Over at Jezebel, there’s an article on how to be an atheist without being a dick about it.
Ironically, I have yet to read an article or hear a talk about atheists being dicks that didn’t include a few examples of the author or speaker actually being a dick. Lindy West is not an exception. Are there atheists that are making the movement look bad? You bet. Does this article cite any specific examples, name any specific names or even address a real problem? Not as far as I can see.
We begin with the standard unsupported claim…
“so many people insist on being such condescending dicks in the name of atheism. “
Who? Where? Examples please. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are atheists dicks – but “so many”? I think you need to define terms and cite some actual examples.
“I didn’t settle on my belief system because…”
If you’re referring to atheism, it’s not a belief system but your confusion is understandable.
“I grew up with godless parents in a godless home at godless schools with godless friends…”
So maybe, just maybe, you’re not deeply familiar with the actual harm that religious thinking inflicts on real people. Like people who wake from nightmares of hell after living for decades without religion, merely because they were raised on those fears. Or people who continually make bad decisions because the decision-making parts of their brain are polluted with gears the make the irrational appear rational…and those gears can’t tell the difference between ‘god helped me feel whole’ and ‘god wants me to play these numbers in the lottery’ and ‘god will help my child heal from this disease without the need for doctors’.
“Atheism—especially in its incarnation as a movement—can so easily transform into smug hostility and dog-whistle classism. “
Especially the movement? You mean the movement that is focused on ensuring church-state separation and ending religious privilege? Where is this classism? I see a movement focused on equality and freedom…what movement are you talking about? I need to know exactly which atheist movement, that you’re not a part of and see no use for, is filled with so many dicks that you felt the need to vaguely reference them. Thanks.
“Actually, I’d go as far as to say that many religious factions ARE tools of control rather than enlightenment. And I believe passionately in calling out that destruction in every one of its fucked-up facets—from tiny internal shames to unspeakable mass horrors.”
Agreed. Be careful, you’re sounding just about as dickish as movement atheists, here.
“Whatever your views on Christianity, you have to acknowledge that at least the Bible tells people to be nice. There are a lot of people who really love that book, and they only follow the “nice” parts. Those are the people I’m talking about here. “
I was unaware that there was an epidemic of people being nasty to those who only follow the ‘nice’ parts of the Bible. Can we have a source, please? Also, which parts of the Bible are nice? Do you know much about what the Bible actually says? I do and I’m betting that those parts that you think are ‘nice’ are parts that apply to how Christians should treat each other, and not how they should treat you. That said, there are a few nice verses (some even written by a non-believer)…but they’re nice irrespective of whether they’re in that book, and no one needs that book to recognize how nice it is.
I wonder if you’d be so charitable to other books. What’s the percentage of niceness in the Bible? How bad does a book need to be before you’ll stop making excuses for it? Why is it that “But I don’t really like the parts about slavery and misogyny…I just like turning the other cheek” somehow disqualifies their thought processes from criticism?
Meanwhile, is it wrong to try to help those people escape to reality? Is it wrong to point out that the liberal and moderate Christians, by pointing to the same holy book provide support and cover for the nastier Christians? Is it wrong to point out that they donate money and time, in the name of those good parts, to organizations that should rightly be considered criminal organizations?
“To a person of genuine faith, my atheism (my contention that they’re incorrect) shouldn’t be any more offensive or threatening than their beliefs are to me.”
I’m pretty much convinced that this line can only be written by someone who has absolutely no experience in the movement and who has never bothered to actually engage with theists. As someone who has been doing exactly that for nearly 8 years on live television and as someone who has actually looked at the study that ranked atheists as the least trusted minority – I have a decidedly different view. The mere existence of atheist, especially vocal atheists, is an offense to many theists. Our mere existence challenges many of the theological underpinnings of their beliefs. This isn’t true for all Christians, but it’s pretty true.
Additionally, few of them tend to think of us as nice, but misguided, people – we’re immoral and untrustworthy.
And when it comes to the conversations about what they believe, many of them simply cannot tell the difference between ‘you attacked my beliefs’ and ‘you attacked me, personally’ – because these beliefs define who they are.
