Quantcast

«

»

Dec 22 2010

Why Religious People Are Scared of Atheists

American+Humanist+Association+no+god+no+problem Religious believers commonly attack atheists simply for existing. Do out- of- the- closet atheists — even polite ones — challenge attempts at theocracy?

What, exactly, do religious believers want from atheists?

If you follow the atheism debates in op-ed pieces and whatnot, you’ll see that critiques of the so-called New Atheist movement are often aimed at our tone. Among the pundits and opinion-makers, atheist writers and activists are typically called out for being offensive, intolerant, disrespectful, extremist, hostile, confrontational, and just generally asshats. The question of whether atheists are, you know, right, typically gets sidestepped in favor of what is apparently the much more compelling question of whether atheists are jerks. And if these op-ed pieces and whatnot were all you knew about the atheist movement and the critiques of it, you might think that atheists were simply being asked to be reasonable, civil, and polite.

But if you follow atheism in the news, you begin to see a very different story.

You begin to see that atheists are regularly criticized — vilified, even — simply for existing.

Or, to be more accurate, for existing in the open. For declining to hide our atheism. For coming out.

*

Thus begins my new piece on AlterNet, Why Religious People Are Scared of Atheists. To read more about how atheists get attacked simply for existing — and how these attacks are an attempt to enforce theocracy — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

30 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    the chaplain

    Forget what people say about how hard it is to quit smoking. Hegemony is obviously a much harder habit to kick.

  2. 2
    Lee

    The “tone argument” is one common tactic used by trolls of all types. Apparently anything other than absolute fawning agreement constitutes a “bad attitude”.

  3. 3
    greg

    the bad attitude exists, whatever other problems you are pointing out here … in discussion about allowing a ‘christian-anarchist’ to become a member in our anarcho-communist organization, people have made comments like ‘we should convert them’, no matter what ‘wacky’ beliefs they have, and that they should be treated like a child who believes in Santa Claus … this from an organization that states we are against [religious] sectarianism but it seems that atheism doesn’t technically count as a religion, so therefore it’s alright?
    i’m not cool with people who feel they need to convert people who don’t share their beliefs, who think that atheism is the ‘gold standard’ of anarchist/activist faith, or that will look down upon people if they don’t believe in something not ‘proven by science’
    sure it can be tough for atheists in a majority-faith-based society (isn’t it 90% of people who have some religious/spiritual faith?) but when you get in a predominately atheist environment, well it ain’t much better vice versa…

  4. 4
    karen taylor

    Saying Atheism is a religion is like saying baldness is a hair color. The point is that we don’t have this opinion because we were forced to listen to sermons about it at home and elsewhere. We’re atheists because we ignored all “programming” on the subject and thought long and hard and DECIDED FOR OURSELVES that the whole “magical-guy-who can-make-you -live-forever-in-heaven” story was even sillier and more of an intentional manipulation of children even than the Santa myth !

  5. 5
    Nathaniel

    Every time you post an article an alternet, I hope this is the time there will be a fruitful, thoughtful discussion in the comments.
    Every time I am painfully disappointed, doubly so when I think that these are supposed liberal allies that we need to reach out to.

  6. 6
    malta

    Nathaniel, I feel the same way. I keep hoping for better comments, and I just keep getting reminded why the first rule of the internet is “Don’t Read the Comments.” At least we have Greta’s blog to host a thoughtful discussion.
    One of the things that always annoys me around this time of the year are the sanctimonious letters to the editor reminding people of the “true” reason for the season. I celebrate a secular Christmas for lots of reasons–family, friends, presents, and good cheer at a dark time of the year. The birth of a fictional character is not among them. Besides, we all know that axial tilt is the real reason for the season :)

  7. 7
    Locutus7

    They hate us for our freedom. Heh, heh.
    BTW, if anyone has a right to celebrate an essentially pagan holiday, it would be atheists, agnostics, and pagans. xTians stole our holiday; we are only taking it back.

  8. 8
    DA

    Greg, communism is as dogmatic and totalitarian as any religion. Your group acting dogmatic and totalitarian isn’t a very good example, as such.

