I will not hold my tongue about religion

Sometimes while writing I use Facebook updates to organise my thoughts, and the result is a rough form of what becomes an article. When I did so with the last post on this blog, one commenter asked me to publish the rough version, which is shorter and more shareable. (I’ve edited it lightly for republication here.)

Three years ago Greta Christina wrote a post asking what the goals of the atheist ‘movement’ were. It identifies two competing groups of atheists: one whose goals – combating anti-atheist bigotry, promoting secular governance, helping everyone to ‘get along’ – often entail alliance work with believers, and another who think religion is inherently a flawed, harmful phenomenon… and that we’d be better off without it, and that this is a goal worth pursuing.

The idea of noting these competing goals was, I think, to measure the usefulness of diplomatic versus firebrand-like approaches while talking about religion. (If the first group’s goals were her main or only ones, Greta writes, ‘I might well be advocating that we prioritise diplomacy more than we do, and dial back on the confrontationalism a bit.’) Chris Stedman cited her post to this effect at the Huffington Post, in a piece called ‘The Problem with “Atheist Activism”‘ which argued for the merits of the first group’s goals over the second’s.

Broadly speaking I’ve always shared Greta’s take, and have linked to it when frustrated by atheist civility politics, attacks on writers who aren’t ‘nice’ enough or the charge of being inflammatory, counterproductive and unconstructive. But there’s something I’d like to say in addition.

Some people’s main goal is combating bigotry and ‘building bridges’. Some people’s main goal is eroding the very grip religious faith has on the world in the first place. Especially as someone who unlike either Greta or Chris Stedman had a religious upbringing, I have a third aim to submit. As far as I’m concerned, it overrides both the others.

I hate the insistence I should self-censor to make what say about religion ‘constructive’, ‘productive’ or goal-serving – because whenever I’m speaking my mind about it I’m serving my primary goal. Speaking my mind about religion, including but not limited to my own experience – simply being able to speak freely about it without holding my tongue – is a constructive goal for me.

When other atheists tell me to shut up or be more polite because I’m hindering their cause, I want to tell them: saying what I want how I want is my cause. It matters more to me than any other, theirs included. You could convince me the way I write about religion makes more people convert to it. You could convince me that, as I’ve been told, it entrenches negative views of atheists or makes bridge-building impossible. I still wouldn’t stop.

What’s struck me repeatedly about the calm down brigade is that so often, they have no experience of having to hold their tongues – including about horrible things that happened to them – so religious feelings don’t get hurt. Tongue-holding no longer is the most important thing to me; it’s probably a large part of why I write a blog. And the fact is that if other people’s require me to give it up because to them it doesn’t seem constructive, I don’t care.

From my point of view, mouthing off and being an angry atheist stereotype seems hugely constructive.

Read the full version.





  1. smhll says

    I assumed that the subtext in X-Men: Days of Future Past was disagreements between activists who wanted to politely ask for better AIDS research (which didn’t seem to get any traction) and activists who would take any action (even hostile or violent ones) because of the urgency of the situation.

    But I’m not sure the movie reached a solid conclusion. And it’s worth talking more to see if we can hammer out principles that work in similar situations.

  2. mistertwo says

    I’ve long said that it’s the people on the extreme edges of a political position who are responsible for any movement on the issue. If something should be in the center and it’s halfway to the right of the dial, then those pushing for the extreme left get all of the credit for moving the needle to the center where it belongs.

    When it comes to religion, the truth is that the needle truly needs to go all the way to the “nobody believes in gods” side of the scale. While the “build bridges” people may have a constructive place in the conversation, their ultimate goal is to fail to do the job. They are planning to fail. They believe that failure is a desirable outcome.

    I do think that perhaps they will succeed in getting a few people to understand the truth that atheists are not immoral. If they can do that, then perhaps they are furthering the goal of getting people to realize that religion is not necessary for morality and that, in fact, their god is not strictly necessary. If their gods aren’t necessary, then some of them will potentially realize that their gods aren’t real.

    But that won’t get everyone. It is absolutely necessary for people to hear the message that religion is inherently bad. Even if they don’t believe it, the seed must be planted so that someday it may grow.

    Keep on telling people that religion is bad. Do it loudly. Make sure that this is heard!


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