Tanya Smith explains the world

It’s so confusing. As you may know, there was an amicable split between the imperialist American atheists and the rest of the world a while back: there is now an Atheist Alliance of America (AAA), and Atheist Alliance International (AAI) that gets the rest — it’s kind of like how the Treaty of Tordesilla divvied up the planet between Spain and Portugal.

Anyway, Tanya Smith, president of AAI, had an interview with the Non Prophets. Maybe that will help clarify everything for you.

A weekend in Fargo

It’s not too late to sign up: Project 42 is this weekend in lovely downtown Fargo, North Dakota. I’ll be there, so will Michael Shermer and Richard Carrier and Richard Haynes.

You might want to skip it if you’re a theist. There might be woodchippers around.

More ugliness laid bare

I missed one example of ugliness in my last post. I already thoroughly detest Christianity, but if I didn’t, one way I’d learn to hate it would be by standing outside of Planned Parenthood and witness the faith on display in the horde of abortion clinic protestors.

If we want to encourage more atheists, maybe one way would be to organize days of service as an abortion clinic escort. It might be a little unfair, though: that really does expose you to some of the worst Christians on the planet.

This horror cannot be unseen

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is very concerned: atheism has turned ugly, he says. Oh, no, I says, what atrocity have we perpetrated now? Have we been…

  • raping children in our care?
  • hunting for witches in Africa and setting them on fire?
  • rioting over poorly-drawn caricatures of Madalyn Murray O’Hair?
  • stoning women to death for adultery?
  • telling air force cadets to prepare for a righteous armageddon?
  • hypocritical?
  • chopping the hands off thieves?
  • displacing and oppressing people because they live on land Dawkins said was ours?
  • pouring money into California to suppress the rights of gay couples?
  • building compounds and filling them with automatic rifles?
  • lying to children in our educational system?
  • telling women they aren’t allowed to speak at our meetings?
  • flying planes into buildings?
  • chopping bits off baby penises?
  • inculcating shame and guilt in generations of children?
  • ignoring the stewardship of our planet because nature couldn’t possibly allow us to mess it up?
  • denying children medical care because disease is Hitchen’s will?
  • strapping bombs to our bodies and boarding church buses before detonating them?
  • telling poor people they aren’t allowed to use family planning?
  • butchering albinos for body parts we use in our secret ceremonies?
  • legislating death and imprisonment for sexual practices we disapprove of?
  • making women dress up in bag-like tents before allowing them to go outside?
  • dynamiting ancient works of religious art?
  • crusading?
  • chopping off clitorises?
  • demanding special privileges?
  • dismantling the social support network?
  • using our tax-free income to lobby for conservative politicians in our tax-exempt buildings?
  • calling for pogroms and ethnic cleansing?
  • setting our critics on fire?

Because those would be UGLY. That’s the kind of thing that comes to my mind as representative of disgraceful, hideous behavior by established social institutions. For a representative of a religious faith to claim that atheists have done something ugly implies that they must have really done something awful.

So what has Rabbi Hirschfield covering his eyes in horror?

The Backyard Skeptics were tearing pieces of paper in half…paper that had magic words written on them. O Lord, avert thine eyes that thou would not witness the great evils your people perpetrate on this earth. God, with your perfect all-seeing vision, I think you would prefer to change channels, avoid this heresy, and instead peep in on some of your good and holy people: I’m sure somewhere there’s a priest buggering a choir boy, or a rabbi gnawing on a baby’s penis, or an imam cutting off someone’s head, providing a soothing spectacle for a holy mind. Whatever you do, do not watch this horrific video of smiling people on a sunny day in California cheerfully disrespecting your sacred words. Amen.

You watched it, didn’t you? Now you’re going to have flashbacks to those frightful images all day long. Don’t blame me if you are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder now.

The cool/lame quotient

That Anglican archbishop, Rowan Williams, is complaining about the atheists again.

I’m not avoiding the point that the coolness of atheism is very much in evidence. The problem is it’s become a bit of a vicious circle. Atheism is cool, so books about atheism are cool.

They get a high profile, and books that say Richard Dawkins is wrong don’t get the same kind of publicity because atheism is the new cool thing.

It’s difficult to break into that, but plenty of people are trying.

He’s making a very common error of perspective. I hate to break the news to all of you, but atheism is not cool. It’s not cool at all. It’s the domain of nerds and geeks and sciencey weirdos with beards and snarky women who are way smarter than the guys chasing them. We are not rock stars. We are not fabulously sexy (well, except for Brian Cox). We tend not to have loud movie star personalities (well, except for Neil deGrasse Tyson). Nothing personal, but if you put together a line-up of one of the Kardashians, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Daniel Radcliffe, and Richard Dawkins, and showed them to the average person on the American street, most of our citizens’ eyes would light up in recognition at the first four, and look quizzically at the guy on the end. And no, it wouldn’t help much to swap in Brian Cox for Richard Dawkins.

But that’s the point: cool is a relative thing. Coolness depends on what you contrast it with. And that’s really Rowan Williams’ problem.

It’s not the coolness of atheism. It’s the lameness of religion.

Look at me. I’m moderately popular, and I’m a schlubby college professor at a small college. I’ve got a beard and I wear nerdy ties. I’m nobody. But stand me next to a priest, or a creationist, and the contrast makes me look white-hot and super-cool, even though I’m not. It’s been my cunning trick for years.

So the problem for Williams isn’t that atheism is cool at all — it’s that our cool/lame quotient rockets to stratospheric heights whenever we’re in opposition to old geezy wankers who are chanting antique gobbledygook about magic rabbis and dead people. And those apologists trying break into our schtick? All they are doing is making us look cooler.

There’s only one solution. If the priests just fade away and stop looking like such gomers next to us, then atheism will look much, much less cool. We’ll have to compete with Michael Bay and video games and porn for attention, and then there won’t be anyone chattering about how cool we are any more.

OH NO! I just revealed the secret to making atheism irrelevent — for all the religious folk to disappear into the woodwork. Now we’re dooooomed!