Brendan O’Neill on “smug atheism”

An interesting recent post in The Telegraph by columnist Brendan O’Neill, entitled: “How atheists became the most colossally smug and annoying people on the planet“.

A brief excerpt:

Today’s atheism-as-identity is really about absolving oneself of the tough task of explaining what one is for, what one loves, what one has faith in, in favour of the far easier and fun pastime of saying what one is against and what one hates. An identity based on a nothing will inevitably be a quite hostile identity, sometimes viciously so, particularly towards opposite identities that are based on a something – in this case on a belief in God. There is a very thin line between being a None and a nihilist; after all, if your whole identity is based on not believing in something, then why give a damn about anything?

8 thoughts on “Brendan O’Neill on “smug atheism”

  1. From the comments section of the original article:

    It feels kind of like the teens who just finished Atlas Shrugged and are convinced that they are the true intellectuals and special and that the rest of the world is looters and parasites.

    What’s also shallow and simplistic is that Dawkins is especially uninformed about the philosophical work of those great minds one could call religious — Hume, Spinoza, Kant.

    The very philosophy that was inspired by religion and belief in God directly led to empiricism and the scientific method, but Dawkins seems purposely ignorant about that.

  2. Based on experiencing Christians, some people choose to be labelled atheist. I think we may forget that atheism (with a little capital) serves as an alternative for people who don’t want to be associated with Christianity and Christians and in some instances other religions.

    There’s often not a developed and defensible intellectual conclusion here, just a “those people are d***s and I don’t want to be associated with them.” Let’s not forget that many Christians’ identities, despite claims to that effect, are not based on Christ, scripture, or their respective theology and that many of those people are in fact pretty smug in their ‘faith’. Well-known and published atheists aside, in the last few years I haven’t met a self-identified atheist whose identity could be said to be rooted in therein.

    I may be taking, in a Derridean sense, to labelling myself atheist or at least Christian sans Christianity.

    • Let’s not forget that many Christians’ identities, despite claims to that effect, are not based on Christ, scripture, or their respective theology and that many of those people are in fact pretty smug in their ‘faith’.

      What evidence do you have to substantiate this assertion? I don’t see it.

    • As always, Tim, I appreciate your points.

      I think the post really speaks about the mindset of someone who tries to base his personality and worldview entirely on the negative: defining oneself by what one opposes and by what one doesn’t believe in. In the author’s view, that kind of attitude (which is characteristic of people like Dawkins) is much poorer than putting the focus on positive beliefs that a person does hold. Build rather than destroy, grow rather than attack others, etc. And I think that his view has a lot of merit.

      On the other hand, I would certainly concur that an identity built entirely around forms of Christianity, rather than the person of Jesus, would be a pretty meaningless existence. And no single group of individuals has a monopoly on smugness.

  3. Another drive-by smear of atheists, I see. You just can’t seem to stand the idea that people want nothing to do with your religious beliefs and will publicly say so. Your response is to vilify them and their characters and then call them ‘vicious’! You really must get an irony meter; it will be tested constantly.

    • Huh?

      In case it wasn’t clear from the title (where I gave the author’s name), I didn’t write this article. It was written by Brendan O’Neill, a columnist at The Telegraph (who happens to be an atheist).

      Hence the link to the original article.

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