  9. 9
    Bruce Gorton

    Alternet’s commenters strike me as basically brain damaged morons.
    I mean shit, you put in the article that a lot of religious commenters weren’t going with the idea that atheists should be invisible, you make very sure to have that in there…
    And you have a bunch of nitwits accusing you of blanket statements about the religious in the comments.

  10. 10
    Maria

    I think many of the commenters over there don’t actually read the articles. They read the headline and the intro only, and then they throw a fit at that alone, and also think they know what the atheist will say. And so they don’t read the whole thing. That could be why it’s so often the case that you see them bring up things that have already been addressed in the article.
    This time though, I found the comment section rather scary. Did you all read the comments from the sig. ‘sisterlauren’? (She often comments on Greta’s stuff, I think.)I mean, she is obviously ill, and that’s sad, but… yes, scary… She actually, in all seriousness, blames Greta (or her writing) for her husband assaulting her, and seems rather unstable on the whole.

  11. 11
    Maxx

    Good evening;
    So, why are the religious scared of atheists?
    May I submit a few reasons?
    Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, et. al…
    Maybe humanity is still not quite ready to accept the murders of over 200 million souls during the 20th century in the name of godless atheist governments.
    Just thinking…

  12. 12
    Maria

    I am starting to seriously think that Maxx is a sort of Strawman-Atheist Bot.

  13. 13
    Locutus7

    Maxx and Sister Lauren sitting in the tree,
    K I S S I N G.
    First came anti-atheism, then came romance,
    No matter how delusional their beliefs may be.
    But in the spirit of the holiday season, we wish them the best;
    But better yet, we wish they’d break free.

  14. 14
    Eclectic

    I’ll take Stalin, but Hitler was a vocal Catholic, baptized and confirmed and never excommunicated.
    He wrote that he was “doing God’s work” in exterminating the Jews, and every German soldier had “Gott mit uns” (God with us) on his belt buckle.
    Your list would work fine without him, so why pollute it with this obviously false rubbish?

  15. 15
    greg

    Karen – i was commenting on the sectaranism of things (discrimination based on belief/faith). nonetheless, i am not sure if you are pointing out the ‘decided for yourself’ (which a lot of people of faith do as well) or the ‘sillier than Santa Claus’ belief) which i will let you keep if it makes you happy
    DA – did you note that it is ‘anarcho-communist’. if you think that is totalitarian then you should really learn a bit more about things. also in terms of being dogmatic, well we take certain things (concepts, ideologies, what have you) as starting points to develop a ‘praxis’ based on the interaction of theory and practise, which i would think leads away from any dogmatism

  16. 16
    DA

    Greg
    Oh, man, you prefaced it wih ‘anarcho’. Ha, am I red in the face! Nobody who uses that prefix could possibly have totalitarian leanings, my bad! It’s almost as embarassing as the time I thought Shariah could be oppresive and I was solemnly assured by a Muslim imam that Shariah could never oppress anyone, because Shariah by definition means justice (no really, that’s what I was told. More than the one time, actually).
    Hey, speaking of Islam and Anarchism, there are Islamists who follow thinkers like Qutb and claim that we don’t need a human government, that if everyone just follows Qu’ran and Sunnah, we won’t need any sort of human agency whatsoever. Don’t worry, though, this sounds nothing to me like the commonly held anarchist belief that once everybody just gets EDUCATED enough, we’ll all just choose to live in nifty little syndacalist collectives of our own accord. It’s too bad that the man keeps anarcho-communism down by only making the information regarding it available to interested parties instead of everyone on earth! And I’m sure that YOUR group of commies would do the revolution right, there wouldn’t just be uniformity and oppression and intellectuals wouldn’t be imprisoned or killed. I mean, no communist rulers have managed that, but I’m sure you would. And you’ll try to put your beliefs into PRACTICE! Oh, well, why didn’t you say so? Saying “praxis” is like a magic spell that drives away dogma, of course.
    I’m not really one for “atheist gatherings”, but most of my friends are de facto atheists, and we never talk about forcibly converting people or how Christians are equivalent to people who believe in Santa Clause and should be treated as such. Maybe your group isn’t represtentative of all atheists?
    Also, just curious, how do you reconcile your belief in woo with the commie OG (Marx) anyway? He viewed the fundamental basis of his theory as a purely mechanistic process driven by observable social and economic factors. I mean, not a great theory in some ways (as Popper pointed out, it wasn’t falsifiable; Marxists could interpret any event as consistent with the starting dogma), but I wouldn’t think there’s a lot of room for ghosts and magic in there, which you seem to be advocating for in another thread.

