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!