Tolerant progressive atheists

The Irish Atheist wrote a great post calling his fellow atheists to more tolerance and respect.

 

How to Be an Atheist Without Being a Total $%!# About It

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Let’s be honest. Atheists in America have an image crisis.

And by image crisis, I meant that we’re trusted less than rapists.

I’ve written about Christian blogger Benjamin Corey a couple of times in the past. His most recent article, a list of ten ways to be a Christian without being a total &$!# about it, is an attempt to remedy the rather obnoxious public image Christians have cultivated for themselves in America. In a couple of his comments he mentioned that he was hoping one of his atheist blogger friends would write a similar post.

And because I have nothing better to do on a Saturday morning than basket-weave as the sun rises….

Oh wait, I have plenty of things I should be doing. You owe me another beer, Mr. Corey.

To be fair, it’s a valid point. If Christians have a terrible public image in America, atheists aren’t much better. The atheist professor in ‘God’s Not Dead’ is somewhere between a straw man and an SNL caricature, but that stereotype of the elite and bitter atheist has to come from somewhere.

It does. It comes from us. Because we’re not always good examples of what it means to treat people who are different from us with respect and dignity. In fact, we’re bleeding terrible at it sometimes.

So here are ten ways to be an atheist without being a total dick about it. Ten ways I selected because I know that I’m consistently guilty of all of them. There are more. But these are the ten greatest failings of the Irish Atheist.

 

1. Let’s stop referring to religious people as mentally handicapped or incapacitated.

Because they’re not. The vast majority of theists are not in any way mentally challenged. For every raving lunatic who believes he’s Jesus Christ reborn in Kansas City, there are a hundred  educated men and women who are kind, sane, and rational and also religious. Some are casually spiritual, others are deeply devout. Some are extremely educated, and others are eager to plaster their ignorance on Twitter. But they make up 85-90% of the world’s population at a rough guesstimate. So let’s use the minds that 4.5 billion years of evolution gave us and stop smearing all these individuals as mentally handicapped. It does us no favours and makes us look just as petty and vicious as theists are so eager to paint us.

And, more importantly, it’s just not true. Religion is not a mental handicap. It is a complex and extraordinarily varied cultural phenomenon that influences individuals from a young age through the power of social conditioning. Any type of person can be religious – handicapped, brilliant, and everything in between. And frankly, it’s insulting to people who do live with mental handicaps. So seriously, knock it off.

2. Stop inferring that LGBT people can’t be devoutly religious.

They can. I personally don’t know how they do it. I do believe that the LGBT community is currently religion’s favourite and easiest target. But let’s stop insinuating that writers like Ben Moberg, who is gay and Christian and brilliantly well-spoken about it, is somehow ‘sleeping with the enemy.’

I don’t know how Moberg or people like him balance their identity with their religion, but it’s his life, not mine. Challenge ideas, always challenge ideas, but respect that some people are going to have life experiences that you can not identify with and that it’s not always your place to condemn the choices they make based on their experiences.

3. Stop saying that all wars are a result of religion.

They aren’t. Here’s a brief list of things that can start wars: racism, language barriers, economics, greed, nationalism, poor communication skills, they-have-nice-things-and-I-want-them, oppression of rights, assassinating Archduke Ferdinand, cutting off the ear of a man named Jenkins, and a football match. Sometimes, religion is a factor. Sometimes it’s the main factor. Not always. So let’s stop with this whole ‘religion causes all wars’ speech. It’s neither accurate nor cute.

4. In fact, let’s not use historically inaccurate arguments at all.

Remember that meme that’s passed around pretty regularly about Jesus and Horus? The one that claims that Jesus of Nazareth is basically just a carbon copy of a more ancient Egyptian deity? It’s pretty much a load of bullshit, as any reputable Egyptologist could tell you. In fact, most of those memes comparing Jesus to other deities are rubbish.

We’re supposed to be the ones who care about facts and rational arguments. Silly memes that could be refuted by an ancient history undergrad at the University of Omaha don’t help us much.