  17. 17
    greg

    sounds like you got some real baggage around ‘anarchism’ … date an anarchist once who didn’t treat you well?
    also some baggage around ‘ghosts’ and ‘magic’? by which i’m assuming you mean my post on near death experiences, with a link to research that concludes remote viewing is a reality, and discussion on how it probably makes more sense to think of things as mystery when it is an agreed upon fact that our ‘science’ doesn’t know or explain a whole bunch of what is going on … but hey, ‘ghosts’ and ‘magic’ seem like things that are easy to dismiss, so please by all means feel free to unload your burden of being challenged by ridiculing and misinterpreting what is being said

  18. 18
    Bruce Gorton

    Posted by: Eclectic | December 25, 2010 at 09:29 AM
    I always take the inclusion of Hitler in that list as a major indicator of why even with evil atheist governments having existed – they are still preferable to the religious ones.
    Think about it – we admit to Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong etc…, which means we can learn from the mistakes that gave them power.
    Meanwhile theists will still support a bunch of religious nutters whose speeches cover pretty much exactly the same ground (Pro family values, appeals to the rural lifestyle, strong religious sentiments etc…) that Hitler did.

  19. 19
    DA

    CliChe Gregvara,
    Do you really think the ONLY reason anyone could have any problem with your political philosophy is a bad personal experience with an adherent? Similarly, should I assume all antifa people just had a bad relationship with a skinhead once, or else they’d totally heart fascism?
    I’m against all utopian philosophies, left or right, religious or materialistic, since they ALL lead to oppression and mass murder.
    And do you really think there’s no tension between believing in dialectal materialism AND that there’s this whole myetical, trippy side to human existence beyond human comprehension?

  20. 20
    greg

    i was joking … what else to do when someone puts the people who fought against fascism in spain (while a lot of ‘democratic’ people were worshipping hitler) in the category of totalitarianists?
    you’re against all ‘utopian philosophies’ … are you against anti-oppressive, anti-hierarchal organizing too? because obviously it must lead to mass murder?
    (and maybe it should be stated that some murder, ie self-defense, should perhaps be accepted as okay as long as you don’t believe in ‘utopian philosphies’ of ‘you shall not kill’)
    the tension between materialism and mystical experience … yes it’s good there is some tension so we don’t have to resort to dogma, no?

  21. 21
    DA

    Come on, are you seriously putting a bunch of borgoise punk rockers and hippies, and college trust fund revolutionaries, out there with people like the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, or the people Franco murdered? For real? Anyway, not that it matters because the Spanish Communists were most certainly totalitarians. The Anarchists were just the useful idiots who the Communists betrayed when the time was right. Communists, like Islamists, and Fascists, love lining up their allies and shooting them after victory. I don’t have any reason to believe Syndalcalists who were following Stalin’s Field Marshalls would have acted much differently. In Republican controlled zones they certainly had no difficulty dealing harshly with people they suspected of fascist sympathies.
    If you’re actually asking, I’m for an open society that can re-evaluate its principles. Sometimes these kind of societies make horrific mistakes, as does anyone. It’s not perfect, but that’s sort of the point; Utopians in general and Commies in particular have a very specific idea of what the perfect world should look like, and if you’re on the wrong side of that ideal, that’s just too bad for you.
    “‘utopian philosphies’ of ‘you shall not kill’)”
    Okay, I’m half convinced you really are just a troll now. First of all, I do believe killing in actual self-defense (not some kind of abstract notion of it that lefty revolutionary types are fond of) is a-ok. If you’re referring to the biblical commandment about not killing, it specifically uses a word that more accurate translates to “murder” and the Israelite judges often interpreted it to simply mean one could not kill fellow Jews rather than a blanket condemnation of murder. Either way though, forbidding murder is certainly not utopian, it’s utterly practical and essential to a basic, functional society.
    And no, ignoring tensions is what LEADS to dogma. Ignoring the differences between reality and my idea of reality is high-octane dogma-fuel.

