Saturday, April 24, 2010

Atheists Destroy

In 2009, President Barack Obama spoke to Muslims in his Inaugural Address. "Your people will judge you on what you can build and not what you destroy."

This focus on destruction is not unique to Muslims. It is a poison to any community. It is prevalent in the poison of racism which has invaded Christian groups in the form of Militias. Parts of the Tea Party also have this disease of destruction, seeking to repeal Health Care Reform, fringe elements praying for Obama to die. In my view, it's these elements which poison the communities they are a part of. In some cases, the point of the community is to destroy another.

To me, there seems to be a growing number of atheists who want to see religion destroyed. I think these people, who may have always been around, are the ones who can make the community suffer. It is difficult to form a community around what you don't believe in and that is what atheists do. Atheists are an incredibly diverse community, however, those who participate in organizations seem to be overwhelmingly liberal politically, don't have kids, or their kids are out of the house. Most seem to have been raised with a religion and have sought out a community because it can be difficult to, in some cases, be rejected from friends and family because you don't happen to share the same views on theology.

It's this last point, I think, which causes much of the anger among active atheists and causes problems for others which are looking for another type of community. People who have chosen intellectual honesty over friendships and normal relations with family will be pretty angry at the reason why their lives are different now. I know I was really angry at religious people and religion in general after reading Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. I blamed even moderate religious Christians for every bit of religious violence. The Twin Towers fell because of the group of peaceful Quakers who meet every week. When I saw the Freedom From Religion Foundation's ads which said "Imagine No Religion" and showed a picture of the World Trade Centers standing, I cheered. It made perfect sense to me. The terrorists were Muslim and without Islam, they wouldn't be Islamic terrorists and wouldn't have killed themselves without the promise of 72 virgins. It was a simplistic notion and I bought into it.

I feel like my opinion of religion and religious people is different than it once was. It is bigoted to treat all religious people alike. Religious people are not stupid. Religious people can share the same ethical values I have. Religious people can understand science and are not brainwashed into belief. I might have been poisoned by the Interfaith movement, but I see a value in joining people together who have different views on theology, but share similar goals for how to make the world a better place. My former views wouldn't have supported this one bit. By working with religious people, I was allowing them to spread lies to children to brainwash the uneducated and ignorant. The side effect is that our world will not progress as long as the religious are allowed to be religious without atheists speaking up and ridiculing and shaming them into disbelief.

One challenge with atheist groups is focusing on missions. Do you exist to form a community of people who feel alone, who need support, who feel like they need to do something to lessen the impact of religion on society? Do you exist to teach people who are religious that atheists are normal? Do you exist to make the world a better place and how do you go about doing that? I don't think that the focus on converting the religious to atheists, which some atheist evangelists want, is a realistic goal and causes problems in communities which are trying to grow. These are the people who would go door to door expressing the "good news" of atheism. These are the people who seek to destroy and are poisoning the community in the same way the violent and racist members of the Tea Party and Christian groups have done. The difference is that the numbers are much smaller but the effect is the same. The people who aren't into that, the ridicule and victim mentality, the people who weren't raised religious, the people who think that religion isn't evil, will simply leave.

I'm on the fence. I'm going to form a community of one.


Greg said...

Not only is it not possible, but it is also simply not a good idea, to seek perfect accord with fellow members of a community, a movement, or an organization. For example, I like working with Minnesota Atheists (the organization) and I never met a Mn Atheist activist/member/etc that I didn't like and respect, but I seem to disagree fundementally with one or two things that it seems that most Mn Atheist members think. For the most part, almost none of those members would know what I'm talking about, because I never bring such things up, because it does not matter to me that we mesh perfectly.

People on the most activist edge have to get used to centrists nuzzling up to the appeasement line (but are right to call them on crossing it, or to ask people where they think it is) and moderates need to accept that if it were not for the extremes, then the moderates would not stand a chance. When they come to take away the atheists, and you're a moderate, they're going to take away PZ Myers first, and that will give you time to get out of the back door, run into the forest, find your fellow moderates and regroup. Figuratively. (Or at least, I hope figuratively.)

