Atheists pride themselves in being people of reason. They think of themselves as superior to the religious, untainted by delusion. Is this really true?
By and large, most atheists are decent people who just want to live their life without being bothered and harassed by Christians. They want the United States to live up to its secular ideals and keep Fundamentalist Christianity from infiltrating the schools and government policy. These kind of atheists take a live and let live approach to life and other people.
There’s another type of atheist that unfortunately has become the stereotype for religious people when they think of atheism. This is the Fundamentalist atheist.
My friend Geds left an insightful comment on a previous post. He wrote:
…The first and last atheist book I read was Hitchens’ god is not Great. I found it awful, shallow, and judgmental. I’ve been fighting his stupid “religion poisons everything” formulation ever since, especially because a certain stripe of fundamentalist atheist (which is totally possible, might I add, any belief can have fundamentalists) seems to think that it’s the answer to any and every positive statement about religion and the religious. It’s just begging the question, though. Define “religion” as “superstition,” define “superstition” as an impediment to all things good and positive, and then define “poisons” as “introducing the possibility of rejecting appropriate thinking in favor of superstition” and you’ve got yourself a begged question.
I followed PZ Myers’ blog for a long time and was totally anti-accomodationist for a bit. In the back of my mind it never sat well, though. I remembered all the fights about the right way to be a Christian and who was or wasn’t in the tribe and I knew that it was exhausting and pointless. I also didn’t think of “Christians.” If someone mentioned Christianity in conjunction with a behavior I could usually think of several people I knew who represented that behavior or belief. I also realized that my decision to leave Christianity didn’t come because I was argued out of it. I had friends who weren’t Christians and knowing that I wouldn’t be alone if I left Christianity helped immensely.
The mistake that the confrontational atheist types make is exactly the same mistake that the confrontational Evangelists make. They imagine that there’s a Platonic ideal of a Christian out there who strives to live up to all their negative stereotypes: hates gays, stockpiles guns, blows up abortion clinics, etc. Then they say that since that Christian could exist that means that all Christians are like or want to be like or will inevitably become like that Christian, so it’s totally okay to hate on and argue with every Christian they meet.
But it doesn’t work that way. And, as Nietzsche said, if you spend too much time fighting the monster you become the monster. So they become that atheist Bryan Fischer or Pat Robertson or Fred Phelps and whenever someone tries to tell them they’re doing it wrong they say, “No, that”s impossible, I can’t be like that guy because he’s wrong and I’m right.” It’s annoying and it’s stupid, but it’s also incredibly human.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
For those of us who came from Evangelicalism, we are quite sensitive to Fundamentalist thinking wherever it might be found. Personally, I think Fundamentalist thinking lies at the root of MOST of the problems we face in the world today.
A Fundamentalist is unable to see a person as a real flesh and blood human being. They see them as either being for or opposed to their ideology. They see them as a statistic, a demographic. They see them as part of a collective whole and not as an individual.
Look at what is going on in Washington now. Fundamentalist Tea Party members have successfully brought the U.S. government to a halt. A 4 million member club, the NRA, has successfully stopped background check legislation that 90% of Americans, and most NRA members, support. This is what Fundamentalist thinking does…it stifles debate, discussion, and working for the common good.
Our common humanity demands that we see each other as we are. Yes, I am an atheist, an agnostic, a humanist, a liberal, at times a socialist, and at times a libertarian. I am ALL these things and more, but these are only the labels I wear. They are not the sum of who I am.
Part of the problem is the internet. People read blogs and they think that they “know” a person by reading their writing. They think they “know” all about me. In fact, several Christians have told me that they know me better than I know myself.
When we read a person’s blog or book, we are only catching a glimpse of who and what they are. We only get to read what they decide to share with readers. I don’t know of one writer who shares every intimate detail of their life. For those of us who write about our past, we know that our memories are selective and may even be wrong at times. The story we present to the reading public about our past is the past as we “remember” it. (I have caught myself more than once writing something about the past that I later had to correct)
Many Christians want to divide the world into two neat categories: Christian and non-Christian. Either you worship the Christian God, who is the true and living God, or you don’t.
Some atheists do the same. They divide the world into two groups: Religious and atheist. Either a person believes in a God or they don’t. End of story…
Both of these views lack nuance. Christians and atheists who think like this have tunnel vision and are unable to see degrees or shades. Their thinking is black and white. Both are guilty of Fundamentalist thinking.
