I’m sure glad David Smalley and I are friends and fellow atheists, because he begins a post titled What’s Killing the Atheist Movement? by saying this:
Remember when our friends could be wrong?
I do. Lots of my friends were idiots growing up. Hell, I was that idiot a few times.
But we stuck by each other, we worked through our issues, and we grew together.
So he won’t mind at all when I say that the post is a string of obnoxious atheist cliches and that he’s dead wrong about everything. It’s all the same bullshit I heard over 5 years ago when assholes started harassing my friends, and random women and minorities, off the internet.
We’re supposed to keep our disagreements private.
Also, I have standards in my friends. I don’t mindlessly stick with them; there are things they can do that I would absolutely kick them to the curb over, that are not negotiable. This is as it should be. “Friends” is not a contract that requires me to abide the abominable.
Yes, we had fights. And that’s ok. But our fights were private, and were about the issues. Not public horrific Trump-like attacks because of a simple disagreement in method or opinion.
Not once, in my entire history of blogging (over a decade), or my entire history of internet interactions (going on 25 years or more) has anyone politely called me up to have a “private fight” about something. I can’t even imagine it happening. I’d probably look at my phone in disbelief and say, “Dude. Take it to the internet. We can take our time and write stuff with substance and put it on record, instead of babbling on ephemeral media.” But I’ve heard this suggested many times, publicly, on the internet, and usually by someone who fears they’ll get publicly eviscerated. And then it’s usually a prelude to the poor person who wants to make it “private” using the opportunity to publicly denounce the other person for being a poor sport, rude, and unwilling to settle a disagreement with a friendly game of tiddlywinks.
Then there’s the “our disagreement is so petty that you should back down for the good of the movement” approach.
When our “friends” on Facebook or Twitter make a comment that we find offensive or absurd, we are so quick to disown them and “take a public stand” immediately, that we’re fracturing our movement into a thousand tiny micro groups that will be useless against the larger powers we’re collectively fighting.
Who are these larger powers that justify silencing dissent?
There are two parts to this issue that I find difficult to handle.
One is that I hear this from the same atheists who like to tell me that the only thing atheists can unite and agree on is the trivial issue of whether god exists (He doesn’t. There, done with that!) So there is a substantial segment of the atheist community (which doesn’t exist, according to them) that wants you to shut up about anything other than the existence of a god…and the operative phrase is shut up. The nonexistence of deities is not a very useful or practical cause; I’m far more interested in the implications of an absence of a divine authority, specifically in how science and reason explain the nature of the universe, and how any moral action should be based in humanism. So right away we have a problem: merely fighting against a vague and unspecified faith isn’t useful, and many atheists refuse to discuss in any concrete way what they want to fight for.
The second part is that the things I think important are disparaged by these same atheists: feminism, equality, social justice. So when I encounter some dudebro atheist jerkoff spitting on feminism, you’re not going to persuade me to go easy on him in the name of unity over our shared agreement that god doesn’t exist. When someone declares their indifference to the murder of a transgender woman, I’m not going to resist the temptation to unfriend them on facebook because, gosh, we both laughed at an irreligious George Carlin routine.
I’m also not going to sit back and let someone else tell me what’s important to me, and trivialize the causes I consider essential, asking me to silence myself about misogyny or racism because darn it, this year we’re going to get “In God We Trust” off of our pennies.
I’m not saying to excuse all ridiculous behavior.
This is another example of trivializing: now the problems many of us see in the movement are merely “ridiculous behavior”. We are fractured because there are deep disagreements about how to address serious social issues. Worse, because some people won’t even accept the dehumanization of fellow human beings as something more substantial than ridiculousness.
But where’s our Humanism? Where are the private and personal phone calls to work things out?
What is it with the phone calls? I give my phone number to friends and family. The last thing I want is The Amazing Atheist to give me a ring so we can work out our differences, as if a phone call would fix anything. Where does this fantasy that differences in philosophy are best resolved over the devil’s instrument, the telephone, with a strategy, talking, that can be as godawfully bad as Twitter for engaging in depth.
The “phone call” ploy is just another silencing tactic. Don’t express your disagreement and your ideas where other people can see them, please put it on a private channel where I can ignore them.
When someone is being absurd on Facebook, and we dog pile that person, make fun of that person, and create little secret groups to demean that person, that sounds more like church than it does a bunch of skeptics.
“Absurd”. Someone can say something dehumanizing, violent, racist, anti-woman, and we’ll just tuck that into the category of the “absurd”, and then dismiss the protestations against it. We’re not talking about deep rifts in atheism over whether we favor Skittles over M&Ms. Pay attention to what the people leaving atheism are complaining about. They’re serious. This isn’t over jokes or trivia.
Also, what sounds to me more like church is demanding quiet deferral to authority and a conspiracy of silence, in the name of the sacred cause, to protect the powerful and popular.
This is all just the tired old “civility” debate rehashed again. Not interested. I’m also not interested in discussing nothing but the existence of gods with atheists, where that issue is already settled, especially when it’s used as an excuse to avoid grappling with substantial human concerns. Fuck civility when we’ve got atheists who think the humanity of women or transgender individuals or non-white males in general is something we need to debate.
Oh, excuse me, not debate — to phone people up and have a private conversation about.