In 2007, I was slated to interview Ayaan Hirsi Ali at an atheist convention. We were staying in the same hotel and being cared for by a security detail due to theistic threats on our safety. There was a very real and specific threat to her life that weekend, and as a result, I was told she didn’t have the time for the interview. However, my team and I suspected that the real reason was that taking an extra risk wasn’t worth the benefit, given the immediate and significant threat. This is the life of prominent atheist activists, and her experiences may have led her to seek relief from that fear. Many of us have great admiration for Ayaan speaking out against the dangers of Islam over the last 15+ years and may deal with some frustration when hearing that she just wrote an essay entitled “Why I am now a Christian.”
Her essay pivots on several points that require a critical examination, particularly from an atheist and secular perspective. Her rationale for becoming a Christian lacks a concrete, tenable reason for god belief, relying instead on “tradition” and perceived civilizational threats.
Firstly, Ali’s subtitle claiming that atheism can’t equip us for civilizational war is based on a false premise. Atheism doesn’t do anything, of course, it can’t equip us. Atheism, at its core, is simply a lack of belief in gods. It’s not a tool, strategy, or ideology. However, secular humanism, often a result of abandoning archaic theistic myths, is a philosophy that values critical thinking, scientific understanding, ethical reasoning, and evidence-based knowledge. It can indeed play a crucial role in steering us away from conflict. If we shift our focus from arming ourselves for hypothetical wars to embracing the principles of secular humanism, we’d find ourselves discussing how to build a better, more rational, and peaceful world, rather than obsessing over potential conflicts fueled by divisive ideologies.
Ali’s assertion that embracing Christianity is a response to global threats like authoritarianism and Islamism reflects a desire to seek solutions, but this solution rests on shaky logical footing. There were probably similar arguments pre-Scientific Revolution regarding the wide embrace of flat Earth theory and geocentrism. History is replete with examples of religions, including Christianity, being used to justify authoritarian regimes and violent conflicts. One must wonder: why hasn’t Christianity been a response to various global threats? Maybe it’s due to a deep-seated notion that while we say we believe these things, we know that these beliefs rest on a foundation of quicksand, easily demolished under the microscope of reason. Which is why beliefs in the modern age should rest on a scientific, logical, and provable foundation.
Ali cites tradition as a justification for belief. An appeal to tradition is a logical fallacy, and you can see how it’s not useful when contemplating the lives of Ancient Egyptians focused on Osiris, the god of the dead, and recognizing that you don’t hold this belief to be true simply because traditionally it was part of a culture. Similarly, the Norse gods, central to Scandinavian culture for centuries, have all but vanished from sincere religious belief. These examples illustrate that the longevity and tradition of a belief system do not equate to its truthfulness. Simply put, tradition doesn’t make a belief true.
Ali’s claim that “freedom of conscience and speech” stems from “centuries of debate within Jewish and Christian communities” lacks historical evidence. Many cultures and religious traditions, including those outside the Judeo-Christian sphere, have grappled with these concepts. It’s a disservice to attribute these universal human values solely to a specific religious tradition.
Ali notes that atheism didn’t provide her with the “meaning and purpose of life.” Human understanding, shaped by scientific inquiry and philosophical thought, has yet to converge on a definitive answer to any universal meaning of life. The lack of consensus extends to religious beliefs, which, founded on unverifiable premises, cannot claim to offer a reliable answer to the question of life’s purpose. We see this in the actions of religious people. The world is full of religious fundamentalists that breed intolerance, hostility, and are at the center of the wars that Ali wants to avoid. The only universal constant about life, from a biological perspective, might be procreation, a fundamental drive for the continuation of life. However, many would like to believe that the human experience transcends mere biology.
As an individual and an atheist activist, I have crafted my own meaning of life, which is a liberty that atheism affords. My personal philosophy centers on embracing knowledge and reason, treating others as I would like to be treated, rejecting ignorance and superstition, maintaining an open mind, continually seeking new knowledge, and striving to make a positive impact on society. Ali was always free to find her own meaning as an atheist, and if she needed an atheist to dictate meaning to her, she can borrow mine.
The idea that we need to “fight woke ideology” to save civilization is not just misguided, it’s rooted in a regressive, often religiously fueled mindset that resists progress. Labeling societal advancements as ‘woke ideology’ – whether it’s the fight for racial equality, gender rights, or simply acknowledging and addressing historical injustices – is to misunderstand the very fabric of a progressive, enlightened society. These are not threats; they are evolutions towards a more equitable world. While Islam attempted to suppress the perspectives and physical visibility of women like Ali, it was the very essence of “woke ideology” – a commitment to diversity, equality, and inclusivity – that propelled the advancement of accepting and valuing voices like hers. Ironically, there’s an intersection in attempting to thwart societal progress (woke) and religious groups, clinging to dogmas incompatible with modern, inclusive values. Instead of fighting these so-called ‘woke’ ideas, we should be embracing and building upon them to create a society that is fairer and more just for all.
In conclusion, Ali’s conversion, while a personal choice, was not an intellectually rigorous endorsement of Christianity. There was no defensible argument for the existence of God, an “appeal to tradition” fallacy, and a bunch of arguments about using religion as a tool of which we can see in society it has failed to be successful at. For those committed to rationality and evidence-based beliefs, this serves as a cautionary tale of how even unfounded beliefs can hold sway under the guise of tradition and existential fear.
My approach, rooted in reason and personal reflection, offers a meaningful and rational way to navigate life, devoid of the need for religious belief. And I can’t see how we as a society benefit by attempting to promote solutions to any problem that a 12-year-old can easily demolish in a debate.
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