  22. 22
    greg

    so i guess you think that there was a golden age of anarchism where people would stand up and fight for principles, yet they were idiots, and if they’d succeeded they would have brought in totalitarianism and mass murder … and modern day anarchists are somehow disconnected from the same principles (i would add that taking up arms is a highly different venture in this modern day of high tech multi-trillion dollar armies)
    and ‘Communists’ with a capital C are actually much different from ‘communism’ the principles (which i understand to be collective ownership of property & means of production, and the allocation of work to meet collectively-decided needs of society). put the ‘anarcha-’ in front of communism and you will not get a ‘state’ that takes ownership and decision making away from the actual people
    i don’t think everyone you suggest has a ‘perfect vision’ actually does, i think that it’s more a set of principles upon which to base future (and present) action and organizing
    i prefer that to some vague notion of ‘openness’ and ‘reevaluation’
    and you seem to assume i am some sort of dogmatic Marxist … not sure where you got that from, but in my world view there is a place for spirit and faith, the tension is negotiating with people who will not allow for that space

  23. 23
    DA

    “so i guess you think that there was a golden age of anarchism where people would stand up and fight for principles, yet they were idiots, and if they’d succeeded they would have brought in totalitarianism and mass murder …”
    No, I think that the Spanish Republicans were actual revolutionaries and not just big-mouthed, idealistic rich kids. It doesn’t mean I agree with their views. Franco may have been a bastard, but Stalin made him look like a boy scout.
    “i would add that taking up arms is a highly different venture in this modern day of high tech multi-trillion dollar armies”
    No shit? Thanks for the lesson.
    “and ‘Communists’ with a capital C are actually much different from ‘communism’ the principles ”
    You know, every Commie SAYS that. It’s kind of amazing that after all the trial runs, we still can’t get a real honest to god workers’ paradise up and running. But I’m sure that says nothing about the workability of those ideas.
    “put the ‘anarcha-’ in front of communism and you will not get a ‘state’ that takes ownership and decision making away from the actual people”
    That’s a rather bold assertion. Of course, revolutionary vangaurds are always promising power to the people, and it never seems to work out quite that way.
    “i don’t think everyone you suggest has a ‘perfect vision’ actually does, i think that it’s more a set of principles upon which to base future (and present) action and organizing”
    In my experience it doesn’t seem to shake out that way. Utopianism has no room for diversity, and has always shown this clearly when it gets power.
    “i prefer that to some vague notion of ‘openness’ and ‘reevaluation’”
    Did you really just follow the previous paragraph with this one? Ohh right, tension is never a problem, we can always just say two things belong together.
    “and you seem to assume i am some sort of dogmatic Marxist … not sure where you got that from”
    No, I think you’re a confused kid advocating for two equally absurd but mutually exclusive worldviews. But then, I don’t know you. If you’re not a communist, I’m confused as to why you’re defending Communism…No, wait, “anarcho-communism”, where we’ll all live a certain way with mutually agreed on collective decisions but have no government(?)
    “but in my world view there is a place for spirit and faith”
    Me too, only I call those things ‘ghosts and irrational fixations’. We have so much in common!
    “the tension is negotiating with people who will not allow for that space”
    I can demand “space” for anything. What if I demand space for hierarchy and oppression? How about for inequality and brutality? Why should people “allow” for such things anyway, just because you say so?

