Friday, April 27, 2012

Whiny Rant about attempts at atheist activism

The atheists say, “Come out! We need numbers to get more numbers, to show the atheists in hiding they’re not alone. We’re nearing the critical mass, when so many people are coming out that it will soon be no big deal to come out. Come out! Join us! If you are an atheist, use the name atheist.”

 I saw oppression and injustice. Death threats against Jessica Ahlquist. Public polls saying people won’t vote for an atheist, people saying rapists are most likely to be atheist, hateful rhetoric, discrimination in the Boy Scouts and the military.

 I’ve been atheist for twenty years. I haven’t hidden it, but I haven’t gone around announcing it either. The atheist activists had me convinced that it was time for people like me to speak up, to join the ranks, take a stand, and make a difference.

 I started saying it more, posting facebook posts and Tweets and talking about it at church. I lost some friends. Some family relationships are strained. A woman in my community started talking badly about me to my coworkers and parents of my students. My resolve grew stronger. Now I was experiencing firsthand this atheophobia. “THIS. THIS is why we need to come out”, I thought.

I tried to be even more active. I started talking up the Reason Rally, trying to recruit people from my church to go. I painted A’s on my toes.
I went to the Reason Rally and made my photos public on Facebook. I loved the swelling of pride and feeling like we were swelling in numbers after this national event. I posted my picture on Facebook for “Ask an Atheist Day”, and had a conversation with over 150 comments.
I have dabbled in trying to join atheist discussions on blogs and message boards, and inevitably, that other aspect of my religious identity comes up. The UU part. The accepting part, the part that is not willing to “ridicule with contempt”, the part that still wants to see the good aspects of religions and the good people who practice them, the part that believes interfaith dialogue is essential in the world we live in today.

 You know what? I feel less than welcome sometimes with the atheist activists. I’ve been called an apologist and an accomodationist. People ask “why do you even want to go to church”, but I don’t think many listen to my answer.

Look. I share their lack of belief. THERE IS NO GOD. I’ll use the word atheist. I am atheist. I’m not sure what the big deal is about anything else. Why do they care how I live my life or what I value or where I find joy?

My last post was the “accomodationist” side of me being whiny about not fitting in, but I just don’t get why I can't fit in with the atheists. Since I’ve been more out and active as an atheist, I’ve basically been met with criticism from the atheists (while in the midst of my pro-atheist fervor, my congregation has asked me to serve on the board of trustees.)

As I become more familiar with the atheist activists, I’m not really liking how harsh they can seem when they disagree. For all their love of “freethinking”, they seem quick to judge people with different ideas. I hope that someday, we can all say atheist, and it won’t matter what we believe, and we will all be treated with worth and dignity and respect. I hope the atheist activists acknowledge that atheists are diverse.

So, after trying the activist thing, I’m feeling less interested in joining their ranks. So it is weird to me to be saying I’m going to back down a bit with the atheist stuff, and it’s not because of any response I’m getting from Christians, or my family, or community, or friends. It’s because of the atheists.

I realize I've made a lot of sweeping generalizations, and I shouldn't judge the whole lot of them based on my initial impressions of a few. I have met lots of friendly atheists, and ones who seem accepting of my love of my church (and not just those at my church). I'm just feeling irritated right now. I'll get over it and keep trying to build bridges soon. I think I just need a little break.


  1. Good post, Snicketmom! Well stated. Sharing at "UU - Faith of the Free" page...

  2. Good morning - you are certainly correct that there are some who lump all types of religion -- liberal religion along with the literal and conservative types -- together into one monolith. But it's probably not that helpful to be hanging out on PZ Myers blog for a discussion about UUism.

    Some atheist writers and activists (e.g. Greta Christina) would consider any religion that depends on unseen supernatural forces and/or some type of afterlife to be a type of faulty epistemology. In their eyes, once you move away from atheist and humanist UU's who go to church for community, potlucks, and singing in the choir, you've encountered this faulty epistemology.

    And some atheist writers and activists view all ideas -- religious and non-religious -- as existing in a marketplace of ideas where no idea is immune from criticism. In UU circles, we really don't have a marketplace of ideas but rather a "trade show" of ideas where they are showcased for our viewing and contemplation. This keeps our congregation from turning into religious battlefields but it also means we accrue our share of pseudo-science and "woo" as well.

    Thanks for speaking out for atheists ... I appreciate it.

  3. Great post! I have seen the behavior you describe here. I have also been on the other end, being called "shrill", "strident", "arrogant", etc. for my atheist activism. My conclusion, and answer to critics is that it's not back and white. Atheist activism needs voices from all points in the spectrum. Yes, we need hard-line "all religion is bad" types but we also need "coexist" types. Variety is what keeps a movement vibrant. Be true to yourself and answer your critics with confidence. You are doing good things.