Adam said...

I liked this post, Bjorn. This is exactly the same reason I hesitate to tell people I'm an Atheist. It holds such a negative connotation in many people's minds that I don't want them to think I'm a bad person just because I believe no God exists.

Furthermore, you'll attract more bees with honey than you will with vinegar, as they say. It's really fun when you find a religious person you can actually have a conversation with and bounce ideas off to get a different perspective.

Hank Fox said...

I’m always suspicious of people who say “Atheists are angry because ...” and then fail to include “Because they have been and continue to be shit on by Christians” at or near the top of the list.

As to this statement: “To me, there seems to be a growing number of atheists who want to see religion destroyed. I think these people ... are the ones who can make the community suffer.”

Yeah, and screw you too. Religion has had free rein to wreck lives and civilizations for millennia. Check back with me after a thousand years or so of unchecked atheism, and I’ll tell you if I’ve started to worry.

Overall, this author is demonstrating a lack of imagination in failing to notice that “atheists” are multi-faceted people. I don’t think I’ve ever met an atheist who wasn’t involved in a very diverse array of activities, interests and communities.

Atheists are bakers, scientists, patriots, poker players, political activists, athletes, gardeners, web geeks, fishermen, artists, musicians ... ha! – even priests, I’ll bet. In every one of those activities and interests, atheists ARE a part of the community, building and supporting it every bit as much as Christians. (More so, in some ways – note that every single technological advance within reach was created by people acting as if science and reality were real things, and gods and demons were not. In other words, someone acting as a functional atheist.)

I have a hard time even picturing someone who’d feel they were ONLY defined by their atheism. Someone who did nothing else BUT be an atheist. I certainly don’t know any.

Atheists belong to communities – and “the community” – just as anyone else does. It’s YOU who are making atheists out to be some sort of monolithic alien danger to the type of community you imagine – which seems to contain a lot of religion, by the way.

But let me add a special response to this:

“I don't think that the focus on converting the religious to atheists, which some atheist evangelists want, is a realistic goal and causes problems in communities which are trying to grow. These are the people who would go door to door expressing the ‘good news’ of atheism. These are the people who seek to destroy and are poisoning the community in the same way the violent and racist members of the Tea Party and Christian groups have done.”

Damn. Atheists seek to destroy the community? And you’re comparing atheists to teabaggers? Someone’s been reading a few too many Chick Tracts, sounds to me.

As I’d have to write for some time to express how truly thoughtless, nasty, prejudiced and concern-troll hateful this paragraph sounds, I’ll just stop here.

Nick said...

I agree with some of what you said and disagree with some of what you said.

I agree that it can be useful to work together with religious groups to make positive change happen. And that this should happen more often.

However, I do find it sad that so many atheists (such as yourself) are willing to ostracize fellow atheists just because they are more "militant". As PZ Myers said in his "Counting Coup" presentation at the SSA conference last summer (which you were there for, if I recall correctly, Bjorn), the atheist community needs warriors and diplomats.

That's one of the best parts of the atheist community to me. The fact that it is so very diverse.

While you are sick of "militant" atheists, I am sick of people complaining about "militant" atheists. However, I would never say that "diplomatic" atheists are "making the community suffer".

The "New Enlightenment" (as the SSA calls it) is only just beginning in this country. At this point, we need to focus on getting the freethinkers in this country to stand up and make themselves known. Let's not hamper this growth by dividing the community so soon.

Nick Wallin
Activities Director
Campus Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists

Bjorn said...

@Hank Thanks for providing an example of the kind of attitude which makes it difficult to build a community.

Boo hoo. Christians are mean!

I have met plenty of people who make their atheism a big part of their life. In fact, that used to be how I thought for a long time. Most of the people I spent time with were Atheists, which has caused me to ignore people who were religious because I felt they were brainwashed and not worth my time.

