11/17/12 Atheism & Humanism as Bourgeois IdeologyThis podcast provides a framework for thinking about the atheist/humanist/skeptics subculture in the Anglo-American sphere (and possibly beyond) which is different from anything else you are going to find on the subject.
I propose a framework in which the intellectual basis of the atheist - humanist - skeptical movement, particularly in the USA, can be seen as a progressive bourgeois ideology that, while marking an historical advance beyond pre-modern, pre-industrial, pre-technological, pre-capitalist, supernaturally based forms of unreason, addresses only one half of the cognitive sources of irrationality of the modern world, and is ill-equipped to grapple with the secular forms of unreason, which can be denoted by the term "ideology". I argue that the Anglo-American intellectual heritage of atheism has never absorbed the indispensable heritage of German philosophy and social theory from Hegel to Marx to 20th century critical theory and thus remains philosophically underdeveloped and ensconced in a naive scientism. I furthermore argue that American atheism / humanism lacks adequate historical perspective due to the historical amnesia induced by the two historical breaks of McCarthyism and Reaganism. To combat historical amnesia I highlight not only relevant intellectual history but the buried history of working class atheism. I also sketch out some relevant philosophical aspects of the history of the American humanist movement beginning with the first Humanist Manifesto of 1933. I then discuss the intellectual consequences of the political repression of the McCarthy era. From there I discuss two prominent influences of the 1960s and 1970s, atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair and humanist Paul Kurtz. I highlight Kurtz's dialogue with the Yugoslav Marxist-Humanist philosophers and his failure to learn from the encounter. Finally, I discuss the intellectual shortcomings of the so-called "new atheism" and today's celebrity atheists in the context of the depressing political perspective of our reactionary neoliberal era. I also don't spare the dissidents within the movement from my accusations of intellectual superficiality. I end on a note of bleak pessimism.
There are some people who are going to appreciate this podcast. There are also some people who think they appreciate this podcast. There is something essential that experience has taught me about commonality: it is elusive, often illusory.
I do not expect the bulk of my readers, even those among the "progressive" liberal-left segment of the atheist/humanist/etc. community, or the hard left, to share my perspective, whether they react sympathetically or not. Note also that while I say little about the "intellectual superficiality" of the "dissidents within the movement" (i.e. the atheist/etc. movement), those familiar with the current political controversies within that milieu may have an idea of what I'm talking about, whether or not they understand where I'm coming from. I am not optimistic.
Still, this podcast is badly needed and perhaps it will have a modest impact.