Blog 140: Atheism & Enlightenment

Our Atheism is Inspired by the Enlightenment

David Rand


Our organization, Atheist Freethinkers, has two main goals: defend the rights of atheists and promote secularism. These goals are not independent of each other, because one of the purposes of secularism is to protect everyone’s freedom of conscience, including that of atheists.

Similarly, atheism and secularism are obviously not synonymous with each other. But neither are they independent of each other, because they still share a common objective: autonomy with respect to so-called divine will, whether for personal morality (atheism) or for adopting legislation (secularism).

This vision, this desire to think and act freely, free from the shackles of religious tradition, is inspired by Enlightenment values. The Enlightenment was an intellectual and philosophical movement that spread across Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, a movement against the religious and political oppression of the time and in favour of ideals such as reason, science, tolerance, liberty, progress, universalism, human rights and secularism. Taken collectively, they are sometimes referred to as modernism.

These values are those which the political left normally defends. In fact, the terms “left” and “right” in the political sense derive from the arrangement of seats in the Assemblée nationale constituante (National Constituent Assembly) in 1789, during the French Revolution. Those representatives seated on the left side of the assembly chamber were generally those sympathetic to the revolution, republicanism and secularism, while those on the right remained rather loyal to the monarchy, the clergy and the traditional institutions of the Ancien régime. The left also proposed an end to the privileges associated with those old institutions and a better distribution of the country’s economic resources. In the 19th century, the heirs of this left took a critical stance towards capitalism, proposing at least reforms, or even its replacement.

Today, as we pursue our double mandate, atheism and secularism, our adversaries fall into two main camps. There is of course the traditional religious right, as always, the one that continues to disseminate that old myth, or rather that old lie, of the impossibility of morals without belief in god. That myth we sometimes call atheophobia, a pernicious old prejudice which associates atheism with immorality and amorality. We know this adversary well, because it has been around for millennia, promoting its obscurantist dogma.

But currently we have a second opponent, a new adversary, or at least one that appears new because it dresses itself in unfamiliar clothing. This is the movement known by the nickname “woke” but which should rather be called the anti-Enlightenment pseudo-left because it claims to be on the political left while promoting values ​​incompatible with the left. This movement consists of a toxic soup of dubious ideologies such as cultural relativism, postmodernism, intersectionality, neoracism, post-Marxism, naive decolonialism, an obsession with minority identities, especially religious ones, etc. Some tendencies within this pseudo-left even declare themselves explicitly against the Enlightenment, bizarrely claiming that the Enlightenment was the source of many evils such as racism, colonialism and white supremacism. Others are less explicit but still reject the universalism that is at the heart of Enlightenment ideals.

At the epicentre of this movement is its neoracism, strongly inspired by the history of racism in the United States, a narrative which does not fit well with the history of racism in other countries (such as Canada) to which this ideology has been exported. Thus, neoracists are obsessed with “Whites” and “Blacks.” Claiming to be antiracist, neoracists whip up racism much more than they fight it. They denigrate anything “white,” implying that anything historically European—like the Enlightenment—is suspect.

The “woke” ideology is ferociously antisecular. Because of its neoracism, it racializes—i.e. essentializes—religious affiliation, which is equivalent to throwing freedom of conscience out the window and making each individual a prisoner of his or her religion. Its simplistic decolonialism serves to rationalize a pro-Islam bias. To remove a religious privilege, if the religion in question is Islam, is condemned by the “woke” as discrimination. In Canada, their anti-white obsession allows neoracists to deny the existence of the anti-Quebecois prejudice which is an inescapable element of Anglo-Canadian antisecularism. That is to say, the anti-colonialism of neoracists is selective, as they refuse to recognize that old British colonialism still operates even today against secularism in Quebec.

The origins of “wokism” are mainly American. However, one of its principal components is of French origin. Thus, the American pseudo-left has swallowed and assimilated one of the worst products of French culture, postmodern philosophy, while categorically rejecting one of its most brilliant products, secularism.

These two movements, the classical religious right and the pseudo-left, look very different. The former is obviously conservative, religious and reactionary, and in countries like Canada, the United States and European countries, it is based on Christianity. The latter claims to be progressive and prides itself on defending minorities against those dastardly dominant “white” people.

But behind this facade, the two tendencies resemble each other very much. The pseudo-left behaves like a religion—the term “parareligion” has been suggested—with its dogmatic Manichaeism, its overbearing moralism and its disregard for objectivity inherited from postmodernism. Moreover, it has a very strong Islamolatric tendency, that is to say that, without practising that religion, it treats Islam, as well as its most pious and fundamentalist adherents, with an unhealthy deference. The pseudo-left rejects criticism of Islam and even Islamism using making specious accusations of “Islamophobia.”

Both movements—the right and the pseudo-left, the former hitched to Christianity, the latter to Islam—oppose secularism, advocate fidelity to religious affiliation as a sacred identity, neglect freedom of conscience, promote religious privilege and oppose Quebec’s modest Bill 21.

We, Atheist Freethinkers, are neither left nor right nor centre in the sense of taking sides politically. We do not support any political party. However, our approach to atheism and secularism follows the best tradition of the left, inspired by the ideals of the Enlightenment, that which is universalist, rejecting all forms of racism and obscurantism, which criticizes all religions as did the famous atheist priest Jean Meslier for example, the left which promotes emancipation by moving beyond confining identities which stifle freedom.

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