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Atheist clubs are springing up in American high schools, warns head of US Catholic bishops

Damian Thompson
Posted: October 8, 2009.

Print: The Telegraph

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By Damian Thompson
October 7th, 2009

A “triumphalistic, self-righteous atheism” inspired by the work of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris is winning a following among American young people, leading to “atheist clubs” in high schools, according to Cardinal Francis George of Chicago.

The cardinal, who is President of the US Catholic Bishops’ Conference, says that unbelief among young people is more than a question of stopping going to church: it is part of a fashionable “new atheism” which is every bit as intolerant as Christian fundamentalism. He told John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter:

“In Chicago, we now have atheist clubs in high schools. We didn’t have those five years ago. Kids I would have confirmed in the eighth grade, by the time they’re sophomores in high school say they’re atheists. They don’t just stop going to church, they make a statement. I think that’s new. That’s perhaps a bit more like Europe.”

The Cardinal agreed with Allen’s suggestion that that the atheism of Dawkins and Harris was “highly evangelical”:

“Yes it is, sure. Everybody has said that, and it’s true. It’s the mirror image of a kind of fundamentalism, because it’s very restrictive in its use of reason. It’s also very triumphalistic and self-righteous.”

The Cardinal’s comments will be hard to dismiss as scaremongering. YouTube is crawling with videos by articulate, friendly American teenagers and university students proclaiming their uncompromising atheism; indeed, atheism is one of the fastest-growing movements in the 18-25 age group, casting doubt on old assumptions that the religious impulse is somehow hard-wired into the American psyche.

Yet, as Cardinal George says, there is something strongly akin to religious fundamentalism in the evangelical commitment it arouses in its adherents. He, and the whole of the American Church, must be praying that the certainty of unbelief wears off as the “new atheists” have children and face the prospect of mortality. But, as statistics from Europe indicate, this not a foregone conclusion: atheism, like any other belief system, can be passed from one generation to the next.

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Comments (27)

“Fundamentalist”
“Triumphalistic”
“Self-Righteous”

See! you atheists are just like us! Amusing…if not incredibly sad.

I’m glad to see there are more young people who are not cowtowing to the religious majority. I remember in school there was an enormous amount of peer pressure to be christian. I really do hope this is changing and people can be what they are without so much fear of reprisal.

posted on October 8, 2009
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“atheism, like any other belief system, can be passed from one generation to the next.”

should better be:

atheism, like a belief system, can be passed from one generation to the next.

And how is this “new atheism” self-righteous? And how is it intolerant? Sorry cardinal George, but I can´t follow you here. Don´t just say things if you don´t deliver an explanation for it as well.

Statement without explanation -> ignore and foreget!

posted on October 8, 2009
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It was only a matter of time for atheist groups to start forming at schools. What did the churches expect? They go after children in a captured audience setting of a public school and this is what happens. It sounds like the students are no longer on the defensive and are affirming their rights as thinking human beings.

Now the churches need to answer to the most honest and fearless of us all, the youth.

posted on October 8, 2009
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The Cardinal confuses reasonable student enthusiasm with standard Catholic religious arrogance.  By definition, there is no such thing as atheist dogma or fundamentalism.  It is the tenacity of questioning that provides atheism with its vigor - and the spurning of questioning that renders Catholicism hollow. 

Of course students will be enthused when they experience liberation from unjustifiable dogmatic nonsense, and the excitement exploring the real world.  It is much more interesting and satisfying than reviewing the history and development of supernatural fairy tales.

posted on October 8, 2009
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Projection is a well known phenomenon in psychological circles and I’m afraid the Cardinal is exhibiting it in abundance, to label atheism as “self righteous” considering the source is simply beyond hypocrisy, I won’t even touch “triumphalism”, a visit to the “Vatican City” and one can see all the triumphalism ever conceived.
The cardinal and his subordinates/superiors fear rational inquiry and rejection of what are obviously preposterous superstitious myths, a 2nd enlightenment of sorts.

