I was very young (early teens) when I started referring to myself as an atheist. Like many things that have changed over my brief life, it wasn’t something said as easily as today; many people judged you for it. Interestingly, at the time I had a very “new atheist” perspective; for me all religion was stupid, reason was infallible, and as Marx famously told us, “religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” That about summed up my perspective at the time.
I was mean about it too, it came about on more than one occasion that I flat out called someone an idiot for being a believer. Thankfully, in my ignorant and assinine adolescent thinking, I only hurt the people that were more than willing to forgive my insolence. Sadly, I seemed to have been ahead of my time.
Men like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens (whom I still have a soft spot for) more or less propose similar ideas. There is no doubt that there is a hint of racism in their comments which are always more harsh against Muslims. Nonetheless, they advocate for a “rational” world and treat religion as always problematic. These ideas have become popular. Its no wonder then that we’ve seen a crackdown on religion playout throughout the western world, including in Quebec with Bill 21. The idea that we don’t want our children exposed to the irrational is sensible only if one believes that there exists infallible rationality. On the face of it I find it absurd that anyone of intellect (which the men I’ve mentioned certainly are) could actually believe in the infallibility of reason; at some point, we always start with a premise based on belief. Often such people use arguments in relation to science, and here there is no argument from me, but the belief in God, or a set of moral principles that guide a community, is not the realm of science (and I would appreciate it if scientists would shut the fuck about it).
Religion used to be the realm of orthodoxy and intolerance. Well, even then I am incorrect. Your average religious person was never anti-gay or misogynistic or even opposed to human sexuality in general. But, we can admit that for a long time the lunatics had taken over as spokespeople for their tribe. We see the same today in Islam; Islam is not Wahhabism (an abhorrent “faith” pushed by and funded by the United States and Saudi Arabia). But today it seems that those of faith are much more tolerable to others and differences and then those who call themselves atheists (something I often refuse to call myself now so as to avoid any connection with the infidels).
The beauty of secularism was that it was tolerant; it could accept a plurality of people and belief systems. This new brand secularism is as orthodox and stringent as religion used to be (at least in how it had been represented).
My own belief system has changed as well. While I still have trouble believing in a God, I determined at least a decade ago that my longing for things that may not exist were very much real. And that desire, a sort of human frailty and vulnerability, was the backbone of all genuine communities. As we became dismissive of it, we lost those communities. For me the essence of humanity is that very longing and how we need each other to make true what isn’t and sadly can’t be. I always like to imagine Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam in the reverse; where Adam desperately tries in vain to touch God, and God remains just out of reach. Such is the human condition.