This question was asked by an audience member at about 116:20 in the Hitchens v Turek debate posted yesterday: “If there is no god, why do you spend your whole life trying to convince people that there isn’t? Why won’t you just stay home?”
The audience member who posed this question was clearly on the side of Turek through the debate — applauding him heartily, crossing his arms and giving not a whit of applause when Hitchens spoke. It could be that he said “why WOULDN’T you just stay home”, he was not miked and the question was slightly unclear. However, I strongly suspect it was posed as an imperative as above, and if it wasn’t, I also suspect the questioner would not take offense at this characterization.
In a moment of synchronicity, @josefjohann tweeted thusly:
I think the twitter #atheism crowd is doing it for sport. we won’t save the world, we prob. won’t change minds. so what does it accomplish?
At the same time as Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshbaum flog their book on the book circuit wherein they accuse “New Atheists” of being too outspoken, a British debate show called The Big Question talks about atheism as being an intolerant belief system, and the atheists who show up to defend their lack of faith are often drowned out even by the host who’s obviously made up his mind as to the topic of the show prior to a single atheist speaking.
While we’re being told not to speak up, the scientific advances that have been made in the name of reason and rationality are being co-opted right under our noses. An ostensibly ex-atheist Christian by the name of Dr. Andrew Parker, a biologist at Oxford University, who evidently works on the side for the Templeton Foundation (a religious organization that offers prizes to theists who write papers that support the bible and sound sciencey enough to fool the general populace), wrote a book claiming that the Bible is scientifically accurate — in an effort to post-hoc fit everything we’ve learned about the universe into the Biblical framework, claiming that Bible has been right about all these scientific discoveries all along, if you only look at each verse sideways and squint real hard. One of the examples Dr. Parker gives is that the phrase, “let there be light”, refers to the evolution of the eye. That’s right, there’s only light if you can see, so that’s when God designed the eye. You have to ignore the fact that, apparently, eyes would have to have evolved long before land animals were created. Before plants, even, in fact. Right there in Parker’s explanation of Genesis being scientifically accurate, God would have to have done things in the wrong order for his hypothesis to be correct. It’s shameful.
In the States, evangelical Christians like Francis Collins are appointed to positions of influence over scientific matters, and when atheists demand that the separation of church and state is honoured, and/or Collins refused the position of head of the NIH, theists claim that our opposition to him is entirely due to him being a Christian.
Children die while their parents pray over their prostrate bodies rather than taking them to hospitals where medical science can save their lives. And when they are convicted of negligence, the fact that they were doing what their religion prescribes, apparently absolves them of any sin from their direct actions killing their children, and they get a slap on the wrist at worst.
So in the face of how prevalent religion is in our society, in the face of how much power and benefit they confer their own, why don’t we atheists just go home, sit down, and shut up about our beliefs, while the religious folks go about their business of running our countries in a theocratic manner? Why don’t we just allow everyone to believe in their God and proselytize and witness and convert (and even grade one another on how many they manage to convert!), while we kick our feet up and enjoy our godless solitude from the privacy of our own homes? Why not stay, so to speak, “in the closet“?
I can’t answer for all of us, but I can answer for myself.
Religious folks, despite already being in the majority, fight daily to push their religions further into the public sphere, to push back the separation of church and state that most democracies wisely build in. They have TV shows and radio shows where they are free to talk about their deities. They talk trash about atheists, telling people that they are incapable of morals, that they are incapable of love, that they are as bad as Stalin or Pol Pot or Mao Tse Tung. They do so both in the privacy of their own homes, as is their right, and they do so from the pulpits of their congregations, as is their right. Their smears may be wrong, pig-headed, and discriminatory, but they have the right to say them. But these smears go unchallenged if atheists are silent.
We atheists have been silent for a very long time; our voices are understandably rusty. For every encroachment into our personal space — for every incentive that discriminates against faithless — for every demand that people be allowed to share their love of God with others — we are being told to shut up, to stay silent, to dare not demand the same right to share our love of reason, our love of logic and our love of science. We do not speak up to evangelize atheism, for that is antithetical to our position, and we have bigger issues presently — buffering an outright attack on us by the religious.
Your right to swing your fist ends at the point of my nose, yet when your fists connect with the noses of atheists we are told to accept it and dare not swing back. I am tired of being a punching bag. I am tired of being told that I am immoral, that I am evil, that I am an abomination against society.
That is why I do not merely allow people to preach their faith on my doorstep without an answer. And that is why, when I AM at home, I reserve the right to occasionally shut the door on their faces. And that is why when I am NOT at home, I reserve the right to counter people’s vociferous shouting or unfair double standards or ridiculous pandering or antiscientific nonsense with my voice — rusty though it may be. I reserve the right to scream out, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more!”
My voice is the only weapon I have against this encroachment and viral spread of religion and antiscientific thinking. And short of death, my voice will not be silenced.