This article is dedicated to a small Twitter user named Bo Winegard, who tweeted the following on 4/21/2021:
What the New Atheists are starting to realize is that many atheists are more dogmatic, intolerant, and irrational than evangelical Christians. It turns out that eradicating one totalizing ideology often simply leaves space for another.
This sentiment, the idea that atheists are just as dogmatic about this or that as the religious are about their god, has been around for centuries. Although he never actually said this, a popular quote misattributed to G.K. Chesterton goes:
When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.
At first, it was an attack used on atheists. You see, we were told, because we don’t believe in a god, we, therefore, are equally as dogmatic as those who do believe in a god. In 2009, Chris Hedges published a book titled When Atheism Becomes Religion: America’s New Fundamentalists advocating this nonsensical and oxymoronic thesist.
It’s impossible not to notice that these claims are never made by deists or agnostics, but instead by hardcore theists. Chesterton was a famous apologist for Christianity during his lifetime, and Hedges is a well-known Christian who admits that his faith influences his left-wing politics.
On 9/23/2019, Matt Walsh wrote an article for The Daily Wire with the headline “It’s Official: Environmentalism Is A Religious Cult.” His comparisons between the two are rather vague (“Environmentalism, like religion, has a core beliefs,” “environmentalism, like religion, also has moral codes and precepts,” things like that.), however, the fact that it’s Matt Walsh — a well known Catholic fundamentalist blogger — who wrote this is something to behold. And to Matt’s credit, the irony was not lost on him:
As a religious person myself, I certainly do not see anything wrong, per se, with being a member of a religion. But at least Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have the integrity to admit that they are religions. Environmentalism wishes to retain its secular credibility while demanding the sort of devotion that systems of faith require. It cannot have it both ways.
However, I’d take Matt a little more seriously on this topic if his examples were a little more specific. Take his second reason:
Of course, environmentalism, like religion, also has moral codes and precepts. Thou shalt not drive gas-guzzling vehicles. And it focuses especially, like many religions, on dietary restrictions. Thou shalt not eat meat or use plastic straws. Environmentalists, like most religious people, believe strongly in these commandments — yet they seem more interested in preaching them than following them. Not to worry, though, because environmentalism also has a system for confession and repentance, in case you have fallen short in your walk with Gaia. And environmentalism has a system of tithing — to the state, rather than the church. Thus, environmentalism, like religion, can be unfortunately easy for snake oil salesmen to exploit for personal financial gain. The televangelists of environmentalism are just as likely to fly around in private planes as the televangelists of the Christian faith.
The issue at hand is that all of those things are considered perfectly secular in basically every other context they’re used in. Laws, in general, are “moral codes and precepts” and yet nobody would argue there’s some kind of theology behind the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. “Dietary restrictions” that force you to not eat nor drink for a period of time before surgeries or blood tests are not considered “religion.” Nobody argues there’s “dogma” to a plea bargain, yet those are based on confessions. And anything under the sun, no matter how religiously based the thing is or is not, can be considered “easy for snake oil salesmen to exploit for personal financial gain.”
Of course, anything can be made “religious” when you so loosely define “religion” as loosely as Matt has. Maybe Matt is just a fan of Adrian Vermeule, who published an essay on 7/26/2019 with the title “All Human Conflict Is Ultimately Theological.” Of course, Vermeule never actually gives a concrete definition of “theology” at any point in this article, instead, he goes on about political theory which is the same as theology in some way that he can never actually explain.
It should be noted that, even if Vermeule was correct (and I do not believe he is), it would not actually disprove anything about the ideologies he attacks in this article. It’s the same thing with Matt Walsh’s attack on environmentalism, even if Matt Walsh was right on this subject, that does not make environmentalism is wrong. Vermeule — no surprise here — is a fundamentalist Catholic and a hardcore social conservative (as The New Republic once wrote on him “In trying to sketch out a new constitutional order for America, Vermeule accidentally invented Saudi Arabia.”). If Vermeule is correct and all human conflict, no matter who it is between and no matter what is it about, is theological in nature — what does that actually prove?
Okay, Mr. Vermeule, I will grant you that all our disagreements are theological in nature. Can we actually talk about those disagreements now or are you going to keep going on about the underlying causes of those disagreements like you’re Sigmund Freud talking about penis envy?
At the end of the day, it’s the same as the old “atheism is a religion” argument. Even if the definition of “religion” did not exclude atheism, all that would mean is that atheists are on the same level as those they criticize. It doesn’t make atheism wrong, it just redefines what atheism is — and in the process puts it in the same category as those who criticize it. Basically, even if I am dogmatic — so are you.