5. Let’s stop wasting money on silly billboards that poke fun at religions.

We’re not proselytisers. Let’s spend that money on something worthwhile. Like those 10,000 kids that Christians abandoned a couple of weeks ago because gay people.

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6. Let’s pick our battles with discretion.

When a young Buddhist boy in a public school is forced to partake in Christianity-affirming projects and is told that he should transfer to a school with more Asians if he doesn’t like it, that’s a battle worth fighting. When a child is put down for his religion in a federally funded place of education, we need to stand up on his behalf. When a girl is forced to leave her private school because she doesn’t look ‘feminine’ enough, we need to speak out and let her know that she has a place to go and people who love her just as she is.

But when a piece of religious art like the 9-11 cross is going to be placed in a museum, is this really something we should be up in arms about? Can you imagine if federally funded museums removed every work of art with a religious message? In the art world, religious artwork is a small niche commonly known as ‘Everything before 1750.’ I don’t think one more cross in a museum is going to threaten my First Amendment rights.

Do we really need to get involved when a grieving mother keeps a cross up for her son on public land? Yes, the land was owned by the public, yes, it was technically a driving hazard. Yes, I suppose it could technically breach the Establishment Clause. But is this really a fight that American Atheists should be involved in? Is this what we want the face of our community to be? Hairsplitting?

There are some battles that need to be fought, and others that could be fought but frankly aren’t worth our time. Let’s focus less on crosses and more on people.

7. Stop saying ‘Tax the churches.’

Separation of church and state goes both ways, and I sure don’t want any church paying into the government I help elect.

8. Let’s stop implying that we’re always right.

Theists constantly stigmatise atheists as ‘privileged elitists,’ and too often we do nothing to counter-act this claim. We’re wrong. A lot. About a lot of things. And we’re really, really bad about admitting that we’re wrong when we are. The conversation between skeptics and the faithful is too often laced with insinuations of intellectual superiority from both sides. Let’s knock it off. Respect each other. Recognise that each individual has a reason for taking the position they do. Find out that reason. Talk about it. Challenge it. Learn about it. Take the role of the searcher. Don’t set yourself up on the pedestal of Dawkins and insist that you’ve found the true answer and everyone below you is too stupid to figure it out.

Also, lay off the petty insults, even when you didn’t take the first shot. This shouldn’t have to be said, but type ‘atheist’ into a twitter search and let the fireworks fly. For myself, I recognise that it’s not necessary to refer to the Christian god as a Bronze Age goat herder’s idol, or to Islam as a paedophile’s misogynistic cult. No matter how satisfying it can be, such things are based in shock value and have no worth in a rational discussion beyond my own self-satisfaction.

We’re known for our doubt and our skepticism. Let’s start being known for our civility as well.

9. Stop assuming that every theist is out to get you.

This one is mainly for me. One of my biggest flaws as a writer and as a responder is that I tend to read everything a theist says in the worst possible light. I’ve had more than one person ask me how I could possibly have inferred such animosity into their statement when to me it seemed blindingly obvious. I had a reaction a few days ago when a writer on Patheos used the word ‘gypped,’ a racial slur against the Roma people (of whom my mother happens to be one). I was so disgusted by his use of this word that I never seriously entertained the thought that he had no idea what it meant. It lead to a very terse interaction between us that left nothing positive in it’s wake. And I’m sure I helped cement in his mind that atheists are often spiteful aggressors who are more interested in fights than dialogue.

10. Start looking past the religious differences.

Theists are the majority in this world, and that’s not going to change in any of our lifetimes. Atheists are often an insular tribe, isolating ourselves from the big bad religious powers-that-be in favour of congratulatory self-affirmations. Let’s break out of our bubbles a bit. Let’s start accepting invitations to attend church. Let’s insist on and enforce a level of civility in our interactions with theists. If we can stop insisting that our theological differences are the defining trait between us, the debate between skepticism and faith will start to matter less and less.

