The question was posted by Mike D in reaction to my article “Atheist Fundamentalism Lives.” Mike writes:
“How can you be a fundamentalist about something that has no doctrines, creeds, or dogmas? That’d be like writing a dissertation about the richness of TV programming on the “off” setting.”
Mike goes on to state that atheists certainly can be fundamentalists about different things (secular humanism, perhaps) but not about atheism per se. Is that true?
Let’s start here: I accept the traditional definition of atheism as the belief that no God exists (or no gods exist). Thus, I’m not interested in those folks who call themselves atheist but only mean that they are merely “without belief in God.” My focus is on those for whom atheism entails at least one belief, the belief that God doesn’t exist or that no gods exist.
Can you be a fundamentalist with respect to that one belief? Well yes, you can.
But let’s back up by starting with a few words on the meaning of fundamentalism. This term was coined in the wake of the publication of The Fundamentals, a collection of twelve pamphlets commissioned by rich oilman Lyman Stewart a century ago as a way to galvanize conservative Christians in North America against the encroachment of liberal Christianity. Consequently, The Fundamentals aimed to provide a restatement of what the authors perceived to be Christian orthodoxy, a return to the central dogmas or fundamentals of Christian faith.
That might be the historic origins of fundamentalism as a concept, but of course concepts change over time and this one is no different. Today the term has been expanded to refer to various religious movements that seek to return a broader religious community to a perceived fidelity to particular beliefs and practices. Even more broadly, the term is defined as follows: “
In my own analysis, I understand fundamentalism to be embodied in two
From this it follows that any atheist who engages in (i) and (ii) as a means to defend and propagate the belief that God doesn’t exist (or that no gods exist) constitutes an atheist fundamentalist.
So do any atheists do that?
What about the sharp binary opposition between the reasonable in-group and the unreasonable out-group? In religious fundamentalism the line is often drawn between those who have been illuminated by God’s Spirit (or some other supernatural agent of revelation) and those who remain in darkness. In atheist fundamentalism we find a very similar binary opposition although here the categories are tweaked to pit “reason” against “faith.” But it is fascinating to see how closely the binary opposition of atheist fundamentalists echo their religious counterparts, even down to the contrast between darkness and the unveiling of a new understanding of the world. Exhibit A in this regard is Loftus himself who, as I have noted, endorses a conversion to atheism which is as baldly conversionist as any revivalist preacher. See my discussion in “Why I Became an Atheist”: A Review (Part 1).”
So yes, even a minimal belief like “God doesn’t exist” or “no gods exist” can be held in a fundamentalist way insofar as it is defended and propagated through (i) anti-intellectualism and (ii) sharp binary oppositions. And thus an atheist can indeed be a fundamentalist qua atheism.