To them, any criticism of their belief is almost beyond dickish.
“If you really believe in something, who cares? What matters—what is potentially offensive and threatening—is how we translate our convictions into real-world actions and attitudes.”
That would be a great sentiment – if beliefs lived in a vacuum and couldn’t affect actions. Unfortunately, beliefs are brain states that do affect actions and the methods that you use to determine which claims are believable don’t normally apply to a single claim. If you believe one false thing for bad reasons, that claim influences actions and the reasons behind that claim influence whether or not you accept other claims.
Beliefs matter because they inform actions and actions have consequences. Caring only about actions is akin to only treating the symptoms.
“Tell me—ME—I’m a degenerate who deserves to spend eternity getting poked a red goatboy with a trident because I think consenting adults should be able to lovingly caress each other’s bodays? Now we have an issue.”
Agreed….and, once again, you’re starting to sound like the atheists in the movement.
“I have no interest in being nice when it comes to actual issues.”
I’d almost agree, but I actually would try to start by being nice – even about serious issues. I just don’t remain nice if the situation calls for action. Now…which issues?
“It’s not my nice neighbor’s fault that some Twitter troll called me a baby-murderer.”
And I wonder what that nice neighbor’s views are on abortion. A lot of those cafeteria Christians who only focus on the ‘nice’ parts of the Bible are still opposed to abortion. A lot of them may think you’re a baby-murderer, even if they don’t say it to your face. They’ll vote for the same people as that troll. They’ll donate to the same organization. At a minimum…they’re unlikely to stand beside you and agree with you.
Some will. There’s no doubt that some will. I happily stand along side champions of Church-State separation like the Reverend Barry Lynn…but that doesn’t keep me from pointing out where we disagree.
“I think a “YOUR BOOK OF ANCIENT PARABLES HAS NO BEARING ON MY GOVERNMENT OR UTERUS” is more than justified. It’s relevant to the debate. “Ur stupid god is fake dummy” is not.”
So is this merely a question of style? Because a lot of believers would hear very little difference between those two statements. In fact, some would find the first more offensive because they can dismiss the second as unworthy of response, but the first statement is simply, to them, wrong and evil.
Additionally, you began by talking about the atheist “movement” – which movement, which part of the movement is comprised of people primarily using statements like that second one? Are you just talking about internet comments or are we actually talking about the thriving, meat-space movement, too?
“it all comes back to punching up instead of down.”
Agreed, which is why it’s rather shocking that you’re coming to the defense of people who are part of the largest religious demographic in the U.S. The fact that you think it’s punching down… the only reasonable context in which it COULD be punching down is if YOU view those people as inferior.
That’s pretty dickish of you.
“Criticizing an individual’s harmless, personal road to solace and peace is about as low as it gets.”
What makes you think those beliefs are harmless? And what’s wrong with criticising their ‘road’ or path? You’ve switched from saying it’s wrong to attack the person, to claiming that it’s wrong to attack their path.
“Evangelism in any form always seems to be partially about convincing oneself, over and over, of one’s rightness—and that goes for evangelical atheists too.”
Nope, nothing smug or dickish about that statement.
Someone who isn’t a part of the movement and doesn’t see this as a cause is claiming that those of us who do, those of us who are working to protect religious freedom and oppose religious privilege while helping to free people from delusions that harm us all…we’re just out to convince ourselves that we’re right. Careful, you’re treading deep into ‘dick’ territory…
“And I get the impulse to want to replace one lifelong club with another. “
Aaaaand, strike two! Maybe if you got involved in the movement before pretending that you know what we’re all about, you wouldn’t be making yourself look like such a dick. Yes, there are folks who are moving from one club to another – but that’s not the motivating factor.
One of my co-hosts is a fifth generation atheist. He’s active in the movement. He’s the reason I can’t simply blame this massive display of ignorance on the fact that you had an atheist upbringing. Which club did he replace when he started working with us?
