosophy from culture and public policy, insofar as it cultivates the oppression of vulnerable social groups.

Okay, that's positive atheism, notice. It's positive because it is an affirmation of human existential freedom, social responsibility and protection of democratic political institutions and freedom of expression. Of course, there's also negative atheism, configured as freedom from religion, except that this betrays the emancipatory principles of positive atheism through imposing itself as replacement state dogma. Except it isn't. Look at all the campy ceremonies, rituals and leftover kitsch from the era of Stalin, Mao and Kim Il Sung. Without a deity, marxist-leninist 'atheism' had to substitute cults of personality.

Nor was it particularly kind to individual freedom or more libertarian brands of socialism. It took until the rise of sixties New Left feminism and lesbian/gay liberation to get abortion and homosexuality easily accessible/decriminalised, although some of the nicer Leninists (the Socialist Action League, for example) gladly turned up to support abortion rights and homosexual law reform back in the seventies and eighties. So did some of the nicer Libertarians that I know, for that matter.

Anyway, LGBT humanist, secularist and atheist groups popped up in the seventies, and have been a fixture in Britain, Canada, the United States and Western Europe ever since. Their rationale is that if organised fundamentalist religion is the primary barrier to LGBT rights, then weakening the malignant and authoritarian hold and aspirations of that faith will benefit us. So, what about New Zealand?

The Humanist Society of New Zealand did support decriminalisation of homosexuality back in the eighties, but the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists is a nice elderly bunch of tea imbibers, who celebrated their commitment to abortion reform in the seventies, but haven't really done all that much since then.

However, there's the inimitable Paul Litterick, hipster postmodern atheist flaneur and extirpator of fundamentalist plagiarists, who was responsible for Bruce Logan's 'retirement' from the Maxim Institute after questions were raised about the originality of the latter's work. He harbours dreams of establishing a network of loose atheist, secularist and humanist malcontents dedicated to giving religious fundamentalists of all stripes a hard time.

Faith-state separation and religious and philosophical freedom are good things- and they're vital elements of LGBT liberation and social reform. It's good to see the current atheist generation is living up to the stroppy reputation of their celebrated nineteenth century reformist and radical forebears.

"I'm an atheist, and that's it. I believe there's nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for other people." - Katharine Hepburn, 1991.

Strongly recommended:

Fundy Post

Craig Young - 3rd September 2007

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