Atheists are Copy-Cats!

November 5th, 2011   by   Andrew

Chapter 18 of the series Myths and Dragons

What’s up with atheists mimicking the religious groups they usually love to criticize?

A. C. Grayling has published “The Good Book: A Humanist Bible“. It’s an impressive tome of over 600 two-columned pages. Separate books with names like Genesis, Parables, Acts and The Epistles each have chapters and numbered verses.  Grayling has borrowed from many sources from around the world, some older and some younger than those found in Hebrew and Christian Bibles.

The author makes no claim that his work is authoritative in any way. In one interview, Grayling suggests the book is a “gentle teasing” rather than a defiant strike against religion. And some of that gentle teasing seems to be pointed at himself as much as anyone else that might take their beliefs too seriously:

“How can you be a militant atheist? It’s like sleeping furiously.”


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James Dunbar has put together Bang! The Universe Book, and It’s Alive! These  graphic novels convey the origins of the universe and life through accessible stories and illustrations.

It’s quite the challenge to combine scientific explanations with rhyming couplets, but Dunbar has made something really fun and remarkable. And his characters look oddly familiar. Who would you say they look like?

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In an earlier post, I looked at P.Z. Meyers’ creed for atheists. I don’t seriously think many non-believers would religiously adopt and recite Meyers’ creed. However, if someone were to live by it, I think I’d have a pretty good idea about what they were like and how they would behave.

Mimicry seems to play a big part in in the make-up of human nature. What’s really intriguing though is why we copy so much around us. Psychologists have put together some interesting studies in order to understand things like social rejection and acceptance. Some studies suggest the more someone feels rejected, the more they might actually copy (unconsciously) other people.  (Follow this link for a summary, or this link for the original research article from Lakin, Chartrand and Arkin, or this link about the Chameleon Effect as Social Glue.)

There is also some evidence to suggest that (unconsciously) copying someone else with behaviour, posture and language style tends to make that someone else feel closer and more empathetic towards others. When we are accepted (or at least copied) and when we feel we belong, we might even be more willing to help and listen to others.

Mimicry might not be the only motivation for Grayling’s good book or Dunbar’s creation stories or even Meyers’ creed, but it makes me a little more hopeful for the future, actually. By rejecting or excluding certain groups, religious people have by their very nature brought this upon themselves.

Maybe these stories and artistic efforts and bold declarations aren’t made with intentions to separate non-believers from believers, but instead to bring people closer together. In a sense, these writers are using the body language of story. By copying the frame of sacred books or creation stories or holy creeds,  Grayling, Dunbar and Meyers are building bridges to help us face what we don’t know and who we don’t understand. And those bridges might lead us to where we should be, together.

It’s remarkable what a good story can bring together.

What do you think?

Are atheists just copy-cats?

Would you read Grayling’s Bible, or Dunbar’s creation stories?

Would you live by Meyers’ creed?