Thursday, October 27, 2011

Mean Ol' Atheists

I had this little rant scraped together for a few days now and didn’t really know what to do with it. Then I read Greta Christina’s  We’re Telling Them They’re Wrong: Why Coming Out Atheist Is Inherently Oppositional (via Atheist Revolution). It helped me focus this a bit and also dial it back. The central point of her article is that the act of coming out atheist (and I would add our very existence) is confrontational to believers. Our rejection of the God concept, no matter how “accomodationist” or “militant” we are, is telling them that they are wrong.

Of course the reverse is true as well. Simply stating that one is an atheist or having a lively debate on the existence of God, while inherently confrontational, is no more or less so than the believer stating their faith in a deity. We are all saying the other is wrong. This is an excellent point by Greta Christina and one that is lost on many people. While there are plenty of atheists out there that say some horrible, stupid things about theist’s intelligence it is most certainly not that same as the threats of hell and accusations of sin. It is also common to label the atheist antitheists as “bigots” for challenging religious ideas. That’s a problem. There is no accusation of bigotry when some fool froth’s at the mouth calling me a “Socialist Nazi Communist!” or when I state that ”Republicans are assholes.” These groups are never in the same category of cultural protection as religions. Why? Political ideology is sometimes every bit as central to many people’s identities as religion (whether they accept that premise or not). The gnashing of teeth regarding “atheist hostility” is, quite frankly, laughable. Up until recently most people that had serious concerns and criticisms of religions were too afraid to speak up since they were alone.

We have come to find out that we are not.

Also this week, The Friendly Atheist had a post about a university atheist group sending out a university-wide email promoting their group and the shitstorm that ensued. In A Christian Overreaction to An Atheist Group’s Existence you can read the righteous indignation of believers over the apparent crime of being made aware a group such as this exists. Similarly, we have believers taking offense at billboards and PR campaigns saying “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone” and “Millions are Good without God.” Nevermind the sheer number of religious billboards that are encountered in a given day. Next time you are driving down the interstate I want you to count how many Christian billboards are on a 20 mile stretch of road. Out of the several you see, how many insinuate that if you don’t believe in God and Jesus you are evil and will be punished?

How is a billboard with the two sentences “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone” worse than anything a believer would say?

Religion and the followers of religions have had a free pass on active, sustained study and critiques of their act of believing since...ever. It has become a cultural norm to never speak ill of religion in general or discuss it in polite company. Why? Of course it has been OK for the various faiths to challenge each other's faith either intellectually or with swords, but not the actual concept of belief in the supernatural in the first place. Never the fact that one “believes.” That would be beyond the pale!



krissthesexyatheist said...

Well of course you would say all that...UR a commie. so awesome buddy,


Paul said...

Just want to clarify. Aren't the billboards you reference actually "Don't believe in god?" With the question mark? I'm pretty sure it is phrased that way as a notice to closeted atheists that you can speak freely about it, because others are out there (here). Making it a question makes it even less threatening or offensive than if it were a statement our command. And it even furthers your point. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it's a question. It's hard to type this much on my phone.

Steve said...

Yup, you're right Paul. That shoud be a question mark. Just a typo.

Thanks for pointing it out.

The7ofSwords said...

The problem I see is that Christians in the U.S. (Or just the religious, in general, in most societies) come from a place of extreme unconscious privilege. They are so accustomed to being unquestioned in their beliefs and in their assumption that everyone around them shares, at least certain core beliefs (e.g., "We can disagree on the nature of god, but we all agree there is one.") that they're a little shocked when it happens. So they naturally see what an impartial observer would see as an "equal action" as an attack. Their baseline for the way "things should be" is set, so anything that brings that baseline into question feels threatening.

And let's not forget that the real core for why most people believe is a fear of death. When we question their religious views, we're basically telling them, "When you die, you will cease to exist. There is no paradise awaiting you." And that scares the shit out of them. Add to that the fact that a large number of believers are trapped in the false "the only reason to behave morally is because of a divine reward and punishment system" state of mind, they truly do believe that if people stop concerning themselves with an afterlife, the whole world will be engulfed in chaotic depravity. (Never mind the fact that a world full of religions is already full of horrible evils.)

Until religious people can truly believe in liberty of belief - and that my non-belief doesn't in any way threaten their beliefs or moral sensibilities, these are just the kinds of responses we'll have to deal with. Outreach is the key. As more and more people come out as atheists and the believers around them see that we're not monsters, they'll grow more comfortable with us. (And here's another parallel with the LGBT movement.)

Steve said...

+1 The7ofSwords. Dead on.