Atheists who can’t even talk to theists

A Recurring Character

Among my many years participating in university atheist student groups, there was often someone who played the role of the asshole.

Atheists are, of course, stereotyped as angry assholes, although a lot of this is based on online activity. It’s very easy to be “internet angry”, when you’re merely energetic, enthusiastic, or opinionated. Plenty of people are loud in writing but soft-spoken in person. But I’m talking about atheists who were not merely internet angry, but IRL angry at religion, or otherwise assholes about it. It sometimes reached a point where other atheist students would whisper, “What’s up with them? Are they okay?”

I mean, everyone is an asshole to one degree or another. But mentally, I drew a line in the sand with this question: what if a theist walked through that door? Would this person be able to talk normally with them? Or would they try aggressively argue with them, or otherwise be a jerk?
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Terrible graphs of agnostic atheism

Rebecca Watson, unfortunately, reminded me of a meme from the old days of new atheism. It’s those agnostic atheism diagrams.

A diagram showing agnostic theist, gnostic theist, agnostic atheist, and gnostic atheist as four quadrants

Credit: Skepchick

I have a rant in me about these diagrams. Agnosticism and atheism are political terms, and whether you identify with them has more to do with what you find useful in your social context than the literal definitions of these terms. This diagram became popular because it explains and justifies a particular choice in identification labels, but it is not an appropriate framework to understand more broadly why people do or do not identify as agnostic. Thus, as a meme, this diagram is a barrier to empathy and understanding of fellow nontheistic folks of diverse label preferences. Also it’s just kind of incoherent.

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Review: The Rift

The Rift is a short novel by fellow FTBer William Brinkman. It’s a fictionalized version of the feminist wars in skepticism, one where the skeptics work for the aliens. I was provided with a review copy.

The Rift book cover

I admit I’m not very familiar with Brinkman’s Bolingbrook Babbler, but I know Brinkman has been writing it since 1998, and that he has perfected a style of satirical fiction where real (often political) events are mixed with the fantastical. Like The Onion, you might say, but long form.  I also know that some of it is quite topical, covering issues in atheism and skepticism.

The specific focus on skepticism produces interesting results, where the skeptical movement is juxtaposed with the reality of the paranormal. It’s delightfully absurd, but also hints at deeper interpretations. It implies a dilemma: do you side with the skeptics, who conceal the truth even as they fight for it, or do you speak the unbelievable truth? It explores, in a metaphorical way, the faults of the skeptical movement—something that can be quite difficult to talk about in a non-fictional context, if I do say so myself!

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Giving thanks

I’ve always celebrated Thanksgiving more than once a year. Once with my dad’s family, and once with my mother’s. My dad’s family, who is White, would have these relatively traditional gatherings around a big table, where we pass the turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes in a sort of ritualized cooperation. My mother’s family, who is Chinese Filipino, would treat it like yet another pot luck, with with the traditional Thanksgiving foods present but not playing a central role in the mix of Chinese, Filipino, and American dishes. People would line up to put food on their plates, and unceremoniously scatter across three or four tables of various shapes and sizes.

Once I started visiting my husband’s family, we started alternating Thanksgivings. One year, we would visit his parents, and the next year we would visit mine. My mother was always disappointed by this, so we formed a new tradition: early Thanksgiving. Now we celebrate two Thanksgivings on different weeks, with different sides of the family.  I’ve already celebrated my first Thanksgiving this year.

When I started reading atheist blogs in the late 2000s, I observed another kind of Thanksgiving tradition. I’m not sure readers today would be familiar with it, because it might have died with the atheist blogosphere. But basically, atheists would write in defense of their celebration of Thanksgiving.

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A look back at the Brights

The Brights was a movement in the 00s to rebrand atheists as “brights”. It immediately fizzled, as everyone laughed it out of the room. Can you imagine calling yourself a bright?

I first heard about brights in 2007, but apparently it was coined some years earlier, by Paul Geisert in 2003. He and his wife Mynga Futrell founded The Brights organization, whose website still stands today. The word was initially supported by Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, but was immediately mocked by both conservative columnists and skeptical authors (not all articles are publicly available). Nowadays, nobody ever bothers to remember it except as a hilarious object lesson in how constructed labels can go wrong.

“Bright” is a funny word, but I will discuss it earnestly. I will deconstruct its motivations, analyze the arguments for and against it, and investigate where it ended up.

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Poe’s Law is and always was bad

It’s time for another trip to the ruins of New Atheism, to scavenge for clues about its downfall. Today we examine Poe’s Law, an adage that states that there is no parody of religious fundamentalism so extreme that it won’t be mistaken for the real thing.

This episode was inspired by a video by Sarah Z (1 hr), about a seemingly unrelated topic: made up stories on Tumblr. The central thread in her video is an obviously fictional story on Tumblr about a woman giving money to a homeless man, and being interrupted by a fedora’d dipshit. And with one thing and another it ends with a Gangnam Style dance number.

This tumblr story was posted to Reddit, where it was a joke about tumblr SJWs make shit up to reinforce their own persecution complex, and have so little attachment to reality that they believe their own nonsense.

The story isn’t just fake though. It’s a fake fake story. The story was not created by a tumblr SJW, and was in fact never posted on Tumblr in the first place. The screenshot was engineered by an apparently anti-SJW redditor who habitually created fake screenshots along similar lines. So in truth, it’s a story about how anti-SJWs make up shit to reinforce their own worldview, and have so little attachment to reality that they believe their own nonsense.

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Legalistic fixation in atheism

Something I’ve observed among atheists, is a narrow legalistic stance informed by separation of church and state. For example, saying religion is 100% fine until you bring it into government policy. Or, religion is completely acceptable unless you’re forcing it upon other people. This stance does not seem at all consistent to me, and it was a perpetual annoyance back when I participated in the atheist movement.

And you know, who cares anymore, the atheist movement is dead.

Nonetheless, it’s a pet peeve of mine, especially when I see the same reasoning applied other realms. Say, statues memorializing racists. Can you imagine believing that racist statues are 100% fine unless they’re on public property?

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