If there is one atheist commandment that we can all agree on, it’s this. Leave the world a better place than it was when you got here, because we only have one chance to visit this planet. Let’s start treating our theist neighbours like actual neighbours and copilots on this trip through the cosmos.

And stop being a %&#! about it.”

 

I was truly delighted after having read this. If there were a Canonical book regrouping all inspired atheistic writings, this one should be present right at its beginning.

I really admire his extreme intellectual humility and modesty.

I think there is one aspect which is partially lacking, though: avoiding all kinds of excessive generalizations.

For example, TIA is still writing sentences such as “Theists constantly stigmatise atheists ” which are obviously wrong for progressive Christians (by and large) don’t do this. And actually even quite a few Conservative Christians also combat prejudices directed against atheists.

 

Now I want to exhort all my fellow Christians to stop overgeneralizing about atheists too.

 

You cannot say that “Atheists don’t believe in God because they just want to sin” since a great number of them live a much moral life than you do.

You cannot say that “Atheists are nihilists” because most of them hold fast to an objective morality. The validity of its grounding is another question altogether.

You cannot say that “Deep down, atheists know that God exists and hate him” because many atheists would be glad if there were a good God and they just passionately detest the deities worshiped by fundamentalists.

You cannot say that “Atheists are arrogant bullying assholes who keep ridiculing their opponents”. This is by and large the case of anti-theists, but they only form a small sub-group of all atheists living under the sun.

 

 

I truly hate the culture war and wished there were only nice Christians and nice atheists discussing and debating instead of barking, yelling, growling and roaring towards each other.

 

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29 thoughts on “Tolerant progressive atheists

  1. Nice post.
    To nitpick a little:
    “7. Stop saying ‘Tax the churches.’
    Separation of church and state goes both ways, and I sure don’t want any church paying into the government I help elect.”
    – So he apparently believes that taxing churches would be a violation of the principle that the federal government shall not be “making [] any law respecting an establishment of religion [or] impeding the free exercise of religion”. Now that is just silly.
    The idea behind a slogan like “tax the churches” is that churches should not qualify for tax exemptions automatically, they should have to register as a charitable organization if they want tax exemptions like every other organization would have to, and IF they do that, they should be strictly prohibited from endorsing political candidates (again, like any other charitable organization is). This church for example:

    should lose tax-exempt status.

    “You cannot say that “Atheists are nihilists” because most of them hold fast to an objective morality.”
    – If you say “nihilist” without any qualifier, this would mean the denial of life having any meaning to it. But you are apparently talking about *moral* nihilism – the position that nothing is intrinsically right or wrong.
    Furthermore, contrasting moral nihilism to “objective morality” is a false dichotomy, whatever you mean exactly by “objective morality” – there are much more than two options here in any case. You might well be right if you say that most atheists are moral universalists, but that doesn´t necessarily imply that they are moral absolutists (which is, I guess, what you mean with the “objective” in “objective morality”) as well.

    • My idea about churches being taxed is a bit different from yours. Remaining tax exempt means there are strings attached to one’s tax exempt status. I don’t like the idea that any church has strings attached to the government. But I agree that churches often engage in politicking, which is wrong. I am always amazed when I see leaders of this nation, or candidates for leadership, visit (largely) black churches. Their comments tend to be only political. Is this a good thing? I don’t think so. Churches should be free of active politicking, no matter what. Speaking about issues is okay, but when any person’s name is brought into the mix, then that church has crossed a line. It’s one thing, for example, to preach about the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, and quite another to say “vote for X” because s/he shares our values. I hope this make sense.

      • I think we are in complete agreement here. Taking a side on an issue is fine, even if it´s a politically relevant one, but endorsing candidates goes too far. The reason I was nitpicking about this is, that the slogan “tax the churches” really just means that churches should not be treated differently from any other charitable organization. And that, to me, seems to be a very reasonable position that doesn´t violate anyone´s right to freely express his religion .