Over the past six years, through this blog, I have met countless Christians who I admire and respect. Yes, their beliefs are antithetical to mine, yet they are decent people who I know I would love to be friends with in the “real” world.
I have to be careful that I do not let the nasty, hateful Christians that frequent this blog and attack me in the local newspaper keep me from seeing the good in religion and those who practice it.
Christians need to do the same. Not all atheists are the same. Yes, there are nasty, hateful, mean-spirited atheists. (and don’t bother telling me I am tone trolling) They love attacking the religious, ridiculing them for their stone-age beliefs.
When I began questioning my faith, I wrote a post that was cross posted on exchristian.net. I thought that on a site called exchristian, that my story would be embraced and understood. Boy, was I wrong. The Fundamentalist atheists eviscerated me for not being as atheistic as them. They attacked the words I used and even went so far as to suggest I was still a Christian.
Their treatment of me caused me to run in full-scale retreat from atheism/agnosticism. I thought, these guys are just like a bunch of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preachers. Even the moderator of exchristian thought their treatment was excessive and my post was removed. (he was, by the way, very kind to me)
A few years ago, my friend Jim Schoch and I drove to Fort Wayne to hear Robert Price speak. After his lecture, a young man stood up and challenged Price’s comment about the “good” religion has done in the world. This young man refused to allow that Christianity had done one good thing in 2,000 years. He badgered and berated Price to the point where a flustered Price gave him a quick answer and moved on.
Now, I am not suggesting that we never need vocal atheist Evangelists to use their rhetoric to spur the faithful on. I recognize the value of the people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, PZ Myers, and company. However, I also know that the real work of advancing the humanist cause will be done by people who patiently engage the religious, treating them with decency and respect.
Confrontationalism has its place, but it is not the approach that will elicit the greatest gain. It may make us feel good to put the religious zealot in their place, but what have we really gained? I know it feels good to get in shit-throwing contests with Christians on Facebook and Twitter, but, ask yourself, what have you really accomplished?
Now, many atheists don’t care what others think about atheism in general. They take the, fuck them, approach. While I certainly understand this sentiment, I must always remind myself of what my real objective is….to advance the humanist ideal.
We must find ways to productively work with the religious to bring about a more just society. This requires both sides to accept each other at face value. Take the issue of abortion. One side takes a life begins at fertilization position and the other side takes an unrestricted right to abortion position. Neither side is willing to work with the other to actually reduce the number of abortions. Far too often, this is the same thing that happens when atheists and Christians battle one another. Neither side can see the value of what the other believes.
I realize that hard-core, dare I say, Fundamentalist atheists despise my accommodationist approach. They think of me as a compromiser, a facilitator of superstition. They see me as a coddler of the religious, a person who is hindering progress.
They are certainly entitled to think what they will about me. I can’t control how people view me and the things I write. All I can do is stay true to my objective:
- To help those who are considering leaving Christianity
- To help those who have already left Christianity
- To promote and advance the humanist ideal
If these are my objectives, then I know being an in-your-face confrontationalist is not the approach I should take with the religious. That does not mean, however, that I should not be pointed and direct in what I write or in the discussions I have with Christians. Frankness should not be confused for confrontationalism. Directness should not be viewed as an attack.
When beliefs are brought to the public square they should be discussed, challenged, critiqued, and debated. If a person is unwilling to have their beliefs challenged or questioned, then they need to stay out of the public square.
Let me end with this. There is a time and place for ridicule. When people like Sarah Palin, Bryan Fischer, Sean Hannity, David Barton, and Ken Ham attempt to spread utter foolishness, they deserve to be laughed at and ridiculed. But, remember these talking-heads don’t speak for every Christian. (as a Christian, it upset me when people assumed when Jerry Falwell said something, he was speaking for me)
And to my Christian readers let me say, when Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, John Loftus, Dan Barker, Jerry Dewitt…or GEDS or Bruce Gerencser, for that matter, speak or write, they do not represent all atheists.
As I have often said, I am one man with a story to tell. I do not represent any organization or group. I am not a spokesman for atheism. I am one man trying to flesh out on this blog what he thinks and believes. I hope that you can see beyond the words and see the man. If you cannot see the man behind the words then I have failed as a writer. If all you see is sterile words and beliefs and cannot see my humanity, then I must do better.