Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Atheist Fundamentalism: The Urge to Convert

An article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, "Human Matters: Fundamentalism in any form usually spells trouble," complained about fundamentalist atheists.

Unfortunately, the author, Steven Kalas, did not define fundamentalism.

By the way, many atheists protest articles like this merely because the author used the word 'fundamentalist'. They assert, 'Fundamentalist means X, and X is not true of atheism."

However, it is quite open for an author to take a common word and to use it in an uncommon way. We do it all the time. In describing desire utilitarianism, I take a common term - fulfillment - and give it a narrow and specific meaning. Anybody who would protest, 'Fulfillment means X' will simply be told, "I need a term that means Y, and I choose to use the term 'fulfillment' in that role."

There is no intrinsic law-of-nature meaning for any term to have. They have the meanings we assign, and we are free to change meanings at a moment's notice.

Anyway, according to Kalas, fundamentalism is characterized by a need to convert people.

Yet, what is Kales trying to do with this article? He is trying to convert people.

He may not be trying to convert people to his religion. However, when it comes to religions that put a great deal of value on conversion, Kavas is certainly trying to convert people away from those religions.

Even though, in his argument, he promotes diversity of a value, the set of religions he is comfortable with is less diverse than the set of religions that exist - because he is not comfortable with religions that put value on converting others.

Besides, let's say that you are in a nuclear power plant, and somebody is about to push a button that will cause a core meltdown. I am wondering about the degree to which Kalas would label as "fundamentalist" the person who urgently tried to 'convert' the person who is about to press the button into somebody with a different point of view?

I am wondering if Kalas' love of diversity includes the diverse opinion that it is perfectly acceptable to press the button.

The problem is not with trying to convert people. The problem is not even with trying despirately to change somebody else's opinion. The problem is with trying to convince people to believe things that are not true, or despirately trying to convince people to believe things that are not important.

On this latter point, I would hold that some atheists are sometimes guilty. I have criticized them in this blog from time to time. However, my objection is always to the truth or importance of a claim. It is never bad in itself to try to guide somebody to true beliefs. Sometimes, it is essential to our survival.
The problem is not with trying to change another person's beliefs, or convert people into one's view, or even trying despirately to convert

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