    • What about Planned Parenthood who receives a half a billion in taxpayer funds. Should they be allowed to donate millions of it to campaigns of their choice?

      • Should they be allowed to donate millions of it to campaigns of their choice?

        They should be allowed and are allowed to do that because they are neither a church nor a 501(c)(3) organization.

        • Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. (PPFA), or Planned Parenthood, is a nonprofit organization that provides reproductive health care in the United States and globally. It is a tax-exempt corporation under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3)[4] and a member association of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planned_Parenthood

  2. Thanks for the post. As for my part, I have posted here for a very short while, and I can attest that the discussion has been very civilized, and I hope to contribute in that spirit. If I deviate, I hope some people will “reign me in”. 🙂

    • Thanks you very much, Joseph 🙂

      I am certainly constantly trying to be civilized, but I cannot give you any guarantee concerning my commentators (in general) since I want to grant them as much freedom as possible.

      I realize, however, that it is an extremely strong human temptation to start bullying others when one’s own cherished beliefs get challenged.
      I am doubtlessly no better in that respect.

      Cheers from the sunny Lorraine.

      • “I realize, however, that it is an extremely strong human temptation to start bullying others when one’s own cherished beliefs get challenged.”

        Such statement will certainly not discourage your reader from crossing the line in using bullying tactics – in contrast to the intend of this blog!?!

  3. Some comments.

    Religion is not a mental handicap. It is a complex and extraordinarily varied cultural phenomenon that influences individuals from a young age through the power of social conditioning.

    That’s better than, I suppose, ‘it’s a sign of mental illness, let’s purge it and also mock them, muaha’ but it’s still not right. Religion is also a set of beliefs, values, and conclusions – often arrived at through study, argument and reasoning. The same as many other things, in fact.

    Still, overall a good list. Of course, this also means this person’s view of atheism is pretty well strictly opposed to the New Atheists down the line. Saying half of these things is normally sufficient to get ‘accommodationist!’ slapped on you as a label and then some shunning.

    • The New Atheists are a bunch of nasty fundies.

      I wasted many precious hours trying to rationally (and respectfully) discuss with them but I just got insults in return.

      • 1. I only just saw this entire article. I’m not sure how I missed it until now.

        2. I’m actually both a New Atheist and anti-theist, interestingly enough. Again, I just try not to be an ass about it.

        • New Atheism is the force that counters, criticises and opposes religion wherever it’s influence arises.

          I certainly do that. I oppose virtually every unique phenomenon that religion offers the world, from religiously inspired terrorism to FGM to Purity Balls and Creationism in the classroom.

          I also adamently counter the claims of the Bible and other religious texts when they are put forward as viable moral standards or rational explanations for natural phenomena.

          And I do my best to not be an ass about it. Often failing due to my personal background with the religious.

      • New Atheism is the force that counters, criticises and opposes religion wherever it’s influence arises.

        It’s a hate group that is tantamount to its own religion, except a tremendously irrational one.

        I oppose virtually every unique phenomenon that religion offers the world, from religiously inspired terrorism to FGM to Purity Balls and Creationism in the classroom.

        So, ‘religiously inspired terrorism’ – but you’re silent about other kinds of terrorism?

        ‘Female genital mutilation’ – so what’s your take on clit piercings?

        ‘Purity balls’ – so you think it’s of tantamount importance that people who value preserving sex until marriage get fucked?

        ‘Creationism in the classroom’ – any classroom? Even private religious ones?

        I also adamently counter the claims of the Bible and other religious texts when they are put forward as viable moral standards or rational explanations for natural phenomena.

        So you think prohibitions against murder and lying aren’t viable moral standards, and you think any explanation for a phenomena that doesn’t fit your definition of ‘natural’ must be rejected, full stop?

        Are you also a ‘free thinker’ or have you openly jettisoned that one?

        And I do my best to not be an ass about it.

        So what do you think about classifying religious beliefs as mental illnesses, or ‘making religious people the butt of contempt’ and ‘making barbs really hurt’?