posted on October 8, 2009
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”...hard to dismiss as scaremongering.”  It is without doubt to energize (frighten) the sheep, as excess fear is the cornerstone of religion.  But to me it’s hope-mongering!

posted on October 8, 2009
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“s every bit as intolerant as Christian fundamentalism.” Yes, Cardinal George, your church has set such a shining example of tolerance with respect to gay marriage and the 2008 election.

posted on October 8, 2009
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”...atheism, like any other belief system, can be passed from one generation to the next.”—That is the hope…

posted on October 8, 2009
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This makes me want to call my local high schools, see if they have one of these atheist groups and, if yes, make a donation to them or buy them freethinker books or something.

posted on October 9, 2009
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10. John Wilkinson

How nice. I can’t help but fantasize about Dennett’s tipping point idea that maybe we could have the museum of Roman Catholicism in a generation.

posted on October 9, 2009
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11. Kenneth Dolan

I guess you can’t stay on top of the fear-and-guilt racket unless you nip any competition or scrutiny in the bud.

posted on October 9, 2009
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This is music, oh such wonderful music to my ears. When I first read Sam’s book, I wondered how and by what means could this earth be liberated from the curses of religion.  This is certainly a wonderful beginning.  Just to let you know where I’m coming from, a former Mormon, deactivated and sliding along until I read TEOF and realized that it was not enough to just slip through life. It is important to know the what and why.  Now I walk with out the load of ‘god’ on my shoulders.  I am not an atheist because what is there to be against?  As Mr. Harris proclaims, the evidence for god is not compelling.  Religion continues to exist because parents lie to their children.  You all know the saying: TTWSYF!
The young still have time, take advantage of it.  At 74 I’m nearer the end, but still have hope. Fight ignorance and mis-information, nourish humanity.
Good luck earthlings.

posted on October 9, 2009
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You know, I’ve read some of Harris’s and Dawkins books… and they’ are no more successful “proving” that God doesn’t exist than all the religions are in proving that he does.  The bottom line for me… why do we need religious or aetheist clubs at all, when neither side can be proved?  In the long run, what does it really matter, if we can’t do anything about it and the belief or non belief apparently has no effect on how this God does or doesn’t affect our lives?

posted on October 9, 2009
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‘atheism, like any other belief system, can be passed from one generation to the next.’

The rejection of absurdity isn’t a belief system. It’s rationality.

posted on October 9, 2009
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will I dont see how you could say that if you actually read those books. Dawkins provides a great deal of evidence that suggests there is no god. While he ultimately doesn’t prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt, he gets miles further than any religion does in proving that god exists. Also, the burden of proof isn’t on the rational person. The burden of proof lies with those who are making claims. We simply reject those claims because there is no evidence. If you actually read The End of Faith, clearly you would understand why it matters who is right in the long run. That’s basically the theme of the book.

posted on October 9, 2009
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I don’t like the idea of atheists clubs in high schools. I know I’ll likely be criticized on here for saying so, but wouldn’t high-schoolers be better off in sports, theater, working, or volunteering? Maybe this an indictment of the type of person I was when I was in my teens, but I enjoyed not thinking too much about divisive issues like politics, economics, religion.

posted on October 9, 2009
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No offense to Dawkins or Harris, but I believe that atheism is more popular with young people because of Family Guy and The Daily Show rather than the literary works of the so-called “new atheists”.

posted on October 9, 2009
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In my opinion, as someone who was raised Christian, became an atheist in my teens, but then became a “born-again” Christian at 24, I really wish would have had other atheists to connect with in my teens.  I don’t think I would have had the susceptibility to being “born-again” if that had been the case.  It took me 12 years to get my free thinking back after being “born-again”.

posted on October 10, 2009
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lagwagon7, apathy is the attitude of many high schoolers and that is a big problem in the US. Not nearly enough kids are getting interested in literature or science or arts. We are growing up being defined by what we wear and drive and falling behind the rest of the developed world in education.

