As the Protestant Reformation gathered steam, Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, perhaps the leading thinker of the times, found himself in an awkward position. He knew that the Church was deeply flawed and badly in need of reform. Yet at the same time he knew that outright schism would lead to religious violence. He therefore took an irenic position, trying to convince each side to appreciate the points made by the other. For his efforts, he was ferociously attacked by both sides and ran a real risk of being burned at the stake. 

Humans are innately tribal. We have about five million years of evolutionary history living in hunter-gatherer groups of a few dozen immediate relatives, belonging to tribes of a few hundred more distant kin. To this day, the vast majority of people have a deep-seated need to belong to a group of such a size that they know most of the other members.

This is one of the underlying reasons for the existence of organized religion. Religion itself arises from the need to understand the world in social terms (powerful people -- gods -- who can skew the world in one's favor if properly propitiated). But organized religion owes more to the need to belong to a group, which is why it appears only in civilized (city-based) civilizations.

In this regard, atheists are no different from religious believers; they have a compelling need to congregate and revel in their shared identity. This website satisfies that need.

I do not share that need; I am an individual in every sense of the word. When asked about his citizenship, Erasmus replied that he was a citizen of the world. In like fashion, I do not identify with any group; I walk a lonely path. In this I am driven by an intense sense of intellectual integrity: I vehemently reject any kind of groupthink. 

But groupthink is a fundamental component of every tribal group. I had hoped that atheists, having had the courage to resist social pressures towards religious affiliation, would themselves be less inclined to tribal prejudices. In this, I have been proven wrong. By raising difficult issues that I find intellectually challenging, I have antagonized a goodly number of people who give higher priority to group loyalty than to intellectual integrity. Perhaps I was naive to hope that I might find in others the fanatic dedication to intellectual integrity that drives me. But I refuse to abandon hope that somewhere out there are Homo Sapiens who have transcended the Pleistocene hunter-gatherer mentality. I shall therefore continue, Diogenes-like, my search elsewhere.

It would be rude of me to depart without hearing the angry rejoinders I am sure that this post will inspire. I'll read them without reaction; I have no interest in arguing. If, however, a reader presents an honest question -- not some contrived ploy -- I'll endeavor to answer it honestly.

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Chris has been here for just about a month, has posted a discussion on the virtues of religion and now wants to go because he didn't find atheists sympathetic for his views on religion. Chris doesn't seem to belong here. Atheists may not hate religion if there is something good in it but can't find any reason to like it. I suggest that Chris should post a discussion how and why atheism is the need of future.

I have had a sense in the past that religious evangelist have come to A/N deceptively on their traditional quest to "spread the word."  This makes me very uncomfortable.  As the qualifying requirement states that this is not a place to debate religion and that there are many other places and groups where this can be done.  If Chris really is an atheist, I have no problem.  If he is here to convert the heathen, then I definitely have a problem.  I see no wisdom in religion.  I don't see this as a debate about community but a debate of theism vs non-theism.

 Any animal. even if he is clad in Tiger's skin, is recognized for what he is. He is best left alone and disregarded.

Madhukar, are you suggesting that I leave alone and disregard what looks like a tiger?

True, you are writing metaphorically and a tiger is not likely to enter my environment. I occasionally encounter a sociopath, a man (usually) without a conscience. I regard such people highly enough to get away and stay away.

Given that just over one percent of men and about half a percent of women meet the requirements for sociopathy, most of us will meet a few. If such a person enters your environment, will you recognize the danger?

 I have absolutely no objection for Chris being what he is: a believer in religion, but I wholly disapprove of his coming here in the garb of an atheist. If he wants to discuss religion with an atheist, he should openly invite somebody like Richard Dawkins for a debate. He can then get full satisfaction of a truly intellectual debate. His backdoor entry in to AN smacks of cowardice.


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