  24. 24
    greg

    let’s apply some principles to your demand for space. you are allowed your freedom so long as it doesn’t take away from the freedom of others. hierarchy and oppression certainly do take away others peoples freedom. inequality and brutality, likewise.
    spirit and faith, no. unless you want to confuse that with some of the practises of some religions, which are a different thing. so why would you try and take away that space, or be so intolerant of it to label it ‘ghosts and irrational fixations’?
    “Utopianism has no room for diversity, and has always shown this clearly when it gets power” – let’s talk about prefigurative politics. you don’t wait till you ‘get power’ before you implement your principles, you do it as you go, your actions are models for the future. i prefer to view things in terms of everyone having some power, so in my view it is how people use the power they have (currently and in the future). if people in the present are using what power they have to organize in directly-democratic, hierarchy- and oppression-challenging methods, then that’s probably the biggest predictor of what will happen when they, as you say, ‘get power’. or if you look at places/groups that are organized with top-down, centralized control/authority (isn’t this the model that spawned those ‘Communist’ states you like to reference?), then chances are that’s what you’re going to get when they ‘get power’.
    that’s a more ‘rational’ way of predicting what will come out of different approaches to organizing, rather than some vague belief that ‘utopianism’ will result in ‘distopianism’
    …if you want to be rational and all…

  25. 25
    DA

    “you are allowed your freedom so long as it doesn’t take away from the freedom of others.”
    Libertarians say the same thing. And I agree that it’s a good theory; the problem is, it’s useless in practice unless we have an arbiter of whose freedom is impinging on whose. Otherwise it’s a matter of manuevering and force.
    “hierarchy and oppression certainly do take away others peoples freedom. inequality and brutality, likewise.”
    Historically, religious faith does as well.
    “. unless you want to confuse that with some of the practises of some religions, which are a different thing.”
    People try to pull this gloss all the time, and it’s bullshit. There is no Christian faith without Christianity, there’s no Muslim faith without Islam. There’s no belief in the supernatural without the chicanery of shamans and soothsayers and other con artists. Every religion likes to claim that they aren’t a religion and are opposed to organized religion.
    “intolerant of it to label it ‘ghosts and irrational fixations’?”
    Unlike the Communists, I’m not so intolerant of such beliefs that I’d put people in re-education camps for it. But it’s nonsense, so I’ll callit nonsense.
    “you don’t wait till you ‘get power’ before you implement your principles, you do it as you go, your actions are models for the future.”
    So inspiring! I’ll bet the workshop organizer who taught you that one gave you a gold star and some tofutti at the end of the day.
    “). if people in the present are using what power they have to organize in directly-democratic, hierarchy- and oppression-challenging methods, then that’s probably the biggest predictor of what will happen when they, as you say, ‘get power’”
    By no means. Look at the contrast between the way Mao and Khomeini, for example, acted before and after getting into power. Look at Christianity as an underground cult vs Christianity as a state power. Nobody claims they’re going to institute a reign of terror.
    Also, how tolerant in democratic IS your little group, anyhow? You started this conversation by claiming that they’re intolerant of Christian potential applicants. Is that the limit, I wonder? How accepting are you guys of dissent and difference?
    “isn’t this the model that spawned those ‘Communist’ states you like to reference?)”
    As far as I can tell, Communist revolutions were spawned by communism and organized by its principles. I like that you put it in quotes though; yep, none of the many communist states of the last century were doing TRUE communism; we’ll get there someday though!
    “that’s a more ‘rational’ way of predicting what will come out of different approaches to organizing, rather than some vague belief that ‘utopianism’ will result in ‘distopianism’”
    So, your warm and fuzzy feelings about organization are scientific, but an undeniable social pattern is vague? Nice one.
    “…if you want to be rational and all…”
    Yeah, I think it’s a good idea.