“What I’m not sympathetic to—what I resent—is using atheism to perpetuate exactly the same negative cultural forces that make me dislike organized religion: Shaming. White supremacy. Unbridled, rabid misogyny. “
And, we’re agreeing again. Though I’m wondering where is this movement that is using atheism to perpetuate those things. I’m also wondering how one *could* use atheism to perpetuate those things. You simply can’t get from ‘I don’t believe a god exists’ to ‘white supremacy’ or ANY other position, without adding something else. The fact that one could be an atheist and be racist, etc. doesn’t mean that those are values derived from atheism or that atheism is being used to promote them.
An atheist promoting x is not the same as an atheist is using atheism to promote x…which is not the same as atheism promotes x.
“If faith is what certain people need to feel okay, then who the fuck am I to tell them otherwise?”
If heroin is what someone needs to feel okay, who the fuck are you to tell them otherwise? I’d like to think you’re a person who cares. That said, where are these atheists who are actively going around, knocking on doors and saying “Hello, I suspect you’re still using religion as a crutch, I can help you with that…”? I don’t know about every other atheist in the movement, but our show is a call-in show, we don’t make outgoing calls. When I’m in debates and religious discussions, it’s because I’ve been invited to do so. When I post online, it’s on a public forum that people can read or disregard…or in an e-mail where they’ve asked for my thoughts.
Where is this massive intrusive group of troublesome atheists who feel compelled to go after people who just want to feel okay? How did they even find these people, without them beginning a conversation?
“You’re going to tell that girl that she’s an idiot for believing in god?”
Is that really what you think happens? Do you have examples of this? Is this really a massive problem? There are atheists running around telling people like the girl in your story that they’re idiots? Or did you just pick a dramatic example where it might be a bad idea, even though no one actually did that?
Your exaggerated scenario simply doesn’t fairly represent anything I recognize in the atheist movement. It seems to be another quixotic, speculative straw man to support your larger point.
What I take away from that story is that she still needs a lot of help – and that the ‘Christ’ that she’s clinging to clearly isn’t helping her. While the goulish Christ-lovers will try to lead her further into that comforting delusion in an attempt to hide her pain, I’d be advising her to get proper, secular counseling. I’d be explaining to her – if she asked and was interested in my thoughts – that it’s understandable that she might reach for comforting delusions, but that there may be better ways for her to heal. I’d be helping her understand that this wasn’t her fault, that it wasn’t “God’s will”, that she has value and can find help and compassion in real people rather than in religion or superstition.
Hands that help vs. hands folded in prayer. Real help vs. comforting delusion.
In her case, it doesn’t sound like the delusion is very comforting.
“There are a lot of people in the world who have nothing. Faith in a higher power gives them one thing. You know what we call people who try to take away other people’s one thing?”
Ah, the final fallacy. You see these efforts as trying to steal away people’s ‘one thing’ or their ‘hope’…it’s nothing at all like that. A fan once asked a co-host, “When you rid the world of religion, what do you replace it with?” Without missing a beat, my co-host replied “When you cure cancer, what do you replace it with?”
Truth is its own reward. Helping people employ skepticism and exercise critical thinking to free themselves of superstitions and religious thinking isn’t merely taking away their ‘one thing’ any more than it would be if their ‘one thing’ was a thorn; it’s helping them to think and live better lives. If your internal model of reality is inaccurate, your decision-making skills are going to suffer.
Finally, your broader point implies that while you don’t need religion to cope, other people do. The arrogance and condescension in that line of thought is just about as dick-ish as you’ve accused others of being. It’s actually the second time in your article that you portray believers as inferior while lashing out at others for purportedly doing exactly that.
It’s a pretty common line of thought, though. There are atheists who view religion as a relatively harmless, necessary evil that they’ve risen above – but their neighbor is just incapable of rising to their level. Some will go so far as to say that it’s pointless to argue with religious folks.
Those of us who were religious and were freed from it because of comments (including comments some may consider dickish) from atheists…? To quote my friend and comedian, Keith Lowell Jensen…”I think we were fucking worth it.”
Who are you to take away their delusions? Well, first of all – you can’t. They have to give those up on their own – but you can help, if you care. But first, you’ll have to stop thinking that they ‘need’ those delusions…and that those delusions aren’t harmful to them…and that they aren’t harmful to others…
And then you’ll have to learn to do it productively – even if some people might think you’re a bit of a dick.