        • Your comment is completely filled with straw men and false insinuations.and is almost not worthy of a response.

          -No. New Atheism is not a hate group. It’s not even a ‘group,’ merely a term used to describe atheists who criticise religion rather than adopt a ‘live and let live’ approach. Your first statement, an ad hominem attack, does not bode will for the rest of your comment.

          – I am not silent about other forms of terrorism, but religious terrorism is one that I focus on because it’s something I survived as a child. Focusing a certain type of evil does not mean I ignore or support other types and it is heinous of you to suggest such.

          – You know perfectly well that when I spoke of FGM, I was referring to the common religious non-consensual act.

          — As for your ridiculous purity ball comment, I think it is tantamount that women realise that their bodies are not owned by their fathers or husbands and are educated enough to make responsible choices. I support a woman’s right to give or preserve her virginity in any circumstances, regardless of what man claims that he owns her.

          – I think Creationism in religious classrooms is both silly and damaging, but I only oppose it being taught in classrooms paid for by my taxes.

          – If I needed prohibitions against murder and lying, I’d go to the Code of Hammurabi. Biblical morality doesn’t stop there, and I despise any text that tells me how I many own slaves or buy my own rape victim.

          – ‘So what d you think about classifying religious beliefs as mental illnesses?’

          If you had taken the time to read the article Marc shared, you would know. I address it in the VERY FIRST POINT.

          Unless you weren’t able to put together the pieces and realise that I’m the fucking author.

      • No. New Atheism is not a hate group. It’s not even a ‘group,’ merely a term used to describe atheists who criticise religion rather than adopt a ‘live and let live’ approach. Your first statement, an ad hominem attack, does not bode will for the rest of your comment.

        No, it’s not a term used to describe atheists who criticize religion. Plenty of atheists criticize religion – New Atheists pride themselves on mockery, hatred, and ridicule. You only need go as far as Dawkins to see it:

        I suspect that most of our regular readers here would agree that ridicule, of a humorous nature, is likely to be more effective than the sort of snuggling-up and head-patting that Jerry is attacking. I lately started to think that we need to go further: go beyond humorous ridicule, sharpen our barbs to a point where they really hurt.

        Michael Shermer, Michael Ruse, Eugenie Scott and others are probably right that contemptuous ridicule is not an expedient way to change the minds of those who are deeply religious. But I think we should probably abandon the irremediably religious precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.

        I am not silent about other forms of terrorism, but religious terrorism is one that I focus on because it’s something I survived as a child. Focusing a certain type of evil does not mean I ignore or support other types and it is heinous of you to suggest such.

        What’s heinous is to treat ‘religious terrorism’ as a special and particular thing in a world where secular terrorism and exploitation is the norm of violence, as if the religious were particularly prone to violence.

        You know perfectly well that when I spoke of FGM, I was referring to the common religious non-consensual act.

        So, you think female genital mutilation is alright so long as the women approve? That’s not going to bode well for your argument. But if you turn around and say that female genital mutilation is wrong even if the woman approves of it having been done to her, then my question still stands.

        As for me, I deplore the practice.

        – As for your ridiculous purity ball comment, I think it is tantamount that women realise that their bodies are not owned by their fathers or husbands and are educated enough to make responsible choices. I support a woman’s right to give or preserve her virginity in any circumstances, regardless of what man claims that he owns her.

        You do realize that women are capable of both attending purity balls and also realizing that their bodies are not ‘owned’ by their fathers, right? Are you really objecting to parents trying to impart values of chastity to their children?

        Let’s say a given father tells his thirteen year old daughter, ‘Look kid, fuck whoever you want. It’s your body, I don’t have anything to say about what you do.’ Father of the Year material in your view?

        – I think Creationism in religious classrooms is both silly and damaging, but I only oppose it being taught in classrooms paid for by my taxes.

