The Narcissism Of Small Differences: Freud's Accidental Diagnosis Of The Problem With Atheism Today

In the general public, there is an expectation when discussing the infighting amongst atheists, that there will never be a concrete movement away from God due to lack of cohesion. That because of atheists' insistence on individualism and no clear rank and file, atheism in itself, is a flawed logic doomed to go out of style.

Obviously, the only flawed logic being applied is the assumption that atheism needs a concise rank and file, that it is necessary to form some type of dogmatic guideline in order to succeed. For the gazillionth time, the general public is trying to automatically tie some type of philosophy into atheism, and unfortunately, leaders in atheism are doing so too.

This is the very large error that is the detriment to the atheism movement. Individualism is necessary to being an atheist because the only requirement to be an atheist is a non belief in deities. Everything else that one decides to do as a result of not believing in gods has nothing to do with being an atheist. It has to do with that individual's personal lifestyle choices.

But, the New Atheism and Atheism+ movements seek to tag on guidelines for being a proper atheist. And if you do not conform, you are ridiculed, ignored, or sometimes shunned. This type of behavior is very much puzzling to atheists around the globe, wondering why a difference of opinion on whether religion should be stamped out or permitted would preclude one from one form of atheism versus another. There is only one form of atheism!

The answer to that question was provided by Freud over a century ago. "A narcissism of small differences." This is what plagues the atheists of today.

Freud had coined this phrase after studying some earlier works of a British anthropologist by the name of Crawley. Freud recognized that there was a desire "to achieve a superficial sense of one's own uniqueness, an ersatz sense of otherness which is only a mask for an underlying uniformity and sameness'.

The term appeared in one of his later books entitled Civilization and its Discontents, where it demonstrated the relation to the use of the inborn aggression in man to ethnic conflicts. It should be said that this is a process still considered by Freud, at that point, as 'a convenient and relatively harmless satisfaction of the inclination to aggression'.

One would have to ask how harmless this satisfaction is in today's age, where seemingly small differences are tantamount to the rise and fall of a politician's career. Where a conflicting viewpoint entitles an individual to obscene amounts of negative backlash that remains available for public viewing until the internet evolves, yet again, into a different form of communication. Unlike the world of Freud's Victorian atmosphere, we live in an age where all we have are small issues to argue over. Globally, priorities are very much aligned on the same page now, leaving us with smaller conflicts to pick at in order to keep pursuing the ever desired individualism our ego craves.

For those unfamiliar with narcissism, here is a very bare bones definition:

noun: narcissism
  1. excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one's physical appearance.
    synonyms: vanity, self-love, self-admiration, self-absorption, self-obsession, conceit, self-centeredness, self-regard, egotism, egoism More
    "his emotional development was hindered by his mother's narcissism"
    antonyms: modesty
    • Psychology
      extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one's own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.
    • Psychoanalysis
      self-centeredness arising from failure to distinguish the self from external objects, either in very young babies or as a feature of mental disorder.
(Via Google Dictionary)
As a larger analysis, atheism is not inherently narcissistic. It is just a lack of belief. Period. The narcissism comes into play when those who classify as atheist then start applying philosophical and social practices to their identifier to further exemplify their statuses from others.
For some, to be atheist means to be materialist. For others, to be atheist means to be humanist. And even further than that, there are those who treat atheism as meaning to be anti religious. One atheist's crusade to stamp out religion would appear as inhumane to another. An atheist's embrace of evolution can appear as pseudo science to another.
These differences are perfectly acceptable. It is the overriding avarice to be standing out above the rest, and to attain notable recognition for that feat, that a trickier cliff of solidarity is being climbed, and one easily falls into alienation with a single misstep. Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and even Dennet, have made the cliff the size of Mount Everest for those of us out there who do not want to reach the apex of such a precipice, but instead maintain a healthy respect for all aspects of secular living in the world while still showing our support.
Are we less atheists because we do not agree 100% with their philosophical or social causes? Of course not. To suggest otherwise diminishes their missions, but somehow, they do no seem to recognize this. Much like the religious, if you do not agree, they seek to convert your views to match their own, or relegate your significance to the larger spectrum of the atheism movement to nil.
Hitchens was frequently known for his abrasive attitude towards atheists who didn't support Israel, and his vitriol to anyone who supported the right to abort. He frequently interchanged humanism, secularism, and atheism, as being identical concepts, and this did the atheist community no favors when trying to garner further understanding in the global community.
There is a sense of moral absolutism brewing in the atheist community. Do we really need to divide our classification of lack of belief into further genus? Feminist atheists, humanist atheists, secular atheists, material atheists, etc.
What do these divisions accomplish? Atheists around the world have seen how divisive the genus of theists are. Shiites vs Sunnis. Catholics vs. Baptists. It goes on and on.
Can we not rise above such things? Be unified in our lack of belief, and quit giving the general public ammunition to tear us down by not allowing our representatives of atheism to conflate atheism with philosophical and moral absolutes. This is the key to help speed along the acceptance of atheism in more communities.
By allowing for such small differences to greatly divide us, our accidentally nominated spokesmen are making us appear as haphazard and disjointed as the very theistic cultures we set out to be apart from.
When will they do the right thing and cease applying extended humanities to a mere classification?

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Comment by Idaho Spud on August 15, 2014 at 12:37pm

Jacques, I like your prayer tests also.  I was so well indoctrinated into mormonism, at such a young age, that it took me 55 years of testing to finally totally know it was BS.

