A Churched Up Atheism


I’m a proponent of ‘plain eating.’ By this I mean I don’t particularly care for fancy foods. I like my meals simple and without frivolous extra flavors. It’s for this reason that my wife and I have a running joke. When we go to a restaurant, I usually let her order while I find a table with our one year old daughter. Almost everywhere we go I say something like, “I want a ham sandwich but make sure they don’t ‘church it up.’ She usually laughs because she knows my culinary proclivities. When I say, ‘church it up,’ I mean that I want it plain and simple. I don’t want some self important chef to stack a fist full of spices and condiments so high that they spew from the compressed layers of the overburdened sandwich. I just want the bread, meat, and cheese. 
I have a theory for why restaurants feel the need to church up a classic favorite. They are insecure. They are concerned that a ham sandwich is no longer relevant in this modern age, so they stack a dump truck load of extras between the sliced bread in hopes that the customer will not realize how out-of-date they are.
After studying secular humanism and comparing it against general atheism, I’m convinced that there is a similar ‘church it up’ mentality at play. Secular Humanism could be called a churched up version of atheism. What I mean is that atheism on its own is quite plain. Whether good or bad, it lacks the trappings of a standard religion, moral system, or code of absolute ethics. It is simply a denial of the basic theistic truth claim. Atheism is like a ham sandwich, where Secular Humanism is a full blown, twelve cheese, wholegrain, salsa-smothered, butter-slathered, twenty two meat panini. 
The question in my mind as I consider these things is, “does it make a difference?” Secular Humanism is built on the presupposition of Atheism. It’s often presented as a step beyond simple atheistic ideas. If I decided that a basic ham sandwich is no good, it wouldn’t matter if it were churched up, I would still be no good. Building on a bad idea doesn’t suddenly make it brilliant. In the same way, all of the extras that Secular Humanism adds to atheism are irrelevant if atheism proves to be wrong. A churched up atheism is useless if atheism is not truthful. 
Many have claimed that Secular Humanism is a sophisticated name for atheism. Although it does seem true that Secular Humanists desire to distinguish themselves from the philosophical propaganda of neo-atheism, it should be recognized by the discerning reader, that these ideologies are built upon the same sand. To be a professing secular humanist one must embrace at the least a “negative atheism”⁠1 as Antony Flew coined in the late 1970s, or “soft atheism” as it is more popularly called. It could be said that not all atheists are secular humanists, but all secular humanists are atheists.  For, atheism is the presupposition upon which Secular Humanism builds.


1 Flew, Antony. The presumption of atheism, and other philosophical essays on God, freedom and immortality. London: Elek/Pemberton. (1976): 14.

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