        The religious people pay taxes too. In fact, they’re paying taxes for abortions, contraception, war and more. Why should anyone be concerned about what you object to with your tax dollars when the standard response to religious people is that, gosh, tax dollars inevitably get spent on things we disagree with? What’s more, ‘damaging’ how? Especially if by ‘Creationism’ you mean ‘intelligent design’. Jerry Coyne’s presentation of evolutionary theory is typically dishonest – do I get to say that it’s therefore ‘damaging’?

        – If I needed prohibitions against murder and lying, I’d go to the Code of Hammurabi. Biblical morality doesn’t stop there, and I despise any text that tells me how I many own slaves or buy my own rape victim.

        You may want to check out the Code of Hammurabi, because it contains slavery provisions. What’s more, considering Christians have fought against both slavery and sexual exploitation, your would-be assault on Christian morality is ridiculous. Stop trying to act as if Christians defend ‘purchasing rape victims’ or chattel slavery when they demonstrably oppose such things.

        And for that matter, stop acting as if ‘slavery’ millenia ago was a clear cut situation, especially when talking about (among other things) willful slavery that people sold themselves into due to circumstances. We have slavery to this day in the form of penal colonies and third world economic situations. We call it nicer names.

        If you had taken the time to read the article Marc shared, you would know. I address it in the VERY FIRST POINT.

        You’re right, I didn’t know you were the author. I’ll eat crow on that one, gladly. Good list, by the way, even if I have criticisms.

        But you know what? I have some bad news for you. This talk about religion being a ‘mind virus’, a mental illness that should be placed on the DSM-V and contained/eradicated is not a bit of esoteric belief on the fringes of atheism. It’s the position of Pete Boghossian, in a book endorsed by a wide range of New Atheist leaders.

        Let me put it to you this way: New Atheism practically defines itself not by its willingness to make criticisms of religion, but its willingness to caricature, insult, mock and yes, promote hatred of religious people.

        By that way, I’m even going to expressly apologize for my tone, because I clearly misunderstood just where you were coming from, and therefore jumped into this conversation more aggressive than I should be. But I stand by the intellectual content of every reply I’ve given, especially the overall point. If your attitude is ‘I’m an atheist, but I don’t want to be an asshole about it’, then you’ve pretty much set yourself apart from the New Atheists straightaway. If you don’t like that, thank Dawkins, PeteBog and the rest, because those are the pillars on which the New Atheism has been built.

    • There is no “dialog” between atheists and religious folk. There may be setting aside of the issue altogether to remain friends or at least cordial. But there can’t be dialog with someone who denies the supernatural.

      • Dialogue is what caused me to abandon the supernatural. This is my whole family enmeshed in conservative Xtianity. If I changed my mind, maybe one of them can, too. That’s all I’m saying. The right question can unravel God/Jesus belief. For me, it was why did I believe in the first place? It was indoctrination, period. That set me on my journey out of any god belief.

  4. Hello Lotharson,

    I came here from the link you left at the Irish Atheist. I commend you on joining him in the call for greater civility, and in that vein, I’d like to leave you with one thought: in another post on your site I notice you called some New Atheists like Richard Dawkins “militant atheists.” In my opinion, the adjective “militant” is generally used to describe idealists who are open to using violence to further their agenda. While some (or many) New Atheists can be rude, insulting, and outright inflammatory, very few I’ve seen would support violent actions against believers. Those who do are usually shouted down very quickly by other atheists. I’d suggest that, in the spirit of civil discourse, it’s inappropriate to call non-violent atheists “militant.”
    This New Atheist thanks you for your time and consideration.

    • While some (or many) New Atheists can be rude, insulting, and outright inflammatory, very few I’ve seen would support violent actions against believers.

      Calling religious belief a ‘mind virus’ that should be placed on the DSM-V and ‘treated’, even ‘eradicated’ and approached by the government the same way we do outbreaks is a support of violent actions, even if you try to classify it as ‘for their own good’. And that is most certainly something the Cult of Gnu does not condemn, up to having guys like Jerry Coyne opine about how it should be out and out illegal to give a child a religious upbringing.

      They are militants.

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