The potential of these clubs is not about religion or politics necessarily as I see it, but about having an unwarped view of reality, and I would say also that it is important to the idea of freedom of expression. But once one sheds a mindset of irrationality and dogma and its influence on behavior, one can see the world as it is and begin to act as a part of it. Providence, dominion and authority have prevailed for long enough. It’s high time for rationality and reason.

posted on October 10, 2009
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Finally!!!!
It’s good to see that not all the new generation will be lost to stupidity.
Stupidity is the incapacity to see things from another point of view, even when proven wrong.
Religious points have been proven wrong all through history but tradition and fear are powerful deterrents.
The feeble-minded will always be prone and willing to follow a colorful hat and the incomprehensible fairy tale coming from underneath it. That unfortunately will not change in significant numbers any time soon but these atheist groups are a great beginning.
E.C.

posted on October 10, 2009
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21. Kyle Waggener

Why would one think that it’s ok for Christians to evangelize but not atheists?  If it’s ok for one side, it’s ok for the other.  Also, I’ve read the “new atheists” and have attended fundamentalist Christian churches for over 15 years.  There is no comparison.  The atheists aren’t even close to having the venom and hatred that comes from the religious side.  We don’t see atheists trying to have “One Nation Without God” put on our currency.  The atheists don’t lie to advance their cause nor do they threaten someone with eternal damnation or outcast them from their family just because they disagree.  David Mills, author of “Atheist Universe” even said that he would take his daughter to church if that’s what she wanted.  Can you imaging Pat Robertson taking his kid to a freethinkers club?

posted on October 12, 2009
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Cardinal: “It’s the mirror image of a kind of fundamentalism, because it’s very restrictive in its use of reason. It’s also very triumphalistic and self-righteous.”

Is he worried about copyright infringement?

posted on October 13, 2009
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Cardinal: “It’s the mirror image of a kind of fundamentalism, because it’s very restrictive in its use of reason. It’s also very triumphalistic and self-righteous.”

As Sam has so eloquently pointed out, there are only 3 ways to defend Sky Daddy:

1. My particular religion is the only correct one ( this ‘argument’ is advanced by fundie nutbags.)

2. Religion may not be (all) true but it is beneficial.  So squeal the moderates (and quite a few atheists.)

or, 3. Atheism is just another religion and therefore it has not right to criticize the others. This vacuous piffle you will usually hear from fuckwits with a funny hat who do not work for a living.

Really, that is all they’ve got.

PS. ‘triumphalistic’ is not a word.
But, then again, these people just love to make shit up.

posted on October 13, 2009
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i think the kids have finally woken up and thought even if there is a God he is a lazy shit bag who does nothing but complain about how he cannot forgive Eve for eating the apple after he told her not to. What kind of a Father can’t forgive his own daughter? And all the suffering in the world apparently is a result of this! Kids aren’t stupid. They know its a hoax and Sam and Richard have shown them its okay to not believe it.

posted on October 15, 2009
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I’m tired of Catholics wiggling out of being tied to the barbarism called Holy Scripture.  Vatican Council II produced a document on Catholic understanding of the Bible, and John Paul II wrote about it too.  Does anyone have a reference handy? 
Catholic intellectual bloggers shouldn’t be allowed to squirem away from the Bible and still be recognized as Catholics.

posted on October 16, 2009
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I have difficulty understanding why atheists would form or join clubs about atheism. Atheism is not a belief, it is a consequence of rational thinking.  Except for clear thinking, what exactly would atheists necessarily have in common?  Nothing, I would have thought.

Moreover, almost all the atheists I know are independent minded, the very antithesis of the club-joining or forming sort. I must be missing something.

posted on October 17, 2009
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27. Kyle Waggener

There are many freethinking and rationalist clubs all over the country.  People just like the company of like-thinking people.  High School students especially need the support of peers that an atheist club could give.  Also, they can share evidence, reasons and resources for atheism.  I’m sure that they need to defend their decision to be atheists to many people.  Also, they probably have to constantly fight off oppression from theist groups.  It really helps to have the support of an organized group behind you then.

posted on October 18, 2009
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