Shaming the Atheists
Didn’t We Get Enough Shaming When We Were Religious?
There is no possible way to discuss deeply held beliefs without offending someone who either holds or doesn’t hold those beliefs. As a blanket statement laid on with a broad brush and as a generalization to boot, I have not been able to find a way for everyone to be happy when it comes to discussing atheism and religion. I have read and listened; I have spoken and watched. I have said nice things to people about themselves, followed with a critique of religion and then bookended with a nice thing about that person again, only to be told I am a hateful bigot and arrogant.
While I know that the plural of anecdote isn’t data, I wonder how positive “positive atheists” should continue to be, with the awareness that somewhere along the line, no matter how we try, someone is going to be offended. If I were to criticize the Catholic Church for not doing enough to root out the pedophiles in the priesthood, or the Mormon Church for putting time and effort into denying the rights of gays and lesbians to marry their partner-of-choice, or Scientologists for sending a team of volunteer ministers to Haiti to provide victims with “touch assists,” or even to complain that my daughter was told by a fellow little girl that she was “going to Hell” for sticking up her middle finger, then someone would decide that I was being intolerant of others’ religious beliefs and just another example of a militant atheist.
It seems not to matter how civil we are when we complain about religion; we atheists become “bashers” and “nasty” and “militant” for being non-believers. We are out to evangelize the believers to be non-believers, and the only way we can win is to shame other atheists.
To me, there seems to be a growing number of atheists who want to see religion destroyed. I think these people, who may have always been around, are the ones who can make the community suffer. It is difficult to form a community around what you don’t believe in and that is what atheists do. Atheists are an incredibly diverse community, however, those who participate in organizations seem to be overwhelmingly liberal politically, don’t have kids, or their kids are out of the house. Most seem to have been raised with a religion and have sought out a community because it can be difficult to, in some cases, be rejected from friends and family because you don’t happen to share the same views on theology.
I consider the writer to be a friend but I think he is wrong in this post. There is good reason that many of us would like to see religion gone, and it is religion itself, not the people who are religious, that we want to see wither and die. Religion is given too much leeway and power when determining policy in our “secular society.” Religion is used to justify prejudices, to justify destruction of childrens’ bodies in order to “protect them” from having sexual desire, to keep women hidden and out of society in order to protect society from chaos and earthquakes, to opt out of filling prescriptions by pharmacists who object to the particular treatment because of their religion’s teachings and to urge prayer when other work can and should be done.
It’s a sweeping generalization to say that dissing religion is bigotry against religious people. Are atheists actively engaged in not hiring religious people? Are we trying to prevent them from holding public office? Are we censoring them or telling them that they can’t depict our heroes in a bad light (or any light at all for that matter)? Are we telling them that they have no place in politics, nor should they even be considered citizens, let alone patriots? I don’t think so, at least not in the United States and Canada. We are telling them that they don’t have the right to use their religion’s rules as the basis of secular laws. We are telling them that it is a violation of the concept of a secular government, and that the National Day of Prayer is inconsistent with the Constitution as written and interpreted. We are telling them that they shouldn’t pretend that their religion is as valid a way of “knowing” as the scientific process of discovery and interpretation.
No matter how carefully I tread on subjects I will find myself accused of being a meanie for violating somebody’s rules, and I will be subject to some “concern” about the way that the overall atheist community is perceived by me. When I was the host of the Minnesota Atheists’ radio show “Atheists Talk,” I invited someone to listen to the show one Sunday because I was personally excited to be on the airways, but his response was not be excited for me. Instead he simply said “Well good for you but I have no interest in spending an hour listening to you bash religion.” He never listened to the show, because he had predetermined that he wouldn’t be interested in it. I cajoled and explained that this was not what the show was about, but was told to change the subject and I was disappointed that as a friend he wouldn’t even give my show a chance.
My dismay comes from an observation that those who don’t like the New Atheists are behaving in the same manner towards them as they accuse the New Atheists of behaving towards the religious, and as the Grassroots Skeptic puts it:
Almost nobody is going to be able to respond to a perceived attack in any positive way. They’re bound to get defensive, or to respond with an attack of their own. If you’ve ever made the argument that some institution or individual was in some way bad for the skeptical movement, ask yourself honestly: did you phrase your assertion in a way that had any hope of persuading your newfound nemesis to take a step back and consider adjusting his or her methods? Or did you grow a big ol’ pair of Internet cojones, call him or her something awful that you’d never say in real life, and enjoy the momentary adrenalin rush you got from stirring the pot with the bitchy stick?
Last November PZ Myers agreed to “debate” Jerry Bergman on whether or not Intelligent Design should be taught in school. During the “debate” Bergman frequently used his own slides to counter a point that Myers was making while Myers was speaking. I found that action to be very rude. I wasn’t as upset over the content of Bergman’s slides, I was angry that while the other person was speaking Bergman was trying to distract the audience from what Myers was saying. During the debate Myers respected the time limits, attacked his opponents presentation methods and conclusions and expressed dismay that Bergman had not even approached the subject of the debate. At no time was Myers rude to Bergman personally, but only to his ideas. And yet, in the comments submitted following the debate people wrote that Myers was the rude and dismissive one. For people who have a set idea that is not gained by reason, any sort of approach that attacks that set idea no matter how nicely done may be considered “rude.”
Someone expressed concern that at Minnesota Atheist meetings there was too much religion-bashing going on, and because of that as, she told a friend of mine, she wasn’t going to go back to any more meetings. What I have a hard time with is understanding why someone would go to a meeting at which atheists gather under a banner of atheism and not expect there to be any sort of talk against religion. I think it would be similar to objecting to people bashing Miller Beer at the Surly Brewery, or Apple at a Microsoft Picnic, or contact lenses at a gathering of Lasik Surgeons or Democrats at a Republican Convention. As in “I am for lower taxes and squashing education but those Republicans are so anti-Democrat that I can’t stand to be around them.” I need to ask, “What do you expect?”
There are so many secular groups and organizations to join and have fun and never even discuss religion in any context, positive or negative. Perhaps a bowling league, or a weekly cribbage club may suit you instead of an atheist group. Our community includes people who have been religious and are now disgusted at the effects that an overriding religious tenor to society has on our daily lives and want to be part of a group that recognizes that disgust and gives them an outlet to vent their frustration in a friendly environment. If, as atheists, our only desire and goal should be to be accepted as part of the larger community then our best strategy is perhaps to return to the closet and never say nothin’ about not believing.
Yes, that would be the best way for all of us to “just get along.”
Or we could also stop trying to shame vocal atheists and recognize that some people have a reason to be angry at religion.
This entry was posted on Thursday, May 6th, 2010 at 5:41 am and is filed under Mike Haubrich. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.