Bjorn said...


I don't have a problem with pz myers, I just wouldn't get excited about an event about Creationism, but would get excited about an event open to the public about promoting science education in schools.

It has just gotten old to hear about how crazy religious people are. Sure, it's fun for a while, but I think there can be more focus on fighting for something, then fighting against something.

John Morales said...

"a community of one"

An epitome of an oxymoron.

Nick said...

"It has just gotten old to hear about how crazy religious people are. Sure, it's fun for a while, but I think there can be more focus on fighting for something, then fighting against something."

I completely agree. Though you might agree that fighting for rationality and reason is often the same thing as fighting against irrationality and superstition.

Feel free to fight for whatever drives you. :)

Hank Fox said...

My own atheist meet-up group started out with some ranting, but things settled down fairly quickly after we all understood that we COULD rant, because this was a welcoming like-minded audience. And in less than a year, one of the main subjects is positive actions we could take to benefit the community.

I should point out to Bjorn that none of these people appear to be curmudgeonly recluses mad at the world. They all seem bright, reasonable people who are here to do something positive. Any anger expressed is appropriate anger, brought out not because the person is a raging asshole but ... well, because things HAPPENED to them. Blatant prejudice, obvious injustices, totally undeserved punishments and assaults, because they questioned or disagreed with religion.

I'll also say that finding fault with outspoken members of the atheist community is damned premature. I’m sure there were black people who felt uncomfortable with Rapp Brown and Malcolm X, but I doubt if racial awareness would have progressed in the way it did without them.

Here we have this movement just a couple of years old, facing down a world-spanning monolith thousands of years old. Hey, if you think the time is now to start attacking the movement as proceeding too fast, or too loudly, or too angrily, knock your socks off.

I just think you’re being faint-hearted, and are demonstrating both a failure of imagination and a lack of understanding of the forces involved in all this. You sit in a capsule of safety and wealth and criticize people who may see things a lot more clearly than you do about how much danger still exists, and how avidly the pursuit of justice must proceed, in order to still exist 20 years from now.

Robert Ingersoll was a famous agnostic (we’d call him an atheist today) in the 1800s, but as far as any effect on modern society, he has vanished completely, swallowed up in a hundred years of more pervasive Christianity. Since he lived, we got “In God We Trust” on all our money, and nice Christians today get free, positive news coverage for every nutty thing they want to do. We got a US president telling us we weren’t patriots, and shouldn’t even be considered citizens. We got banned from radio and television, so much so that even today it’s almost impossible to get any sort of coverage about the subject. We got a national poll identifying atheists as the most mistrusted group in America. A Christian minister today can tell followers to pray for the death of the President, and it gets covered as straight news, with no hint of censure. Christian militias can recruit military veterans and get them to vow to “defend the Constitution” against our own elected officials. Here in upstate New York, a newspaper columnist friend of mine agreed to debate a member of the Discovery Institute on evolution – actual SCIENCE, fer frick’s sake – and nice Christians bussed in about 300 dimwits to pack the hall a couple of hours early so no curious outsiders could get in.

By contrast, let someone attempt to run for office as an atheist ... he might as well plan on going back to private life the day after the election, because he ain’t getting elected.

It’s THIS moment in history when the situation has some chance of being changed. The faint-hearted approach of “Oh, stop, stop! You’re going too fast! You’re being too loud! You just sound so MEAN!” is not appropriate to the larger situation in which we exist.

Bjorn, atheist you may be, but I think you’re a rather oblivious one, judging a very large, still very dangerous situation by your own narrow experience.

Blab said...

There's a profound difference between being an atheist because it is a rational decision given the lack of evidence for the existence of God, and being an atheist so you can feel superior to those who believe.

The latter kind are as useless as the bible-thumping or Koran-kowtowing form of bigot.

Always ask yourself: Are you communicating, or are you rehearsing your prejudices?

John Morales said...

Blab, you pose a false dichotomy; that's hardly rational.