Comment by Luara on August 15, 2014 at 12:29pm

 I prayed to each one for snow days, a particular Christmas present

That's funny.  So you put it to experimental test.  I stared at the mountains and tried to wish them away, with faith "as a mustard seed".  So I tested it too :) 

That religious idea probably came from outside my family, because my parents did almost nothing religious.  We went to church for Easter when my grandmother was there, to satisfy her.

Atheism can simply mean a lack of belief in a god, but then it is truly a useless thing to discuss.

Except that atheists like to point to the large number of people who say they have no religion, to claim there are a lot of atheists.  Most of those people don't identify themselves as atheists.  The self-identified atheists are a different demographic. 

Comment by jacques lauperr on August 15, 2014 at 12:07pm

I was also raised in a non-religious family.  My mom brought me to Buddhist temples and catholic churches.  She never told me there was no god, but simply introduced me to the wide varieties of faiths in the world.  Simply being aware that religion exists forced me to consider the veracity of their claims.  This is anecdotal but in my case I had a big book of gods with description of the various faiths and deities.  I prayed to each one for snow days, a particular Christmas present ect ect.  I even prayed to Zeus for some confirmation of his existence.  Even Satan received some prayers from me.  Eventually I just decided that this religion thing was a load of nonsense and did not think about it for years afterwards until I became aware of how involved religion was in deciding what happened in the world.

Also the why for believing is most often simply being told that that is reality.  It becomes part of one's reality.  So there is a why, but it is a causal why as opposed to: I thought this out and this is the most reasonable description of reality.  

Anyway I guess Atheism can simply mean a lack of belief in a god, but then it is truly a useless thing to discuss.  We only discuss Atheism because our lack of belief makes us minorities everywhere in the world.  While rationalism doeas not apply to all Atheists, I am comfortable enough with the chances that it represents the vast majority to suggest that if Atheists want to stop being the minority or at least have more say in the public sphere that it is rationalism that should be our unifying concept.  This leaves lots of room for Atheists to disagree while still bringing us together in a way that can effect change.  

Comment by Bertold Brautigan on August 15, 2014 at 11:36am

>One needs a "why" for believing, not for not believing. 

This is so true, and yet the idiots try to claim that not believing is a form of "faith." I don't get it!

I do believe that we (or at least I) need to be a bit careful about proselytizing our lack of belief. We can't resent their doing it and then do it ourselves. This is the reason in principle that I only very rarely discuss beliefs with someone who disagrees, unless they welcome the discussion. The practical reason is that in 99% of cases it's totally futile anyway and a waste of breath.

Comment by Luara on August 15, 2014 at 10:42am

Complete isolation from the world would be one way for not needing reason to explain being an atheist

Or simply not being raised religious.  I wasn't raised religious, and believing in a religion - believing in a very arbitrary-looking dogma - actually seems bizarre to me. 

I do think about things, and question everything.  I know how little is certain and that you can't validly jump to grand conclusions - like theism - based on low-quality evidence. 

Comment by Luara on August 15, 2014 at 10:35am

it would be quite difficult to not have in one way or another reasoned out why one does not believe.

One needs a "why" for believing, not for not believing. 

Comment by jacques lauperr on August 14, 2014 at 1:06pm

I am not entirely convinced that belief is a choice, otherwise it would not be a belief.  To not believe in a deity in a world in which the vast majority are indoctrinated from birth to believe or are surrounded by people professing faith to various gods must happen for a reason or at least a set of reasons.  Complete isolation from the world would be one way for not needing reason to explain being an atheist, but even this is problematic.  I do not believe in unicorns, but I never feel the need to express this.  With gods it is another matter.  Atheism seems to be an active disbelief, as in one is made aware of their lack of faith quite often in this religious world we live in.  As such it would be quite difficult to not have in one way or another reasoned out why one does not believe.  Not wanting to be part of a club doesn't appear to have any causal relevance to a lack of belief, it would lead to a lack of participating in institutionalized rituals.  I am not trying to say that everyone who does not believe in god in an enlightened person or a purely rational thinker, but in some fashion they must value reason of faith, otherwise they would simply believe.  

Comment by Bluegrass Skeptic on August 14, 2014 at 11:21am

You are generalizing atheists by saying atheists are rational thinkers. Not true. SOME are, but certainly not all. Case in point....some do not believe in God not because of evidence, they just don't want to belong to the club. The correct statement would be the majority of atheists are rational thinkers. Atheism is simply a classification. A label of non belief. Not what the process to non belief was, just non belief. You are an atheist that uses rationalism. Atheism does not automatically mean rationalism. That is conflating. My initial reason for not believing in a God was because I felt rejected. Later, I embraced scientific understanding and applied it to my thinking.

Comment by Bluegrass Skeptic on August 14, 2014 at 8:36am

Bingo, Luara!

Comment by Luara on August 14, 2014 at 8:03am

"accepting anything without sufficient evident is implicit in our non-belief."

It is not. By making it implicit, you alienate other atheists because sufficient evidence, in itself, is a debatable subject.

Also, there might be positions that follow from nonbelief in a coherent philosophy - yet some nonbelievers simply haven't rearranged their psychology to be consistent yet.  They still are atheists.  I see consensual crimes, punitive justice as some of those positions.  Also as was mentioned, laws and social attitudes on abortion and variant sexuality. 

We can talk about what follows from nonbelief without telling others they aren't "real atheists" or putting them down. 



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