  26. 26
    greg

    hey thanks for the pointer – your ideas are nonsense, so i’ll call them nonsense. makes it easy. end of argument.
    thanks again

  27. 27
    DA

    Brilliant rejoinder there, Greg. When the revolution comes I’m sure you’ll be minister of Propaganda.
    “Nuh uh, YOU’RE stupid”

  28. 28
    greg

    just following your lead.
    you’ll be pleased(?) to find out that in the group i’m in, when i pointed out the intolerance and dismissiveness by proclaimed atheists towards people of others faiths, there came from them an apology and understanding that what they had been doing had been inappropriate. geez, imagine a group where people come to terms with hurtful behaviour and then decide against it.
    you say: “As far as I can tell, Communist revolutions were spawned by communism and organized by its principles.”
    I say: please find me where the communist principle is stated, outside of official platforms of these ‘Communist’ parties, that society must be organized in a totalitarian fashion, or that mass murder must be committed outside of self-defense.
    and you say, “I’m not so intolerant of such beliefs that I’d put people in re-education camps for it” … by your arguments, you would say that you are being utopian and thus actually you don’t know how you would really act when you are in power, and actually yes you would do the re-education camps and worse, it doesn’t matter what you have to say or think about it now
    that is why i call your bullshit nonsense.
    you say there is “an undeniable social pattern” of there being authoritarian, totalitarian organized societies that (always) come out of ‘utopian’ principles. if there are examples of principles organizing non-totalitarian societies, wouldn’t that ‘deny’ your precious ‘pattern’?
    and ps i don’t feel like being in conversation with someone who is so dismissive, condescending and insulting. that was the point i brought up in my first comment on this post, and it seems we have gone full-circle

  29. 29
    DA

    “and ps i don’t feel like being in conversation with someone who is so dismissive, condescending and insulting”
    You know what? Fair enough. I’ve been gratutuitously rude and sarcastic during our discussion, and I apologize. I’ll try and address your points tomorrow in a friendlier spirit. I’d do it now but it’s about 1 a.m. and I’m a bit drunk, so if you’re up for it, we can try and engagage more on theism, communism, etc in the near furture.

  30. 30
    DA

    Okay, back.
    “you’ll be pleased(?) to find out that in the group i’m in, when i pointed out the intolerance and dismissiveness by proclaimed atheists towards people of others faiths, there came from them an apology and understanding that what they had been doing had been inappropriate.”
    I am pleased, and surprised. I do think it undercuts the initial point you were making, and may subsequent points. But whenever people realize they’re being dicks and, well, stop being dicks, I’m a-ok with that.
    “I say: please find me where the communist principle is stated, outside of official platforms of these ‘Communist’ parties, that society must be organized in a totalitarian fashion, or that mass murder must be committed outside of self-defense.”
    I now live in a Communist country who lost a whole intellectual generation and countless lives trying to reshape itself into the dictatorship of the proletariat. When you try to mode a country into a very specific and planned mode, rather than apply basic pragmatic governance, people who don’t fit into the plan become obstacles to be removed. History in general, and the 20th century in particular, was just a constant record of such events. Modern day Communism, with such a woeful track record, seems to me to be grasping at straws. It’s always based on what I could only call faith, faith that if only the real communists had triumphed, like Leon and Rosa, they would have done Communism RIGHT, unlike Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Ho Chih Minh, Castro, Pol Pot, Tito, etc etc, we’d have had a true, Democratic Socialist Republic based on true principles. It doesn’t happen because it can’t. Or rather, the closest it’s come would probably be countries like Norway, who acheived it by completely different means.
    “by your arguments, you would say that you are being utopian and thus actually you don’t know how you would really act when you are in power, and actually yes you would do the re-education camps and worse, it doesn’t matter what you have to say or think about it now”
    No, and here’s why; I don’t believe in radically reshaping civilization into a new mode. I’m one of those boring liberal reformist types that believes everything has to be open to examination and criticism; anarchism and communism are based on principles that are fairly immutable.
    “if there are examples of principles organizing non-totalitarian societies, wouldn’t that ‘deny’ your precious ‘pattern’?”
    Well, yes, if one of those societies had actual political power rather than being simply a free association of people in a larger democratic Republic, as I would guess your group to be. If you can find me an example of a modern day nation that works on these principles, I’ll be happy to concede. But I’ll say ahead of time, a small intentional group or primitive tribe won’t cut it; it’s an impractical solution to expect humanity to abandon its current course en masse and return to a pastoral background or anything like that.

Leave a Reply